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Isle of Skye Pipe Band

Monday, August 31, 2009

This evening, I am posting a video clip taken August 2009 at Portree, capital of Skye, of the Isle of Skye Pipe Band performing under Drum Major Peter MacDonald. The performance was for a charity raising event (life boats).

Piping has a long tradition on Skye, most prominent of which were the MacCrimmons, hereditary pipers to the MacLeods, Clan Chiefs of Dunvegan.

The current band was re-formed in 1960 and continues to prosper with members of a wide age group.



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Auchentoshan Scotch Whisky Tour Scotland

Sunday, August 30, 2009

This evening I am posting a record of the final day of our five day Scotland Whisky Tour.

Overnight we had stayed at the 3 star rated Glenlochy Guest House near the centre of Fort William. This proved very clean and satisfactory and provided a hearty breakfast to set us up for the final day.

Our first stop was round the corner at Fort William railway station to see and photograph the famous Jacobite Steam Express aka 'Harry Potter Train' which was getting up a head of steam in preparation for the morning run up to Mallaig.

Next we motored down to scenic Glencoe for a brief visit to the Visitor Centre and some morning refreshments, photos and shopping.

Then we drove up the famous glen (with another photo stop en-route), across the desolate Rannoch Moor and on down to Loch Lomond ( 'Bonnie Banks' of) before reaching Auchentoshan at about 12.45pm.

After a wait of about 10 mins we joined the distillery tour which was escorted by a first class local guide who clearly had a mastery of both Auchentoshan and the whisky industry in general. We were taken through the various processes of malting, mashing, distillation and maturation before sampling a few drams in the bar. This was an excellent value experience and it was noted that single malts for sale in the distillery shop appeared to be cheaper than equivalent malts sold in other distilleries we had visited.

Here is the final stage where the whisky matures in oak barrels for 6, 10, 12 years and longer. A 50 year old is shortly to be bottled.

Our guide describing the distilling process.

Three stills for distilling. Auchentoshan distills its spirit three times as compared with two distillations more common in the Scotch whisky industry.

This visit concluded our tour so we drove on down to Prestwick Airport and fond farewells. We had covered a large part of Scotland and visited seven distilleries.


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Isle of Skye Whisky Tour, Scotland

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Today proved quite exciting and interesting.After a good breakfast at the helpful Fearnoch B and B at Torrin, we went on down the long and narrow road to Elgol, one of the top scenic sites on Skye, encountering Highland Cattle and sheep on the way. At Elgol, a small village located at the seaside, we availed of photo opps and then returned along the road to Broadford stopping for photographs en-route. At Broadford we turned North West for the famous Talisker Distillery, located in the centre of Skye, where we arrived about 11.00am and registered for a distillery tour. The distillery tour at Talisker lasted about 30 mins and proved of good quality led by a very competent guide who provided a good insight into the malting,mashing, fermentation, distillation and maturity process. The end product is slightly peaty in flavour.After the tour we all made purchases from the Talisker shop.Next we drove on up to Portree, capital of Skye, for a seafood lunch at a harbourside seafood restaurant which proved a good experience. We arrived just in time to catch the final couple of minutes of a pipe band which was playing at the water fromt to raise funds for charity.After lunch we wandered into the town centre and again met up with the same, Isle of Skye, pipe band.This time we had plenty of opps for pics and videos (see image below).Our next stop target was Armadale in order to catch the ferry to Mallaig on the mainland. On the way we stopped at Isleornsay for refreshment and relaxation.At Isleornsay is a wonderful small hotel, pub and a few upscale shops all close the old fishing harbour: a pretty setting in context of the changing light conditions with rainbows. Good photo opps.Finally we made Armadale in good time for the 5.00pm ferry which departed on time.Upon arrival at Mallaig we drove down to Fort William stopping en-route for a short stop at the historic Glenfinnan site which is best known for its links with Bonnie Prince Charlie (1745) and the Jacobite Express or 'Harry Potter' steam train which passes over the Glenfinnan viaduct which was the world's first concrete bridge.We arrived Fort William at 7.00 pm and checked into our Guest House lodgings then went off for a local pub meal which proved very satisfactory.Tomorrow we continue our whisky theme with a visit to Auchentoshan, near Glasgow which is a Lowland distillery which triple distills.
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Highland Whisky Tour Scotland.

