Arduaine Garden and Kilmartin Glen

Arduaine Garden

After our beautiful walk on Kerrera we were disappointed to wake up the next day and find the weather had reverted to a more normal grey drizzle. Nevertheless, we decided to stick to our plan of driving home from Oban the long way round in order to visit Kilmartin Glen.

First, we stopped at Arduaine Garden, started in 1898 by James Arthur Campbell and now part of the National Trust for Scotland.

Fortified with coffee, we headed for our next stop at Carnassarie Castle, dating from the 1560s. There were good views over Kilmartin Glen from the top, even if it was a little damp and misty – we certainly didn’t envy the people excavating an adjacent mound. That looked a cold job.

Into Kilmartin itself, and we visited the small museum, the church and its associated graveyard before having lunch in the hotel.

After lunch, we set out to explore the glen further. Kilmartin Glen has one of the most important concentrations of Neolithic and Bronze Age remains in Scotland, including standing stones, a henge monument, numerous cists, and a ‘linear cemetery’ comprising five burial cairns. The gallery below is just a selection.

Finally, at the southern end of the glen we climbed to the remains of the fortress of Dunadd, a royal centre of Dàl Riata, the first kingdom of the Scots, more than 1300 years ago. The inauguration stone has a footprint (allegedly created by the hero Ossian) into which the new king placed his foot, thus betrothing himself to the land. These days, it’s a replica but we gave it a go anyway.

After that, it was time to head for home at the end of a lovely weekend.

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Glasgow Gallivanting: November 2017

How’s this for a highlight? Andy Murray Live was a charity tennis event starring Andy himself and some mate of his called Roger Federer who seemed to be a pretty good player too. Our seats were far too high up to get good pictures, but I think this tweet highlights the spirit of the event. The cry which came from the crowd was not “Donald, where’s your troosers?”¹ but “Roger, where’s your kilt?” If someone found him one, said Roger, he’d wear it. Within a few minutes a woman was standing at the edge of the court (with her coat wrapped round her lower half ) brandishing a kilt. My goodness, he was good at swaggering in it (*fans self quietly*). It even toned with his shirt! Towards the end, Roger presented Andy with a parcel containing a Jimmy² wig – a tam o’ shanter with ginger locks attached, easily purchased in any tourist tat shop. I think he really suited that too.

The event raised over £700,000 for UNICEF and a local children’s charity, more than double last year’s total. Good for Andy and Roger (as well as Jamie Murray, Tim Henman and Mansour Bahrami) – they did a great job.

Kelvin Way

A Sunday afternoon stroll down the Kelvin Way brought good and bad sights. Artist (and friend) Ash Loydon recently had an exhibition in the city centre created in partnership with The Glasgow Night Shelter for Destitute Asylum Seekers and the Open Museum. Since it closed, the associated banner has shown up on various park fences, a great way to spread the word that “Everyone has the right to a home”.

Just across the road is the Suffragette Oak, planted in 1918 to commemorate the first women in the UK to get the vote. Long-term readers might remember that in 2015 I was part of a team from Glasgow Women’s Library which successfully nominated it as Scotland’s Tree of the Year (see here). There are big plans for next year’s centenary – but unfortunately, Storm Ophelia has pulled a great chunk of the tree down. It is hoped the oak will survive, and appropriate uses will be found for the damaged wood, but it’s so sad to see a hundred years of growth diminished.

Glasgow by night

On a brighter note, literally, a lot of November events took us into the centre of Glasgow at night and it is looking awfully pretty at the moment.

One of our events was a talk in the City Chambers, a Victorian edifice which features the largest marble staircase in Western Europe. Apparently it has “played” both the Kremlin and the Vatican on screen!

One disappointment was Nursery Crymes, billed as “A unique night-time experience exploring the dark themes behind our beloved childhood stories [and] the sinister side of nursery rhymes – the ideas of authority, morality and social indoctrination underpinning these simple stories for children.” A great idea which needs more development, but came across to us as a confusing mish-mash – sometimes we weren’t even sure which rhyme or story was playing out. Below are Rock-a-bye-baby, Bo Peep and – a large head? Who knows what that was about? Not me.

Amsterdam

Amsterdam at dusk

We’ve been to Amsterdam! A whole week at the end of November, beginning of December. More to follow soon.

The last bit

For this month’s Scottish words lesson I’ll explain some of the terms used in the first section above.

