Address: Baluachraig PA31 8QG, UK The Kilmartin standing Stones are about a 45-minute drive outside of Oban. The drive takes you along a very picturesque coastline, winding through farms and into an expansive field with 6-8 foot standing stones. Within the immediate six-mile radius, you can find 350 ancient monuments. Monuments include standing stones, a henge monument, numerous cists, and a ‘linear cemetery’ comprising five burial cairns.
When you approach these massive standing stones, you will immediately notice the geometric pattern, linear in nature, and despite the distance, it is perfectly aligned. Keep this in mind as we explore some of the other ancient structures.
This Cairn was one of my favorite Cairn’s to visit in Scotland. You park about a mile away with an elevation gain of 50-100 feet. The walk is on private property, the trail is boggy and at one point you will need to walk across a wooden walkway to continue on the trail due to the amount of water.
As you make your way along the trail, you will come upon a barbed wire fence. The owners have lovingly placed a set of wooden steps on either side for people to climb over. Please do not agitate the livestock as you approach the cairn, don’t ruin it for everyone else.
The Cairn is at the top of a hill overlooking the surrounding countryside. A perfect place for the sun to hit the Cairn. It is a round chambered structure with two forecourts that face North and South. Once you enter the Cairn, it is about 10 feet long (3.3m). The cairn itself is about 7 feet in height (2.25m). The cairn was discovered and excavated in 1866, where seven sets of remains were found in the forecourt and more cremated remains were found in the main chamber.
Nearest town: Inverness Latitude: 57° 28′ 25.21″ N Longitude: -4° 04′ 27.66″ W These well preserved Bronze Age cemetery complex of passage graves; ring cairns, kerb cairns and standing stones in a beautiful setting. Clava Cairns or the Prehistoric Burial Cairns of Bulnuaran of Clava is a group of three Bronze Age cairns located near Inverness. A hugely significant and exceptionally well preserved prehistoric site, Clava Cairns is a fantastic example of the distant history of Highland Scotland, dating back about 4,000 years.
The cemetery was used in two periods. At around 2000 BC a row of large cairns was built, three of which can still be seen today. A thousand years later the cemetery was reused and new burials were placed in some of the existing cairns and three smaller monuments were built including a ‘kerb cairn’. Traces of a smaller cemetery can also be seen at Milton of Clava, a short distance up the valley to the west. The cairns at Balnuaran of Clava extended along a gravel terrace raised above the River Nairn.
Excavations have found evidence for farming on the site before any of these monuments were built. The settlement was directly replaced by the cairns and it even seems possible that some of the material used to build them had been taken from demolished houses. If you look closely you may even find the ring-and-cup marks symbolizing and unknown tripartite god or the Triple-Goddess of the Maiden-Matron-Crone.
This Goddess is a number of the Celtic myths and legends – in the Wiccan and Neopaganism she is thought of as the ‘Great Goddess’. Three signifies balance and stability. The first stage is maiden, the second stage is matron or mother, and the last stage is known as the crone. These different stages are often portrayed by the moon and the different phases of the moon as well as colors.
What is the meaning of the Cairns for that time period?
We are born into maidenhood, and when our innocence is lost, this is when we have gained our sexuality transforming us into the matron. Pomegranates (from the tales of Persephone being raped by Hades, losing her innocence and then fed Pomegranates to be trapped in the underworld with him) are symbolized by color.
First, the seeds are white, then age to red, then when dried are black. These are the colors of the three goddesses’ of the world: Maiden, Matron, and Crone. Demeter is the Mother Goddess and Matron. Persephone is the Spring Goddess and is offered gifts. Hectate is the crone, she is the one that carried the torch for the maiden as she evolved into the mature Persephone, Queen of the Dead, and also the Queen of life’s rebirth in the spring. Hectate is considered to be the guide to the souls through maidenhood to womanhood. Hectate stands at the doorways quietly awaiting the soulful cries of the innocent, to help light their way.
A winding tunnel where one had to crawl, sometimes on their stomach to reach the burial chambers represents the further journey through life and these phases. Flecks of cremated bone were found on some of the surfaces inside the tombs and was the final resting place for only a select few. The outside of the cairns showed there was evidence of quartz, a white stone that when the body was cremated would have glowed, combined with the suns reflection.
When the winter sun sets, the entrances align with the position of the setting sun. Think of the symbolism of that – white snow surrounding a charred interior of black, with the sunlight guiding the way of the deceased to the underworld. I’m sure there was some sort of red involved in the ritual to complete the maiden-matron-crone, but I didn’t find anything conclusive that would have suggested this.
I like to speculate that maybe they were buried with some sort of red fruit, or there was an animal sacrificed – but this is just Scottish History according to Janiel, which could have me skewered by the locals for even speculating such history. Scotland is full of magic, and otherworldly creatures were often believed in, so I don’t think it is too far-fetched to speculate such things. I would like to think that the symbolism means, but the significance of this is still highly debated among scholars.
Should you find yourself on the NC500 Coastline, be sure to make a few stops along the way starting in Inverness and seeing Clava Cairns, Wick and Cairn O’Get. This is an important part of the ancient history of Scotland. Take a walk around the standing stones, the Cairns and imagine and speculate what the religious meanings must have been for these ancient people.
Happy Travels, Happy Tales, and See you on the Flip Side.
Just outside of Oban is a remote Island called Staffa Island. This is a protected area due to the nearby basking sharks, and the puffin sanctuary on Staffa Island. There is something else on this enchanting island….Fingals Cave. With not just folklore legends being inspired from the massive structure, but poetic and music legends as well.
The Formation of the Cave:
Rising out of the Ocean this gargantuan Oceanic cave rises 72 feet (22m) out of the water, and the depth of the cave is approximately 269 feet (82m). Geologists estimate the cave itself is 50 million years old. Staffa island itself is mad in layers, like an onion (Shrek reference :), The first layer is the tuff layer (the part underwater), the second layer is crystalline structures that make up the top of the island, and connecting the two are the black columns of black fine-grained tertiary basalt. This type of layering bodes well for the folklore surrounding the island, and what mythological characters may have built it.
Folklore Surrounding Fingal’s Cave on Staffa
There is an Irish legend sung in Celtic, ‘Uamh-Binn’ meaning the Cave of Melody. This melodious legend sings of an Irish giant Fionn mac Cumhail who longed to go to Scotland so needed to beat his rival Benandonner. As a little backstory to this legend, there is a geological formation in Ireland known as the Giant’s Causeway. The legend continues its verses of the Giant creating a bridge from Ireland to Scotland and Staffa Island and Fingal’s Cave are the two ends of the giants bridge.
With the storms, quick currents and fairyland like areas throughout both Ireland and Scotland — even the most non-creative souls leave feeling that this legend could be true. Still skeptical of this legend? What if I told you that this legend could be real based of science? The island of Staffa is made entirely of volcanic rock with very unique geological formations of basalt columns. These columns were made from slow cooling of Volcanic rock, creating their characteristic hexagonal shapes. The same type of volcanic rock and basalt columns are also found 82.8 miles (133 Km) South of Staffa Island.
Another myth dating back to 250 AD regarding an Irish general Fin MacCumhaill, also known as Fingal. A traditional Irish poet, and father of many of the stories that migrated from Ireland. The Scots wanted to preserve the memory of this fabled character and named the cave after him. In the 17th century, the cave was rediscovered by Sir Joseph Banks. He inspired others to visit in steamboats, paddleboats etc… Poets were so inspired by the cave, a poem called “Fingal, an Ancient Epic Poem in Six Books” by James Macpherson was written – basically, it was the translation of the poem from the Gaelic Irish Legend to English.
Beyond the legends and poems Pink Floyd, Queen Elizabeth, and many other notable artists have visited the cave specifically for the magnificent acoustics of it. Sadly due to erosion from visitors over the years, you can no longer enter the cave by foot.
The Puffin Sanctuary on Staffa
What they didn’t tell us before booking the tour, is that the rocks to Fingal’s Cave are VERY slick and precarious, so be sure to hang on to the ropes tightly. Make sure your footing is sound before turning quickly or putting your full weight on each step. The other situation I should warn you of is the VERY steep (think more like a ladder) metal grated staircase up to the top of Staffa island. At the top of the staircase, you want to turn right, follow the 15-20 minute trail to the edge of the island (on the opposite side of the island from where the cave is). Here you will find nests of Puffins. The tiny little Toucan and Penguin cross bred looking birds that chirp like new baby birds.
Their tiny little heads pop up from the long grass and look at you quizzically. They don’t seem to be afraid of humans, but it is best not to ruin this natural wonder and their nesting grounds. If you visit, please do not try to pick them up, trample to the side of the cliffs attempting to get photos with them. There are hundreds there, and we want to preserve the area for future generations of both humans and puffins to appreciate. The thing about these birds that surprised me the most, that left me both stunned and giggling was when they took flight.
