River Ness, Lovliness, Illness, and Christmas in Inverness

We’ve spent the last 10 days in Inverness, Scotland, exploring, sightseeing, relaxing, resting, and celebrating.  Below is a photo diary of the last 10 days. 🙂

The River Ness flows about 12 miles north from Loch Ness.  It’s a beautiful river with lovely walking paths running alongside it and great views of Inverness.  While we haven’t spotted the Loch Ness Monster, yet, apparently, the first claimed sighting of the monster was in the River Ness in 569 AD!

Our first views of the River were from the Inverness Castle, which is situated on a cliff above the River.

   

We strolled south along the river.  This side was called the Ladies Walk.  (The other side was called the Ness Walk.)

We walked past several bridges…

…to an old bridge that brought us to the Ness Islands.  The Ness Islands are full of cool natural benches, great walking paths (lots of dogs), small brooks and cascades, and a wide variety of large, old trees.

On the other side of the river, we saw a large sports indoor and outdoor complex, an ice rink (no open skating while we were there :/), a botanical garden, and a PLAYGROUND! 🙂

The Ness Walk side of the river on our way back to the city center.

At night, several of the bridges and trees nearby were decorated with lights for Christmas.

This one even changed colors!

Lovliness in Inverness…

Baking cookies…and sharing them with the owner of our apartment, who said she’d buy them, if we sold them! 🙂

Rainbows — we’ve seen three of them while we were here!  One last week, one on Christmas, and one today (Boxing Day)!

 

Flowers, chocolates, and a Christmas card with an ornament from our apartment owner!

 

As for the illness…well, we all ended up with “heavy colds,” along with the Queen! (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/12/25/queen-absent-christmas-church-service-sandringham-recovers-heavy/)

As a result, sadly, we missed Christmas Eve and Christmas Day church services, sparing the citizens of Inverness our sneezing, sniffly, runny, stuffy noses and coughing!

Here are the kids and I with our water and rolls of toilet paper (more economical than individual Kleenex boxes!).

Christmas!  Despite all of us being under the weather, we still enjoyed the day — being together…

 

Going for a short walk… (Here’s the Christmas rainbow again, and doesn’t the roof above the front door look like a crown?)

Watching the Royal Christmas Broadcast…

  

Playing charades and crackers…

Enjoying a tasty dinner…(The cook wasn’t crabby…just serious!)

 

…and doing lots of resting!

Mike found this article (http://mentalfloss.com/article/89676/10-uk-christmas-traditions-confuse-americans) yesterday on Christmas traditions in the U.K. and discovered that we’ve participated in 8 out of 10 of these items one way or another, without evening trying! We’ll work on taking part in #3 before the end of the season!

Happy Christmas!!

Christmas Pantomime

Last Thursday we went to the pantomime in Inverness.  Not this:

This:

We’ve seen posters since the end of November in almost every city in the U.K. we’ve been to advertising that city’s pantomime (aka panto).  The shows generally run sometime between the end of November through the beginning of January.

(Wendover (Aylesbury), Buxton, Edinburgh)

   

(Stirling, Inverness)

  

So, now you’re probably wondering, “What is panto, if it’s not this?”

It is soooooo much fun! The definition of British Pantomime is:

A theatrical entertainment, mainly for children, which involves music, topical jokes, and slapstick comedy and is based on a fairy tale or nursery story, usually produced around Christmas.

On a list of U.K. Christmas traditions, it’s described as “something that has to be experienced to fully appreciate it,” which is completely true!

The woman at the Inverness Visitor Center told us if we haven’t gone to a panto show yet, we really need to go.  So we walked over to the Eden Court Theater and purchased tickets for an afternoon production of:

  

It was a full theater of all ages. There were several school groups there, too, as they weren’t yet on break.  From the very start, we knew it was going to be fun and interactive! There are specific elements that are generally included in all pantomimes, including audience participation, original music combined with well-known songs, an older woman (the dame) played by a man, a young boy character played by a woman, an animal character, a good fairy and a villain.

