The first time I was in Scotland my ex-husband and I rented a car. We had just gotten there and were terribly jet lagged. We were driving on little, curvy, one lane roads across the highlands late at night. It became apparent that the road was a magnet for sheep because it was warm. Thus every time we went full speed around a curve and discovered sheep on the other side I would yell *SHEEP* at the top of my lungs. My ex-hubby would hit the brakes and swerve , and we would miss the sheep. I’m pretty sure he could have done this without me yelling *SHEEP* but I was too tired and wired at the same time to stop. The calls of *SHEEP* continued throughout that drive and it became a running gag throughout our visit. Thus now I can’t actually pass sheep standing on a road without going *sheep* out loud, but at least now it’s under my breath for which everyone in the car with me is grateful.
Scotland day #10
Starting location: Ullapool
Ending location: Island of Lewis
Lunch: Toasties at the Library just on the Stornoway port.
Dinner: Hotel Doune Braes – Scampie and Beef Curry. Warm fudge cake and Cheesecake with berry sauce.
Spiffiest thing seen/done today: Dun Carloway Broch
General notes: The day started with us catching the ferry from Ullapool to the isle of Lewis. The ferry crossing was 2 hours and 45 min. I fell asleep… needless to say it was pretty quiet. Saw one diving of birds that might have also involved dolphins but I was just waking up and really have no idea other than “wow that’s a lot of birds.”
Lunch at the Library was good, not spectacular but good. Went into a bookstore which ended up being more of a touristy buy kitschy stuff than an actual bookstore. Then we began the drive to the Black Houses. This drive was on a road that crossed the moors. I kept expecting a sign that said Wuthering Heights next left. The moors are expanses of peat and heather on rolling hills as far as the eye can see with rivulets of water snaking through them.
The black houses were very interesting they have one that they have restored to what they think they were like. People actually lived in them as late as the 1960s. They had a peat fire going in the one that they have restored. There is nothing quite like walking into an enclosed space with a peat fire that has no outlet. It is overwhelming. Not even sure that the smell will ever come out of my hair. The house itself was very interesting. But man you would have to really like the folks you were living with plus all the animals. It would have been pretty dark and I would say smelly but your sense of smell would have left you, run down the street screaming and crying “why oh why” after living in the smoke for more than a day or two. Miklos said he rather liked the smell right before he got a nose bleed. (really, not joking, he walked around with a tissue crammed up his nose for a good twenty minutes.)
The next stop was the Dun Carloway Broch. This is a fortified house that would have looked rather like a gigantic stone thimble when it was completed. But it was soooo cool. Clearly this isn’t on the general tourist map of Lewis, because you can crawl all over this site. There is nothing stopping you from being stupid. It was great. We ducked inside the main door. Bent double to get into the walls and then climbed up staircases that were older than the USA and most of Europe. If you envision a large cup with a smaller cup inside it you get the general idea of the way that the structure is built. Now add spiral stair cases and hallways in the area between the two cups. The center of the inner cup is open with a fire pit in the middle. The hallways have openings so that you can see down into the central chamber. There were at least two if not three stories to this broch. Miklos and I went up the stairs until they ended. If you’ve ever ridden Space Mountain at Disney land and looked up while the rollercoaster is going and have seen how close you are to the tracks above your head you would get the idea of how tight these staircases are. You could look through the stairs and see the ones below and above you.
After Dun Carloway Broch we went to Callanish Standing Stones. They are older than Stone Henge but not quite as old as the Ring of Brodgar. They are beautiful. The energy there is very different from that at Brodgar. The stones are granite and swirled and warn in patterns. Part of the energy difference may be that it was built in stages. The first part of the circle was built in 2900 BC. Then it had a burial chamber added around 2600 BC. Around 2000 BC they put a chamber over the burial site. 1500 – 1000 BC farmers empty out the burial chamber and plough up the field. (leaving the stone circle but looting the burial chamber and plough it over.) At some point between 2900 and 2000 the off shooting stones were added, they weren’t sure when. It is clear that there is an entry way coming from the north and the offshoots go out to the east, west, and south. You can see two other stone circles from this one. They are Callanish II and III. They are out in cow and sheep pasture land. Wear shoes that you can get wet and be prepared to doge cow patties if you go to see those two circles.
After a fortifying scone with jam and a pot of tea we set out to see Callanish II and III standing stones. It was squishy going and laden with organic landmines. They were interesting but a little underwhelming after just having seen the Callanish stones.
The hotel had a good hot dinner and we are now reclining and pondering an early morning walk to maybe see the sun come up at the stones.