Today, Friday, we commenced day 2 of our Whisky Tour.After daparting our lodgings at the Royal Hotel at Dunkeld we drove a short distance up the A9 to nearby Pitlochry where we availed of a tour of Blair Atholl Distillery, part of the Bell Group. This was a good tour of a distillery which sends 98pct of its production for blending within the Bell group leaving just 2pct of the single malt for retail sale. Next we went just a few miles to Edradour Distillery, Scotland' smallest whisky distillery which provides excellent quality free tours- see pic below. Edradour is under private ownership with the owner having a keen interest in rare and special malts which are available for sale in the distillery shop. At Edradour, whisky is distilled and produced in a traditional manner and in small quantities ,known as the 'hand made malt'. Distillery tour guide was excellent combining humour with a deep knowledge of the whisky process.After Edradour we ventured further up the A9 to Dalwhinnie distillery which is located at the coldest inhabited place in Scotland with average temp of 6 degrees centigrade. Dalwhinnie is a large distillery, part of the Diageo group. It's principal product is the 15 year old malt. Tour was OK, if somewhat 'mechanical'.Next we engaged in some sight seeing ,by driving up through the Great Glen to view Loch Ness from Fort Augustus. Then on to Isle of Skye but stopping for some refreshment at the remote Cluanie Inn en-route which boasts a whisky bar with some 200 malts including some which are very rare (e.g. 53 year old Glen Grant selling at GBP35 per dram).On arrival at Broadford (Skye) the restaurants were very busy and we wound up in a fairly average pub which served a half decent but adequate meal.Next we drove on to the village of Torrin to find our lodgings for evening. Torrin was easy to find but not so our lodgings. We spent some 20 mins driving round in circles with added frustration caused by absence of cellphone signal and the local phone box being out of order. We eventually sought help from some locals who directed us to the house and pointed out that the sign to the B and B had blown down!When we eventually found the lodgings which proved quite satisfactory and we had a good welcome.Tomorrow we tour Skye and visit Talisker Distillery which is known for its peaty malt. Then catch the ferry to Mallaig and on to Fort William via Glenfinnan in the evening. Fingers crossed for some decent (no rain) weather!
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Scotland Whisky Tour

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Today, we commenced at Roslin near Edinburgh. After departing our lodgings at the Ye Olde Original Rosslyn Inn (good experience) we paid a visit to the nearby famous Rosslyn Chapel which dates from the 15th century and featured in Dan Brown's 'Da Vinci Code' . The quality and intensity of the carvings has to be admired. Temporary scaffolding allowed us to climb up to the roof level and admire the surrounding countryside including the nearby Rosslin Castle which is a romantic ruin. For once there was sunshine and no rain!

Next we drove down to Glenkinchie Distillery where we availed of a private, escorted tour of this Lowland distillery whic produces whisky using double distillation as opposed to triple distillation more common in the Lowlands.

Glenkinchie was a quality experiemce.

Our next distillery stop was Tullibardine in Perthshire, central Scotland. Although brewing has been undertaken on this site for about 600 years the distillery was established as recently as 1947 and there are still stocks dating from the early days and which are now extremely valuable.

Another good tour at Tullibardine (see image below) where we availed of a light lunch following which we decided to pay a visit to nearby Stirling Castle, one of Scotland's top visitor attractions, which incorporates both royal palace and military establishment together with stunning views over the local lanscape.

Finally, we drove to our lodgings for the night at Royal Hotel, Dunkeld. Availed of evening meal at Taybank pub which is renowned for its association with traditional Scottish music.

Tomorrow we plan to visit three distilleries en-route to Loch Ness and Skye. Unfortunately weather prognosis is not good. Watch this space for a report!
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Kisimul Castle, Barra, Hebrides, Scotland.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

This morning I am posting information on Kisimul Castle which is located in the centre of Castlebay, Barra, Hebrides.

Key points:

  • Dates from 15th century.
  • Consists of a square tower with a curtain wall within which there is a hall, chapel and other buildings.
  • Inside are two artesian wells and a fish trap to provide resources in event of siege.
  • Abandoned from 1795 then sold to Colonel Gordon in 1838.
  • Purchased in he 1930s by Robert Lister MacNeil, an American who became the 45th Clan Chief. This gentleman restored the castle. His son is the current Clan Chief.
  • Access is via a short trip in an open boat.
This weaponry was used at the Battle of Culloden in 1746.

MacNeil heraldry.
View of castle from Castlebay ( Bagh A Chaisteil)

Video clip taken from the castle.



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Callanish Stones, Lewis, Hebrides, Scotland

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Today I am posting information on the famous Callanish standing stones located in the Outer Hebrides which comprise one of the best prehistoric sites in Britain.

The video and still images presented here focus on Callanish I which is just one of many stone circles erected on the once fertile sandy soils around Loch Roag and which are different in size, shape and architecture. Of the group Callanish I is the most dramatic.

