Monthly Archives: September 2016

Searching for Nessie, 007 and Herding Sheep in Scotland

The next leg of our trip to Scotland takes us to Loch Ness, Eilean Donan Castle, and to a small sheep farm in the Scottish Highlands. Here’s our route so far:

scotland-loch-ness-map

Loch Ness

From an early age, I learned about the Loch Ness monster. Portrayed as an aquatic dinosaur, it has eluded capture for ages. I was happy that we were visiting the famous home of Nessie.

nessy

There have been accounts of an aquatic beast living in Loch Ness for 1,500 years but the first official sighting was in 1933 as reported by the Inverness Courier.  Since then, there have been numerous sightings tracked here.

In the 1960s several British universities launched expeditions to Loch Ness, using sonar to search the deep. Nothing conclusive was found, but in each expedition the sonar operators detected large, moving underwater objects they could not explain. In 1975, Boston’s Academy of Applied Science combined sonar and underwater photography in an expedition to Loch Ness. A photo resulted that, after enhancement, appeared to show the giant flipper of a plesiosaur-like creature.

Loch Ness is a beautiful lake surrounded by rolling hills.

loch-ness-panorama

It is a huge lake, there is more water in this lake than all the other lakes in Scotland, England and Wales put together.

loch-ness-huge

The lake is over 22 miles long and a depth of 754 feet.

loch-ness

Inverness

Our next stop was Inverness. Inverness is located on the River Ness at the end of Loch Ness.

river-inverness

We only spent a few hours in Inverness but if I return I would like to spend a lot more time here. It is a large enough city to have lots of things to do yet it felt like a quaint city with a lot of character.

inverness-city

It also home to the Inverness Castle, a red sandstone structure that was erected in 1836 by architect William Burn.

inverness-castle-2

Earlier castles have stood where Inverness Castle is located today and have been recorded as far back as 1548. Here is a drawing of The Castle of Inverness of 1548 (thanks to Wikipedia for the photo).

inverness-castle-1548

Eilean Donan Castle

On our way to Culloden, we made our way to Eilean Donan Castle.

eilean-donan-castle

Eilean Donan is one of the most iconic images of Scotland. Located on an island where 3 lakes meet, it is surrounded by beautiful hills, valleys, and lakes.

eilean-donan-castle-and-bridge

First inhabited around the 6th century, the first fortified castle was built in the mid 13th century and guarded the lands of Kintail. Since then, at least four different versions of the castle have been built and re-built.

It has also been home to numerous movie sets. In 1986, Highlander was shot here. If you’re a James Bond fan like me, you may remember the 1999 movie “The World is Not Enough“, parts of it were filmed here.

highlander-movie

Sheep Herding

It was a real treat to stop at a working sheep farm. I was taken aback at how the farmer had such incredible control over his dogs. He would send a single dog out to round up dozens of sheep and the dog would take direction from whistles and hand gestures.  Many times the dog would be a quarter mile away and could still hear his commands.

sheep-herding

Pictures can’t do this justice, you would have to see it in action to truly appreciate it.

 

Next Stop: Edinburgh

We spent 2 weeks on this trip to Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland, and I will finish up our trip blog next week. The last blog will cover our visit to Culloden, St. Andrews, and Edinburgh, Scotland.

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Scotland: Glasgow and the Isle of Skye

The next leg of our trip takes us out of Ireland and into Scotland. We started our trip in Glasgow and made our way up to the Isle of Skye. Here is a retrace of our trip so far:

map

Glasgow

Our introduction to Scotland was a scenic ferry ride from Northern Ireland to Scotland. We drove up to Glasgow — the largest city in Scotland.  Glasgow is like any large metropolitan area, it has lots of shopping and restaurants. The city center has statues and is the gathering place for tourists and locals alike.

glasgow

They have a difficult time keeping the younger crowd from putting pylon cones on the statues in town, I took a quick picture of one on the back of Queen Elizabeth’s statue. As soon as the officials take them down, someone puts them back up again.

glasgow-statues

While we were there, they had a tennis court where you could receive serves from one of their more famous celebrities, Andy Murray. Of course, it was not the real Andy Murray, it was a machine that serves the ball as fast as Andy. If you were able to return 1 out of 2 serves, they would enter your name into a drawing for a prize. If you want to see my pitiful attempt at this, check it out here.

