No Place like Home…..   1 comment

Well I’m finally home, or course, and because of the hectic last day in Scotland,  the trip home and not being able to post that last day, I felt I really needed to added one last posting regarding our trip.

Friday, we checked out early from our lodgings and headed up to Dunfermline.  Dunfermline was Scotland’s capitol until 1603 and there is located the Abbey Church and ruins of the Palace.  Within the Abbey are the tombs of 22 Scottish Kings and Queens, including that of Robert the Bruce.  It was a MUST SEE Historical site for me, so that was our first stop……annnnddd….it was closed……….major bummer!!!  We wandered around the grounds of the Abbey and looked over the fence at the ruins of the Castle but that was as close as we were able to get…..

After that disappointment we headed up to Dunkeld as we made our way toward our ultimate destination–the Enchanted Forest.  Dunkeld is a beautiful little village on the River Tay.  My favorite musician, Dougie Maclean lives nearby–didn’t see him–but it was great to be in his home town and see the places he talks about.   Unfortunately I didn’t get any photos…it was POURING rain when we got there and I didn’t want to take the chance on getting my camera soaked.  So we just heading off walking through town, visiting spots and finally ended up at the Dunkeld Cathedral, went inside and viewed all the items of interest–including the memorial to Neil Gow– one of the most famous Fiddlers ever and one of my favorite musicians.  He is buried on the grounds of the cathedral.  While we were in the Cathedral, the rain stopped and the sun came out–we walked outside and were greeted with some of the most breathtaking scenes of our entire time in Scotland……aaannddd….my camera was in the car clear at the other end of town…  We decided to walk back in hopes of retrieving it and coming back but on the way the clouds closed back in and the rain resumed….bummer again……  Well, it is a memory that I will treasure regardless.

We finally ended up in Pitlochry, where we were to be able to see the Enchanted Forest in the evening.  It was a great little town also and we were able to relax a bit, have a final meal at a local pub and then board the bus that would take us to the Enchanted Forest.

The Enchanted Forest is something that I had heard about a couple of years ago and thought it would be so great to see something like that.  It is located just outside Pitlochry in Faskally Wood, in Perthshire’s Big Tree Country.  It draws over 20,000 visitors each year for it’s approximately 3 week run.  With all the rain that we were getting that day, we were really afraid that it might be canceled but that evening before we were scheduled to attend, the rain ceased and the skies opened up to the most brilliant display of stars above the canopy of the forest.  It made for a cold (37 degrees) but beautiful evening and the lights and music of the displays at the Enchanted Forest were wonderful.  I was able to get some photos and will post these in the slide show at the end of this blog.

We had hoped that the trip home would have been peaceful and uneventful…not the case….it was near as bad as the flight out–I’ll spare you the details, I haven’t got the energy to write about it now.

Being in Scotland was one of the greatest experiences of my life…it’s hard to believe I’m back in the US now–it went by so fast.  We saw so very many things, places and breathtaking scenes, and at the same time missed so many other things that we would have liked to see because of time constraints or lack of daylight….or closed for the season time changes….  MAYBE someday I’ll be able to go back again.  I never thought I’ve ever have the opportunity to go in the first place, yet I did.  That certainly is an encouragement that it could be possible to visit again….hmmm…better get my list of places I want to see started…..

But another thing that really made it special and worthwhile was the fact that I was able to spend this time with my boys and enjoy all of it together.  I will be eternally grateful to my son, Ryan, who made the dream-come-true.  “We’re gonna do it, Dad!!” and we did….Thanks, buddy, I love you!!

Thanks for following along on the blog.  I’m glad I spent the time recording some of our travels and photos–maybe it will encourage you to fulfill some dream that you’ve had of something you’ve always wanted to do or go see.  If so I’m happy for you–it could lead you to one of the greatest experiences of your life as well….

Aye!

Howie

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Almost time to come home…   2 comments

This might be my last post before coming home.  Tomorrow we will be checking out of our lodging and heading up to the Pitlockry area to see the sights and finish up with the Enchanted Forest.  I may try to post something more while I wait around in the airport if WiFi is available–I’m certainly going to have plenty of time on my hands as our flight doesn’t leave until 6 am.  So we’ll see what happens.

