Day 19

As with all travels, this one too has come to its end. As is usual the case when leaving the Island via Dover the cliffs greet us a gleaming goodbye as we slowly drift away on our trusted ferry. The weather is splendid for a journey at sea, sunny and little wind… though we don’t quite believe the 25° C that are advertised at the ferry terminal at 7 in the morning. As we finally set foot on the continent again we even manage to stay on the correct side of the road.
There isn’t much to say about the drive back, except maybe about the  ultimate blandness of Belgium (s0rry Belgians, but at least I didn’t mention the general lack of driving skills) which might explain why a place called “Plopsaland” apparently has so much appeal that it causes a traffic jam.
Bianca and her minimal luggage is successfully dropped off at home, and I manage to do the same, with substantially more luggage though. The only difficulty presenting itself here is the fact that the BVB has chosen exactly the evening of my return to play its first game of the season (remember that supercup we discovered in the Pub? Yes, that one. They play against Bayern! NOW!) which means that I don’t even dream of getting a parking space, I drop the bus off at its temporary home and come back via the wonderful invention of public rental bike, easily done via the app. I even manage to get a bit furter in hatching an egg…. I have internet again after all!
After dragging all my unnecessary items up the stairs I am now typing these lines while the tub is filling and the cat is begging for attention, so I will leave you with this good hint: When in Scotland, bring an umbrella!


Day 18

There isn’t very much to say about this day, we drive down to Dover. This is a 4 hour ride, streched out to 5 by our lunch- and last shopping-stops. We actually pay for the Dartford Crossing, thus avoiding later inconveniences, we encounter very little traffic jams, and get a glimpse of the big city from the highest point of Dartford bridge, the Gherkin and the Shard can clearly be seen from there. One thing that needs to be remarked upon is the fact that the moment we crossed the border between Scotland and England the weather seems to have turned to something usually found in the mediterranean. It is very warm. And sunny. We are not prepared for this and only slowly manage to peel of our various protective layers. At least our shoes finally have a chance to dry, and so does Saskias treasured Smithsonian plastic cover which was still dripping wet from the Tattoo downpour. We occupy our pitch in Martin Mill, and spend the rest of the evening eating our remaining food and preparing for the next day, since we have to leave the site at 7am, which does not give us a lot of time tor frivolities, like breakfast.

Day 17

Our holiday planning has provided us with a little spare time today, so we pick one of the many interesting places that still lie between us and Dover and decide to spend the day in the beautiful city of York. York, mainly known to be the name-giver for that unobtrisive little village on the American East-coast as well as its Viking heritage (all the places in the area are called something -by) has actually a much more interesting and varied history, not only was it once basically Englands captial, but it was an important trade town in Victorian times as well. It still has many beautiful houses and crooked lanes to show for that. We walk through the old town, have lunch at a very nice restaurant near the castle and finally decide to enter the castle museum. The main tourist stop, Yorvik viking-village, is being overhauled and is therefore closed until 2017, so that we don’t feel bad about skipping the smaller exhibitions which are scattered around the city in its place. We will simply come back some day and look at it in all its new splendor.

Our choice turns out to be a very good one. Not being able to compete with Yorvik on the viking topic the Castle museum, which is housed in rooms that once made up the old women’s prison, concentrates on life through the ages, beginning with Tudor times. It spans on up until today, and shows a variety of furnished rooms, every-day items and for example a large amount of various toys. Noteable are the very lifelike stuffed dogs, lying in front of several fireplaces, and the nice touch of making everything looking very much as if the family just left the room, including food on the tables and dead rabbits hanging from rafters. The most impressive part of the museum though is the very intricate reconstruction of a Victorian street, ca 1880. It is there in gloomy darkness, with cobblestones, sounds, and many shop windows decorated with items one would find there naturally. The only thing missing is the element of smell, but honestly, we are not so sorry they omitted that. Saskia is of course very distraught, since she feels severely underdressed. But her spirits are lightened up again by the very nice exhibition on „shaping the body“ through the ages, where she can study historic underwear up close. Bianca in the meantime tries out what it felt like to wear a bustle, her final judgement on it is: smashing, if uncomfortable. She will probably not make it a daily habit.

 After finishing our visit in the prison part of the exhibition, where we are able to admire a set of gallows, which had been recently used in the prison-yard, not to hang anybody, but to serve as a prop for a TV series. Apparently the museum doesn’t know what to do with it now, so if you are in need of a perfectly fine new set of gallows for your garden, contact the York Castle Museum.
We empty the museum shop of necessary items, and make our way back to the Park-and-Ride lot, where we left the bus. The rest of the evening is taken up by our search for a campsite, though they were two to every streetcorner in the more Northern area of Yorkshire, the southern part is not so well equipped, and we are mislead more than once. We finally manage to find one, which lay hidden somewhere behind a farm, and we even reach our pitch without killing any poultry walking on the road.

