After getting ready we went downstairs for breakfast.The hotel offers a continental breakfast and a full cooked breakfast. For some strange reason it is £1 less for the Continental (total of £7) but you get more food. The items available were not mind blowing but adequate to start our day.
George Square is the city's central plaza and dates from 1782. It is named for King George III. The City Chambers (headquarters of the Glasgow City Council) is located in the square and it is a grand building with tons of Carrara marble inside. There are also important statues and monuments flanking the square, including those of Robert Burns, James Watt, Sir Robert Peel and Sir Walter Scott.
In advance of the 2014 Commonwealth Games which will take place in Glasgow, they are renovating the entire square and removing the red bricks. They are being replaced with gray pavers. They are also adding some grassy areas that apparently were removed some years ago. The first phase is due to be completed in September at a cost of £500,000. This will restore the square to its original appearance. Some Glaswegians have previously referred to the area mockingly as "Red Square".
|George Square under renovation|
The bus has single seats on the left and double seating on the right. We sat on the right and it was a bit snug for the all day tour. We were ready to depart but needed to wait for two more people who had not shown up. George was very patient and was about to call the office for permission to leave when our two wayward stragglers arrived. They were a Canadian mother and her 12 year old son. The mother said they got lost and walked way beyond the meeting point. However, later on the mom mentioned she and her son are staying in Glasgow with her sister for 3 weeks. My guess is they overslept. In any event they were very nice and I glad they made it in time.
As we departed the city, George pointed out some of the historic tenement buildings. Many of these buildings were torn down and replaced with modern apartment blocks. It was nice to see they are not all gone.
|Tenement Style building|
In preparation of our visit to Stirling Castle, George shared information about Scottish history and the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297. This was a historic victory for Scotland's independence. This battle was portrayed in Mel Gibson's movie Braveheart. George played a short snippet from the film over the PA system.
Scotland has had a storied past. In addition to their territorial disputes with England, they have achieved great prominence in areas as diverse as literature, business and medicine. Scottish literary luminaries include Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, J M Barrie and more recently J K Rowling.
The number of Scottish is inventors is jaw dropping. Steam Engine - James Watt, Tar road surfacing - John McAdam, the bicycle - Kirkpatrick Macmillan, Light bulb - Bowman Lindsay, .Antiseptic - Joseph Lister, Telephone - Alexander Graham Bell, Television - John Logie Baird, Penicillin - Alexander Fleming, Radar - Sir Robert Watson Watt, fax machine - Alexander Bain, lawnmower - Patrick Bell. Two of the World's best known capitalists are Scottish, Adam Smith and Andrew Carnegie. Least we forget that the game of golf was invented here too. Quite impressive!
It took about 35 minutes to reach the outskirts of Stirling. There are many farms in the area and the setting is gorgeous. The castle is quite impressive perched up on Castle Hill.
|Approaching Stirling Castle|
Stirling Castle admission is not included in the Rabbies tour price but Rabbies participants get a discount, saving a few pounds.
|The Princes Tower|
Stirling Castle was the scene of at least 8 battles during the Wars of Scottish Independence. In 1296 Edward I of England invaded Scotland beginning a long history of land capture and retrenchment between the Scots and the English that would last for 60 years.
Almost all the present buildings in the castle were constructed between 1490 and 1600 during the Stewart kings (James IV, James V and James VI) Renaissance. The architecture of the new buildings is an eclectic mix of English, French and German influences.
|Rear of the Royal Palace|
The Royal Palace is at the south side of the inner Close (courtyard) and was the work of King James V. The French inspired building is covered with carved stone and is very beautiful. The castle was closed to the public for many years. A £12 million project to recreate the grandeur of the Royal Palace was completed in June 2011. The work took a decade of research and craftsmanship. The six royal apartments were restored as they may have looked in the 1540s, when this was the childhood home of Mary Queen of Scots. The painstaking process of restoring the seven hand-woven unicorn tapestries was completed in 2013.
|Statue of Soldier on the South Parapet|
|Bullet ridden tower|
|Royal Palace and the Great Hall|
|Entrance to the Great Hall|
The large windows with crest inserts flood the room with light.
|Dias for the King and Queen|
The Stirling guide explained the history of the building as we walked around. Afterward, we departed the Great Hall and headed to the King Old's Building. Our castle guide is pictured below. He reminds me a little of Sir Ian McKellan.
|King Old's Building|
|King's Bed Chamber|
|Apartment with restored unicorn tapestries|
We exited the building and took a walk around the exterior to take in the views of the castle and the countryside.
