Exploring Scotland – Part X: The Return to Edinburgh

Day 10 – 4th August 2013

Today marked the final day of our tour through Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, as we left the Isle of Skye behind and moved back onto the Scottish mainland. Where we arrived in Uig by ferry a couple of days ago, today we were headed down the eastern road along the Inner Sound, passing by the islands of Rassay and Scalpay as we went towards the Skye Bridge over to the mainland.

The bridge connects over the sound between the villages of Kyle of Lochalsh on the mainland and Kyleakin on the island, and was built from 1992-1995 when it opened. There had been a toll on the bridge of £11.40 (return trips) for a short time before it was cancelled due to heavy protests that it was the most expensive road in Europe and non-payment by residents. In December 2004, the bridge was bought for £27 million and tolls immediately ceased. The image below shows the segment from Eilean Bàn (where there’s a support structure for the bridge between Skye and the mainland.

Skye Bridge, Kyle of Lochalsh, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 4th August, 2013

Skye Bridge, Kyle of Lochalsh, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 4th August, 2013

Kyle of Lochalsh, Scotland. ©  J. Lynn Stapleton, 4th August, 2013

Kyle of Lochalsh, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 4th August, 2013

We drove down to Eilean Donan Castle, to visit and take photographs. I visited here when I was in the UK seven years earlier but it’s still pretty impressive. The castle is strategically situated at the head of three lochs – Loch Alsh, Loch Long and Loch Duich and was built as a defence against warring clans and nations. The original medieval structures were built in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. By the end of the 15th century, however, the castle had been reduced to 538 square metres. In the 16th century a hornwork was built with a hexagonal bastion and added to the east wall.

Like many castles in Scotland that were used as defences, such as Urquhart Castle, Eilean Donan Castle was destroyed in 1719 when it was bombarded by English ships against the Jacobite stronghold and Spanish soldiers who were helping the Jacobites. The castle sat in ruins for nearly two hundred years before being rebuilt by Major / Lt. Col. John McRae-Gilstrap and Farquhar MacRae over a twenty year period. Rumour has it that the architect had received the blue-prints of the original castle in a dream and devised the rebuilt castle from these plans, and when the original blueprints were found at Edinburgh Castle from a survey of the property just five years before its 1719 destruction, it was determined that the newer blueprints for the castle to be very close to the original. It cost £250,000 to build and was formally completed in 1932. The Billeting Room’s walls are 4.26 metres (14 feet) thick. Visitors are unable to take photographs inside, but if you’re interested, the official Eilean Donan Castle site offers a virtual tour through the grounds. The following are photographs I took on and around the castle grounds.

Eilean Donan Castle, Dornie, Kyle of Lochalsh, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 4th August, 2013

Eilean Donan Castle, Dornie, Kyle of Lochalsh, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 4th August, 2013

Eilean Donan Castle, Dornie, Kyle of Lochalsh, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 4th August, 2013

Eilean Donan Castle, Dornie, Kyle of Lochalsh, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 4th August, 2013

View from Eilean Donan Castle, Dornie, Kyle of Lochalsh, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 4th August, 2013

View from Eilean Donan Castle, Dornie, Kyle of Lochalsh, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 4th August, 2013

Eilean Donan Castle, Dornie, Kyle of Lochalsh, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 4th August, 2013

Eilean Donan Castle, Dornie, Kyle of Lochalsh, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 4th August, 2013

Eilean Donan Castle, Dornie, Kyle of Lochalsh, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 4th August, 2013

Eilean Donan Castle, Dornie, Kyle of Lochalsh, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 4th August, 2013

View from Eilean Donan Castle, Dornie, Kyle of Lochalsh, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 4th August, 2013

View from Eilean Donan Castle, Dornie, Kyle of Lochalsh, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 4th August, 2013

Eilean Donan Castle, Dornie, Kyle of Lochalsh, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 4th August, 2013

Eilean Donan Castle, Dornie, Kyle of Lochalsh, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 4th August, 2013

Before we left, I went into the gift shop to pick up a few things (music, a t-shirt, some postcards and stamps), and just as we were leaving, there was a little sprinkle of rain coming down, but it didn’t last too long as we moved further south-east and stopped in Fort William for a lunch break. Several of us went together to a pub that had some really good food before meeting up again in The Parade area in front of the Duncansburgh MacIntosh Parish of the Church of Scotland.

