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Travel Stories From Around the World

The recent success of the 2008 movie "The Water Horse - Legend of the Deep" reinforces the fascination some have with the mystery of Nessie, the 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. The film is set in the more recent 1940s, and centers around the relationship between a lonely young boy and a baby water horse - one critic called it "ET moved underwater". The official tourist board of the country, VisitScotland, is hoping the film will be an inspiration for tourists to visit the setting. But Nessie isn"t the only famous critter in Scotland, and visitors can balance stories of Vikings and Normans and kings and queens and royal betrayals and ultimate intrigues with some heartwarming tales of beloved four legged natives.

Three or four days in Edinburgh will allow you a wonderful visit, including a stroll down the Royal Mile, from Edinburgh Castle all the way down to Holyrood House. You can drink in the regal atmosphere of the old town, and 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 admire 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 watch dog to assist in the performance of 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 Greyfriars Churchyard. For fourteen years "Greyfriars" Bobby kept watch over his master"s final resting place, leaving the cemetery only once a day for his midday meal. His devotion to his master ended only with his own death in 1872. Bobby"s grave is inside the kirkyard not far from his master"s, and this monument is a lasting reminder of this touching relationship.

Another unusual and ongoing animal/human relationship has its home in Edinburgh, as well. 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 Tattoo. The members of the guard visited the zoo, and were struck by how these creatures seemed to march so stiffly and precisely in almost military formation. Upon a return visit, the Norwegian soldiers decided to adopt a particular penguin as one of their own, 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 Corporal, to Corporal, to Sergeant, then to Regimental Sergeant Major, and in 2005 was not only promoted to Colonel-in-Chief, but also was presented with a four foot 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. Since 1950 the event has stirred the hearts of millions of visitors. The word "tattoo" comes from last call at the low country inns jut before the taps were closed -- tap toe - if you are in Edinburgh in August, it is a pageant not to be missed.

Perhaps as you leave Edinburgh for the next leg of your journey, you"ll pass by the zoo as you head towards the 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. Or if you are just passing through on your way to Glencoe or Loch Ness, you may be ready for a rest stop and a cup of tea in Kilmahog. While you are there you might visit the Woolen Mills, and of course you"ll say hello to Hamish.

A Highland bull doomed to be put down because of an epidemic of hoof and mouth disease, Hamish was spared only upon the condition that he live the rest of his life in isolation from any other livestock. Now he is befriended and entertained by the tourists who bring him treats, take his picture, and keep him company on a daily basis. The gift shop close by is filled with Hamish memorabilia: stuffed animals, books, mousepads, mugs - a cornucopia of cow creations, sure to please the youngsters at home who might be looking forward to a Scottish souvenir.

Many visitors enjoy a stay in Inverness, and use this delightful town as a base of operations for exploring the northern Highlands. One visit 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, and the more intimate bedrooms and nurseries. The formal gardens are exquisite, and make sure to take time to visit the 19th century fire engine - horse-drawn, of course - and the special displays in the old summer house.

Of course the castle has its collection of ghosts and goblins, but perhaps the true stars are the creatures that magically appear each day thanks to the fine work of the castle"s resident falconer, Andy Hughes. If you are lucky, Cherry the Peregrine Falcon will demonstrate just how fast she can fly - some of her species have been clocked at well over 200 miles per hour!! Andy has been flying birds of prey since he was 11 years old, and he and his collection of friends delight visitors to the castle on a regular basis.

Speaking of ghosts and goblins, when you are traveling in areas that are rough and mountainous, keep your eyes open for one of the most elusive animals in the world. This small Scottish native has tiny, useless wings, and a ragged gait caused by its three legs, each a different length. The trick to a successful hunt is to get the mythical critter down on a flat plain or valley, where the disfigurement of his legs will cause him to run around in circles, and then you can catch and bag your haggis. If you are not successful in your hunt, then the traditional haggis will have to do - a concoction of sweetmeats and spices boiled in a sheep"s stomach and accompanied by tatties and neeps (potatoes and turnips to the rest of the world). A good single malt whisky from the region is instrumental in setting the right tone for the hunt, and for the feast that will surely follow. Just ask any Scotsman at the annual Robert Burns Supper, typically held during the week of January 25. The event always includes music, song, whisky, a recitation of Burns" "Ode Tae a Haggis", followed by a ceremonial presentation of the main course, rivaling the appearance of the Thanksgiving Day turkey in a Norman Rockwell portrait.

Speaking of Bobbie Burns, put a visit to Burns Country on your wishlist. South of Glasgow, travel along the Ayrshire coast and then into Alloway to visit the Burns Cottage. Walk in the footsteps of Tam O"Shanter and cross over auld Brig O"Doon, where you"ll hear the tales about Tam"s mare Meg and her narrow escape from the witches. The poem was written by Burns in 1790, and tells the tale of a man who stays a little past last call in the local tavern. In his diminished state, he is dependent on Meg to find their way home without his help. Along the way, Tam has a close call with Nannie the witch, who grabs Meg"s tail, and with her "cutty sark", or shirt, flapping in the wind, tries to bring the two of them down to the ground. Head over to Inverbervie to see the recent memorial in the shape of the figurehead on the "Cutty Sark", a ship renowned for her voyages to the East in the tea trade. You"ll see Nannie herself hanging on to Meg"s tail for dear life. Inverbervie has close ties to Burns, as his ancestors farmed less than seven miles from this very spot.

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 escarpment 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 flat for a very special man - General Dwight Eisenhower - as thanks from the Scottish people for his work during WWII. 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 the rooms for an exceptional experience. The castle is surrounded by a Deer Park, and management runs a very successful "adopt a deer" program to keep the herd healthy and vibrant.

So whether admiring the deer in the forest surrounding Culzean Castle, or searching for the mythical haggis in the rugged Highlands, or enjoying the march of the penguins at Edinburgh Zoo, experience the animals of Scotland who have made their mark with heroism, loyalty, and fun. These and many other Scottish tales, and tails, will be yours to enjoy during your visit to this stunning country.

Your travel agent can help you plan your Scottish spree, whether you choose an escorted tour that includes an itinerary to match your wishlist, or an independent fly-drive package that gives you a little more flexibility, but requires a little more work, both in the planning and in the execution once on the ground. But on each stop along your journey, keep your eyes and ears open to spot the animal stars in the area.