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Canada 150 Trip – New Brunswick

2017 is Canada’s 150th birthday and summer was a good time to see more of Canada. So I drove east pulling my very small tent trailer, Tiny Tilly, to Montreal. In Montreal and Quebec, I enjoyed the Montreal Jazz and Mont Tremblant Blues festivals and had some R & R after the long trip from Vancouver. From Montreal I continued east following my sister, Sue, and her husband, Ron. They drove in their truck and pulled their bigger trailer while I followed behind them in my little car pulling Tiny Tilly.

Ron & Sue's trailer

view following Sue & Ron

We had just over 3 weeks to pack in all the wonderful sites of 3 provinces. This was my first time in the Maritime provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island and I loved it. It was worth the trip.

En route to St. John, New Brunswick, we stopped at the town of Hartland to see the world’s longest covered bridge at 1282 feet (391 metres) long over the St. John River. We walked across it and back and then drove across it before heading to the city of St. John and the Bay of Fundy.

The fog came in quickly and thick for our first night in St. John but the second night was much better. Less fog made it easier to see the view of the city from our campsite. In St. John, we followed some historic walking tours to see some of old St. John, the old architecture and various sites and to learn about the city’s history. Here, we experienced such friendly people. Awesome!

I just had to see the “Reversing Falls Rapids”. To quote the information pamphlet, “The Reversing Falls Rapids are created by the daily collision of the Bay of Fundy and the Saint John River.” To properly experience it meant 2 trips to the falls. The first was in the early afternoon when the tide was low so we could watch the water traveling inland. There are falls hidden beneath the surface of the water and the water was very active there. We watched the water roll and swirl towards the Bay of Fundy. Several hours later in the evening we returned to watch the water traveling in reverse inland up the St. John River over other hidden falls. The water rolled and swirled in different areas in the opposite direction.

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We camped in the Bay of Fundy National Park for two nights. We weren’t impressed with the campground. We were in Wolfe Point campground. I hope the others in the Park are better but this one I don’t recommend.

One of the famous sites along the New Brunswick side of the Bay of Fundy are the Hopewell Rocks (or the “Flower Pots”) and the highest tides in the world. The tides here were wonderful to experience. We went to the Rocks in the afternoon at low tide and returned the next morning at high tide to see the difference.

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While driving along the Bay of Fundy, we stopped at the little fishing town of St. Martens on the Bay of Fundy (probably one of quite a few). We walked out to the rocks and the water. It was so picturesque and here we had the first of our many delicious seafood meals.

After our adventures on the Bay of Fundy, we drove to Moncton and experienced Magnetic Hill. Magnetic Hill is an optical illusion. Apparently the road, bound by the rolling terrain, fools us into believing that the road goes down when when it actually goes up. It was $6 per car. Unfortunately, my car did not roll “uphill” by itself like it should have. However, when we were doing our ride of the hill, a thunderstorm started and all the staff disappeared so I couldn’t talk to them about it. Sue & Ron had no problem rolling up the hill in their truck. What a disappointment!  So after this lack of adventure, we drove into our next province, Nova Scotia.





The Trip home

I not only left Montreal and Quebec but also Canada to head home to B.C. through the northern United States. I entered the US just east of the Great Lakes. On the way south from Canada, I drove through Courtland, N.Y. It impressed me as a beautiful old town that had kept many of its original buildings and old mansions. It is probably not the only town with character in the area so I think the area would be a good place to return to and explore some time in the future. The scenery was lovely as I drove through the Finger Lakes area – Cayuga Lake, Taughannock Falls, Trumansburg, Perry City and Watkins Glen. I was able to take secondary roads through New York and Pennsylvania then into Ohio until I got closer to Cleveland and Toledo. I managed to skirt around these cities successfully.

Indiana spiderwebs

Indiana spiderwebs

I camped in Indiana in a cottage country area. It was pretty with several lakes in the area.  Unfortunately, it was getting late in the day and I could not afford the time to look around for the most appropriate and reasonably priced campsite. I camped in a very commercialized campground that specialized in seasonal stays. Although not a big site, golf carts were allowed and the seasonal residents sure made use of them. I felt like applauding as someone walked to the showers. He was the only person I saw walking anywhere in the campground.