Callanish I was probably built in several phases and evolved into a complex, with echoes of a Celtic cross. It comprises a diminutive stone circle, a central stone, an avenue, three rows and a chambered tomb.

In my view Lewis is worth visiting just to see Callanish alone but there are many other historical sites on the island to make visit worthwhile.



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Jerpoint Abbey, Kilkenny, Ireland

Monday, August 24, 2009

This afternoon, I am posting information on a fascinating abbey which I encountered by chance during a recent tour of Ireland.

Jerpoint Abbey stands on the banks of the Little Arrigle river about 2km from Thomastown, Co. Kilkenny. The Abbey was founded in c 1160 but by 1180 had been colonised by Cistercian monks from Baltinglass Abbey, Co. Wicklow.

By 1228 the religious complement comprised 36 monks and 50 lay brothers.

The tower was constructed in the 15th century. By time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1540 the complement had decreased to the abbot and five monks. At that time the Abbey controlled some 14,500 acres of land.

The plan of the abbey follows the conventional Cistercian layout with cruciform church of nave, chancel and transepts: a crossing tower was added in the 15th century. the cloister lies to the south of the church.

Overall, and relative to its age and condition, the abbey is in a good state of repair. I was particularly impressed by the quality and preservation of the carvings together with remnants of coloured armorial wall paintings.



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Harris Tweed, Harris, Scotland

Sunday, August 23, 2009

This evening, I am posting information on the famous fabric as produced in my favourite shop on Harris in the Outer Hebrides.

This is a fascinating shop and workshop using traditional weaving loom under management of a very experienced lady.

The key qualifications for Harris Tweed are:

  • Must be made on the Outer Hebrides.

  • Must be woven by islanders at their own homes.

  • Must be made of 100pct pure new Scottish wool

Additionally, ancillary processes such as dying, spinning and finishing must all take place in the Outer Hebrides.

It is believed that the first full length web of Harris Tweed was sold by the dowager Countess of Dunmore in 1842 and from thereon the industry gained royal patronage and flourished. In more recent times the industry has experienced challenging trading conditions but the local trade association is resourceful and continues to seek out new markets for this unique fabric.There are grounds for believing the product has an assured future; I certainly hope so!


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Dunkeld to Glasgow Tour, Scotland

Saturday, August 22, 2009

This morning we commenced our tour with a visit to Dunkeld Cathedral on the banks of the River Tay. This site and building share a fascinating history dating back to 570 AD when Celtic missionaries buit a monastery. This was rebuilt in 848 and again in 1260-1501 with the current building being a mix of Gothic and Norman. During the Reformation in 1560 significant destruction occurred with the Nave left roofless to this day. During our visit a local stonemason pointed out the Atholl family burials in the crypt below the Chapter House Museum, a feature of which I was hitherto unaware. We availed of outside photo opps in the glorious sunshine. Next we headed south for a drive through Forteviot, the first capital of a united Scotland and then to nearby Dunning to visit the famous Dupplin Cross which is situated in St. Serf's church (now a museum) which dates from about AD1200.The Dupplin Cross (see image below) is a symbol of power and prestige of the Pictish royal family. The carvings commemorate King Constantine, Mac Fergusa (c 789-820) in whose reign the kingdoms of the Picts and the Scots began to merge. The hidden meanings and symbolism in the carvings was explained to us. The curator at St. Serf's mentioned that just a few days previously archaeologists had discovered at Forteviot a spectacular high status tomb containing the remains of a bronze age ruler (together with artifacts) dating back some 4000 years; a find of national significance.Next we moved on south to Stirling Castle, one of Scotland's top visitor attractions set high above the plain on the remains of an ancient volcano. During the frequent Anglo-Scottish wars of 13th and 14th centuries this castle was the key to Scotland and changed hands many times. The castle evolved into a Royal Palace in the 16th century with considerable building work undertaken taken by James IV and V.At Stirling Castle we had the benefit of a small group tour by an expert local guide which proved of great interest.Moving on towards Glasgow we drove into the Trossachs region (National Park) where we made a brief to stop to view Lake of Menteith-Scotland's only lake as distinct from loch.Finally we visited the popular and quaint village of Luss on the shores of Loch Lomond. This was originally built to house the families of workers in a nearby slate quarry but is now used for social housing. We briefly visited the churchyard to see the ancient, Viking era grave marker and ventured out along the short pier to view Loch Lomond and the mountain after which it is named, Ben Lomond (Ben is a Gaelic word meaning mountain). Following photo opps we drove down to our base for the night in Glasgow passing over the Erskine Bridge which afforded good views of the river Clyde.
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Perthshire Tour Scotland

Friday, August 21, 2009

Today, weather improved to extent it could be described as sunshine and showers as distinct from the persistent rain of previous days.

