I began to understand what London must look like to foreign tourists. Thinking about it I've seen similarly tacky shops in the West End and in Westminster, but being a local I think I must've tuned them out.
Our "coach" was actually a fifteen-seater minibus, with fifteen passengers. Our driver for the day was Bob, one of whose first questions was, "Are there any English on the bus?" The Neals answered in the affirmative, to which Bob's response was, "Oh dear...". It soon became apparent that a large portion of his talk on the tour about Scottish history involved blaming the English for all their woes, and his task was made only slightly less enjoyable by having real live Sassenachs in the audience. The rest of the group -- mainly American but with a couple of Canadians and New Zealanders -- chuckled along to Bob's jokes at our expense but beyond that it was impossible to tell whether they agreed with him or were embarrassed for us. We did go up in Bob's estimation, however, when we told him we had left England for Saudi Arabia; he obviously has some internal league table, where a Sassenach who has abandoned England is marginally less repulsive than one who still lives there.
Don't know the name of this place. Just put the photo here to break up a big block of text.
Nice though, isn't it?
Nice though, isn't it?
I'm sure much of what he said about the history of the Scots and the English was true, but most of it happened hundreds of years ago: talk about bearing grudges!
He later told how the name 'Scotland' came from the Irish Scotti people who invaded in the 6th century. I asked him why they didn't resent the Irish too for being early invaders. He just smiled and said he didn't know.
His catchphrase was, "It's true because Bob told you". Listening to him recount portions of Scotland's history as drove along to Stirling Castle was a bit like playing the children's game Simon Says. He would recount on interesting fact after another, then when a particularly unusual fact came along he would follow it with, "...and you know that's true. Why?", and we were supposed to go, "Because Bob told us!". But actually what happened was we all stayed silent, so he had to deliver his own punchline most of the time.
First stop was Stirling Castle, the most important castle in Scotland, because Stirling lies at the boundary between the Lowlands and the Highlands and hence holds a strategic position.
Can't remember whom this is a statue of. Anyone? (Note the William Wallace monument int he distance).
I'm useless at history and not particularly interested in it, so please don't expect these blog entries to be a hundred per cent factually accurate, but this is one fact I did retain after the tour. Stirling is also Braveheart territory, and there is a monument to William Wallace on a neighbouring hilltop.
Another of Bob's 'value-adds'. He insisted on taking group photos for you so everyone could be in it. This was more of a challenge for him with my camera, because it's, "one 'o those wi' a peephole" and not, "one wi' a wee telly on the back".
I used to think all castles were pretty much the same, but that's not true at all. Some give you the digital audio headset thingies for free, while others make a small additional charge. At Stirling Castle you not only have to pay to get in, but they you have to pay again to listen to the commentary. We only had one hour here, so the audio tour was quite rushed and we ended up jogging from location 18 to location 19 for the next chapter. But this minor disappointment was more than made up for when I found that you could buy Hot Chocolate with Whisky in the coffee shop.
Next stop on our itinerary of Southern Scotland's tourist attractions was Hamish the Highland Cow, or 'Heeland Coo' as they're called by the locals.
I kid you not: this was a field containing a single cow, but it had been made into a tourist attraction complete with gift shop, where you could buy T-shirts, scarves, coffee mugs and tea towels with Hamish's face on them, and a Costa Coffee. We stopped here for about ten minutes, which was more than long enough to get all the photos you could ever want of a ginger cow.
We stopped for lunch in a village whose name escapes me, but we had an excellent pub lunch (that escaped me too, eventually!)
Then in the afternoon we parked up by the bonnie shores of Loch Lomond and trekked up a medium-sized hill to take in the views across the Loch.
A beautiful place, and a lovely day too, in the afternoon. We spent a good thirty minutes up here just gazing out over the water, then it was time to walk back down to the bus and snooze all the way back to Edinburgh.