This part of Indiana is Amish country and I enjoyed hearing the horses and buggies clip clopping by on the country road during the night. I was on the edge of the campground and close by was a field with horses in it. In the morning I discovered that several spiders had used my car to spin their webs on – pretty. Unfortunately, they disappeared as soon as I started driving. Driving west from here, the countryside was also very pretty.

From Indiana into Illinois and then Iowa. I spent half a day in the Amana Colonies in Iowa. This area, or colonies, had 7 villages – Homestead, Amana, West Amana, East Amana, High Amana, Middle Amana, and South Amana. Not confusing at all. The Amana Colonies were established in 1855 along this Iowa River valley by a group of German immigrants and their families. They sought religious freedom and to live a communal life. They had a successful communal community until 1932. Today, the towns and the community is a National Historic Landmark but the heritage sites have been a tourist destination since the early 20th Century. While there, I toured the Amana Heritage Museum, the Communal Kitchen and Cooper Shop and then, finally, the General Store. The volunteers who worked in these historical buildings were very happy to provide me with lots of interesting information. The buildings and villages were very well kept. There were lots of little tourist shops to explore in the main Amana – quaint but a bit commercialized. I liked Middle Amana best as it seemed not to have changed very much throughout the years. Only on leaving the Colonies, I discovered they have a camping site and cycling trails. I think if I ever return to the area, a longer stay would be a good idea.

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As I drove through Iowa, I took my time and enjoyed the Iowa countryside before I went into South Dakota.

While traveling through the south part of S. Dakota, I just had to stop at the Corn Palace in Mitchell. Interesting! This building is decorated and transformed each fall. Different colours of corn ears and prairie grasses are attached to the building to create mural themes. This year the theme was Rock of Ages. They have been decorating the buildings since 1892 (the present building since 1921) and they have photos of each year displayed inside the building. Surprising, but there was no charge to go inside the building. The building is used for large venues such as exhibits, dances, stage shows, and basketball tournaments.

While in Mitchell, I visited the Prehistoric Indian Village. It is an archeological site revealing clues about the lives of the people who lived there 1,100 years ago. The site also has an interesting museum to tour. Even though a small town, I didn’t see everything there was to see in Mitchell. I left some other attractions for a future visit.

While driving through S. Dakota, I stopped at the 1880 Town. This was not a town but a privately owned indoor/outdoor museum/town with more than 30 prairie/western type buildings dated from 1880 to 1920. It was well advertised along the highway approaching it so I thought I’d check it out.

Before entering the Badlands National Park, I stopped in at the Prairie Homestead. The homestead has a sod home from 1909 dug into the side of a hill. Absolutely no luxuries here. The museum also had displays of some machinery from the area. They had an interesting short film to see about the family that lived in this sod home. The homesteaders lived a very hard life in this area. There was also a colony of white prairie dogs in the yard running in and out of their numerous holes. Apparently, white prairie dogs are quite rare. The prairie dogs are white because they have lost some of their pigmentation.

The National Badlands Park was beautiful. I didn’t get to see any bison but I saw plenty of Bighorn Sheep. These non-native sheep were very content to eat along the roadway allowing tourists a close view and photo ops of them. The scenery was beautiful. The colours were wonderful. There were plenty of eroding spires, pinnacles, and ridges along with canyons and prairie land to see.

After driving through the Badlands, I just had to stop at Wall Drugs in Wall. In 1931, Wall Drugs started as a small drug store in the middle of nowhere (the town of Wall) until they started to advertise free ice water to parched travelers. As a result, it grew and became popular. Now, this attraction is a cowboy-themed shopping mall/department store spread out in several buildings and outdoors (at least a full block). I quickly went through the sections but didn’t see much that I wanted for souvenirs. But it was big! It had jewelry, western wear, fudge, books, & pottery to name only some of the things they sold.  And there were historical photographs and artifacts and other things to look at. Definitely worth a visit. The next time, I’ll definitely allow more time to go through and explore it.