¹ Scots often change the vowel sound in words such as trousers and house to troosers and hoose. Donald where’s your troosers? is a comedy song made famous by legendary Scottish entertainer Andy Stewart. Hear him in the video below accompanied by a montage of men in kilts. Keep watching for an Elvis impersonation and a VERY cheeky ending!

²Jimmy wigs get their name from a generic term for a man, often heard in the phrase “See you, Jimmy!” For example, if a stranger knocks your elbow in the pub and you spill your pint, you might say “See you, Jimmy! Gonnae no dae that?” (“You there! Please don’t do that.”) On the other hand, I don’t advise it. It might invite aggression….

So here ends the eleventh Glasgow Gallivanting post. I never thought I’d keep it up for a whole year, but there’s only one more to go – how can it be December already? Have a great month.

A walk round Kerrera

Remember this view from last time? Our window in Oban looked out on the island of Kerrera which we were determined to explore. A small passenger ferry runs from Gallanach, a couple of miles along the coast from Oban. Unless you live on Kerrera (current population about 35) no vehicles are allowed.

There are two possible walks suggested, the southern loop taking in Gylen Castle (and nearby tea garden – vital!) or a linear walk to the northern tip where there is a monument to  David Hutcheson, one of the founders of the Caledonian MacBrayne Ferry service. We chose the 11km loop to castle and tea garden / bunk house.

Kerrera

From the ferry, we turned right along Horseshoe Bay and Little Horseshoe Bay. We hadn’t gone far when we discovered the tea garden owners were enterprising in a quirky sort of way. The slates read Hello! Is it tea you’re looking for? Lionel Rich Tea. 

From here on our walk was punctuated by teapots – and cattle. At one time, Kerrera was a stepping stone for transporting cattle from Mull (the much larger island behind it) to the mainland.

Sometimes the teapot messages were really helpful. Cake!

The path to the castle was just before the tea garden but we chose to go for a cup of tea first, then explore the castle and return for lunch. Might as well make full use of the place! It was a lovely sunny day, but even if it hadn’t been there was comfortable indoor seating in the old barn.

The quirkiness continued in the bike park (an old tree trunk, click to enlarge to make it clearer).

And the toilet which is twinned with a toilet in Pakistan.

The ruined Gylen Castle, dramatically perched on a rocky outcrop, was built in 1587 by Duncan MacDougall of Dunollie, the 16th chief, on the site of an earlier fortification.

From the castle and tea garden, the path followed the more rugged western edge of the island before crossing back to the ferry point. And, of course, just in case anyone was walking the loop in the other direction, there were more teapots.

This was an absolutely beautiful day and I’d love to go back to Kerrera. The next day, we were heading back home from Oban and the weather was not so kind to us. We still made some interesting stops, though – next time!

I’m linking this post to Jo’s Monday Walks. Pop over for some Portuguese sunshine, I could certainly do with that today!

Oban and Dunstaffnage Castle

Thornloe Guest House

In May, we spent two nights in Oban, a west coast town a couple of hours north of Glasgow. It was a last-minute decision, so we were lucky to find a wonderful place to stay, the Thornloe Guest House, which was as attractive inside as out.

 

Note the open window above – we never tired of the view from it as you can see below. After staring at the island immediately in front of us, Kerrera, for so long we were inspired to visit it the next day, but that’s for another post.

As we only had one full day, our time in Oban itself was mainly spent wandering around at night before and after dinner. Beautiful!

 

In one of the pictures above, you can see the round arches of McCaig’s Tower on the hill above the harbour. We climbed up to it one evening for sunset views back down to the town.

 

Close to Oban is Dunstaffnage Castle. We visited on our way to the town and found they were having a Viking day. Some of those Vikings look quite scary, but we ran across them in a Chinese restaurant in Oban that evening and they seemed much more genial then!

 

Coming next, I’ll take you for a walk round Kerrera.

Dinosaur Provincial Park

Like Drumheller, Dinosaur Provincial Park is hidden in the valley, up to 100 metres deep, of the Red Deer River. Shortly after the sign in the picture above, the road plunges to the 27km stretch of park, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Digging began here in the 1880s, and since then more than 300 top-quality dinosaur skeletons have been found, a greater concentration than anywhere else on earth. (Parks Canada has a nice, simple explanation if you’re wondering why this is.) The skeletons can be found in about 30 museums world-wide, the biggest number in the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology which we had visited a few days before, so it was an interesting follow-up to see where they came from. The park’s Visitor Centre also has some impressive specimens, as well as other exhibits, and is worth spending time in. One of the dinosaurs appeared to have escaped outside 😉

Most of the park is out-of-bounds unless you are on a pre-booked guided tour. We hadn’t been organised enough to arrange this, so we stuck to the five self-guided trails along the 3km public loop road. It was enough! We spent all day admiring the views and amazing rock formations.

