Susi and Austin's

Travelling the Rivers and

Canals of Europe


Scotland - Glasgow to Edinburgh

Tuesday 1 August 2023 11:17 PM

We smuggled Austin out of Europe on the very last of his permitted 90-day stay. The German border control sounded slightly disappointed being unable to inflict a steep fine on an illegal Aussie, and emphasised “Today is the very last day”!


Our tour “Bonnie Scotland” however would not start until two days later, therefore giving us time to look around Glasgow. 

The first thing Austin did after checking into the hotel was to ask the concierge for a good nearby pub. We always find we get the best information in the local pubs. Funny enough, we were told to go to Molly Malone's - an Irish pub around the corner from where we stayed. 

We would have been expecting a strong dialect in an Irish pub, but an Irish pub in Glasgow presented an even steeper challenge! Glaswegian is a language of its own. Luckily an educated and high-scottish speaking man by the name of Jerry helped us out and was soon bombarding us with information about what to see, eat and do in Glasgow and what is just “rubbish”, his favourite word! In the throw of this, he also told some wild stories. We learned that he is a “laird” (landowner - a particular standing in Scotland), after a friend who sadly passed away willed him a piece of barren, worthless land - "just rubbish” - on a desolate island off the coast. 

The two best things in Glasgow he told us were the Cathedral with its adjoining Necropolis and the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. The medieval, gothic cathedral is a little darker than most cathedrals you see on the continent, yet it is a magnificent building. It is dedicated to the town's patron saint St Mungo who established the first Christian community on the Clyde river. A large columned nave served in medieval times as a meeting place, market and refuge to the common people and reminded me of the Ken Follet books. The inner church is separated by a low doorway, hiding it from the hoi polloi. 

The city crest features a robin on a tree and a salmon with a ring in its mouth which are closely related to Saint Mungo. The robin, tamed by Mungo’s old master, was accidentally killed, but Mungo took it in his hands and prayed- and the bird came back to life. 

The ring, a gift from King Hydderch Hael to his wife, ended up in the hands of a knight. The king in a fit of jealousy, took the ring of the knight and threw it into the Clyde river, then asked the queen to produce the ring. When she couldn't he accused her of adultery and threatened her with death. The queen went to Saint Mungo for help. He prayed for her at the riverside while fishing and caught a salmon, who, low and behold, had the ring in his mouth. Thus the queen was saved.

As previously mentioned, there are a lot of wild and wonderful stories, here in Scotland. Our Scottish laird from the Irish pub told us about a Scotsman who was employed as a guardian to a maharaja in India. One day, the maharaja's horse bolted and nobody could catch up to it. However, the scot didn’t give up and pursued the horse - and was never heard from again. That is until he re-appeared in Scotland as a very wealthy man. Apparently, a bag of diamonds was attached to the horse, setting the Scotsman up as a wealthy businessman. We were told to look for the tallest crypt/memorial on the Necropolis, a sign of this particular man’s wealth. 

I have to say we never found it and the tallest memorial in the garden cemetery belongs to Scottish religious reformer John Knox. However the famous and the wealthy had huge crypts and memorials built on this cemetery likened to the Père-Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.

We also followed the next recommendation of our Scottish friend and visited the Kelvingrove Museum. The beautiful 18th-century red-brick building alone had us in awe! It stands in the vicinity of the equally impressive, Harry-Potter-like Glasgow University on Kelvingrove Park. We entered just as one of the regular organ recitals in the central hall began. Renowned local musicians play there every day. The museum houses 22 galleries from paintings of van Gogh, Salvadore Dali and Picasso to international and local decorative arts and natural history. There is such an array of exhibits - something for everyone. Most interesting for an art ignoramus like me was the section of “Art Explained”, where in simple and visual examples investigative techniques for examining artworks, artistic inspiration and unique styles are explained.  

A couple of days later, the 8-day “Bonnie Scotland" tour took us to Loch Lomond, known for the slightly sad song "O you take the high road and I take the low road, and I’ll be in Scotland afore ye…... on the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond”. 

A small boat ferried us across the beautiful lake, past small islands, osprey nests and one of the country's most exclusive golf courses. 

From there our very Scottish driver, Dave, and our non-Scottish, and therefore understandable Dutch/English tour guide, Peter, took us to historic Stirling Castle, the childhood home of Mary Queen of Scots where she was crowned at the tender age of six. Having been the site of battles between clans and Scottish and English, the castle changed hands eight times in 50 years. It was also the location of the brutal murder of the Earl of Douglas. King James II, seeing the earl as a threat, invited him to the castle with the promise of safe conduct. The earl came and dined with the king, but when he refused to concede his power, King James stabbed him, not once, but 27 times with his dagger, and flung his mutilated body out of the window. 