Glengoyne Distillery

In the neighboring community of Glengoyne sits a distillery for fine Scotch. It is located in a beautiful valley. In Gaelic, Glen means valley — that’s why you’ve heard of other Scotch whiskeys like Glenfiddich, they mostly put the distilleries in the valleys because it is away from the hustle and bustle of cities.

glengoyne

While there, we toured the distillery and were able to sample their Scotch. I’m not much of a Scotch drinker but it was very smooth.

glengoyne-distillery

We capped off our day with a dinner at Arta, a hip restaurant in the middle of Glasgow.

arta-restaurant

It had a cool and funky vibe, we walked into the restaurant with James Brown playing over the speakers.

arta

It was described as a Mediterranean restaurant but it was an eclectic mix of styles. It was a very interesting place to eat, I would highly recommend it if you find yourself in Glasgow.

arta-mediterranean

Loch Loman

Our next stop was Loch Loman. By the way, Loch means lake in Gaelic, so when you hear of Loch Ness or Loch Lowman, you will know it is a lake.

lock-lowman

After boarding our boat, we toured Loch Lowman. Each year, thousands of people hike the nearby mountains and Loch Lowman is a stop along their way.

lock-lowman-boat-ride

As you cruise around the lake, you see hotels and waterfalls, it’s breathtaking.

loch-loman

Isle of Skye

After a quick visit to Loch Loman, we headed north towards Isle of Skye. To get there, you must take another ferry. Isle of Skye is made up of a lot of sheep farms and fishing villages.

isle-of-skye

The island is pretty remote and you can’t count on Internet or other modern conveniences we’ve come accustomed to. The hotels are very basic but the scenery is wonderful. The hotel we stayed in had a dock that fishing boats came and went from.

isle-of-skye-fishing-village

There were some really old boats that I had to capture on camera.

isle-of-skye-boats

Next Stop: Loch Ness

We spent 2 weeks on this trip to Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland, so I will continue chronicling our journeys over the coming weeks. The next blog will cover our visit to the Loch Ness Scotland (maybe we will spot the Loch Ness monster).

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Giant’s Causeway and Belfast Northern Ireland

 

The next leg of our trip to North Ireland takes us to the mystical Giant’s Causeway then on to Belfast, the epicenter of the Northern Ireland “troubles”. Here is a retrace of our trip so far:

londonderry-to-belfast

The Giant’s Causeway

Giants_Causway.pngDrenched in myth and legend, the Giant’s Causeway is a beautiful coastal outpost located on the north shore of Northern Ireland.

The product of years of intense ancient volcanic activity, it’s 40,000 basalt columns provide beauty and mysticism and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1986.

Legend has it that it was carved from the coast by the mighty giant, Finn McCool. Gaelic mythology says that Finn McCool was challenged to a fight by a Scottish giant, Benandonner. Accepting the provocation, Finn built the causeway across the North Channel to meet and duke it out with Benandonner.

giants-causeway

There are opposing stories of how the fight went. One legend says Finn easily defeats the Scottish giant. Another says Finn makes his way to the meeting point and sees how big the Scottish giant is and begins to hide.

Following closely behind, Fionn’s wife, Oonagh, disguises Fionn as a baby and puts him in a cradle.When Benandonner sees the size of the baby, he figures that Finn’s father must be a huge mighty giant so he retreats back to Scotland, destroying the causeway across the Northern Channel so Finn’s father cannot come after him.

giants-causeway-2

Evidence of Finn McCool are everywhere, you can see below that his Mom kept his baby shoes for posterity.

fin-mccool-shoe

The landscape here is beautiful, it is surrounded by basalt columns that extend up the to the apex of the cliffs.

giants-causeway-basalt-columns

We trekked to the top of the causeway and were rewarded with a spectacular view:

view-from-top-of-giants-causeway

After descending, we decided to test our lungs a bit more and climbed to the other summit of the cliff where we were met by sheep.

giant-causeway-sheep

The Gemstone Chronicles

Our story of the Giant’s Causeway would not be complete without sharing a book with you called The Gemstone Chronicles. Written by a high school friend, Bill Stuart, the story is about a couple of kids that discover a fairy cross while rock hunting with their grandfather.

After finding out that an elf was imprisoned in the fairy cross, they mistakenly released the elf and embark on a journey to a land of giants called Celahir to help in the elf’s return to his homeland. In book 3 of the 4 part series, their journey takes them to the Giant’s Causeway. If you like books like Harry Potter and Narnia, you’ll enjoy this story.

Belfast: A City of Troubles

Our final stop in Northern Ireland was the capital city of Belfast. Known to most as the “troubles”, Belfast has been the epicenter of violence between Irish Protestants and Catholics.