I nearly missed the boat to the next destination because I was so entranced by these magnificently strong yet so delicate birds. I did not anticipate that these birds that so resembled penguins could fly so deftly against the Scottish Sea Winds. They would plunge off the edge of the cliff, gliding along the wind, streamlined against the gusts. They would play along the cliff face, skim the water searching for fish stirred up by the waves. So if you take a tour, make sure you allot yourself enough time to see these magnificent animals. When we had to go back to the boat, I felt a little piece of my heart was left with these adorable creatures. This place was so remote and special…..I don’t think I will ever forget how it felt to watch these birds fly, and so up close.
Tours to Fingal’s Cave on Staffa:
There are several options in order to visit this geological mysterious masterpiece.
Option 1: Commercial Boats, quick tour of the Inner Hebrides via Staffa Tours Due to time constraints, we took a tour via Staffa Tours. It is a big company, with big ships. If you are prone to sea sickness then this is the way to go. There was a storm the day that we went, the swells were so big that my roommate, Bree, go very ill on the way back. They were timely, allotted us just enough time to make it to the island, see the cave, the puffins and then we were off to Iona Abbey. Due to erosion, going inside the cave to hear the acoustics is closed. You can still walk up to the entrance, but cannot go inside.
Option 2: Spend a multi-day trip exploring the Inner and Outer Hebrides of Scotland on a SUP, Kayak, Diving, or Snorkeling with Basking Shark Scotland Tours. Even on a calm day, the swells in the cave can be quite large, there is only a small weather window in which you can safely enter the cave. There are so many unexplored islands around the area, but due to the currents being so fast – what should be a 30-minute boat ride can take up to three hours. So go and explore the islands of the Hebrides, see just how beautiful the beaches are, the untamed wilderness of Scotland is. The beaches of Scotland are cold, but nothing a full wetsuit couldn’t handle in the summertime. Next time I go to Scotland, I will be spending the majority of my time in the Hebrides and hope to do some diving and maybe even swim inside Fingal’s Cave.
Should you find yourself in nearby Oban Scotland, be sure you leave an entire day to be inspired by Fingal’s Cave on Staffa Island. Be careful when walking along the Basalt columns as they can get hazardously slick when the waves douse them in seawater. Get caught up in the folklore surrounding this Giant’s Bridge and let yourself believe in the unordinary and extraordinary. Be sure to leave yourself enough time to visit the Puffin Sanctuary on the other side of the island. Watch the clock and set a timer to give yourself enough time to get back to the boat. Lastly, enjoy the magic that is and always will be Scotland.
It was 563 AD, Irish settlers were migrating into Scotland bringing Christianity with them. St Columba arrived on Iona, looked out over the sea and deemed the spot that Iona Abbey now sits on the sacred ground. St Columba is the revered Saint of Iona Abbey (for more on his life, see the books below).
As time passed, 795 AD brought in the first wave of Viking raiders. The first raid was brutal, much of the Abbey was looted of its precious relics. Subsequent raids in 802, 806, and 825 resulted in burning of the original wooden Columban monastery, and a replacement stone abbey being built to help protect the monks. The remaining Abbey relics were hastily spirited away to Denkeld Cathedral in Perthshire and back to the Kells in Ireland for safe keeping.
Inside of Iona Abbey
In 1200 Reginald MacDonald turned Iona Abbey into a true Christian Pilgrimage. The Benedictine Monastery and an Augustinian Nunnery were built on the island. Pilgrims flocked to the Abbey by boat, making their way to the Monastery pausing at each cross that lined the road giving an offering of supplication.
The 8th Duke of Argyll swept in and commissioned the restoration in 1899, then turned it over to the Iona Cathedral Trust. Restoration of the Abbey continues today slowly returning to its former glory.
The Experience that is Iona:
What I expected from Iona Abbey was not what I experienced….. What I expected to see was a cold, dank, dark stone house with a few crosses and lots of gold embellishments. What I expected to feel, well….frankly I expected to feel bored by yet another abandoned religious establishment with some historical facts.
After the hustle and bustle of getting off the boat, I started the trek to the Abbey (a 20-minute walk up a slight incline). The tiny stone houses that dotted the road were quaint and full of local crafts and artisanal products. Giving the feeling you were in a small, yet tightly knit town. Another few minutes of walking, and you come upon the farms filled with plants sprouting produce & color on the gray and blustery day.
What I experienced was turning the corner nearly missing the 13 foot Celtic Cross. I wondered why this cross was so far away from the Abbey. There was a sign at the bottom that told of how pilgrims to the Abbey would stop at each cross and make an offering. This was to prepare the soul for worship, and I felt that in a way it helped introduce the story of this Abbey & all it has been through.
When first seeing the Abbey, it indeed was a stone church but set against the backdrop of the mainland, I couldn’t help but feel inspired that it was a refuge from the threatening storm moving into the area that day.
I paid for my ticket, inquired about the small graveyard. The graveyard itself is home to several Scottish Kings due to the belief that Iona Abbey was the closest place you could get to heaven on earth. There is said to be 48 Dalriadan (Scottish) Kings, 8 Norwegian kings, and 4 Irish Kings.
Walking through the ancient nunnery, made me feel that there was once determination, hardiness, love, and order that contributed to this being a spiritual place for many. It is always a beautiful thing to see human beings working together in harmony for the same peaceful purpose, it is not something often seen in the world today. When experiencing other cultures religions, I try to keep not only an open mind but an open heart. Doing this leads to greater understanding and insight for me personally.
Making my way to Iona Abbey I was regaled with tales of resistance against the invading Vikings. The plundering’s of the relics, the persistence of the priests, the miracles said to have been performed here. The thing that struck me to the core though, was with the images of Vikings, being brutal warriors and conquerors. Many Vikings ended up converting to Christianity and became protectors of a faith that they once attacked. It just shows how love, patience, kindness and long-suffering won them over.
How many wars have been fought both in the name of religion and in the name of power? So often we try and force our beliefs upon another, or take their beliefs away because we feel we are ‘right’. Ultimately when approached this way, everyone loses. Yet, when approached with love, longsuffering, kindness, open-mindedness, and suppressing our own internal boundaries….it creates change that is far greater than the change that would have occurred if it was forced.
The conversion of the Vikings’ to Christianity, knowing this Abbey was the key that allowed Christianity to come into Scotland gave me a sense of spirituality as well as inspiration to be a better example and human being. I am Christian, learning of the Abbey in the face of such dangers, I hope inspires all of us to be better at being an example and being that change we wish to see in the world.
Should you find yourself near Fort William, Glasgow, the NC500 or just want a holiday. Head to the west coast of Scotland, stay in Oban for a few days, then head to the Isle of Mull and Iona Abbey. You are sure to come away from this place feeling inspired by the enduring spirit of the early Christians in this area that helped to create change for the good.
Happy Travels, Happy Tales, and See You on the Flip Side…
Oban seems like a small, out of the way sleepy town – but for those looking for a peaceful and slightly spiritual retreat, I highly suggest Oban. Here you will find avenues to the Isle of Mull, Iona Abbey and Fingal’s Cave on Staffa Island.
History of Oban:
Oban sits on the Firth of Lorn overlooking the Isle of Mull, Kerrera and Lismore. Oban in Gaelic is An t-Oban, which means ‘Little Bay’. I was corrected several times on how to say the name of the town, it is not O-bahn, it is Obin. Gaelic is the language of the Scottish Highlands and since the 17th Century Battle for Culloden, was systematically banned and nearly lost. Now it is being taught in schools throughout the Highlands to help preserve both the culture and the language. Should you visit the Scottish Highlands, you will see many signs both in Gaelic and English. As of 2006 9.4% of the population in Oban still speaks fluent Gaelic.
Oban itself dates back to the Mesolithic times, where early evidence of cave dwellers was found in the centre of Oban (right where Oban Distillery sits). Bones found within this cave has since been dated to be around 4500BC. Oban is a unique bay compared to others in the Highlands, as it has two sides of the land masses protecting its bay during the brutal winter storms. This makes it a perfect place for fish and other oceanic animals to take refuge, and also was the perfect place for cave dwellers to find food.
Kilmartin House and Standing Stones
If you head up to Kilmartin House Museum, you will see one of the earliest forts made, dating to approximately 500 AD! This structure is under the care of Historic Scotland, so be sure to plan your visit and opening hours accordingly. Surrounding this area you will also find 350 ancient monuments including burial Cairn Stones.