Day 16

Our first stop today is the conveniently located Tesco Superstore, which provides us with the necessary provisions, like bread, cookies and crisps. We then proceed on to our last stop on the educational Whisky-tour we are apparently on, we will (again) visit the Glenkinchie Distillery, which is on our way. Our tour-guide today is called Brian, we assume the Gordons were otherwise occupied, but he provides us with one of the nicest accents we heard on this trip so far. He also quickly realizes that he is dealing with experts here, and nonchalantly overlooks the fact that we are the only ones in the group who didn’t book the extra tastings, so that we are able to try more than one whisky. We are once more assured that we really need to direct our step to Islay for the next trip, the Llagavullin was really really very good. After the nice stop Bianca is very happy indeed, while Saskia is looking forward to emptying her little containers later that evening.
The rest of the day is pure driving, we now finally leave scotland and enter the more lush and mainly farm-covered area of Northern England, where we spend the night at a nice campsite in the memorably named hamlet of Osmotherly.

Day 15

This morning we have to pack a bit more carefully, because we will need to have everything with us that we need for the evening-event.
Saskia’s foot hurts for inexplicable reasons, and Bianca still wants to do some serious shopping, so we separate after checking in at the tourist information about some last minute directions.
Bianca mainly browsed the retail section of the city, and was very successful in doing so.

Saskia didn’t want to walk too much, and made her way up the Royal mile, where she entered the age-old tourist attraction of the Camera Obscura. In operation since the 1850ies, this neat mirror-based viewing device is today on top of a museum that houses in its narrow rooms a large variety of optical illusions and trick-devices, some of them quite mind-boggling. After having walked the exhibition one is taken in small groups into the Camera Obscura itself, where we can see (if it is a bright enough day) a blurry but surprisingly detailed look of Edinburgh, and even zoom in onto single people on the Royal mile. And while to modern eyes this seems to be somewhat unimpressive, one must imagine how this must have looked to the Victorian spectator. Apparently people regularly fainted and ran out screaming.
We finally meet up again and go to find lunch somewhere. We choose a restaurant that is not too convincing on the culinary side, but which is conveniently placed next to the venue we will go next. Also we can use the WiFi of the Isis-Hotel next door.
Around 5 p.m. We walk over to the large building next door, apparently a part of the university, where we walk up 4 narrow staircases and are then led into the small makeshift theatre. Actually it is quite a professional venue for the Fringe, apparently during this time every broom-closet is turned into a showroom of some sort.
We watch a tale of murder, jealousy and deception unfold, and – surprisingly for everyone involved – the victim turned out to actually have killed himself by licking a half-dead hamster. We had a lot of fun, so did the actors.

We still have some time to visit a shop or two before we have to be at our final venue, but we are anxious to not to be too late and get in line up at the castle rather early.
Of course by now the slight drizzle of the day has grown into a steady light rain, you can guess how it will change over the rest of the evening.
Umbrellas are not allowed, so we join the rest of the crowd and don our plastic covers, which had been waiting in the vaults of the bus since ages ago for just this kind of event!
Finally we can enter the large performance area in front of the castle-entrance, and find our seats, which are cheap and so are right at the end. But to be fair one can still see a lot from there, the only thing that is probably better from the royal box is the various patterns formed by the bands, and the roof of course. Nobody has a roof but the Queen.
We chat with our neighbours, who are a whole family that comes regularly, the men dutifully attired in kilts, and they are well prepared for the occastion with gloves, wellies and blankets. We wish we had thought of that, because our plastic covers only give very limited guard against the rain, which has by now shown its complete Scottish nature and comes down by the bucket.
At last the show begins, and after the guest of honor (some Major something) is greeted by the honour-guard of the jordanian King (yes!) we are presented with 2 hours of constant marching, piping, dancing and presenting by the finest of British and various foreign military bands. We also see very good Highland-Dancing, apparently very good marching (which looks very much like what our Funkemariechen do, except for the Bützchen) and a neat set of little kids on tiny motorbikes doing wild stunts including pyramids with up to 10 people! The uniforms are all very nice and we admire the precision of their performances, especially the Norwegian King’s Guard really put on a nice presentation. The American Army Band Europe clearly swing the most, while the Shetland Fiddlers get all our sympathy because they have to stand in flimsy plaids in the now pouring rain and fiddle. Let’s just hope they didn’t have to use their own instruments!
The castle is illuminated in various ways, matching the songs and presentations, and the whole event is supported by repeated fireworks.
After an emotional finale we are finally able to pour the water out of our shoes and walk to the bus-stop, definitely the warmest moment over the last 3 hours.
All in all it was worth it, though the rain really put a damper on the whole thing, not just for us who were just ill-prepared, but probably also for the performers who certainly didn’t enjoy the thing as much as usual. But we admire the determination of the team who apparently won’t let a little bad weather stop them from what they are doing.