Scotland day #9
Starting location: Orkney
Ending location: Ullapool
Lunch: Bettyhill Hotel- Red Lentil soup and sticky toffee pudding and apple crumble
Dinner: Haddock chowder and Caramelized onion and goat cheese tart, Lamb and Ale casserole (stew really). Birthday cake for Betty which was a yellow cake with sweet cream and raspberry jam in the middle the top was dusted with powdered sugar.
Spiffiest thing seen/done today: HIking down to the Corrieshalloch gorge and walking across the suspension bridge to see a beautiful waterfall and look over a massive gorge to the river below. Then walking on to the overlook to see the falls with the bridge in the background. The big fall is the Falls of Measach and measures 45 meters. The top of the falls is well below the bridge we were on. It was a ridiculously tall gorge. They think the gorge was probably cut in the ice age by a strong river flowing underneath a glacier.
The day started out with Betty getting a rock for her birthday. Then we left the beautiful town of Kirkwall Orkney and drove to Stromness to catch the ferry M V Hamnavoe back to the mainland of Scotland. We did manage to find Betty a bag of M&Ms for the ferry ride. We then made a mad dash across the Thurso (?!?) Taking a short stop at Bettyhill for lunch. The view from the hotel looks over the most beautiful stretch of beach. It was just spectacular. Where better to eat lunch on Betty’s birthday than Bettyhill? The excitement at lunch came when Miklos went to the restroom. (Yes I could just leave it at that but I won’t) So he get’s in and start to do his business when he notices that a cat has come up to the open window. The cat then proceeds to jump through the open window into the bathroom. It demands pettings. Then upon realizing that Miklos is not going to open the door and let him into the hotel promptly flicks it’s tail and jumps back out the window.
We crossed the country at breakneck speed driving in and out of rain storms to get to Ullapool in time to hike down to the falls and bridge and still get back to the hotel before they stopped serving dinner. Betty was surprised by a cake after dinner. It was very nummy.
Scotland day #8
Starting location: Kirkwall, Orkney
Ending location: Kirkwall, Orkney
Lunch: Cafe Bar at Stromness – crab cakes with a hot chili sauce and chips.
Dinner: Ayre hotel: Lamb cutlets and roast lamb with whipped potatoes.
Spiffiest thing seen/done today: Climbing the Tower at the Bishop’s Palace & Walking along the beach at the Bu.
We started the day by going to a jeweler’s workshop. Shelia Fleet is a local artist who works with enamels on silver and gold. Her designs are greatly inspired by Orkney. We were able to take a tour of the whole place and see how the pieces are made from start to finish. They do a lost wax method of production where they make a master of the piece. Then they make a rubber mold of the piece with a spru cut in. They inject wax into the rubber mold and then take the wax piece and build a tree of wax pieces. They then put the tree into plaster of Paris, let it set. Then they can pour in the silver. Once it is cast the pieces are cut and cleaned. Once that is completed then each piece has the enamel added by hand using a sharpened quill. It was fantastic to watch. The process is very hands on throughout and while her pieces are somewhat expensive they are beautiful.
Brouch of Gurness – is a 2000 year old village. It is right on the water. What makes it interesting is that it has a large Brouch that is still very large. It has inner and outer walls that they could have walked around. It also looks like it had stairs that would have let up to another level. It is surrounded by smaller houses or rooms. You can stand there and imagine that as their village grew they would add on additional rooms.
Lunch was at the Cafe Bar. The crab cakes with a hot chili sauce was the special. It was very good. We also shared a piece of chocolate fudge cake with Mike and Betty. It was so dense that it had to be held in place by one person while others cut off bites. It was very good but somewhat dense.
Scapa flow – Is one of the greatest natural harbors in the world. It was used extensively during World War I and II by the UK Navy. It is also known for wreck diving.
Main article: Scuttling of the German fleet in Scapa Flow
Following the German defeat in the First World War, 74 ships of the Kaiserliche Marine’s High Seas Fleet were interned in Gutter Sound at Scapa Flow pending a decision on their future in the peace Treaty of Versailles. On 21 June 1919, after nine months of waiting, Rear Admiral Ludwig von Reuter, the German officer in command at Scapa Flow, made the decision to scuttle the fleet because the negotiation period for the treaty had lapsed with no word of a settlement (he was not kept informed that there had been a last-minute extension to finalize the details). After waiting for the bulk of the British fleet to leave on exercises, he gave the order to scuttle the ships to prevent their falling into British hands. The Royal Navy made desperate efforts to board the ships to prevent the sinkings, but the German crews had spent the idle months preparing for the order, welding bulkhead doors open, laying charges in vulnerable parts of the ships, and quietly dropping important keys and tools overboard so valves could not be shut.