I was able to see some of the Kilmartin Standing Stones, and the small cup and ring marks within the stones indicating these were placed here thousands of years ago. I could feel that sacred ceremonies were conducted in this area for nearly 5,000 years. Perfectly aligned with the symmetry being obviously visible to anyone who cares to look. At first I didn’t want to see these stones, I was so exhausted, but pushing through my own fatigue I was able to see some of the most beautiful coastline and be witness to history that was thousands of years older than I. It is about a 30-minute drive, easily navigated to via Google Maps.
Traveler Tip: Before going to Scotland be sure to download Google Maps onto your phone and the Outlander Audio Book. These are great ways to both stay entertained (as the radio is not easily tapped into in the Highlands), and to not get lost should you run out of Wifi.
You will see a gravel parking lot on the left, pull into any spot and walk across the street to the gate opening. You will cross over a bridge to the sign explaining how old the Kilmartin stones are and where the other stones in the area are located as well. Walking in a space this old only adds to my own data bank of belief that Scotland is full of magic and mystery, and that I had just become part of this lands history as well.
The Sixth through the Ninth Century in Oban:
By the early 6th Century AD under the Kingdom of Dalriata, with the Scotii tribe the Kingdom of Scotland would grow. Legend has it that three sons Fergus Mor, Aonghas and Loarn mac Eric were not given this kingdom and it was passed to their uncle. They then took their followers and migrated to the west of Scotland to establish their own Kingdoms — brining with them the ‘Stone of Destiny’ (an important Scottish Royalty tradition that is still used to this day).
The 9th Century brought Viking crossings into Scotland which also brought 400 years of war and struggle. This will play an important role in the history of Iona Abbey on the Isle of Mull just off the shores of Oban.
The Eleventh Century Onwards:
By the 11th century Oban was in Viking hands, the MacDougall family, who were Viking descendants established themselves as one of the most powerful families in the Scottish Highlands. Eventually the family relocated and their castle fell into ruin in Oban. Sir Walter Scott, a famous Scottish author published his book Lord of the Isles in Oban. This brought many visitors to Oban, and houses began to pop up in the area.
During the 19th century, the steam ships were using Oban as a stopping point and refuge from storms on their way from Glasgow to Inverness. A local banker, obsessed with Roman and Greek art decided it was a good idea to build an amphitheater at the top of the hill. John S McCaig wasn’t the smartest banker and the unfinished tower tops one of Scotland’s most striking shores to this day.
Where to Stay in Oban:
We stayed at a quaint little Oban Airbnb Home with our lovely host. She grew up on the Isle of Mull and speaks fluent Gaelic. She has loads of stories and just wants you to sit down and have a cuppa tea before you do anything else. She gives great directions, provides you with the BEST breakfast and has the best Blood Pudding of anyone in the Scottish Highlands.
Traveler Tip: It gets cold at night, even in the summers (especially if you are from a dry climate like me), so bring a sweater.
Our room was comfy, warm and was so cozy….we nearly got stuck to it the next morning trying to get up for our early 730am tour. There are places to park with a quiet neighborhood, nearby grocery store and petrol station. The shower is warm and is a short 10-minute drive from the center of town. Should you choose to walk, be sure to check the weather. As we were going to be dropping the car at the Edinburgh Airport right after our tour the next morning, we chose to drive.
Isle of Kerrera : This is the island directly visible from Oban, but due to no ferries servicing the area, can take several hours to get to. Currently the population there is only 35, but if you have the time stop by and see Gylen Castle. This castle was built in 1587 by Duncan McDougall of Dunollie. If you get a look inside, there is a passage underneath it that reportedly still has visible head carvings with an inscription reading “trust in God and sin no more”. Here is a Map of Kerrera and accommodations are available on the island with Airbnb style homes.
McCaig’s Tower – see Oban history above for more information on this quirky Roman tower in the middle of the Scottish Highlands. Dunstaffnage Castle: Flora MacDonald was held at Dunstaffnage in 1746 before being sent to the Tower of London after she helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape the Battle of Culloden. The castle is also host to a 13th Century Chapel and imagine what it must have been to live in a place so isolated.
Castle Stalker: This picturesque castle is located just north of Oban and beautifully surrounded by water. Only open between April and October, tours must be arranged in advance. There is intrigue, murder, wars and revenge that surround this castle. Take a deeper look into this small Stalker Castle’s BIG history.
Iona Abbey:A must visit for any Christian who wants to see how Christianity was passed to the Vikings. I will be posting more on this lovely and very spiritual place next week.
Staffa Island’s Fingal’s Cave with Puffin Sanctuary: This will also be included in the post for this next week on tours there, how to get there, opening times, best time to go and so much more. Inveraray Castle is not to be missed as this is the Clan seat for the Duke of Argyll, which Oban is
Inspired and Suprised by Oban
You wouldn’t think that such a small spot on the map in Scotland would hold so much history! It doesn’t appear, at first, to hold much in the way of tourism….but oh how wrong I was. So should you find your way home from Inverness or Fort William to Edinburgh or Glasgow….be sure to spend a few days in Oban. Take the ferry to the islands, see the castles, check out the Kilmartin Standing stones and especially the Oban Distillery. Plan your visit around the many festivals, and make Oban your central hub for visiting so many wonderful places in the Scottish Highlands.
Any local knows that Princes Street Gardens used to be the site of the Nor Loch and we’ve heard the tales of Greyfriars Bobby and the Mackenzie poltergeist many times before. Not only are these famous creepy tales of Edinburgh originating from here, but stories of Scrooge and none other than Lord Voldemort of the Harry Potter series were inspired characters of this city. So for all those story hunters, doing a self-guided ghost tour of Edinburgh will give you loads of stories to draw from.
Keep in mind that there is only one area that will require you to pay for access and that is to the underground vaults beneath the city.
Now the lush, and peaceful gardens in the center of Edinburgh these gardens were once witness to horrific events that took place on Princes street ages ago. A large body of water once graced this valley north of the Castle Rock, claiming the land as far back as 15,000 yrs ago as a byproduct of the ice age. The lake eventually dried up and Edinburgh was quickly thriving and growing. With many residents living in the 15 story housing within the cities fortifications, all the human waste had to go somewhere convenient. Enter the story of the Nor’ Loch. The stench from this ancient sewer plant must have been overpowering if the wind blew the wrong way, thus giving Edinburgh the nickname ‘old reeky’. Not only did the Nor’ Loch hold the human waste of the overpopulated city, but brutal punishments, murders, executions and public ‘dookings’ were very common at the edges.
Mr Sinclair was one of these tales, where him and his two sisters were sentenced to die for the crime of incest in 1628. Mr Sinclair and his two sisters were packed into a box with holes drilled into it and dumped into the Nor’ Loch with a padlock firmly in place. When renovations were made to Princes Street Garden, and the swamp drained, a box with 3 human remains were found in the mud. Upwards of 300 men and women were burned alive here for the crimes of witchcraft and wizardry. They were tied up, dragged down the slopes & dumped into the filth. If they sank to the bottom, well they were declared free of evil spirits. If they floated, well then a swift burn at the stake was in store with the human waste being a terrible fuel for those fires. It was some 200 years later that the city began to call for the draining of the cesspool. The New Town was beginning to be developed and by 1764 Nor’ Loch was drained. Princes Street Gardens was then built from East to West and finished around 1876.
Grey Friars Bobby:
John Gray arrived in the city in 1850, looking for work and attempting to avoid the dreaded workhouses, he joined the Night Watch with the Edinburgh Police Force. The nights in Scotland can be long and lonely and sometimes haunted. John Gray adopted a Skye Terrier named Bobby. These two were truly the best of friends. After years of roaming the streets and keeping the good people of Edinburgh safe, John came down with Tuberculosis. He eventually succumbed to the disease on February 15, 1858 and was buried at Greyfriars Kirkyard. Continuing his watch unfailingly, Bobby, his loyal dog and companion continued to stay at his masters grave – even in the worst conditions and weather.
The gardener tried to oust the poor thing several times but the dog was steadfast. The gardener’s heart eventually softened and a bed was made for bobby, complete with padding… allowing him to stay by his master’s side. People would come from miles around to see Bobby take his afternoon meal, following a cabinet maker to the Coffee House where he and John Grey would often go together. This routine took place for over 14 years, Bobby keeping constant watch of his masters grave until his own death in 1872. A Baroness, moved by this story of loyalty, erected the granite monument and statue commemorating this loyalty, who is now the most famous dog in Scotland. The Scottish people’s love of Dogs is still apparent today throughout the city. If you visit the statue, you will notice that it’s nose is quite worn. It is believed that rubbing Bobby’s nose will bring the visitor good luck and safety while touring the Kirkyard. The Grave of the beloved Bobby will also have several sticks placed by tourists, to help Bobby’s ghost be able to play fetch with his master again.
