Thursday, September 4, 2014


Murder is everywhere – and so are many of those who write about it.  Annamaria is communing with elephants, serval, zebra, and wildebeest in Kenya.  Caro, recently, was wandering around Ketchikan, Alaska.  Cara is, as far as I can see, in France.  Lisa is in or going to China.  Yrsa is in New Zealand (I think).  Jeff is in Mykonos.  Who knows where Zoë is.  And Michael has just returned from wandering around South Africa.

So that leaves me.  Where have I been?

Well, I, too, have been travelling – most recently to the home of two of my grandparents - Scotland.  My grandfather, Hugh Scott MacGregor of Glasgow, and my grandmother, Francis Meta Watt of Edinburgh, emigrated to South Africa in the early 1900s, met there, and married in 1913.

I started with a wonderful and, remarkably, dry week of golf in Nairn on the Firth or Moray, close to Inverness.  This was links golf at its best.  This name comes from the fact that the golf course is built on the piece of land, usually not arable, that links the sea with the arable land.  Consequently most links courses are long and thin, often with the first nine holes going away from the clubhouse and the second nine going back.  I sliced one shot onto the beach and recovered by clambering over the sea wall and hitting a fine seven iron to put the ball back in play.  I hit another shot onto the beach a day later, but the tide was in and the ball is forever in the Firth.

The most unexpected part of my trip to the northern parts of Scotland was how often I felt I needed an interpreter.  The language sounded braw, but I didna ken what was going on.  I felt like a right sassenach bampot.  Ma wee brain was befuddled most of the time.

Nairn golf course - I never had to use my umbrella

Then to the beautiful, but grey, Edinburgh for the Festival, Fringe Festival, and Tattoo.  For the month of August, the city is awash with music, plays, stand-up comedy, and buskers.  It is amazing.  There are literally thousands of shows, starting in the morning, going into the wee hours.  We enjoyed Japanese drummers, Brazilian dance and music, eclectic jazz, South African a capella singers, chamber music, very funny reviews, and of course the Tattoo.

End of Queen's Mile approaching the castle

The castle just before the Tattoo
The Tattoo is a spectacular evening display of massed military bands – I go there for the bagpipe bands – with Edinburgh Castle as the backdrop.  The Gods were kind that evening, and for the rest of the week, and we kept dry.

During the Tattoo

Massed bands

The castle changes colour.

Then, after dining with various relatives, and being entertained by Caro and Alan for dinner at the Lodge at Loch Lomond, we went to the wild, west coast, which is ruggedly beautiful.  I am pleased to report I understood about 80% of what the two said.

Caro and Alan at Loch Lomond
Our dinner view
En route, we stopped at the amazing Falkirk Wheel - an amazing device that raises and lowers barges between the Forth and Clyde canal to the Union canal, which is about 30 metres above it.  The structure is huge and incredibly efficient.  It takes virtually no energy to lift and lower barges and boats because of the counterweighted caissons that hold the boats - each contain about a quarter of a million litres of water.  Thanks to Archimedes Principle, the two caissons always weigh the same, no matter how many boats are in them. 

Falkirk Wheel

Barge approaching Falkirk Wheel
One of the seaside towns we stayed at was Oban, which is beautiful, but a bit touristy.  And the seafood was magnificent - particularly the mussels.





Huge, delicious Oban mussels
Two of Scotland's western isles that we visited stand out:  Iona and Staffa.  Iona is the birthplace of Christianity in Scotland, with a monastery being established there by a priest, Columba, in 563.  Then it grew into the most famous abbey in the country.  It often had problems with marauding Vikings, who seemed to take delight in showing up every year or two, killing the monks, knocking down the abbey, and leaving.  Eventually, the Vikings stayed and were converted.  Then there were no more Viking invasions.

Huge, ancient stone cross

Modern sculpture in abbey courtyard

Run of an old church

It was Staffa that took my breath away.  It is very small Hebridean island, near the Isle of Mull, that boast some of the most striking basalt columns I’ve ever seen.  It is also home to Fingal’s Cave, which Mendelssohn visited in the 1820s and was so impressed he wrote an overture about it, called The Hebrides Overture, commonly known just as Fingal’s Cave.  The opening to the cave is about 25 metres high, and the cave is about 60 metres long.

I’ll let photos tell the rest of the story.

Staffa with its three types of basalt.  Entrance to Fingal's Cave is on right.

The views are breath taking

Stunning views
The geometric tops of basalt pillars

Fingal's Cave

View from inside Fingal's Cave
You can listen to Mendelssohn's overture by clicking here.

Stan - Thursday


  1. Beautiful, Stan! Makes Scotland almost look like a place worth visiting! [ducking and running before Caro shows up...]

  2. All that and whisky too!! What a fabulous place. I must go there..;)

  3. One absolutely glorious setting after another. I so miss Scotland. And am sooooo jealous.

    By the way, Stan, what do you think the chances are that Staffa might be where aliens decided to bar code Earth?

  4. This makes me want to up the timetable on our next trip to Inverness ( with a stop at Leakey's bookshop naturally) and the extreme northwest of Scotland. I love it there!

  5. What gorgeous places! In my current jaunt, I am recapturing the joy of going places just to see them. Lucky us--that we get to do that!

  6. Sounds like you had a great trip! Beautiful photos.

  7. I am soooo jealous! Scotland has long been on my list of places I'd really like to visit, especially Edinburgh. After these photos, I'm moving it to the top of my list!