A Travellerspoint blog

This blog is published chronologically. Go straight to the most recent post.

Inverness to Dalhousie Castle - Edinburgh

Wednesday 18 to 20 April - March of the Black Watch, Inverness, Dalhousie Castle Bonnyrigg, Edinburgh

Wednesday 18 April 2012

I woke up with a heavy head cold and decided to cancel my Loch Ness cruise. There was only one place on the cruise I hadn't already seen and I made the decision to rest up and get better rather than risk the rest of the trip being miserable.

I dragged the chain a fair bit, taking until 10.30 am before I got dressed and headed up the street to get some medicine and have a slow cruise for some souvenirs. I thought that would be all I could handle.

I didn't take the camera, not intended to do anything much. I soon kicked myself for not taking it. As I got to the top of the street I noticed a few soldiers. Not being up to date with the dress of the UK army, I didn't know who they were. There were more near the mall, with a car dropping off some solidiers who were obviously injured.

There was a large contingent of foot police around and I asked a couple of them what was going on. They explained that the Black Watch would be marching through the streets at 11.00 am.

I knew that they had returned to Fort George from Afghanistan last week, but didn't know they would be in town today. I didn't have the energy to walk back down the hill to pick up the camera, so resigned myself to missing the event.

I visited the pharmacy, got all drugged up and made my way back to the main street just as the parade was about to begin. I watched as they marched past, the large crowd cheering very enthusiastically. Many of those in the crowd were related to the soldiers.

I found the march surprising. This is the Black Watch. The special army of the Queen. When I looked at them they weren't the mature battle hardened men I expected. These were mostly boys aged about twenty years old. I must be getting old because they looked so very young.
If they have just been to Afghanistan I think they will probably be very different young men and women now. Definitely not the kids that left the UK.

The people watching the parade seemed to be very proud of the army. Their cheering, clapping and vocal support was certainly more than I've seen anywhere else. I think they were very happy to see them home.

I bought a couple of souvenirs and returned home to pack. I've loved Inverness and it was with a lot of regret that my holiday here was over. I still have Edinburgh, Wales and back to London to do, but I'm a little sad to be leaving here.

Thursday 19 April & Friday 20 April 2012 - Dalhousie Castle - Bonnyrigg near Edinburgh

My hosts at the Moray Park House B&B were very nice and I was sorry to leave. The house was lovely, very well situated and had a warm feeling.
view from the Inverness to Edinburgh train

view from the Inverness to Edinburgh train


I jumped on the train to Edinburgh for the three hour plus train ride.
Snow covered mountains on the way to Edinburgh

Snow covered mountains on the way to Edinburgh


As I've said in the earlier blogs, trains are brilliant for seeing the countryside. We passed through the mountains with their snow caps. Through streams and fords and beautiful farm land. The train arrived and I grabbed some lunch at one of the cafes at the station before grabbing a cab to Bonnyrigg.

Bonnyrigg is eight miles from Edinburgh. To get to Dalhouse Castle, we travel past Melville castle, which is technically more a country estate than a castle.
Dalhousie Castle

Dalhousie Castle


The cab driver was very gregarious and we chatted all the way to Bonnyrigg. He told me he had been married twice, the first time was a disaster. He had met and gone out with his second wife when he was in his teens. It wasn't until about fifteen years later when they were both divorced, that they met and got together. They have been married for sixteen years. It was a nice story.
The driver gave me plenty of hints on where to go and what to see when I got back into Edinburgh.
Dalhousie Castle

Dalhousie Castle


My first glimpse of Dalhousie castle was pretty impressive. Large and small turrets, battlement and an ivy covered wall. As we drove up the sweeping drive, the falconry was on the left, with all the birds sitting out on perches on the lawn, sunning and dozing themselves. Wow. They were beautiful birds.
Dalhousie Castle

Dalhousie Castle


I was greeted at reception and straight away knew that I had made the right choice of castle. I'd trawled Celtic Castles.com and other castle sights looking for a castle that not only kept an authentic feel, but offered a pampering experience.
Front entrance Dalhousie Castle

Front entrance Dalhousie Castle


I had a porter take my bags to the rooms, which I was eternally grateful for when I copped a look at the amount of stairs I had to climb. The entrance had split spiral stairs up the the first landing and then straight staircases, four of them, to the floor where the Robert the Bruce room was located. There was one floor higher than mine, which would have meant another 26 steps.

Quite surprisingly I climbed the steps without too much trouble. They were wooden with low risers, which didn't place too much pressure on either knee.
Robert the Bruce room Dalhousie Castle

Robert the Bruce room Dalhousie Castle


The room was one of many themed rooms. Mine was decked out in plenty of tartan and had the name Robert the Bruce. A picture of the man hung on the wall and the whole room was furnished in very old furniture. The colours were predominently red and blue. No four poster, but it was a canopy bed, with the biggest bit of tartan material hanging over the large bed.
Canopy over the bed, Robert the Bruce room Dalhousie Castle

Canopy over the bed, Robert the Bruce room Dalhousie Castle


I opened the window and marvelled at the view, which showed the surrounding grounds, forest and farmland beyond, without the sight of another building for miles.
Robert the Bruce room Dalhousie Castle

Robert the Bruce room Dalhousie Castle


This place was pure indulgence for me. The fantasy part of my holiday, which would have been complete had the castle been up in the highlands.

I took the camera and scooted down the stairs to explore. There were hotel rooms on all floors and the bottom two floors had a lot of sitting and function rooms, all open to enjoy.
The library was full of overstuffed chairs and lounges, a lovely fire place and huge book cases.

The birds had just been put away for the evening when I went to the falconry, so I just had to wait for the next day. The ceilings in the castle were impossibly high and I can imagine how cold it would have been without central heating.
Dalhousie Castle

Dalhousie Castle


Tapestries, beautiful pictures and historic displays were all over the place. The castle has been in the Ramsay family for 850 years. The history is available in each room, along with the extensive room service menu and information about the falcon mews, archery and health spa.
The Orangey is an atrium extension, which the desk clerk told me had been a hard battle to get approval due to the buildings' heritage listing. Mainly glass, the building apexes the side of the castle and overlooks a very large field. The falcon displays for weddings and special days are held here. Surrounding the field are huge trees, oaks, larch and firs, with a trout filled stream meandering along the side of the field
and disappearing under an old stone bridge.
Dalhousie Castle

Dalhousie Castle


The Orangey is where afternoon and morning tea, and other meals are served if guests are not eating dinner in the dungeon.
I had a pot of tea and a scone, which turned out to be three warm scones and piles of cream and jam. I couldn't eat it all but it was scrumptious.

I walked around the outside of the castle in the fading light and got a real feel for the immense size of the building. It would have been most impressive when first built, as it is today.
The library Dalhousie Castle

The library Dalhousie Castle


At reception, I was advised that my booking in the dungeon restaurant was for 7.30 pm and that I should attend the library for pre-dinner canapes and drinks and place my order from the menu. When ready, a waiter/waitress would then collect you and show you to the dungeon and your seat for the night.

I found the library again and entered to find it full of frogs. Well, actually, it was full of French men, all talking ten to a dozen in French. They were gathered around the large window in an assortment of chairs and sofas so I sat near the warm fire. A very sombre waiter came out of a hidden door, which looked like a bookcase. Inside the hidden room was a full bar.

The waiter supplied the menu for the night and a six page wine list. I ordered a Glenmorangie whiskey whilst looking at the menu. The waiter brought out nibbles on a tray for me whilst I was thinking.

After careful consideration, I ordered garlic and potato soup and the pan seared trout with prawn paste. Accompanying it was sauted red cabbage and grilled vegetables. I ordered a red wine from Chile to go with dinner.

Not long after my escort arrived to take me to the dungeon, I was one of the first to arrive and had an opportunity to take a photo or two. There were half a dozen or more waiters/waitresses on hand. The French men went into an adjoining room and I had a central chamber all to myself, along with three waiters.

The food was excellent, as was the wine. Dinner cost £100 per night, so I expected the best.
Dalhousie Castle

Dalhousie Castle


I climbed up the stairs and prepared for bed. The bed was huge and looked lovely but it was unfortunately way too soft for me and I had trouble sleeping. Never mind, I still enjoyed it. The stair well creaked as you walked up them, but the floors were relatively quite and with walls two feet thick, there was total silence in the castle at night. No lights outside other than security lights around the castle. It was wonderful.

