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Our friends Barbara and Steve invited us to travel to Scotland to see them and play a couple of rounds of golf at their course, Deer Park in Livingston. So we booked on Easyjet from Paphos to Edinburgh, dropped our car off at Park N Fly and took the late night flight. Neil managed to get some shuteye and after breezing through UK immigration and picking up our baggage and golf clubs from the conveyer belt we went outside where Steve and Barbara were waiting for us at the pick-up area. It was a bit cooler in Scotland than when we left Cyprus, but it was more "fresh" than cold and it was great to see our friends again. We got to their lovely penthouse appartment in the grounds of Deer Park Golf and Country Club and spent a while chatting.
We got up late in the morning, having only got to bed at about 4am, but still having had a lovely sleep. After a very tasty breakfast of fruit and yoghurt Steve announced that he'd arranged for us to have a ride on the Falkirk Wheel. This is not a Ferris wheel, but an innovative rotating boat lift connecting the Forth and Clyde canal with the Union canal. Before the 1930s, when the canals fell into disrepair they were connected by a flight of 11 locks and it used to take a whole day to get through them. With the wheel it takes about 5 minutes. Funding was provided by the Millenium Project from funds raised by the National Lottery. The wheel relies on Archimedes principle to balance the weight of two caissons into which boats drive, in order to keep the power required to rotate the wheel (see the speeded up video below) as low as possible. It only uses the energy needed to boil 8 electric kettles!
To get to Falkirk we travelled over the Forth Road Bridge, with the Forth (Rail) Bridge on our right (the one they paint and paint again) and the brand new Queensferry Bridge on our left. The latter is due to open next month. Pedestrian access is not allowed but on the first week it opens this regulation will be relaxed for two days and 50,000 pedestrians will be allowed to walk over the bridge. This will be controlled and a ballot has been set up where people can enter to win the right to walk over. For photos and more information see: The Forth Bridges.
When we arrived at the Falkirk Wheel we were met by an impressive sight. The wheel, the visitors' centre and the canal basin are impressive. We spent some time watching the wheel transferring boats up and down the 27 metre gap between the Forth and Clyde canal and the canal basin. Then we queued to get on the boat. Unfortunately we waited a bit too long to start queuing and ended up just missing the opportunity to get a window seat. But this wasn't too much of a problem as you can get up and walk about to take photos. The boat was lifted by the wheel and then it travelled through a 100 metre long tunnel that passed under the ruins of fort on the Roman Antonine Wall, built to keep the Picts outside the northern-most border of the Roman empire. We then turned round and came back to be "rotated" back to the basin. The view out over the contryside on exiting the tunnel was spectacular.
After leaving the Falkirk Wheel we travelled a few miles to the Helix park to see The Kelpies a fantastic sculpture created by Andy Scott. A Kelpie, or water kelpie, is the Scots name given to a shape-shifting water spirit inhabiting the lochs and pools of Scotland. It has usually been described as appearing as a horse, but is able to adopt human form. However, Andy Scott dedicated his sculpture to the working horses that used to pull the barges along the Forth and Clyde canal that runs next to the site. These sculptures, which are 30 metres high, are absolutely stunning (see the following video of them). Everyone who visits the area (Edinburgh is not too far away) should visit them.
We left the Kelpies behind and decided to visit Linlithgow, where Barbara and Steve almost bought an appartment before deciding to settle at Deer Park. This is a lovely little town domiated by the ruins of Linlithgow Palace. where, in 1542 Mary Queen of Scots was born. It is in a lovely setting, sitting in a nice little park, The Peel, by the side of a lake. In the evening we went to Livingston Retail Park and had a lovely, but filling, meal before going back to have a nightcap before bed.
The second day was mainly spent having some retail therapy buying golf-related and other clothing. How we are going to fit it into our case is anyone's guess. We went to American Golf, who run the Pro Shop at the golf course: Steve bought a new driver. We then went to the designer outlet at Livingston, which, with over 70 stores is one of the largest retail centres in the UK.
