I thought I knew about Manhattan, having visited quite a bit while growing up and having lived in couple of neighborhoods. I’ve ridden on the Staten Island Ferry and been to the Statue of Liberty. Both require you to go to the toe of Manhattan. What I skipped over until this trip was the neighborhood just inland from the Battery that includes Wall Street. Now that Lyra lives there, we stopped in for a visit and it is a very enjoyable part of the city.
We stayed at the Wall Street Inn (on S. William St.), a very comfortable small hotel with an excellent breakfast included. It’s also near subway stops, but its greatest asset is being located right around the corner from our daughter’s apartment, by Delmonico’s. (We did not eat there on this trip.) We did take in the sights nearby and there are many. We stopped in front of Federal Hall on Wall St. where George Washington was inaugurated as the first president of the US.
The former US Customs House, just down the street from Federal Hall, overlooks Bowling Green. Today it is a branch of the National Museum of the American Indian and holds the collections that were formerly the Heye Foundation. It was difficult to visit before moving to the Customs House, because the building was largely storage and had limited display of collections. The museum was located way off the beaten path on 155th St. and Broadway. Now the museum is at the Bowling Green subway stop and the new exhibits show the rich collection of materials from North, Central and South America. I particularly enjoyed seeing the pottery from Costa Rica and Panama that reminded me of the time I spent in Costa Rica while working on my dissertation and how much I admired archaeologist Olga Linares for her book on the imagery on Panamanian pottery, “Ecology and the Arts in Ancient Panama.”
Just two blocks beyond is the shore, lined with a walkway that is used by strollers and joggers alike. Once you get beyond the area where visitors to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island congregate, it is a relatively peaceful and uncrowded part of the city. The view out over the water to Liberty herself and Ellis Island are sublime. It’s a great neighborhood.
Benbulben is a striking feature on the Donegal landscape, or is it Sligo, or Leitrim? County boundaries are close together here and this mountain plateau can be seen for many miles. We followed the Benbulben Forest Walk to skirt the edge of the mountain, admiring the velvety moss green drape of its slopes. The tiny white flecks on its surface are sheep that graze all the way up to the rocks. As you walk from one end to the other of its rocky face, Benbulben changes from a knob of rock to a wall of cliffs to a row of jagged teeth looming over the valley.
Our walk started in bright sun, then shifted to overcast and to rain. We stood among the pines of a forestry plantation to escape the gusts for five minutes and then the rain was past.
We stopped to look at the ruin of a medieval farmstead, Cashel Baun, that we found along the path, then continued on from the park to a place called Luke’s Bridge, around the side of Benbulben. Luke’s Bridge is a trailhead for hiking up onto the plateau at the top of Benbulben. We saw four hikers making their way down the final stretch after what surely had been a long morning. Anyone can climb the trail as long as they have the legs, boots, raingear, water, snacks and desire to do so.When you put your back to Benbulben you can see fields and pastures and the Atlantic in the distance.I have been reading about “overtourism” lately, the fact that popular places have become so full of tourists that there is no room for local residents. Tourist hotels and rental properties squeeze housing availability and raise prices. Streets are packed with people day and night–sometimes things get rowdy. Many people who travel are in favor of sustainable tourism but no one wants to give up seeing a famous sight. We all seem to want limits on visitors right AFTER we’ve been there.
Now that I’ve been to Benbulben, I think it was a better experience than visiting the Cliffs of Moher, which were full, full, full of other visitors. There were a few other cars in the parking lot at Benbulben and we passed two other groups of walkers. Would I have passed up visiting the Cliffs of Moher had I known about the crowds? I don’t know. After we visited the Giant’s Causeway and saw the number of people there we decided not to visit the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge nearby that most visitors stop and see. We understood there would be just as many people there and since the experience is to cross a long rope bridge between mainland and island, there isn’t anything to do but stand in line and wait your turn (timed tickets started this year). The line is said to be 90 minutes on most days. It didn’t sound like fun at that point. I’m glad we passed on it. There are lots of places to visit in Ireland that are still uncrowded and beautiful.
Skye may be the best known island in Scotland, though there are partisans for every island. We decided on a brief visit. You can go for the day from where we are, but it would be very long, so we settled on an overnight, with just two days of touring. This photo depicts the weather for our visit–some sun, with rain coming or just past. We went south to north and clockwise around the island.
Broadford was our first stop for late morning coffee and a peek at the beach for both birds and beachcombing.
Next stop, a short hike to a series of waterfalls and clear pools called the Fairy Pools. The mountains in the back are the start of the Cuilins, the highest on Skye.No pool pictures because my camera battery died. (Note to self, always carry phone as backup.)