In the morning I headed to the orangey for breakfast. No sign of the French, but there were German, Austrian and British guests. The two British women having breakfast saw the deer at the same time as I did. Two red deer came out of the forest to eat in the field.

At first, just of an instant, I thought they were kangaroos, as I'm so used to seeing them at my place. I then remembered where I was and knew what they were. It was ethereal sitting in a castle, watching deer in the misty meadow. Absolutely delightful.
Deer grazing on the field - Dalhousie Castle

Deer grazing on the field - Dalhousie Castle


After breakfast I headed for the falconry. The birds were still in the cages, but I had a close up look at them. Hawks, buzzards and owls. Magnificent birds. They even had a mopoke.

I watched the eagle owl for a while, a big beautiful bird with bright orange eyes. He was hooting, so I video taped him. I hadn't noticed what was making him so excited until I looked slightly to the right. On the ground under the oak tree with a nut feeder, was a grey squirrel. He darted off into the bushes when I said out loud, 'Oh a squirrel!' There wasn't anyone around to hear, but I was so surprised I said it out loud.
Navajo Dalhousie Castle falconry

Navajo Dalhousie Castle falconry


The squirrel was replaced by a couple of brazen rabbits, which cared little for my presence and obviously knew the birds were no threat. The owl seemed frustrated at having prey so close. I spoke with Kathy, the falconer and booked a session to fly the birds later that day. I went away quite excited.
Dalhousie Castle falconry

Dalhousie Castle falconry


The weather cleared and I strolled around the gardens, walking over the bridge to follow the road. It led to a secluded double storey building in a stone walled sheltered clearing. Called the Lodge, it was a private hideaway for rent. I couldn't see why anyone would prefer to stay here rather than the castle.

The castle has full spa facilities, with turkish bath, spas and a number of different massages. I didn't take advantage of these services as it never occured to me to do so. I was enjoying myself just exploring and soaking up the atmosphere.
Dalhousie Castle falconry

Dalhousie Castle falconry


At 2.00 pm, with the sun shining, I made my way to the falconry. Kathy took me through the twenty odd birds, giving details of the type of birds, how they hunt, how fast and life spans. She talked about their training and how the owls were a 'bit blonde' compared to the buzzards and hawks.

Kathy's family had owned the business for the past 22 years. Some of her birds were over thirty years old. Two of the birds were more than five years over the normal life span of their breed. Kathy explained that they feed the birds daily and only feed them chickens, which are low in fat and a more healthy option for the birds.

It was fascinating listening to her and you could see that the birds were healthy and looked pretty happy, sitting out on their perches, soaking up the sun.

I had the choice of owls to fly, and chose Duke, the eagle owl I had been watching that morning. Kathy chose Watson, the buzzard hawk, which is Britain's most common hawk. She stated that she liked these best as they are amongst the fastest predators.
Kathy had three other types of hawks, the breed of which eludes me. However, they were interesting as they are the only type of hawks that hunt together in 'packs'. The dominent female makes the kill and if she misses, the males from either side take her place. They use their white tail to flick and communicate with each other.

I grabbed a leather glove and we walked out onto the lawn at the front of the castle. Watson was first as there were another couple to fly the owl in the following half hour. Watson was released and flew up into the trees. He had a look around and we walked across to the middle of the lawn.
Dalhousie Castle falconry

Dalhousie Castle falconry


Kathy put some pieces of baby chicken on my glove and I held it out to the side and tapped the top of the glove. Watson saw the signal and came to me. He dropped down from the tree, flapped a couple of times to get up speed and then glided low and up onto my glove. To watch a hawk in full flight coming straight toward you and then have it land on your hand is incredible. I loved it. I really loved it.
Watson ate the pieces and and sat on my hand for a minute or two. You pull your arm into your body when the bird lands as they become heavy to hold at arms length. He was marvellous. Different shaped head than a falcon and eagle. Very soft and intelligent eyes.
Watson flew off to the trees and we repeated the process quite a few times. We needed to be a fair way off from the trees as Watson was so fast he needed room to manoevre. Kathy told me heaps about the birds and you could tell that after 22 years of raising and flying them, she was passionate about the birds.

The other couple arrived and we put Watson away. While we waited for Kathy to prepare the eagle owl, Duke, her sister brought Navajo, a greater owl, out of his cage. He was the biggest owl I've ever seen, with soft grey and black feathers and the most beautiful face. He was very friendly and loved a pat on his back and around his eyes. He was super soft.

Duke, was smaller, but weighed more as Navajo was all feathers. Kathy put Duke on the ground and let him walk around to demonstrate why he was called the Duke. He did indeed waddle like John Wayne.
Duke the owl Dalhousie Castle

Duke the owl Dalhousie Castle


The man and his wife had chosen only to fly the owls, although his wife only took photos. I think it was a bit much for her as she seemed somewhat nervous. I video taped Duke's flight onto the man's hand. He flew in very close to the ground, soaring up and onto the glove with such grace.

We took turns with the glove, Duke obliging by flying in again and again. He was a lot heavier than the buzzard. Finally, Kathy fed him three full chicks and told us to watch his ear feathers. She said that they stand up when they are aroused or full. Sure enough, the last chick was just swallowed when his feathers came up. He then snuggled into Kathy's shoulder and was ready for bed.

What an experience. For some people, they like to jump out of planes, or run with the bulls. For me, this was my adrenalin rush. It was exciting and fascinating, watching the bird's natural instinct as they flew in to the glove. Simply wonderful and was definitely one of the best highlights of my trip.

Although they are hand reared, they are still relatively wild, with strong natural hunting instincts. They will hunt the rabbits and squirrels while they are free flying, although some of the birds are not quick enough to catch them.

I had afternoon tea in the Orangey, the euphoria of flying the birds lasting well into the night.

I went to the library prior to tea but changed my mind about a posh meal and ordered room service to my room. I tipped the waitress well as she was puffing a lot after coming up all the stairs with the meal tray. I ate my tea while watching the sun go down over the forest. Not a bad way to spend a day.

Posted by kerry needs 10:32 Comments (0)

Sunday 22 April 2012 - Inverness Castle and the Royal Mile

Sunday 22 April 2012 - Inverness castle. Camera Obscura and the Royal Mile

Sunday 22 April 2012
Edinburg Castle

Edinburg Castle


I woke early and joined the multicultural group of guests in the dining room. I had free wifi access, but only in the dining room and front foyer, which really didn't suit me. It was also very poor signal, which is like it all over the UK.
Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle


I grabbed a cab to the castle and waited for about twenty minutes for the gates to open. It was a good choice to visit Edinburgh castle on a Sunday. Fewer crowds meant better viewing. I struck up a conversation with the young guard at the entrance and we chatted about the military tattoo. It takes from now, April to July to set up for the Tattoo season in August. A lot of work, but it generates a lot of money.
Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle


The guard advised me to go straight to the crown jewels as this was the smallest room and sometimes too crowded to see. He gave me directions. I had pre-purchased tickets on the on and off bus, which allowed me to gain entry straight away rather than queue for tickets. When the gates opened I made my way into the castle and was able to take plenty of photos without the obligatory tourist popping their head in the photo.
Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle


The terrain is steep, being on a hill, and the footing sometimes a little rocky as the road is cobbled in many places. Anywhere you walk in Edinburgh you need to be mindful of your footing. There are lots of places to turn your ankle if you're not watching. I certainly wouldn't recommend wearing any high heels as this would be very dangerous.
Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle


To navigate around Edinburgh castle you need to grab a map from the information hut. It's way too big to just wander and find stuff. I walked up the hill and followed map and sign posts to the Crown Square. I went into the Scottish crown jewels and found the crown and other jewels, septre, ceremonial sword and the stone on display. The stone I know is a replica, but I'm not sure about the jewels.
Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle


I got talking, as I do, to the guards and found out a lot about the crests that adorned the room. I was told not to take too much notice of the crests as some of them were not correct. One of them couldn't be right as heraldry did not exist when that Lord was alive. Not knowing very much at all about heraldry, it really didn't matter to me.
Great Hall Edinburgh Castle