In the production we saw, some of the songs included “I would walk 500 miles,” “Proud Mary,” “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” “My Heart Will Go On,” and a Beyonce song as well as references in the dialogue to Pokeman, Trump, Harry Potter (“Here’s Tom and Dick. Where’s Harry?”).  

It was a 2-hour show with a 20-minute intermission, but it was non-stop entertainment!! 🙂 We highly recommend it if you find yourself across the pond during the Christmas holiday season!

Here’s a review of the show we saw: http://www.heraldscotland.com/arts_ents/14971668.Pantomime_review__Dick_Whittington_at_Eden_Court_Theatre__Inverness/

And here’s more general information about the history of pantomime: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pantomime

A Variety of Museums in Inverness

Inverness Museum and Art Gallery

We learned more about Scottish history with a focus on the Highlands.  There’s a great timeline and exhibits beginning with the formation of the highland landscape and moving on to the Picts with their carved stones, medieval times, the Scottish Gaelic language and culture, the Stuarts and Bonnie Prince Charlie, the Jacobites, Scottish bagpipes and music, a beautiful collection of Inverness silver and ending with the modern city of Inverness.

There were lots of things to do, including trying on a replica bronze armlet, playing ancient Celtic board games (Merells and Hnefetafl), and even trying on an 18th century Highland kilt.

G posing by a old fire wagon.

G and L had lots of questions about these “ancient” phones and cameras!

Ship Space Museum

We weren’t exactly sure how far of a walk it was going to be to get to this museum, so we hailed a cab.  When Mike told him where we were headed, the cab driver said, “Are you sure?” with a smile. So, with that we were off.

We understood what he meant.  It wasn’t bad. It was just really quirky!  We opened the door of a building that looked like a house with a yard full of hand built boats in various states of completion. A guy came through a door, said hello, and told us we could just follow the path around the upstairs and that will lead us to the door with a porthole down to the basement which will lead us out to the yard.

And that was it. He went back to where he came from, and we made our way around the rooms full of clippings, posters, pictures, models, etc.  It’s a one-man venture mostly about The Titantic. There was one space where he had “Ghosts from the Abyss” playing on a t.v., which we watched for a bit.  It’s a documentary that James Cameron and Bill Pullman did in 2003 about their travel to the bottom of the sea to see the Titantic, using high-tech submarines and robots, etc.

In the basement, there was a real boat, where the kids played a video game where they drove the Titanic through a race course.

One of hundreds of clippings thumb tacked to the cork-board walls, and the porthole in the door leading out to the back yard.

Outside, there was an 88 foot, 1:10 model of The Titanic!

The Scottish Kiltmaker Visitor Centre

There was a fun movie about kilts and their history.  In addition, it describes the amount of cloth needed to make a kilt (8 yards) and how many pleats needed (depends on the design of the tartan and the size of the person).  All of the kilts made at The Scottish Kiltmaker are made by hand!  After the movie, we walked around a large room with various displays of uniforms and all the varieties of tartan.  There was also a large window looking into the workshop, where we could see craftspeople working on cutting and sewing kilts.

Black Watch tartan and high fashion tartan!

Next stop, a fabric store for some tartan!  (Not exactly, but it’s on my list!)

 

Pitlochry

We arrived in Pitlochry, Scotland, on December 14 and had a lovely stay.  Mike was here 12ish years ago alone and played a bit of golf and toured the smallest whiskey distillery in Scotland (Edradour).  It’s a sweet little town full of friendly people and beautiful Victorian architecture.

Inside the railway station, a colorful mural welcomed us. 

Pretty station with a bookshop!  What could be better?

The apartment came with a shelf full of toys for the kids and wine and flowers for the grownups! Perfect!

 

Here’s a view from our 3rd floor window.  In the second picture (below), you can see the Pitlochry library bookmobile in blue parked out front!