We also spotted a little bit of flora and fauna. The area near the river was much more lush than the rest of the park, and several times we saw deer peering up at the weird humans scrambling about the arid rocks.

And – that was it! The end of our vacation. The next day, we packed up and headed for Calgary Airport and the long journey home. We had a great time in Canada, and I’ve enjoyed reliving it through blogging. Next time, I’ll be back writing about Scotland again.

Drumheller to Brooks

Last Chance Saloon, Wayne

All good things come to an end, and it was time to set off for the last stop of our trip: the small town of Brooks. However, we took in a few more sights around the Drumheller area before we left.

The Hoodoos

These weird, mushroom-like rocks have been naturally eroded over thousands of years. They are beautiful, but we felt the local tourist maps over-hyped them – it’s a very small site and, well, we’ve been to Bryce Canyon.

Atlas Mine

This whole area was once a prosperous coal-mining community, and one mine, Atlas, has been preserved as a National Historic Site. I found this much more interesting than I expected and we spent a couple of hours wandering around and riding the coal train.

Star Mine Suspension Bridge

I’m letting the picture above do the explanations for me! Here’s proof that we crossed the bridge:

Last Chance Saloon

For lunch, we headed up a side road to Wayne, home of the Last Chance Saloon. A short stretch of road (6km) had 11 bridges as it crossed and re-crossed the winding Rosebud River. You can see the saloon exterior at the top of the post and below is the interior, packed with quirky memorabilia. I can’t remember what we ate: I think it was basic pub food such as burgers and wraps, but we were too busy looking at our surroundings to take much notice.

Brooks

From Wayne, a gravel road took us onto Highway 56 and then to Brooks. There’s not much to it as a place, although we were thrilled to find an Indian restaurant near our hotel – curry is something we always miss when away from home, and we seek it out whenever we can. Our evening stroll also brought us to some attractive murals.

So why did we stay in Brooks? It was close to somewhere I was very keen to visit – Dinosaur Provincial Park, where many of the fossils we had seen in Drumheller were found. Coming up soon!

Glasgow Gallivanting: October 2017

Canal House, Speirs Wharf

It’s been a quiet month for travel, for me at least – John spent a chunk of it working in China, so I don’t suppose he feels the same. Foul weather has meant I haven’t been very far afield, but I have tramped about Glasgow in between rain storms and have a few local buildings to show you.

Speirs Wharf

A Sunday afternoon stroll with John took us down the Glasgow spur of the Forth and Clyde Canal to Port Dundas. Here, Speirs Wharf has been a residential area since the late 1980s but originated in the 19th century as the canal’s headquarters and the City of Glasgow Grain Mills and Stores. As well as Canal House (above) we found other attractive reflections on our walk.

Temple

Forth and Clyde Canal at Temple

On a gloomy Sunday while John was away, the sun suddenly broke through about 3.30pm. I set off along the canal again, but in the opposite direction. I could almost have been in the countryside until Temple Gasometers came into view.

Temple Gasworks were built in 1871 and closed in 1968, but the two large gas holders, dating from 1893 and 1900, were still being used until a few years ago.

Historic Environment Scotland recently sought views on plans to schedule the structures as Category B Listed buildings. I don’t know the result, but the local paper reported divided opinion between those who wanted them conserved and those who would flatten them. I’d be in the former camp these days, though we used to live very close to the gasometers and I hated them then. Now, I can see their beauty as part of our industrial heritage (and I don’t have to pass them every day which helps).

Also at Temple are Locks 26 and 27. The pub Lock 27, which you can see in the background of the portrait image, used to be our local. It’s still handy for a post-stroll pint but wasn’t open on this day.

Jordanhill

At Lock 27, I left the canal and headed for Jordanhill. Some of you might remember this is the University Campus I used to work at. I swore I would never go there again after my last visit a couple of years ago when it was so sad to see the semi-derelict state of it (the campus closed in 2012 and has now been sold for housing), but that’s where my footsteps took me. Nothing has changed – there is some controversy with the development and local people are protesting about the number of homes to be built with little or no improvements in infrastructure. The handsome red sandstone David Stow Building is one of three that will be kept. The other picture is not pretty, I know, but that’s the entrance I used for work every day.