Now, you might think that this was a bit extreme, but it was later topped by Mary Queen of Scot’s second husband, Lord Darnley in Holyrood Palace. After their relationship soured, he became jealous of Mary’s close friend and secretary David Rizzo, who broke into her chambers and with co-conspirators, stabbed Rizzo 57 times.

That was part of our introduction to the somewhat violent history of Scotland. 

Austin and I were, with only one other Australian lady, in the minority of our tour group, which otherwise consisted of North Americans and Canadians, many of those with some ancestral connection to Scotland. Luckily, none of them seemed particularly bloodthirsty, and we soon got to know each other and had great fun. We took particularly to a lovely mother/daughter team from Massachusetts, Christie and Elana.

Dave, our driver, got all our admiration for managing very narrow and winding roads taking us from the Isle of Skye and the Lowlands to the Highlands. The scenery was magnificent! It changed from pine forests to green hills to slopes covered with 

heather. Of course, we stopped at the banks of Loch Ness. 

The wind whipping up from the west created a quite choppy surface. The water seemed dark due to its peat content. With 220m depth, it is also by far the deepest Loch, with most others having a depth of 20-30m. Therefore it provides a good hiding place for Nessie. The question was put, what Nessie lived on over the centuries, as fish like trout, salmon and eel are found here in much lesser quantity than in the other Lochs. To date, there have also not been any reports of humans being consumed by the elusive monster. 

Our own culinary experiences in Scotland had to include the Haggis, of course. Haggis for breakfast wasn’t my thing, but I did have it one night as a chicken stuffing and that was alright. But I preferred the homemade shortbread we were served in the kitchen of Scone Palace. Nine peacocks running wild gave us a shrieking welcome. Unfortunately, we couldn’t take any photos of the beautiful rooms and artwork as the palace is still lived in 

by the Murray family who owned it since the 17th century. 

In contrast to the manicured gardens of palaces, we also visited the sites of Scotland's battlefields. The most important is near Inverness at Culloden, the site of the last confrontation of Jacobites versus the English army on 16 April 1746. 

This was a tragic day in Scottish history as it put an end to the dream of independence and religious freedom. The Jacobites who fought to have James II's grandson, Bonnie Prince Charlie, crowned as a king were decisively beaten by a better-equipped and united English army, and survivors had to flee to the Highlands. 

A battlefield of a different kind was the St. Andrews Golf Course or at least it looked a bit like a battlefield after 42 of our group pelted buckets full of golf balls at the driving range. There are 7 courses at St. Andrews and all are open to the public. The only condition for playing is that one can produce a handicap 


Before reaching St. Andrews and Edinburgh, some of us took a little side excursion to Dunnottar Castle. The picturesque ruin sits on top of a rocky crag surrounded on three sides by the North Sea. 

Close by is the historic fishing town of Stonehaven. The small harbour is guarded by a strong seawall which frequently gets washed over during stormy weather. The harbour was full of fishing boats and crates of recently caught crabs. Later, as the rain came down, we had a beer at the harbour pub mixing with the locals and Austin wearing his version of a pirate hat/ rain cover for his hearing aids. 

By the way, nobody here talks about the weather, because rain is more or less a daily occurrence and doesn’t phase anyone! It didn't put a damper on our experiences either. It just belongs to Scotland and makes the grass, particularly luminescent green!

The last excursion with our tour group was to the Royal Yacht Britannia. On board the beautiful yacht the royal family spent many holidays and travelled many miles. The rooms are of course a little grander than on the Lodi, but furnished in a very simple style and decorated to the Queen’s taste without pomp. Launched in 1953 the yacht was decommissioned in 1997. All the clocks onboard show the same time: 3.01 pm. That was the time on 11/12/97 when the Queen stepped off the ship for the last time. Apparently she was weeping.

And so, on another wet day, we reached the capital Edinburgh. Built on volcanic rock with deep crevices, the town occupies diverse, steep rises and roads that are really bridges, which means, that wherever you are heading in town, you have to climb flights of stairs or steep narrow alleyways.

The famous Edinburgh Castle, once home to King Charles I of Scotland and England, is an amazing sight from various vantage points. Like every place here, it’s steeped in history, from the time of burning witches on its forecourt to the room where Mary Stewart gave birth to James II.

