Cruising the British Isles, Part 2: Ireland, Wales and Scotland
Earlier I told you about the Seven Seas Voyager, one of Regent's 6-star ships. In the next two newsletters I would like to cover the ports and places we visited on our British Isles cruise.
Our cruise sailed from Southampton, on the southern coast of England, and made 2 stops in Ireland, 1 in Wales, and 4 in Scotland, in that order. Everywhere we went, we felt welcome.
My first glimpse of Ireland was of Dunmore East, the tiny port that serves Waterford, and my first impression was that the country really is as green as they say. From our ship, anchored in the harbor, we could see a golf course on the top of a seaside cliff. Golfers rolled or carried their bags, and from that height, a slice was definitely not worth looking for.
Waterford is the home of the world famous crystal company by the same name, which makes this potentially the most expensive port call in the world. It's a pleasant and friendly small town, the crystal showroom is impressive and the crystal-making tour is worthwhile.
Next stop was Dublin, a bustling and modern city that is easy to see on your own. Twice I stopped at a street corner and opened a map to check my location, only to have Dubliners stop to ask if they could help me find anything. Small kindnesses make a big impression on me when I travel.
The entertainment highlight of our entire trip was in Dublin, a planned shore excursion to a Jurys Hotel one evening to see traditional Irish dancing and a comedian. The dancing and music were very good, and the comedian, Noel Ginnity, was outstanding. The crowd was in stitches from beginning to end. If you find yourself in Dublin and Ginnity is still playing, I highly recommend going.
From Dublin, we crossed to Holyhead, Wales, and took an excursion to Conwy Castle, which overlooks the very scenic and historic walled town of Conwy. The castle and walls were completed in 1289, by King Edward I, after his conquest of Wales. Edward I was a wager of wars and a castle builder (he used fortified castles to hold onto the lands he had conquered) which probably made him the most admired and hated man of his time, depending on where one lived. The castle and walls are in exceptionally good condition, and the charming village of Conwy merits a visit if you ever have the opportunity.
Then it was on to Scotland, with a port call in Greenock, and an excursion to Loch Lomond, a beautiful lake that is the largest in the British Isles. I've known the following stanza of this famous song all my life, and never had a clue it was about more than unrequited love.
You'll take the high road
And I'll take the low road
And I'll be in Scotland afore ye
But me and my true love will never meet again
On the Bonny Bonny Banks of Loch Lomond.
In 1746, the United Kingdom of England, Scotland and Wales had been formed, but the Highland Scots wanted a Scottish king to rule, not an English one. Led by their Bonnie Prince Charlie, they attempted to depose King George II, but were defeated at the Battle of Culloden Moor. As they retreated toward the border, many were captured and imprisoned.
The song tells of two Scottish prisoners, one who was to be set free, and the other facing execution, at the same hour. There is an old Celtic belief that if you die away from your homeland, you return by an underground spirit route called The Low Road. In the song, the soldier facing death says he will be the first to arrive home, while the surviving soldier will take the "high road" over the mountains, to arrive afterwards.
On a sunny morning in June, on the banks of Loch Lomond, our tour guide told the tale and sang the song, unaccompanied, to our group. It was like hearing that old, familiar tune for the first time.
History is recorded, taught and passed along in Celtic music. I brought a briefcase filled with CDs home, to keep the memories alive.
Vacations To Go
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Cruising the British Isles, Part 1: The Seven Seas Voyager
Cruising the British Isles, Part 3: Kirkwall, Invergordon & Edinburgh