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Scotland: Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

I was pretty worried this morning.  Tom was still working on the client proposal, my computer battery was running down and we had a 2.5 hour drive to get to Edinburgh, then find the hotel and check in, then locate the ticket office for our will-call tickets before the Tattoo.  Luckily, the show didn’t start until 9:00pm.

Tom finished his work and got it sent off just after 1, so we packed up stuff we needed for overnight and drove back down to Edinburgh.

Over on the left, I saw what looked like an abandoned castle near Kingussie.  I wasn’t able to get a picture that time but I knew we’d drive by at least 2 more times before heading home.  I had bought Tom a book for Christmas (Fodor’s Scotland) and it mentioned my “castle” in it – it was actually the Ruthven Barracks.


From http://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/kingussie/ruthvenbarracks/

The impressive and nicely proportioned mound on which Ruthven Barracks stands is said to be a natural leftover of the retreat of the glaciers at the end of the last ice age. Its regularity suggests that man has taken a hand as well. The mound overlooks the site of an ancient ford and ferry between it and today’s Kingussie. This was one of the few crossing places of the middle reaches of the River Spey before it was bridged near Newtonmore in 1808, and it lies at an important junction of the routes through the Cairngorms.

The first recorded castle to be built here appeared in 1229. By 1371 it formed the centre of activity of Alexander Stewart, Lord of Badenoch, and younger son of Robert II. More popularly knows as the Wolf of Badenoch, Stewart is mainly remembered for falling out with the Bishop of Elgin and being excommunicated by him for marital infidelity. In retaliation he destroyed Elgin Cathedral, and much of Elgin in 1390.

This first castle was destroyed in 1451, but rebuilt by 1459 as a much grander fortification. It was fought over during the Civil Wars, then badly damaged by Viscount Dundee, Bonnie Dundee and the Jacobites during the first uprising in 1689.

After the 1715 Jacobite uprising, the Government decided to tighten its grip on the Highlands by building four fortified barracks in strategic locations. Ruthven Barracks was one of them, and all remains of the earlier castle were removed to make way for the structure you see today. The barracks took much longer to build than planned, and was finally completed in 1721.

The barracks were designed to house 120 troops, split between the two barrack blocks. Officers lived separately. The stables, standing slightly to the west of the rest of the barracks, were built in 1734 to house 28 horses for dragoons. By this time its strategic importance had been enhanced by the building of General Wade’s military roads from Perth, Fort Augustus and Inverness that came together here.

In August 1745 some 200 Jacobites tried to capture Ruthven Barracks. A force of just 12 redcoats, commanded by a Sergeant Molloy, fought them off with the loss of just one man. By February 1746 Sergeant Molloy had been promoted to Lieutenant, and was still in command when a larger force of Jacobites arrived, this time equipped with artillery. The garrison surrendered.

History had one more, final, role in store for Ruthven Barracks. On the day after the Battle of Culloden as many as 3,000 Jacobites assembled here under Lord George Murray with the intention of fighting on. Awaiting them was a message from Bonnie Prince Charlie saying that each man should save himself the best he could. The Jacobites set fire to the barracks, and dispersed to try to evade a Government now set on finally suppressing the Jacobites, and the Highlands, once and for all.

What visitors to Ruthven Barracks see today is pretty much what was left by the departing Jacobites on 17 April 1746. Most of the exterior walls remain, but little of the interior structure, and no flooring or roofing. But come here on a quiet day and you can have Ruthven Barracks entirely to yourself. The distant traffic on the A9 barely intrudes, and it takes very little effort to transport yourself back 250 years to the days when history was being made here.

And, if it’s really quiet, and getting dark, watch out for ghostly chess-players. It is said that one evening in July 1394 a visitor dressed all in black arrived at Ruthven Castle and challenged Alexander Stewart, the Wolf of Badenoch to a game of chess. By morning, no-one was left alive in the castle: for such are the perils of playing chess with the Devil.

Also, along the way, we saw amazon.com.uk and I got a picture of that our last day.  We got into Edinburgh and looked for our hotel with the very clever name – the Edinburgh City Hotel.  I had chosen that because it was fairly close to the castle and I knew we’d want to stay overnight since the Tattoo didn’t get over until 11:30 and it was a long ride back.

We checked in and got settled in a bit.  I was reading the info about the hotel and found that they had adaptors for rent.  Oh, happy day!  I immediately started charging my computer again.

