Sunday, 26 July 2015

There Can Be Only One: Homesickness, Castle MacDuck, Bucket-list Ticking, and a Near Death Experience for the Win!

Well, I attempted to go off the technology grid once again, and found myself in 'Original Scotland', as I like to call it*. I say this like it was a spur-of-the-moment decision, but in fact, I'd had this trip planned since February. It was supposed to be my incentive to get the complete first draft of my dissertation finished, but unfortunately this was not the case. My plans were derailed after a bit of last minute, unforeseen feedback... But, as this was the case, a week away from my laptop and the increasingly depressing nature of my research topic was definitely in order!

So, I packed a bag, boarded a train and ended up in Edinburgh. This was a pretty big deal. For those of you who do not know, Scotland is the only place in the entirety of Europe** that I have had any interest in seeing. Ever. Sure, there are some nifty countries, and I'm happy I was able to visit a few of them, but Scotland was and always has been in my 'Top 5 Places to See'. Maybe it's the Nova Scotian in me, maybe it was a certain Duck Tales episode (that for seem reason still terrifies me even today!), regardless, here I was, in this place I have been dreaming of visiting since I was a small child. In fact, this is probably the one spot of the world I've wanted to see the longest. Anyway, I'm digressing here...

I have to admit, that the main draw for me to visit Edinburgh, specifically, comes with a little sibling connection. There is a television station back home by the name of 'YTV'. Many, many years ago, it used to air a show called 'Most Haunted' and I faithfully watched every Saturday night at midnight. My favourite episode to this day is Edinburgh Castle. Now, this isn't just because I found it to be the creepiest (the show insisted that it was the most haunted castle in the world!), but on the evening I happened to be watching, my brother returned home from work, and scared the bejeebers out of me! Ever since, I have been dying to see it first-hand.

But, I also feel I should preface this whole trip recap by stating that there are two streams of Kennedys - a Scottish Kennedy lineage, and an Irish one. I was always to the understanding that, I, was of the Scottish variety. No one had ever corrected this thought. It wasn't until my Mom passed away that somehow, through a weird brother-roommate connection, did I learn that my whole life was a lie. I wasn't a Scottish Kennedy after all. Dreams crushed. Wishful thinking perhaps?

Anyway, enough of this boring stuff! I spent a full week starting with two days in Edinburgh on my own, before joining up with one of the craziest groups of people for one of the craziest bus tours ever.  I'm going to be honest - after I outline my Edinburgh stint, it gets a little dicey as to where I actually went. This, of course, is entirely my fault, as I didn't write anything down, so I apologize that I can't tell you were many of the shots have been taken from.

Being in Edinburgh was pretty surreal. As I didn't arrive until the afternoon, I quickly checked in my home for the next two nights, and then took to the streets. I didn't really have a game plan, I just sort of wandered...which as you've likely come to know is my usual way of travelling. I ended up at Calton Hill.  The sun was out in full swing, which made this one epic way to introduce myself to the city! The views of Edinburgh from the top were incredible. However, as I found with Edinburgh as a whole, there were far too many tourists around at this stop, so I didn't stay long. From here I continued to wander throughout parts of New Town, and into Old Town. I watched the trains come and go for a little while, and just kind of soaked in what the city had to offer. And, it made for a great first day.

The view from the bottom of Calton Hill
View from the top of Calton Hill

Note Edinburgh Castle lookin' mighty little on the lefthand-ish corner
Scott Monument
A train departing from Edinburgh Waverley Station
The train station to the right, Princes Street Gardens to the left. 
Day two started fairly early. And it was to be the day I finally got to live my dream of visiting THE castle! I grabbed a quick bite and wandered around, coming across Greyfriars Kirkyard enroute to the Castle. I took a quick gander and then proceeded to Edinburgh Castle.

Bedlam Theatre

Greyfriars Kirkyard

I have to tell you, it was pretty overwhelming entering the castle grounds. You know how teenage girls get when they get to see their favourite boyband***? Well, that was sort of me in this moment. Ticking off items from a bucket-list becomes way more significant when it's something you've dreamt of since childhood. It was really neat to walk throughout it. However, I'm sad to report that there were no ghost sightings to be had...

