"Farewell to the Highlands, farewell to the North,
The birth-place of Valour, the country of Worth;
Wherever I wander, wherever I rove,
The hills of the Highlands for ever I love.

My heart's in the Highlands, my heart is not here;
My heart's in the Highlands a-chasing the deer;
A-chasing the wild-deer, and following the roe,
My heart's in the Highlands wherever I go.

Farewell to the mountains high covered with snow;
Farewell to the straths and green valleys below;
Farewell to the forests and wild-hanging woods;
Farewell to the torrents and loud-pouring floods.

My heart's in the Highlands, my heart is not here;
My heart's in the Highlands a-chasing the deer;
A-chasing the wild-deer, and following the roe,
My heart's in the Highlands wherever I go."
Robert Burns
In mid-August we ventured north to the Highlands of Scotland and the England Lake District.  It was time to cool off from the heat of the Southern France summer.  Neither of us had ever been sightseeing in the part of the world and what a delight it was for both of us.  Cool, green, fields of purple heather, sheep bleating, birds of prey in the sky, sheepdogs seriously doing their jobs, hunters in wool caps, a crazy Scott doing his intoxicated Highland fling, the deep blue lochs, little villages with gaelic names, friendly people, plaid, waterfalls, cool breezes and misty rain.  We loved it all.
A sweet cottage with a true English garden in the town of Windermere
We started out in the Lake District - Windemere - just south of Scotland and west of the industrial part of northern England.  Clear deep blue glacial lakes.  We took a boat ride on a regular tourist boat but were a little sorry we hadn't known about the very old small steam boats available there - they looked like something from the movie "The African Queen".  

We walked down the long hill from our hotel both nights to eat at an unbelievably good Thai restaurant - something we don't have in our part of southern France.  What a treat - probably the best green papaya salad ever!
A sheepdog trial was held  the next village the last day we were in Windermere.  The dogs were thrilling to watch.  The dogs were brilliant following the whistle commands of their masters.  It was a competition in which each team had only a few minutes to herd several sheep who were let out of a pen at the far side of the field and then the dog would carefully but aggressively bring them down to the open gate and try to herd them into it.  No easy task.  Of the ones we watched only one team was successful in this fete.  These are obviously the most intelligent of the canine species.

After Windermere we started on the road further north and into Scotland.  Our first stop was just north of Glasgow and around a major military super secret base and then across a little peninsula bordering on a loch.  The "hotel" was Knockderry house and it was out of a dream - not really a castle but it had once been the home of a very wealthy Glasgow manufacturing family.  It was probably the loveliest place we stayed on the entire trip.  The view looking out at the deep blue loch was so beautiful and the hotel made you feel like you were just visiting a Scottish country grand house.  The restaurant and bar were beautiful gleaming old wood.  Best of all were the two border collies who lived with the hotel owners.  They were usually laying on the carpeted stairs but we played "fetch" outside with tree branches.  

Everything was delightful at Knockderry and it turned out to be our favorite spot.  Even the breakfasts there were memorable - would you believe it included haggis and the haggis was good.  Haggis is one of those things that you will like it better if you don't know what it is made of (sheep heart, lungs, liver, and other "parts"), seasoning added, and then it is stuffed into the sheep's stomach and cooked.  We found a lot of variation in haggis in the different places we tried it - some good like Knockderry's and some really dreadful.
Knockderry House
After leaving Knockderry we traveled north and west - it was a rainy day, only light rain though.  They highlands were magical in this weather.  Suddenly there were waterfalls everywhere.  When we parked the car and started to walk on the tundra it was almost liquid - very squishy.  It was easy to see that the glens were formed by the glaciers during the ice age.

The further north we got the more beautiful the highlands were.  The purple heather covered the upper elevations of the mountains.  The glens below were more forested and brilliant green.  When we stopped to take a picture or take a walk the sounds were mainly the baabaa of the sheep and trickle sounds of water.  At one particularly spectacular viewing point we were so enjoying the tranquil when suddenly a huge bus filled with elderly tourists pulled up behind us and piled out of the vehicle.  
We were so lucky with the weather.  It wasn't hot but it certainly wasn't cold either.  We had very little rain and it was "soft".  During the day we didn't even need a sweater.  We had been warned about the summer mosquitoes for which the Highlands are famous so we came well prepared with insect repellent and bite remedies.  None needed - we never even saw a mosquito during the two weeks we were there.
The lochs are inlets from the sea and they are everywhere in the north.   We looked for Nessy at Loch Ness but she didn't show.  Because it is so far north the Highlands get a lot of snow.  However, the mountains are not very tall at all.  We came across a "ski" area.  The vertical was almost nonexistent.  
This is a ski hill?
Most "locals" in these parts drive 4-wheel drive vehicles - Land Rovers seem prevalent.  One day as came over the crest of a hill we saw about 15 of them pulled off the road.  We thought there must be some special sight or hiking path so we pulled up alongside.  No one was there.  Then we spotted them coming down off the highest mountain briskly descending, carrying rifles, and each with his dog.  They looked like they'd just stepped out of the British TV series -"Monarch of the Glen".  They were all dressed in woolen tweed - brimmed hats, jackets, pants, and "wellie" boots.  They quickly loaded up the dogs in the back of the Rovers and hopped in themselves (5 to a car) and off they went to try the next spot down the road.  We did manage to learn that they were hunting grouse.  
In the town of Tain we visited the Glenmorangie Distillery.  It has been in business over a hundred years.  What do they make?  Scotch whiskey of course.  There are many distilleries throughout the north, and these Scotts do love their drink.  We took the tour which was actually very interesting.  No pictures inside as the fumes from whiskey making are highly combustible so no cameras or cell phones.  The stuff starts out as straight alcohol made from grain.  On the tour you were asked to take a whiff of the stuff from the huge vat - yikes it practically took my head off.  It goes through quite a complex distillation process and then the stuff is placed in barrels (just like wine barrels).  In fact they are used wine barrels.  The scotch gets lots of its flavor from the barrel -  port gives is a chocolate taste.  Also at some point peet smoke is added to some batches giving it a smokey flavor which I definitely did not care for - tastes like you are drinking water out of an ashtray (yuk).  At the end of the tour you are given a "dram" of scotch.  I am not a whiskey lover so I was surprised that it was actually pretty pleasant - especially if you add just a wee bit of water.  Still it is not "my cup of tea".