Great Hall Edinburgh Castle


I visited the great hall next, built in 1503 for King James IV, it was later turned into a soldier barracks by Oliver Cromwell. It was restored back to it's original condition in 1888 and is still used for royal functions. The room is very large with enormously high ceilings. There is a picture high up on the back wall that would be well over six feet high, but does not look overly large hanging on the wall. All along the long walls are basket handled broad swords and spears. The back wall has a display of guns and there is armour and small cannons along the long walls. The front of the hall is dominated by an ornate fireplace which has statues above it and statues in the fireplace itself. You can imagine a formal banquet here, even today.
Great hall Edinburgh Castle

Great hall Edinburgh Castle


I went into the war memorial, but photos are not allowed. Let's just say that the memorial is full of carved stone, flags, memorial books of the fallen and individual memorials to those fallen in wars from the last two world wars right back to the 18th century. There are over a hundred thousand names listed in the memorial. It's a place to contemplate and remember. The words of the anzacs are engraved here and given the lasting beauty of this huge stone monument, we shall not forget.
Great hall Edinburgh Castle

Great hall Edinburgh Castle


I found the memorial moving and a timely reminder that ANZAC day is only a couple of days away.
Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle


I found the one o'clock cannon, which is fired every day but Sunday. There is a signal tower off on the distant hill that drops a ball every day to signal the cannon to fire. I'd like to have seen it, but being a sunday, it didn't happen.
Laich Hall

Laich Hall


The next building took me back further in time to 1566. Can you get your head around that for a date! I was in the bed chamber of Mary Queen of Scots. Here she gave birth in 1566 to James, her only son. He went on to become king of the Scots in 1602, and a year later, King of England.
Laich Hall

Laich Hall


This took my Jacobite tour full circle to the very beginning. I had been to a number of Jacobite battle sites and spent a lot of time at Culloden where the uprising was finally ended. Now here I was, at the birthplace of King James. The historic significance was not lost on me and I am very satisfied with the historic side of my Scottish visit.
Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle


I had some difficulty finding the dog cemetery and when I finally figured out that I was on the wrong level, my knees would not allow me to climb the staircase to see the cemetery.

I got around pretty well so far, but today, with all the hills and steps, and the uneven ground, my knees were getting very sore. I took a photo of the rounded wall that held the cemetery and was happy.
Edinburgh

Edinburgh


I looked out at the city from the cannon walls. Whereever there was a view there was a map showing you what you were looking at. It was very good and helped orientate yourself to the rest of the city. The day had cleared to a cloudy but fine day and the view was spectacular.
I got a good view of the Firth of Forth (or is it the Forth of Firth) and of the artificial ski slopes on the mountain. The slopes are supposed to be one of the longest in Europe and you can ski almost all year round, except in the ski season (I don't know why?)
View from Edinburgh Castle

View from Edinburgh Castle


I walked down the Royal Mile and stopped at the Camera Obscura. It had looked interesting from the outside so I figured I'd have a look. It was all based on illusions with many hands on displays.
View from Camera Obscura

View from Camera Obscura


I loved it. It was intriguing. I climbed right up to the top, stopping at the first three floors on the way. The first floor held visual illusions such as Escher pictures and hidden pictures etc. The second floor was the coolest thing I've seen for ages. I went through the mirror maze, donning gloves to avoid leaving fingerprints. The lights changed constantly, adding to the feeling of displacement. It was so much fun.
Mirror maze - Camera Obscura

Mirror maze - Camera Obscura


After this maze I went into the rolling tube. It was dark and lit only by coloured pinhole lights, It made sounds which added to the illusion of movement. The walkway across the tube was stationery but the movement all around made it feel like it was turning. I felt extreme vertigo as soon as I looked into the tube. I wasn't going to give up so I found that the only time I could move forward and walk across the walkway was to squint my eyes. This reduced the feeling of moving and let me get across. I came out feeling nauseated and impressed.
The next floor had holograms, which were really good, especially the gigantic tarantula.
Mirror maze

Mirror maze


I then made my way up the rest of the stairs, and there were plenty, to the Camera Obscura. The camera is one of about 4 hundred around the world and gives off a 360 degree birds eye view of the city. It is projected onto a convex disc and is operated by a simple pole. Very simplistic, yet effective.

The guide gave a very entertaining show and did funny things with the camera. It was well worth the climb up all those stairs.
I made my way down to the floors I hadn't visited. One had plenty of distortion and visual things to do that were sometimes very surprising. I loved it.
Camera Obscura

Camera Obscura


The final floor was full of electic balls, all different.

I spent almost two hours there and thoroughly enjoyed myself. It only cost £10.95, which was excellent value.
I left with the intention of going on the Mary King Close walk, but it was booked out for the rest of the day. It was a shame as I'd heard it was very good.
Alley off the Royal Mile

Alley off the Royal Mile


I stopped for a late lunch at Deacon Brodies cafe. Twice I've had vegetable broth in Scotland. Both times it has been almost exactly like my grandmother used to make, with lots of pearl barley. It was like ambrosia to me and much better than the other lunch fare on offer.

John Deacon Brodie was an interesting fellow. He was the Deacon of the Wrights, or head of the carpentry guild. He did a lot of work for the rich and famous in Edinburgh, becoming Deacon, which was quite prestigious.
Although making money and gaining some acceptance in polite circles, it was not enough for Brodie. By day he was a respected businessman, by night he became a thief, stealing from those houses he had worked on.

He was eventually seen robbing a residence and he fled the country, but was apprehended and returned to stand trial. An ironic footnote here is that Deacon Brodie was hung on a scaffold that he designed himself.

Robert Louis Stevenson wrote about Deacon Brodie. He called the story, Jekyll and Hyde.

A weird footnote of my own is that the address of Deacon Brodie's is Brodie Close, which is one of the places I used to live in Australia.
I was pretty sore from all the walking and climbing and headed back to the hotel. Despite the disappointment of all the touristy stuff, I enjoyed the day.

Posted by kerry needs 10:45 Comments (0)

Saturday 21 April - Edinburgh, Royal Mile

I take a tour around the old and new town

Saturday 21 April 2012 - Edinburgh
Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle


With a little sadness, I left my fantasy holiday behind and took a cab into town the next day. I checked my luggage at the 'Left luggage' area in the train station, at a cost of £7 per day per item, and jumped on the on and off bus.
Sir Walter Scott memorial

Sir Walter Scott memorial


I took the bus that gave a more historic tour of the old and new town. The old town is the medieval buildings and the new town the Georgian buildings. Big difference in the architecture. You can walk for a whole mile here and all the building are class A heritage listed.
Edinburgh is built on seven hills, which is evident immediately as the roads are up and down, some very steep. Set in the middle is the leviathon building of Edinburgh castle.

The tour pointed out a number of prominent buildings and monuments, wending it's way through beautiful streets of Georgian houses with private gardens on the left side of the street.

We passed the Sir Walter Scott memorial, a very tall monument that dominates the sky near the train station. Sir Walter Scott is accredited wih bringing all things scottish into popularity.

The monument is very black with soot, but is nonetheless beautiful. It's the highest monument ever built to as a tribute to a writer. If you can climb the 300 steps to the top you get a certificate of achievement. I passed on that. Last year a Welsh football star climbed the steps, which become very narrow at the top. He got stuck and had to get a rescue crew to cut him out. Another reason for me not to climb.
We drove past St Andrews Square. When first built, this area was the most fashionable for the rich, but over time, it became a merchant area for commerce. This is the new town area where the buildings are about 200 years old.
Streets in the Georgian part of town

Streets in the Georgian part of town


We drove down Great King Street. Author J M Barrie had rented rooms in this street. We also travelled along North Castle Road, which had been the home of Sir Walter Scott. He had written some of his best works whilst living at this address.

Another famous auther, Robert Louis Stevenson, resided in Herriot Row. He wrote Treasure Island amongst other great literary works.
Finally we came to Charlotte Square and the end of the Georgian area.