Not long after the ‘National Covenant’ was signed into practice, a document to keep Scotland Presbyterian, King Charles II took the throne and disavowed all those who covenanted and forcibly demanded those throughout England and Scotland to accept the state religion. It was June of 1679 that the military forces swept the country in the most bloody battle for religion known as Bothwell Brig. Several thousand Presbyterian Covenanter rebels were bound and imprisoned in Greyfriar’s Parish – this became known as the ‘Covenanters’ Prison’.
These covenanters endured inhumane torture, starvation, exposure, beheadings and so much more. This was all done at the hands of Lord Advocate Sir George Mackenzie, who we now know as ‘Bluidy MacKenzie’. His double life found him as both a loving father and business savvy gentleman, as well as the sadistic side of torturing these souls in the name of the King. Bloody Mackenzie was responsible for 18,000 deaths of these Covenanters, until his death in 1691. He is now buried in a tomb in Greyfriars Kirkyard. This Black Mausoleum Tomb is now the source of the most well-known paranormal activity in the entire world. In 1998 a homeless man broke into the sealed tomb, ransacked the tomb breaking many of the things inside. While trying to open the casket that held Bloody Mackenzie’s body, a hole reportedly opened up in the floor and the man fell into another chamber. The homeless man had fallen into a Plague tomb, where many bodies had been previously dumped and buried during the great Plague in Scotland.
This released the vengeful spirit of Bloody Mackenzie, who has since been named the Mackenzie Poltergeist due to the 500 ghostly attacks that have been reported and photographed near this tomb. These attacks include burns, skin gouges (around the neck and abdomen); unexplained bruises; broken fingers; feeling as if one’s hair is being pulled. Some visitors have said they were punched or kicked by an invisible attacker.
In 2000, Colin Grant, an exorcist, and minister of a spiritualist church performed an exorcism ceremony on the graveyard. Standing in the cemetery, it’s said he was overcome by the sensation of being surrounded by hundreds of tormented souls and evil spirits trying to break through to the mortal realm. Fearing for his own life, he left quickly, saying the evil was too powerful for him to overcome. A few weeks later, Colin Grant was found dead of a sudden and unexpected heart attack.
With the belief of magic, faeries and superstitions always comes the belief that witches are indeed real. Witch trials have a long history in Scotland and will be discussed in another article, as there are far too many things that are needing to be mentioned. To see just how far back these tales go, check out the full list of Witch trials and how the individuals died & stay tuned to culturetrekking.com for more on Witch Trials in Scotland.
The Source of Scrooge:
Charles Dickens invented the famous character of Scrooge when he misread the tombstone of successful Edinburgh merchant Ebenezer Scroggie in the Canongate Kirkyard. Dickens was horrified by the apparently hard-hearted inscription ‘Meanman’ – but the tombstone actually read ‘Mealman’ in recognition of Scroggie’s successful career as a corn trader. Thus, a legend was mistakenly born.
The Last Public Execution in Edinburgh History:
This grizzly tale of George Bryce’s execution for the murder of Jane Seton by cutting the 23-year old’s throat after breaking the relationship with him. It was 1863 and the townsfolk were enraged that this man would cut such a young girl’s throat with a razor-blade. He was sentenced to public execution on the corner of Lawnmarket and High Street.
He was to hang, with the more civilized method of the trap door mechanism ensuring a quick death by the neck quickly breaking. Thousands gathered to watch his execution, stories of the murder had been circulated and embellished to ensure the crowd was thirsty for revenge. As George Bryce was strung up, the priest giving him his last rights, a drunken Thomas Askern stepped up as the interim hangman for this occasion. What the awaiting crowd didn’t know, was that Mr. Thomas Askern had lied about his qualifications. He had miscalculated the amount of rope needed for George Bryce to fall to his death. When the trap door opened, the length of rope needed to drop Bryce quickly to his death only let him fall 2 feet and he began to strangle in full view of the crowd. The crowd began to change their tune of hatred towards the accused, to hatred towards the authorities for having to witness the slow death of Bryce.
There are various stories of the man falling to the bottom and breaking his legs, then trying to be hung again and still being alive when he was cut too quick. After which the crowd took the limp but alive body of Bryce and paraded up and down the street complaining about the authorities. Askern was nearly beaten to death by the crowd for the atrocity of his failure. Then the man was hung again and finally pronounced dead. The stories, like all stories in Scotland, were a bit embellished, and records show the public execution lasting anywhere from 12-minutes to 40-minutes. If you walk by Lawnmarket street at night, you may still see the ghost of Bryce walking the streets, confused and angry for the way his execution happened.
The moral of the story? Don’t kill your girlfriend for dumping you, you may end up with a fate far worse than death…..a very very slow and painful death. Interestingly enough, hanging’s continued in Scotland (in a more private way) up until 1963 when a man was hung for killing a husband of his lover in a jealous rage.
The Watcher in the Underbelly of Scotland:
These caverns were built in the 18th Century beneath the South Bridge of Edinburgh. Previously used as housing for the base of Scottish Society, body snatchers and prostitution….it is now full of hauntings and paranormal activity.
Taking a tour with Mercat Tours is the only way to visit these ghostly haunts, but well worth the cost. You need to have a strong sense of the paranormal, and an open mind to the unseen. As you take back alleys and passageways to the entrance to these vaults you get the feeling you are descending into a certain level of Hell.
You twist and turn through alleyways as your guide tells you of experiences the other staff members have had with the electricity. Now candles are placed along all the tunnels as a backup, should the electricity fail while a group is underneath Edinburgh again.
One particular room is called the ‘Watcher’s Room’, with the ghost said to be the most aggressive of any within the Vaults. Apparitions of a man standing within a doorway in the largest of the vaults, following guests and flipping hair, bruising staff, or saying ‘get out’ repeatedly in someone’s ear have been experienced. Paranormal crews have attempted to interact or stay the nights within the vaults, but have been unable to complete missions due to the aggressive nature of this ghost.
Should you find yourself in Edinburgh, take this tour, you will find yourself grateful that the hotels and hostels have several floors. The highest room in your accommodation is likely where you will want to sleep after this tour, as far from the presence of the Watcher as possible.
Never have I been a believer in ghosts until after visiting Edinburgh & feeling the cold grip of something on my leg while in the vaults of Edinburgh. The brutality that was exhibited, encountered here along with the plague, fires, and religious wars have made this area by far the best most haunted I have been to. Not wishing to tempt fate, I never ventured outside while it was dark, there are plenty of tours that will take you to the vaults, graveyards and even the McKenzie Poltergeist grave. If you venture out during the day, be sure to stroll through Princes Street Gardens and realize just how many people must have been buried there or died in the city. The flowers may give a small comfort, as the cold chill of the Ghostly tales drifts down your spine. If you enjoyed this Self-Guided Edinburgh Ghost Tour, be sure to share the love 🙂 Pin it, Tweet it, save it!
As Always….Happy Travels, Happy Tales, and see you on the Flip Side.
This post may contain affiliate links, for more information read our full disclosure The travel industry is throwing around this term: Responsible Tourism or Sustainable Tourism. So what does Responsible Tourism mean? Each year we travel, consume, photograph and share on our social media channels, exposing friends and family to expand their knowledge of the cultures of the world.
Responsible Tourism is a multifaceted approach, which includes:
Minimizing negative social, economic and environmental impacts while traveling
Generating greater economic benefits for local people and enhancing the well-being of host communities
Improving working conditions and access to the worldwide industry
Involving local people in decisions, markets, and trade that affect their life and chances at life.
Making positive contributions to the conservation of natural and cultural heritage, embracing the diversity.
Providing more enjoyable experiences for tourists through more meaningful connections with local people and a greater understanding of local cultural, social and environmental issues.
Provides access for physically challenged people
Is being culturally sensitive, encourages respect between tourists and hosts, and builds local pride and confidence.
There are many different ways that this can be addressed and focused on. The Culture Trekking Community is one that focuses on numbers one, five, six and eight. Creating a community where ideas, religions, cultural idiosyncrasies are both shared, respected and embraced. As the Community grows I want to improve awareness on environmental impacts as well as fight the uphill battle of having more meaningful human connections. Today I will focus on the latter.
Where the idea started for my own Responsible Tourism:
The video was quite graphic when I saw this 2 years ago, but it really impacted me in so many different ways. The moral of the story is…..you don’t know what you don’t know until you educate yourself on how small choices like using single-use straws can impact the environment. I now carry a reusable metal straw in my purse at all times. This video is where responsible tourism started for me….watching this turtle in so much pain made me feel like I needed to do more for the environment.