The British did eventually manage to beach the battleship Baden, the light cruisers Nürnberg, Frankfurt and Emden, together with 18 destroyers, but the remaining fifty-two ships, the vast bulk of the High Seas Fleet, were sunk without loss of life. However, nine German sailors died when British forces opened fire as they attempted to scuttle their ship, reputedly the last casualties of the First World War.
Saga Center Saw the Earl’s Bu and the Round church of St. Nicholas with a walk next to the ocean. There’s not a lot left at the Bu and Round church. But we did take a few pictures and then went out a side gate and walked along the seaside looking out over Scapa Flow. The tide was out and the ocean was very calm. The walk was narrow but pretty easy. It was very picturesque. Which I imagine you will see when you look at our pictures. We didn’t go very far but we did manage to make it down to the point before turning back. The nearby Saga Center had a hysterical family tree of Vikings that were made up of famous actors in various states of “viking”.
Cathedral of St. Magnus – Is huge. The windows are beautiful. They started building it in 1137 they finally finished it in the 15th century. You can see the progression of building in the different colors of stone used throughout. It was founded in 1137 by Earl Rognvald-Kali, the nephew of the martyred Earl of Magnus. It is dedicated to Magnus, and contains his remains. It is on the scale of some of the ruins of Tinturn Abbey in Wales. The windows are beautiful. When we went there the afternoon sunlight was coming through the windows and the reflections were glowing on the stone windowsills. The tiles on the floor were beautiful. They have tours that go to the upper floors which would have been soooooo cool.
The Earl’s Palace has a massive kitchen fireplace. It has remaining two stories that you can go through. They are still restoring a good section of it. We went in the main door and explored the cellars and the kitchen. You and 50 of your closest friends could have fit into that fireplace. I can’t even imagine what kind of fire they had in that place. Given that they mostly use peat here for fuel I don’t even want to think of a peat fire that big. The upper floors are mostly under construction. We were able to go up and see one of the chambers before heading back down and across the street to the Bishop’s Palace. The tower in the Bishop’s palace was open so you could climb up 4 stories on a tiny spiral stone stair case. It has terrific views of the city.
We walked back to the hotel taking a wandering route through the city looking at the small shops and narrow alleys that criss cross the main street. We walked along the waterfront and around the Peedie Sea. (Small sea). The midges then found us and we retreated back to the hotel and had a fantastic dinner of roasted lamb with mint sauce. It’s now onto packing up tonight for tomorrow we go back onto the ferry back to the mainland. So far Orkney has been just fantastic. I would recommend it to anyone.
Scotland day #7
Starting location: Kirkwall, Orkney
Ending location: Kirkwall, Orkney
Lunch: Birsay Bay Tea Room – Tomato soup (made with tomatoes that they grow in their green house.) and cheddar scones. Ginger plum cake.
Dinner: Ayre hotel: Pan seared scallops with black pudding. Fish and chips. Toffee cheesecake.
Spiffiest thing seen/done today: Climbed to the top of Brough of Birsay to see the light house and cliffs.
General Notes: Today was our first full day on Orkney. It has been just remarkable. Those who are sensitive to energy will be glad to know that given all the stones/circles etc. that I’ve seen today I may just radiate for the rest of the trip. We started the day at the Standing stones of Stenness. There are four remaining stones and what looks like a large stone slab with two small stones at the ends. From there you can see a little Neolithic village. It had foundations for a barn and a couple of small houses. All were circular and looked to have had a fortifying wall around them at some point. Given the wind today I’d say it was to fortify against weather more than anything else.
The next stop was the Ring of Bodgar. It was beautiful. It is a Neolithic henge in a huge circle. You can see the Standing stones of Stenness from the ring. You can also see several mounds that appear to be manmade, probably burial mounds. You can still walk the circle and touch the stones. It gave me chills. You can see graffiti carved into the rock that dates to the 1800s. There is one stone that was struck by lighting and broke apart. There are 27 stones and is 380 meters in circumference (1250 ft.). They ask that you don’t walk to the center of the henge. It is overgrown with heather that was blooming dark purple. It was such an awesome place.
