26 August 2015

Edinburgh is packed for its famous highbrow international performing arts festival — and for the huge and popular alternative festival called "The Fringe." As you can see, the Royal Mile is filled as Fringe acts offer free shows and teasers to recruit for their full shows.
Arriving Edinburgh by rail from Newcastle, I rent a car to explore Scotland, especially the western highlands, the fabled Isle of Skye, and the two big cities.

Various sources claim Scotland has between 1,000 and 3,000 castles! To avoid "castle fatigue" I plan to only go inside a couple ― unless wind and rain push me indoors more.

The scenic but soggy western highlands, where I'm headed, is "one of the wettest places in Europe." Oban, for example, typically has 26 rainy days in August. Not good odds.

But Edinburgh offers a dry (albeit chilly) start...
The famous Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo (with marching bands from around the world) staged in front of the dramatic backdrop of the massive Edinburgh castle.

On my night at the Tattoo, the top dignitary is the Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland's "First Minister" and leader of the Scottish National Party pushing for secession from the United Kingdom.

Cool to see her in person and even better, after the center field formalities, she walks up the bleachers to her seat one row back and ten yards away from me. I turn and gawk only a half dozen times, well, maybe a dozen.

Speaking of Scottish independence, this post-modern monstrosity sulking jarringly in the middle of Edinburgh's elegant old town buildings is the Scottish Parliament, sending a rude, conspicuous message of breaking from the past.

Left: Hey, really in Scotland now.
Right: Even if they ignore his counsel in Wealth of Nations, so far Sturgeon and the SNP have not yet toppled the prominent statue of Scottish economist Adam Smith on the Royal Mile.

Auld lang syne to lovely, crowded Edinburgh and off to the western highlands...

The Duke of Argyll resides at the not-too-shabby Inveraray Castle, seat of clan Campbell.

Later I stumble across this cast photo for an Downton Abbey episode shot at Inveraray Castle. By coincidence, I had posed at nearly the same spot and with a hint of Downton swagger too.

Narrow Scottish roads lack enough viewpoints for all the striking landscapes but there are a few safe places to pull over. This valley is part of the Argyll Forest Park.

Just before reaching the Isle of Skye is austerely beautiful Eilean Donan Castle.

On the Isle of Skye I continue to enjoy a remarkable series of dry and often sunny days. Driving around Skye offers endlessly stunning sites often with high cliffs. This one is the Kilt Rock (long pleats in the cliff resemble a kilt) and Mealt waterfall.

These pinnacles are called the "Old Man of Storr." Nice, but I think overrated as allegedly the most remarkable geology to see on the Isle of Skye.
At Skye's western tip, the grand geology of Neist Point and its lighthouse exceed expectations. Chatting with tourists from all over Europe, I have a nice picnic lunch with this view.

My only other full castle tour in Scotland is at interesting Dunvegan Castle and gardens on the Isle of Skye. It's said to be the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland and the ancestral home of Clan MacLeod's chiefs for 800 years.

Driving toward Inverness, I make the obligatory stop at the long, narrow, deep, infamous lake called Loch Ness. Reviewing my photos later, I find this strange one shown above.

Inverness is bisected by the River Ness (above) flowing from Loch Ness. On a hill in the city center stands this handsome pseudo-castle used by the Inverness city government.

Kelvingrove Art Gallery turns out to be the highlight of my day trip to Glasgow. The collection is imaginative (not the same old masters) and brilliantly curated with a short paragraph of illuminating comments about each painting ― not merely the usual title, painter, date in a small font. Wish more galleries would do that. The center hall features an enormous concert organ (above) and I enjoy the reverberating midday recital.

Near my Loch Lomand B&B, in the village of Drymen, the Strathendrick Pipe Band plays on Thursdays nights in the summer. Luckily, the timing is right as well as the weather.

In Oban, a pleasant resort town on my way northwest after departing Edinburgh, my best photo op is the sunset over Oban Bay and Kerrera.
Benefited greatly from amazingly good weather during my days in Scotland plus other kinds of luck ― such as the last minute Tattoo ticket, the village pipe band concert, (usually) driving on the left side of the road and not hitting anybody.

It would have been fun to have had a better idea exactly where were located the relevant very old Scottish branches in the family tree. Some (now called "Scotch Irish" or "Scots Irish" in the US and called "Ulster Scots" in the UK) moved to County Ulster (today's Northern Ireland) in the 1600s for a few generations before moving on to the United States in the 1700s. And Belfast is my next stop.