Day 14

We don’t waste any time this morning, since we have somewhere to be. The big city is waiting for us.
We drive through our last stretch of the Highlands and slowly make our way down to the Firth of Forth. After crossing it (with spectacular views of the old railway bridge and the new bridge being built on the other side) we arrive, and after circling the city in intricate patterns we find our campsite, which we had stealthily booked about 6 months in advance. If you can say one thing about this campsite: location, location, location.
We hook up the vehicle and quickly set foot towards town. On our way to the bus station we see the second set of highland cows this trip, the other was in the meadow at Balmoral Castle. I have seen more of them in the Sauerland than in Scotland, to be honest.

Lothianbus has done some research and realized that the number of people taking the buss 11 from the campsite to the centre is so high, that it justifies the placement of a ticket-selling-bus at the entrance. Since you need exact change if you want to buy your ticket from the driver, this is a good idea.
We hop on the bus, and realize that they didn’t manage to install change-giving ticket machines in the busses, but free WiFi. We like your priorities, Lothianbus.
We entertain ourselves on the trip by catching Pokemon.

When we arrive at our destination, the first thing we see is a largre crowd of people standing on the sidewalk, apparently there has been a fire-alarm in one of the retail buildings. We walk around to Rose-Street, and after a short stop to get some socks we find the little dance-supply retailer that had been recommended to us in Pitlochry. We sit down among all the tiny pink girls, that are obviously there to buy ballet-shoes. The friendly girl from the shop provides us with what we ask for, and after a few minutes of trying and lacing we are the proud owners of a pair of Ghillies each. To those of you unfamiliar with the term: Ghillies are the type of soft-soled shoes you use to do country-dancing in. The special thing that separates them from what we would call Gymnastikschläppchen is the narrow sole, and the lacing, which makes them look so much nicer.
Happy with our purchase we go and have something to eat. We enter one of the many traditional pubs, that advertise that they serve the best, definitely, Fish and Chips ever. This one is somewhat correct, they are really very good. Also the place is really nice.

We then make our way over to the old town. Sitting high on the hill that also carries the castle it is an intricate jumble of narrow closes, steep roads and bridges. We pop out onto the Royal Mile, and after grafting the souvenir shops (which are here in such a great number that you could dress the whole population of Luxemburg in Tartan just taken from the Edinburgh souvenir stock.) we walk down to the fringe area. Here the performers of the Fringe Festival have the opportunity to present their acts and plays to the general public and to entice them to visit their shows. We pick up a few flyers, but we had looked at the program in advance and had already picked something we would like to see. We get in line at the ticket office, by now it is suitably raining, and purchase tickets to an improv Murder Mystery for the next day. Sadly the improv Jane Austen Novel was already sold out, and the next day we found out that we could also have watched an improv Doctor Who Adventure. See a pattern here? Not all of the Fringe is improv, but a lot, and it is usually very good.
We continue to walk the Royal Mile, and decide on a whim that we would like to take one of the many walking tours that are on offer. We did one last time, that was very entertaining, we choose a different company this time, and set off on the Famous Ghost Tour. We are guided by a young-looking lady, in ghastly attire, who apparently is a famous ghost, though she forgets to tell us which one. She shows us around some significant places in the old town, tells us a few gory stories (all true! Of course!) and gives us some information on the history. We dutifully visit Greyfriars Cemetery, and finally are taken down into the vaults of the city, which are basically the spaces created by the bridges that hold half the city above the other half. Here we are entertained by some more tales of torture and are introduced to the local ghosts. Apparently, wherever your are in Edinburgh, there is always a ghost of an old lady crouching in the corner, and of children grasping your hands in the dark. Thankfully this company has refrained from employing someone to jump out at us. They purely rely on the storytelling abilities of their guides, which are quite good.

After the tour we go to one of Edinburgh’s more famous watering holes: The World’s End Pub. Quite nice on the inside, covered with foreign bills (mostly dollars) and the beer is good, too.We finally make our way back to the bus stop and get on the bus, which takes us to our campsite, where we rest our hurting feet before the hard day ahead of us.


Day 13

We decided to spend another night in Pitlochry, since it is really a very nice place and we don’t have anywhere elst to be till Tuesday. We have been here before, like… 3 years ago, but we didn’t see all of it back then.

The campsite is conveniently located right near the distillery, and it has basically tripled in size over the last 3 years. We have our day planned out: we will walk to the distillery, take a tour, then walk around town, visit a sight or two, have something to eat and then finish the day with the “Highland Night” event advertised at the entrance to the campsite. We are tourists, after all!