We then went out to Skara Brae. It is a 5000 year old settlement. They have reconstructed one of the best preserved of the houses in the village. When you go in they have a family of actors dressed in costume that are there to tell you about life in the settlement. (they got the smell that comes with unwashed wool right). But the structure itself was very interesting. It was warm and out of the wind and very comfortable. We then walked along the cliffside and saw the actual houses. It is a really interesting place. The beach that it is next to is just breath taking. It is no wonder why they were there. It would have been an easy place to get boats in and out of, not to mention the fields for animals and gardening. They had passageways that went between the houses that would have been out of the wind. Stone beds boxes were built in and then filled with straws and soft linings. They haven’t found textiles as such but they have found large bone needles and tools that indicate they were adept at tanning, fishing, and hunting. They had a workshop that was a building that didn’t have beds and was not a house. It appears to have been used for making stone and bone tools, wooden implements, and pottery.
From Skara Brae we went to the Palace in Birsay. This was the Earl’s Palace built by Lord Robert Stewart (1533 -93). He was an illegitimate son of James V. Robert was a tyrannical lord and made the Orcadian’s life a misery. His son Patrick was apparently even worse. The house is mostly ruins now but you can see that it would have been massive when was built. It open courtyard with common rooms below and galleries up top. The corner towers had three levels with bedrooms. It was interesting to see that they no longer built arrow slots but slots that were better used by gunners.
The Brough of Birsay Lighthouse is on an island that is only accessible at low tide. You first have to cross over to the island then climb up 52 meters to the light itself. It marks the North west tip of the Orkney mainland. From there you can see the curvature of the earth. There is literally no other land from that point until you reach Canada. The light itself is pretty, but the views from the island cliffs are spectacular. At the base of the hill there is a Viking village and church with a Pictish standing stone. We walked the narrow gap to the island. We climbed the steep embankment to the lighthouse. Then we saw the cliffs and the water that looked beautiful. The sun had come out and it was just amazing. We saw Cormorants nestled into the Cliffside. Steep drops onto ragged rocks below with the waves crashing into the cliffs that shot spray up into the air. The wind was terrific and the ocean was hurling massive waves at the shore. It was truly one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. We made it down and back across the great divide before the tide came in.
We just had time to catch a quick lunch at the Birsay Bay Tea Room. The tomato soup was excellent especially with their homemade cheddar scones. Betty and Mike got a piece of ginger and plum cake that they shared with us. It was just what we needed after getting so windblown out on the cliffs.
We then made a mad dash for Maeshowe. The doorway is only a meter high and leads down an 8 meter pathway into the chamber. They can only take 30 people at a time and so you have to make a reservation to get in. We were lucky and made it just in time. It had started raining by this time and had gotten much colder. We bent over almost double and sort of shuffled down the hallway into the chamber with the other 29 folks. The Howe has a high ceiling that is actually a meter shorter than the original. There are three side tombs that are small and you can’t go into them. The first part of the “tour” talks about how the Howe was made and the Neolithic people who made it for a burial chamber. The second part of the “tour” tells how there were Vikings that broke into the Howe during a blizzard and while they were there they carved in graffiti all over the tomb. It is funny to see things like “I am Sven and I carved this with the Axe that used to belong to Halfdan.” They had also carved a very tiny lion and dragon on one of the stones. When we came out of the tomb it was really raining and we got pretty drenched getting back to the car. So we headed back to the hotel for hot showers and dinner. It’s been a truly outstanding day. Can’t wait to see what we discover tomorrow.
Scotland day #6
Starting location: Aviemore
Ending location: Kirkwall, Orkney
Lunch: cafe at John O’Groat . Leek and Chicken soup, a cheese scone and poppy seed roll.
Dinner: Ayre hotel: Highland Chicken stuffed with cranberries and cheese and lamb cutlets with haggis mashed potatoes.
Spiffiest thing seen/done today: The catamaran ferry ride across to Orkney
Today was a driving day. We made the trek from Aviemore to Kirkwall in the Orkneys. It was a long day’s ride filled with many naps and few stops. The country side was beautiful though and we were driving along the coast for most of the day so there were sweeping ocean views added to the heather clad mountains we had been enjoying in the Cairngorms.
We did get to drive through a small town well known for its traffic accidents. The town lies at the bottom of a steep crevice-like valley. The main road that runs through town has 13% grade going both ways in and out of town. Every year they have several accidents due to burnt out brake and overheated engines. From there we proceeded to John O’Groat the northern-most point on mainland Scotland and had the most disappointing soup we’ve had so far this trip. I wish we had notices the fish and chip shack behind the cafe before we waded through the soup.