Lang Stairs, inside the Castle walls
Scottish National War Museum
A dog cemetery...

Edinburgh from within the Castle walls. Carlton Hill is in the left-hand corner.
The Prisons of War Exhibit

The 1:00 pm cannon...which does not take place on Sundays...
Edinburgh Castle from the outside, chopped artfully in order to avoid tourists' unwanted faces.
My next stop was the Palace of Holyroodhouse. To get there, I walked along the 'Royal Mile' which is where I had the pleasure of witnessing one of the most fantastic sights ever - Darth Vader playing the bagpipes****! A visit to Edinburgh Castle AND seeing that was almost too much excitement for one day... and I'm not even a Star Wars fan! Just outside of the Palace is also the Scottish Parliament Building which is pretty interestingly designed. 

St. Giles' Cathedral
The Palace of Holyroodhouse
This was in the gardens of Holyroodhouse, but it reminded me so much of Saint-Saëns' Danse Macabre
Holyrood Abbey
Part of the gardens in front of the Abbey
When I left the Palace, I was pretty hungry. Folks, you thought the Canadian Bacon Cookhouse was a prize... well let me tell you about a little joint called 'Oink.' This was hands down the greatest thing I have ever consumed. Roasted pig, haggis, applesauce AND the ability to say, and I quote, "I'll have one oink to takeaway, please!" Actually, I'm pretty sure I ate all of the haggis in all of Scotland, so you'll have to go for the sage stuffing option... Anyway, it was delicious, bottom line. Afterwards, I continued to wander until I deemed it time to call it a day. I knew I had an earlier start and a packed few days ahead of me, so I made it an early night.

So, here's the point where it all starts to blend together. And, perhaps a warning should be inserted here - there's A LOT of pictures to sort through, so these are only a sampling of what I've got. My apologies for the lengthy post! I did a five-day tour with Heart of Scotland, which would take me throughout the highlands and, my personal favourite, the Isle of Skye. There were 16 of us in all, and we came from a range of backgrounds and interests, but considering the mix, we bonded very quickly. This, I 100% attest, to the enthusiasm of our tour leader, Donnie Danny. He was the perfect fit for this jam-packed adventure. Funny, knowledgeable, and probably the best backer-upper/parallel-parker I've ever seen. I'm not certain, but I'm almost positive that we all knew we were in for a good time within a few minutes of boarding that bus! But, it was really intense - we saw a lot in a very short time, so keeping track of it all became overwhelming. On top of that, I'm not really sure I can do Danny's stories of the lore justice, so this bit will be a bit of a visual journey for you to (hopefully) enjoy. Where I can, I will add in a story or at least give a location...

(Bus Tour) DAY ONE!
Forth Bridge, built between 1882-1890. It is located just outside of Edinburgh.
 Dunkeld Cathedral 
That's the River Tay flowing briskly adjacent to the Cathedral.
The waterfall at Hermitage
Views from the Pitlochry Hydro Dam (above and below).
Despite the rain, it was really calming and beautiful to spend a bit of time here on my own.

Culloden Battlefield - epic sunshine through the clouds! 

 Clava Cairns
Apparently if you touch the stones you go back in time and fall in love with MacDreamy
...or at least that's what our guide may or may not have told us. Either way, I tried to steer well clear of 'em!
Arrival in Original Inverness - home for the first 2 nights
(Bus Tour) DAY TWO!

This was our first stop of the day. Coffee and peeing were the priorities here, so I unfortunately do not have a place name.
 Once again, not sure where this is (above two photos, and the one directly below). BUT I can tell you it's 
supposedly haunted by two ghosts, and they're pretty epic stories, so long as the sun doesn't come out in the 
middle of a certain tour guide enthusiastically trying to keep our attention while telling them... sorry Daddy Danny!
Updated: This is Ardvreck Castle.