Mount Rushmore, S. Dakota

Mount Rushmore, S. Dakota

I camped in Rapid City, S.D. for a couple of nights to explore the nearby Black Hills and see Mount Rushmore. The day I wanted to visit Mount Rushmore, the Rapid City visitor information centre told me not to go as visibility was so poor that I would not be able to see the carvings. I went anyway as I was in the area only for a short time. I and plenty of other people were lucky. The clouds sometimes were low and made the carvings difficult to see and sometimes the clouds cleared enough so I was able to see the 4 men clearly. It was awesome. Also, I spent some time in the visitor centre checking out the information displays and watching the short film on making of the monument.

After Mount Rushmore, I explored the town of Keystone, drove through the scenic roads through the Black Hills to Hill City and Deadwood. In Deadwood, I took a guided tour of the Adams House, the 1892 Victorian home of two of Deadwood’s founding families. It still had its original furnishings. There were such beautiful features inside. Unfortunately, photography was not allowed so I can’t share any of that beauty with you.  It had oak interiors, a hand-painted canvas wall, and beautifully decorated sinks.

Nearby was Mount Moriah Cemetery so I thought I’d go check it out. The historic cemetery includes such notables as Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane. The town charged a fee to enter the cemetery. As it was a bit late in the day for me to take my time and enjoy touring through the property, I opted out of entering. Anyway, the original markers on the graves have been replaced. Perhaps when I return and have more time I would take my time going through it. It was getting late so I drove around Deadwood a bit. Definitely a place to return to in the future.

South Dakota had so many interesting things to see but I didn’t get to see everything that interested me. I think another trip through this state and the area is in the future.

I had one last attraction I wanted to see on my way home – Devil’s Tower. The drive there was lovely. The earth is red – it reminded me of the Red Centre in Australia.

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Once I stopped and admired Devils’ Tower, I continued west then north into Montana. In Montana, I drove west in a valley along Flathead River. It was scenic and had some cute little towns. I entered northern Utah and drove around the north end of Lake Pend Orielle. All very scenic. Then into the last state – Washington. I drove through Spokane (which I’ve never been to before), along some secondary roads  and then north and back into B.C. at the Okanagan Valley.

During this road trip I got to go through eleven states – New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, S. Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Washington.  I also discovered plenty of places to return to. A good road trip.

Now to build up my travel fund again and decide where I’ll travel to next.

Searching for Dryer, Warmer weather

Into the next province – Saskatchewan. I camped in the Interprovincial Cypress Hills Park, which is in both Saskatchewan and Alberta. From what I could see through the rain pouring down, it looked like a very beautiful and big park. I was grateful for my little tent trailer to keep me dry and cuddle up in as it poured during the night. I wanted to drive around the park to see more of it. Unfortunately, in the morning the clouds were low and visibility was poor. I wouldn’t have been able to see much of the nice views. So I decided to come back in the future for another visit to explore it more.  I haven’t had much luck with this park. A few years ago when I wanted to see the park, it was closed due to fire threats. I’m sure one day I’ll get to see it properly.

Despite the rain, I did get to see some of the beautiful Cypress Hills as I headed south to the Red Coat Trail. The Red Coat Trail was used by 275 red-coated men of the North West Mounted Police (NWMP – the national police force prior to the RCMP) when the NWMP travelled west onto the prairies in 1874. The 275 men, beasts and carts made a 5 km long column crossing the prairies. It must have been something to see.

Statue of handsome NWMP near Redvers, Sask.

Statue of handsome NWMP near Redvers, Sask.

This secondary route didn’t have all those red coats and was not busy but it was scenic. There were beautiful rolling hills with many colours. Unfortunately, when I saw some really nice scenery and wanted to take photos, there was no convenient place to pull off the road.  And when there were places to stop, the scenery was pretty but not as colourful. I enjoyed the drive anyway.

Along this route, I still put up with the rain. It was challenging to find the least soggiest site to camp on. The advantage of this route was going through some small towns, towns that provided basic camping sites for a reasonable amount. Some of these campsites were nice and some not so nice. One of the small towns I camped in was Wawanesa. The insurance company was named after this cute little town.

From Saskatchewan,  I drove into Manitoba and then into Ontario. Around Winnipeg, my only option for driving became the busy Trans-Canada Highway (“the Number 1”). It is a busier highway and not as picturesque but it got me to the next province, Ontario.