After killing a few minutes taking pictures and staring at the sea, we made our way over to the ferry landing. There we got to sea seals sunning themselves on the rocks and hunting in the surf while we waited for the ferry to arrive and unload. It is the first time we have ever seen seals in the wild so it was a pretty nifty experience. We also got to watch a surfer paddle out into the north sea, but he was still waiting for his wave when we rode out of site.
The ferry and ferry were awesome. The ferry is a two year old catamaran and held dozens of cars and made good speed through the islands. We were fortunate that the sun came out for the first time in days because the wilnd was cold and insistent. I supposed that we could have ridden in the lounge area instead of on deck, but that would just be crazy talk. Crazy talk I tell you. It was by far the best part of the day. We saw even more seals on the shores of the various island, birds by the dozen, several light houses, and old military lookout posts.
After making out landing, we drove across several sections of the Churchill Barriers. Look them up if you get the chance. The story of their construction by Italian prisoners of war in WWII was an interesting tale. We stopped along the way at the Italian Chapel. It is a tiny chapel that the prisoner built in their prisoner of war camp. Two of the prisoners were responsible for the decoration of the chapel. One was a stone carver and the other a painter. So they built a beautiful stone front to the chapel and painted the shabby huts they were given with floor to ceiling murals. It was truly amazing to the beauty they created under such unpleasant conditions.
From there the rest of the day was spent walking around downtown Kirkwall and then eating dinner. Not a lot of grand site, but we are all excited to start our adventures on Orkney. This is he first big section where we have never been before. It should be an adventure.
Scotland day #5
Starting location: Aviemore
Ending location: Aviemore
Lunch: Cawdor Castle. Leek and Potato soup, a scone with currants and raisins.
Dinner: Cairngorm hotel: Fish and chips. Strawberry fantasy for desert.
Spiffiest thing seen/done today: Walking in the Wilderness park at Cawdor Castle and walking in Clava Cairn
The day started out with us tired. We had things that go bump in the night (ok drunks knocking into our door.) Calls at 6 am, with no one on the line, and overall we just didn’t sleep well. So this morning saw us all fairly cranky and quiet. It was also very windy, so no kayaking again today. We set out for our adventure and headed towards the Cooperage to see where they make barrels. (We are deep in the heart of whiskey country.) I had an Earth Chi Splash moment when I saw a sign that indicated a Pictish standing stone was the next left. I pointed it out and left we turned. We went down a little lane that looked like it was going to dead end but it came around a bend and there was a tiny car park. There were loads of construction workers with equipment doing work on a small church. We all bundled out of the car and headed through the construction following the signs for the stone. (Yeah I’m a sucker for a standing stones what can I say.) They had 4 Pictish stones that were on display on the porch of the church. I took some photos and then stuck my head into the church yard and took a peak inside the church. We then trudged back to the car and were again underway to the Cooperage.
The Cooperage was a fascinating place. They have a short movie that explains the history and the process that it takes to make barrels, excuse me, casks (barrels are a size of cask.). They then have a viewing area where you can see the barrels, hogs heads, etc. being made. A person will apprentice for 4 years before they test to become a Cooper. Each Cooper then is responsible for each cask that make from start to finish or repair. Most of their work these days is repair work instead of making a cask start to finish. The majority of the casks that they get are from America. Mostly because in the US you can only use a cask once, so once they have been used to make Jack Daniels they can’t be used again in the US, so they get shipped over to Scotland. Took loads of pictures of casks being repaired and the workroom. Miklos and I then got to do a small version of putting all the slats together to make a cask of our own. It’s not as easy as you would think.
After the Cooperage we tried to go and see Brodie Castle. BUT we were thwarted by it being closed.
We then headed over to Cawdor Castle. The tour through the castle was interesting. Parts of it are from the 14th century. There were trap doors that led to secret prisons under the castle. It had displays of weaponry that dated well back into the 16th century. I did like the 1625 Katana and wakazashi. The formal gardens were impressive. There were sculptures throughout that were striking. One was a tree (full size) in the orchard that was done in dark bronze with a large disk of brass so that it looked like a sunrise through tree leaves. There was a maze that had graduating tears of hedgerows that got taller the closer you got to the center. Herb gardens and large boxwood boarders. One small herb garden had a large green cylinder in the middle that was a fountain made to look like bamboo. It had an eye, a bee, two hearts intertwined, and a tree around the base. We guess that it meant I’ll be loving you. The flower garden was large and had a stacked stone ball in the middle that was a water feature. It also had a crescent moon bench. Together they looked like a sun and moon.