Today it was raining steadily and we were rather beat.  So, we just decided to go back to the Royal Mile and do a little more browsing around in the shops to see if there was anything we wanted to get.  We found a used bookstore and I found a treasure that I never expected to find.  Ben and I were both looking for Gaelic Bibles but were unsuccessful.  The bookstore owner went in a back room to double check and came out saying, “No, I could’na find a Gaelic but I do have this..”  It was a New Testament in Scots!!  I couldn’t believe it—I’ve looked for those, even on the internet and could only find one book–the book of Mark–that had been translated.  But here was an entire New Testament, translated from the Greek into Scots!!  HUGE Thrill for me!!!  Scots is the language of the people, the local vernacular, the language that Robert Burns wrote his poems in.  Major find–treasure–for me!!!

Ben found a can of Vegetarian Haggis…debated long and hard whether to get it or not.  In the end decided not to–who wants Fake Haggis, and he sure-as-heck wasn’t about to try the real thing…….(if you don’t know how it’s made, look it up–I don’t want to spoil the surprise….you’ll understand then why it’s served with Whisky… :-) )

One of the things I bought today was a box of “Glengoyne, Handmade Single Highland Malt Whisky Fudge”!!  Made with 1% Whisky.  Does that mean if I’ve eaten 20 of these things I’ve had 20% Whisky??  They sure are (were) good!!

We will be in the Perthshire area tomorrow–probably my most favorite area in all of Scotland so I am really looking forward to it.  It is a beautiful forested area and with the Autumn colours I’m sure it will be stunning.  So far the weather looks good for tomorrow.  I’m hoping it will be so for just one more day.  The Highland Perthshire Autumn Festival is going on in the area so there will be plenty to do and see as we wait for our scheduled 7:15 pm ticket time to go see the Enchanted Forest.

Not much else to add for right now, so I think I’ll finish packing and head for bed.  Have missed everyone at home.  Have enjoyed having a chance to keep in touch via this blog and hope you’ve enjoyed it as well.  Never done anything like this but thought it would be fun–it was :-)

I DO miss family and friends, but at the same time it’s with a feeling of sadness that I will now be leaving Scotland.  I can’t express to you what this has meant to me, or how grateful I am that Ryan wanted to do this for me (brings tears to my eyes thinking about it even now).  With Ben working as a Paramedic in Nebraska and not having seen him since last Christmas, it has been wonderful to have spent all this time with him as well.

It’s been a great time and Scotland has been all I thought it would be and more–much much more!!  It’s been wonderful to have had the chance to come “home”—-it’ll be great to be home.  Looking forward to seeing everyone soon.  God bless you all.

Howie

The Highlands, Part 2   Leave a comment

So much to try and pack in on this day, and so little time with the sun going down early.  After a quick breakfast of Scottish Porage we headed out to the Isle of Skye.  The further north we have gotten the harsher and more barren the landscape has become.  However, you can see the dormant Heather all around and I can really imagine that with Spring the hills must literally be alive with colour!!  Unfortunately, alive with “midges” also…..nasty biting blood-sucking little pests, smaller than gants and mosquitoes that swarm everything in sight!!!  FORTUNATELY midge season is over……..we talked to the locals about them….yeah, they’re as bad as we’ve heard……

Skye used to be accessed only by ferry but now there is a nice bridge that you can cross over.  Here’s a panorama of the area just before you get to the bridge–that you’ll see down at the right of the photo.  Skye is directly across the water:

Like I said, sooo much to see and yet we can’t see it all so we have to just sometimes watch the signs go by with sadness….One of the things I would have liked to see here was a lighthouse built by the Stevenson family.  Most people know that Robert Louis Stevenson is a famous author, but not many realize that he came from an extremely famous family of Lighthouse builders here in Scotland, and that he, in fact, started out to be so but then turned toward writing instead.  Many of the most incredible lighthouses built here in Scotland were by his father and brothers.

