Isle of Skye

Isle of Skye is the largest of Scotland’s islands and also part of the Scottish Highlands. The best way to travel in Skye is by car, but since we could not drive, we first reached the end point of the Scottish Rail, Kyle of Lochalsh, then took a bus to Portree, the capital town of Skye. The next day we took a bus to Dunvegan Castle and joined a tour to visit some places in the Skye.

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Sheep were found everywhere in the Highlands. They were so cute.
One can also easily find the prickly purple thistle which is the emblem of Scotland (see the first picture on the left above).

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Dunvegan Castle has been the stronghold of the Chiefs of MacLeod for nearly 800 years. The castle represents a typical example of the clan system in the Highlands of Scotland. Clans identify with geographical areas originally controlled by the Chiefs, usually with an ancestral castle or manor. The clan chief had duties in relation to clan members, which included providing help and support (including the allocation of smaller parcels of land) and, in the absence of any other legal framework, resolution of disputes and exercising justice. The clan chief could also demand that clan members join him either in defending clan lands or on raids on adjoining territory to extend clan lands or steal cattle. Each clan has its own tartan patterns. The clan system was the effective means of government in the Highlands from around 1000 AD until it was essentially eliminated by the British in 1745, due to partly the monarch’s wish to establish his authority and partly the influence of the Lowlands to the Highlands.

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We had experienced hospitality and friendliness in Portree. Our accomodation was about half hour’s walk from the town centre. One day while we were leaving our accomodation for the town centre, a taxi suddenly stopped by us. The driver was an old man full of grey hair. He offered to give us a free ride. In his own words, “for showing our hospitality. I am going to the town centre anyway”.  Still, we were grateful for his kindness.

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The pier of Portree was very pretty under the blue sky. There we met a local resident who pointed to us a seal emerging from the water (see the first picture on the left below). He said the seal came close to the pier and scared off the mackerels which he was trying to fish. We had a short chat. He was very friendly and showed us where we should visit in the Skye.

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Walking in Inverness city centre is very pleasant, the Inverness River passing by you and the hills surrouding you.

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In the city centre, there was a Victorian market.

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Not only one, but two brave men were found standing in the middle of the stream, just for fishing, bracing for the rain and the currents.

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Loch Ness is the largest body of fresh water in Britain, holding more than all the lakes and reservoirs in England and Wales put together. It is 39km long, average depth of 132m. A cruise in it did not enable us to find the Loch Ness monster, but to reach the Urquhart Castle.

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St Andrews

St. Andrews, once a major pilgrimage centre and now a small old town, is easily associated with three things: beach, golf and university.

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The beach with the old houses at the backdrop, is fascinating. One can simply sit there, watching over the tides going up and down, immersed in it. The beach scenes at the movie “Chariots of Fire” were also filmed there.

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St. Andrews is the golf sport’s spiritual home and headquarters of its governing body. The old course there is one of the oldest golf courses in the world.

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St. Andrews University, founded in 1413, is Scotland’s first university and the third oldest in the UK. It is a small university with 6799 full-time students in 2006/2007, representing about 40% of the total population of St. Andrews. The university has four faculties: arts, divinity, medicine and science. With divinity as a separate faculty and in the absence of social science or business faculty, one can see this university is focused on humanities. One of the famous alumni of the university is Prince William.

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I cannot say I like Edinburgh too much. It was a pleasant walk in its old town stepping on its cobbled streets and alleys. As the capital city of Scotland, like most big cities, I find it too much crammed with buildings.

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The new Scottish parliament building in Edinburgh was opened in 2004 following the devolution of power from Westminster to Scottish parliament. I was interested to see the building to find out what had made its final construction cost exceeding initial budget by 390 million British Pounds. Regardless of the appearance of the building, its location with the Arthur’s Seat (a hill) at the back has already won its credit. At the time of my visit there, there was no parliament sessions and anyone was welcome to visit its assemby hall and other meeting venues. It is indeed an open parliament.

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Holyroodhouse (palace of Scottish monarch) is another interesting place in Edinburgh, not for its architechture, but for the legendary and tragic life of Mary, Queen of Scotland (1542-1587). She became queen of Scotland at 6 years old. At 15 years old, she married King François II of France. After her first husband died and at 22 years old, she married Lord Darnley who became arrogant and had attacked her and unsuccessfully attempted to cause her to miscarry their unborn child. One year after her second marriage, Darnley murdered her private secretary, David Riccio in front of her because he was jealous of her friendship with Riccio. The next year Darnley was killed and the killer was believed to be Bothwell who then became Mary’s third husband. Then she was imprisoned by the Scottish lords and was forced to abdicate the Scottish throne in favour of her one-year-old son. She then fled to England but was imprisoned by Queen Elizabeth I of England for 19 years and was executed at 44 years old. Elizabeth I wanted to remove Mary because Mary was next in line to the English throne after Elizabeth who was childless. In the eyes of many Catholics Elizabeth I was illegitimate, making Mary the true heir.

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