Exploring Scotland – Part IV: Orkney & The Scottish North to Ullapool

Day 4, 29th July 2013

Today, 29th July, aka my 40th birthday, was the whole reason I planned this whole trip to the UK, and I have to say it’s been one of the best birthdays I’ve had. The plan for today’s part of the tour involved us making our way from Orkney and heading back to the mainland, our final destination of the day was going to be Ullapool, as we crossed over the north coast of Scotland. After the soaking wet day of yesterday, we had a gloriously sunny day to start. We were picked up from our accommodations and headed up to the highpoint of the Orkney mainland to the Orkneying Saga Trail on Wideford Hill. From here, you could pretty much see the surrounding area to all sides. This is one of my favourite views.

Orkney mainland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 29th July 2013

Orkney mainland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 29th July 2013

It was a lovely day to cross the North Sea back to the mainland, and although it was breezy the ferry ride was actually fairly a smooth run. When we got into the dock, alongside the docking port, there was an outcropping of rocks on the right hand side where a couple of seals were relaxing.

Seals on the Rocks, Gill's Bay, Highland, Scotland, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 29th July 2013

Seals on the Rocks, Gill’s Bay, Highland, Scotland, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 29th July 2013

We travelled along the A836 along the north coast, around various ports and bays with gorgeous scenery before stopping in Thurso to pick up a picnic lunch at the Tesco’s and then headed further west to Melvich Bay (I think) to have lunch on the beach. Such soft sand and lovely to walk on barefoot.

Melvich Beach, Highland, Scotland, UK. ©  J. Lynn Stapleton, 29th July 2013

Melvich Beach, Highland, Scotland, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 29th July 2013

Melvich Bay Beach. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 29th July 2013

Melvich Bay Beach. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 29th July 2013

Melvich Bay Beach, Highland, Scotland, UK © J. Lynn Stapleton, 29th July 2013

Melvich Bay Beach, Highland, Scotland, UK © J. Lynn Stapleton, 29th July 2013

After our break, we continued along the A836 and A838 on the north and west coast, headed towards Ullapool. One of the places we stopped off to see was the ceramic artist, Lotte Glob’s Studio Croft. There we saw some some really neat sculptures and tiles of many different colours.

Lotte Glob's Ceramic Studio, Loch Eriboll, Sutherland. © J. Lynn Stapleton,  29th July 2013

Lotte Glob’s Ceramic Studio, Loch Eriboll, Sutherland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 29th July 2013

Lotte Glob's Ceramic Studio, Loch Eriboll, Sutherland. © J. Lynn Stapleton,  29th July 2013

Lotte Glob’s Ceramic Studio, Loch Eriboll, Sutherland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 29th July 2013

Lotte Glob's Ceramic Studio, Loch Eriboll, Sutherland. © J. Lynn Stapleton,  29th July 2013

Lotte Glob’s Ceramic Studio, Loch Eriboll, Sutherland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 29th July 2013

Lotte Glob's Ceramic Studio, Loch Eriboll, Sutherland. © J. Lynn Stapleton,  29th July 2013

Lotte Glob’s Ceramic Studio, Loch Eriboll, Sutherland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 29th July 2013

There was some absolutely stunning scenery coming down this area – though if I had to keep saying that, we’d be here all day. We stopped at a couple of places for photo opportunities before continuing on to the Cocoa Mountain at the Balnakeil Craft Village in Durness for some lovely hot chocolate, and where I picked up some chocolate presents for friends.

Scottish Northwest. ©  J. Lynn Stapleton, 29th July 2013

Scottish Northwest. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 29th July 2013

Scottish Northwest. ©  J. Lynn Stapleton, 29th July 2013

Scottish Northwest. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 29th July 2013

Scottish Northwest. ©  J. Lynn Stapleton, 29th July 2013

Scottish Northwest. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 29th July 2013