Other places we had to pass up because of lack of time, or daylight, were Culloden, Bannockburn, the Falkirk Wheel…and the way things look with our time and schedule, I don’t believe we’re going to make it to Glasgow…..well…next time… :-)

As I’m writing this, it is 3:30 am, California time, but 10:30 am our time.  It raining outside, very dreary and we’re not moving around much.  I think we’re all pretty exhausted from the pace we’ve been maintaining over the entire time of our stay.  Also, it’s Thursday and we’re finding that a lot of the places that we would like to see are closed on Thursday–off season times now, don’t cha-know.  We’re probably going to take it easy today a do a little catching up.  Will make it a good time to catch up on this blog also.  Tomorrow we check out at 10 am, then head up to Perthshire area and at night we have tickets to see the Enchanted Forest ( http://www.enchantedforest.org.uk/ ).  After that we head down to the Airport, check in and wait around until 6 am when we fly out.  Hopefully our flight back will be uneventful and boring—unlike our flight here.

Anyway, where was I…oh yeah, Skye!!  The scenery on Skye is really amazing.  Sort of like when you go over to the California coast and the hills are barren.  But these have a ruggedness unlike anything I’ve seen before, and all down the hills you see these veins cut into the hills by the rivulets of water that are constantly flowing–creating incredible mini-waterfalls and streams.  And, as you look at these hills there’s this overwhelming magical feeling that just beckons you to want to climb it and experience the views that must await you at the top.  If we had the time we would have loved to.  Another interesting thing we’ve discovered is the wind that barrels down these hills—especially when you are in these little valleys between two of the hills.  You step aside from that funnel of a valley and it’s relatively “calm” again.  Another thing is the Sheep.  Scattered all over, not just together in a flock, and you will see them all up on the hills, on cliffs, rocks, nearly inaccessible ledges for a scrap of green when all around them down on the pastures there is lush green grass for easy grazing….go figure…..

Oh, and the Light!!!  With the weather as it is—and I LOVE this gray dreary weather (further proof that I’m Scottish :-) )–the light is constantly changing in dramatic fashion.  You look out across the way and off in the distance you will see the light bathing the cliffs, the moors or the Loch and you grab your camera, double check your settings, look up and it’s gone!–different now, ever changing, dramatic, breathtaking, alive.

And Rainbows!!!!  I’ve seen more rainbows in the sky on this trip than I think I’ve seen in my entire life!!  They tell us that if we think it’s amazing now we need to see them in the Spring!

Well, we wish that we could have seen more of Skye but we had to turn around and head back out.  We’re told that had we had the time we needed to go up to see the Orkney Isles–they said it is like another world entirely!….next time….

Back over the bridge, past Eilean Donan again for one last look and a few photos then off toward Fort William and on to Glencoe.   As we drove we were amazed to see up on the mountains that it had snowed during the night.  Not a lot but the amount that blanketed the hilltop was dramatic and beautiful.  Fort William has the highest amount of rainfall of any place in Scotland–that assessment appears to be quite true, yesterday anyway.  Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Scotland, is also at Fort William—shrouded in fog and clouds…

Glencoe was a place that I wanted to see, not only because of the rugged beauty but because of the history that took place there–the Glencoe Massacre.  In 1692, the chief of the Glencoe MacDonalds was late in registering an oath of submission to William III, giving the government an excuse to root out a nest of Jacobite supporters.  For ten days 130 soldiers, captained by Robert Campbell, were hospitably entertained by the unsuspecting MacDonalds.  At dawn on Feb 13th, in a terrible breach of trust, the soldiers fell on their hosts, killing some 38 MacDonalds.  Many more died in their wintry mountain hideouts in their attempt to escape the massacre.

If you’ve ever been to Yosemite, picture those massive walls rising up on either side of you with the valley in between–totally devoid of trees!!!  That’s what Glencoe reminded us of.  Incredibly beautiful, rugged and breathtaking–and to picture what happened there in the dead of winter was very sobering.

We continued on through some starkly impressive moor regions–fortunately they weren’t enshrouded in fog but we could certainly see how dangerous they could be had they been.

After the moors we came to more forests and gradually back into the rolling hills that we’ve been accustomed to—and EVERYWHERE incredible Autumn colours!!  Just before dark we found ourselves, once again in Doune—where the “Monty Python” Castle is located.  This time there was a break in the rain so we stopped by and got photos of the outside.

That was enough for that day, night was upon us so back to “home” we went.  It had been a long two days filled with incredible moments, AND regrets on having to pass up other places we would have liked to have seen.  Scotland is growing on us like no other place we (I in particular) have ever been before.  We all mentioned over and over again, how we could really get used to living here very easily.   For my part, having grown up reading everything I could about Scotland–the land, the history, studying photos, being obsessed with the beauty and mystery of the land….being here has had, with me, the strange feeling that I am home…..