So many famous people and things come from Scotland. The kaliedescope had been invented in Edinburgh by a man who designed it to assist carpet designers. It had never been intended to be used as a toy. However, he forgot to take out a patent and the kaliedescope went on to become a very popular toy.
Kilt shop

Kilt shop


Many of the buildings are still covered in black residue from the days of the coal fires. There had been an attempt made to clean the buildings, but the chemicals used were deemed to be harmful to the stone. Since the Clean Air Act was introduced into Scotland, the buildings are slowly being restored to their original colour.

Looking at the buildings you can only imagine the putrid smell and choking fumes that the cities of the 18th century produced. Open sewers, coal and peat fires everywhere. Not the pollution free atmosphere you may imagine.

The beautiful gardens that are visible from the north bridge and Edinburgh castle was once a lake of sewerage. It took 60 years to drain completely and when it was finally empty, there were over three hundred bodies found at the bottom.
Beautiful architecture

Beautiful architecture


The bodies were mostly those of people accused of witchcraft. It was a popular test. Tie the accused's hands and feet and toss them into a lake. Congratulations if you sank and drowned as you were not a witch. If you floated to the top you were a witch. You were dragged from the lake, strangled and then burnt at the stake. There was probably a good chance of floating as the lake was so thick with sewerage. Either way it wasn't a good outcome for the poor people accused of witchcraft.
Weeping angel in Dean cemetery

Weeping angel in Dean cemetery


The tour bus took us over the river Dean and past the picturesque rooftops of the village Dean. I took a picture of a weeping angel, the first I've seen, in the Dean cemetery. I was grateful that it was not facing me.
Rooftops of Dean Village

Rooftops of Dean Village


We then came across a very impressive building, Stewarts Melville College. It was originally a very prestigious college for boys, but has now amalgamated with the Erskine School for girls. It's not a school that anyone but the very rich can afford. The building is very unique, being designed in the neo Jacobite and Elizabethan styles.
Stewart Melvilles School

Stewart Melvilles School

Eastercoats Edinburgh

Eastercoats Edinburgh


Driving past St Mary's cathedral, it's not the cathedral that is most impressive but Eastercots House, in the grounds of the kirk. It is the oldest building in Edinburgh old town, built in 1618.

We passed two large buildings on opposite sides of the road. They were named the Dean Gallery of Art and the Gallery of Modern Art, but are now known as one and two. They were built in the 1800's, both very different. Number two was purpose built as an art gallery and has interesting tower structures on the roof. Number one was originally a boys school and looks more traditional for the period in which it was erected.
The Last Drop pub

The Last Drop pub


The bus entered the area around the base of Edinburgh castle. Here in Lawnmarket I saw what was obviously the party area. A whole block of pubs and eateries.

Lawnmarket was originally a very rough area, where people would bring their livestock to sell. It was a place of thieves and cutthroats. Now is a place of drunks and louts. It's okay during the day, but I'm pretty sure it would get wild at night.

One of the pubs is called The Last Drop. This is because public hanging were held here. They were very popular and would attract big crowds. The pub next door to this is the Maggie Dickson. Maggie was found guilty of hiding a pregnancy, although it's wasn't clear to me whether she was married or not.

She was hung here and after she was cut down the hangman left her body on the cart and went for a drink. When he came back, Maggie was very much alive to the utter shock of the cartman. As it was deemed that you couldn't hang someone twice, Maggie was freed and she went on to live a long life.

The bus drove through Greyfriars. This is the very famous place of Greyfriars Bobby. His master, a local policeman, died when Bobby was two years old. He was buried in the church yard of Greyfriars, where dogs were not allowed. Bobby persisted in staying with his master, living in the graveyard despite the attempts of the locals to provide him with an alternate home.
Greyfriars Bobby

Greyfriars Bobby


In the end, they relented and built Bobby a kennel beside his master's grave. The dog would only leave to find food, which the locals provided for him. Bobby lived until his was 15, and was buried next to his master in the cemetery. It always makes me cry to hear the story.
A small statue of Bobby sits on the corner at Greyfriars as a tribute to the devotion of a dog for his master.

One of the other notable buildings that we saw was the George Herriot School. George Herriot was the goldsmith to King James. In 1628,after his death he had wanted a school for boys built. This was done, although these days there are both boys and girls attending. There are burseries given to those children without parents, giving them a chance to attend the school. They are referred to as foundationers and the foundation still continues today.
Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle


Almost completing the tour, we passed the Burke and Hare pub. Burke and Hare were notorious serial killers. They lured unsuspecting visitors with the promise of free accommodation. They would then kill them in their lodging house and sell the cadavers to the surgeons for experimentation. They had murdered quite a few people befoe they were caught and hanged.

Edinburgh Castle is built on basalt rock, which is rough and black. The castle has never been taken by force and it takes no stretch of the imagination to believe this. The castle is home to the military tattoo, held during the month of August. They were beginning to erect the grandstands this week. The guard at the castle gates told me that it takes until July before everything is finished and ready. It generates a great deal of interest all over the world.
Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle

After finishing my tour, I collected my luggage and rode a cab to the Lairg Hotel in Haymarket. The cab had to take a circuitous route as some of the roads were closed. More than one local told me about the new trams to be built around a few of the city blocks. This, I heard, had been done without consulting the city occupants and now the roads were closed for months whilst the tracks were built. I got the distinct feeing that the locals were not happy.

My hotel was very neat, spacious and comfortable. However, up 49 steps to the top floor before I found my room. Bloody stairs, I don't know what the fixation with having more than one story in a building is, but I certainly don't share it. Give me a single story house anytime.
I unpacked and then rugged up to go back to the Royal Mile and my paranormal tour of the underground vaults.
Busker on the Royal Mile

Busker on the Royal Mile


As I walked down the Royal Mile, I realised that the beauty of the city was tainted for me due to the commercialisation of the tourist trade. The Royal Mile consisted of shop after shop of cheap, nasty souvenir traders. The type of things for sale included jimmy hats, stuffed highland cows in kilts and plenty of junky plastic paraphenalia that is available in any souvenirs shop in Australia eg tea towels and playing cards. There were numerous jewellry sellers and artists selling their wares.
One of the alleyways off the Royal Mile

One of the alleyways off the Royal Mile


The Royal Mile was full of tourists and quite a few hens and stag party groups. I felt disappointed that the historic features of this area had been overshadowed by the modern commercial trade. I found it difficult to find a good coffee shop, having to walk past many touristy shops to get to somewhere where I could sit and enjoy the atmosphere.

I walked up the hill to Edinburgh castle but decided not to go in as it was getting late and there were heaps of people already walking around the castle grounds. I headed back down to the meeting place where the haunted tour would commence.
Royal mile Edinburgh

Royal mile Edinburgh


Finding a cafe, I ordered a coffee, which was lousy. It's very much a hit and miss affair with coffee. Some cafes do well whilst others present the coffee well, but it tastes as bad as Gloria Jeans coffee and is totally undrinkable. To make it worse, the waitress called me sir, probably because I had my back to her. I did see the funny side of that though. Must be the distinguished grey hair.

I had heard and read so much about the vaults that I was looking forward to the tour. There were about twenty people on the tour. I met Chrissie and Jackie from Essex and we exchanged ghost stories while we waited for the tour to start.
Underground vaults

Underground vaults


The guide was very good but I was so very disappointed in the tour. We set off down a steep laneway, many of us having to use the hand rails to steady our steps as we walked down. The guide described the town and it's inhabitants as it was when the vaults were in use. We then descended into the vaults themselves.
Underground vaults in Edinburgh

Underground vaults in Edinburgh


I'm not saying a lot about the tour because it wasn't much of a tour to talk about. We only got to see half a dozen or more chambers. It was supposed to be a paranormal tour. We got walked through a few chambers, told a couple of past paranormal experiences and then were given EMF meters. We were allowed to wander in the little area we were in by ourselves for ten minutes before giving back the meters and heading into another chamber. The tour then finished. Big disappointment. Not because I didn't feel or get a sense of anything, but because I thought we'd go deeper into the chambers. It felt very superficial and I felt somewhat cheated. I was pretty crestfallen when I returned to the hotel.
Edinburg underground vaults

Edinburg underground vaults

Posted by kerry needs 11:02 Comments (0)

Mon 23 – Wed 25 April 2012 Edinburgh, Scotland to Cardiff

My wonderful, but short time in Cardiff

Monday 23 – Wednesday 25 April Edinburgh, Scotland to Cardiff, Wales

I had booked an early train from Edinburgh to Cardiff, hoping to have a little time to sight see before dark when I arrived. However, it was not to be.
Farmhouse in the foreground with the town in the background

Farmhouse in the foreground with the town in the background


I had booked a seat on the train through my British Rail Pass. With this pass I travelled on more than one train company, in this instance, Virgin Rail.

