Hadrian's Wall was built by the Romans to keep the 'barbarians' of Scotland out of the 'civilized' south, so we were really looking forward to seeing what this part of the U.K. had in store for us. The countryside was definitely a bit wilder and desolate to the north but the closest thing we saw to a barbarian was an actor in the guise of Robert the Bruce in one of the castles. Edinburgh was an especially cultured and beautifully designed city, as we saw from the top of our double-decker bus that we had caught near the campground. Our goal was to explore the Royal Mile, a street following a rocky ridge featuring historic churches, quaint shops, pubs and museums. We started at Holyroodhouse Palace, an official royal residence that originated as an abbey and guesthouse. It wasn't open to visitors at the time. Nearby was the new Scottish Parliament, still under construction, and with a sign out front that possibly recognized the political tone of the country. It was pouring rain as we continued up the 'mile', stopping in at a tartan shop and debating whether we should try the haggis in their restaurant. Deciding against the haggis, we wandered back out and over to a whisky museum, wanting to get out of the rain, which was relentless. As we were not really interested in the whisky tour, we braved the soggy weather and walked up to Edinburgh castle, which stood, impressively, on a cliff made of volcanic rock. A walk down the hill to Princes St. Park, gave us more widespread views of the castle. The monument to the Scottish poet, Sir Walter Scott, was the centrepiece of the park. Our day finished with a great bus ride through the well-kept Georgian architecture of New Town, and back at camp, Ekke phoned his brother to wish him a happy birthday.

Hadrian's Wall

Edinburgh Castle

Construction site of the new Scottish Parliament

Walking the "Mile" in Edinburgh

On July 2nd, we packed up and rode to Stirling via two towns of personal significance. Carstairs, Alberta, Audrey's home town, is named after Carstairs, Scotland, so we thought we should pay it a visit. It was a delightful town, with an historic church and inn. While eating lunch in a small café we indicated to the servers where we were from, and they immediately made us feel welcome. One of the girls brought us an email from the town hall bulletin board that was from Carstairs, Alberta, inviting people in Carstairs, Scotland to send postcards for its 100th anniversary as a town. The kids were really interested in our motorcycles and they gave us a quick tour of the place. After our pleasant visit, we rode to Airdrie, Scotland which was somewhat different than where Ekke's folks live, Airdrie, Alberta. He phoned them, and they were quite surprised to hear that he was in Airdrie! We found camping at Witches' Craig, near Stirling, where we had magnificent views of the William Wallace (aka 'Braveheart') monument.


The friendly children of Carstairs

Witches' Craig Campground

View of Braveheart's tower from campground

Before packing up camp for an 11:00 a.m. departure, we took in a couple of local sights. William Wallace Tower was perched on a hill, and the walkway wound around several times before reaching the top.  Ekke urged Audrey to knock on the big door of the tower for a photo op, and it was quite embarrassing when some people answered. There was a clear view of Stirling Castle, residence of the Stuart monarchs and our next destination, on the other side of the valley. After a short ride there, we caught a formal tour of the medieval castle, where we saw royal apartments, the Great Hall and throne room, kitchens, gatehouse and chapel. A barbarian/actor dressed as Robert the Bruce demonstrated the use of weapons that would have been used at Bannockburn, the last battle where the Scots beat the English. He showed us a broad sword, dirk, bow and arrows, axe, and some chainmail. After lifting the chainmail, we both agreed that the weight alone would have knocked us off a horse! He then gave another demo where he put a large piece of plaid on the floor, pleated it, folded it, wrapped it on an unsuspecting tourist, and called it a kilt. Part of it could be pulled up and used as an upper body covering in bad weather. After packing up camp, we rode on some narrow, twisty roads to Glen Nevis (valley), in sight of Ben Nevis (mountain).

Stirling Castle

Audrey: Queen of Scots

The making of a kilt:

Putting in the pleats
Finding an unsuspecting tourist
The basic kilt
With pockets
And in cool weather

On July 4th, we did a day ride in the direction of Inverness, via Loch Ness. Although we sat and watched the lake for at least 5 minutes, we did not catch a glimpse of the infamous Loch Ness Monster. Maybe there was more to be seen of 'Nessie' on the touristy side of the lake, but we chose the quieter route and were rewarded with beautiful scenery. Our destination for the day was Culloden, site of the 1746 battle of the Jacobites and the English. The battle site was featured in the novel Highlander, so Audrey had to have a look. It was a touching place, as thousands of Scots had died in the battle trying to help Bonnie Prince Charlie reclaim the throne. Markers were set up to show the battle lines, and apparently the Scots were defeated in just over an hour by the Redcoats. Our route back to camp took us through the Scottish highlands which were a delight to ride in. Many roads were twisty and narrow, and there were regular 'Passing Places', little roadside pullouts so vehicles could pass one another on the narrow roads. The skies remained grey but it only added to the atmosphere of the desolate countryside. Little 'lochs' (lakes) filled the valleys, and were surrounded by bleak, rocky 'mountains' (hills). A few ruined castles could be seen from the road, and Eilean Donan Castle was especially striking.