I found it funny to see the bright blue library book drop still there: locked – I checked. I probably locked it myself five years ago. On the door is a notice informing users that the library closed on 1st June 2012, telling them where to take their books in future, and thanking them for their custom over the years. I know I wrote that and put it up and I’m amazed no-one has ever taken it down. I’m just glad I can laugh, it’s all bygones now. I have no regrets.

Down by the Riverside

Another reason that October has been constrained is that I have been fighting with a broken-down boiler which took 6 visits from 4 different workmen to fix, so I have spent a lot of time hanging round the house. One visit was supposed to be on the Sunday afternoon in the middle of the saga, but the engineer phoned to say that he was still waiting for parts and would come on Monday instead. So we set off down the River Kelvin Walkway and then along the Clyde.

The last time we visited this former pumping station it still showed signs of having been a restaurant (first picture below). Eighteen months later, the restaurant’s conservatory has been replaced with a glass still-house for a new whisky distillery. Exciting!

On the other side of the river, we spotted the Waverley (the last ocean-going paddle steamer in the world – red funnels) and Queen Mary (the only remaining Clyde-built turbine steamer which is now being preserved as a museum ship – yellow funnels). We crossed over to have a look.

Both ships are berthed by the Glasgow Tower, a rotating structure which you are supposed to be able to ascend but which spends more time inactive than not. From its podium, we got a good view of the Glasgow Science Centre and some of the other weird buildings by this part of the river.

The last bit

I came across this piece of street art near Glasgow University. It’s by an artist new to me, Pink Bear Rebel, who focuses, I’ve read, on anti-Trump protests and rebelling against the ‘meaningless of life’. I’ll be on the look-out for more.

And the boiler? Well, as of last Tuesday we have heat – just as well, because overnight frosts have returned. It also gives me this month’s Scottish words lesson because it’s been a sair fecht to deal with (sore/hard fight; something problematic).

I hope your October has NOT been a sair fecht!

Horseshoe Canyon and the Dinosaur Trail

Horseshoe Canyon

17 km west of Drumheller is Horseshoe Canyon, a spectacular chasm in otherwise flat prairie. Trails lead down from the parking lot (take care, they are steep and slippery) and we set off to see if we could find the end of the canyon. We couldn’t! There were other things we wanted to do that day so eventually we gave up and turned back.

From Horseshoe Canyon, we drove back into Drumheller and crossed the Red Deer River by bridge to follow the 48 km Dinosaur Trail, a loop on both sides of the river. Our first stop was The Little Church which can seat a mere 6 people at a time.

Next, it was on to Horsethief Canyon, once a hiding place for its namesake outlaws, and an opportunity for more hiking.

There is no bridge to cross back over the river – instead the Dinosaur Trail takes you via the Bleriot Ferry, the eponymous Bleriot being André, brother of the more famous Louis who was the first man to fly the English Channel.

Once back on the south side of the river, there was just one last stop at the beautiful Orkney Viewpoint. I’d love to know how it got its name.

Then we headed back to Drumheller for our last night. Despite our misgivings when we arrived, largely because of the terrible hotel, we had a great time and could have spent longer exploring. However, we still had one more Badlands adventure to come, so the next day we were back on the road again.

Drumheller

Royal Tyrrell Museum

From Lake Louise, we left the Rockies and drove east: destination Drumheller. The road was flat – very flat – and I was puzzled when we came to the 3km sign for Drumheller: where was it? Surely we should see it by now? Then the road suddenly plunged down into the Red Deer River Valley, and there it was at the bottom. We were in the Badlands! (Badlands are a type of dry terrain where soft sedimentary rocks and clay-rich soils have been extensively eroded by wind and water.) The next surprise was how small Drumheller is. We were here to visit the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology, a world leading institution, which we expected to have rather more sophisticated surroundings (sorry Drumheller).

The third surprise was unpleasant. Our hotel claimed to have no knowledge of us and was “fully booked”. Now, I spent my entire career in public service and I know that the answer to a problem is “Oh, I’m sorry that has happened – let’s see what we can do to fix it.” The two staff here had obviously missed that memo and were truculent and defensive. Apparently, it was all our fault for booking through a third party, despite the fact that we had booked most of our accommodation through the same site months in advance and had no problem anywhere else.  It became my responsibility to call the booking company to sort it out – I was grudgingly allowed to use one of the hotel phones when I pointed out that it would cost me a fortune to use a UK mobile. I have nothing but praise for the young lady I spoke to who then spent half an hour talking to one of the staff, and – surprise again! – it turned out they did have a room, although more expensive than the one we’d booked. I don’t know why they couldn’t have found this in the first place: presumably the booking company was inveigled into paying the extra amount. I shan’t name the hotel, but I definitely won’t be using that chain again.