The Parade, Fort William, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 4th August, 2013

The Parade, Fort William, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 4th August, 2013

Duncansburgh MacIntosh Parish, Church of Scotland, Fort William, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 4th August, 2013

Duncansburgh MacIntosh Parish, Church of Scotland, Fort William, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 4th August, 2013

From here we returned to the area of Glencoe and Ballachulish that we’d passed through on the first day of our trip. I’d remarked, amusedly, that a friend of mine who lives in the area was actually visiting Canada at the same time I was visiting her hometown area.

The area shown in the pictures below are of Bidean nam Bian (The Three Sisters of Glen Coe) just south of Glencoe, are a part of three ridges that extend into the glen.

Glencoe, Highlands, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 4th August, 2013

Glencoe, Highlands, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 4th August, 2013

Glencoe, Highlands, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 4th August, 2013

Glencoe, Highlands, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 4th August, 2013

Glencoe, Highlands, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 4th August, 2013

Glencoe, Highlands, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 4th August, 2013

We stopped off for a little break as we headed down through the Trussochs and down to Stirling and as we went south the sun had come out and was really quite nice. We stopped not far from Stirling Castle to take some photos – from a different angle than from the long distance shot I took from the Wallace Monument ten days earlier. This was our final stop before heading back in to Edinburgh where we were being dropped off at Waverley Bridge. Thea, one of my trip companions, and I were staying in the same area but not the same hostel, so we headed to our respective places and agreed to meet up a little bit later to go grab some supper.

Stirling Castle, Stirling, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 4th August, 2013

Stirling Castle, Stirling, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 4th August, 2013

As usual for my trip – except for a couple stops – my accomodations had me on the third floor of a hostel. Old building, no elevator. Luggage. Anyway, as my train was to depart really early the next morning, they didn’t charge me the room deposit. They also pre-ordered a taxi ride for the morning to take me to the train station, which I gratefully appreciated. I deposited my stuff in the room I was staying and headed out to meet Thea. We had a wonderful dinner before we parted ways and I headed back to the hostel to get ready for bed and make sure all my stuff was packed.

The next morning came really early, as I mentioned, and it didn’t take me long to get dressed and carry all my stuff down three flights of stairs and drop my key off at the hostel office mail slot. The cab driver dropped me off at the platform level, and I’d forgotten about going up stairs to the main station offices to get the actual ticket – I had my payment confirmation slip with me, but at least the train operator let me stay on board…thankfully, since we were already past Edinburgh when he came round. I got into London about 11:30am-ish, then the Tube over to Victoria station and another train over to my cousin’s in Epsom. I was beat. But not too beat to go meet up with a friend in London that afternoon. 🙂

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Exploring Scotland – Part IX: The Isle of Skye

Day 9 – 3rd August 2013

This morning we headed up the Trotternish (northeast) peninsula of Skye along the A855 towards Elishader. As the rain, wind and fog was approaching, the Old Man of Storr was not visible. One of these days, I’ll get to Skye on a sunny day (or at least less overcast) when I can actually see it as the last time I’d been on Skye (May 2006 was the last time). We stopped off at a viewing area in Lealt, near Kilt Rock, where a waterfall dropped heavily due to the increased rain flow. It was also very windy as we made our way over the slight path to take the photos. I had on this ‘waterproof’ camping poncho – not exactly the best thing to wear on the coast of Skye as the wind kept taking the edges and blowing it around like crazy – thus the rains that had started and coming at us somewhat sideways started the soaking of clothing.