We then spotted a door overgrown with plants all around it that lead through the wall. It lead into the Wilderness Walk. It was like walking into forest primeval. Trees that were muckin’ huge, a stream at the bottom of the ravine and a foot path that was no more than a foot wide. There were places where you were walking through tunnels of rhododendron. Other places where the path was almost lost among the ferns. I was definitely glad I’d worn walking/hiking shoes. We didn’t have a great deal of time so we were only able to do the 3/4 mile walk. I would have loved to have been able to do more.
We did notice a curious thing as we were at the Cawdor Castle there were hundreds of bicyclists. It made us think of Paul. They were having something called the Rat Race. It appears to be some sort of mountain bike race through the trails we were walking this afternoon.
Once we regrouped at the car we went down the road a bit to the Clava Cairns. These are three large rock mounds surrounded by standing stones. Two of which have doors that face spot on South East. They are thought to have been ancient burial mounds. It is such an amazing place. You can’t help but try to reason out what they were trying to do there. Victorians planted oak trees around the spot. It is just magical.
Back at the hotel this evening we tucked into a fantastic meal of fish and chips. The fish was cooked to perfection with a light crunchy crust. The chips were good and hot. The Magners cidar was cold and yummy. The desert of fresh strawberries, heavy cream, strawberry ice cream served on what I think of as puff pastry was just spot on.
Tomorrow we head out early for the Orkney Islands. The Cairngorms and Inverness has be fantastic, even if the weather hasn’t been cooperating.
Scotland day #4
Lunch: Mushroom soup with bread and butter. Clootie dumpling with forest berries and cream.
Dinner: Cairngorm Hotel’s “famous” Scottish buffet.
Today’s weather was what Alec referred to as being dreach. (remember to hiss at the end of the word or you’re not saying it right.) Dreach = overcast, chilly, and drizzling rain. Right perfect for being outside. O.O
So we set off after breakfast to discover if there are any kayaking places nearby. We find one, but the wind by this point is being uncooperative and we decide to go for a walk around Loch An Eilein. (sounds like Eileen and yes I had the song come on Eileen going through my head most of today.) It is a fairly level trail that is well maintained with good views of the Loch. (not lake, really they mean it is a loch. They get irritable when you keep saying lake. They get really irritable when you say lake and then giggle hysterically, can’t imagine why.)
We set out at a good pace. Saw the first brown squirrel of the trip. Managed to get a picture. (woot!). Didn’t see a lot of critters or birds. Which seems kind of strange. The area around the Loch is covered with old pine trees with an undergrowth of blooming purple heather and bright green ferns. I looked up at one point and thought, “this is what I imagine Tree Ents look like.” So I took a picture just for Shannon. There was another place that had masses of willowy aspens and I thought. “and here are the Ent wives.”
There is a castle in the middle of the Loch that sits on a small island. It is abandoned and looks very picturesque. Saw a lonely duck who was very interested in us until it was clear we had no food. We made our way around the Loch and then headed back to the van for a long drink of water and to warm up our hands.
We then went and found that Loch Morloch does have kayaks and that they are ones that we would fit into and be able to get out of, both of which are important points. But the wind was still way to strong for us to get out on the water.
Unperturbed we decided to go up to the Cairngorm mountain train station that will take you up to the top most location of these mountains where you can have lunch and look at spectacular views. We get there and are told that the train is not running because the wind is too strong at the top. So we go over to the cafe they have there only to discover it is full of “crusties” (a new word for old folks apparently) who had just gotten off the bus and had filled the cafe to capacity. So back to the car.
It is then decided to try and find some respectable soup for lunch. Alec takes us to the Clootie dumpling Cafe (I think was the name of it.) What never heard of Clootie dumplings? Well I hadn’t either but I was ready for soup and I didn’t care if it had cooties or not. The soup was a very respectable mushroom soup with fairly average white bread. The Clootie dumpling turns out is like a very mild ginger bread/spice cake that is put into a linen sack and then steamed. You can get it with 21 different toppings. I decided on the forest berries and cream to top mine. The berries were a very tart fresh current or loganberry. It was yummy!