After this, we briefly doubled back a short distance to Smoo Cave, at the end of a 600m tidal gorge set into limestone cliffs, the waterfall inside drops in from a sinkhole. This is quite an interesting cave in that the initial part – further out into the gorge which collapsed due to erosion over the years – by the sea. The inner chambers of the cave, are formed by freshwater passages. There are three chambers to the cave – the first entrance into the cave is the outer chamber and a covered path leads towards the second chamber, where the waterfall empties into, and the furthest, the third chamber, is accessible by boat. The waterfall drops from an 25-metre (82ft) high point where the Allt Smoo falls through the sinkhole. I can still hardly believe that I got as good a shot of the waterfall as I did as it was quite dark in the cave. So what I did, since I didn’t have a tripod with me, was set the aperture and focus point with a long exposure, and the ISO level down to 100, and then put it on a 10-second timer and took the shot. I have to say, I’m extremely happy with how it turned out (fourth photo down, below).

Smoo Cave, near Durness, Scotland. ©  J. Lynn Stapleton, 29th July 2013

Smoo Cave, near Durness, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 29th July 2013

Smoo Cave, near Durness, Scotland. ©  J. Lynn Stapleton, 29th July 2013

Smoo Cave, near Durness, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 29th July 2013

Smoo Cave, near Durness, Scotland. ©  J. Lynn Stapleton, 29th July 2013

Smoo Cave, near Durness, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 29th July 2013

Smoo Cave, near Durness, Scotland. ©  J. Lynn Stapleton, 29th July 2013

Smoo Cave, near Durness, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 29th July 2013

Smoo Cave, near Durness, Scotland. ©  J. Lynn Stapleton, 29th July 2013

Smoo Cave, near Durness, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 29th July 2013

Just we we were leaving the cave behind and Durness, it started to rain again, where it continued periodically through the area, and through the evening, as we pulled into our accommodations. I was actually staying on here two nights as I was leaving the the Orkney & The North Highlands Tour and picking up the Outer Hebrides Tour on the 31st. There were three others from the tour that were also continuing on with me while the rest of the group were returning to Edinburgh the next day (30th). Once I got settled with my things in the hostel, I headed over to the Seaforth Bar Restaurant Takeaway to join my travel companions for supper. Some of us ate inside and some outside under the canopy, and lots of laughter was shared…and then they brought me out a slice of birthday cake with a lit candle. More laughter to be shared. It was a good night, and then I headed back to the hostel to head to get ready for bed, do a bit of web searching, and then head to bed for the night.

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Exploring Scotland – Part III – Discovering Neolithic Orkney

Day 3 – 28th July 2013

Today we set out to explore Neolithic Orkney, World Heritage sites that date back between 5100 to 3500 years ago. We visited Maeshowe chambered tomb, the Ring of Brodgar, Skara Brae, the Ness of Brodgar, and The Stones of Stenness. Inside Maeshowe, you could see the ancient Norse rune markings on the walls of the stone. The Scottish government offers a Virtual Tour of Maeshowe, wherein on the winter solstice, the sun sets in between the mountains and shone in through the 10 metre pathway to the chamber and the back wall. The mound is 35 metres in diameter and 7 metres in height. Visitors are not allowed to take photos inside, but I have a few exterior shots.

Maeshowe, Orkney. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 28th July 2013

Maeshowe, Orkney. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 28th July 2013

Maeshowe, Orkney. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 28th July 2013

Maeshowe, Orkney. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 28th July 2013

Norse Runes, Maeshowe Burial Chamber, West Mainland, Orkney. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 28th July 2013

Norse Runes, Maeshowe Burial Chamber, West Mainland, Orkney. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 28th July 2013

By the time we left Maeshowe, the wind and rain had picked up as we headed back to the bus to go to our next destination – the Ness of Brodgar excavations. In 2002, a geological survey of the area revealed a 2.5 hectare area that may have been indicative of a settlement. The excavations over the years since – done over a six week period each summer – has revealed settlements that have undergone radiocarbon dating to civilizations between 3200-2300BC. The site is currently only about 10% excavated at this point. The images that follow are of different sections of the excavation.

Ness of Brodgar Excavation Site, Orkney mainland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 28th July 2013

Ness of Brodgar Excavation Site, Orkney mainland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 28th July 2013

Ness of Brodgar, Orkney mainland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 28th July 2013

Ness of Brodgar, Orkney mainland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 28th July 2013

We then moved on to Skara Brae and the Skaill House. After getting some lunch at the visitor information centre and the exhibition displays, I headed out to the Skara Brae site; first to the replica house where it gave an idea to the internal structure of the homes, and then on to the actual site of one of the best preserved prehistoric villages (dating to 3100 to 2600 BC). These structures were preserved under sand until a severe storm in 1850 that revealed part of the structures, then excavations began. In the 1920s a protective seawall was erected to prevent further erosion of the historic settlements by the sea; it has been re-fortified over the years.

Skara Brae Replica House, Orkney mainland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 28th July 2013

Skara Brae Replica House, Orkney mainland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 28th July 2013

Skara Brae, Orkney mainland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 28th July 2013

Skara Brae, Orkney mainland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 28th July 2013

Skara Brae, Orkney mainland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 28th July 2013

Skara Brae, Orkney mainland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 28th July 2013

I didn’t get over to the Skaill House as the wind was up and it was pouring rain, sideways, and I was absolutely soaked so I just headed over back to the bus. We also stopped further up along the bay where a few got out to explore and see some puffins. Seeing a few of the pictures from the others, I kind of wished I had gone but I was also glad to have a bit of reprieve from the rain. By the time we got to our next destination, the Broch of Gurness, the rain had eased off somewhat, even though the wind was still up. On the plus side it helped to dry my jeans out a little. 🙂

The Broch of Gurness village is dated around 500 to 200 BC and is one of the best examples of an Iron-Age settlement in northern Scotland. We were able to wander around the settlement much easier than that of Skara Brae, and thus could see more clearly the areas of housing.

Broch of Gurness, Orkney mainland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 28th July 2013

Broch of Gurness, Orkney mainland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 28th July 2013

Broch of Gurness, Orkney mainland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 28th July 2013

Broch of Gurness, Orkney mainland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 28th July 2013

Broch of Gurness, Orkney mainland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 28th July 2013

Broch of Gurness, Orkney mainland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 28th July 2013

Broch of Gurness, Orkney mainland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 28th July 2013

Broch of Gurness, Orkney mainland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 28th July 2013

Broch of Gurness, Orkney mainland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 28th July 2013

Broch of Gurness, Orkney mainland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 28th July 2013

A Pictish Farm, Broch of Gurness, Orkney Mainland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 28th July 2013

A Pictish Farm, Broch of Gurness, Orkney Mainland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 28th July 2013

Broch Horse, Orkney mainland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 28th July 2013

Broch Horse, Orkney mainland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 28th July 2013

On our trails of viewing the heart of Neolithic Orkney, we stopped at The Ring of Brodgar, built relatively between 2500 BC and 2000 BC. The overcast day added to the mystery and ambiance of the scene in front of us. There are twenty-seven of a possible sixty stones survive around the circumference of the henge. Following that, we moved over to The Standing Stones of Stenness, which radiocarbon dating has set the building time around 3100 BC.

Ring of Brodgar

Ring of Brodgar, Orkney mainland. ©  J. Lynn Stapleton, 28th July 2013

Ring of Brodgar, Orkney mainland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 28th July 2013

Ring of Brodgar, Orkney mainland. ©  J. Lynn Stapleton, 28th July 2013

Ring of Brodgar, Orkney mainland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 28th July 2013

Ring of Brodgar, Orkney mainland. ©  J. Lynn Stapleton, 28th July 2013

Ring of Brodgar, Orkney mainland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 28th July 2013

Standing Stones of Stenness

Stones of Stenness, Orkney mainland. ©  J. Lynn Stapleton, 28th July 2013

Stones of Stenness, Orkney mainland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 28th July 2013

Stones of Stenness, Orkney mainland. ©  J. Lynn Stapleton, 28th July 2013

Stones of Stenness, Orkney mainland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 28th July 2013

The Stones of Stenness was our last stop on the day’s itinerary before we headed back to Kirkwall. As I had leftovers from my Indian meal the night before back at the hostel, I decided to get dropped back to the Tesco’s near the hostel where I picked up some fruit and drink for the next day and a new pair of dry jeans. It hard started to sprinkle with rain again as I left Tesco’s but fortunately it wasn’t far back to the hostel. After getting in and hanging up my clothes on the heated towel rack and the radiator (which I turned up for the evening), I grabbed a nice hot shower then put on my pyjamas, got my supper then retired to my room to write up some postcards and work on my computer before retiring for the night.

