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Oh flower of Scotland…

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Following on from my last post about my previous trip to Scotland I thought Id make a few modifications to my arrival after the last fiasco. Id booked both trips at the same time and the same details so instead of driving for hours I realised this time I would be arriving during school holidays so get a car park near the school, put the reflective window blinds up in the van, put up blackout blinds, open the window slightly, spread the sleeping bag out and a couple of hours restful sleep..
..of course I chose the morning the municipal bins get emptied…. One of these days Ill get it right or just spend a few quid extra and book a ferry at a reasonable hour.

The plan this time was along the same lines as last time except do the east coast instead of west. So start off with a couple of days in Edinburgh, then up to Inverness, attend wedding, nurse hangover, then go down the north east coastline to Aberdeen, then down to Dundee and home. Simple enough.

Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle

It was difficult to get a hotel in Edinburgh city centre and although I was driving ended up getting a hotel on the outskirts on a bus lane and just bussing it in to town. I remembered driving into Edinburgh 15 years ago and it was a nightmare then, and all other trips had been by coach/air to the ice hockey so was drunk most of those trips.
A couple of days before leaving I realised why it was so difficult to get hotels, it was right smack bang in the middle of the Edinburgh Festival. I briefly considered touting around for some festival work as I was bringing the van and could bring more kit but decided against it, festival work meant late nights, sitting up editing then sleeping in and missing all thats going on around you. So it was the usual shoot from dawn til dusk then see what parts of the festival I could fit in around it.
Like the previous trip, I had been coming to Scotland for years but between the days in and around Glasgow and Edinburgh I saw more of Scotland than I ever had before.
I love Edinburgh, the new town and old town are beautiful parts of the world and between this trip and the ice hockey trips Ive seen it summer and winter. The buzz in and around the festival should be seen and sampled at least once in your life as is like nothing Id ever seen before. The sheer volume of events and people trying to drag you for free into low turnout daytime events makes it quite a lottery.

Busy Royal Mile in Edinburgh
Busy Royal Mile in Edinburgh

The weather was kind for the first couple of days which is unusual for Edinburgh summertime but allowed me to cover most of the photos I wanted to take in the first day and a half. Which left a couple of evenings free and I went down and chanced my arm for the Edinburgh Tattoo tickets.
Id tried their website before leaving but it was all booked up so hoped I’d get a chance of a cancellation ticket. So half hour in line and I had my ticket. I wasnt sure what to expect as I was a bit wary of the whole British Military thing and if it would be a gung ho type of show but I was pleasantly surprised. The show started with a flypast of a Tornado jet on full afterburner. From the reaction of the people around me I wasnt the only one that thought it was something coming from the speaker system other than a real live jet!
What followed can only be described as one of lifes true experiences. Dozens if not a hundred assembled bagpipes and drums playing in front of one of the worlds most picturesque castles to the setting sun. Any photos or videos dont do the whole experience justice. One group particularly stood out was a drumming group from Basel in Switzerland – google them and have a look at some of their youtube videos.
Go, see, hear, feel and enjoy.
The rest of the time was spent just wandering from place to place, running up blisters on my feet, sitting down briefly before moving on quickly for fear of missing something. Edinburgh, like my previous London trip will have to be visited away from the festival just to see some of the galleries and other ‘normal’ events. The only other show I managed to take in was Irish comedian Andrew Maxwell. I had photographed Andrew Maxwell before when he fronted a comedy show for Amnesty International during the Belfast Festival so it was good to go as a punter and watch the show rather than working.
If there is a problem with these busy places in busy times is that people dont really have time for interaction. When I was in Glasgow people had the time to stand and chat all day, but Edinburgh was just too busy so it was one of those trips where it was just a run around taking lots of pictures. A better trip for archive purposes but a bit dull on the travel side.

firth of forth bridges
firth of forth bridges
For that reason I was glad to get on the road and just head north to Inverness. The plan was to get booked into the B+B then head down to the Castle to have a look over the wedding preparations and inevitably get myself a job or two to do. Yes you did hear me right, a Castle.
Seeing as I got there and helped out I was elevated to family status and get to spend the wedding night in the Castle with a few hairy arsed Irishmen who unlike myself decided to dress up in skirts for the evening. Spend the night in 600 year old Castle, yes I’ll have a bit of that! Haunted? Nahh dont worry to much I’ll probably be that drunk we will be singing along in no time.

Piper playing bagpipes in front of Scottish Castle
Piper playing bagpipes in front of Scottish Castle

Somewhere along the whole stag weekend to wedding timeline someone had told the bride that myself and one of the other Irish guys had ‘sensible heads’. Now that can mean anything from helping to tidy up after the event, to explaining in haltering french to a series of CRS riot police with barking snarling rottweilers that your friends arent fighting, they are merely singing boisterously and will leave if I ask them (yes true story, and yes Im glossing over it). So I was put in charge of the evening BBQ, so long day, alcohol, fire, etc etc. You get the picture. I was also put in charge of lighting the chinese lanterns. Its a good job it rained the day before as that Arboretum in the Castle had taken hundreds of years to mature and we almost (see the use of the word we there instead of I) wiped it out with a few misplaced chinese lanterns.