Like most of the trains, they are roomy, comfortable and afford great views from the massive windows. Most of them had trolley service from the buffet car, although a word of warning. Whatever you do, stay clear of the liquid they sell as coffee. No way, no how, in no universe I can imagine, would what I tried to drink be called coffee. Ugh. Still, it was all part of the adventure. I took the brave step of trying it, even though I thought it may be ordinary. Ordinary! It was like….. Nope, can’t think of a description, so I won’t even try.
Sprawling town in England

Sprawling town in England


I logged onto Virgin wifi and paid for an hour of internet. This was another mistake. The signal dropped out every couple of minutes, making it impossible to use. I shouldn’t have expected much more, being on a moving train.

When travelling to Edinburgh from London the train went up through York and followed the coast. This train went through the countryside through Oxenholme, Lancaster and Hereford. Very English. Didn’t see any Hereford cows, which was slightly disappointing, nor any ox in their homes at Oxenholme.

I did see wonderful farm country. Hedgerows, with rolling hills, sheep and cattle, stone farm houses and whitewashed farm houses. I never once saw a whitewashed house that needed painting. I wonder whether they paint them yearly? Very pristine looking and they stood out wonderfully against the green fields and woods.
Farmland England

Farmland England


Lancaster was beautiful. Canals full of boats and pretty barges. It reminded me of the tv series ‘Three men in a boat’. I missed a photo of the canals as we had gone past before I could get the camera organised.

Hereford was surrounded mostly by farmland. Unless you see it, I really don’t think a photo does the beauty of the English countryside enough justice. I never tired of looking at the scenery rolling past.

After Hereford we stopped at Shrewsbury. This has some significance for me as I was an avid reader of Malcolm Saville’s The Lone Pine adventures as a child. I would have liked to explore this area of England and added this to my tick list of must do’s for my next trip.

The conductor informed us that we would be twenty minutes late to Crewe, which was where I was to catch the Welsh train to Cardiff. I was a little concerned that I may get stranded, he explained that the next train came along on the hour and that I would be able to catch that one.

I learnt that you don’t have to book a seat, which costs nothing with the rail pass, but it does guarantee you one if the train is full. I would do this for any train from London, and train trips in the holiday season, but I really didn’t have to do it for most of the trains I caught. You can sit anywhere so long as the seat doesn’t have a reservation ticket on it.

I arrived at Crewe and thought I’d grab a sandwich and a coffee while I waited. Not altogether sure where I was, I asked the girl in the station coffee shop where I was, as I didn’t know if it was England or Wales. On reflection, I only had to look at the station name, which are Welsh and English if it’s in Wales. She was a sour faced young thing with no sense of humour and I felt sorry for her. I think she was probably eighteen or so years, and seemed to be resigned to working in a café all her life. Never mind, she was the only person I had met that wasn’t outright nice, so I left her to it, with the god awful cup of coffee she made me.

Crewe is in England, by the way. The girl looked at me like I had six heads when I asked her where I was. Can’t say Crewe has come to my attention for any reason in the past.
Welsh countryside

Welsh countryside


I finally caught the train, having spent the last fifteen minutes watching about twenty deaf, elderly adults, conversing on the platform. Lack of speech certainly didn’t hold them back and they ‘chattered’ with sign language, laughing and smiling. They looked to be going on a short trip and I think it probably didn’t matter where to as they seemed to be having a good time already.

Missing my connecting train meant I arrived in Cardiff very late in the afternoon. It was raining heavily just before we arrived, lightening to drizzle when I made my way to the entrance. I had my backpack, suitcase and coat, my British Rail Pass, but no swipe card to open the gates to get out. There was no train employee in sight, so I just had to stand there and wait.

I was in luck. A young, very handsome bloke noticed me and offered to get the train employee. I told him I had a ticket but no swipe card to open the gate. He laughed and got out his ticket, swiping the gate to let me through and then helping me with the suitcase. What a nice guy. He then spoilt it by asking ‘Are you American?’

I told him I was Australian. I must have looked offended, which I was. He apologised, saying that he couldn’t tell the two accents apart. HUH? Don’t understand that at all. Anyway we exchanged pleasantries and I thanked him profusely before we parted. My whole trip has been like that. Meeting nice people who are more than willing to strike up a conversation.

A woman on the train who I met had offered me a card with a website. It was eat with a local.com. She explained that you go out with a local person from Cardiff and they help you by directing you to the things in Cardiff you might be interested in seeing. What a good idea. I have spent my whole holiday talking to locals and getting the most amazing advice and information. It's the way to do things.

View from the hotel Maldron

View from the hotel Maldron


I walked to the Maldron Hotel, which I had seen from the train as we pulled in. It was literally less than 100 metres from the station. The Maldron is an Irish chain of hotels and offers very good ecofriendly accommodation.
View from the hotel Maldron

View from the hotel Maldron


My holiday was drawing to a close and I must admit that it was heavenly to have a very spacious room, queen size bed and a lift to get me to the seventh floor. The view was lovely, looking out over the city. The lights are all on sensors and turn on as you walk down the hall. The room lights are controlled by the key swipe too. You leave the key card in the controller at the door and you can turn the lights on and off at will. When you leave, the controller turns all lights off within a few minutes. Great idea.

The bathroom had a big bath with bath mats. I had experienced a couple of slippery showers in other accommodation and appreciated the non slip mat.

By the time I got into the room, unpacked a few things and had a shower it was night and I headed to the restaurant for tea. The hotel offered food in their bar or in the restaurant. I sat in the restaurant and as it was a Monday night, there was only one other couple in the place.

The waiter was lovely and we got chatting over the menu items and then started talking about travelling. Like almost everyone else I had spoken to, he seemed fixated on our creepy crawlies and snakes. I was a little amazed at the morbid fascination they have with out spiders and snakes in particular. I think they watch too much tv. However, on thinking back over my trip, I never once saw a cobweb anywhere I went, even walking through the forests and farmland.
St Mary's Street

St Mary's Street


Next morning the girl on reception advised that Cardiff Castle was ‘just up the street’. Yes it was, just a couple of hundred metres away. I walked up St Mary’s Street, past lots of Welsh flags flying , which was nice to see.
view of Cardiff's shops

view of Cardiff's shops


There are many small narrow arcades off the streets. I walked down a couple and found some interesting shops. One shop was a music shop, selling nothing but harps. I thought this was very unique. It was down one arcade that I came across a dalek. Another good find for me.
Dalek  in Cardiff

Dalek in Cardiff


The first twelve shops I passed included ten shops that had sporting memorabilia, were sporting bars, or some sort of sport theme. The Welsh take their soccer and rugby VERY seriously. They have two sporting arenas in the centre of the city, again, within a couple of hundred metres from my hotel. The main stadium, the Millennium stadium is 13 years old. It’s exactly like Etihad stadium in Melbourne, with the movable roof.

Cardiff is very proud of the stadium. I walked to the end of the street and jumped onto the On and Off bus. The tour guide advised that Millenium stadium was one of many sporting arenas in Cardiff. One was attached to the big stadium, where the local football team practice. If you are interested in football (soccer) or rugby, then Cardiff is the place for you.

Cardiff is about 120 miles from London. A couple of hours by train. Cardiff’s population is 325,000, which is 10% of the population of Wales. It is very flat terrain, located on an ancient flood plain.
Harp shop in one of Cardiff's Arcades

Harp shop in one of Cardiff's Arcades


Cardiff was known for it’s coal, with five working docks exporting coal all over the world. It was the biggest coal mining industry in the world. The Coal Exchange was the place where, in 1901, the first ever £1 million deal was struck.

Now four of the five docks have been closed. The last dock exports scrap metal to China and imports, of all things, coal. Funny world isn’t it.
The first thing that struck me about Wales and Cardiff was the beauty of the place. Coming into Wales is a lovely trip through very picturesque farmland and colourful hills and mountains. Cardiff itself is a clean, cheerful looking city. My misconceptions about Cardiff were that it was an old mining town and would be run down, with a dirty industrial look about it. How very wrong. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it’s the hidden jewel of Great Britain.