Finally, I reached dryer and warmer weather when I  reached Ontario.  I made sure I stopped to admire the views over Lake Superior. At the eastern end of Lake Superior I reached the town of Wawa and its big Canada Goose statue. I just had to stop for that photo op.

From Wawa I headed east along an isolated road to Timmins where Shania Twain grew up. I could see why she left the town as it was not quaint or scenic or anything. I was quite happy to be just passing through.

I did see some nice towns though, such as Kirkland Lake in Ontario. On the Quebec side were Rouyn-Noranda and Val-d’Or. After these towns, I drove south through the huge Parc La Verendrye. It was isolated and had very few campsites near the main road. There were other campsites well off the main road in isolated places. Obviously, the park was not meant for family camping but for hunting and fishing expeditions. Along this approximately 220 km route, the park had very few rest stops along the road and little signage to indicate how far through the park I was.  Well, I had the experience of driving through it once. After driving through the park, I was glad to reach Mont Laurier and familiar territory.



Waterton Lakes in Alberta was beautiful. This National Park is a huge wilderness area. However, I didn’t want to do much hiking alone because of the danger from bears and other wildlife. Shortly after I set up my tent trailer, I had a black bear try to come through my site. It probably didn’t expect anyone to be there as it was startled to hear my voice. I told it to ‘stop, turn around, and move on.’ Surprise – it did! Unfortunately, I did not have a camera on me at the time so didn’t get a photo as proof. I did have a big deer come onto my site the next morning and I got proof of that. The deer didn’t seem to be too bothered by me – he had a good sampling of the bushes and then left.

Even though the Park had beautiful scenery, it was a bit disappointing. One of the few roads that went anywhere – to Cameron Lake – was closed so I couldn’t take a drive there. There were really no other places to drive except to the town of Waterton, and the Red Rock Canyon. Unfortunately, some of the trails around the Canyon were also closed. I did do some short hikes around the canyon though. So, in one afternoon, after exploring the tiny town of Waterton and hiking a bit around the Canyon, I’d seen Waterton National Park!

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After my exciting time in Waterton, I continued east and then north to Fort Macleod. I enjoyed checking out this Fort (reconstructed in 1956-7 as a museum) and found it quite interesting. There was quite a bit to see and read. Then I did a small walking tour (only because the town was so small) of the town and checked out their historic buildings, mostly on Main Street. There was not much to do there otherwise.

Nearby, I went to Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump Provincial Park. Just love that name! It is a a world heritage site. The museum was very interesting and I learned the various methods the Blackfoot First Nations used to drive the buffalo off the cliffs to their death. It was well worth the visit.

After this attraction, I continued east and then south to Milk River. Milk River is such a cute little prairie town and I enjoyed wondering around. The people there were very friendly. A thunderstorm  came through in the late evening so I just hunkered down in my little tent trailer and hoped that I wouldn’t get blown away.

After Milk River, I was able to take a guided morning tour of the First Nation petroglyphs (rock carvings) in the nearby Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park in southeastern Alberta. There is restricted access to the rock art to help protect these historical sites. Our tour had to put up with cold, wind and rain but it was worth it. I hope the petroglyphs aren’t too difficult to see in the photos.

After the tour, I went for a walk among the hoodoos. These slowly eroding soft sandstone rocks always fascinate me. The area sure has its own beauty with the prairie landscapes, hoodoos, and coulees (steep-walled ravines joining river valleys). I was easily able to imagine the First Nations peoples and the settlers being in this region.

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Southern Alberta has so much more to see. Perhaps on my next trip though I’ll see more. Next stop, Cypress Hills Provincial Park in Saskatchewan.

Road Trip East

My little car, my little tent trailer and I drove east from Port Moody. No specific route in mind and no date to be anywhere by. A great road trip!

I started out at the beginning of summer but the weather and temperatures did not seem like July. I traveled east in the southern part of British Columbia but that didn’t improve the temperatures any. The land east of the Okanagan is so beautiful. Every time I travel through, I think I need to return and spend some time there. I spend a little more time there this time as I took my time.