Inverness Castle and Flora MacDonald statue
Inverness Castle and Flora MacDonald statue

I decided not to take any pictures the next day. I think sitting in front of the computer a couple of weeks later saying WTF quite loudly a lot before realised Id just wasted hard drive space and shutter clicks on photos which couldnt even be described as ‘arty’.
What I did remember though was speaking to someone who suggested I take a day trip up to Orkney. Sure enough there was one the next morning but it was a 3 hour drive and left at 10, so up at 6am before breakfast at the B+B. Still not happy about that. Now anyone that knows me will know I dont take breakfast but I do when travelling, you cant wander about from dawn to dusk without one. I know it makes no sense to ignore that when at home but I never said I did make sense do I?
I called the ferry company and told them Id be leaving early and to give me a ring if anything happens so I can turn round. Only now do I realise that at no point did I leave them my number, I guess Im used now to ringing people and them quoting my number back to me on caller display.
You can see where this is going, cant you?
The weather in Inverness was crap, the weather in Scotland was crap, in fact the only clear part of the whole British Isles was Orkney. Looking good!
I missed the bit about the 35mph winds.
So up at the crack of dawn, no breakfast, 3 hour drive, got to the ferry office only to be told ‘cancelled today, come back tomorrow.’ Slight problem with that in that tonight Im supposed to be in Aberdeen which is a 7 hour drive direct from here and then on to Belfast.

John OGroats harbour and orkney ferry
John OGroats harbour and orkney ferry

Now John O’Groats is known as the end of the earth, and I swear to God that the map had ‘here be dragons’ over it. A bleak desolate place whose only claim to fame is that is a bleak desolate place. I shouldve known really!
At least they have a cafe. Can I have a breakfast please? Sorry no eggs or bacon. I can do you sausages and toast though. By this stage Id have ate my shoe leather if Id had any shoe leather.
So got out my trusty tablet and had a look at nearby attractions which were indoors (was raining horizontally at this stage). A couple of miles up the road there was the Dounreay nuclear power station visitors centre. Now when I first read that I thought if I turned up there my balls would end up glowing in the dark. Maybe I shouldnt have shared that particular piece of information. Why is it when anyone mentions nearby nuclear power station I feel I have to put a lead shield in my boxers. Its not as if the rest of me is immune.
Anyway it was the only thing within any range that either was open or looked mildly interesting…
…the fact it had closed 3 years ago hadnt reached internet land yet.
Nor had I noticed that Id left my satnav directions on shortest rather than quickest so pissed off, tired, hungry, I thought Id just head for my hotel in Aberdeen – 7 hours away, get something to eat, hot shower, early to bed and see what the morning looked like.
Of course the shortest route was along 40 odd miles of single track road which, if I’d been in my alfa, would have been one of the most memorable driving experiences of my life. I wasnt, I was in a high sided van with dubious brakes and with an odd noise coming from the gearbox in an area with no mobile reception and no houses, towns, anything. By the end of that road I could have crushed coal into a diamond if Id put it between my ass cheeks.
On the way back to Aberdeen I took a detour past a couple of RAF bases, Lossiemouth and Kinloss. The clouds were low and the Tornado jets even lower. The displays those guys were putting on made the tattoo display look pedestrian.

Granite City Aberdeen
Granite City Aberdeen

So I arrived into the Granite city to rain and more rain. Jesus what a place. Dull cold and grey. Id been told about how grey the place was and to say everything was granite didnt really prepare me for how grey the place was and yes everything was made of granite. Thoroughly depressing looking place. Im sure even sunshine wouldnt brighten this place up.
Cold, tired, hungry again I checked into the hotel and just went out for Pizza. Getting back into the lift I was joined by a young lady on the same floor who happened to remark on how good my pizza smelled. I was past the point of caring so did the old ‘I’ll share it with you if you want’.
I’ll not go any further with this part of the story, except to say, Aberdeen turned out to not nearly as bad as I’d thought and I’ll be buying more pizza and travelling up and down in the lift in every hotel I visit from now on! Although at the time of writing Im in Las Vegas and some of the ladies Ive met in the lifts will obviously not be swayed by mere pizza!

I was a bit tired the next day so thought I’d just drive home and pay the obligatory, get the hell out of Cairnryan early fee.

more scottish photos and stock photography here
more travel and transport stock photography here
more daily life stock pics here
more irish stock pics here
more conceptual stock photographs here

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