Enjoying the ride
A break at Loch Ness
Culloden Battlefield
Scottish Highlands
Now that's a narrow road
Eilean Donan Castle

The next day, we packed up, rode by Loch Lomond and Glasgow, and caught a ferry at Cairnryan to Larne, Northern Ireland. On the ferry, we talked with a fellow motorcyclist who was on a Kawasaki (but we won't hold that against him) about our route through Ireland. He suggested going north instead of south, as there was more to see along that coast. We camped north of Belfast, in a campground adjoining a park, and had a great walk after dinner, getting lost in a hedgerow maze, and marvelling at sculptures of various sundials. The next morning we decided to ride north and were glad we did as we saw several ruined castles perched on cliffs on the edge of the ocean. Our first authentic Irish pub looked quite promising, and we felt very at home, especially since the music being played was none other than k.d. lang , a fellow Albertan! The pub quickly lost most of its charm as about 30 tourists piled off a bus and quickly invaded. Oh well. Off we rode, happy to have the option to just leave, and the road hugged the coast as we spent a pleasant hour winding our way west. Our next stop was Giant's Causeway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A sure sign that a place is very special is when it's swarming with tourists, and the Giant's Causeway was very popular. This volcanic phenomenon was really quite remarkable to see. Thousands of basalt hexagonal pillars looked like they'd been placed there on purpose, presumably by, well… giants! A hike down for a closer look rewarded us with a great scramble among the pillars and tourists. Our day ended further up the coast, where we camped in the rain. We were beginning to understand why Ireland was so green!

Ruined castles dotted the Irish coast
Giant's Causeway

Riding the small, scenic, and often potholed roads was entertaining as we headed south, past seaside communities, sandy beaches and rocky islands. We camped near Galway, at Salthill, an old-fashioned beach resort on the Atlantic. It was so windy and rainy that our Heptawing tarp ripped. It had served us well for a year, so we weren't too disappointed. After a leisurely French toast breakfast the next morning, we went into Galway, a great place to just wander. Colourful houses and boats lined the coast, and stone buildings clustered around cobblestone streets. We had some lunch, did some internet banking, and after a bit more wandering, bought supper supplies and went back to camp. The weather had cleared up nicely, so we strolled along the boardwalk, past an amusement park and people swimming.

The Irish coast

The next day we travelled through an area called the Burren, in County Clare, which was very barren and rocky. At the Cliffs of Moher, we avoided paying 4 each for parking by putting the bikes on the sidewalk near the gate, and walking over to look at the towering cliffs. People wandered everywhere, including right on the edge of the protruding cliffs, but we stuck to the designated pathways, often catching our breath as we watched another tourist walk out to the edge. The sheer cliffs were topped with brilliant green turf, and it was very picturesque with the dark blue waves crashing below.  We rode further south and caught the Shannon ferry where we chatted with some American tourists. They thought we were pretty adventurous, riding our motorcycles around Ireland. Well, not quite as adventurous as the tourists on the edge of the Cliffs of Moher! We camped at Tralee, within shooting distance of the Dingle Peninsula.

Peeking over the edge...
Or just standing on the edge, both looked pretty scary
Our day ride to the Dingle, over Connor Pass, was breathtaking. It was a lovely day, with intermittent clouds, but everything looked so green. We hiked up to a little lake, nestled in the cliffs above the road, and took in the scenery. Lunch was at the quaint Dingle Pub where we tried fish and chips and shepherd's pie, and then visited several places suggested by Rick Steves in his guide book. This started with the B&B that Robert Mitchum stayed at when filming Ryan's Daughter. Unfortunately, the only place to pull over was by a little stone fence, which leapt out and bit Ekke's crash bar. He got away with just a scratch on it. We rode by a ring fort from Celtic times, and by ancient Beehive houses made of stone. Supposedly the house where Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman stayed in during the filming of Far and Away was visible, but we only saw the trees surrounding it. The peninsula scenery was amazing, with waves crashing up on sheer cliffs, sandy beaches and abandoned farmland on hillsides, which had seen the potato famine years. We caught a glimpse of the island that boasted the end of the first transatlantic cable, by Western Union. The other end is in Newfoundland. We also saw the westernmost point of Europe and the highest 'mountain' in Ireland, apparently the first piece of land seen by Charles Lindberg on his transatlantic flight. The ride back was through orderly farmlands and green, rolling hills of the Dingle.