On our first full day in Pitlochry, we decided to visit Atholl Palace, which is actually a hotel and spa.  I read about a small but interesting museum that had some fun stuff for the kids and was a short walk from our apartment.  In fact, we only walked a few blocks before I saw a brown sign that seemed to indicate the palace entrance. (If you look closely, you can see the brown sign just under the fancy thistle lamp post.) The entrance to the palace is just beyond the car with its lights on coming around the bend.

Well, I thought, “According to my handy-dandy map, we’re supposed to turn left here. That sign must be for those who need to park their cars,” and I proceeded to lead us left up a hill, instead of straight toward the sign (and entrance).

Yes, as previously noted in other posts, I haven’t had good luck with getting us to places in the most direct route, and this was no exception.  BUT! If we hadn’t turned left and just walked a few hundred yards to the entrance of the palace grounds, we would have missed all of the scenery below!!

Hills and sheep and old fences…

Babbling brooks, a cool gate, and bridges…

  

Even a smallish waterfall…

 

That upon walking a few more steps, we realized was quite a big waterfall!

 

First-ever family selfie!

Now…which way to go…I was not necessarily making direction decisions at this point! 😉

Wait…what’s that through the trees…do you see it?

Yes! It’s the back of Atholl Palace! (See, I knew where we were the whole time! I just felt like a bit of a walk!  For the record, we walked about 2 hours before finding the palace… 🙂  )

And coming round to the front, we saw a putting green right on the front lawn, a beautiful entrance…

  

and a cool lion!

Inside, we oohed and ahhed over the beautiful decor, 3 grand pianos, and the details of this beautiful building! (The grand piano with the cover over it in this picture is from 1893!)

 

Downstairs was the Atholl Palace Museum, set in the old servant’s wing.  It covered the history of the hotel from its opening as a hydropathic venue in 1878 to serving as two different schools during WWI and WWII to a luxurious resort after the wars and up through the present day.  Next door to a room that offered a short historical movie about the hotel, there was a billiard table!

After a looooonnnnggggg game of pool, we stopped by the Stag’s Head Bar in the palace for a soda for the kids and a whiskey for Mike — a 16-year old Lagavulin. I tried a sip…smooooooth!

We chose to exit via the front of the palace this time…and walked past the Japanese Gardens on the grounds, complete with a giant pine cone in front of a Sequoia tree.

Remember that sign that I couldn’t quite make out on the way to the palace…well, here it is.  I stopped and took a picture of it as we walked past it. 🙂  Again, think of all we would have missed!!

The next day, we went to the Heathergems factory.  It’s just a small building a block or so from our apartment.  I’d seen Heathergems jewelry in Edinburgh and thought it would be fun to see the factory, since we’d be in Pitlochry anyway.  The gems are made using the stems of the heather plant and a resin to make beautiful gems used in uniquely Scottish jewelry and gifts.  I was intrigued by how they make these hard “stones” out of the stems of a plant.

Samples of the stones before they are fitted into jewelry settings.

Later in the day, Mike walked to the Blair Athol Distillery, while the kids and I went to check out the library. 🙂

Here’s what Mike saw:

     

And here’s where the kids and I were…the room with the light on is the library.  It’s a tiny little place but so well organized with a nice selection of books and a very nice children’s area. (It looks late, but it’s dark by 3:30!)

Our last morning in Pitlochry began with a beautiful sunrise and a bright day. (If you look closely, there are railroad tracks in this photo. They ran right behind our apartment. It was actually kind of fun to hear it rumbling past us.  And, maybe because we were up on the third floor or maybe not, it wasn’t too loud and didn’t shake things around. 🙂 )

We sat in chairs like the one below at the church service in Stirling.  We thought it was a fun idea to use them as kitchen chairs.  They are super heavy, so one can’t tip over…especially wee ones who like to move about in their chairs. 🙂  Rather than hymnals or prayer books, you could use the little shelf for napkins or bibs or things. 🙂

Waiting on platform 2 for our train to Inverness.

