Monday, January 9, 2012

Looking for Nessie and Exploring Castles

Do you think the Loch Ness Monster is real? Some people do. Regardless, Nessie draws a lot of tourists to the north of Scotland. Scotland is a country in the northern part of the United Kingdom, which also includes England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Can you find it on a map? We took a bus tour to northern Scotland that included a boat ride on Loch Ness, a loch is the Scottish word for lake. We learned that the story of a giant sea creature in the lake goes back to the seventh century! There have been reports of sightings throughout the years including one in June 2011. Many scientists have searched for Nessie and while they were never ever to prove that Nessie lives in the deep lake some agree that there may be something “interesting” in the lake. Photographs that claim to show Nessie are considered fakes. Believers in the existence of Nessie think it is from the family of plesiosaurs. We didn’t see Nessie on the boat ride, which also stops at the ruins of a castle so tourists have something to see. The only Nessie we saw was a statue outside the gift shop. Regardless, it was a great day trip because we learned more about Scottish history. Loch Ness is in an area called the Scottish Highlands. We thought we would see high mountains but the highest peak, Ben Nevis, is only 4,406 feet high. We were lucky because it was a beautiful sunny day so we saw Ben Nevis. We also tried Scotland’s most famous food – haggis. Haggis is a large sausage made of sheep’s heart, liver and lungs with onion, oatmeal, and spices boiled in the lamb’s stomach. Our haggis was served on a baked potato with a side salad and tasted a lot like turkey dressing. We were surprised it was so tasty.

We also visited another part of the United Kingdom – Wales. We loved all the castles. Today the castles are interesting and fun places to visit but they were built to protect people from the enemy. Beaumaris Castle, begun in 1295, was the largest of the castles built by the English when they conquered Wales. Even though the castle was never finished it is considered to be one of the most perfect castles with an inner ring of walls surrounded by an outer ring making it nearly impossible to capture. Above the huge wooden gates there are "murder holes." If attackers made it through the rain of heavy crossfire of arrows they would have been welcomed at the gate by being doused with boiling oil from the “murder holes.” War is never nice. Today swans and ducks serenely glide along the waters of the moat.

The entire city of Conwy is inside walls built during the 1200s. The English king, Edward I, brought in English to settle in the city and showed no respect for Welsh culture. Welsh people were forbidden to enter the castle walls except to deliver goods or to work even though it was their country. One of the houses in Conwy is Plas Mawr, an Elizabethan Town House built between 1500s. We were surprised by the bold colors decorating the main room where they had great parties. People with a lot of money and power live well regardless of the time period.

One night we stayed in a castle. Ruthin Castle started out as a Welsh wooden fort in 1277 and over the years it was added to until it become a large red fort then a castle, and now a hotel. According to legend, King Arthur stayed here along with many other famous people – including us!