The sun was struggling to breakthrough the clouds. It was getting warmer and was about 70 degrees. The grounds and views of the countryside were beautiful.
|View from Stirling Castle|
We took a peek in the impressive gift shop. They had for sale books, black Scottie stuffed animals, miscellaneous gifts and a whisky section. I was tempted to buy a cute book on Scottish phrases but decided not to as I didn't want to make my bag any heavier.
|Scottish Whisky selection|
|Royal Palace, Forework (entrance) and the current gift shop|
|Scottish Ice cream|
|Driving by the church|
|Doune Castle from Monty Python fame|
Mission accomplished, we assembled back on the bus for the 25 minute drive to Loch Lomond. On the way we passed a beautiful hotel called Tigh Mor. George pulled the bus over so we could get off and take some photos.
|Tigh Mor Hotel|
|Loch in Trossachs National Park|
|Hamish (tan) and his "wife" Amy (black)|
We are now in what is known as the Trossachs. It is very green and there are beautiful hills and opportunities for hiking.
Trossachs National Park is one of two national parks in Scotland. It was established in 2002 by the Scottish Parliament. The Trossachs are a mountainous region with deep cut glens, shimmering lochs, purple heather and green forests. The park is the fourth largest in the British Isles with a total area of 720 square miles. It includes 21 munros (mountains over 3000 ft), 2 forests and 57 nature conservation sites.
|Walking to the Loch|
|Path to viewpoint|
Loch Lomond is the largest loch (lake) in the UK. It is 24 miles long, 5 miles wide and up to 600 feet deep with 38 islands. The loch is watched over by Ben Lomand, a mountain of 3,192 feet. Ben Lomand is very popular with hill walkers and it takes 4 -5 from top to bottom roundtrip. There is a famous song about Loch Lomond reputed to be about two of Bonnie Prince Charlie's soldiers who were captured in 1745.
The story says one of the soldiers was to be executed and the other released. The ghost or spirit of the dead soldier would makes it way home to loch lomond on the "low road" before the other soldier was released. He would have to take the long way home over the hills and mountains, or the "high road".
The song has been popular in Scotland for many years but in 1991the Scottish band Runrig played a massive outdoor concert on the shores of Loch Lomond and the song exploded. The second verse is probably familiar to most people:
Oh ye'll tak' the high road and I'll tak' the low road,
An' I'll be in Scotland before ye',
But wae is my heart until we meet again
On the bonnie, bonnie banks o' Loch Lomond
This is a link to the Runrig concert: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pzQ1pNfbe3Q
|Beautiful Loch Lomond from Balmaha|
While at the top I spoke with two of the people on our tour. I was surprised that they were from Brittany. I told them how much we enjoyed seeing Dinard, Dinan and St. Malo last spring. We actually started talking when I remarked the walk up the hill was much easier than last winter in Halong Bay, Vietnam when I needed help to get down. They had also visited Vietnam but during the summertime.
The descent here was not difficult but I was careful so as not to slip and fall and injure myself. One of the other tour participants kept up the rear to make sure I was okay on the way down.
We rejoined the group and my mother told me that while we were on the hill, the Canadian mother all of a sudden started to have a bit of a panic attack about her son and if he was okay. How she could sense he was almost dangling off the top of the precipice I have no idea!
|Map of Loch Lomond and the park|
|Loch Lomond at ground level|
|Great day for a walk|
We boarded the bus again for the drive to Aberfoyle where could have lunch. It was only about a 20 minute drive. The countryside was very pretty during the drive. However, I noticed the best views were on the left side of the bus. We were on the right side so I didn't get many good photos and it was a little frustrating.
|Trossachs on the way to Aberfoyle|
I spotted a lot of livestock as well as horses during the drive.
