Wednesday, February 29, 2012


Sorry this took so long to post, I didn't get back until Sunday evening. Then on Monday evening I put my bike together. Tues evening was it's shakedown ride (and repairs to get it back to 100%) and tonight (Weds eve) was the first REAL ride (Woo-HOO!). Keep in mind that I have left all the pictures small in the post so that it doesn't go on for 12 feet or can click on them to see a larger version.

Anyway, this post is about my weekend up in Scotland. And by the way, I just went back and peeked at the entire post....hope you're comfy! This got rather LONG! It should have been at least 2 posts....but you know me.

And AWAY we go. We left to drive up Thurs after work, and got up into Edinburgh around 10pm. We were staying about 7 miles from the city center (cheaper hotel!). Turns out that 7 mile drive takes about 20 minutes. The traffic as you get into the city gets pretty horrendous, and lots of one way streets/etc.

Friday morning we took off for Loch Ness. That was the focus of the entire day. The drive up thru Iverness and down to the lake (doing a CCW loop) took almost 4 hours, but was pretty scenic as we entered the Highlands along the way. There was still snow up on the peaks and it was rather chilly as we got near the lake.
 Here I am, standing on the edge of probably the most famous lake in the world! I WIN!

 Another view showing how far this lake goes (and goes, and goes).

Our destination along the west side of the loch was the Loch Ness Center, which is pretty much all there is other than a HUGE lake. The center is nice as it gives you the details on the lake, along with the full (and honest) scoop on the hunt for Nessie, and whether she (it) could possibly exist. To say that a WHOLE Lot of money and time has been devoted to the search is an understatement. And considering that Loch Ness is the largest body of water in all of Great Brittan, well...there is a LOT of water to search.
Everything you wanted to know about Loch Ness and it's history is contained in this building!

It was a beautiful drive down along the lake, and south of the Center was the famous Urquhart Castle.
This is our first view of the uber-famous castle. It's probably one of the most photographed castle ruins in all of Scotland.
And this is the view from just above. Unfortunately, we got there too 
late to take the tour into the grounds. Rats.

Americans are so rude (and apparently can't read). I had more than a few stares from the locals, considering that this wall is only about 3 feet high (my friend had to hold the camera almost on the ground to take this shot). I really crack myself up sometimes!

After we left the castle it was all lake as we drove, and drove, and drove.

 One final view of the lake, looking north.

 Finally rounding the southern edge we headed east slowly working our way to a road that was hopefully larger than a 1 lane bi-directional road. As it as getting dark we realized how low our gas tank was. We also realized that we were in no-mans land and the only towns we were seeing were TINY. As the onboard computer told us we had less than 30 miles to empty (and by empty I mean EMPTY), we were getting rather worried. We set the GPS to get us to the nearest "petrol" station. Off the main road in another 1 horse town, and closed. Next station, another 1 horse town, this one hasn't been open in 20 years. Another few tiny towns and closed stations and the display showed we were under 10 miles before empty. We're REALLY worried now. We have no choice but to go where the  GPS tells us as we know nothing about the area. One final chance, into another town. This one appears to be a TWO horse town...and as we descend from the main road into town we realize that we'll most likely never even make it back up to the main road if this one is also a bust. But THIS one was still open, HOORAY!

The finest petrol station on the planet!

We now have a full tank (about 44 liters, roughly 10 gallons) and are good to go! SAVED by BP! We made it back to our hotel around 10pm, and that was our day. Up next is Edinburgh! We got up and out kind of late, and arrived downtown around 11:30am and found a place to park.
Here's the view of Edinburgh Castle from our parking lot. Turns out the parking is rather EXPENSIVE here in town (it cost about 20 pounds for 6 hours).

Some pretty impressive architecture around here. This is the Scott Monument, completed in 1846 (so it's somewhat new).

Looking east from the North Bridge at another hilltop, containing (L to R) the City Observatory, Nelsons Monument, and the National Monument. From this view it looks like another castle but it's actually separate buildings atop the park like hill.

And we are finally on High Street, or more famously called "The Royal Mile".