Most inhabitants of Tain work directly or indirectly for Glenmorangie.  The men (yes they are all men) who work within there are distillery itself or called "The Men of Tain".   The distillery is in operation 24/7 so there are shifts.  In the old days these Men of Tain were given a dram of the good stuff at the beginning and at the end of their shift.  Seems like a strange practice for guys who are working with something about as flammable as rocket fuel.
Castles, Castles, and more Castles.
There are a heck of a lot of castles in these parts.  Some are very, very grand and others diminutive.  I lost count of how many we visited but it was quite a few and some were more memorable than others.
Inverarry was our first castle and it was magnificent.  It looked familiar as it was the Scottish Castle visited for the Christmas holidays two years ago on Downton Abbey.  It was also interesting that the original castle lord fought against the Brits during the Jacobite wars.  This was an uprising of the Scotts against the Brits at the time of Mary Queen of Scotts.  In this castle and in many others there are A LOT deer heads mounted on the walls.  In fact the only deer we saw on our two week trip were on signs saying watch out for the deer and dead deer heads on walls.
Guns in designs at Inverarry
And then there are some wee castles that are so charming.  We stopped for lunch at this one.  It was a small castle - now a B&B with a restaurant.  Its small grounds were beautifully landscaped and included an interesting path with little fairy houses along the way.
The gate at Balmoral
Of course we had to stop at Balmoral Castle even knowing that it was closed to the public in August as this is when the Royal Family in in residence there.  We got to see the gatehouse and the guard.  John had a nice visit with him.
Braemar Castle
Braemar Castle certainly was not the grandest or most impressive castle we saw.  It was h castowever our sentimental favorite.  It is adjacent to the village of the same name and is only a couple of miles down the road from Balmoral.   Its pretty small for a castle and looks quite rundown.   The castle has had a hard life, once owned by a young lord and his much older wife who was an eccentric clothing designer in the 1950s.  Another owner was a megalomaniac who squandered his fortune on the "good life" (bad bad man) and neglected the castle letting it fall into ruin.  It is not part of the Royal trust (as are many castles in Scotland) so there is no funding for it.  Because it was in such a poor state the government decided to tear it down.  The villagers were horrified as it was "their" castle and, even if was a mess, it was a castle.  They ended up taking it over and have slowly been restoring it.  It has a long way to go.  Right now they are trying to raise the funds for a new roof which it needs in the worst way - price tag $1,000,000.  

Everything is done by volunteers including a guided tour.   During the tour we learned that they have pleaded with the Royal Family (specifically Prince Charles) to provide some funding.  They thought he might be swayed since as a child he used to play there with the family's daughter, Suzie.  In the end he declined but said he'd like to buy the original Queen Victoria toilet (he collects them)!  This time it was the village's turn to say "No".
The castle highlight has to be Dunrobin.  It was by far the most majestic, most northern, most interesting of all.  The castle was grand and the gardens the most beautiful.  If you only visit one castle it should be Dunrobin.
But best of all was the bird of prey demonstration.  The falconer is a man likely in his early 50s.  He became fascinated with birds as a child.  He has been the falconer at Dunrobina for something like 30 years and obviously he loves his job.  He has never taken a day off during this whole time. 

He has about 20 birds of prey and has raised each of them from babies.  They relied on him to feed and nurture them from infancy.  He begins training them when they are still very young and he says they learn quicker than people.  They fly free and could leave at any time, but they don’t. He gives them commands and they fly as directed sometimes returning after an extensive fly.  They now hunt small mammals such as rabbits which they share with their master.  We saw him with peregrine falcons, hawks, owls, and eagles.

His “show” included his birds doing their flying, hunting, and other behaviors.  He had them flying just over our heads.  Throughout he entertained us and educated us about the birds, ecology, and need to preserve nature.  After the “show” was over he went over to where the birds roost during the day.  Then one of the hawks who hadn’t flown in the morning show “told him” that it was time for him to fly even though he wasn’t scheduled till the afternoon.  He said he tries to accommodate the needs of each bird, it its time to fly just go ahead and go.

The birds are completely bonded to him.  It is awesome to behold.

Then off to Edinburgh.  What a delight it was.  It isn't a huge city but it is beautiful, very user-friendly, lots of culture, and good food.  We were fortunate to be there during the "Fringe Festival" and military Tattoo.  The Fringe goes on for about a month and there are hundreds of entertainments to choose from .  There are plays, comedy, music, and whatever - much of it on "fringe so to speak".  Entertainers line the main thoroughfare just down from Edinburgh castle.  Many are giving you a preview of what you can see later in their venue if you buy a ticket.  Much of this is really first rate.
From atop Edinburgh Castle
We saw this play later that evening "The Armada" - it was great.
We’d been told to try to get tickets for the Military Tattoo.  This spectacle is held every year during August.  We had to buy “black market” tickets as the tickets sell out almost immediately each year when they go on sale.  They were expensive but the show was definitely worth it.  It is a true spectacle.  This year some of the visiting entertainment was from places like Mongolia, Mexico, and New Zealand.  It rained for about five minutes but no one seemed to mind.  Of course the finale included a huge fireworks show.

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