The day is lush and sunny, and our first little walk to the Blair Atholl Destillery is very pleasant. We book a tour for the afternoon, apparently the tourists are just pouring into the place, and continue our walk to the little main street. Pitlochry is really a touristy spot like no other, the amount of wool-mills and souvenir dealers is breathtaking. But there are also some nice little restaurants, and after finding the remaining gifts for home (or for ouselves) and dutyfully admiring all the various tartans in the kiltmakers shop we have very typicall British food in an italian restaurant.

Well fed and laden with loot we make our way back to the distillery, where we get to start the tour 5 minutes late, which apparently is the reason for us getting a second taste, not just the regular 12 year old, but also some special distiller’s edition.

Our tour guide this time is not called Gordon, but Frank. We overlook this fact since he is very nice, and probably older than any whiskey present on the premises. We are very worried that he might drop the valuable bottle during the tasting.
For the first time on this trip we see a distillery in operation, and the smells are indescribably good. Also it is very hot inside, which is nice, since it is very cold outside.

After our tasting we sit in the sun (which just comes out for that purpose) and eat our sandwiches, which we brought to suck up all the alcohol. It sort of works. We stop at the bus to drop off the bags and make our way along the river Tummel towards the small suspension bridge. By now the sky is bright blue and the sun is shining on us like it does it all the time here. We walk past the theatre towards the dam, where we admire the fish-ladder, a genial construction to enable salmon to make their way up the river. The installed fish-counter tells us that no fish passed through during our visit, what a dissapointment.

We walk back from the dam towards the recreation grounds, where people in kilts and signal vests already set up shop for the evening’s entertainment. German as we are we decide to buy our tickets right away and secure ourselves a good spot. We are 45 minutes early. Here is a live report of the proceedings.
We buy our tickets. We also buy programs, after we are told you need one to win a bottle of whisky.  19:05
We settle down on the “terrace”, which are actually the bleechers of the rugby pitch, entirely made of earth and some planks, grown over with grass.  19:07
Other spectators arrive, but they shun the terrace and instead drive their cars onto the grass, where they are arranged in a semicircle by an orderly. You can actually watch the whole thing from your car, which makes sense in the usual Scottish weather. Today is rather sunny though. We are happy on the terrace.  19:11
Bianca finds out that there will be audience participation country-dancing during the program. We move down a few steps so that she can be onstage faster.
Saskia grabs all the dry grass from the last mowing she can get to build herself a nest. It turns out comfy and dry. Other visitors follow her example. Some brought blankets and pillows though.  19:23
The sound check turns out well. We are sprinkled with pre-show music.
The food van arrives. Might be fish and chips, or just drinks. We will find out.
The terrace is getting fuller. The pipe band its preparing in the background.
The car circle is nearly complete. The terrace is under Dutch and German control.
A second row is opened for cars. The sun is beginning to disappear.
The band approaches.
Welcome speech. 19:42
The band plays and circles the turf. 19:48
Funny presenter tells us to shout bravo and the cars to toot the horn. Hilarious result.
Elderly gentleman sings a song about the battle of Kiliekrankie. We think he was there too. This is Musikantenstadl, Scottish edition.
Another song. His name is Alister McCray. They couldn’t have made it up.
19:55 Donnie Kennedy on the akkordeon. It is hooked up to a car.
Highland dancers. Very nice.
Little girls do sword dance. 20:10
Elderly lady sings song from Islay.
Pipe band again. Audience draws in to take photos.
Bugs draw in on who is left on the terrace to take their blood. 20:25
Pipe band leaves the field and chases spectators off. Country-dance ladies get ready.
Ladies do nice reel and Strathspey. 20:33
Pipe band members ask audience to dance. Despite our best efforts nobody wants to dance with Bianca.
They do a round dance … Mayhem ensues. People end up on the grass. Looks dangerous.
Highland dancers. Do something and look pretty. Also a hornpipe. Sailor Style! 20: 45
Elderly  Lady sings again. We join in, it is Mairi’s wedding and Loch Lomond.
Country Dancers come on and do some more dances we don’t know. Lots of Törchen in a dance about weaving. We should recommend this one at home.
Bianca gets coffee from the food van, they also have Fish and Chips, but we are not interested.
Funny presenter makes lots of jokes about where people come from. Welcomes the English to Europe. We are giggling.
Lonsome piper from Canada. Pipes nicely. Apparently came all the way for the piping championship on Saturday, which is why funny presenter advises us to avoid Glasgow on Saturdy.
Lucky Number is drawn, we don’t win the bottle. Bottle is won by 2 year old girl.
Pipe Band comes on again and finishes off the evening, marches into the sunset.
We walk home under dramatic skies to our bus and enjoy a nice evening of tea and TV.