From here we saw the circular hill fort (called a “broch”) at Dun Beag. This fort lends its name to the nearby town of Dunvegan where our B&B was located. We had a beautiful view over Dunvegan Loch from our window.
The sun was not as cooperative the next day, as we continued around the island. We saw Neith Point, an impressive setting, but we didn’t hike the path to the lighthouse because of the gale.It was seriously windy. My hat is held down with my hoodie. It wasn’t even raining yet. That came later.
By the time we arrived at Kilt Rock, it was pelting rain sideways. One side got wet while we were rushing from the car to the overlook. The other side got wet when we rushed back to the car. The waterfall was gushing full force. Skye seems to have lots of water right now.
From here it was time to head home. We had a wonderful visit, however short.
As always, I have a few comments about Skye. Our experience, backed up by our B&B host is that reservations are essential. We had a reservation for a place to stay and for dinner before we went and both places were full when we arrived. Skye is full of small B&Bs, some of them very remote, and most we saw, even on a Monday night in late September, had “No Vacancies”.
Roads on Skye are often one lane and in poor condition. We shared the road with sheep and the occasional cow which I didn’t mind as much as the large trucks.
Just because roads are narrow and you don’t see anyone doesn’t mean no one is there. We had what has become our typical Scotland experience. You get to the end of a long winding, single lane road and the parking lot is full. The Fairy Pools had a full lot and cars parked along the side of the narrow road on a steep hillside. There just wasn’t anywhere else to stop. There were at least 50 people on the trail at any given time, most of them not Scottish, or even English. Americans and Japanese seemed to prevail, though everyone was there.
There are wonderful sights, crowded or not. Here are a few of my favorites:
Skye is a lovely place, but you could have as good a visit with far less crowding further north along the coast (see my post on the North Coast 500).
We wanted to see what the highlands are about, so we drove to the middle. Lairg is about 50 miles from the east, west, and north coasts of Scotland.The town sits at one end of Loch Shin, surrounded by hills covered with heather and gorse, green pastures filled with sheep and tan fields of barley.
The Ferrycroft visitors center at the edge of town, has a number of playful outdoor spaces, indoor exhibits and is the start of a trail around the Ord Cairns, a series of archaeological remains including hut circles and cairns, that also include two large burial cairns that overlook Loch Shin.Each cairn looked a bit different.The large radio tower on top of the hill didn’t take away from the interesting sights, even though I’ve cut it out of my photos. The large hydroelectric plant didn’t intrude either. We were interested to find that the highlands look a lot like the rest of Scotland.
The Black Isle gets its name from the dark form of the island in winter. When viewed from afar, Inverness, for example, it looks black. Surrounded by water, snow doesn’t stick (they don’t get very much). Cromarty is a small town at the tip of the Black Isle. It has varied and interesting architectural details, and some nice shops including the only Dutch cheese shop in Scotland (don’t ask me why).
The thatched roof building is the birthplace of Hugh Miller (1801-1856), and the Carnegie library is dedicated to Miller as well. Hugh Miller was a proponent of the study of geology in the early 1800s. In this era before Darwin, this was a very new endeavor.
An interesting building in Cromarty, and the tile entrance to an antique store that had a great variety of things.
There’s always a ruin to be visited, so we walked up a path from town to the Gaelic Chapel, the ruins adjacent to the village churchyard. You can barely see the chapel walls in this photo and we are on the inside of the structure.
We spent a very nice day in Cromarty, and even stopped to watch birds in Cromarty Firth on the way home.
We drove along the coast until we found a place to walk, and ended up at Nun Mill Beach. Believe it or not, late August has had mostly sunny days and today was another. We ate our picnic by the water and found lots of beach glass. The fields beside the shore are a brilliant green and we followed a path up the hill to look out over Solway Firth and across to the Lake District.
On our walk, Jonathan pointed out a roe deer strolling across the field. This beautiful action photo by Alasdair Middleton shows just the reddish-brown color of its coat.
Late summer seems so intense–the sun (when it’s out), the fields, the animals are all in perfect health, we’re in a special moment poised between the seasons.
Some of the places we’ve visited and things we’ve seen in Edinburgh haven’t fit in to my comments until now. By joining Historic Scotland, we were able to visit Edinburgh Castle multiple times, Linlithgow Castle and there are 75 sites they manage. Not all have admission fees, and I enjoyed visiting one of these that was just down the road from our flat, in Corstorphine.
Once a village, now a neighborhood within Edinburgh, Corstorphine was part of lands belonging to the Forrester family. Corstorphine Castle lasted from the 14th to the 18th century, but is now gone. The only remaining structure of the estate is a dovecote, built of stone with about 1000 nesting boxes.