This morning one member of the party had to receive medical attention but, fortunately, the condition proved not serious and we were able to resume the tour by late morning.

We commenced with a visit to Edradour Distillery near to Pitlochry. This is Scotland's smallest legal distillery which provides excellent free tours for visitors and those interested in the whisky making process. The tour commenced with a short film following which we were provided a private guide to tour the distillery. From personal experience of many distilleries I believe that Edradour is distinguished from many other distilleries by the quality and enthusiasm of its tour guides. At end of the tour we all made selective purchases of whisky and other products in the distillery shop.

After Edradour we drove up to Blair Atholl to visit Blair Castle which is associated with the Duke of Atholl (who actually resides in South Africa). After lunch at the castle guests undertook a castle tour while I went off to take pictures of gardens, etc. At this time I had the good fortune to photo and video a piper welcoming visitors from a tour bus (see image below). Another aspect of Blair Castle is that associated with it is the U.K's only legal private army, the Atholl Highlanders which date back to Queen Victoria's time. This unit has many enthusiastic members but is mainly used now for ceremonial purposes.

Next we went to Dunkeld and Birnam to avail of WiFi internet access at the Birnam Institute. Finally, we collected a take-away meal to eat our lodgings in the evening as one of the guests was still in 'recovery mode'.

On the way back to our lodgings in Dunkeld we encountered some stunning rainbow scenes and availed of the photo opps; one of the few positive outcomes of the rain of late!

Overall, a good day. Tomorrow we plan to visit Stirling Castle and other important sites en-route to Glasgow.
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Skye to Dunkeld Tour, Scotland.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

This morning we departed our lodgings at Isle Ornsay, Skye and then drove down to Armadale to connect with the ferry to Mallaig on the mainland. Ferry departed on schedule and on arrival at Mallaig we drove down to Fort William stopping at Glenfinnan, a historic site where Bonnie Prince Charlie landed in 1745 in an ultimately doomed attempt to take control of the thrones of England and Scotland. En-route we encountered the Jacobite 'Harry Potter' steam train (see image below) going in opposite direction and availed of photo opps. After some shopping at Fort William we continued south, visited the village of Glencoe (site of infamous massacre in 1692) and then had light lunch at the nearby National Trust Visitor Centre.

Next we drove south passing through awesome rugged scenery of Glencoe to the desolate Rannoch Moor and then on down to Killin where we stopped to visit the Dochart Falls which were in full spate due to heavy rain.

After a brief photo session at Killin we tracked Loch Tay to Kenmore at head of the loch then visited the fascinating Crannog site which is a recreated Iron Age loch dwelling which affords a fascinating insight into everyday life some 2000 years ago.

Next we drove to Dunkeld tracking the River Tay through Grandtully and Dalguise to our lodgings at Dunkeld.

This evening we ventured back into Dunkeld for a pub meal at the Taybank which is also a centre for traditional Scottish music.

Overall, a good day which was not unduly spoiled by the persistent heavy rain.

Tomorrow we plan to visit Edradour Distillery and Stirling Castle.
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Isle of Skye Tour Scotland

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Today, I collected my guests from the Lewis ferry at Uig (about 9.00am) and then proceeded on our tour visiting:

- Fairy Glen, near Uig. This comprises a somewhat exotic concentration of small conical hillocks in a small glen (valley) accessed via a single track road which finishes with a dead end.

- A drive across the tip of Skye which includes the famous Quiraing (see image) which is of volcanic origin.

-Next down to Portree, capital of Skye, for a light refreshment stop and then across the island to Dunvegan.

-At Dunvegan we spent time visiting the famous Dunvegan Castle, home to the chief of Clan Macleod for hundreds of years and packed with history and ancient artifacts and relics.

-Next to Broadford, second largest town on Skye, where we visited craft and bookshops and availed of a light lunch at the eatery attached to the Serpentarium. The latter being an unusual attraction housing snakes and reptiles.

-On next to the Clan Donald Centre at Armadale which in my view is a first class facility focusing not only on Clan Donald but also a well presented museum with library of Skye, the islands and mainland Highlands. This Centre is situated in magnificent and extensive gardens with many and varied trees and shrubs plus the romantic ruins of Armadale Castle.

Tonight we have lodgings close to Eilean Iarmain where we planned to dine this evening at the pub near water's edge. However the pub was overflowing so we re-located to the Claymore at Broadford.