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The Highlands, part 1   8 comments

Well, we’re finally back in Edinburgh now.  We didn’t have internet access where we were yesterday so I’m trying to play catch-up here.  Don’t know how much I’ll write tonight but wanted to post something.  I’ll make this Part 1.

Yesterday morning we took off early and headed up through Scotland to visit Eilean Donan Castle, in Glen Shiel.  The Castle is the stronghold of the Clan Macraes, and having a grandmother that was a Macrae was of particular interest to us.  The castle is one of the most photographed monuments in all of Scotland—and for good reason.  We were once again surprised that it wasn’t as large as we thought it would be, but nonetheless extremely impressive.  Needless to say, we took TONS of photos of this castle from every conceivable angle and lighting conditions.  Ryan and I even went out after dark and took photos at night.  Weather was still bad and we had lots of rain but we did as much as we could under the conditions.

One thing I have to mention is that we have been saying how beautiful the countryside is using words like breathtaking, etc……well on our trip up to the highlands we reached new levels of breathtaking!!!  Once we got to the highlands our vocabulary became limited to words like…WHOA!!!….WOW!!!…AHHH!!!…LOOK AT THAT!!!!….and other grunts and neanderthal-type sounds…..it was BEYOND Breathtaking!!!

Before we got to Eilean Donan, we went through Inverness and then made a stop at Lock Ness and visited Urquhart Castle.  (No, we didn’t see the monster….however I will be carefully checking my photos just in case… :-) )  It is a beautiful (duh..) place and the history of the castle is really interesting.  Here is a Panorama I took while there:

After spending a while there we headed off to Eilean Donan.  We got a room at a little hotel there just a stone’s throw away from the castle, and believe it or not turned out to be the ONLY guests at the hotel that night.  Everywhere we go the people are wonderful and make us feel right at home.

One of the things we found interesting was that the further north we got the more we found that the road signs included the place directions in Gaelic as well as English.  Having studied Gaelic, myself, I found this quite enjoyable to see.  We also saw something we don’t usually see in the US—road signs to watch for Sheep!!

The sheep that you see all around in the pastures are quite picturesque and interesting to see but gives me a bitter-sweet sad feeling.  During the heyday of the clan system, tenants paid their land-holding chieftains rent in the form of military service.  However, with the destruction of the clan system after the Battle of Culloden, landowners began to demand a financial rent, which their tenants were unable to afford, and the land was gradually bought up by Lowland and English farmers.  In what became known as “the year of the sheep” (1792), thousands of tenants were evicted, forcibly and brutally, to make way for livestock.  Many emigrated to Australia, America and Canada.  The ruins of their crofts can still be seen in many areas.  It was a very sad and dark period of Scotland’s history.   I have read extensively about this period, so seeing the sheep brought many mixed emotions.  The clearances lasted well into the late 1800s.  The widespread evictions resulting from the Clearances severely affected the Highland population and culture.  To this day the Highland population is sparse and the culture is diluted, and there are many more sheep than people.  Seeing the Highlands and knowing the history as I do brought a sadness to my heart.

OK, sorry, history lesson side-trip over.  Here’s a panorama I took of the Castle before it got dark:

And, of course here is a shot that I took at night, followed by the slide show of a collection of photos taken while we headed up and of the sites we visited.  Next post I’ll try to continue about what we saw and did on our trip to the Highlands.  Hope you are enjoying these.

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Castle Tours…   2 comments

Today was a real treat!!!  I got to ride in the front seat like a big boy!!  I’m usually doing all the driving but this time it has been really nice to just sit back, enjoy the scenery and let the boys drive–and today was a great day for that.