Cool Victorian-era fountain.

New hiking boots for 3 of the 4 of us.  Mike’s literally fell apart after 15+ years!  G and L outgrew theirs. (We bought both of theirs a little big 2 years ago, so it made sense that they’ve outgrown them.)  Mike and G got their new ones several weeks ago, thus the mud and such.  L just got his the day before, so they still look new. 🙂

L admiring his cool new boots (and rainjacket) and/or posing politely for his mom. 🙂

Fun on the train…crafts and relaxing.

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree

We arrived in Inverness, Scotland, yesterday afternoon and when we walked into our apartment, we found this:

The kids were so excited! They immediately went to work making ornaments! 🙂
During dinner, we could see a tree outside with lights, which was nice, but when we walked outside after dinner, we saw and HEARD this:
A stand-alone Christmas tree with musically choreographed lights!

Castle Stay

We surprised the kids with a castle stay after leaving Stirling.  We hopped on a bus and headed for Airth Castle.  When we walked up the path, we saw this:

 

While there are rooms in the castle, we stayed on the castle grounds in this building nearby:

After finding out the next day from a young front desk clerk that there are rumors that the castle itself is haunted, it was good that we were staying in the other building, or we would have had some jumpy, sleepless people in our room — of all ages! 🙂 (49-year old would probably have been okay, but he would have been by himself! 🙂 )

We decided that even though we didn’t have a room in the castle, we felt like we were living like royalty for a few days with a swimming pool, jacuzzi, sauna, steam room, full breakfast each morning and lunch and dinner on site, just down the hall from our room!  In addition, we weren’t responsible for cooking, cleaning, or doing any laundry!  It was a very relaxing and fun few days!

Beautiful decorations for Christmas (and the biggest lamp I’ve ever seen!).

Happy swimmers!

A handstand (G) and a somersault (L).

Fancy family photo.

Delicious dinners.

Fun “Frosty” desserts!

A traditional Scottish breakfast often includes haggis, which L tried AND enjoyed but doesn’t really know what it is!  Mike, knowing what it is, ate it and enjoyed it, too! 🙂

Floating peacefully…but who’s this? Surprise!!

 

Downtime in the room…G and L working on a stop-motion videos — Mike researching lodging/transportation — Jody blogging.

A nice late lunch/early dinner and of course dessert — meringue and candy floss for the kids and Christmas pudding for me. (Mike had an ice cream sundae, but we have no picture to share.)

After lunch, we decided to go and check out the castle.  (It was only 4:00, but it gets dark early!)

Beautiful chandeliers, L checking for ghosts with his ghost detector (aka drink stirrer), and a cool staircase looking all the way down from the top!

And a quick family photo on our way out of the castle.

 

 

 

Princess Party

My birthday started off with a warm, delicious breakfast of pain au chocolat, coffee with cream, and bacon!  As my birthday was on Sunday, we went to church at the Church of the Holy Rude (Holy Cross), which is the second oldest building in Stirling after the castle.

 

It was founded in 1129 as the parish church of Stirling. The church is reputed to be the only church in the United Kingdom other than Westminster Abbey to have held a coronation and still be a living church today.  The coronation on July 29, 1567 of James VI (13-month old infant son of Mary, Queen of Scots) is an important part of the history of Scotland, of the United Kingdom and of the Reformation.  Just days earlier, she was forced to sign the instrument of abdication in favor of her son, Prince James. After the death of Queen Elizabeth I of England , King James VI of Scotland also became King James I of England. 

When we walked into the church, we were greeted right away by two women (who we found out later were sisters).  After the service, we were warmly greeted by several other members of the congregation and found out all sorts of interesting things about the church. 

 

An older fellow took G and L up to the altar to see the angel window and show them the super old flags hanging from the wall, one was used at Waterloo! The angel window is there to remind people that there’s an angel in everyone.  When the light shines through it, it shines on the cross.  