Looking back at the North Bridge (where I took the picture before High Street). They just don't build bridges like this back home. It's about 6 lanes wide, and goes over the top of the railroad (Waverly Station). LONG ago this valley was flooded, and was intentionally drained and now is an integral part of the city.

This is on the east end of The Royal Mile. It's called "Salisbury Crag". There are three walking trails: one on the very top, and another on the bottom, and another that goes on the middle ridge. We of course took the HIGH road.

The view from the top looking back over Edinburgh, with the Castle prominently in the middle of the city. NICE VIEW! (it was a bit chilly though, and this is me stylishly showing off my "rescue me, I'm the ONLY PERSON IN THE UK WITH A YELLOW JACKET" jacket. I'm serious here...not ONE other yellow jacket seen all weekend. Except for highway crews I mean. But those are more like safety vests than jackets.

Looking back at the high point of the Crag. A pretty impressive piece of rock if I do say so myself. After leaving the Crag we walked the "Mile" heading to Edinburgh Castle.

Edinburgh Castle seen from High Street. Who knew it closes at 4:30pm on a Saturday? That would explain the lack of people though. Rats.

Well, after NOT touring the castle we wandered around some, and accidentally found our NEXT scenic spot: "The Real Mary Kings Close". From the brochure:
"Buried deep beneath Edinburgh's Royal Mile lies the city's deepest secret: a warren of hidden streets that has remained frozen in time since the 17th century. For hundreds of years the true story of the Close has remained untold - until now! In the company of an expert guide, you can explore this unique site and experience what it was really like for the people who lived, worked and died here".

My first question was "what is a Close?" Turns out, that's where the poor people lived WAY back then. The city was surrounded by a large wall to keep invaders out. But it also kept the city from expanding. so they went UP. But the poor can't afford to go 'up', so they go down. The buildings were so CLOSE together that there was barely a few feet between them. These gaps between buildings were the Closes. At the very bottom there are rooms built into the sides, and this is where the lowest class citizens lived. 

From my book: "By modern standards, 17th century towns were horribly dirty and smelly. there was no sanitation. Waste was just thrown onto the street, where it built up...and ran down. So, on this crowded spine of land where the buildings grew upwards - often by as many as eight story's - society was organized vertically, the wealthy close to the top above all the filth and the poor at the bottom in the midst of it".

Edinburgh is built on a good slope though, and the walking surface of the close is quite steep. Our guide said that each single dwelling (typically a single room housing around 7 people) in the close had only a single fish-oil lamp for light, and a wooden bucket for their 'toilet'. At 7am and 10pm each day it was time to empty the toilet, which was the job of the youngest member of that household. It was dragged to the doorway and poured into the close. Keep in mind that ALL of the people above you were pouring theirs out their windows, so it was literally raining sewage. Kind of makes my skin crawl trying to imagine how horrid that must have been. City life hundreds of years thanks!

Oh, and in case you were wondering, there was no photography allowed in the Close. You know, those 1000 year old rock walls are very delicate and can't sustain the repeated assault from photons apparently. Or possibly, being as it's dark, they wouldn't appreciate flashes going off every 7 seconds blinding everybody. I'll go with them being delicate.

I could go on and on about the history of the city (I found this tour the MOST fascinating thing during my entire visit) but you'd be sleeping soon (if you're not already). After our tour of the Close we made our way down High Street and found a pub for dinner.'s a chain of very nice pubs all over the UK (we have one right here in Harrogate). They offer decent reasonably priced food and drinks. Turns out we weren't the only ones who found the place that night.

Saturday night at Witherspoons, Edinburgh. We had to share a STANDING ROOM ONLY table it was so crowded. Many have no table and just stand around drinking and socializing.

I had a tasty Steak and Ale pie along with an unknown dark Cask Ale for my selection, all for around 10 pounds (about $16). That's about as good as it gets. And a bonus: NO SMOKING inside public places all over the UK!  5 years ago they didn't have that law, and you could barely see the people and your clothes had to be burned when you got home. This was a good law!