One of the things I got to do was take a free ferry ride. Yes, a FREE FERRY RIDE IN B.C.! Yes, it claims to be the Western Hemisphere’s longest free ferry ride. It was across the beautiful Kootenay Lake. The scenery and free ride was worth the little diversion I took.

I decided to go to Fort Steele as I had never been. Fort Steele is a restored 1890’s pioneer boomtown and was quite enjoyable. I spent a few hours there wondering around.

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Once over the Crowsnest Pass and into Alberta, I headed south. I had heard a lot about Waterton Lakes National Park and was eager to see it in person. Well, it was beautiful. I obtained a campsite and was just wondering what I should check out when I notice a bear by my car coming into my site. The bear was surprised to hear and see me so just walked away. The next morning I had a big deer eating around my site.



Manchester & Area

From Fort William we took the train south into England and through the Lake District – but we didn’t see any lakes. We stayed for a week in Bolton, just outside Manchester.

On our first night in Bolton the hotel fire alarm went off at 1 am. Such a startling awakening. We had to go out into the cold dark night until we had the ok to go back in and back to sleep. There didn’t appear to be a fire though. After our night time excitement, we managed to get up in the morning at a decent time and took the train into Manchester. We covered a lot in one day – we went into the Manchester Cathedral, saw the “Hanging Bridge” by the Cathedral, toured the Jewish Museum, saw the famous Manchester City Hall, and toured around John Ryland’s Library. The lives of featured Jewish immigrants to Manchester were quite interesting. It was worth the search and nice walk to the museum.

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We heard about the interesting town of Chester near the northern Welsh border so the next day we took a train ride to visit it. As soon as we walked into the town from the train station, I thought it was amazing and beautiful. We walked around the town and, of course, went into Chester Cathedral. We also walked around the perimeter of the town on the old wall.

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The “Death or Glory” photo is in a pub we ate in. A little bit weird we thought. Get a look at the strange uniforms. Anyone have any insight to the team and their uniforms?

We had terrible luck getting back to our hotel that evening.  We had just missed the connecting train to Bolton and had to wait for 1/2 hour until the next scheduled one. However, this next one was late by another 30 minutes or so which meant we waited an hour. Then, once off the train, we had to run to the bus depot to catch the bus that would take us to the hotel. However, we missed that, too. Apparently, in the evenings the bus leaves from a different bus stall.  So even though we made it to the bus depot in time, we watched it drive away down the street from another bus stall. Another wait of an hour for the next bus. So we got to our hotel room after 11 p.m. that night.

We stationed ourselves in Bolton for a few days because we have a few relatives there and that is where our grandfather was from. Donna had seen our second cousin, Susan, recently, but I hadn’t seen her since 1967. It was nice to see her again after so long. So we explored Bolton by seeing the Town Hall and checked out the historical display in Bolton’s library.

Susan guided us by bus to the town of Farnworth (where we believe our family was originally from and where we got our family name). The town of Farnworth is still there but officially it is part of Bolton. I was getting a bit carried away snapping photos of signs that say “Farnworth”. Rather unusual for me to see as I usually need to spell my last name for people most times. Susan also took us to the Tonge cemetery where we eventually found our great grandfather’s and great, great grandfather’s graves.

We also went to a very picturesque town of Ringley Bridge. It was such a beautiful day, many of the town pub’s customers were sitting and socializing along the Church’s stone fence next door to the pub. A good atmosphere in this town.

Wrigley Bridge

Wrigley Bridge

Susan then guided us by bus to Smithills Hall – an historic house. Donna and I toured through it and then met for the first time a first cousin, once removed, and her friend, both in their eighties, who live in the area. They were both so charming.

We had one day left to explore before returning home to Canada so we went back into Manchester for a tour of the Chetham Library. It was most impressive. It was very old and dark but it has one of the few remaining church “chained” libraries.  Next we walked to the Salford Quays area – an emerging new neighbourhood. Here we toured through Ordsall Hall – another historic house that is 500 years old.

Alas, our wonderful trip was over. Back to Canada  and our normal lives.