We decided to try and visit 3 castles today:  Edinburgh Castle, Stirling Castle and Doune Castle.  Monty Python fans will recognize that last Castle as the one used in the movie “Quest for the Holy Grail:-)

This morning dawned BEAUTIFUL!!!  Clear blue skies once again.  We first went to Edinburgh Castle and began touring there—absolute incredible views of all around, just breathtaking!!!  We kept trying to picture what it must have been like to be there 4 or 500 years ago.  There’s soooo much about this place that I would love to talk about–the history that went on here, etc.  We visited St. Margret’s Chapel–the oldest structure at the castle–built in the 1100s.  Found it to be quite moving.  Then, we also visited the Scottish National War Museum within the walls of the Castle.  We found this to be VERY moving as well with all the dedications to the soldiers of the past who fought and died.  I noticed that NO ONE spoke above a whisper in this building–you wouldn’t dare, there was a Holy presence, you could feel it.  In the Royal Palace, among other things, we were able to view the Crown Jewels, and the famous Stone of Destiny upon which all the Kings of Scotland have been crowned–the most sacred item in all of Scotland.  The history behind BOTH these items is incredibly fascinating–with tales of intrigue, escape and war.  I really encourage anyone interested to look up the history on both of these or ask me about it later–I love sharing the stories about these things :-)  It was REALLY difficult to tear ourselves away and leave this place but we had two more Castles we wanted to see and it gets dark early around here now.  Unfortunately, photography is NOT allowed within the Castle buildings so we were not able to get pictures of these items.

We next headed up to Stirling Castle–a magnificent Castle high upon a rocky crag.  Stunning sight to see—similar to Edinburgh Castle.  It seems impregnable from where it resides.  Stirling remains one of the finest examples of Renaissance architecture in Scotland.  Stirling occupied a key position in Scotland’s struggles for independence and from its heights you can see seven battlefields.  Across the valley and high on another hill–across from the location of the famous Stirling Bridge, where William Wallace won his great victory–you can see the Wallace Monument, a 220 foot tall imposing Victorian tower/monument.  Unfortunately, too far away for us to have time to go visit but we could see it from the ramparts of the Castle.

The unfortunate thing, however, was that clouds began rolling in and by the time we were leaving Stirling, rain was falling.

So, off to Doune Castle we went for our final visit.  By the time we got there the rain was coming down quite steadily.  I would have LOVED to get photos of the outside but the rain was coming down so much that I didn’t want to risk shorting out the electronic components in the camera if it got wet–MAJOR Bummer if that happens.   So, I hid it inside my coat and we went inside.

Aside from the celebrity status it received with the filming of Monty Python’s Quest for the Holy Grail, it is an excellent example of a medieval castle.  It’s a small castle and we were free to roam around within wherever we liked in all the passage ways and tunnels that were opened to us.  We had a blast going up narrow spiral stairways and discovering new passages and rooms–we could have stayed there for hours but only had about an hour to enjoy it.  Because of the rain we were practically the only ones there—probably fortunate for our reputations–we spent a lot of time reciting lines from the Quest for the Holy Grail…I’m sure we weren’t the first :-)

One photo I couldn’t resist posting…..Ryan got caught discovering the King’s “John”…..“Now go away or I will taunt you a second time!!!”

Once again, breathtakingly beautiful views and as you travel all around, as you look out into the fields, you see VERY woolly sheep with skinny little legs poking out, black faces, white faces and very different than what I am used to seeing in the US.  Also, cows out in the fields.  Rolled bales of Hay.  BEAUTIFUL Fall colors…oops, “colours”.  Also, quite often you’ll look out and suddenly see towers, little castle keeps, AMAZING estate homes, ancient churches, monuments, statues, etc, etc.  You never know what you’re going to see next!!!  It’s all too much to take in in only 10 days time.  Gotta find some way to come back again!

Tomorrow we’re heading for Lock Ness, Eilean Donan Castle, the Isle of Skye and whatever else we can add in.  Will be spending the night up there so don’t know if we’ll have internet access or not but will try to post something if we do.

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Honey, I’m Home!!!…well sort of….   2 comments

Well today was the day us Georges finally returned home–to Dundee!!!  It was actually quite interesting.  Not really a lot to see there but we did a lot of driving around the area.  One place we wanted to go is called the Dundee Law.  It’s probably the highest point above Dundee with an incredible overlook of the area.  Sun wasn’t in a good position at the time of day we were there but we took a ton of photos anyway.  It was rather moving to be standing there on top of that hill thinking that at one time our g-grandparents had probably hiked up with their kids to see this incredible view and were standing in similar places that we were standing in right at that moment.  I’m really glad we had a chance to visit our old “home”.