After lunch we went to the Highland Folk museum in Newtonmore. It has buildings and outside displays that represent Scottish life from the war years, back through the 17th century. On one end you have farm buildings that were built and maintained during the war years. You can see what people got during rationing. They had growing victory gardens and chickens eating in the yard. There was a building that was a post office and a sweets shop. Then there was a farmer’s cottage that was older with all of his tools and the furniture etc. They had a thatched roof house from the 18th century that had furniture etc. from that period. There was a school house with a growing garden. Further down there was a Wool merchant and a seamstress shop with a working loom and examples from the newspapers of the time with adverts of the kinds of clothing that was being made and sold in these shops. On down the road there was a watch makers shop and a woodworkers shop. Both had their work stations and tools. To get to the 17th century site you took a walk through some lovely woods and down around a bend. There was a very shallow lake with a Curling cottage next to it. Inside it had the stones, shoes, score cards etc. for the curling teams. Just as we got to the bend in the trail that would take us to the 17th century buildings we were told the site was closing and that we needed to make our way to the exit. *sigh* So we did beat feet back to the car.
We came back to the hotel after that and had a short shopping trip to buy a new lightweight rain coat for Miklos. They have every conceivable sporting goods shop known to man here. So we were able to get a good deal on a very nice Northface jacket in a respectable blue. Then Miklos and I went to the pub to have a Magners and rest our feet. We have managed 44331 steps since Sunday.
Dinner was an adventure of the Highland Buffett, or an homage to the potatoe otherwise known as haggis and 101 ways to cook a potato. Ok actually Miklos tells me there weren’t 101 potato dishes, more like 4… ok maybe 8. What was on the buffet: Steak Mince, Haggis, Cairngorm stovies, Fish pie, steak and mushroom ale stew, bubblyjock casserole, mushroom stroganoff, venison casserole, crofters’ vegetables, clapshot, skirlie, dumplings, wild rice, potatoes (mashed, baked, chieftain, and Rob Roy). So 8. Everything I had was good. If you see something on the list and you don’t know what it is…. chances are it involved a potato.
Addendum: So Miklos asks me to look up what is skirlie. When I asked him why he responds “Damn it Woman, it’s because it was the least appetizing thing I ate and I don’t know what it was…” Turns out according to Wikipedia it is: Skirlie is a Scottish dish, made from oatmeal fried with fat, onions, and seasonings. Most commonly used as the basis of white puddings, it is also served as a side-dish or used as a stuffing for chicken or other fowl. Lard, beef dripping or butter are used.
Scotland day #3
Lunch: Vinison peperoni while walking on the trails.
Dinner: Lamb shanks braised in red wine, with mashed potatoes, peas and champ (carrots). Grilled Vinison steak with chips, onion rings, mushroom and a wild berry sauce. For desert. Butterscotch Sticky toffee pudding and Lemon Posset (think lemon cheese cake on steroids.)
Spiffiest thing seen/done today: Making it to the upper falls at Bruar Falls and seeing a beautiful vista from the bridge.
General notes: Started out in Edinburgh, went to bridges at Queens landing (or possibly South Queens landing depending on who you ask.) Hawes Inn was at the landing. Hawes Inn is where Robert Louis Stevenson set the beginning and ending of Kidnaped.
Went from Queens landing to the Scone Palace (where the crowned Scotish kings for centuries.) It was a pretty house, but the grounds were beautiful. They have a Pinetum which is a planting of dozens of different kinds of pine/coniferious trees. Some were just massive. (pretty sure they were also getting the same water as the giant lily pads from the Botanical gardens). There was a star shaped maze made of green and dark maroon boxwood. It had a fountain in the middle. There was a little bridge overlook that let you see those in the maze and the center. We went in and made it out again. They had loads of peacocks. One was an albino who was the most cooperative at getting his photo made.
Bruar Falls were next. The trail starts out behind this little shoping complex in the middle of no where. If you don’t know where to look you will not find it. The trail goes up for 2 miles and you can stop at the lower falls or continue up to the higher falls. Last time Miklos and I didn’t make it up to the upper falls. This year we pushed ourselves (ok there may have been a healthy amount of “what can you see from that point” and “well we’ve gone this far can’t turn back now” involved.) But once we got to the top the view was well worth the climb. You could see for miles. Then we went across the bridge and came down the other side. Stopping to get loads of photographs of the falls and the crazy formations that they make. I got told repeatedly to back away from the edge of the rocks. With at least one exclimation of “Oh my god, get back on the other side of the rock.” Sheeesh I just wanted a good picture of the rock pool at the bottom. Once we got back off the trail we went into the market and got cheeses, crackers, peperoni, sausage and chocolate. (All good survival food.) Yes Amya there is a Scotish Brie.
We came to a stop this evening at the Cairngorm Hotel in the Cairngorm Mountains. It is an area known for sport enthusiasts of all kinds. We are hoping to get to go kayaking tomorrow if the weather holds out.
