Monday, July 26, 2010
Firth of Forth, Fifth of Scotch
Today was the first of many early mornings. We try to get out of bed 2 hours before tours begin. As a result, we were up just before 6 because our breakfast try arrived early. We met Marvin, Barbara, Ed and Roxanne at the Stuyvesant Room and went in search of our minvan and “tour consultant” whom we had yet to meet. He missed Sunday’s meet-and-great because he was under the weather, so we did not know what he looked like. We had no trouble, however, as he was right in front of the only minivan on the parking lot. We set off a bit after 8:00.
Our driver, who was not a licensed guide, was charming. Craig told stories about Scotland and its history and gave us a feel for the country. Of course, he also told us much about himself and his youthful transgressions. We enjoyed his company all day.
We were docked at Rosyth, one of several ports serving Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital. Rosyth is situated on the Firth of Forth, the estuary of the Forth River leading to the North Sea. Our first stop today was the Stirling Castle, the Royal Lodgings of James V when his wife, Mary of Guise was in residence with their child Mary [Queen of Scots].
As castles go, it wasn’t great. The main attraction, the palace, has been closed for repairs for five years. We were able to see what little there was to the Regimental Museum in the King’s Old Building; the Great Hall [which wasn’t so great]; and the Chapel Royal where Mary Queen of Scots’ grandson was baptized. The battlements were interesting and the view from the walls was magnificent until the clouds rolled in and the drizzle started. We could see the entire valley spread out before us almost to Bannockburn, site of Robert the Bruce’s most famous victory over the British.
Closer to the Castle was the site of William Wallace’s best-known battle against the English, immortalized by Mel Gibson in Braveheart. There is now a monument to Wallace atop the hill overlooking the battle site itself, but there will be more about that shortly. What Wallace did, and Robert the Bruce imitated, was to lure the British away from their practically impregnable castle and into the open. In Wallace’s case, his men were on the afore-mentioned hill; when the British tried to storm the hill, they fell into Wallace’s trap: water from the nearby river had been brought in to soak the river bank creating a quagmire that trapped the attackers’ horses. This made their riders easy targets for the Scots. When the ground forces crossed over, they, too, were bogged down. They could stay and fight – and die – or flee back to the river where they were weighed down by their armor and drowned. Note that by 1776, 200 years later, the British still did not know how to handle unorthodox or guerilla warfare when the faced the Colonists.
Craig suggested that we spend 90 minutes or so at the Castle, in retrospect way too much time. When we arrived at 9:05, we had to wait for the gates to open at 9:30, so we didn’t leave there until 11:00 a.m. Following our visit to the Castle, we drove through Stirling and across the valley to the Wallace Memorial. The drive up the hill was twisting and narrow and we were glad not to meet any vehicles coming down. The road reminded D a little of the roadway to the House of Mary outside Ephesus. From the “gateway” we took a shuttle bus up the remainder of the hill and got out into a fine mist – not exactly rain but wet enough to make us glad we had our rain jackets. Ed and Jay had paid to climb the 264 steps of the Tower [built in the 19th Century]. The rest of the party exercised its collective right to survival. Apparently the view would have been marvelous if not for the clouds and rain. There were exhibits at several levels which afforded them the chance to catch their breath as they climbed. The rest of us were relegated to [wait for it!] the gift shop. At least it was dry.
By the time we re-joined Craig at the entrance, it was 12:15, time to go to our last stop. All of us were starting to get hungry, but instead of stopping for lunch, we went straight to the Falkirk Wheel. In hindsight, it was good that we did. We arrived at the Wheel at 12:45 and bought tickets for the next “ride,” scheduled for 1:30. While we waited, we wolfed down dry sandwiches like the ones in vending machines. This was not a typical or gourmet meals, but we were starving.
We joined the line at 1:20 for what was really a short boat ride, but the ride was the least important part of the experience. Roxanne and Ed were science teachers and Jay was an engineer, so they can probably explain the Wheel more accurately, but….Picture a giant capital S with a spindle in its center. The bottom half of the S is barely in the water creating a cradle with the top half directly above it. Next, picture a flat-bottom passenger boat in the cradle formed by the S. The S rotates on the spindle and the boat rises 115 feet in the air where it is released into a canal. What makes it more ingenious is that the boat is actually in a water-tight compartment and the entire compartment is lifted up with the water and the boat in it. As with traditional step locks,the process is reversed to get the boat down. A series of gears keeps the boat level; and no water is lost, just moved up and down. The process of lifting the boat the 115 feet takes 4-1/2 minutes. Watching the process was much more interesting than actually being in the boat for an hour.
We meandered on the way back to the Prinsendam since we did not have to be aboard until 4:00. Craig took the scenic route through Dunfermline [made famous in Sir Patrick Spens] where we passed the childhood home of Andrew Carnegie as well as the Carnegie Museum and the church where most of Robert the Bruce is buried; his heart was supposed to go to the Holy Land during the Crusades but rumor has it that is still [or back] in Scotland.
We were on board just past 4:00 and headed off to our rooms to rest. After cookies, pizza and iced tea, MA took a nap while D wrote in the journal while he could still remember most of what we did. Because we were tired from our excursion, we skipped the evening drink but met the rest of the table in time to go into the MDR together [chopped salad/sauerbraten]. We laughed through dinner and then all headed to bed.
We have another early day tomorrow in Scrabster. We expect it to be even more exciting than today!