After my blood pressure had returned to normal, we set out to explore Drumheller. They love their dinosaurs. This T Rex is the largest dinosaur in the world, apparently – the one on the right is much smaller, it’s just the perspective making them look similar.

There were also smaller dinosaurs all around town. We even met one in our (nameless) hotel lobby! He arrived every morning to entertain the children, but didn’t seem to mind being photographed with a couple of slightly older visitors.

Drumheller is a former mining area and, if we’d had time, there is a mining trail we could have followed. We did visit one historic mine (which I’ll include in a later post) and stop for reflection at the memorial in town to all those miners killed in the area. A lot of names.

As for the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology, which we visited on our first full day, it blew us away. It has to be one of the best museums I have ever visited. The layout was so clear that you could easily follow a logical path through it, and the signs had just the right amount of information. And if all you wanted to do was look at dinosaurs (there were many young children who were there to do just that), you could still have a ball.

Why have so many fossils, particularly dinosaurs, been found in Alberta? Apparently, it’s because of the high sedimentation rate in the Late Cretaceous Period which meant that dead animals were buried quickly before they started to decompose, preserving the skeletons intact.

The museum also has a Badlands Interpretive Trail (below) which we spent some time exploring before, mid-afternoon, returning to our hotel to freshen up for our next event at 6pm – the Canadian Badlands Passion Play.

We didn’t know until after we’d decided to visit Drumheller that this was on, but we jumped at the chance to get tickets when we found out. The epic representation of the life of Jesus has been produced every summer since 1994 and, if you live nearby or are likely to visit next July, I strongly recommend it. There are a few professional actors involved, but most are amateurs and they are simply amazing. Photography during the play is not allowed – the first picture below was taken by John beforehand and the other two were supplied to me as part of a set sent to ticket holders after the event, hence the attribution.

The Canadian Badlands Passion Play 2017
The set © Canadian Badlands Passion Play
Cast and crew © Canadian Badlands Passion Play

The site for the play was a few miles out of town and there were hundreds of cars parked, yet the volunteers directing us out were so efficient that we hardly had to queue at all before we were back out onto the main road. An excellent and well-organised event.

On our second day in Drumheller we set out to explore the Badlands further and get some hiking in. More next time!

Lake Louise

Lake Louise

On our previous visit to Lake Louise in 2007 we stayed in Deer Lodge, which is the only hotel actually by the lake apart from the mega-expensive Fairmont Château, but when we tried to book it in December 2016 for July 2017 it was already full! I looked at the Château prices and decided they were having a laugh, so we booked a hotel about 4km away in Lake Louise Village and commuted. There is a regular shuttle bus to the lake which we took the first morning, but only after queueing for ages in full sun. We decided it would be just as easy to walk back, and the second day we spent at the lake we walked both ways. There’s a pretty trail along Louise Creek, which can be extended via the old tramway which took Victorian visitors from the station in the village to the Château. The middle day of our stay we rode the Gondola up Mount Whitehorn.

Lake Louise Village

We were glad we walked back via the old tramway the first day, because it took us out near The Old Station Restaurant which we booked for dinner that night (excellent). Trains still pass through – we are always fascinated by their length in North America. We watched the one below for 5 minutes from beginning to end!

The other nights we ate in our hotel, the Lake Louise Inn, which served reasonable bar food and good pizza. I have no pictures of the Inn, it wasn’t particularly pretty. The red roofs by the river in the gallery above are part of the Post Hotel which was much more picturesque. Maybe we’ll stay there next time…

The Lake

A few highlights from our two days hiking by or near the lake. Considering how crowded the place was, I’m amazed John managed to get pictures with hardly anyone else in them – though the old rule holds good. Walk a few hundred metres from the car parks and most people melt away.

Lake Louise Gondola

The Lake Louise Gondola is a short drive from the village. We booked early morning tickets which included breakfast on the ground before heading up the mountain. At the top of the lift is a Wildlife Interpretive Centre, a couple of (very steep) trails to viewpoints and the fabulous Whitehorn Bistro. We rewarded ourselves after the strenuous hikes with a late lunch on their deck – fondue with great views, though as you can see we were still hampered by haze from all the fires.

After Lake Louise, we left the Rockies – but we weren’t going home just yet. We were heading for the Badlands!