I don’t remember eating anything this day but I must have had something, somewhere.

The hotel is only 10 minutes from the castle but I hadn’t realized we needed to walk further to get our tickets.  Fortunately, we left early enough to accomplish all this.

We set out to walk to the castle and to the Waverly Bridge where the ticket office is.  We walked by the huge queue filling up the wide Royal Mile to the castle, then on to the News Steps.  This picture doesn’t show the turns in the steps – there are 134 of them – between St Giles Street and Market Street.


At the ticket office we picked up our tickets for the Tattoo and a double decker bus ride for the next day.  Then, we contemplated walking back up the stairs, up the Royal Mile to the castle and decided to take a cab.  The driver said it was only a short walk but I was already exhausted and I knew we had to do the all uphill Royal Mile since it’s closed to traffic.


We were dropped off at the bottom of the hill and joined the mass of people waiting to go up the hill for the Tattoo.  The Fringe Festival was also happening at the same time and there lots of people attending those activities.

From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Town,_Edinburgh

The street layout, typical of the old quarters of many northern European cities, is made especially picturesque in Edinburgh, where the castle perches on top of a rocky crag, the remnants of an extinct volcano, and the main street runs down the crest of a ridge from it. This “crag and tail” landform was created during the last ice age when receding glaciers scoured across the land pushing soft soil aside but being split by harder crags of volcanic rock. The hilltop crag was the earliest part of the city to develop, becoming fortified and eventually developing into the current Edinburgh Castle. The rest of the city grew slowly down the tail of land from the Castle Rock.

We found our seats which were in a pretty good section and waited a short while for the Tattoo to begin.  The announcer did the typical thing finding out where the audience was from.  I was surprised to hear a large contingent from a high school in Alaska cheering.  When I went on school trips, it was usually to the next town, not overseas!

The folks near us were on a Seabourn cruise.  The next day, we saw their ship in the harbor.

There were folks from all over the world. – 70% of the audience comes from outside Scotland.  Half of these are from overseas.

The Tattoo as a whole was wonderful.  There were some things I didn’t like as well as others but that’s me.  I loved the pipers, the drummers, the lights on the castle, the Lone Piper, the Black Bear, Scotland the Brave (the ringtone on my phone!) … All the truly Scottish things.

I wasn’t so wild about the Indian Bollywood number, the Chinese dragons floating around or the Highland Dancers.  They weren’t bad but they weren’t what I really came for.  When I think of Highland Dancers, I think of men doing sword dances – but I can’t have everything!

I am a huge drumming fan so another favorite of mine was the Swiss Top Secret Drum Corps.

The Military Band of the People’s Liberation Army of China played my all time favorite hymn – Abide With Me.

The show, even through it lasted 2.5 hours was over all too soon.  We headed down the hill with the other 8,800 attendees, then turned right to go back to our hotel.

On the way, we stopped at a tiny store and got some junk food for dinner.

What a fantastic event – and now, I’ve fulfilled my 1-item bucket list.  I want to go back!

For the record – The word ‘tattoo’ comes from the closing-time cry in the inns in the Low Countries during the 17th and 18th centuries – ‘Doe den tap toe’ (‘Turn off the taps’).

This is a commercial for the Tattoo which ran in the UK. The world is coming together for the 66th Tattoo! 2015 will see the world’s most spectacular military Tattoo host a parade of talent from 4 continents as the show piece event celebrates ‘East Meets West’.

From http://www.edintattoo.co.uk/news/tattoo-marks-raf-anniversary/

Tattoo Marks RAF Anniversary for 2015

All the traditional ingredients will be present – massed pipes & drums, massed bands, the Lone Piper along with a number of impressive overseas offerings – but some will be contributing a new look to next year’s Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo (7-29 August 2015).

Among new features will be one of the most popular military college marching bands in the United States, the 70-piece Citadel Regimental Band and Pipes, who will travel to Scotland from Charleston in South Carolina for August’s 66th Tattoo, while over 100 musicians and a cultural item from the East is also expected to add an unexpected new dimension to proceedings, as the showpiece military event celebrates ‘East Meets West’.

The Tattoo’s Producer, Brigadier David Allfrey, said: “The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is privileged to be in conversation with around 30 countries at any one moment, with customers drawn from across the world and contingents from over 40 nations having performed with us over the years.  Even with this pedigree, the cast for 2015 looks rather special with 5 major international contributors in the mix.  The theme of ‘East Meets West’ has allowed us a broad canvas and an excuse to draw in friends from 5 continents as well as the home team!”