It isn’t just the plastic straws, it is garbage that is left strewn about in all the different places that I visit. I remember walking behind someone in Yellowstone National park…..they dropped a wrapper on the ground (a large one). I was so frustrated by this because they had a bag they could have easily slipped that wrapper into. I picked it up and gave it back to the tourist, who naturally acted like they dropped it by accident (even though I watched them look around before dropping it). It is not that hard to slip those wrappers into a pocket, a bag, in your shoe….anything but on the ground. Taking a few more steps to ensure your rubbish gets into the proper receptacle is not as hard as you think…..as Nike says ‘JUST DO IT’!
Another video that truly impacted me was one man in India, who returned to his home to find the beach he loved filled with garbage. He knew he had to do something so he started knocking on doors and aims to be that change he wishes to see in the world. Take a look at the video & then I want to think about how much of a difference we could make if each of us committed to picking up 3 pieces of trash wherever we travel to. What about taking an extra garbage bag on a local hike in your hometown? We could all use a few more squats in our day, right?
Why am I showing you all these videos? A picture is worth a thousand words (or so they say), but I feel that videos are the way to make an impact that can create change. What is better than a video? Visiting a place like the Washed Ashore Gallery in Bandon Oregon (several displays are located throughout the United States, see the Washed Ashore Exhibit Locations for more information) can both teach our generation and the generations below us how to protect our earth and save our oceans.
Traveling can be an exotic thing full to the brim with activities that will make your friends envy your life & maybe even despise you a little. The more I travel the more I realize that I want to make a difference in the world, no matter how small it is. Ecotourism and Volunteering for cleanups and service can help connect our communities, open minds and hearts, and help start the change we wish to see in the world.
Supporting Companies with good causes:
Save the Baby Turtles!
A Blogger friend of mine in Fort Lauderdale Florida was able to participate in the nighttime protection of hatching baby turtles. These baby turtles get confused by the city lights and instead of going into the ocean (following the moon), they follow the city lights. This leads them to be run over or crushed by bikes, cars or fall into holes they cannot get out of. What these volunteers do is once the baby turtles hit their 10-foot periphery line, they gather them up in a bucket and take all the confused little fellas to the ocean where they set them free. They also move beach chairs and sandcastles to allow for the mothers to come to the beach easier and lay their eggs. Check out her post on Saving Baby Sea Turtles and how you can help or participate!
Soul Flower Clothing Company
As soon as I found this clothing company, I know I had found my tribe. Just look at their tagline:
Soul Flower is a natural clothing brand for kind souls and free spirits. Mindfully made with natural fibers and heartfelt art, we design our threads with kind vibes from start to finish. We seek inspiration in the simplicity of everyday life – in nature and in music, in free-spirited adventures and in like-minded souls. We create clothing in a way that supports our planet, spreads a positive message, and most importantly — helps you express yourself.”
To all my big headed ladies out there (I’m talking literal, not egotistical) – this is the place you should get your headbands! Every time I wear these headbands I feel a little better about myself, I read the inspirational message printed on it and cannot help but feel inspired to finish out the day with a bang! Plus, let’s be honest, sometimes a girl just needs a headband to decrease the stress of doin’ da hur….ya feel me? To get your headband:
The other items I have personally tried and fallen in love with so far are the yoga pants and shirts. If I’m being honest, I wear the pants EVERYWHERE! Not just because the pants are comfortable, but because they have the most adorable prints on them that inspire me to continue to be Eco-friendly in my day to day life & inspire me to live a simpler life to help have less of an impact on the environment. I wore the shirt for two days in a row people! I know that’s gross but it has been so hot over here, and it is so light, airy and cute with the little leaves on it… I couldn’t resist
Personal Note: It is sooooo hard to find cute and comfortable clothing as a curvy woman — so to find a company that caters to my desire to be eco-friendly and embraces those of all shapes and sizes really just gives me warm fuzzies and I want to shout out from the rooftops how much I appreciate and love them for this.
You don’t just have to participate in environmentally friendly activities at destinations you visit. You can start being environmentally friendly to companies just like Soul Flower. Check out Soul Flower Summer Specials today!
Other Ways to be a Responsible Tourist:
Be Respectful of Religions and Cultures:
Look at local customs and rules when entering churches across the world. Do not make derogatory jokes or compare those within the country to something you deem as ‘more sensible’ or ‘better practices’. Do not impose your beliefs on those within the country unless prompted to. Respect the cultural idiosyncrasies of what is considered ‘normal’ for that country.
The bottom line is, just because something, someone, or a country as a whole does something different than what you know to be normal — doesn’t mean that it is wrong. There are some exceptions where it endangers basic human rights, practices, or harms/mutilates any animal or human being (obviously). Even if you do see something wrong, intervening as a tourist could land you in jail – be careful, be cautious and if you have a concern about the country/destination use a guide that you can ask questions about what is appropriate or if you can do something/intervene without landing yourself in jail.
Be Respectful of Shop Owners Overseas:
Do not take photos of products, items, or anything in different countries that could affect their livelihood. Do not get offended if they ask you not to take photos, there is a reason! Unnamed countries citizens will visit these economically struggling countries and take photos of their products and produce them at a fraction of the cost, but they are not authentic products.
Moroccans, for example, rely on their skill and artistry of furniture, clothing, architecture, woodworking to profit from their craft and provide for their families. How many times have you visited a country and thought, ‘Oh I can get that back in my own country, I don’t need to buy it here’. This is why it is so important….so many countries rely on tourism and the money it brings in to put food on the table. So please….before you take a photo in a store, ASK the owner if it is ok.
Be Aware and Educate Yourself on Regional Issues:
Human trafficking, terrorism, and so many more unsavory things happen in this world. I have too much of a tender heart to focus in on the negative all the time, so rarely listen to the news – but I do search for those individuals who have the capacity to handle situations such as this. I support them, I share their stories and donate when I’m able to.
It is important to be sensitive to cultural and religious practices (as part of Responsible Tourism) that help to positively define a culture, but that never means we should tolerate those who continually violate the basic human rights of food, safety, and shelter.
With having experienced Rape and sexual assault myself, the topic of sex trafficking is a very passionate topic for me. Operation Underground Railroad is a team of individuals of highly specialized individuals who have years of experience in special forces, law enforcement working proactively since 2013 with local governments that I wholeheartedly support. This is a video that had me in tears for how grateful I was to the men & women who do this. Please support them in whatever way that you can…. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c_CgQcNkUlw&feature=youtu.be If you would like to Donate to O.U.R. please feel free to do so, if you are unable to donate, then try and Volunteer for O.U.R. to help aid in their efforts.
Small changes can make a big difference:
Wear environmentally friendly products:
Keep any soap while camping at any location away from runoff areas (at least 100 feet).
Bury or pack out your human waste. Look at the requirements for each camping spot you visit for their rules and regulations.
Wear environmentally and Ocean friendly sunscreen as this often washes off the ocean, causing damage to coral and marine life.
Bringing your own straws, skip the straw at Starbucks. If this doesn’t make sense, please keep watching the video of the Turtle above until it does.
Get a recycling bin or start a recycling group in your neighborhood. (More information below on recycling that could be available in your country).
Make a list of low-cost companies that produce Biodegradable Products and keep a list. Hand the list out to anyone who uses straws, show they alternatives. Don’t force it down their throat — educate with KINDNESS! Honey works better than vinegar when trying to entice people to change their daily habits or companies to change the status quo.
Utilize the Reusable Grocery Bags:
This is such a simple change that we can all do (especially those of us in the States). In most other countries they are charging for the plastic bags, yet when we implement it here to try and help support the environment….everyone loses their minds! They tried to do this when I lived in Texas and I would stand there and see with my own eyes, these grocery baggers get verbally assaulted for doing their job and charging for the plastic bags. Come on people…..be better than that……do better than that…….realize that this isn’t just about YOU and YOUR needs, but for the betterment of humanity and animals. If you still aren’t convinced that plastic bags are a big deal, watch this video of the whale found dead with hundreds of pounds of plastic bags in its stomach. If that doesn’t convince you, well…..I don’t know how to help you become a better human being.
I need some advice myself on this one….grrrhhh….. I have all the reusable bags I can handle. I start daydreaming on the way to the grocery store, then out of habit, forget to take the reusable grocery bags I brought off the garage wall where I put them so I wouldn’t forget them. If you have some advice on how to remember these things…..let a girl know in the comments below.
A Call to Action for Responsible Tourism:
Here is a great resource if you would like to participate in Ecotourism on your next trip: Ecotourism.org
Straws:The Last Plastic Straw is a great website for a list of all the different types of straws, where to get them and how they are better than the plastic straws. There is also a site completely dedicated to Living a life without plastic, this is where I get my reusable metal straws (bamboo and glass is also available).
Home, Pets, Cleaning supplies and more:Life Without Plastic gives you so many bamboo or steel options that can replace many of the household items that have or contain plastic. Gift certificates, gift registry, and points program are also available on this site to help you invite friends to the #noplastic movement.