During the journey to Aberfoyle we asked George how he felt about the vote and referendum next year for Scottish independence. He had served in the English army for 8 years in Iraq and Afghanistan, and has spent a lot of time with the English. He was careful not to boast but it was clear he was going to vote in favor of Scotland going their own way. It will be interesting to see what happens in September 2014.
We pulled into Aberfoyle, a small town in the Trossachs with a wool mill shopping center, lots of restaurants and hotels. George suggested a few places for lunch and told us what time to be back. We only had about an hour. I had read about the Quack Commando show with a sheep dog and ducks and true to form they were straight ahead as we walked toward the main building.
|Char (Charlie) and his ducks|
|Varieties of sheep|
Finally it was time for the show and Charlie quickly got to work! He is 10 years old and is still quite spry. He listened intently to his master as he directed the ducks through and obstacle course. He is an amazing dog!
|Char herding his ducks!|
|The Forth Inn - our lunch spot|
|Forth Inn Interior|
|Yummy Fish & Chips|
|Wool Mill Shopping|
|A cute Hebridean sheep|
We departed Aberfoyle for our last and final stop, the Glengoyne Distillery. It has been a long day but the pacing has been excellent and it is so much easier to do this with a guide.
As we approached the distillery it looked like we were in the forest. The foliage was very lush and abundant with lots of tall trees.
Glengoyne Distillery was founded in 1833 and is the most southern distillery in Scotland producing Highland single malt whisky. The distillery is located right on the line separating the highlands from the lowlands. It is one of the smallest distilleries in Scotland.
|Map showing the boundary between the Highlands and the Lowlands.|
The white building is adorable and because the distillery is small it provides more of a cozy feeling, that is if you can discount the large number of tourists taking the tours.
We purchased our tickets for the tour and were then led into a lounge to watch a short video and have a tasting of the 10 year old whisky. The 12 year old boy and 2 other teenagers did not do the tasting but were offered water instead. Lorna, our guide was excellent and very enthusiastic. She was very proud of Glengoyne distillery and it showed.
Lorna gave a short description of Glengoyne and why it is "special" and differs from other Scottish distilleries. To begin with they do not use peat in their maturation process. Other distilleries will use peat smoke to dry their barley. At Glengoyne they use warm air. This gives the whisky a clear bright appearance and distinctive flavor.
Before we were led out of the room to tour the distillery, Lorna informed us that no photos are allowed inside the building.
|Glengoyne Distillery buildings|
We entered the building with the large oak barrel tubs (I think there were 6) and Lorna lifted the top so we could all take a whiff. It looked very soupy and actually smelled quite nice. This room was very warm and a little humid. We next went up the little metal staircase to the Still area of which there are 3. Lorna explained that it takes months to make one batch and everything is done by hand. There is no computer or other mechanization. We walked by the little book with pencil markings noting the schedule. Making whisky is a painstaking process!
As we exited the building we were told we could take a photo looking in from the outside. The Stills are very pretty.
This part of the tour now complete, we were led back to the gift shop where Lorna explained the different whisky varieties they sell.
|Lorna explaining the different ages of Whisky they make|
|Carafes and other merchandise for sale|
We enjoyed the tour of the distillery and slowly wandered back to the bus. I am happy we soon be back in Glasgow. It was fun but tiring day.
|Heading back to Glasgow|
|Going to dinner|
We decided to order off the regular menu. We shared the dim sum sampler first. The sauce was a little too pungent but the dumplings were very good.
|Chicken Katsu Curry|
|Duck with Lychee and Plums|
We also decided to order a dessert to share. I let my mother choose and she selected the fried Banana with Coconut Ice Cream.
|My serving of the Banana and ice cream|
The woman and her son who own the restaurant were wonderful. We loved our meal and hope to be back.
|Lychee Oriental bar area (mother and son in the background)|
|Back at the Indigo Hotel|
Tomorrow we will check out in the morning and fly from Glasgow to London Gatwick. We will spend one night in England before boarding the Ocean Princess the following day. We have enjoyed Glasgow very much and very glad we came.