Here are a couple of shots from up on the Law:

Before we got to Dundee, we stopped by and visited Aberdour Castle–one of the oldest castles in Scotland.  It is the ancestral home of the Mortons and Douglases.  Tons of fascinating history that happened here.  Beautiful scenery as well.

We spent the rest of our time today in St. Andrews—stopped at the Golf Course, of course! :-)  But the REAL excitement came in visiting the ruins of St. Andrews Cathedral and St. Andrews Castle.  The Cathedral just blew us away–it was huge!!!  MUCH larger than any of the Abbeys we visited the other day and much larger than St. Giles.  What it must have been like we can only imagine but we were just astounded by all that we found there.

The ruins of the Castle were just down the street and we didn’t have as much time to visit it but found it incredibly fascinating with all the history and things that happened there.

We absolutely loved St. Andrews and the weather was probably the best we had of our entire trip so far.  Nothing out-of-the-ordinary happened today, no “Plant Crossings”, nothing like that.  The countryside was beautiful–not as beautiful as the Border country we just visited–but still beautiful.

Tomorrow we plan on visiting Edinburgh Castle, Sterling Castle and hopefully one other that might be in the area.  Time changed here, too, and so it gets dark early–which is a bummer because we’re having a hard time getting up as early as we’d like :-)  Oh well, tomorrow’s another day…

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Posted October 31, 2010 by Howard George in Aberdour Castle, Castle, Cathedral, Dundee, St. Andrews

The Border Country   2 comments

So glad to have the internet working again.  We had a great time again, yesterday.  We just spent the day touring the Royal Mile and checking out all the shops.  Even stopped in at a pub for dinner.  Of course I had to have some REAL Fish & Chips and was VERY surprised when they brought it out to have the fish portion the whole side of a large fish!!!–but it was terrific!!

Spent some time in St. Giles Cathedral where John Knox used to preach.  VERY impressive.  I was so caught up with taking photos I forgot to take some time to get up in the pulpit to get a feel for what it must have been like—as a minister I always find taking some time to stand where so many others have stood to deliver God’s Word very moving.  I’ll have to remember to do that later.  To stand where John Knox once stood…..

I’ll include photos from yesterday with the slide show collection from today.

Today however…..we decided to get away from the city.  Our first stop was Rosslyn Chapel–made famous by the book and movie, “The Da Vinci Code”.  I’ve known about this place since I was a kid–long before the book ever came out.  The Georges are a sept of the Clan Gunn, and the Gunns have been closely associated with the Sinclairs–who built Rosslyn, so that is why I wanted to see it.  It was extremely interesting–you could spend days studying the carvings.  All so very different and unique.  But the thing that surprised me the most was it’s size.  It was MUCH smaller than I had expected it to be!!

Unfortunately, photography on the inside is not allowed and the outside, with scaffolding and construction items for the preservation work, did not lend itself to attractive photos but I took a couple anyway.

Headed out to tour the Border Abbeys after Rosslyn.  Now I had always heard that the pace of life was a little slower over here but on the way we came across a sign that brought that notion to ridiculous extremes….

REALLY…you’ve got to be kidding….

But then later we saw a sign for a CRAWLING Lane….

The first Abby we visited was the Melrose Abbey.  Built in 1136,  one of the significant things at this Abbey is that this is where the heart of Robert the Bruce is buried.

We next visited Jedburgh Abbey.  Established in 1138 with 9th-century Celtic stonework that survives from an earlier structure.  We tried to get to Dryburgh Abbey, where Sir Walter Scott is buried but we didn’t make it in time–they had just closed.  So we decided to go up to Scott’s View and catch some photos before the sun went down.

If we have time we’d like to come down here again.  The Border Region is breathtakingly beautiful—especially now with the Fall colors.  Sometimes we were so amazed by the beauty that we would forget to take photos……

Ryan and Ben are doing a great job driving, and I’m actually happy for them to drive–I get to see more that way and I don’t want to miss anything.  One thing is for sure—GPS is a MUST!!  Makes traveling SOOOO much nicer.

Well, the guys want on the computer so I’ll add a slide show of photos from the past couple days and turn the laptop over to them….

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Posted October 30, 2010 by Howard George in Abbeys, Border Regions, General, Scotland

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