Skye, Fort William

We had almost a full day of travelling to get to our next destination.  First, we travelled south by rail from Thurso to Inverness. We had an hour between trains in Inverness so Donna and I went to a store we missed when there before – Leakey’s Second-hand Bookshop. It was piled high with books – both floors. We found some possible books but we thought the prices were a bit high. Well, back to the train station without any new reading material for another train west to Kyle of Lochalsh and then onto the Isle of Skye. The train trip west from Inverness was very scenic and we were glued to the window as the hills and lochs passed by.

There was plenty of wildlife along the tracks such as hares, deer, a few bucks and a few Highland
Cows. On all our train trips, the lambs in the fields were very cute and entertained us when they ran back to their mothers as our 2 car train came by.

When we got to Kyle of Lochalsh, we were to take a local bus to our B&B in Broadford on the Isle of Skye. Well, we arrived in late afternoon and after some discussion with a very helpful local, we found out the next bus would be in several hours and not at the time the bus schedule said it would be. We were not the only tourists fooled by the confusing bus schedule. It’s too bad we needed a friendly local person to interpret it for us. Another family hoping to catch the bus with us had a very expensive taxi trip to their B&B. Lucky for us, we had such a nice B&B host that she came and picked us up. She wasn’t too far away.

For our first full day on Skye, we went off Skye to see the Eileen Donan Castle on one of the elusive local buses. At least this buses this day showed up as per the schedule. The Eileen Donan Castle is advertised as Scotland’s most romantic castle with both ancient and modern history. It was very picturesque on a salt water loch. We also walked through the teeny town of Dornie by the castle and visited the few shops in the town.

Our second day on Skye, we joined an organized tour of North Skye. It was a very small group – 4 of us plus the entertaining local guide. We stopped for awhile at the Man of Storr where Donna and I were energetic enough to hike up to the foot of the “Old Man”. The “Old Man” is a large pinnacle of rock that can be seen for miles around.

Then north to Lealt where we saw some pretty waterfalls and the remainder of diatomite sheds used to dry the diatomite before being transported to the rest of the world. After viewing Kilt Rock, we stopped for a quick lunch in the very Gaelic town of Staffen. The rest of the tour included Quiraing (more towering rocks) and more beautiful scenery. We visited the Skye Museum of Island Life where we explored croft cottages and learned about the sad history of the croft people. We definitely needed more time here. The Fairy Glen was a wonderful and perhaps magical glen hidden in some hills. I could imagine fairies dancing around at night when all the people have left. We didn’t get to see the Fairy Ponds on the island. I hear they are cute and interesting, too.

The Scots have their own way of busking. At the lookout for Kilt Rock, there was a piper with his bagpipes. This wasn’t the only place we say this. We also saw many pipers busking in Edinburgh.

On another day, we took one of the elusive buses to Portree and back. Just after we arrived, we watched a very low cloud snake out from between some islands, creep over the loch and than proceed on to the Island and disappear behind Portree. Very neat! If you are ever in Portree, be sure to check out both sides of the map in the square. It kept us entertained for at least 30 minutes. They employed someone with a very good sense of humour to do a map of Skye and Portree. Some good entertainment while waiting for the bus.

I just have to share the panoramic photo of our view each morning at breakfast.

view at breakfast each day on Skye

view at breakfast each day on Skye

From our B&B, we took the bus to the ferry that took us to Maillag. We were lucky to have good weather for the ferry crossing. We had some time in Maillag before our train south so we visited Maillag’s museum. As Maillag wasn’t very big we didn’t get to do much walking around in the town before we boarded the train to Fort William. The train took the same route as the famous Jacobite Train and went over the Glenfinnan Viaduct made famous in the Harry Potter films. After we did the train route with Scott Rail, we decided not to spend the extra money to take the Jacobite Train because we would have seen the same thing – beautiful as it was. The train ride gave us good views of the locks and the Caledonian Canal.

Fort William is a bigger and nicer town than I expected. Here we visited the West Highland Museum – it’s free and very good. It was a beautiful and sunny day so we walked along the water to Carpach and Banavie where the Caledonian Canal begins (or ends). Carpach is on the Atlantic side of Scotland and is exactly the opposite end of the Caledonian Canal from Inverness (on the North Sea side). Banavie is the town where Neptune’s Staircase is. The Staircase is a bunch of locks in quick succession so that it looks like a staircase.