You may remember from my last post that King Henry the 8th started the Protestant religion when the Catholic church would not grant him a divorce from his first wife. Prior to this, Ireland was primarily Catholic and as the Protestant religion began to spread across the nation, it caused unrest and division within the country.

belfast-walls

After hundreds of years of religious strife, it all came to a crescendo in Belfast in 1920. Ireland was partitioned into 2 separate countries. The Republic of Ireland was mainly Catholic and Northern Ireland Protestant.

The Irish Republican Army (IRA) began a campaign of violence against Catholics that lasted for several decades and most of this violence centered around Belfast. Of the 465 killed in the conflict, 90% were civilians. As we drove around the city, there were clear signs of the conflict, with tons of war graffiti and wire laced walls.

belfast

After the unrest cooled in 1998 with the Good Friday Agreement, the city began a rebuilding period. We visited the Titanic museum, this is just one example of the new Belfast.

titanic-museaum

Ireland and Brexit

You may remember that the Republic of Ireland is an independent nation while Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. The Republic of Ireland is part of the European Union (EU) and the United Kingdom just voted to leave the EU.

This has major implications for Ireland. Since the Republic of Ireland will continue being part of the EU and Northern Ireland will not, they may have to erect a border between the countries. Leaving the EU may also have trade implications for Northern Ireland as the EU provided free trade and travel between the participating countries of the EU.

For years, many Irish citizens have wanted to reunify the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland into a single country as it was before the turn of the 20th century. Now that the  UK is leaving the EU, this may be an opportunity to make this change. Then no borders would be needed and all of Ireland could continue to benefit in being part of the EU.  But there’s still a lot of deep resentment between the countries, so only time will tell if this will happen.

Next Stop: Scotland

We spent 2 weeks on this trip to Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland, so I will continue chronicling our journeys over the coming weeks. The next blog will cover our visit to the Scotland and the Isle of Skye.

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A Tale of 2 Countries: Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland

After visiting Galway, we made our way to Northern Ireland, stopping along the way to take in the beauty of The Republic of Ireland.  Here is our trip path thus far:

galway-to-londonderry

Tobernalt Holy Well

After leaving, our first stop was at a sacred site called Tobernalt Holy Well in Sligo, Ireland. It was an eerily quiet place that is off-the-beaten path — very few tours take you there. It was established in the 5th century during Celtic times — long before Christianity made its way to Ireland.  To enter, you make your way through a tree laden entry and you are reminded that these are sacred grounds.

tobernalt-1

tobernalt-2

You are immediately met with beautiful flora and babbling streams.

tobernalt-3

As you make your way up the path, the quietness of this place consumes you. All you hear is singing birds and the trickle of water.

tobernalt-4

The path culminates in a cross and crucifix scene on an elevated hill.

tobernalt-5

Onwards towards Donegal

We continued our journey towards Donegal and stopped at a scenic coastal overview that was just a few miles from a castle (notice the castle in the distance).

castle towards donegal

The inlet led out to the sea as I caught a glimpse of a fishing boat in the distance.

boat-in-the-distance

Pictures don’t do it justice, but here is a panoramic view of this incredible place.

panaroma-of-castle

Donegal Castle

We made our way to Donegal, the castle is just off the main square. Built in 1474 by the O’Donnell clan and restored in 1990. In 1607, after the Nine Years war, the leaders of the O’Donnell clan left Ireland in the Flight of the Earls.

donegal-castle

In 1611, the castle and its lands were granted to an English Captain, Basil Brooke. The O’Donnells severely damaged it to prevent the castle from being used against the Gaelic clans. But it was quickly restored by its new owners. Brooke also added windows, a gable and a large manor-house wing, all in the Jacobean style.

donegal-castle-interior

The Brooke family owned the castle for many generations until it fell into a ruinous state in the 18th century. In 1898 the then owner, the Earl of Arran, donated the castle to the Office of Public Works.

Tale of 2 Countries

Many of us may not realize that The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland are two separate countries even though they share the same island.

nothern_ireland_and_republic_of_ireland_map

It was not always so. For many years there was a single republic but in May of 1921 they split. During the split, Northern Ireland decided to stay in the United Kingdom (UK) but The Republic of Ireland did not. This has major implications with Brexit — we’ll discuss that in our my next post.

Londonderry Northern Ireland

So why the split? You have to go back to earlier times. In 1521, Henry the 8th (the king of England) wanted to divorce his wife. Since England was Catholic, he asked the Pope to grant the divorce. The Pope refused so Henry the 8th basically said “screw you — I will create my own church, I will be the head of that church and it will allow my divorce.”!  That’s when the Protestant religion and the Anglican church began.

Londonderry's a beautiful city

Londonderry’s a beautiful city

For many years, Ireland was torn between Protestant and Catholic religions. The northern part of Ireland pledged allegiance to the king and the Protestant faith. The southern part of Ireland wanted to stay with its Catholic roots.