Lealt Falls, Isle of Skye, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 3rd August, 2013

Lealt Falls, Isle of Skye, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 3rd August, 2013

From there, we moved up the road to the Mealt Falls at Creag an Fhèilídh (Kilt Rock) near Elishader. The falls come from the overflow from Loch Mealt and drops 55 metres (180ft) over the sea cliffs. I’ve been here before, but it is nonetheless spectacular, even in overcast conditions. The rain had stopped at this point though it was still windy. Along the viewing area along the cliff edge, there’s a steel fencing that surrounds the outcropping and the winds blowing through the steel creating lovely music. It was wonderful. At various times with the heavy winds, the spray from the waterfall blew sideways as it poured down the cliffs. Looking further up the coast nearby were the cliffs of Kilt Rock. The dolorite columns of the cliffs form pleats that resemble the pleats of a kilt, lending to its name. The Creag an Fhèilídh is one of thirteen sites of the Ceumannan – Staffin Ecomuseum – a museum without walls – all the sites are out in nature to explore.

For the adventurous, climbers can actually repel and climb the cliffs of Kilt Rock. I’ve never learned how to do rock climbing but this looks like something I’d be willing to learn to try someday.

Mealt Falls, Elishader, Isle of Skye. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 3rd July 2013

Mealt Falls, Elishader, Isle of Skye. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 3rd July 2013

Kilt Rock, Elishader, Isle of Skye. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 3rd August 2013

Kilt Rock, Elishader, Isle of Skye. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 3rd August 2013

We moved further along the steep and sometimes hair-pin turn road to go visit the Cuith-Raing, or Quiraing, is on a landslip along the eastern side of Meall na Suiramach, northern-most summit of Trotternish Ridge. The geological theatre comprises several landmarks, of which only a few were actually visible due to the low-lying cloud and fog, and due to the heavy wind and rain, we weren’t actually out there long. That said, the views were beautifully dramatic.

The Cuith-Raing, Isle of Skye. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 3rd August 2013

The Cuith-Raing, Isle of Skye. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 3rd August 2013

The Cuith-Raing, Isle of Skye. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 3rd August 2013

The Cuith-Raing, Isle of Skye. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 3rd August 2013

The Cuith-Raing, Isle of Skye. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 3rd August 2013

The Cuith-Raing, Isle of Skye. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 3rd August 2013

The Cuith-Raing, Isle of Skye. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 3rd August 2013

The Cuith-Raing, Isle of Skye. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 3rd August 2013

The next part of our trip took us to the Faerie Glen on the western side of the Trotternish peninsula, a little bit inland from Uig. I’d been here before as well, but it’s just absolutely stunning, even in the overcast setting. Though the last time I was here it was a fair bit less windy, so it made going to the top of the structure a little more tricky, and I ended up deciding not to do it this time – I’d been able to go up last time so there wasn’t as much of a goal to achieve, especially as the approach is really narrow…remember I said it was really windy? 🙂

When you get to the faerie glen, you’ll notice that the hills and valleys are smaller here than their highland counterparts. It’s a beautiful hike through the hills. And if you so wish, you can throw down a few shiny coins into the stone circles on the hills – the faeries like shiny coins – but don’t throw down anything else; trash left brings bad luck.

Faerie Glen, Isle of Skye. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 3rd August 2013

Faerie Glen, Isle of Skye. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 3rd August 2013

Faerie Glen, Isle of Skye. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 3rd August 2013

Faerie Glen, Isle of Skye. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 3rd August 2013

Faerie Glen, Isle of Skye. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 3rd August 2013

Faerie Glen, Isle of Skye. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 3rd August 2013

Faerie Glen, Isle of Skye. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 3rd August 2013

Faerie Glen, Isle of Skye. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 3rd August 2013

Faerie Glen, Isle of Skye. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 3rd August 2013

Faerie Glen, Isle of Skye. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 3rd August 2013

Faerie Glen, Isle of Skye. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 3rd August 2013

Faerie Glen, Isle of Skye. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 3rd August 2013

When we left the Faerie Glen we headed west and briefly stopped off to see Dunvegan Castle – from a distance.