Great lunch spot
The "Upside Down Bridge" of the Dingle Peninsula
Beehive stone houses
A beautiful sight for Charles Lindeberg

The next morning we took the long way to Killarney via the Ring of Kerry. This is the more famous of the peninsulas, but in our opinion, the Dingle came out on top in terms of rugged scenery and ancient sights. It did have its share of cliffs and sweeping, sandy beaches, but the best scenery was Killarney National Park. It was pleasant riding through the thick forest, encountering some beautiful lakes, and a bumpy road winding its way down a hillside. Of course, we had to get a photo in the town of Killarney, as Audrey would be working at its namesake, Killarney School, in Calgary, later in the year. It was an unremarkable town, but apparently had won some flower competitions. Our ride took us through many lovely little towns, and we stopped at Tipperary, agreeing that it was a long way to get there.  A lady in a grocery store directed us to Ballincourty House, a combined restaurant, inn and campground in an historic barn complex with a flowered courtyard. Kids played soccer all around our tent, and thankfully stopped as soon as the biting midges came out.

Preparing for school
Enjoying sugar free peas at camp

On July 12th, we rode among rolling farmlands, and stared in awe at the Rock of Cashel, an impressive complex which included an abbey, Romanesque Cathedral a round tower and other medieval structures, all perched on a rocky hill. Further along, in Kilkenny, we bought some lunch and sat in a park, within view of Kilkenny Castle. Riding further east, we came to a place we wanted to have a closer look at, Glendalough (pronounced 'glenda-lock') a monastery founded by a monk, St. Kevin, in the 6th century. Many buildings were intact, including the only monastic gateway in Ireland, and the slate roofs were especially impressive. The monks used to hide up in the round tower during Viking raids or the English incursion. It was a beautiful sunny day and we had a pleasant walk to some little lakes. Glendalough literally means 'two lakes'. We camped near Dublin in an RV park, and there were plenty of other tenters there.

Rock of Cashel
Kilkenny Castle

The next day, we caught a bus into Dublin and left the bikes in the safety of the fenced campground. The tourist office was housed in the de-sanctified St. Andrew's church, and we procured a pop-up map and made plans for the day.  We made our way down Grafton Street, a pedestrian area lined with stores housed in what were previously Georgian mansions. A beautiful old shopping centre with wrought iron railings stood at the end of the street, just in time for lunch, and we settled on some sandwiches from one of its stores. It was a beautiful day, so we sat in St. Stephen's Green, a lovely park with people strolling and students studying. Manicured lawns and colourful flower gardens abounded. There were many monuments, and one statue was a 'thank-you' from Germany for support Dubliners gave to children after WWII.

Ha'penny Bridge in Dublin

One of the oldest known books in existence is the Book of Kells, from around 800 A.D., and we were able to see it in the library of Trinity College. There was a great display set up, showing how the monks made the illuminated manuscript, from the making of the vellum from calfskin to the colours used for the ink using various exotic minerals such as lapus lazuli. Pages were ruled by cutting lines in with a knife, and the calligraphy was written between the lines. Apparently the monks who did the manuscript travelled from far and wide, including St. Gallen, Switzerland where some of Audrey's ancestors came from.  They kept art and literature alive during the dark ages (the monks, not the ancestors). The walls were covered with enlarged pages of the book, with explanations of the artwork and symbols. The end of the tour was the book itself, enclosed in a glass case, and this ancient artefact was a wonder to behold. Further on was the long hall of the library, housing 200 000 volumes of historical books such as court proceedings at Versailles or drawings of old Amsterdam. Ekke was quite impressed when he saw the oldest harp in Ireland. A walk around the grounds at Trinity College was charming, and we saw cricketers practising for their next test match. They were really batting well, and it was surprising how many wickets were hit. Since we know nothing about cricket, of course, we are making most of this up. What a confusing game. The statue of Oscar Wilde, looking smug as he reclined in his colourful smoking jacket, was across from his former residence. Engraved on stone tablets nearby were several of his witty quotes such as "I can resist everything except temptation", and "Thought is not catching" and "I drink to keep body and soul apart". A walk by a statue of Molly Malone, down Grafton Street took us to the Temple Bar district. We actually tried a pint of Guinness and agreed that it was smooth, creamy, and very flavourful. Apparently they give it to people in hospital to speed their recovery.

Excellent batting!
Oscar Wilde

Our plan was to catch the 1:15 p.m. ferry to Wales the next day, but it was late and didn't leave until about 3:00 p.m. All we could do was hang out in the ferry station, and the only food nearby was a sandwich from a gas station convenience store. Then, right after we got on the boat, we were offered a hot meal, for free, which, of course, we couldn't say 'no' to. We read and wrote during the 6 ½ hour journey and got another complimentary hot meal just before we got off the boat. Since we arrived so late, we decided to ride straight down the coast to the campground in Prestywyn, where we knew, from our previous stay, that the back gate would be open all night. We had memorized the code to unlock the bathroom door, so that was very handy. The tent was finally up at 10:30 p.m., and we paid the campground fee the next morning.  Our next destination was London, where we would spend a week visiting the city and arrange to have the bikes flown home. Although we were excited at the prospect of seeing London, we could feel the trip winding down, and it was often a difficult concept to be faced with.

We won't be seeing these at home...

Our route through Scotland and Ireland  

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