Beautiful Londonderry, Northern Ireland

Beautiful Londonderry, Northern Ireland

So in 1921, the debate came to its final boiling point and they decided to split the country. Derry was the demarcation of the split, so they decided to split that into 2 cities (Derry in the Republic and Londonderry in Northern Ireland).

Londonderry

Londonderry

The River Foyle separates Derry and Londonderry and The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

derry-and-londonderry

There are still hostilities between Ireland and Northern Ireland and groups like the Irish Republic Army (IRA) fuel the fires of discontent. More about that in my next post.

I’ll leave you with a couple of pictures I took of Derry (on the other side of the river). We took a quick trip up a mountain that offered incredible views of the surrounding area.

derry

Panoramic View of Derry

Panoramic View of area just outside of Derry

Next Stop: Giants Causeway and Belfast

We spent 2 weeks on this trip to Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland, so I will continue chronicling our journeys over the coming weeks. The next blog will cover our visit to the Giant’s Causeway and Belfast.

If you are not subscribed to our blog and would like to subscribe so that new posts come directly to your email, scroll up to the right top section of this page and type in your email address.

If you missed the prior posts, you can see them here:

 

Galway Ireland: A Cosmopolitan College Town

After visiting the Ring of Kerry, we made our way to the coastal city of Galway. It just happened that it was a big day for Galway, the Galway Races were on. More about that later. Here is our trip path thus far:

Limerick to Galway

Galway: SmartBear Software

Many of you may know that in 2009 Lynn and I sold our company to SmartBear Software. It just happens that SmartBear opened an office in Galway, Ireland a few years ago and they develop and market the software I created (now called QAComplete) from that office.

An old friend from SmartBear (Miles Kane) contacted me during our trip and asked if I would stop by the office to see the latest version of QAComplete. I really wanted to but our schedule didn’t give me enough time to do it. But it’s very cool that we were halfway around the world in a city that now continues the development of the software that my team wrote and maintained for years.

Galway Waterfront

The Galway Races

During our visit, the Galway Races were going on. The Galway Races is an Irish horse-racing festival that starts on the last Monday of July every year. Held at Ballybrit Racecourse in Galway, Ireland over seven days, it is one of the longest of all the race meets that occur in Ireland.

Galway_Horses

Galway is also a bustling college town, it boasts the National University in Galway. Due to a beautiful summer day, Galway Race event and it just being a college town, there were tons of college students dressed to the nines before attending the races. Guys wore their best suits and women were decked out in nice dresses and hats.

Galway_Races

The City of Galway

A city of about 180,000 (including surrounding area), Galway is known as Ireland’s Cultural Heart, as it has a vibrant lifestyle, great nightlife, and lots of festivals.

Galway City 1

We caught a glimpse of the River Corrib on our way in, there was fly-fisherman trying his hand at bringing one in.

Galway Entrance

When we were there, it was like a carnival atmosphere with lots of people walking around, street performers singing and dancing, and people meeting friends on route to the Galway Races.

Galway Streets

On our trip to Galway, our tour guide told us about The Kings Head Pub. In 1649, King Charles I was found guilty of high treason. When it came time for his execution, the Executioner for the City of London, Richard Brandon, refused to be the one swinging the blade. Finding a replacement was a challenge, the emissaries sent all throughout Ireland, Wales, and Scotland. The story goes that they found their executioner in an Irish man named Richard Gunning, and he was given the building that’s now the aptly named King’s Head pub as payment for the execution. We knew we had to visit.

The Kings Head

Claddagh Ring

Also while in Galway, our tour guide told us the story of the Claddagh ring.  It was invented by Richard Joyce after being captured and enslaved by Algerian Corsairs around 1675 while on a passage to the West Indies. He was sold into slavery to a Moorish goldsmith who taught him the craft and he later invented the ring. King William III demanded the release of all Brits enslaved in that country and that included Joyce. Joyce returned to Galway and brought along with him the ring he had designed while in captivity. He gave the ring to his sweetheart, married, and became a successful goldsmith.

Claddagh_Ring

Cameron purchased one of these rings while in Galway. You are supposed to wear it on the right hand with the heart facing away from you if you are single and the heart faces towards you if you are in a relationship. If you are engaged, you wear it on the left hand with the heart facing away from you and with the heart facing towards you if you are married.

Next Stop: Northern Ireland

We spent 2 weeks on this trip to Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland, so I will continue chronicling our journeys over the coming weeks. The next blog will cover our visit to Northern Ireland.

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If you missed the prior posts, you can see them here: