Today’s referendum on Scottish independence made me think of last summer and a short stop I made with Michelle to visit the Highlands.
We traversed the scenic Scottish landscape en route one of Scotland’s oldest towns, Sterling. Set amongst rocky crags and the winding river Forth, this charming town, which is the gateway to Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, is known as Scotland’s crossroads between the Highlands and Lowlands. To visit is to step back in time. We wandered through many quaint shops and had a sandwich lunch at a local bistro. It was great to discover one of my favourite outfitters, Mountain Warehouse with a shop in town. We stocked up on cold weather gear for the next leg of our journey to Denmark, Norway, and the Faroe Islands.
Also in Sterling is the historic and majestic Stirling Castle, one of Scotland’s largest and most important castles, both historically and architecturally. Constructed between 1490 and 1600, the castle sits atop Castle Hill, an intrusive crag which is surrounded on three sides by steep cliffs, giving it a strong defensive position. Stirling was besieged sixteen times during its long and bloody history, and several Scottish Kings and Queens have been crowned there, including Mary, Queen of Scots, in 1543.
Later in the day we toured one of the engineering marvels of the 21st century – The Falkirk Wheel. Inaugurated in 2002 by Queen Elizabeth II, this massive wheel, which resembles a giant screw, is the world’s only rotating boat lift, lifting or lowering canal boats between two waterways. A century ago, eleven locks connected Glasgow’s Clyde Canal with Edinburgh’s Union Canal. The locks spanned the 79-foot difference in elevation between the canals. Today, this impressive wheel accomplishes the job simply, in one slow turn. We boarded a canal boat, sailed across the aqueduct, and entered the lock to be lifted into space from one waterway and gently deposited in another.
While wandering about in Scotland, we were warned to pay attention to our money. When paying with GBP, the vendors often return local Scottish currency, backed by a local bank. Merchants close to a certain bank will generally honor the local currency one for one. But woe betide thee who tries to use Scottish Pounds anywhere else! You’ll discover the notes are nothing but fancy souvenirs. Sure enough, we had already collected quite a few of these foreignly suspect notes, but were able to deftly convert them into equipment needed back aboard ship.
Regardless of how today’s vote turns out, we look forward to a return trip. Perhaps we’ll be able to use Euros, or the local currency will have been elevated to a respectable status once again.