Great Places – Scotland & Wales

     Scotland and Wales are two of the countries which comprise Great Britain. Scotland is north of England while Wales lies to the northwest. These countries are somewhat different from England, both in language and landscape. The people are fiercely nationalistic and very proud of their heritage. Take my short tour below to learn about the best places to visit, then check out the photo album which will soon follow.
     1. Edinburgh, Scotland
            Edinburgh Castle sits prominently at one end of the Royal Mile, the main street of Medieval Edinburgh. It is incredibly imposing, high on a hill and surrounded by steep cliffs on all sides except the visitor entrance. Yet this model of castle architecture has been taken at least three times in its history, two by siege and one by stealth. Parts of the castle (the Chapel, for instance) date back to the 1100’s although most of it was destroyed by Robert the Bruce in the 1300’s, then rebuilt. The Scottish Crown Jewels, the oldest in Europe, are on display here. The Great Hall is especially impressive, as are the Royal Apartments.
            From the castle, walk downhill along the Royal Mile to Holyrood Palace, the house of the Queen when she is in town. Much of it dates back to the 1300’s and includes the bedchamber of Mary, Queen of Scots. The newer part of the palace (1500’s) is extremely dignified and “royal”. Attached to the palace are the ruins of an Abbey and a pretty garden.
            Along the way to Holyrood, the Royal Mile traverses the center of Edinburgh‘s Old Town. Now lined with many shops and restaurants, it remains a gathering place for locals and tourists alike. Note St Giles Cathedral, the High Kirk of Edinburgh, with its distinctive steeple and its dark, Gothic interior.
            Beyond Holyrood, climb to the top of Calton Hill for incredible views of Edinburgh, as well as the Firth of Forth, the famous waterway, to the north of Edinburgh, which cuts into the Scottish mainland.
            Princes Street is the main thoroughfare in New Town (and also the major shopping area of the city) which is also lively with pubs, shops, and parks. Note especially the elaborate Sir Walter Scott Memorial.
            For a real treat, while visiting Edinburgh, splurge and stay in a genuine castle, Dalhousie Castle, on the outskirts of the city. The rooms of the castle are themed and have furnishings and decorations which complement the theme. Breakfast in the mornings is served in the dungeon of the castle, an extremely interesting setting. Be sure to try the “haggis”, a local tradition.
     2. Loch Ness & the Scottish Highlands
            Loch Ness has a mystique which transcends its beautiful setting. Because of the legend of the Loch Ness Monster, crowds flock to its shores to perhaps catch a glimpse of the prehistoric creature. Because of that fact, heavy and slow moving (partly because of the narrow roads) traffic should be expected, especially during the summer. One of the nicest places to observe the Loch is from the ruins of Urquhart Castle. The castle grounds jut out into the lake and the effect is stunning. Be advised that the path to the castle is somewhat steep.
            The town of Inverness makes a good base of operations for an exploration of the region.
            Glen Coe, in the Scottish Highlands, is a wild, wooly place, where rocky crags top lush, green meadows, populated with grazing sheep and Highland cattle. It is a great place for a hike into the hills. The overall impression is of an untamed expanse, yet the presence of domesticated animals reveals that man has, to a certain extent, tamed this wilderness. This is Scotland at its best! The scenery is dramatic, the climate damp and cool — a great scenic drive.
            During the summer months, a bagpiper, in costume, is stationed at the Urquhart Castle ruins and the effect of his music is magnificent.
     3. Wales
          Wales, located to the west of England, is part of what is known as Great Britain, ruled by the Prime Minister and Parliament of London, and paying allegiance to the England’s monarch, but is, in every other sense of the word, a separate country. Fiercely independent and proud, the Welsh people definitely possess their own individuality.
          Despite its size, Wales has almost 300 castles (some in ruins), so the country is a castle-lover’s dream come true. Some of the more notable ones are Caernarfon, Beaumaris, Conwy, and Harlech in the north, and Cardiff and Powis in the south. Another important sight is St David’s Cathedral, built in the 12th century to commemorate the country’s patron saint. Also on the site is are the ruins of the Bishop’s Palace.
          Wordsworth fans will want to know that the ruins of Tintern Abbey can be found in the far eastern part of South Wales, near the town of Monmouth. Walk the marked woodland path to Devil’s Pulpit for a commanding view of the valley and the abbey.
     4. Glasgow, Scotland
          Glasgow, Scotland, seems to have succeeded in casting off its image as a dirty, industrial city and taken its place alongside Edinburgh (see #34 above) as an exciting and important modern travel destination. It has especially embraced the Arts, so much so that the majority of tourist attractions here are museums and art galleries. Perhaps the most important is the Burrell Gallery, south of the city center.
          Besides museums, tourists will want to visit the Glasgow Cathedral, one of the few not destroyed during the Reformation. It dates from the 13th century. Also worth some time is Provand’s Lordship, the only remaining Medieval house in the city. Begin a walking tour at George Square and wander the Victorian neighborhoods toward the west.
          A worthwhile excursion southwest along the coast leads to Culzean Castle, with a dramatic setting at the top of cliffs above the beach. Stroll the lovely grounds and, inside, pay special attention to the unusual Parlor and Oval Staircase.


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