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After checking out of the hotel we traveled to our first stop of the day, Tolbooth Prison Museum. Tolbooth, located in the center of Aberdeen, was originally a place where people would come to pay their taxes and tolls. In 1616, the magistrates passed a law allowing the construction of a new prison, which was subsequently completed in 1629. Anyone accused of a crime in the area was brought to Aberdeen to be tried, imprisoned and executed. During its more than 200 years of operation, the prison was actually known as the “Wardhouse”.
In the 17th century, there were 200 hanging offenses in Scotland. Many of them were serious offenses, while others were quite trivial. Over the course of history, hanging offenses included murder, rape, breaking & entering, digging up turnips, stealing livestock, setting fire to haystacks and attempting suicide. Yes, they would actually hang you if you attempted suicide and failed. How crazy is that?
On our tour, we walked through various stonewalled cells that countless prisoners had been held in centuries ago. Along with the original steel cell doors, locks and shackles, there was one artifact that I found particularly interesting. It was an original 16th century guillotine blade. Its design was quite different from what most people would envision a guillotine blade to be. Instead of the typical thin, sharp and sleek design, this guillotine blade was heavy, narrow and blunt. Being as blunt as it was, it really didn't cut that well. Since it had more of a crushing action, the blade would often have to be dropped several times, to carry out an execution. There was also an evil looking metal contraption called a “Scold’s
Bridle”. It was was used for corporal punishment, for women accused of malicious gossip. This helmet would fit over their head and a metal tongue thrust into their mouth. It must've been very painful for anyone wearing it (see pictures below). I can only imagine how horrible it
would have been to have to endure those brutal and primitive conditions.
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After getting a feel for the rigors of imprisoned life in the 1600s, we continued on to Inverness. Twenty-three miles southwest of Inverness lies Loch Ness, a large freshwater loch that is twenty-four miles long and 1/2 mile wide. It is so large and deep that it contains more water than all of the lakes in England and Wales combined. Loch Ness, of course, is the home of the infamous Loch Ness Monster, which is often affectionately referred to as “Nessie”.
The first sighting of Nessie was by Saint Columba, back in the sixth century. According to the story, one day Saint Columba sent one of his followers to swim across the loch, to get a boat for him. Before he was able to complete his task, a huge monster attacked him. Saint Columba then held up his cross and shouted “Be gone!” Ever since he banished the monster, no one else has ever been attacked.
After that, Loch Ness monster sightings weren’t very frequent until 1933. It was around that time when a new road was built, which provided easy access and visibility of the loch for the first time in history. This most likely accounts for the large number of sightings that were reported since that time.
Loch Ness was where we spent the majority of our day. Our first stop was at the Loch Ness Centre, where we ate lunch. After a quick (and slightly rushed) lunch, I, along with 11 other tour members, boarded a small shuttle bus. We had no idea where we were going. All we were told was that it was a surprise. After a ten or fifteen minute ride, we arrived at a boat launch. That was our surprise. We were going on a narrated boat tour on Loch Ness! As the boat traveled around the perimeter of the lock, we were given a full commentary over amplified speakers, describing the history of the loch, as well as local folklore about the Loch Ness Monster. The tour was very informative and definitely a lot of fun. The view of the
loch was nothing short of phenomenal. During the tour, we got an excellent view of Urquhart Castle, located close
to the shore. Before leaving the boat, I purchased a couple of Loch Ness Monster postcards.
After the tour was over, we returned to the Loch Ness Exhibition Centre, where an even more comprehensive history lesson awaited us. They had a very informative tour, which consisted of a long video presentation and picture slideshow, explaining the complete history of Loch Ness and the monster in its namesake. The tour exited into the gift shop, where we picked up some cool “Nessie” souvenirs.
If all that wasn't enough, we still had one more Loch Ness related stop to make. After a short ride on the bus, we arrived at Urquhart Castle. The castle was located along the shores of Loch Ness, between Fort William and Inverness.
It is not known exactly when the castle was built, but earliest historical records mention its existence on the site in the early 13th century. Throughout history, the
castle has been in many battles and has changed hands several times. It was last used in 1696 before being destroyed by the Grant clan. They did so after they moved off the property, so the Jacobites couldn't take it over and use it for their own purposes .
Urquhart Castle is rumored to be haunted by the ghost of Lady Margaret, sometimes referred to as the “White Lady”. She was the daughter of the family. When she wanted to marry a man from the wrong clan, her father objected. She was so distraught that she climbed to the top of the tower and jumped to her death. Local legend also suggests that colonies of Loch Ness Monster creatures could be living in the caves below the castle.
The castle ruins were nothing short of amazing. In fact, the entire area was visually stunning. Since it was located so close to the shore, the castle tower was an ideal vantage point to see an impressive panoramic view of the Loch.
Throughout the day, we all spent a great deal of time at Loch Ness, but apparently "Nessie" is a shy monster. Unfortunately, there weren't any Loch Ness Monster sightings.
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Leaving Loch Ness behind, we had a fairly long bus ride ahead of us. Luckily, Charles had brought along some horror movie DVDs to play
on the bus. During the course of the week, they really helped keep us entertained during some of the longer road trips around the Scottish countryside.
After about three hours on the road, we arrived at Airth Castle Hotel, in Airth. Built in 1309, the
castle is listed by Historic Scotland as a historical landmark. On the grounds, there was also a cemetery and the ruins of an old parish church.
In 1488, the Castle was burned down by King James II. Among those who died in the fire were a lady and her two children. They still haunt the Castle, along with another lady named Violet and a ghost dog that likes to nip at peoples’ ankles. Rooms 3, 9 and 23 have all had reports of paranormal activity.