Scotland: Serene and beautiful

The recent success of the 2008 movie “The Water Horse — Legend of the Deep” reinforces the fascination people have with the mystery of Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster, a shy inhabitant of a deep glacial lake in Scotland.

First stories of a creature living in the depths of Loch Ness date back to the ancient Vikings, and there is a written description of a sighting dating to 565 A.D. Visitors can enjoy legends of Vikings and Normans, kings and queens, royal betrayals and ultimate intrigues in this mystical country.

Visiting the historic and picturesque town of Edinburgh is a “must” visit. A stroll down the Royal Mile, from Edinburgh Castle all the way down to Holyrood House, gives you a glimpse of Scottish life. You can drink in the regal atmosphere of the old town, then head up to Princes Street and enjoy the shopping, dining and entertainment in the “New Town.” But before you do, wander down to the corner of Candlemakers Row and King George IV Bridge to look at the statue of a Scottish Skye Terrier, Grayfriars Bobby. The story of the devotion of this dog to his master is a treasured legend of the city. John Gray came to Edinburgh in the early 1800s and eventually became a constable of the Edinburgh Police Force. Needing a watchdog to assist in his duties, he enlisted a little Skye Terrier and named him Bobby. For many years they worked together as a team, until John became ill with TB and died in 1858. He was buried in the old Grayfriars Churchyard. For 14 years, “Grayfriars” Bobby kept watch over his master’s final resting place, leaving the cemetery only once a day for his mid-day meal. His devotion to his master ended only with his own death in 1872. Bobby’s grave is inside the cemetery not far from his master’s, and this monument is a lasting reminder of this special relationship between a man and his dog.

Another unusual and ongoing animal/human relationship has its home in Edinburgh. This one is between a penguin and the Norwegian King’s Guard. The zoo in Edinburgh has one of the finest penguin exhibits in the world, dating all the way to 1913 when a Norwegian explorer to the South Atlantic presented the zoo with its first king penguin. In 1961, the King’s Guard came to Edinburgh to participate in the annual Tattoo. The members of the guard visited the zoo, and were struck by how the penguins seemed to march so stiffly and precisely in almost military formation. Upon a return visit, the Norwegian soldiers decided to adopt a particular penguin, and gave him the honorary rank of Lance Corporal.

Lance Corporal Nils Olav — named after a lieutenant in the guard and a king of Norway — served his fellow soldiers with dignity and honor, and on subsequent visits for the Tattoo they promoted him from Lance Corpora to Regimental Sergeant Major. In 2005, he was not only promoted to Colonel-in-Chief, but also was presented with a 4-feet-high bronze statue of his own handsome likeness.

This honorary winged member of the Royal Norwegian Guard is much more than a mascot — the march of this penguin is at the front of the column, befitting his position as the guard’s beloved honorary commander. Who knows what future honors may be in store as the guard returns each August to participate in the pageantry of the Edinburgh Military Tattoo? Dozens of marching bands from all over the world parade with the spectacular image of Edinburgh Castle as the perfect stage back-drop. The word “tattoo” comes from last call at the low country inns just before the taps closed.

For the next leg of your journey, you head toward the Scottish Highlands. You may make a stop in Calendar, a favorite vacation spot of the movers and shakers of the 1800s. This is the location of the “Roman Camp Hotel,” whose main building dates from 1625, and was originally built as a hunting lodge.

Many visitors enjoy a stay in Inverness, and use this fascinating hamlet as a base of operations for exploring the northern Highlands. One place not to be missed is Dunrobin Castle. Just a mile north of Golspie in Sutherland, this is the largest house in the Northern Highlands. Only about 90 minutes from Inverness, the 189 rooms are filled with family memorabilia, fine furniture, paintings and countless treasures on display in the public Drawing Room and Library.

Not too far away is Culzean Castle, perched on a bluff overlooking the Atlantic where the Cutty Sark once sailed. A tower has been on this steep slope since 1400, and a written history of the castle has been in existence since 1569 as the building was expanded by the Kennedy family. In 1945, the top floor of the castle was designated as a guest suite for General Dwight Eisenhower — as thanks from the Scottish people for his leadership during World War II. He and his family used the accommodations many times over the years until his death, and now this special suite is available to anyone who would like to reserve it.

Jerry Vaughn is president of World Voyager Vacations in Federal Way. Contact:

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