The tour bus took us around the wonderful old buildings that bespoke of the wealth and opulence that the coal mining brought to the city. There were statues and parks, gardens and stone henges, all kept neat and fresh.
The clock tower on the town hall

The clock tower on the town hall


On the Boulevarde de Nantes, which was named after Cardiff’s sister city, we see the impressive civic building beside the town hall. A statue of Queen Boadicea sits on top of the town hall. She is just one of Cardiff’s legendary heroes.
Queen Boadicea

Queen Boadicea


Opposite the town hall in the gardens is a stone circle. This circle was placed there in honour of the Eisteddfod, which originated in Wales and is one of Europes oldest cultural festivals. Each year they hold national Eisteddfod’s and an international competition. Traditionally, Eisteddfod’s were all conducted in Welsh, but in recent years they have also used English to encourage more entries.

The Gorsedd stones, stone circles, are erected in communities that host the Eisteddfod’s each year. It is harking back to druidic practices that surround the ceremony of the Eisteddfod.

The bus took us past the Alexandra Gardens, with some trees still heavy with pink blossom. Housed in these gardens is the Welsh National War Memorial.

Around the corner we find the University of Cardiff. One of the most architecturally distinguished buildings, opened in 1912 is the Glamorgan building. Outside this building are two huge statues, one representing navigation and the other coal mining.

Another statue that drew my attention was the Boer War memorial, in the middle of a round-about opposite the town hall. The statue is the angel of peace and she is holding a whole olive tree sapling. It is a bronze statue and was erected in 1909.
Angel of peace - Boer war memorial

Angel of peace - Boer war memorial


Moving further along towards the dock area, we passed the Cardiff prison. Erected in 1850’s, the prison seems to bear a geographical resemblance to Melbourne’s Assessment Prison by being so centrally located to the town. The prison holds 700 prisoners and there has never been an escape. The local court house is ideally situated across the road, making easy access for the short trip from the dock to the cells.
Cardiff Prison

Cardiff Prison


The dock area at first, seems like any other working docks. There are boats, loading machinery and payloads waiting to be loaded. It wasn’t until we got closer to Mermaid Quay that the differences became apparent. The dock areas have undergone massive changes, with lots of restaurants, pleasant walking areas and lots of chairs and benches to sit and enjoy the view.

So far, Cardiff has spent £2 billion pounds on upgrading the dock area. For every £1 they have spent, £2 has come from private enterprise. It’s an area that the city can be proud of. Whether you like to walk, go for a boat ride or just sit in one of the many restaurants or bars and just enjoy the view, this is the place to do it.

Travelling past the dock area we passed over the Taff river with the Bristol Channel in the distance. We drove along what I thought was a bay, only to have the guide explain that the area we were looking at was an artificial, freshwater lake. It had been made by using a series of 5 sluice gates and a number of lochs to keep the water fresh from the nearby sea. There are a number of water sports here, including sailing.
We passed the old town, known as Bute Town, named after the Bute family, who owned Cardiff Castle. Bute Town is in the Tygo Baith (Tiger Bay) area. In Victorian times, Tygo Baith had a reputation for being a rough area. Tiger Bay was a name used by sailors for any dock or seaside neighborhood which was noted for being a dangerous area. One of Tygo Baith’s most famous residents have been singer Shirley Bassey.
We turned back toward town and drove past one of the statues erected of the Marquis of Bute. The Bute family resided in Cardiff Castle and they have donated a lot of land to Cardiff city.
Heritage listed tavern

Heritage listed tavern


An old tavern drew our attention. This place is heritage listed because of the lovely glazed tiles that adorn the outside of the building. Almost back at my hotel, we passed a large statue of two hands holding a large piece of rope. This symbolizes hard work, which the Welsh are obviously used to doing.

I departed the bus and entered Cardiff Castle. The Castle is large, with buildings set out close to the outer walls and a large open area in the middle. Much of the castle is in good repair, having been built in the Victorian era. It was designed to look Norman, but is much younger. The view from the battlements is wonderful as you can see down the city streets in most directions.
Cardiff Castle

Cardiff Castle


Under the battlements I found a very long tunnel which was used as an air raid shelter during the second world war. This part of the castle has only been on public display for the last couple of years. The shelter looks much as it did during the war, displaying some memorabilia from that time.
Cardiff Castle - air raid shelter

Cardiff Castle - air raid shelter


Underground, the castle has a new and very detailed war memorial museum. If you are interested in minute details of regiments, uniforms, what type of rations and kit soldiers had from the 1800’s up to the current day, then this is the wonderful display for you. There was a retired soldier in the museum who was swapping stories with another gentleman, also ex-army. I think this place would be very interesting to anyone who had served in the armed forces.
Cardiff Castle

Cardiff Castle


The large square keep on the high mound was full of French students, giggling and chatting. That and the dozens of steps up to the keep and then up to the battlements, put me off going to this building. I did love the look of it though. I rather imagined that the cast of Merlin could have easily emerged from here at any moment.
Cardiff Castle

Cardiff Castle


I have visited and seen a lot of castles, but Cardiff Castle and Eilean Donan both exudes residual energy of a time gone by when men wore swords and women had long skirts. There is an air of magical history about some castles, Cardiff being one of them.
Cardiff Castle

Cardiff Castle


Moving on from the castle, more because of the inclement weather than a need to leave, I jumped back onto the bus and headed in search of Dr Who and Torchwood. Coming to Cardiff had been a decision I took, almost entirely because I am a Dr Who and Torchwood fanatic. I’ve been watching Dr Who since the 1960’s and this was the reason I came to Cardiff.
Dalek  in Cardiff

Dalek in Cardiff


I had been bitterly disappointed to find the exhibition had closed and that the new exhibition wouldn’t be opened until Summer. I almost cancelled the Cardiff part of my tour, but I was so glad I hadn’t. I was so enthralled with Cardiff that my disappointment over Dr Who faded away.
I jumped off the bus at the magnificent Millennium Centre. Like our Sydney Opera House, there is no other building like this anywhere. The front of it looks like it’s made of copper but is actually steel treated with copper oxide.

Inscribed on the front are two poetic lines, written by a Welsh poet. The Welsh words are Creu Gwir fel gwydr o ffwrnais awen, which means "Creating truth like glass from the furnace of inspiration". The English is In These Stones Horizons Sing.
The Millennium Centre

The Millennium Centre


The side of the building made up of multi layers of slate, a lovely contrast to the metallic front. The slate is purple, blue, grey, green and black, all found in different quarries in Wales.
The multi-coloured slate that makes up the sides of the Millennium Centre

The multi-coloured slate that makes up the sides of the Millennium Centre


Inside, the building hosts a number of stages and venues and is very modern. There are often free performances during the day and if the choir’s are rehearsing you can sometimes go watch. I’m not sure whether the people of Cardiff like this building or not, but I think it’s wonderful.

The Millennium Centre is the start of Mermaid Quay, the upgraded docks area. In front of the Millennium Centre is the Huge water column, a tall silver tower with water running down the sides. It stands alone and behind it is a big area known locally as the basin, which leads down toward the water.
Torchwood entrance

Torchwood entrance


As all Torchwood fans would know, the stones in front of the water column is the entrance to Torchwood. Of course, I have half a dozen photos of this spot.

Mermaid Quay is a lovely place to stroll around, soak up the atmosphere, eat or drink or both. There are a number of charter boats and the view across the bay is awesome.
Looking past the water column to the slate walls of the Millenium Centre

Looking past the water column to the slate walls of the Millenium Centre


I walked around the quay a little and found the BBC Cymru drama village. This place is where all the BBC magic happens. It’s the size of a small town and churns out shows such as Sherlock, Dr Who, Torchwood, and Casualty are all filmed here.
BBC Cymru

BBC Cymru


Heading back along the waterfront I came across the shrine to Ianto Jones. He’s a character from Torchwood and was killed off in the last special. I wasn’t happy either but I found it interesting that this shrine has sprung up. The Dr Who and Torchwood series have generated a lot of money for Cardiff in the way of tourism and the exhibition centre. I bumped into an Australian girl taking photos of the Torchwood stone and she had also visited the shrine.