For the sixth time in the Tattoo’s history, Switzerland is to provide participants who will also play a part next summer. The Swiss contingent, Top Secret Drum Corps, featuring 30 top percussionists from one of the world’s most sensational marching rhythm groups, will display an unpredictable style and dynamism that has drummed its way into the hearts of Tattoo spectators on four previous occasions.

New features will also include an exciting appearance by the Royal Air Force, which is set to observe the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain in 2015. To mark this important occasion, which continues to occupy a special place in the hearts and minds of the British public, RAF Pipes and Drums, the RAF Squadronaires together with the Queen’s Colour Squadron will present a spirited display of piping, drumming, dance band classics and precision drill that is expected to delight audiences throughout the 3-week Castle Esplanade spectacular.

And along with the Massed Pipes and Drums will be some of the foremost services bands in the world, The RAF Massed Bands embracing representatives from The Central Band of the Royal Air Force, The Band of The Royal Air Force College and The Band of the Royal Air Force Regiment in company with The Band of the Royal Regiment of Scotland, with over 120 musicians drawn from across the UK.

“This year – we are already working as if it were 2015 – we are delighted to be supported by the Royal Air Force under their Principal Director of Music, Wing Commander Duncan Stubbs.  The RAF bands have huge quality and depth, their presentation is first rate and, their music is both excellent and broad in its appeal.  Of course, in 2015, we will be marking the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.  This offers a splendid opportunity to showcase all the RAF have to offer.  We are all thoroughly looking forward to honouring ‘The Few’” commented the Producer.

From the United States will come a Highland Dance contingent who will join forces with the Tattoo’s own Highland dancers to offer a selection of colourful, complex and compelling dance patterns.

The 90-minute production will also feature the return of the Crossed Swords Pipe Band from Berlin. German composer and co-writer of the popular bagpipe melody ‘Highland Cathedral’ – Berlin-based Michael Korb – a band stalwart, may well perform at the event alongside the 25-strong group of pipers and drummers , as the Tattoo’s first German pipe band, ‘The Crossed Swords’, take to Edinburgh’s famous Castle Esplanade for a second time.

The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, which is set-up and run for charitable purposes, is grateful to official partner, The Royal Bank of Scotland, for its continued support. Rhidian Taylor, Head of Brand at RBS said: “2014 proved to be yet another fantastic year for The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.  As Scotland’s most prestigious and internationally renowned event, we look forward to welcoming our customers and being part of the team making it happen for 2015”.

Tickets for the 2015 Tattoo (7-29 August) will be available online at http://www.edintattoo.co.uk and over the phone Tel: 0131 225 1188, from 10am on Monday, December 1st 2014. Counter Bookings from the Tattoo Ticket Sales Office at 32-34 Market Street in Edinburgh, will be accepted from Monday, December 8th.

My slideshow, including some short videos.  One of them was turned sideways for some reason – I have no idea why! The first image is our hotel.

This seems to be taken by someone in the audience

And, of course, Scotland The Brave.  This morphs into the next video, marching down The Royal Mile

I like this video of The Black Bear with the pipes and drums marching down The Royal Mile.  It is customary to yell or roar during this song.  In most Scottish infantry regiments of yore it was customary for a battalion led by the Pipes and Drums re–entering their barracks after say a route march to play the tune.  Often the drummers and the soldiers would roar/yell very loudly when the tune came to the fourth bar, two beats to further herald their arrival.

Professional videos.  I think this one might have been the TV show. “From the unique setting of the Esplanade of Edinburgh Castle, the 2015 Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo marks the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, with the Massed Bands of the RAF and the Queen’s Colour Squadron taking centre stage.

East meets west at the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, with the east represented by a Bollywood dance extravaganza, the Military Band of the People’s Liberation Army of China and the Changxing Lotus Dragon Dance Folklore Group.

From the west, the UK home team are joined by the Citadel Regimental Band and Pipes from Charleston in South Carolina and the United States Air Force Honor Guard, based in Washington DC.

Other highlights include a spectacular display from the Tattoo Highland dancers, precision percussion from Basel’s Top Secret Drum Corps and the unforgettable sight and sound of the Massed Pipes and Drums.”