Sunday was our travel home day, but being as we missed the castle tour on Sat we came back Sunday morning. A little bonus we accidentally found out: FREE PARKING on the streets on Sunday! I can't believe it! A GIFT! Anyway, we toured, and toured, and toured. Hours. Taking dozens of pictures. I won't bore you with them here, you've seen the castle from the distance. However I will include these shots of the most remarkable place in the castle walls: St Margaret's Chapel. In 1317 (after the Battle of Stirling made famous by the movie Braveheart, which actually took place around 1297 I think), Edinburgh Castle was occupied by the English. Robert the Bruce and his army took it back, at which time they destroyed the castle as they didn't have enough troops to leave behind to guard it, and didn't want it used against them again. But they left the chapel, which is now the oldest part of the castle. All other parts were built after that. 

Sadly, it was under restoration so we couldn't go inside. But imagine that this building is coming up on 1000 years old. THAT is impressive. Even more impressive that as you walk around the castle grounds looking at the rest of the buildings, they all look petty much the same (as in construction methods and appearance).

I think the most notable difference was the size of the windows. The chapel has only 2 TINY stain glass windows on this long side, NONE on the opposite side (previous picture) and only one on the end wall (right side). I'm taking a wild guess here, but I think it was rather DARK inside.

I won't bore you with the dozens (MANY dozens actually) of pictures I have of the castle and grounds, but suffice to say it was a fun tour and a fun weekend. Also it reminds me that there's NO PLACE LIKE HOME (even a home away from home rented apartment).

I'm going to be riding my bike whenever it's reasonable out. However the long range forecast has it raining from Friday all thru NEXT Thursday. Hopefully they are wrong. I won't be able to ride Saturday anyway, as I'm helping a new friend (local guy I work with) move that day. Possibly on Sunday too if necessary.

Have a great week everybody and stay warm (and dry)!



  1. Such good stuff Matt!!

    Lots of cycling on TV this weekend. Just saw replay of Strade Bianche is at 5pm my time, then Paris-Nice daily starting tomorrow. Support cycling on TV in USA!! Record it even if you don't have time to watch it! ;-)

  2. Great report on your trip! I loved the pics. So much fun to see things through your eyes. Has anyone asked you about your bright yellow coat or do they just give you a wide berth?

    AND - now you have your bike! Sounds like you're set. Wonder why they gave up on the ransom?

    I'm sitting here watching the replay of Paris-Nice and feeling like the cycling season is really starting! Levi and Tejay both looking awesome today and Tejay is in the white jersey now. Gotta say that Jens can still really rock it too - he finished ahead of a LOT of great riders today. I hope he keeps at it for a few more years! Bob's "no smiles at the Schleck end of the table tonight" cracked me up. If I were the Schlecks, I would've been riding that TT bike EVERY day. I SO want them to do cheering them on doesn't seem to be doing it for them. It will still take me awhile to get used to seeing Jens, Schlecks and Kloden all in the same jersey - and Levi and Boonen in the same jersey! I've also missed hearing from Paul & Bob. Makes me very excited for the rest of the season!

    Happy Monday all :)

  3. Have you all been watching Paris-Nice? I love love love having 2 hrs of every stage to watch at night on my DVR! GREAT effort by Jens yesterday! I was on my feet cheering for him when he was pipped on the line by LLS :( SO close!

    As for today....
    I have never seen such bad luck in one day as afflicted poor Levi today. 3 crashes?!? That team was working SO hard to get him back to the peloton and that motorcycle was completely unavoidable. Hard crash. I was worried about the poor OPQ guy that Levi crashed on top of. He really didn't look like he was completely with it after he got up. Hope all are OK. Someone tweeted that it was clever for Levi to get all of his bad luck for the season out of the way in one stage - I hope that this is true! I would think that Wiggo should be able to keep the yellow in the TT tomorrow unless Levi's luck is rubbing off...

    I don't get Tirreno/Adriatico on my dish pkg, but have been following online. Gosh, Cav sure isn't suffering any kind of World Champion curse. wow. And now Horner is leading?! Go Chris!!

    I'm missing the travelogue! Have they been working you too hard, Matt? ;)