I went on special tour with Senior Discovery Tours entitled The Celtic Connection. It was one week in Scotland then one week in Ireland. This gave me the opportunity to experience 2 great countries I had long to visit. But first, a little bit about Senior.
The tour company’s head office happens to be in my neighbourhood. This mural is on the side wall and I had passed it for years. I had been the kind of traveller to plan my own trips. However, I had always wanted to go to Peru and decided to leave an excursion like that up to the experts. What I enjoyed is that they have over 20 years experience, the trips are tailored to seniors and I’m travelling with people my own age (so they generally get my jokes).
This time around there was advice to get to the airport early because of lineups and delays due to security. When booking my airline ticket I added the Maple Leaf Lounge to the order. In that way, as I had to wait a couple of hours, I could do it in a comfy chair. What I didn’t realize was that there are 2 Maple Leaf Lounges – domestic and international. I first lined up to the domestic desk. It was over capacity and I had to wait. When I finally scanned my ticket, and she saw I was going to Scotland, she directed me to the International Lounge. It was busy but I easily found a seat and a bar. The Guinness was free to pour and they also have food.
I got through security surprisingly quickly. I was approaching Gate E when the attendant said it was closing because of capacity. He directed me to Gate D. D had just opened and I was one of the first. It took me 10 minutes to get through the screening. I felt this was a very good sign from the travel gods. I sacrificed a Guinness as a thank you.
The Senior Discovery Tour prices includes the airfare. However I did the upgrade to Premium Economy, mainly for the leg room. Because of an old soccer injury, my knee joint can cramp and become painful. One of the features on the jet that I really enjoy is the flight map. When flying over land, you get to know what cities are below you.
Our tour guide/bus driver, Colin, took us to see The Kelpies. Our itinerary didn’t include them because Colin likes to surprise people on the first day. He has been a tour guide for 30 years and with Senior’s for 20. Here I am trying to capture the feeling that the one kelpie is expressing.
Completed in 2014, they are 30 metres high. Designed by Andy Scott as a monument to the horse powered heritage of Scotland. Kelpies are shape shifting water spirits which gives connection to the River Carron and the Forth and Clyde canal which is where they are situated.
They are steel plates, galvanized, then welded by hand. When it was first displayed, there were numerous accidents on the highway next to them as people rubber necked to see these gigantic heads. The Falkirk Council had to build earthen ramps and high walls to block the view.
The area is part of a huge redevelopment park called The Helix. The area was swamp so had to be landscaped to accommodate not only each Kelpie’s 300 tonnes but the traffic and visitors who would come. Above is the entrance to the Forth and Clyde canal which goes to the Falkirk Wheel.
Colin next took us to the Falkirk Wheel. I had never heard of it but will always remember it now. It is the only boat lift of its kind in the world. It takes a boat upward using the same amount of power as it does to boil 8 kettles. At the top is a boat channel the goes to the Union Canal. This system links Glasgow to Edinburgh
There were originally 11 locks connecting the two canals but they were disbanded in the 60s. It was the largest engineering project undertaken by British Waterways at a cost of 78 million pounds.
The idea for the design, by Tony Kettle, was based on Archimedes principle using the upward force of the water on the buoyant lower blade. The final structure has been compared to a Celtic double bladed axe.
Well, I was so impressed with the Falkirk Wheel, I bought a t-shirt with Tony Kettle’s drawing on it.
We headed for our hotel in Edinburgh. However I had plans. I wanted to get a pewter flask. I had done some online shopping before leaving and found a jeweller, Macintyres of Edinburgh, had a selection. I headed out on my walk of old town Edinburgh.
One cannot simple ignore Edinburgh Castle. I mean, it’s right there. My hotel is on the other side. I had to walk around the base to get to the store. On the way, met the first of many pipers and gave him some change.
Having obtained my flask, along with The Falkirk Wheel blended scotch, I felt I was in Scotland.
Next on the pilgrimage was the commemorative statue of Greyfriars Bobby. Bobby was a Skye Terrier who guarded the grave of his owner, John Gray, for 14 years. It is said that rubbing Bobby’s nose brings good luck. You can see how shiny his nose is. The statue is located near the Greyfriars cemetery where John Gray was buried.
After all that walking I needed to sit down for a pint. Our hotel, the Apex Grassmarket, is located in the Grassmarket area. More about that in the next post. I went into The White Hart, allegedly Edinburgh’s oldest pub. And what more would you expect in a Scottish pub then a dog making merry.
Despite the jet lag, I wanted to go explore more. But needed to get a full night’s sleep for tomorrows adventures.