Another man, who was referred to as the historian, pointed out to us that up high on one of the stone columns there’s a carving of King James IV.  He went on to explain that court jesters were used for providing amusement at court, but that they also served as the whooping person in place of the young prince and princesses.  As a result, one day, the court jester who took the place of Prince James, came into the church, while the stone mason was working and looked upset.  He explained that the prince had been misbehaving and he had taken the whooping once again.  The two of them devised a plan to get back at the king and the prince for this practice.  The stone mason used the column right across from the carving of the king and made one of the court jester and made him slightly higher than the king, so he’d be closer to heaven and with his tongue sticking out at the king!

We enjoyed visiting with so many different people and having some coffee and cake, too, (which wasn’t for my birthday, but for a member of the congregation, who was celebrating his 70th birthday)! They couldn’t have been more friendly or welcoming! 

After church, we walked up the cobble stoned street a bit to Stirling Castle.  We’d been told by the tourist office the previous day that we should plan to spend about 2.5 hours.  I think we ended up being there for almost 4 hours!  It’s a fabulous castle with so much history and with all the information so well presented on boards, with interactive exhibits, and by costumed staff dressed as servants and court officials (below we learned about the oldest “foot” ball, the history of the golf ball, the term “caddie,” and chamber pots).

 

We started out in the Casements and Palace Vaults, which were part of the outer defenses of the castle.  In the Casements, there was a Castle Exhibit that explained in great detail the history of the castle from it’s beginnings to the present day.

In the Palace Vaults, each room was full of interesting and interactive exhibits, specifically aimed at kids.  In the tailor’s room, G tried on one of the period costumes and we smelled scents used to ward off bad smells.

In the music room, we learned more about medieval instruments (like the clavicle).  In the painter’s room, L and G both read about how rare pigments were shipped from all over the world to create paints and dyes and then played a related game. In the carver’s room, we saw how the carvers created the Stirling Heads and stone carvings around the castle.

Below are replicas of the Stirling Heads. These replica medallions are installed on the ceiling of the King’s Inner Hall.  The 16th century originals, which are 1-meter wide and made of oak are displayed in a special gallery in the castle. They were carved with images of kings, queens, nobles, Roman emperors and characters from the Bible and Classical mythology.

And in the jester’s room, L and G posed as jesters, we heard a jester tell some jokes. 🙂 In the picture below, there is wording above where L and G are that tells parents to peek in the window above them.  When you do, you see a mirror reflection with their faces, but now the front of them shows them sitting on “thrones.”  (You can see the reflection of Mike taking the picture.)  Those crazy jesters and their silly sense of humor!

Stirling Castle, like Edinburgh, is situated atop a large volcanic rock above the river Forth.  During the Wars of Independence, the castle changed hands eight times in 50 years. Both the battles of Stirling Bridge and Bannockburn took place nearby. Below are miscellaneous pictures:

 

View from inside the castle, looking down at the Queen Anne Garden and the steeple of the Church of the Holy Rude in the distance.

  

In the Great Hall, G and L posed as royalty!

In the kitchen area, L and G tried their hand at the mannequin challenge, which doesn’t work as well in a photo, but in real life, they could hold a pose!

After touring the castle, we stopped in the gift shop, where Mike and the kids found a birthday gift for me (sterling silver Scottish earrings with my birthstone in the middle :)) and then in the last gift shop on the castle grounds — The Clan and Craft — we found Santa and one of his elves! 🙂  

We headed from the castle to get a birthday lunch/dinner at the kilted Kangaroo (the best part was the appetizer — crispy brie wedges with cranberry sauce).  For dessert, we stopped at The Crossed Peels. Grace had fudge cake with ice cream; Mike had a fudge brownie with ice cream; Leo had a knickerbocker glory (a layered ice cream sundae with berries and fresh whipped cream); and I had sticky toffee pudding with ice cream. 

How much better could a birthday be (for a gal who has always loved drawing and reading and looking at princess-y things) than to spend it at a castle?! 🙂  A royally, sweet birthday!