Overall, a good day which proceeded on schedule but suffered from persistent and heavy rain.

Tomorrow we head south to Dunkeld via Fort William and Glencoe. Hope we get some relief from the bad weather-but am not optimistic on that front!
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Road to Isle of Skye, Scotland.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Today, I drove up from Glasgow to Uig on Skye in readiness for private tour commencing tomorrow.

The weather today erred towards the awful with almost monsoon type rain at times. The only plus factor is the spectacular waterfalls as the water drains off the hills and mountains.

Drove up past Loch Lomond (bonnie banks of), Rannoch Moor, Glencoe (see image), Glencoe Village (site of famous massacre), Fort William (met with web manager), Glenfinnan, and Mallaig. Then caught ferry to Armadale on Skye and drove on up via Broadford and Portree.

Can only hope for better weather tomorrow!
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Kissing the Blarney Stone, Ireland

Monday, August 17, 2009

The image below does not represent some form of torture, but an experience for which visitors willingly climb up many steps to the roof and Blarney Castle in county Cork and pay for the privilege of lying backwards over the roof of the castle. This is known as kissing the Blarney Stone, a ritual which generates the castle many thousands of dollars in revenue.

Visitors go through this ritual because kissing the stone is a long standing tradition, intended to confer a magical eloquence on the individual concerned. The stone is set in the wall, below the castle battlements. Kissing the stone entails the visitor being grasped by the feet and suspended backwards under the parapet.

If this attraction was in the U.K. the jobsworths of Health and Safety would have killed this bit of lucrative fun off long ago!


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Dublin to Belfast Tour

Sunday, August 16, 2009

This morning, I dropped my guests off at Dublin Airport for return flight to the end of a great Hebrides and Ireland tour lasting two weeks. We all enjoyed exploring and experiencing new sites and places and we have lots of pics and videos to prove it.

After Dublin I drove north and stopped off at the Battle of the Boyne Visitor Centre and then the Newgrange prehistoric site.

The Battle site was OK but considering this was such a watershed in British and Irish history the visitor centre experience fell a little short of my expectations. The Scottish, Culloden experience is, in my view, better. Image below shows re-enactment cavalry at the 1690 battle.

Newgrange proved a big disappointment, principally because I could not visit the actual prehistoric site within time available owing to the huge number of visitors which results in a queuing system. The actual visitor centre is OK but from a learning/academic perspective does, in my opinion, fall short of the similar Scottish site at Kilmartin Glen. Newgrange seems totally geared to mass tourism many of whom probably don't appreaciate the significance of the site. I saw a short film about the site but this is eminently forgettable. I will go back at some time in the future but have learned that early arrival is essential to beat the crowds and guarantee a visit to the site.

Am writing this at Belfast ferry terminal prior to transfer back to Scotland. Isle of Skye on the 18th. Its all go!
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Tour Dublin ,Ireland

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Today, we made the decision to tour Dublin via open-top tour bus. This proved to be the right choice owing to a combination of peak season tourist visitors and restricted parking opportunities in this extremely busy city.

By good fortune the tour bus was able to collect us from and return us to our hotel notwithstanding location some 30 mins out of town.

Specific sites covered by the bus included Trinity College (respository for the Book of Kells), Nassau St.,St. Stephen's Green, Christ Church Cathedral, St. Patrick's Cathedral, Guinness Storehouse, Kilmainham Gaol, Museum of Modern Art, National Museum and Parnell Square.

We availed of two main stops:

1. Trinity College and Book of Kells. Tours of the College are provided by undergraduates and of good standard. Agenda included the history, architecture and various statues. We finished the tour in the Book of Kells visitor centre which was well presented albeit we had to wait in line to enter owing to the sheer volume of visitors.

2. Guinness. Storehouse (Brewery). This was noisy and must have been close to its maximum visitor number potential. Be that as it may, the self-guided tour afforded a good insight into the history of the brewery and the brewing process with option to inbibe the famous stout. The top floor afforded stunning views over Dublin and because of that was crowded to capacity-not a place for solitude!

The image below is of a statue
of the famous Molly Mallone taken during the bus tour.

We are staying at the Clarion Hotel, Liffey Valley which is a large, modern hotel on edge of town and close to the airport. This offers internet access and proved well suited to our needs.