The following are fantastic but they were done at the dress rehearsal and photographers and others were allowed on the esplanade.

1: This is the opening act, the massed pipes and drums, sorry about the interruptions by people who come late and sit in the wrong seats!

2: This is the second act, American Air Force personnel who indulge in some synchronised rifle maneovering with bayonets attached! (hope they have the freedom of the city!)

3. An Irish song “Toss The Feathers” played admirably by the band led by the fiddler.

4. This is a group of Indian Dancers enthralling the sell out crowd.

5. In 2015  The Citadel’s Regimental Band and Pipes returned to the invitation-only, world famous Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo in Scotland. It is a month-long nightly event of music, pageantry and demonstrations by military organizations from around the world. The Citadel’s band and pipes is the only U.S. military college band to have ever been invited and will be “America’s Band” in 2015.

4. Here we have the Top Secret Drum Corps from Basel in Switzerland – what a brilliant act, a real favourite at the Edinburgh.  I especially liked the Top Secret Drum Corps.  I’d seem them before on YouTube and I was especially glad to see them live.  I loved when they whipped out fifes that looked like drumsticks and played Scotland the Brave.

5. This is video of a band who have joined us all the way from the Republic of China – The Military Band of the People’s Liberation Army of China.  I liked how they sang as well as played their instruments.

6. Here we have “Hector The Hero” performed admirably on the castle esplanade. Hector the Hero is a well-known traditional Scottish Air written by James Scott Skinner and played in the key of A. What a haunting melody!

There were a few others I might add later but this is enough for now!

Massed Pipes and Drums

This video is the Royal Air Force (RAF) band in action, heading to the start of the finale.

This is the rousing finale of “Scotland The Brave” and “The Black Bear” as they exit the esplanade and walk back to barracks via the Royal Mile – quite superb!

Scotland: Strathspey Railway



Sunday, August 9, 2015

What a difference a good sleep makes!

I slept well and work up 5:30 (1:30am at home). I took some beautiful sunrise pictures over the mountains. One was of fog rising off River Spey.  I posted that on Facebook and one of my friends said that the water used in the making of her favorite whiskey came from that river.  Hmmm…

From Wikipedia:

The River Spey (Scottish Gaelic: Uisge Spè) is a river in the northeast of Scotland. It is the ninth longest river in the United Kingdom, as well as the third longest and fastest-flowing river in Scotland. It is important for salmon fishing and whisky production (MKO’Note: Looks like my FB friend was right!).


After taking the pictures, I napped a bit.

I went to get something out of the fridge and found the power was off – and to the microwave.  That was the fuse we’d blown last night.  Tom found a stepladder and the fusebox.

At 11:00 we went to the main building for a little talk about what to do here in Aviemore and the surrounding areas. We met Gina, the general manager, and Jean who has lived in Boat of Garten forever. When I mentioned we were going to the Edinburgh Tattoo on Wednesday, Jean said her partner’s father was Black Watch so he can wear the colors.

I asked about Strathspey Railway and CairnGorm Funicular.  Jean said it was too foggy today for the funicular so we went to Strathspey Steam Railway. It goes from Aviemore to Broomhill by way of Boat of Garden.

The directions to the railway were to go past Tesco – where we’d shopped last night! – and it was on the left.  We drove back into town and found that parking was at a premium.  Tom parked by the Macdonald Aviemore Hotel since we figured we were family 🙂

We walked down hill from our parking spot to the train station and over a bridge.  I got some good pictures of the train from that bridge – and some photos of the engineer backing the train up.  We were able to get tickets for a train leaving in about 15 minutes.  For the way up to Broomhill, we sat near the front of the train.



We’re “train people” and this trip didn’t disappoint. The steam train went through Boat of Garten and turned around at Broomhill.

It was interesting at Boat of Garten when a couple bike riders stopped and took pictures of us – while we were taking pictures of them.

It was a nice, relaxing trip and I slept most of the way back. We saw River Spey again, sheep, cows, old rolling stock, people on bikes.

From http://www.strathspeyrailway.co.uk/the-journey/

Join us for a truly memorable trip through the heart of the Scottish Highlands, in the stunning surroundings of the Cairngorms National Park! Explore the areas along our line further and discover exactly why the Victorians brought a railway line to this unique area in the 1800s!