Steve had booked a game of golf for today for Sue, Neil and himself. Barbara wasn't playing as she was in the Deer Park Ladies' team that was playing in an open competition at Alloa golf club. So we waved Barbara cheerio only to have her phone us a few minutes later to say that one of their team couldn't play and would Sue help out by playing instead. It was then a bit of a panic while Sue got her equipment sorted out but ten minutes later Neil was waving her goodbye as the coach left the golf club car park. Sue was a bit surprised to see several of the team drinking gin and tonic before the coach even left the car park at 10am. G&T and cider seemed to be the norm going round the course. It was a weird competition with different types of scoring used on different holes. One hole may be the best two net scores of three, another the best gross, while another could be the fewest putts independent of the number of shots taken to reach the green. Everyone had a really good time and Barbara and Sue's team of three won the Deer Park sweepstake.
Neil and Steve wandered down to the club a little later and after ten minutes putting practice played as a two-ball behind a group of nine lads who were playing as a four-ball and a five-ball! They let us through on the third tee and we had a pleasant game with no waiting from then on. We had a sprinkling of rain, nothing to write home about (even though I just have) but there was a strong wind, which made some of the holes quite interesting. The course is quite long, at over 6,000 yards and there are some very interesting holes. Three of the four par-5s were into the wind, but the two par-3s over 190 yards were easily reached. For a video view of each hole see: The Course Guide. At the 19th we had a pint of bitter before walking the hundred yards or so back to the apartment.
Another day of golf at Deer Park, this time the four of us. We had the "dream team" (Barbara and Neil) versus Sue and Steve, playing Stableford Betterball. Of course the dream team won by two stableford points, even though Steve was hitting the new stiff-shafted driver he bought two days previously like a dream. We got round in the dry and luck would have it that the high winds of the previous day had subsided.
Steve drove us all down to the Park and Ride where we caught a tram into Edinburgh. For £4 you can buy a ticket that lasts the whole day and allows you to use both the trams and the buses. At the end of the line we boarded a No. 11 to Ocean Terminal, Leith, where HMY Brittannia is moored. Apparently it is the No. 1 tourist attraction in Scotland and it was great to tour the ship, which is set up as it would have been when the Royals were aboard. We had afternoon tea onboard and it was a very pleasant way to spend a couple of hours.
After visiting the Britannia we had a walk around Edinburgh, having a glass of wine al fresco opposite a shop called Diagon, which sold curios based on the Harry Potter books. The road in which it is situated is said to have been the inspiration behind Diagon Alley. We then went to an Italian Restaurant called Amarone and had the most delicious meals.
After dinner we climbed what seemed to be 100 steps to queue to get into the Edinburgh Military Tattoo. This was very impressive, especially the final section where all the performers were on the parade ground. Seeing and hearing the massed pipe bands was rousing. There were performances from around the world including France, the USA and Japan. There were some really good examples of Scottish Dancing and the parading was well executed. The weather was fine for us, having originally looked as if we would get wet. We left the tatto and eventually caught the last but one tram back to the park and ride.
Our last full day - we fly back to Cyprus tomorrow. We awoke to a misty morning but Barbara assured us that the mist would lift if we trvelled west, which we did, towards Glasgow and then northwards to Luss, a conservation village by the side of Loch Lomond. Luss really is quite lovely, with a small church containing graves dating back to 700AD, including the grave of a viking killed during a raid in the 11th century. The vikings travelled up Loch Long then carried their boats overland to Tarbet before pillaging and burning up the shores of Loch Lomond. They were finally defeated by the Scottish king Alexander after they had rejoined the main viking force under the command of King Haakon IV of Norway. Haakon had heard that the Scottish nobles had raided Orkney and King Alexander planned to conquer the islands and so he led a fleet of 120 viking ships to teach the king a lesson. After an inconclusive campaign, during which the unknown warrior at Luss was killed, he retired to Orkney, but he fell ill during the winter of 1263 and died.
We decided to have a trip on the loch itself, so we bought a ticket for the "Osprey Trip" (a breeding pair have been nesting on the same site in a tree feet from the loch for about 5 years). The mist was still around, so the scenery was not as spectacular as it would otherwise have been, but it was lovely nevertheless. After the trip we had a coffee and cake at the local cafe. Sue had cinnamon toast and I had ginger cake. They were scrummilicious and neither of us would have minded seconds. Then it was back "home". This was our last day in Scotland and it was great to see countryside that was quintessentially Scotland. Tomorrow we quit "Chez Barbara and Steve", a 4½-star accomodation (the half a star is lost because the lift was never on our floor when we wanted it, it was always on the floor below) and fly back to Paphos. We've had a lovely time with our friends, with a bit of luck we'll be invited back again - soon.
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