This is the final day of our two week tour of Scotland and Ireland. Fond farewells tomorrow at the airport.
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Southern Ireland Tour

Friday, August 14, 2009

Tonight, I am posting two blogs in one because yesterdays post failed.On Aug 13th we frove from Killarney to Cork where upon arrival we availed of an open top bus city tour which afforded us a good overview of the many churches, historic buildings and interesting architecture in the city.Next we went to a heritage visitor centre at Cobh (Cove) which was a major embarkation point for Irish emigrants destined for the U.S. and other points. Facility was well presented and afforded a useful insight into the conditions the emigrants endured.Final attraction for the day was Blarney Castle and the famous Blarney Stone. On balance this facility was better than I was expecting although still erring toward the "tacky". The castle is very impressive and set in extensive and well maintained grounds incorporating woodland and gardens.We overnighted in Cork and experienced a somewhat farcical evening trying to find a restaurant with car parking. Eventually we gave up and took a take away back to our lodgings. Aug 14th (today),This morning we drove from Cork to Waterford, a journey which takes about 2 hours. En route we came across a thatcher at work (see image), a very ancient and special craft. Next we came to a sign for Mahon Falls but failed to find the site. As a consolation we encountered a tree covered in shoes and similar products.Next we arrived at the Waterford Crystal Visitor Centre where purchases were made. The manufacture of Waterford Crystal ceased in January due to bankruptcy but stock is still available. We next drove onto the Waterford waterfront and visited the 12th C Reginald's Tower which occupies a site used from the Viking era in the 10th C.As we travelled to our destination of Dublin we came across the stunning ruins of Jerpoint Abbey which is a very well preserved Cistercian ruin with even a glimpse of painted plaster on a wall. There are many well preserved stone carvings. This site should not be overlooked. We were provided with a guided tour.Finally, we found our way to our lodgings, a task not made easy in Ireland due to absence of any post code system for GPS purposes.Tomorrow we are off for a tour of Dublin. Fingers crossed for dry weather!
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Ring of Kerry Tour, Ireland

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Today our focus was on the famous Ring of Kerry which we undertook on an anti-clockwise basis starting and ending at Killarney.

First stop was Ballymalis Castle, a fascinating ruined Tower House then to. Killorgin, a pretty village with its famous Puck Fair in progress. Next to Glenbeigh and the Kerry Bog Village which comprises reconstructed cottages from the 1800s.

On next to Cahersiveen and then Sneem with its brightly coloured cottages (similar to Tobermory in Scotland).

Then to Molls Gap for refreshments and more photos. From a scenic perpective the tour improved from hereon.

Next we drove down stopping at the stunning Torc Waterfall. Here we connected with an Irish horse drawn jaunty car (see pic) and using this as transport visited the impressive stately home (now a museum) named Muckross House which is set in magnificent grounds and dates from 1843.

The road conditions for this tour are sub optimal. However, the roadside was covered in colourful flowers including hydrangeas and fuscias. I picked my first blackberry of the season at one of the many photo stops.

It was not possible to ignore the large number of properties for sale in the region, no doubt a function of the credit crunch which has hit Ireland hard. However, asking prices seem way too high.

Overall, another good day. Tonight we are staying at a farm near Killarney.

Off to Cork tomorrow!
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Touring West of Ireland

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Today, we were hampered by light but persistent rain. This inhibited visibility and photo opps but otherwise the tour proceeded on schedule.

We departed some superb lodgings near Westport and drove to see the nearby religious site on which sits the Aghagower Tower which to my mind has similarities with the Abernethy Tower in central Scotland. The Aghagower site is very historic and it is stated that St. Patrick was there in there in the 5th century AD.

Next we drove on to Clifden driving past the Aasleagh Falls en route which provided a good photo opp.

Clifden proved a busy and pleasant little town.

Next we drove to Galway. This was extremely busy and heavily congested with car traffic.Parking was too difficult so we found a nearby country hotel for lunch.

Finally we departed for Limerick where we safely arrived after 8.00pm

Today we covered a large distance, mainly in rainy conditions. Most of the terrain was flat and very green. A particular feature is the large number of properties for sale, evidently forced sales following collapse of the property market and most of the banks.

Tomorrow we tour the famous Ring of Kerry.

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West of Ireland Tour

Monday, August 10, 2009

Today, we had to purchase a new GPS to cover all of Ireland. Once properly equipped we departed our lodgings at Londonderry and had a quick visit to the city including the medieval wall and the famous 'Free Derry' slogan dating from time of the Troubles.

Next we moved down to the small town of Letterkenny to cash travellers cheques then to Donegal, Bundoran and Sligo. En route we encountered some stunning seaside scenery,saw a raptor or two, picked some wild mushrooms (for tomorrow's breakfast) and took lots of pics. We took a diversion to see Glencar Lake and Waterfall which proved well worthwhile with good photo opps. At Sligo we visted the 13th century Abbey which although a ruin retains most of its original features (see image with this post).