Recycling throughout the world: Recycling in the States (contact your city councils to arrange this), Recycling in Australia, Recycling in Canada, Curbside Recycling available in New Zealand please check your local city councils, Recycling is also available in the United Kingdom for each household (mandatory supply of bins from government), Spain also has recycling available in some areas, and the Netherlands actually pays you to bring in your recyclable materials (typically at grocery stores).
IF YOU HAVE RECYCLING IN YOUR COUNTRY AND IT IS NOT LISTED HERE, PLEASE LIST THE RESOURCE OR WHO TO CONTACT BELOW 🙂
A Must Read Plastic Free Blogger: If you are like me and feel a little overwhelmed by how many things in your home contain plastic, visit Beth Terry: My Plastic Free Life Blogger. She will teach you, take you step by step through the process and show you how to live a plastic-free life.
Worldwide Plastic Pollution Coalition – Now NO ONE has an excuse to not participate in reducing their plastic use. This is a global alliance of individuals, organizations and businesses working together to stop plastic pollution.
How To Tour Responsibly:
We have such a duty to protect creatures who outlived the dinosaurs, are essential to our planet’s ecosystem – the Sea Turtles. We don’t have to start being Eco-friendly or participate in Responsible Tourism practices only when we are traveling. Get involved in the activities now, one goal or plastic straw at a time.
Be respectful of religions, people, cultures, and races as long as they do not infringe on basic human rights to live life peacefully, safely without fear of bodily harm and can provide for basic human needs of shelter, food, and water.
Get involved in volunteer programs locally where you can help end human trafficking, gang violence, opioid epidemics, and so much more. There seems to be an Instagram hashtag or Facebook group for everything these days. If you have any suggestions for local groups you are passionate about, please let it in the comments below with a link to their site. Teach those around you, share the information on your social media platforms….it just takes one rock in a pond to start a ripple that turns into a wave. Be that change you wish to see in the world.
How do you like to contribute to Responsible Tourism?
What is the most important thing to you regarding Responsible Tourism?
The History of Dunrobin The area of Dunrobin goes way back to Freskin de Moravia, a Norman who helped both David I and William the Lion regain control of the Nothern Highlands. Earl Robin was granted the title, and allowed to fortify the area. Earl Robin was the founder of this castle in 1275, which looked very different than the Dunrobin Castle we know today. Although it has transformed from that time, the castle still holds his name Dun in Gaelic meaning Fort, and Robin, being his name.
Fun Fact: The 5th Earl ended up marrying Princess Margaret, daughter of Robert the Bruce. The Wolf of Badenoch lived here as well. A wildly brutal man who is known for terrorizing many of the Highland lands.
Dunrobin Castle History and Building the Chateau
The oldest part of this castle comes from the 1320’s, a stone keep was added in 1401 to help fortifications of the castle. Dunrobin was built to be a holdfast and military fortress, which can be seen by the iron yett at the entrance to the castle.
During the Jacobite Rising, the Earl of Cromartie was George McKenzie, a staunch Jacobite. It was April 1746 when the Earl heard rumors that Prince Charlie and many Clan members had been successful at the Battle of Culloden. Fueled by the passion of a Scottish King being on the Throne of England, he gathered his men and attacked Dunrobin. The castle fell to him and he claimed it in the name of the Stewart King. A short time after this the true news of the loss at Culloden reached the Earl. The Duke of Sutherland surrounded the castle, with a brutal battle the Earl was captured and Dunrobin Castle was back in the hands of the English.
The apartment where the Earl was hiding is still called the Cromartie Room (this room is now used as the children’s playroom). It was a short 40 years later in 1785 when Elizabeth Gordon, Countess of Sutherland began to clean and upgrade the estate, and the surrounding areas. https://youtu.be/S3LJla7v9FY The 2nd Duke of Sutherland inherited the castle in 1841, who then had 8 children. This gave way to the massive expansion of the castle. Most of the French Chateau styling came from 1845 by Charles Barry, who was a master of the Gothic Revival style. Charles Barry’s success at this castle is what influenced the men who built the tower of London to be what it is today. When Dunrobin castle was finished it was three times larger than it had been 6 years earlier.
The Castle was used as a Naval Hospital during World War I, and a boarding school from 1965 to 1972. It overlooks the beautiful Moray of Firth with a path leading directly to its shores. It is the most Northerly of Scotland’s castles and the largest in the Northern Highlands with 189 rooms and has been continuously inhabited since the 1300’s. Home to the Earls and Dukes of Sutherland. Visitors are allowed to take a self-guided tour through some of the 20 rooms in one of the most extravagant residences in the Northern Highlands.
Inside Dunrobin Castle
The tour starts in the inviting dining area, where a table set for 10 with the family silver adorns the table. The table is set exactly as it would have been in 1850. The walls are not filled with gold, gifts, and do not bestow the sense of trying to intimidate their guests like you would see in most castles. Rather, the walls are lined with wood paneling that provides a sense of warmth that would make anyone want to linger after dinner chatting and solving the world’s problems.
Next, you will head into the old boy’s mess hall now turned into the Drawing Room. I was astounded at the intricate details of the ceiling. Imagining the boys sitting in this room, trying to get their ‘wiggles’ out of their bodies & drawing the patterns of the ceiling with their fingers. It would be hard for me as a child to pay attention to the schoolmaster in this room.
You will be especially impressed upon by the French style furniture, the oldest piece being the Louis the XVI table with a Florentine Dura top. I can just imagine ladies in their frilly dresses playing a round of cards, while the men look out at the ships passing by the castle on the Moray of Firth discussing politics.
The Significance of Dunrobin Castle Library
In my opinion, the crown jewel of the castle is the Library. This library has over 10,000 books, with books ranging from politics to art to world history. Some of these books date clear back to the 17th century. There are many of the books that include original Scottish law, which is very rare. After The Battle of Culloden, many of these books were burned, the Gaelic language was banned & Scottish law was changed completely. To have this knowledge so carefully preserved and protected within the walls of this castle makes Dunrobin all the more important piece of Scottish History. Duchess Eliean, the 1st wife of the 6th Duke of Sutherland is lovingly placed over the fireplace. Dressed in very modern clothing for that time period, she is responsible for how the castle, as you see it today, is designed. She was also a voluntary nurse and helped turn Dunrobin into a Naval hospital. Working alongside her Mother-in-law, she aided soldiers during World War I.
The Green and Gold Bedroom:
The French interior decorating really comes through in this room. The bed that dominates the room, is a four-post bed with delicate flowers climbing the posts and topped with doves. Commissioned specifically for Queen Victoria’s visit from September 6th-11th 1872, after which the bed was used by Duchess Eileen.
This is not an ordinary bedroom, it is a suite, with a dressing room and a bathroom within a short distance of this bedroom. This is an older part of the castle, built around 1784. As you pass through this room, you can still glimpse what the original bathroom would have looked like, a skylight and a claws foot tub.
Dunrobin will always be a Family Home:
The staff and the current Countess and Duke work with the general manager, Scott Morrison, to ensure that the castle will always appear as a family home. In any of the rooms that you walk in, you can imagine them playing board games in the dining room, having tea in the old mess hall, or children rocking on the wooden horse in the playroom. No matter what facelift, transformation or event Dunrobin is used for, both the family and the staff ensure that it is filled with love, warmth and a welcoming hand to all. Even at the entrance, you feel this warmth both figuratively and literally.
The ticket booth is directly across from a roaring fireplace with sweet townsfolk gathering the payments and tickets to see the castle. They warmly greet each visitor and seem truly interested in your own story. It is almost as if they take these stories, and lovingly place them into the castle itself. So that those who enter their doors will know that all are welcome to Dunrobin. This falls in line perfectly with the Clan Sutherland Motto, Sans Peur, which is French for ‘Without Fear’. For a full tour of the castle, be sure to check out the interview with Scott Morrision, General manager, and his tour of Dunrobin Castle giving all the details, tidbits and history of Dunrobin. (Coming soon to Culture Trekking on YouTube).
Falconry at Dunrobin Castle:
Originally Falconry was introduced in England in 860 AD, and from there spread like wildfire throughout both England and Scotland. Falconry at Dunrobin has an exceptional display of the birds of prey.
The keeper, Andy, raises the birds from the times they are chicks, develops a relationship with them with food, aids them during hunting, cares for them if they sustain injuries, and treats them like they were a member of the family.
Many people get angry that the birds are kept tethered at times, but this is just not true, every morning the birds are let loose to fly, hunt and leave if they wish. They always return to Andy, and he secures them for the night in a warm and safe environment.