It’s roughly 15 minutes of train travel between each station, with a full return trip lasting between 90 minutes and 2 hours (depending on which Station you start your journey at).

You can split your journey up if you wish! Take the morning train in to Boat of Garten and explore its stunning surroundings and take the last train of the day back in to Aviemore!

The Strathspey Railway's Santa Express departs from a wintry Aviemore Station


The first departure point along our 9 and a half mile line is Aviemore (we’re at Platform 3 of Aviemore Station!) It’s located in the heart of the Monadhliath and Cairngorm Mountains and is the perfect base for those that love the outdoors and glorious sights! Once the train takes you past the modern architecture of the town, we steam you through heather-clad moores and woodland and alongside the majestic River Spey. 5 miles away lies our second station at Boat!

Boat of Garten

Boat of Garten

As you enter Boat of Garten (also known as The Osprey Village) you will see one of the area’s finest courses at Boat of Garten Golf Club, originally built by locals and railwaymen! The RSPB observation hide at the Osprey Centre lies just 3 miles from the village and it’s certainly worth a visit during summer, when these magnificent birds return from the warmer climates of Africa! There are also plenty of walk and cycle trails, perfect for families, couples or groups exploring the area! The newly opened 1896 Gallery and Cafe is also definitely worth a visit! Be sure to stop off and have a look!



5 miles of glorious steam travel from Boat heading north brings you to our Broomhill Station, the current terminus of our line. The Station originally served the nearby villages of Dulnain Bridge and Nethy Bridge on the original Great North of Scotland Railway line. The forests in this area offer real diversity – there’s plenty of wildlife and nature to explore here! And the views from Broomhill are AMAZING! Make sure you get off the train at the Station, get some fantastic scenic pics and meet your engine driver, fireman and get some photos on the footplate!

Our unique heritage railway boasts an incredible history and our line was the first to come to the Scottish Highlands, back in the mid 1800s. The future of our Railway is also of great importance! We’re working very hard to realise the railway’s dream of returning steam trains to Grantown-on-Spey!





We went back up the hill to the MacDonald Hotel to gets something to eat but there was no open restaurant. A Trafalgar tour bus let some people off but they seemed to be the only ones in the hotel. We walked around complex. Nothing. Went in shopping center. No food.  We did get a couple t-shirts so all was not lost.



We walked back down the hill and into town. We stopped at the Cairngorm Hotel for a nice lunch. Coffee americano (Normal with 2 shots of espressos), of course.  The coffee came with a small bit of shortbread (I think mine is better! ).

I got the senior meal of roast lamb (I wondered if it was like the seafood restaurants where you can choose your lobster – if I could choose one of the sheep I saw from the train), new potatoes, potatoes which had been mashed, formed into an oval and lightly fried, puréed carrots (maybe senior meant can’t chew. I thought it was smaller portions). Gravy. And peas which I avoided. My meal came with dessert so I had sticky toffee pudding with butterscotch sauce, ice cream and whipped cream.

Tom had an omelette with chips (french fries)…and peas. Ice cream for dessert came in a waffle cup with whipped cream and pirouette cookie.

The buffet on Thursday features haggis so we probably won’t be back!

Just a note here – sometimes, Cairngorm is spelled CairnGorm, sometimes Cairn Gorm, sometimes Cairngorm – all the same mountain as far as I can tell.

At this point, I realized I hadn’t put big bandage over butterflies and I’d been walking all day. Hooray!

We learned we couldn’t add a tip onto our charge bill for lunch. It had to be added before they ran the credit card. The waiter couldn’t take American money and the hotel staff couldn’t, either. They suggested changing money at the post office because it had a better rate than the banks.

We went across the street to find an adaptor since the ones we brought weren’t working. Got one and headed home.

Nap!  I woke up about 7. Tom at 8. We found our new adaptor was for people going to the states from here.

I got one of our original adaptors working and started charging phones.  This adaptor was only good for 2 pronged plugs so we used it for USB connections only.

We had another adaptor I’d bought specifically for this trip, as well as a 2-to-3 prong adaptor for the computers.  I got very excited about this and set it up, plugging in an extension cord, then the 2-to-3, then plugged the adaptor into the wall.  Too much – blew that out.  <sigh>  Now we can’t recharge the computers.

We went out for a little walk, then had spaghetti for dinner.

A Sinatra pretender on BBC Proms.

And bedtime!

All today’s pictures:



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