With Gordon, our guide, we go
My mom planned a wonderful trip to Scotland for us on the occasion of a gathering of Clan MacNeil on the ancestral isle of Barra (southernmost of the Outer Hebrides), and during the first couple weeks of August, that's where I was. Here we have one of my aunts with our most excellent tour guide, Gordon Ross. As you can see, he's capable of humoring the tourists. He's also a delightful singer, and a knowledgeable guide. He takes people on hikes, cathedral tours, whisky tours, you name it. In our case he drove us around much of the southern Highlands.
If you'd like to just browse the pictures, they're at http://offhand.org/gallery/Scotland2004
Otherwise, read on!
July 30: Gordon picked us up at the Glasgow airport and whisked us right out of town toward Inverary. He pointed out various sights along the way, including Dunbarton Castle, the village of Luss on the shores of Loch Lomond, and a beautiful spot, a mountain pass known as "Rest and Be Thankful" (for good reason, if you'd walked up rather than driven as we did). We stopped for a drink at a well-known place called The Drover's Inn in Inverarnan. My mom decided to tell my aunts who had fallen asleep in the car that that's where we were staying for the night. Notice the tree growing out the window when you contemplate this idea.
(Actually, I'm sure it's a fine place to spend the night. It's just not what my aunts had in mind.)
The joke revealed, we went on our way to lovely Inverary, , where we settled in to the absolutely marvelous George Hotel. Inverary was a planned town on the shores of Loch Fyne, built by the 3rd Duke of Argyll in 1743, when he decided he'd rather have the village just over there, please. Well, it had a very pretty result. (Luss, where we had lunch, was another such planned village.) I didn't get good pictures of the village, but check the link.
We had dinner in the hotel's pub/restaurant. I had a ginger beer to drink beforehand, which was a lucky choice, as my aunts tasted it and that became their main drink for the entire vacation! We were jet-lagged, so didn't see much that wasn't on our direct route to bed this first day.
July 31: houses and castles
We got a relatively early start so as to make our ferries out and back, because Gordon was making sure we got a special viewing not everyone sees. We were off to the isle of Bute to see Mount Stuart, an extraordinary home built by the 3rd Marquess of Bute, an eccentric scholar who was called "the richest baby in Britain" and possibly Europe after the death of his father, who had made a fortune in Welsh coal. The 3rd Marquess created an incredibly lavish home and grounds, with unusual aspects like the star chart of his birth as a ceiling painting, and beautiful ones like hundreds of goddesses decorating the gallery of the marble hall (virtual tours available on the web site). We saw the house to best effect on a sunny day--stained glass in many rooms was casting colors across marble and wood.
One of the most unusual aspects of the house is new this year. The house is built on the site of a former Mount Stuart which mostly burned down in 1877. One of the surviving areas is the family chapel, which was not open to the public until I believe this year. As part of an art project titled Re awakening, the entire floor of the chapel has been covered with large mirrored panels. The effect is amazing--as you step onto it (wearing soft slippers) you feel like you're stepping into air, with the reflected ceiling beneath you, a clear dim pool deeper than you can usually see to the bottom of. You tend to interact with the upside-down reflections of those who came into the chapel with you, and you float together in the strangest space. They haven't yet determined whether they'll leave the mirrors in place after this season.
The house is surrounded by formal and wilderness gardens , and I would have gladly spent all day exploring them. We just had time for a quick walk through some of the "Policies" ["a peculiarly Scottish word meaning the 'pleasure grounds around a mansion'"] on our way to catch the ferry back to the mainland.
After that, we just had time to visit Inverary Castle (but not the Inverary Jail) before another tasty hotel dinner. I thought I heard fireworks from my room, but I have no idea what it was about.
Naturally, this takes longer than I thought even taking into account Hofstadter's Law. I'll end here for now, and pick up tomorrow.