There are plenty of fields nearby full of mice, chickens, and jackrabbits that the birds regularly bring home to him to share. If you do nothing else, make sure you go to the Falconry show. It is a perfect opportunity to teach children about how animals who are treated well, will treat you well. Stay tuned for a portion of the Falconry show I was privileged to film….
The Tea Room and the Gift Shop
At the conclusion of the journey through this stunning castle, you will find an excellent tea room and gift shop. Wind your way through the gardens and sip on your tea and crumpets for a truly Scottish experience. The cost to visit Dunrobin is
My Final Opinion on Dunrobin Castle
If you want to feel as if you have been adopted into an ancient Scottish Clan, while feeling like you are visiting France at the same time, then head to Dunrobin. It is not just the castle staff that create a wonderfully friendly environment, but each room is crafted with a sincere message of the importance of family in mind. Even when you stay in nearby Airbnb’s, there is a general expression of love for Dunrobin, it’s Countess and Earl and all they have done to help the community. If I could pick one place in my lifetime I have visited and would love to continue to be a part of, this town would be what I would pick. It is calming, friendly, kind, and has a feeling of community that is hard to find in a world that is becoming more and more rough around the edges.
How to visit:
Fly into Inverness, Rent a Car and take a tour up the NC500 Coastline, there is plenty to see along the way – but Dunrobin is the crown Jewel of this bucketlist road trip in Scotland.
Where to Stay in Dunrobin:
As always….Happy Travels, Happy Tales, and See You on the Flip Side.
Nairnshire Scotland stands a charming 14th century keep, Cawdor Castle. This castle not only has rumored ties to Macbeth but a history of thorn trees, donkeys, and kidnappings. Intrigued? Come with me on a journey through this fabled castle ripe with stories for the telling.
The earliest notations of fortifications in this same area were with William the Lion in 1179. He was assigned to command the ford over the river Nairn near the sea.
Traveler tip: Make sure to stop by Nairn Beach, a very popular place to relax and have a picnic whilst on your road trip in the area.
After a dreadful fire, and many years uninhabited, the license to fortify was granted to William Calder, Thane of Cawdor. The oldest stonework has been dated by historians to be from 1380, with the license to fortify being granted in documentation in 1454. History in the Scottish Highlands is sparse due to wars and clearings of Gaelic tenants.
Legend of the Donkey:
It is said, that the early Thane of Calder decided that animals know best, and so bestowed upon his donkey the rights to claim the land which he would build his castle. The Thane of Calder loaded up his donkey with the gold (thought to bring good fortune to the site) and off they went.
The donkey, after miles and miles of walking finally chose to lay down under a Holly Tree (Thorn Tree) with radiocarbon date sampling from the core dating back to 1372. This Holly Tree has become the focal point for the castle, although after building a castle around the tree it eventually died, you can still see the tree in the vault of Cawdor castle.
Something you should realize about Scottish history is that there are many places throughout the Highlands that are believed to have a sense of magic. There is the Fairy Glen, the Devil’s Pulpit and even some hidden valleys where they believed Ghosts lived and roamed. (Stay tuned for posts on these areas) The Scottish Highlands were full of both religion combined with magic and superstitions. So the fact that the Thane of Calder used a donkey to find this place, and believed loading it with Gold would bring the castle good luck….something obviously went right, otherwise like so many other castles in the Highlands, this one would be left in ruins. So I will let you choose if you believe in superstitions and magic.
This is not just an ancient castle with loads of history, it is also home to the current Countess of Cawdor. She resides here mostly in the wintertime when there are not as many tourists here to see the castle. Everything is set up exactly as you would see if when she is living here.
Here you see the grand entrance to Cawdor castle, complete with a grand piano and a fireplace that has the family symbol of the Stag’s head with a buckle. Statues and topiary’s, with fresh flowers, adorn the room to give it life. Notice the wooden pillars that are supported by the stones. This is classic of the 16th-century architectural style.
As you walk through the rooms, make sure to look around you, at the little embellishments just like the ones you would find in your own homes.
The Tapestry Bedroom:
Here you are greeted by tapestry’s depicting Don Quixote. These Flemish tapestries are quite rare, called Arras Tapestries. A tapestry woven in wool and silk and used to cover the plastered walls to keep in the warmth during the harsh Scottish winters.
A velvet lined bed dominates the room, topped with feathers that look as if they came directly from Angels wings. This is truly where I felt like I was walking into a medieval castle.
This extraordinary bed was the marriage bed for Sir Hugh Campbell and Lady Henrietta Stuart in 1662. Be sure to make a note of the headboard, an original Venitian guilded headboard. The combination of it all makes this bed quite an extraordinary piece of art in and of itself.
The Dining Room:
Your imagination takes hold as you enter the dining room. Greeted by a table laid out in the same way that you would see it when the Countess would be dining there. Silver plates edged with the Cawdor coat of arms, with (comically) an 18th-century Portuguese shaving bowl as the centerpiece.
As you walk past the dining table, you will see an exquisite fireplace, said to commemorate the marriage between Sir John Campbell of Argyll and Muriel Calder of Cawdor.
You can see the Calder Clan’s symbols on the righthand within the shield, and on the left is the Campbell clan symbols. This fireplace was made as a single piece, the Laird and 24 other men tried to bring it across and into the castle via the drawbridge. Alas, the fireplace was so heavy, along with 24 men – the drawbridge collapsed under the weight. The fireplace split in half killed one man and broke another man’s leg.
The Sitting Room:
I wandered through the sitting room with photos of grandchildren, several large marble balls, a bronze age vase with a Photo of John Campbell next to it.
Go down the hallway and you will be able to go down the winding stairs to several other rooms: the peach room, a room where the countess guests stay, stairs with the Cawdor tartan and an array of priceless guns.
As you make your way to the basement you descend down some stone stairs, on the right-hand side of the windows in the corner you will see the signature of a Campbell from the 16th Century. Diamond pens were all the rage at the time, and this chap was a huge fan. Can you make out the name and the year he signed it?
After you finish staring into the windows, and everyone who passes you thinks your a lunatic. You will come to the basement vault with the thorn tree (discussed above). Just outside the vault, you see an original cannon and the original gate of the keep.
In the Kitchens:
There are two kitchens, a modern kitchen and the original kitchen complete with a well, a cooling cupboard (seen at the end of the long counter). Copper pots, measuring devices and more.
John Campbell of Muckairn, 3rd of Cawdor added a beautiful medieval garden in 1635 which I would highly recommend wandering through. You will be greeted by a beautiful array of color, flowers, and unique sculptures that complement the elegance of the castle perfectly.
For more photos of the gardens, be sure to check out the Culture Trekking YouTube Channel. You won’t want to miss this…..trust me, these gardens are considered some of the most important medieval gardens in Scotland.
Make sure to wear your best dress, because the Instagrammability of this place is around every corner, nook, and cranny. Be sure to find the walled flower garden, originally planted in the 17th century.
Traveler Tip: When you come out of the castle, across the drawbridge. If you wander to the left you will see the medieval gardens. If you wander to the right, you will see an adorable garden gate entrance to the walled flower garden.
No matter where on these grounds you decide to visit, Cawdor castle Gardens are sure to delight, enthrall and provide you with a plentiful amount of memories (and perhaps your next Christmas Card photo).
To Be, Or Not To Be…Connected to Shakespeare:
It is rumored that the Shakespearian play Macbeth is connected inherently to Cawdor Castle. For those who need to brush up on your literary stories: The story of Macbeth has three witches who foretell that Macbeth, (then Thane of Glamis), would become the Thane of Cawdor, and then a King!
The King at the time, King Duncan I, immediately made Macbeth Thane of Cawdor. Macbeth was so convinced by this coincidence of prophecy, that he, and his wife plotted to kill King Duncan in order for Macbeth to fulfill the rest of the witched prophecy and become King. The King comes to visit Macbeth in Inverness and is murdered while there, in his sleep.
You can easily imagine the King staying in this velvet lined bed, and being murdered there. Alas, this tale is not actually connected to Cawdor Castle in this historical facts.
King Macbeth ruled Scotland from 1040-1057 after killing King Duncan I in battle near Elgin. Macbeth was never actually Thane of Cawdor, and Cawdor castle didn’t exist during that time. Shakespeare wrote this gruesome tale in the early 16th century, causing quite the kerfuffle with the 5th Earl of Cawdor who has been quoted saying, “I wish the Bard had never written this damned play!”
The Calder (Cawdor) Clan in the 15th-16th centuries was a very powerful family. Ensuring that their heirs also marry into powerful families. They were not the only ones with this game of power in mind. The nearby Clan Campbell was assigned (along with Rose of Kilravock) to be the guardian of then infant Muriel Calder….who was also the heir to the Calder family Castle and fortune. A plan was devised by the Campbell Clan to bring the child to Inverary, and raise her under the Campbell roof. Her uncles opposed this plan vehemently, and this is when the chase began.