When our tour finished we moved to a hotel on Grassmarket, which is just below the castle. Here we were in the midst of bars, restaurants and all the action! It was also the place

 of "Action” in former times when people gathered here en masse to watch executions as a form of entertainment! There is still a pub across from our hotel called “The Last Drop”!

From Grassmarket, it is only a short walk uphill to the "Royal Mile”. The Royal Mile, a wonderful medieval road descending from St. Giles Cathedral down to the Holyrood Palace, was buzzing with musicians, street performers and tourists. Cafés, bars and tourist shops line the cobblestone street.

The entrance of the St. Giles Cathedral memorises all the great men of Edinburgh, writers, scientists and religious leaders. St. Giles himself was a Greek hermit. He lived in the South of France and had only a deer as company. He is said to have protected the deer from hunters, catching their arrow with his hand. (See middle window pane) He was adopted as patron saint of Edinburgh and the deer was later incorporated into the city’s coat of arms.

On the other end of the Royal Mile is Holyrood Palace, still the residence of the royal family when in Edinburgh. Official receptions and garden parties as well as private gatherings are held here. An impressive staircase leads to the State Apartments and the throne room for the "Knights and Ladies of the Order of the Thistle". After she died at Balmoral, the late Queen Elizabeth II was brought here accompanied by her daughter Princess Anne and laid out in this room. 

We also entered in awe Mary Queen of Scots’ former bedroom and her private sitting room, where she received close friends including her secretary Rizzo prior to his murder.

From our location at the Grassmarket, we could see the castle but also hear some of the rehearsals for the Edinburgh Tattoo, including the firing of canons. 

We got very excited, 

as we had booked tickets for the first night of the Tattoo back in Australia.

It was our last hurrah in Scotland, and it didn’t disappoint. 

A massive stadium for 8800 guests stands erected in the forecourt. The atmosphere is breathtaking. Light images are reflected on the castle walls and flaming torches line the battlements. Hundreds of bagpipers, drummers, brass bands, dancers and performers move in amazing choreography effortlessly across the square - it is hard to describe. I am not normally a fan of military parades yet the Tattoo was on a whole different level! Just an amazing experience! Of course, it also included canons being fired, fireworks going off and on this night even a fly-by of a Hercules and two jet fighters of the Royal British Airforce.

To finish, here are just a few things we learned about Scotland:

  • William Wallace aka “Braveheart" was NOT Australian and didn’t have a blue face!
  • Fact: the Scottish warriors wore kilts wrapped around in a similar fashion to a sari which got in the way during fighting. So most often, as they approached an enemy, they dropped them! 
  • Haggis, a national dish, is a “yummy” mixture of sheep or calf offal, suet and oatmeal boiled in a sheep's stomach. 
  • Tattoo as in Edinburgh "Tattoo" has nothing to do with a tattoo, but comes from the Dutch army sending a band of pipers and drummers into town to tell the tavern owners: “doe den tap toe”  - to turn off the tap to their ale kegs, to send the soldiers back to their lodgings.
  • There are quite a few Scottish poets and writers of note: Sir Walter Scot (Ivanhoe, Rob Roy…), Robert Louis Stephenson (Treasure Island), Arthur Conan Doyle ( Sherlock Holmes) and Robert Burns who is especially known in Scotland for writing “ The Address to the Haggis” which is a very weird ode to a very weird food.
  • We can also thank the Scots for advances in medicine: like Josef Lister who discovered and promoted the use of carbolic spray, the first disinfectant, with the motto ”Don’t pray - let’s spray!” 
  • Then there was James Young Simpson who discovered the effect of chloroform. Apparently, he tried it out during a dinner party with most of his guests falling into a deep sleep, others becoming extremely drowsy. I wonder if he intended to use it as a party drug.
  • Alexander Bell is another great scientist who was born in Edinburgh. 
  • Last but not least Dolly the sheep, the first animal to be cloned, was “born” here. Now she is standing stuffed in the National Museum of Scotland, as we saw.
  • The thistle is Scotland's national floral emblem. It is said to have saved the Scots from the Vikings. One night, taking their shoes off for a surprise attack on the Scottish warriors, one of the Vikings stepped on a thistle and cried out in pain. This alerted the Scots who subsequently defeated the Norsemen.

As Austin’s favourite quote goes: "Never let the truth get in the way of a good story” (Mark Twain)

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