I visited this dovecote, and found it sitting in two adjacent front yards that neatly curve around halves of the structure. An informational sign suggests the structure avoided being demolished because of a local myth that anyone destroying a dovecote would be cursed.
After making my brief tour, I returned to the bus stop via the Corstorphine Old Parish Church and churchyard. The oldest part of the church dates to 1429 (Unbelievable!) The historic documentation of some structures is impressive. There are records of who owned and built what building by dates in the 1200s. As a resident of the New World, I am amazed.
Without entering a museum in Edinburgh you can see historic symbols.
Sometimes it was not clear what was going on, as with the drum group on the steps of the National Museum of Scotland. The drumming was great.
The parade for the opening of the Edinburgh Jazz Festival that precedes the overall Edinburgh Festival, was also full of character.
The most unusual site we visited was the Dazzle Ship at the Prince of Wales Dock in Leith. A combination of history and art, the MV Fingal was repainted by artist Ciara Phillips as a tribute to the “dazzle” ship painting used during WWI. The original idea was not to disguise ships but to distract and confuse anyone viewing them through a telescope. Sadly, there is no evidence that the system worked at all, but the resulting ships were a distinctive landmark of the war. At least 2000 ships were painted in this way in Several ships have been “dazzled” by artists as part of a project sponsored by a number of UK institutions as part of this year’s centenary commemoration of WWI.
The Fingal was a supply ship of the Northern Lighthouse Board, built in 1963, to ply the coast of Scotland and later the Orkneys, resupplying remote towns and lighthouses until 2000. Now owned by the Royal Yacht Brittania Trust (the Fingal is docked just around the corner from the former royal yacht), the Fingal is scheduled to become luxury hotel accommodations in 2018. Really?
From many places around Edinburgh, you can see monuments on Calton Hill. Here is what you see from the Old Town. It’s a very romantic view.
There is a tower, a dome or two, and even some Grecian columns, a failed effort to duplicate the Parthenon in Edinburgh.
During the Scottish Enlightement (18th century), the city called itself the Athens of the North, and the structure is officially the National Monument of Scotland (also, Edinburgh’s Disgrace, as it was never completed).
A stroll up Calton Hill seemed like pleasant walking, little did we know that it is full of monuments.
At the top, we could see not only the Parthenon, but all kinds of other buildings. It reminded me of being at a World’s Fair. Lots of other people, including a tour group from Spain, were enjoying the day with us. Jonathan practiced his hobby of offering to take group photos for people. He had lots of takers. In addition to the Parthenon, there is the Edinburgh Astronomy Society observatory and at least one other dome.
An art collective is renovating the old city observatory property as an art center. It’s very promising that their first act on the way to raising funds and planning what to do was to put up scaffolding so that visitors can see over the wall into the observatory grounds. Apparently, that has never been possible before.
In addition to the monuments, on Calton Hill is the only surviving private home built by James Craig, original architect of New Town Edinburgh. This home, Observatory House, was briefly the city observatory, then provided housing to astronomers using the nearby observatory designed by Wm. Henry Playfair, another esteemed Scottish architect. Today Observatory House is being renovated for rental as a luxury vacation spot—the only lodging on Calton Hill.
Looking outward from Calton is a panorama of Edinburgh. On the left is Holyrood Palace and behind it is Arthur’s Seat in Holyrood Park. On the right, you can see the Salisbury Crags with the new Scottish Parliament (the hedgehog building is part of it).
Turn to the right and you see the Dugald Stewart monument with Old Town Edinburgh beyond, marked by the crown steeple of St. Giles Cathedral and many other steeples.
With that you’ve completed a 360º tour of Edinburgh, all from Calton Hill.
The weather was absolutely perfect. The sky was clear and bright blue and the sun shone. We walked on a path along the Water of Leith, a stream really, to get to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. The entrance was inviting. Can you believe we’re in the middle of the city?
The exhibit on Surrealism was so good that you didn’t have to have any particular interest in the topic to enjoy the art, the explanations, the description of the three particular collectors whose donations have made Edinburgh’s collections on Surrealism one of the world’s finest.
The permanent collection includes Scottish artists and other works, though we were most attracted to the sculpture on the lawn, itself sculpted into a piece of landscape art. Signs indicate that you are allowed to walk on the sculpture. There is a somewhat arty play area for kids. It’s a very welcoming museum. There’s even some sculpture by women.
Conversation with Magic Stones by Barbara Hepworth. It looks archaeological.
At the end of the day, the sun still shone, but the wind picked up and blew clouds fast across the sky, the air cooled and I could feel the cold on my cheeks. We’d had a day of all-out, full on summer, and yet I could already feel autumn in the air. Yes, there was one hot day two weeks ago–but that would make summer have lasted two days in total, if clouds and rain don’t count. That may be it for summer in Scotland.