Things were quickly put onto carriages and horses, the child was miles away, it was a matter of hours before her fate would be decided. The Campbell’s were on the hunt, led by Campbell of Inverliver who upon reaching the child led a gruesome battle. Six Campbell lives were lost that day, all of which were sons of Campbell of Inverliver. In the end, Muriel was safely delivered to Inverary…..but not without considerable loss of life.
Despite all of the drama that led up to her delivery to Inverary, Murial led a happy life and was brought up as a Campbell. She fell in love with Sir John Campbell, son of the Earl of Argyll.
Sadly Murial died in 1575, and her descendant, John Campbell of Cawdor was raised to Lord Cawdor in 1796, after which his son was created the first Earl of Cawdor in 1827. This my friends is how you play the game of Scottish Thrones. This sealed the fate of the Calder family and is the reason there is now a ‘Campbell of Cawdor’ in the name of Cawdor Castle family Crests.
Stop by the Gift Shop:
Here you will see the prior horse stable turned into a gift shop. The items within the gift shop are chosen by the Countess of Cawdor. I personally bought 2 beautiful pillowcases and a teacup when I visited the shop last time.
The castle also has a gift shop, bookshop, and wool shop, in addition to a restaurant located in the castle itself and a snack bar near the car park. Make sure you stop at the Cafe earlier in the day if you are planning on lunch there, the two times I have visited they closed up the kitchen and only had cakes available at 430pm. The Cafe does not stay open as long as the Castle does.
Golf at Cawdor Castle:
Visiting Cawdor Castle is guaranteed to educate, enthrall, excite, and fill your mind with awe at this spectacularly preserved building. It is so close to Inverness and well worth a visit if you are a fan of Shakespeare, intrigue and spectacular gardens. This castle will give you an excellent introduction to both Scottish History & the Highland Clans.
I want to also would like to say thank you to Cawdor Castle staff for hosting me and allowing me to take photographs inside. They were warm, informative, and very helpful throughout the FAM trip process. I will definitely be returning for a third visit in the future.
How to Get To Cawdor Castle:
Map to get there by Car – travel time approximately 3 hours from Edinburgh, or 25 minutes from Inverness. Map to get there by Train/Taxi – Travel time approximately 4 hrs 51 minutes with an additional 7-minute taxi drive from Nairn. You go through Inverness then to Nairn, from Nairn is where you will catch the taxi.
No matter if you are traveling with children, alone, or just with your furry friend – Road Trips can either be Hell on Earth; or a vacation in and of themselves. So after driving all over the Western United States for most of my life, here are a few Travel Hacks for Road Trips I highly recommend following when planning your own Road Trip at home or abroad.
This is a fantastic app for your road trip, and can also be accessed online to help plan your vacation on the road. I first found and utilized this when taking a Road Trip from Dallas Texas to Nauvoo Illinois. I was going to be traveling through a bunch of open fields. After planning out my route I explored all the spots along the road that had a good rating and found this gem in the middle of nowhere! It is in the Spinach Capital of the United States. A statue of the spinach-eating machine himself has his own little garden and fountain. This also happens to be across from the Police Station, so you have ample entertainment for all!
This app and website are a fantastic way to make those 12 hour drives a little more bearable on the road. From a medical standpoint, it also gives you an excuse to get out of the car every few hours to walk around. People who sit and travel long distances can have swollen legs and blood clots at times as well if they do not walk around sufficiently.
How to stay awake while driving
Get enough rest the night before
Doing this will help you be more alert on the road and less prone to falling asleep at the wheel.
IF YOU ARE TIRED AND START TO LOSE CONCENTRATION THAT IS THE FIRST SIGN YOU ARE AT RISK FOR FALLING ASLEEP AT THE WHEEL.
Pull into a gas station and take a power nap.
I have done this a few times in the past, where I pull into a busy gas station and take a 15-20 min nap. This always helps me feel more refreshed.
Avoid sugary foods or high carbohydrate content as your snack.
When you eat high carbohydrate and high sugar content foods, it starts a vicious cycle of fatigue. Why? Well, you eat that doughnut or candy, your body sees it as too much sugar, so it releases insulin and then drops your blood sugar again. Then you become very sleepy or hungry again, starting the cycle over. I try to avoid sugary foods whenever driving for this reason.
When I get warm I tend to fall asleep much easier. It is more comfortable to be warm, but I would rather have cold toes and arms before risking crashing my car and killing someone else.
This is my favorite way to stay awake. Imagine this like the old radios back in the day that would tell the cowboy stories to the children. The children would be so enthralled by the battles and day to day explanations because they didn’t have TV, this was their entertainment.
Audiobooks typically have quality actors and actresses that are able to do multiple accents, voices, and inflections to keep the listener engaged. Yes, some of the audiobooks are entirely too boring and drab to listen to on the road, but there are many that are not.
I personally have signed up for Amazon’s Audible Book subscription for $14.95 per month. I am an affiliate with them, but I have never been more grateful for the positive entertainment value it provides and now listen to them on the way to and from work all the time.
This is something my flatmate is really into. She has several Podcasts that she listens to on a daily basis to and from work. I think this could also work for road trips as well, you may just need to download the podcasts to your mobile device prior to starting your trip.
What are some of your favorite podcasts?
If all else fails, just start swigging Caffeine. Think of all those boring meetings from work you have survived on the sweet nectar of the Gods.
Travel with a friend:
Switching off while driving is really important while on the long road trips and stretches of the road.
Stretches and Facial exercises:
This is an odd one, but I start stretching my legs, toes, fingers, neck, back arms etc…. It keeps your heart rate slightly more elevated than at baseline, thus increasing blood flow to your brain and keeping you refreshed.
Facial exercises also help to keep me awake at the wheel. I open and close my mouth as hard as a can, wiggle my jaw side to side, see how many animal sounds I can make with my tongue etc….
Check road conditions and weather conditions
With the age of the internet came the ability to check your road conditions prior to starting your journey. There have been several instances that I wish I would have, and others where I didn’t and wish I would have.
There was one instance where I didn’t want to leave my parents house to drive back to Las Vegas and did not look at road conditions. I ended up leaving the house when it first started to snow, and by the time I hit Cedar City Utah, I was in a complete blizzard. Traveling at 25 mph on the freeway because of road conditions, and was nearly hit by a snow plow.
Organizing the car
This is paramount for safety while driving. The less distracted you are on the road, the better off and safer you will be.
I will put all the luggage in the very back of the car, the cooler in the middle of the back seat where it is easy for your friend to reach if needed. If you are traveling alone, set up your ‘snack bag’ where you can easily reach it.
Make sure you have Sunglasses to help with Glare.
If you are driving at night, turn down the dashboard lights. This will help your eyes not feel as tired from trying to adjust to the brightness of the dashboard vs the road.
Have your music or audible book playing before you put the car in drive.
Garbage bag, paper towels, and Kleenex should also be nearby where you don’t have to bend over, reach, or stretch to access them.
Check Your Car for Maintenance
Before you pack anything in the car, make sure your spare tire is filled up and in good condition.
Have a small gas can handy, just in case you miss an exit and the next gas station or turn around isn’t for another 50 miles and you are on empty.
Make sure you check your tire pressure after everything is loaded and in the car.
Change your oil, cabin filter, and engine filter before you go. This will help with gas mileage in your car.
Have your local mechanic esure all fluids are topped off, and the washer fluid is the appropriate one for the area you are traveling to.
I once was driving from Las Vegas to Utah in the snow and went to use my windshield wiper fluid and it froze on my windshield. I had to do an ACE Ventura head out the window to drive to the next town to get it fixed. They had to thaw out the windshield wiper lines with a hairdryer and vinegar, then unplug them. This really cut into my total driving time and was a major stressor. So mention to your mechanic if you find you will be driving to different climates and what they suggest for those areas.
Plan for Gas Stops
Don’t push the car to the point the gas light comes on! I always make a rule for myself that should I take a long road trip where I have never been before I never let the tank get down past 1/4 tank. Even a 1/4 tank is pushing it for me, I typically will fill up at 1/2 tank because I know I will be able to drive for several hours to the next gas station.
Get On The Road Again
Road trips can be a fantastic way to make bonds with friends, and see new destinations. It is important to plan, stay safe and stay awake on the road. There are over 100,000 car accidents per year from people falling asleep at the wheel in the United States. Make sure you know your own limits on when you need a break, even if it is just a mental break. There are plenty of unique things you can see on the road, not every place has to be Instagram worthy. The best adventures will always be the locations that make you feel more fulfilled and productive in your daily life, spark your creativity or help you create a more meaningful connection.
Happy Travels, Happy Tales & See You On The Flip Side.