Because Ben Nevis is between Bonavie and Fort William, we had plenty of great views of the famous “Ben” – the tallest mountain in the British Isles.

Inverness, Thurso, Orkney Islands

Inverness, a very picturesque town, was our next stop. It is in a valley at the mouth of the River Ness with low hills surrounding it. It has nice green spaces along the canal and river. Inverness was the first place that the regular use of the Gaelic language became obvious to me.

Our first full day we joined an organized tour to Loch Ness. We went by bus first from Inverness along part of the Caledonian Canal. Then, at a northern point on the lake, we boarded a boat for a 30 minute cruise to the ruins of Urquhart Castle. No, we didn’t see any monsters in the lake.

Urquhart Castle has quite a history of being invaded and ownership being passed back and forth to different clans and families until it was partially destroyed in 1692 to prevent the Jacobites using it. We checked out all the corners of the ruins and soaked in the view. Then we had a scenic trip back to Inverness by bus.

Since we had rail passes, we took the train south to Aviemore, a town in the Cairngorm Mountains. From Aviemore, we took a bus to Cairngorm Mountain. It still had snow on it but we attempted to hike up to the top anyway. There was light rain when we started out at the bottom and we saw a beautiful double rainbow. However, the rain got worse as we climbed. To make matters worse, the wind started to blow harder and the wind became rather cold. We were on a mountain with absolutely no trees or bushes for protection against the wind and rain. The weather made the trek very rough going. About half way up, we decided that since this hike was optional and we didn’t have to do this hike as on our Hadrian’s Wall walk, we went back down the mountain. At least it gave us an example of the bad weather we could have had on our Hadrian’s Wall walk. We were certainly glad we missed that! Then, after drying off and warming up, we went for a scenic ride on the Strathspey Steam train.

While in Inverness, Donna and I did some walking tours around the town to explore it, including a 15 km walk along the canal and the River Ness. So picturesque.

As we headed north towards Thurso and the Caithness area, we noticed how barren and bleak the landscape became. The landscape was missing trees. Some of the hills had a variety of colour, though. We found out heather plants cover the hills but the heather does not bloom until August & September. I imagine the hills would look very beautiful then.

Thurso is such a cute little town on the very north coast of Scotland.



On our first full day there, we joined an organized wildlife tour to see puffins and other birds common to the area at the time. We couldn’t get close enough to the puffins to see them without a telescope and binoculars. But it was great and the birds were entertaining. We got to see quite a bit of the coast on our quest to see the wild birds and seals, etc. Instead of returning to Thurso, the tour guide dropped us off at The Castle of Mey. This castle was the late Queen Mother’s home in the area and is still used by members of her family. We toured through the castle and the grounds and then took the sparse and empty bus back to Thurso. There was so much more to see in the Caithness area but we needed our own vehicle if we wanted to see more as they local bus service was not great.

The Caithness area produced lots of slate at one time and you can still see plenty of it used around. There are many fences built of the slate.

slate slabs used as fencing at Castle of Mey

slate slabs used as fencing at Castle of Mey

The next day we got up early to take the empty (again) bus to John O’Groats and then a ferry to the Orkney Islands. Then we joined an organized tour of the Orkney Islands by bus. We went over the “Churchill Barriers”  – causeways built by Italian prisoners of WWII to link  several islands. We visited its two main towns of Kirkwall and Stormness. Stormness had plenty of small lanes and closes and seemed to be compressed into such a small area.

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The highlight was seeing Skara Brae and the Ring of Brodgar (standing stones). Skara Brae is a fairly recently discovered archaeological site originally occupied from 3100 to 2500 BC. It felt like a privilege to see them.


The Orkney Islands had so many interesting things to see and so much history. We tried to spend a couple of days on these islands but we could not get any accommodation. They were all booked up. Well, at least we had the one day there.

As the ferry got back just a minute too late to catch the last bus back to Thurso, a ferry employee had to race us to the next stop (also a ferry landing) in his car to catch the bus. It was not a highlight of the trip but the high speed along the narrow, curvy road was memorable. They probably have to do it regularly because they don’t get the arrival time of the ferry to coincide with the bus schedule.