Scotland day # 02
Starting location: Edinburgh
Ending location: Edinburgh
Lunch: Royal Botanical Gardens
Mushroom and Tarragon Soup
Dinner: Bella Italia
Agnello Tagliatelle – lamb and red wine ragu with fresh tagliatelle and parmesan shavings
Pollo alla Crema – chicken with red onions, roasted peppers, smoked pancetta, and casarecci pasta tubes in a white wine cream sauce
Spiffiest thing seen/done today: Glasshouses exhibits at the botanical gardens
Royal Botanical Gardens
Queen’s Gallery at Holyrood
Day 2 We are much, much better. We have gotten like 12 hours of sleep. It is a bright and gloriously sunny day. (I double check to make sure we are really in Scotland… yep and it is sunny). we decide to go to the Royal Botanical Gardens. Grab a taxi and head that way. I love taxies here. We can comfortably sit 4 people and not be on top of each other. It was the cabbie’s birthday. He was very cheerful and chatty.
We get to the gardens just as they open the gates. Buy tickets to the glass houses and proceed to walk to see them first resolving to explore the other areas later. The glass houses are a massive grouping of multiple habitats ranging from the deepest rainforests to the temperate desert. The first room is full of palm trees and is just strikingly beautiful. We realize that this is going to be a photographic delight.
The next was the orchid room which had a pathway that lead around the perimeters then cut diagonally through the middle. There were so many orchids that we went around the room twice and still didn’t see everything.
The next room was larger and two stories it was a temperate walkway, but we didn’t go fully into it went took a right and went into the room with the pond and the GIANORMUS lily pads. They were beautiful and massive. (really massive. Huge, really.)
It lead into a room that was full of ferns. Not little rinky-dink ferns, but primeval ferns. Ferns that were big enough to beat you up and take your lunch money. (I think they might have been drinkin’ the same water as the lily pads.) Big freaking ferns. They were fuzzy and had curing tendrils that were bigger than my head. These were ferns that grew larger than some trees. They were just awesome.
We then went back through the room with the pond and the man eating lily pads. To the temperate walkway. It was two stories and had huge cashmere cedar tree that was beautiful. Loads of flowering vines and more large trees.
The next house had a large pond that was full of large coy. You could go over a bridge and see loads of small lily pads that had blooms in white. The coy were very friendly and came up to the surface to see what was going on and hope you had food.
Arid Desert came next and it had many beautiful succulent desert plants and cacti. Some had grown really massive. Others were tiny.
We then went outside and walked to the next series of glass houses.
The Moderate Rainforest had been damaged during a storm and 500 panes of glass had been broken. It was a wonder that the plants had survived. It had a banana plant and loads of flowing plants, ferns, palms, vines.
Hot Rainforest had glass cases that lined both sides of the entrance wall. The one to the right had orchids. The one to the left had pitcher plants and fly traps.
We then went back outside and found the lower entrance to the Temperate walkway downstairs. It lead to a small aquarium.
We made our way back outside to the Cafe and had some of the best mushroom and tarragon soup served with a crusty bread and butter. It was just what we needed after walking around the glass houses.
After lunch we walked around the grounds. It has some beautiful views of the city. We strolled over to the pond. Dodged under some trees when it started to rain. Fortunately it only rained on and off again for maybe 5 min. Then we explored the woodland garden, the Rock garden, Peat Garden, Heath Garden, and then it started to rain again so we made our way to the Chinese Pavilion… but it was closed so we again took refuge under a big tree. It only lasted maybe 10 minutes. We decided to head back to the hotel to get coats. (Yeah we were idiots and didn’t bring our jackets.) Made a healthy exploration of the gift shop and then grabbed taxi and were off.
Got coats and a refreshing beverage and headed off again. This time we walked down the Royal Mile to the Holyroodhouse. Miklos and I went in and saw the Treasures from the Queen’s Palaces exhibit. There were beautiful paintings. A 14th century book of hours. (very nearly got escorted out over trying to get a better look) . There were chalk drawings by the greats. Leonardo, Rafael, Donatello, Bochini etc. If you can think of a great artist I’m guessing there was something there. 2 Faberge eggs were just breath taking. I think there wouldn’t have been enough bail money if Gia had seen some of the emeralds that were in one of the belts on display. ( I took loads of pictures for you.) Gift from majaragas to the princes of Europe were just amazing. The pliqu a jour shield with hundreds of yellow and white diamonds. Damasks steel swords with water forged edges. Drooling was not allowed. But wow, just wow.