Daybreak comes early in this part of the world. Actually, I’m not sure it ever got really dark to begin with, but long days are good. There is so much to see and the abundant daylight hours gives one plenty of time to see it all. We woke to clear blue skies with abundant sunshine. We were told that this is not always the case. In fact, just a few weeks ago it rained for several weeks straight. Maybe we brought the South Carolina sunshine with us…

A full Scottish breakfast is “a wee bit” different than a full English breakfast. Like the English breakfast there are mushrooms, eggs, bacon, tomato and bangers ( sausage). The Scottish add potato scones,which are like flat potato pancakes, haggis and black pudding. Needless to say I passed on the haggis and black pudding. Trying an oyster was enough adventure for this trip! Various ground bits of meat with oats don’t bother Courtney so she enjoyed the haggis with her breakfast.

We drove up the hill for our visit to Inveraray Castle. We have been looking forward to this for months. Jane Young, the castle manager, met us in the car park and had a surprise for us. Originally, the Duke and the Duchess were not going to be in residence while we were visiting. What a pleasant surprise to find out that they were at home. Even better- but that we were going to meet them!! Jane led us into the gift shop where Torquil, the 13th Duke of Argyll, was behind the register doing paperwork. He welcomed us to his home and asked if there was anything he could do for us while we were there. We asked if it would be possible to interview him and he said, “of course,” and that he would catch up with us later.

Jane led us threw the “new” entrance to the castle that was built upon the request of Queen Victoria. The glass and metal-covered entrance was designed by the same person who designed Paddington Station in London. The locals affectionately call this entrance the “the train station.” Once inside, we were left in the care of Denise, one of the castle’s charming and knowledgeable guides. She led us through the different rooms, telling us about the ancestral history, the castle history, and the various furnishings of the home. The Armoury Hall really did have the “wow!” factor, with the vast array of weaponry displayed like art. At the very top on the ceiling of the hall was the Campbell coat of arms as well as the initials for the current Duke and Duchess -T for Torquil and E for Eleanor.

After touring the rest of the castle, we met up with the Duke in the Armoury Hall once again. He mentioned that he was glad we had not crashed. At first we were not sure what he was talking about, until he said that he had read our blog from the previous day. It still hasn’t sunk in for us that people are actually reading what we write! It is actually a bit mind-blowing to think about.

The Duke led us out to a quiet spot in the gardens, where I had the pleasure of a brief interview with him. He discussed with us what it is like to balance family life – being a dad and a husband – with his responsibilities as Duke of Argyll. He said the balance of teaching your kids not to talk to strangers in London, and then turning around and instructing them to be kind and greet visitors at Inveraray Castle can get tricky. He also mentioned that on occasion, visitors might hear kids yelling, and find a stray Lego lying about the castle, because it is not a museum. It is their home. And those would likely be his kids! It is evident that he loves his home, and is quite “hands-on” in the operation of the castle. For the majority of the morning, he was working in the gift shop behind the counter, wrapping visitors’ purchases, and assisting in any way he could. That is hands-on! To escape the bustle and business of the castle and his other responsibilities, he does enjoy the quiet solitude of fly-fishing when he gets the chance. I think what stood out to both of us was how gracious and kind he was – just a regular fellow, if you will. We felt very at ease with him, even though it is not every day we get to meet a duke, particularly the Duke of Argyll, chief of the Clan Campbell!

Later in the gift shop, we also had the pleasure of meeting his wife, who approached Courtney and told her she had just come from reading our blog. She was simply delightful – not a bit of pretension about her. We talked “mom” stuff about our kids, and how our girls love pink. She wanted to know how long the whole pink fascination would last I told her it might start to fade at about 11 or 12. One word I can think of to describe her is gracious. Full of grace. A visitor had knocked over a display of something, who I am sure was mortified and embarrassed. She quickly went over and reassured them, then she got down on the floor and began to pick up the fallen items. Like I said – gracious.

We had a nice lunch from the castle tea room in the garden, with a view of the entryway used in the Downton Abbey episode, as well as the archway where Anna and Mr. Bates had a sweet scene. As much as we hated to leave this idyllic castle – both fairy-tale-like and austere at the same time – we had an appointment with another well-known local figure….

No trip to Scotland would be complete without bagpipes! Stuart Liddell (pronounced “little” but with a “D” sound) is a world-champion piper and pipe major for the Inveraray and District Pipe Band.. John Patrick had contacted him on our behalf, and Stuart invited us to his home for a demonstration and a lesson! Our SatNav got us lost – she took us to some deserted-looking house too far up the road, so we had to fumble around and try to find the place. He lives on the Argyll Estate land in an old bridge guard house from the 18th century right on the edge of Loch Fyne. He has the best view ever! Yet another very gracious host. He told us a bit of the history of bag-piping, which goes back to before Roman times, and was once outlawed in Scotland by the English as a sort of weapon. Scots still played them, of course, and we wondered how they managed to “hide” the fact that they still played! I imagine they did not care much what the English thought. Stuart played Amazing Grace for us, right there beside the Loch with the mountains in view…it was like a dream. Afterward, he played “The Campbells are Coming” for me. That was something! We moved into his garden, where he gave Courtney a chanter, which is basically the part of the bagpipes that you put you fingers on to make the notes, and is the first step in mastering the bagpipes. Becoming proficient with the chanter alone can take 2 years! He gave Courtney a quick lesson, and she made some pretty sour notes to begin! The key to the right notes was blowing harder – she was surprised at how much air you had to blow in to make it sound right. She was a quick learner!

Since it was quite hot, he offered us a drink, and invited us into his home. We spent about an hour in his kitchen just talking and chatting. Again, a very warm and hospitable time. He did make me try a smoked mussel when he learned how I have been “trying new things” on this trip, but I will forgive him for that! He has heard of the Highland Games in North Carolina, and has played at a piping event in Stone Mountain, Georgia. We made him promise to let us know if he ever goes back so we can take our families to see him. We hated to leave, but he had a Skype bagpipe lesson scheduled with someone in California!

We returned to town with just enough time to be touristy and shop for souvenirs for our kids and families. We also took a stroll on the pier, built in 1762 – older than our country, yet quite new to this part of the world. The sound of gulls and the smell of salty air were refreshing.

Before dinner at the George Hotel, we were allowed a visit to the kitchens with chef Patrice. I got to speak a bit of French with him, and he showed me how to make the grilled scallops with red pepper coulis and black olive tapenade,. More seafood! It was something seeing this busy kitchen bustling, with the chef mutli-tasking like crazy. He allowed me to take the scallops back to the table, where Courtney and I enjoyed them like crazy! We ordered our meals next, after Kris, the hotel owner, brought us some langoustine bisque, made from langoustines caught by his brother in the Loch. Courtney had the grilled lamb, and I had mushroom-asparagus risotto stuffed peppers. Outstanding meal! We were stuffed.

After packing up, we returned to the lobby to have a quick chat with Kris about the history of the George Hotel. The quick chat turned into an hour, as Nikolas had brought us a bottle of Cremant and some chocolates as a surprise from France! She invited Kris to join us, which he did, and we were quite entertained hearing his stories, and getting to know a bit more about the people and the area, Again, another wonderful time with a charming local!

So now the sun has gone down – sort of. At midnight it was still a bit light outside. We are rising early for the trek to the Isle of Iona. A ferry, the “Mull Motorway,” and another ferry. More places to see, more people to meet.

 Enjoying the journey, but not enjoying leaving Inveraray…

 Heather and Courtney