I ate lunch at an American style diner, which was unique looking and okay food. While I ate a thunderstorm came over the city, dropping a bit of rain, but mostly making lots of pretty lightning and some big thunder. It went just as quickly and the waterfront looked lovely all damp and shiny.
There are shops and hotels along Mermaid Quay too to cater for those people who like everything centrally located.
American Diner, Mermaid Quay

American Diner, Mermaid Quay


I decided that I’d had enough for the day but instead of getting the on and off bus, I’d catch the local bus. It’s a good way to get a round trip and perhaps see part of the city that tourists don’t see.

I got on board just as a lady told the bus driver that someone had been sick on the bus. Of course, I have a terribly weak gag reflex and immediately began to dry retch when she said that it smelt terrible. I started retching even though I couldn’t see it or smell it. I had awful trouble getting it under control, heaving all over the place and trying to hide the fact of what I was doing. I saw the sick and it was only clear fluid, and I still couldn’t smell anything. I eventually got myself under control and thanked the gods that I didn’t know anyone to add to my embarrassment.
We stopped at the next stop and had to wait for a replacement bus. I had a lovely chat with the people on the bus and the bus driver while we waited. Nice people.
Storm over Mermaid Quay

Storm over Mermaid Quay


We eventually got underway again and we went on the opposite route to where I wanted to go, taking the long way back to my stop. We drove through the Islamic area, which is very big, with schools and shops all catering to Islamic needs. I would never have known Cardiff had such a big Islamic community if I had stayed on the on and off bus.

I finally arrived back at the hotel, tired and a little sad that my time here was nearly over. I enjoyed another fine meal in the bar, watching soccer with the ‘lads’. Not something I would do often, but I like good soccer. I left for bed thinking that Chelsea was going to get well beaten, but they won and won well apparently.
Looking out towards the Bristol Channel from Mermaid Quay

Looking out towards the Bristol Channel from Mermaid Quay


I left Cardiff knowing that I’d be back to explore some more in the future.

The view on the train back was limited as the weather had turned dismal with wind and rain. We went through Swindon, Didicot Parkway, Reading and Paddington before arriving in London. I made my way to Earl’s Court and my small, but centrally located room in the West Cromwell Hotel.
I was pretty tired and looking forward to coming home and seeing my dogs and family. Most of all I was looking for some space and peace and quiet. I found London way too populated for my liking.

Posted by kerry needs 04:48 Comments (0)

Thurs 26 Apr 12 -Tower of London, The BBC, Sherlock Holmes

Last day in the UK

Last day in the UK before flying home tomorrow.

I had stopped at the Earl’s Court Tavern for tea when I arrived back in London. It was lovely to be greeted by the bar staff, who remembered me from my visit over two weeks prior. It’s one of the highlights of the trip, meeting such wonderful people along the way.

Waking the next morning I felt the confines of my small Cromwell Hotel room in Earl’s Court, particularly after the luxury of the Maldron Hotel in Cardiff. It was a miserable day, with some areas of the UK receiving a month’s worth of rain in 24 hours. I set off very early on the underground to Tower Hill station. I didn’t want to get caught in any crowds at the Tower of London and was looking forward to the weather putting off a big rush of tourists.
Tower of London and Tower Bridge

Tower of London and Tower Bridge


I arrived at Tower Hill just after the Tower of London opened, around 9.30 am. The rain was persistently steady, although not heavy. Looking at the photos I was happy that not too many of them were ruined by the rain and gloom.

I paid for my entry, and the tourist guide book, which cost me £24.95, the dearest entry fee of my whole trip. I should have known that this wasn’t a good sign, but I really wanted to see Traitors Gate and the ravens.
Tower of London - The White Tower

Tower of London - The White Tower


The Tower of London castle was erected in 1066 (the year of the battle of Hastings). The White Tower, which gives the castle its name, was built by William the Conqueror in 1078. The castle was used as a prison since at least 1100, although that was not its primary purpose.
Tower of London walkway between outer and inner palace walls

Tower of London walkway between outer and inner palace walls


The palace early in its history was a royal residence and has several buildings set within two concentric rings of defensive walls. It also has a large moat which is now grassed. The castle was expanded a few times, mainly under Kings Richard the Lion heart, Henry III, and Edward I in the 12th and 13th centuries. These are names that we read about, and until now, have never really thought of in real terms. I’m looking at stones and steps that kings have walked, many kings over centuries. Wow! It’s truly mind blowing stuff.

I took my guide book and wandered into the tower grounds. I was delighted to find Traitors Gate straight away. The part this gate played in history is amazing. The most influential prisoners were taken to the Tower, rather than the Fleet prison, where they were more likely to die from disease. People such as Elizabeth I, Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, Lady Jane Grey and Sir Walter Raleigh would have entered the castle through this gate. Some of them, like Elizabeth I were released, but many others met their untimely end on the executions block at Tower Hill.
Tower of London Thomas' Tower above Traitor's Gate

Tower of London Thomas' Tower above Traitor's Gate


I spent a bit of time at the gate, thinking of the people who had entered through here and what they must have felt. Most would have found little hope of survival I imagine.
Tower of London - Traitor's Gate

Tower of London - Traitor's Gate


I decided not to see the crown jewels. There were about three tour groups clambering to get to the building that housed the jewels. Having seen the Scottish crown jewels, I turned instead to the raven rookery.
The Tower Ravens

The Tower Ravens


Ravens are huge compared to our crows. I’m not sure what I expected, but there were half a dozen ravens in cages and a very small display board providing some facts. I’m sure they are allowed to fly free as two of them were not in cages. I’m not sure why, but I was slightly deflated at seeing them.

Moving on, I passed not one, but two cafe/souvenir shops, which bespoke the overall tourist feel of the place. It’s something I really don’t like when it overrides the historic ambience.

I found the dungeon/torture chamber display and thought it would be worth a good look. The display was two very small rooms with a couple of torture devices, one of which was the rack. I found the dungeon/torture chamber display and thought it would be worth a good look.
Torture in the Tower

Torture in the Tower


The display was two very small rooms with a couple of torture devices, one of which was the rack, also known as the Duke of Exeter’s Daughter. The other device was a contraption that contracted the body rather than stretched it. This was called the Scavenger's Daughter. They were both used in the era of Henry VIII.
The rack (Duke of Exeter's Daughter) in the Tower

The rack (Duke of Exeter's Daughter) in the Tower


I found it almost unbelievable how cruel people could be, all in the name of religion or the king. The sign did say that torture was not used for any long period in UK history. That’s okay, except for those that were tortured.
The Scavenger's Daughter torture device

The Scavenger's Daughter torture device


The weather became worse and I ended my tour, not really fussed about seeing anything more of the Tower. The castle is very well preserved, magnificently so, but it’s geared up for the tourist to spend money on tea/coffee and souvenirs and that’s not for me. Very pricey and disappointing.

I headed out towards the Thames and walked along the riverbank, which was a lovely stroll. The weather broke every now and then and it was only spitting lightly as I walked.
London City

London City


The Thames is a busy place with all sorts of river craft using the wide thoroughfare. The view up and down the Thames is fabulous and it’s the one places where you can feel the wide open space in front of you. London has 10 million people, plus the thousands of tourists, which is no exaggeration. Australia has 20 million in the whole country. No wonder I was beginning to feel a lack of personal space.
Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge


Walking directly underneath Tower Bridge was amazing. I took a really close look at this very recognizable bridge and again, thought of the many people who had crossed over this since it was erected. I did want to walk across it, which was quite a hike, but the weather was not good. My raincoat hood constantly dripped water on my face and I decided to seek an indoor activity. I took some video of the bridge towers as we drove across it. I’ll be posting them in the next month or so when I get time to produce the clips.
Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge


I had booked a tour of the BBC studios for the afternoon and needed to print out my ticket, as well as my boarding passes for my flight home. I jumped on the train and made my way to Gloucester Road, knowing that there was an internet cafe near the station. I printed out my paperwork and then visited Garfunkels for breakfast.