We then crossed over this wicked suspension bridge which passes by the gigantic
waterfall (Corrieshalloch Gorge, I believe...) that looks oh so tiny in the above picture. 
The day ended with us back in Inverness.
In an attempt to have a little 'team bonding' a bunch of us met up for dinner and drinks at the
Hootananny - a local pub known for it's live music. And what a treat it was! Unfortunately I
didn't have my camera with me, so my phone was all I had. This means the quality of the film below
is pretty bad, but the tunes were oh, so good! Love me a good kitchen party, even if it's not in a kitchen!

(Bus Tour) DAY THREE!
We said goodbye to the highlands as we made our way to the Isle of Skye! But before we departed, knowing we had a long day of driving ahead of us, I decided to take advantage of the sunny morning and went for a quick walk to check out the sights of Inverness.

A war memorial (above), some churches along the water (below)

One of our 'comfort stops' allowed us to see the Royal Scotsman off!
I don't remember where either the one above or below were taken.
I'm not sure where this is exactly, and I believe it corresponds to the one below.

The plunge to our death!
Not really but she was pretty steep and windy.
Updated: This is Beach na Bà,  in Applecross.
The bottom of that downward slope! Beauty!
Pee break in style! Hands down the nicest looking public washroom ever, in Lochcarron.
Not sure where this is, but it sure is purdy!
Eilean Donan Castle (above). I didn't realize I'd run into some of my relatives while there (below)!

The last break before we hit Portree. I can't remember the name of this place...
Beautiful landscapes (above); Fishin' stuff (below).
Update: These shots were taken possibly from Plockton Village - where The Wickerman was filmed.

When we arrived in Portree, we were all quite spread out. I was staying in a B&B on my own, away from the group, which was okay, but meant I was on my own for dinner that night - again, that was okay. I found a fish and chips spot along the harbour front. I sat along the dock and ate while taking in the surroundings. It was so beautiful, and since I'd left my camera in my room, I walked back to grab my cameras. I returned once more to the dock and sat, watching the gulls interact with each other, and the waves gently brushing the shore. There was a range of boats in the water, and the sun was shining in and out of the clouds. It was in this moment that I realized just how alike this view was to many back home. I sat in this spot for a couple of hours, and was completely surprised to find myself feeling homesick for the first time since I'd left for Manchester nearly a year ago! I felt human again, which is always reassuring, I suppose!

A view from across the street from where I stayed.
A slightly warped view of the harbour.
This is one serious gull! 
A final shot of the harbour
(Bus Tour) DAY FOUR!
Our full day in Skye was super outdoorsy, which was incredible. We had intended to first visit the Fairy Pools, but with rainy pounding down in that direction, Danny immediately switched to Plan B without an ounce of hesitation. Instead we made out way to Faerie Glen. Not only was this simply stunning, it was the first moment in a while where I could just be in the moment and breathe... I climbed to one spot, away from the others and found myself totally encompassed in the most magical moment. The wind softly moved around me like a gentle hug - reassuring me that everything continues to be okay. It wasn't quite the moment I'd had in Vienna, but it certainly felt clear that The Mujjie was present in that moment. I joined the rest of the gang after a few minutes on my own, and we all had a blast unleashing our inner-children/explorers. I promise you none of these pictures do this piece of heaven justice (as is the case for most of what I experienced).

Faerie Glen!

A Faerie Castle.

No idea where this is, but it's a beautiful view!
Ladies, if ever you're in need of a natural hair dryer, Cuith-Raing is the place to go! Holy wind, Batman!

Kilt Rock (above and below)

This is the remains of an old something rather facility that I cannot remember. But, it's from WWI, and there is another building (not shown) that was believed to store chickens, so HA! 
The site of Jurassic Park.
Not really, but it looks close enough.
The Old Man of Storr...just as the rain was catching up to us!
Fairy Pools - where fairies go to clean of our human stench before returning to the fairy world

 Then we stopped to take some pictures of sheep...and things got a little Chezzetcook.
Dun Beag Broch.
Basically a bunch of stones some people put together to protect them... 

Hands down the most comfortable seat I've ever found...and it's solid rock!
Two conveniently placed stones, just for me!
(Bus Tour) DAY FIVE!
Our first stop was on the opposite side of the Eilean Donan Castle.
It was also home to a café which bragged it had 'All the Goodness' - and it was pretty good coffee!
You just gotta stop to admire a hairy coo every once in a while!
The loch's in Fort Augustus apparently this is a hotel...  
Loch Ness!!
If you look really hard, you won't see her. She didn't come out to play! Rude.
The Commando Memorial (above); A view from the memorial (below). 