Newcastle, Edinburgh, Aberdeen

We spent 2 nights in Newcastle so we could have a full day to explore the city. Once again, we started with the Hop-on-Hop-Off bus to get an idea of the city. I noticed that in this city there are very few straight streets but lots of ones that curve.

We visited Black Gate which was built about 1250 as a gateway to the castle. We also went through the Castle Keep, and The Cathedral Church of St. Nicholas. There wasn’t much else to see in Newcastle except for St. John the Baptist Church. But that closed before we managed to get there.

We took the train north back to Scotland next. First stop was Edinburgh where we did a lot of walking around the city, including along the Royal Mile several times. The Royal Mile is the main road and tourist attraction in old Edinburgh with Edinburgh Castle at one end and Holyroodhouse Palace at the other end with all sorts of interesting things and history in between.

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We did a tour of Holyroodhouse Palace (the Queen’s official residence in Scotland) and its gardens. One of the exhibits in the Palace displayed 90 years of the Queen’s wardrobe – interesting and quite an extensive exhibit which included her hats!

One of the interesting buildings we toured was St. Giles Cathedral. It is a beautiful old cathedral but they required a fee if I wanted to take photos. Since I don’t have a good SLR camera that can take great photos in such a building, I decided not to spend the money. Sorry, I didn’t get photos of the Thistle Chapel, the windows, statues, pillars, etc. in the cathedral – just the outside of it.

Donna and I also toured the John Knox house. Most of it was built in the mid 1500s. Then, probably the most interesting tour we had in Edinburgh, was a guided tour of Mary King Close. The Mary King Close tour took us on hidden streets frozen in time since the 17th Century. It showed us an example of life in Edinburgh at the time. Mary King Close was one of several hidden streets under buildings in the Old Town of Edinburgh. They were partially demolished and buried under the Royal Exchange building. The closes were very narrow streets just wide enough for one person to walk with tenement houses of up to 7 stories on each side. They certainly didn’t get much light.

We also did a tour of Edinburgh Castle up on the hill. It was not only interesting but also had great views of the city. It’s St. Margaret’s Chapel is the oldest building in Edinburgh. We checked out Scotland’s crown jewels and the historic Stone of Destiny on display in the Royal Palace in the Castle.

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To get off the beaten tourist path, we went to “New Town” Edinburgh. New Town was built in stages, between 1767 and 1850, with Georgian period architecture. We checked out the Georgian House which featured the Lamont family and their life in this 5-storey townhouse from about 1800. We then walked around part of nearby Dean Village which was an old village but now part of Edinburgh. It had a nice green park area to walk along by a river. It was very relaxing after being in the busy part of the city.

We could easily have stayed longer as Edinburgh was such an interesting city. However, we were booked into a B&B in Aberdeen and we had to move on. We got to the B&B early in the afternoon and this gave us a chance to explore Aberdeen, “The Granite City”, on foot.

We checked out the outside and courtyard of Marischal College built in the late 1800s. The granite (of course) building recently had a renovation and cleaning and looked marvelous. In the front, there is a statute of King Robert the Bruce on his horse.

In Aberdeen, we went into the Tolbooth Museum, originally the Wardhouse, a prison to house those awaiting trial and punishment. It had some steep, very narrow circular stone stairs that were a bit treacherous to climb and descend. The only railings were ropes. Then, in the centre of town, we saw the Mercat Cross (a well preserved 17th C market cross topped with a unicorn) with the Gordon Highlanders Monument nearby. Next, we walked to Old Aberdeen passing by King’s College and Aberdeen University. While there, we were able to go into St. Machar’s Cathedral (circa 1350 – 1520).

Before catching the train the next day, we had enough time to visit the Maritime Museum. This museum told the history of the Aberdeen’s relationship with the sea. Some of the more interesting exhibits were about the oil industry in the North Sea and the equipment used.

By the way, we had wonderful B&B hosts in Aberdeen. They were very helpful, entertaining, had great breakfasts, and full of information of what sites to see. And they gave us a very grateful lift to the train station.

Hadrian’s Wall Walk

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