Exploring Scotland – Part II: Inverness to the Orkney Islands

Day 2, 27th August 2013

This day we were headed to the Orkney Islands, going up the northeast of Scotland, looking at the beautiful scenery as we went. We headed up across the Black Isle and up to Dornoch for a break to get something to take for lunch later on, and a chance to wander about. We were able to get into Dornoch Cathedral, a 13th Century red sandstone Parish Church, to wander through. The architecture is just beautiful.

Dornoch Cathedral, Dornoch, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 27th July 2013

Dornoch Cathedral, Dornoch, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 27th July 2013

Dornoch Cathedral, Dornoch, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 27th July 2013

Dornoch Cathedral, Dornoch, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 27th July 2013

Dornoch Cathedral, Dornoch, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 27th July 2013

Dornoch Cathedral, Dornoch, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 27th July 2013

Dornoch Cathedral, Dornoch, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 27th July 2013

Dornoch Cathedral, Dornoch, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 27th July 2013

As I continued to walk about the town before we headed off, I spotted this house with a gorgeous garden and I had to grab a shot.

Dornoch, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 27th July 2013

Dornoch, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 27th July 2013

After that, we continued on and stopped at Dunrobin Castle at Golspie Sutherland. We went around back and got some shots of the opulence of the castle, though some of the shots were quite bright due to sun shining through the mist.

Dunrobin Castle, Golspie, Sutherland, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 27th July 2013

Dunrobin Castle, Golspie, Sutherland, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 27th July 2013

Me at Dunrobin Castle, Golspie, Sutherland, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 27th July 2013

Me at Dunrobin Castle, Golspie, Sutherland, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 27th July 2013

Dunrobin Castle Beach, Golspie, Sutherland, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 27th July 2013

Dunrobin Castle Beach, Golspie, Sutherland, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 27th July 2013

We stopped briefly in Helmsdale to visit The Emigrants statue, erected as a memorial to the thousands of Scots who were forcibly removed from their homes during the highland clearances; some sent to the coasts, the Scottish lowlands, others sent to Canada, the United States, New Zealand, Australia, and many other places around the world.

The Emigrants, Helmsdale, Highland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 27th July 2013

The Emigrants, Helmsdale, Highland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 27th July 2013

There were times as we travelled along the A9 road along the coast where you could see the mist over the water so that it looked like the clouds were below us and sunny skies above, then turned and headed up to John O’Groats for a quick break before we waited to take the ferry at Gill’s Bay to South Ronaldsay in the Orkney Islands.

Arriving on South Ronaldsay we passed over the causeways, known as the Churchill Barriers, to Burray, and then over to Lamb Holm, where the causeways were built and ships were purposefully sunk to prevent further German U-Boats from passing through the Scapa Flow, though the Churchill Barrier causeways were completed in Sept 1944 but were not actually officially opened until May1945.

Sunken Ships, Scapa Flow, Orkney. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 27th July 2013

Sunken Ships, Scapa Flow, Orkney. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 27th July 2013

Much of the work on those causeways was completed by Italian prisoners of war. While prisoners of war are forbidden for working on the causeways though it had been justified as improvements for communications between the islands. On the island of Lamb’s Holm, the Italian’s built a beautiful chapel, known as the Italian Chapel, where we stopped for a break to take in the wonderful design before stopping for a short break. These are some of the pictures taken at the chapel.