After departing Sligo we drove to our lodgings at Westport, a charming and very busy small town. Our lodgings are out of town set on a high elevation with superb views of the Atlantic coast. En route we encountered an Irish traffic jam in form of a herd cows being driven along a country lane thus providing amother photo opp.

Another great day. Watch this space for tomorrow's adventure!
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Northern Ireland Tour

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Today, we commenced our tour at Larne and travelled down to Carrickfergus to vist the 12th century castle located in the magnificent harbour. We joined in an escorted tour of the castle and availed of photo opps.

Next we drove to view Lough Neagh from the vantage point of Ardbroe which boasts both an ancient stone cross (see image) and ruined abbey.

Then on to the Giant's Causeway, World Heritage Site which dates back some 60M years and comprised 40,000 pieces of hexagonal, basalt rock. This was peak season and the site was at full capacity.

Finally, we drove to Londonderry in preparation for our tour of the West of Ireland.

A good day with dry weather.
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Fort William to Troon Tour, Scotland

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Today, started damp/wet in Fort William with weather pattern remaining that way for much of the day. However, this did not curtail our touring activities and enjoyment thereof.

First stop was Fort William rail station to see and photograph the 'Harry Potter' Jacobite Steam Train as it built up steam thereby providing good video and still pics. See image with this web post.

Next we moved on to Aonich Mor Chair Lift for a 15 min ride up to 2000 feet. View was partly obscured by cloud and mist but we were able to witness the expert mountain bikers navigating down the very steep world class biking route. A great experience which I will recommend to other guests.

Onward south for a brief drive through of Glencoe Village, site of famous massacre in 1692 which underscores friction between MacDonalds and Campbells to this day. The National Trust Visitor Centre was full to overflowing (unprecedented in my experience) so we continued south across Rannoch Moor down to the Trossachs and Loch Lomond to Paisley. Here we had to attend to a vital tour priority, namely laundry at a launderette.

For the final part of the day we drove from Paisley through rolling Ayrshire countryside to Troon in preparation for our evening ferry trip to Larne in Northern Ireland. As I write this we are waiting in line to board the ferry departing 8.20pm. Weather conditions have improved and rain eased off. Looking forward to our Ireland tour commencing tomorrow.
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Tour of Skye and Fort William, Scotland

Friday, August 07, 2009

Today, we had an early, 7.00am, start to catch the ferry from Tarbert to Uig on Skye.Crossing went smoothly and upon arrival we drove round to the unique Fairy Glen with its conical small hills. Then around the north of Skye and inwards to the stunning Quaraing which offered great photo opps (see image with this post).

Next we drove down to Portree visiting the scenic Kilt Rock and on to Broadford where we visited artist Duncan Currie.Then on to Eilean Iarmain to appreciate the sea views in the sunshine and finally down to Armadale to connect with the ferry to the fishing village of Mallaig on the mainland.

Ferry ran on time. Upon arrival we drove down to Glenfinnan best known for (a) connection with Bonnie Prince Charlie (b) early concrete rail viaduct and (c) the 'Harry Potter' train.

Then on to Fort William via some wonderful scenery. On arrival we were able to view a large luxury passenger vessel as it navigated through a series of locks and the swing bridge at Fort William. Quite an eye-opener!

Finally to our lodgings on the banks of Loch Linnhe.

In the evening we enjoyed a meal at the Imperial Hotel in Fort William.

Another great day. This time tomorrow we will be in Ireland. Watch this space!

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Isle of Lewis Tour, Hebrides, Scotland.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Today proved a fantastic experience with visits to a wide range of sites including:
-The famous Callanish Standing Stones, one of Europe's top prehistoric sites.
-Carloway Iron Age Broch, a high status building built some 2000 years ago.
-Gearranan Blackhouse Village.This is a traditional stone and thatch village occupied until the 1970s.
-Unusual whalebone arch fronting a private house.
-Steinacleit prehistoric stone circles.
-Norse Mill and Kiln.
-Clach An Trushal, a huge, solo prehistoric standing stone perhaps 18 feet in height.
-Port of Ness, a charming harbour shimmering in the evening sunshine.
-Ness Lighthouse (in stunning location).
-Dun Eistean, remains of historic fort.
-The Blackhouse Museum, a well presented traditional Lewis stone and thatched house set in a crofting community.

Weather proved benevolent for once with a reasonable amount of sunshine and no rain.

Evening rounded off with dinner at top seafood restaurant,'Sulair'.