Garfunkels is a chain of cafe’s that I’d seen dotted here and there. The tea was good and hot, which was needed after all that rain and cold. I had the English breakfast, small helpings of bacon, egg, tomato, baked beans and mushies. Very filling and I found that this kept me going for most of the day.

I had plenty of time to spare so I headed for the shops, something I loathe. I wanted to buy some gifts to take home but had found nothing worth buying. Most of the souvenirs were crappy plastic or run of the mill type souvenirs that junk shops would have. I didn’t want a union jack money box or a stuffed toy. I browsed around and got a few items, but was a bit disappointed that I hadn’t found that unique type of gift I would have liked to bring home. Maybe I just didn’t look hard enough. Like I said, I hate shopping and would rather do anything else than shop.

I jumped on the Hammersmith line train and travelled out to Wood Lane Station, which was right across the road from the BBC Studios. Visiting the ladies rest room at the train station I was amused to find a bullet hole in the window. The station looked pretty rough and this confirmed it.
BBC Studio tour

BBC Studio tour


The rain had stopped for a while but there was more coming over. I was glad this tour would be inside. I had booked the tour the day before but woke feeling very tired and almost cancelled it. I’m glad I didn’t.
BBC Studio tour

BBC Studio tour


Opened in 1960, the BBC Television Centre studio at Wood Lane has eight medium to large production studios, four small ones and a number of studios to produce the news and weather. There are a number of other BBC studios all over the UK, but here at the BBC Television Centre is where it all began.

The building itself is huge and there are over five thousand people working here. The building houses studios, a scenery block, offices, cafeterias, snack bars, coffee bars, souvenir shop, delis and tea bars. The Centre also has a travel agent, a hairdresser, a dry cleaner and a florist.

Some of the past TV programmes to come out of these studios include Fawlty Towers, Monty Python's Flying Circus, Absolutely Fabulous, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and for me, the most famous of them all, Doctor Who. Drama’s aren’t generally filmed here anymore. Dr Who, for instance is filmed in the drama village at Cardiff.

The BBC now outsource some of their departments such as make-up, wardrobe and design departments. The studios, once used for all of their productions, are now booked by a number of independent production companies, including ITV.

Our tour started outside and I was extremely excited to see the TARDIS at the front door. However, it wasn’t the same TARDIS used in the filming.
All television show sets are destroyed when no longer needed. There was an exception to this. The original Dr Who TARDIS fell apart in the 1970s and was replaced with another that was used until the final episode in 1989 made with Sylvester McCoy. That TARDIS was never destroyed. When the new series was launched in 2004 in Wales with its own new TARDIS, the old TARDIS was proudly displayed outside the audience foyer in the BBC entrance.

It has since been replaced with the new one, which looks too new, but I really didn’t care.
BBC Studio tour

BBC Studio tour


We went inside and started the tour in the News room. Our tour group sat in small meeting room which looked out onto the news desks. A bit like working in a fish bowl. You could see up to the next two floors when you looked up and also see what everyone was doing at their desks. The BBC employs 1200 people in the newsroom, including television and radio, at this studio. They also have freelance journalists all over the world and other studios all over the UK. This makes them the largest news network in the world.

Some of the journalists monitor trending information on social networks such as twitter and facebook. Sound exciting? No thanks, imagine the rubbish they must have to read to get to anything worthwhile. It would turn you to a drooling mass of mindless jelly if you read too much of it.
We watched one of the radio stations on a big screen as they went to air. We also tuned in to one of the 100 or more weather people as she got ready to present the weather. It was really interesting. It was fun watching her primp and preen before going on air. I guess it’s easy to forget that there are camera’s everywhere here and anyone could be watching.

Each weather person has her own preferences for teleprompter speed, lighting, and camera position put into a computer. They go into a very small room which is fully automated. They enter their code and the studio loads her/his preferences. They then wait for the right time and present the weather against the green screen. When that’s done, they turn off the camera and computer and leave. No-one else is there to help. Not what you’d expect at all.

We moved down to one of the many studios. This was not the first time I’ve been in a studio. I have been on tv a couple of times on a kids program when I was about nine years old, and in the audience for a couple of tv shows in the eighties. I also had a tour of channel nine for school. These studios were much bigger than anything I’ve seen before.
BBC Studio Match of the Day

BBC Studio Match of the Day


For all those who are soccer fans, the set we entered was the ‘Match of the Day’ set. We moved over to a back lot where the old set design for ‘Blue Peter’ was housed. Blue Peter is not shown on our tv’s but it’s a hugely popular children’s show in the UK. It’s now filmed in the new studios in Salford closer to London city.
BBC Studio - old Blue Peter set

BBC Studio - old Blue Peter set


We walked through the labyrinth of passageways and entered the viewing room above one of the sets. We weren’t allowed to take photos here as they were filming. The studio below were rehearsing the show ‘8 out of 10 cats’ with Jimmy Carr. Jimmy hosted the raunchy and rude ‘Distraction’ show, which used to show lots of naughty bits on late night tv. He’s very funny.

Moving on from here another studio were taping Animal Antics, we heard some very funny dialogue between a two men, one dressed as a dog. This was a show for another network and they had hired the studios to tape it.
Being Human Poster - BBC studio tour

Being Human Poster - BBC studio tour


Walking down the corridors we passed photos of current shows, like ‘Being Human’, which I love. Also in display cases are props from shows, Dr Who amongst them.

Down a corridor where the weather is produced, one of our tour group had some fun in front of the cameras. They were put in front of the green screen and tried to read the teleprompter and direct the weather at the same time. Not as easy as it looked. We also had fun hiding parts of people with the blue screen, making one lady look like a floating head.

Toward the end of the tour we entered a small studio set up with a news desk and a three person game show panel. The tour guides had two of the tour group act as news readers. They read off the teleprompter and threw over to a couple of short news stories. It was then our turn. I was one of the volunteers to become game show players. We had to answer some very simple questions and the winner got a prize. I got beaten to the buzzer for the final question but it was fun and we all got some BBC pens for taking part.
BBC Studio- Match of the Day

BBC Studio- Match of the Day


The tour took about an hour and a half and was fascinating. We ended in the BBC shop, which didn’t have as much Dr Who things as I would have liked. There was a fantastic free standing cardboard Dalek, real life height, which was over my head. I would have bought it, but had no way of getting it back home.

I left the tour thinking that this had been a very good idea.

It was mid afternoon and I had just enough time to head back into the city and go to Baker Street, the home of the Sherlock Holmes Museum. I decided that tired that I was, I wouldn’t miss my last opportunity to see something, especially since I’ve been a Sherlock Holmes fan since my early teen years.
Sherlock Holmes museum

Sherlock Holmes museum


I had no trouble finding 221B Baker Street. There was an old fashioned English Bobby out the front, directing the tourists in and out of the building. I bought my ticket in the souvenir shop, which I noted was very expensive but had some nice gifts.

The wait was about twenty minutes before I was allowed inside. Up some very narrow stairs to the bedroom and study of Sherlock Holmes. It had been set up exactly as the books describe. Cluttered with artefacts that Sherlock Holmes would have owned, had he been real. I could almost see him standing at the window looking down at the hansom cabs in the street, pipe in his mouth, contemplating the stranger about to enter through his front door.
Old fashioned Bobby

Old fashioned Bobby


I didn’t have much time to have a look as the crowd of people were swarming all over the tiny rooms. I felt that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would have liked the display. I was happy. It ticked off another mental box of ‘places I must visit’ for me.
I had also planned to go on the Jack the Ripper tour that night, but the steady rain and cold would have ruined it. I added that tour to the ones to complete on my next trip to the UK.
Sherlock Homes parlour

Sherlock Homes parlour


I headed back to the hotel, grabbing a takeaway on the way. I had to pack everything properly for the flight home. I’ve had a wonderful time. Some disappointments, some unusual happenings and best of all, met some very nice people along the way. I went to bed very happy with my holiday and felt that the eight years I had planned and waited and all the time I’d taken pouring over tours and accommodation had been worth it.

My last post will be on my personal travel recommendations. Good internet sites, accommodation, places to see and any to avoid. Tour companies and simple things like travel, particularly for people on their own.

Posted by kerry needs 03:47 Comments (0)

(Entries 11 - 15 of 16) « Page 1 2 [3] 4 »