Doune Castle.
A lot of things are filmed here. I was WAY too ADD to actually walk through it and appreciate it.
BUT, I uncovered some family history - Scottish Kennedy history, that is (below).

So, I went to the rooftop disheveled about what I'd uncovered.
It was here that I made up possibly the greatest song of all time (Ingrid).
And when that didn't work, I sat down and had a think...
Conclusion: I'M MOVING IN!*****
Wallace Monument from Stirling Castle 
Stirling Castle
My pal, Danny. He loves it when you sing 'Danny Boy' to him, just in case any of you decide to take a tour with him... Also, I'm a little jealous he can rock a skirt better than me... Guess I'll stick with my main man from Conwy.
Our final stop was returning to Edinburgh - tired and with heavy hearts at the thought of parting ways. I had dinner with a couple of my bus-mates before checking into my hotel for my final night. But, I'll be honest, I felt a little lost waking up the next morning. There were no familiar faces to share breakfast with, nor was there a delightful guide to greet me as I departed on my morning's advehad dinner with a couple of my bus-mates before checking into my hotel for my final night.

For my last Scottish adventure, I chose to take a hike within Holyrood Park. My aim was to get to Arthur's Seat, which didn't happen, although I could have easily taken the extra 15 minutes and made it to the peak. But, I was feeling quite tired and thought it's be best to take my time packing up, rather than rushing it. Well, this turned out to backfire ever so slightly, for you see, the "easier path" I had spotted from the top, quickly transitioned into a very steep, downward drop... Regrets. Instantly. It also began to lightly rain, which was okay at first, until I began sliding down the side of this massive rock. It was pretty dicey for a few minutes, but I persevered, falling only a few times, and momentarily having one of my knees give out (running this coming week is going to be a 'treat')! This falling at the bottom of a hill thing appears to be a theme for me...

Some pretty fleurs along the way...
A view of the city from the top of whatever it is I climbed!
I selfie-ed! This is a big moment for me!
The route I should have taken down...
The route I accidentally took instead...
At the train station, supporting the anti-Nestlé/anti-Coca-Cola campaign.
Fun fact about Scotland that I didn't learn while in Scotland: Coca-Cola is the number one selling
soft drink in every country in the world except Scotland - where IRN BRU takes the top spot!
I am once again safely back in Manchester. This was, by far, the best trip I've taken here. Scotland, is pretty much Nova Scotia on steroids. It's so much like home, and yet so different. It blew every one of my expectations out of the water! There is no way I could give this experience justice in a matter of words and pictures. I feel so completely overwhelmed by the simplicity in this country's beauty, and the richness of its history. I met some of the most incredible people while experiencing some of the most unbelievable sights this crazy world has to offer. How honoured I feel to have shared each of these amazing moments with these 16 awesome people*****!

My people. Man, I miss you guys already!
Here's a really terrible video I made, consisting of random footage I took along the way:

I will be back. Hands down. Without a doubt.

-the Orange Canadian

*It'll catch on, I'm sure of it!
**I know what you're thinking - but Emily! Why didn't you do your Masters in Scotland? Well, the short answer is, despite a strong encouragement to apply to St. Andrew's, there wasn't a program available that fit my research interests. However, I haven't given up hope - St. Andrew's is still a possibility come PhD time!
***I may or may not have experience with this...
****One of my fellow bus tourers one upped me on this, though. She saw Batman in a kilt fundraising for his wedding! Robin's gonna be pissed...
*****Not actually moving in. Too much dusting for this girl.
******No, I'm not including myself in that '16'...although, I AM pretty awesome!!


  1. Wonderful pictorial journal and I'm so glad you were on the trip! It wouldn't have been the same without you. I can help with some of the place names when I finish journal.

  2. Hi Emily, thank you for this great and funny blog and your wonderful pictures.. while I was reading it, all the nice and hilarious memories of our tour came back*gg*!! :-) Greetings from Vienna, Doris