Italian Chapel, Lamb Holm, Orkney. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 27th July 2013

Italian Chapel, Lamb Holm, Orkney. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 27th July 2013

Italian Chapel, Lamb Holm, Orkney. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 27th July 2013

Italian Chapel, Lamb Holm, Orkney. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 27th July 2013

Italian Chapel, Lamb Holm, Orkney. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 27th July 2013

Italian Chapel, Lamb Holm, Orkney. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 27th July 2013

POW Memorial Statue at the Italian Chapel, Lamb Holm, Orkney. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 27th July 2013

POW Memorial Statue, Lamb Holm, Orkney. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 27th July 2013

I spotted a lovely bunch of daisies as we walked down to the little shop not too far away, and had to take a shot.

Daisies, Lambs Holm, Orkney. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 27th July 2013

Daisies, Lambs Holm, Orkney. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 27th July 2013

We drove on to Kirkwall, the capitol of Orkney, where we were staying over night for two nights. After we were shown around the town and got our Orkney Explorer Passes, we had a bit of a break to wander around town. I took a walk around town by the shops, and to the St. Magnus Cathedral. Unlike on the Scottish mainland and Outer Hebrides, one of the primary things that you notice in Orkney is that the town names and locations have more of a Norse influence on the area than Gallic.

St. Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, Orkney. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 27th July 2013

St. Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, Orkney. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 27th July 2013

St. Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, Orkney. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 27th July 2013

St. Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, Orkney. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 27th July 2013

St. Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, Orkney. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 27th July 2013

St. Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, Orkney. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 27th July 2013

Cemetery Entrance at St. Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, Orkney. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 27th July 2013

Cemetery Entrance at St. Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, Orkney. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 27th July 2013

I also went round to the Bishop’s and Earl’s Palaces, as it had looked quite intriguing in the Orkney Explorer’s brochure. The Bishop’s and Earl’s Palaces were built about the same time as the St. Magnus Cathedral, mid-12th century to provide a home for the Bishop. I walked around the remnants of the palaces taking in the structures.

Bishop's and Earl's Palaces, Kirkwall, Orkney. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 27th July 2013

Bishop’s and Earl’s Palaces, Kirkwall, Orkney. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 27th July 2013

Bishop's and Earl's Palaces, Kirkwall, Orkney. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 27th July 2013

Bishop’s and Earl’s Palaces, Kirkwall, Orkney. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 27th July 2013

Bishop's and Earl's Palaces, Kirkwall, Orkney. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 27th July 2013

Bishop’s and Earl’s Palaces, Kirkwall, Orkney. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 27th July 2013

Bishop's and Earls Palaces, Kirkwall, Orkney. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 27th July 2013

Bishop’s and Earl’s Palaces, Kirkwall, Orkney. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 27th July 2013

Bishop's and Earl's Palaces, Kirkwall, Orkney. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 27th July 2013

Bishop’s and Earl’s Palaces, Kirkwall, Orkney. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 27th July 2013

Bishop's and Earl's Palaces, Kirkwall, Orkney. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 27th July 2013

Bishop’s and Earl’s Palaces, Kirkwall, Orkney. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 27th July 2013

Bishop's and Earl's Palaces, Kirkwall, Orkney. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 27th July 2013

Bishop’s and Earl’s Palaces, Kirkwall, Orkney. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 27th July 2013

Bishop's and Earl's Palaces, Kirkwall, Orkney. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 27th July 2013

Bishop’s and Earl’s Palaces, Kirkwall, Orkney. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 27th July 2013

After a bit, we were driven to our accommodations. This time I had a four bed female dorm to myself, and on ground floor so no needing to carry luggage up and down stairs. Thankfully. The hostel where I was staying wasn’t that far off from the centre of the city, so I walked back into the centre and poked around a bit before heading to the North Indian & Bangladeshi restaurant we found earlier. I had a wonderful dinner at Dil Se. Lamb Tikka Biryani with Naan bread with Gulab Jamun (warm rich luscious balls of soft Indian dumplings in aromatic cardamom sugar syrup, sinfully sweet & succulent) for dessert – it was awesome. Then I headed off to the city centre where there was to be the local performance by the Kirkwall City Pipes and Drums performance. I bought one of the band’s CDs as there was someone who was selling them as fundraisers.

Kirkwall City Pipe Band, Kirkwall, Orkney. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 27th July 2013

Kirkwall City Pipe Band, Kirkwall, Orkney. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 27th July 2013