A long but satisfying day-we returned to our Tarbert hotel at 1015pm.

Off to Skye tomorrow. Watch out for more updates!

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Exploring the Hebrides, Scotland tour

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

This evening, I am at Tarbert, Harris and back in touch with internet so am combining yesterday's missed blog with today's.

Yesterday, Aug 4th.,we experienced persistent rain which did not clear until evening. However, this did not detract from the quality of the tour which commenced at Benbecula. During a circular tour of North Uist we enountered a owl out hunting, a herd of deer on the road and extensive bird life. Sheep were everywhere, wondering along the roads and private property-but this seems to be a feature of Hebrides life.

We also saw/visited traditional thatched cottages, a prehistoric stone circle,many peat workings, remains of an iron age broch (high status dwelling) and Scalpaig Tower. Visiting some of these sites proved very wet underfoot.

In course of the tour we visited many remote communities and noted the traditional crofting and fishing activities in this predominantly Gaelic speaking area. An unusual feature of the landscape is the high incidence of derelict, abandoned houses some of which may be attributable to the Highland Clearances of the 19th century when many communities were forced to emigrate to North America and Australasia.

This morning we caught the 1030 am ferry from North Uist to Harris and then undertook a fascinating tour which encompassed:
- a prehistoric stone circle against stunning seashore location.
- the shop of a traditional Harris Tweed weaver where we made some good value purchases.
-Sheep shearing in process (see image)
- a Google Earth camera car in one of the remotest locations possible.
- a Castle.
-Lots of stunning scenery incoorporating lochs, mountains and white sand beaches which in turn led to many photo stops.

Overall, a good couple of days. Tomorrow we tour Lewis including the famous Callanish prehistoric standing stones. Should be good. Watch this space.

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Outer Hebrides Tour, Scotland.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Today we commenced at Castlebray where overnighted at Castlebay Hotel (good experience) which overlooks the bay. After a complete circuit of the intriguing island of Barra (which includes the island airport which uses the beach as a landing strip) we returned to Castlebay to visit Kisimul Castle. This castle has been heavily restored by the Chief of Clan MacNeil and is accessed via a short boat trip and affords a worthwhile visit. I was fascinated by the small collection of guns taken from the Culloden Battlefield in 1746.

Next we moved to the north of the island to visit an ancient Christian site and burial ground dating to the 12th century. Nearby we observed -and photographed- cockle pickers working the beaches

After lunch in a local hotel (and shelter from the harsh weather) we connected with the ferry to Eriskay to facilitate our drive north to Benbecula.

On the drive north we visited the excavated remains of iron-age round houses and a village featuring a number of traditional thatched cottages which we duly photographed.

We found our way to our lodgings (Borve Guest House) which happens to have a derelict castle standing behind it and which I will photograph tomorrow.

For evening meal we patronised the Orasay Inn which offered good food albeit served by an overstreched waiter who deserved some help.

Overall, a good day which provided a very wide range of experiences and sites of interest. More to come tomorrow!
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Kilmartin Glen Prehistory Tour Scotland

Sunday, August 02, 2009

I am writing this whilst on a ferry from Oban to Barra in the Hebrides. Journey time is over four hours. There may not be internet/cellphone service on Barra so blog posting tomorrow is not assured.

This morning we visited the historic Kilmartin Glen, about 30 miles south of Oban. This is a unique prehistoric landscape featuring a linear cemetery with standing stones, stone circles and ancient rock carvings. The image shown today features the Achnabreck rock carvings which are intruiging to say the least and prompt speculation on the driver behind the 'artist' who must have spent many, many hours laboriously pecking out the design with a stone hammer.

Prehistory, with which Scotland is well endowed, is one of my key passions so if anyone out there is looking to connect with past of 1000BC to about 3000BC please contact me for a private tour.

Looking forward to visiting Lewis and the famous Callanish Stones in a couple of days.
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Private West of Scotland Tour

Saturday, August 01, 2009

This morning met guests at Glasgow Airport and then:

-First stop Dumbarton to exchange USD to pounds.
-On to Luss, Loch Lomond to see quaint village on lochside including church and Viking gravemarker.
-Then north west via Rest and be Thankfull viewspot for photos.
-On to Inveraray via Loch Fyne stopping to visit Inveraray Castle, home of the Chief of Clan Campbell.
-Continuing north to the port of Oban where we are staying tonight.
-After a rest we visited Dunstaffnage Castle (during light rain).
-Finally an evening meal at a good sea food restaurant overlooking the harbour.

Tomorrow we catch the ferry to Barra. Fingers crossed for good weather!

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