Dunvegan Castle, Isle of Skye © J. Lynn Stapleton, 3rd August, 2013

Dunvegan Castle, Isle of Skye © J. Lynn Stapleton, 3rd August, 2013

On our return to Portree, we passed by The MacLeod’s Table, two flat-topped hills, which we could scarcely see due to foggy conditions. We had a bit of a break so we returned back to Portree for some lunch, so a few of us went to the Portree Hotel’s dining room for some food then after I wandered around a few shops up on Bosville Terrace, picking up some more postcards, stamps and snack food. There were a few shops selling many different items of clothing – quite a bit of it with wool. They had these gorgeous Aaron knit sweaters which I would have loved to buy, but didn’t get for various reasons, but mainly because they were made of wool and as I’ve mentioned before, I can’t wear wool (unless I’ve got long sleeve turtleneck shirts on underneath). Also, my mum knits and has made me a couple of Aaron knit cable sweaters made with acrylic yarn, and thirdly, I was running out of space in my suitcase. However, I did find a nice waterproof jacket, which I did need – and folded up fairly small when not in use – on sale for £30, so I did get that – and put it right on as it had started to lightly rain again. I quickly made my way back to the bus terminal where our bus was parked and was taking us off on our afternoon adventure. Not everyone was coming along that afternoon though as some had been on Skye on the first leg of their tours the week before.

We continued for a drive in the afternoon up towards where our tour guide went through school and where he grew up. The scenery was quite beautiful. It was overcast and occasionally sprinkling with rain, then we popped into the Talisker Whiskey Distillery, where I picked up a couple of small bottles of Scotch to bring up to my father. And we happened upon a few scarecrows that were part of the Tattie Bogal Scarecrow Festival. The one below was one of my favourites.

Scarecrow, Tattie Bogle Scarecrow Festival, Isle of Skye, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 4th August, 2013

Scarecrow, Tattie Bogle Scarecrow Festival, Isle of Skye, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 3rd August, 2013

Talisker Whiskey Distillery, Carbost, Isle of Skye, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 3rd August, 2013

Talisker Whiskey Distillery, Carbost, Isle of Skye, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 3rd August, 2013

Loch Harport, Isle of Skye © J. Lynn Stapleton, 3rd August 2013

Loch Harport, Isle of Skye © J. Lynn Stapleton, 3rd August 2013

Grazing Sheep, Loch Harport, Isle of Skye. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 3rd August 2013

Grazing Sheep, Loch Harport, Isle of Skye. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 3rd August 2013

We drove on a little longer through Dunvegan and down through and stopped off at the Sligachan Hotel and headed over to the Sligachan Bridge, with the river heavy with rain rushing through the arches. The nearby Cuillin mountains nearby provided a lovely backdrop. I wish it hadn’t started raining but there was some wonderful shots to be taken. According to legend, the Cuillin take their name from the Gaelic hero, Cúchulainn, although this is probably a folk etymology. Legend has it that Cúchulainn learned martial arts from the warrior woman, Scáthach, who was said to have a fighting school in Skye. She bested him in a fight and so after learning from her, he challenged her once more to a fight and won. (ref. Tour guide’s local knowledge, along with Wikipedia reference and– The Cuillin History & the Peak Names

Sligachan Bridge, Sligachan, Isle of Skye. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 3rd August 2013

Sligachan Bridge, Sligachan, Isle of Skye. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 3rd August 2013

Sligachan Bridge, Sligachan, Isle of Skye. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 3rd August 2013

Sligachan Bridge, Sligachan, Isle of Skye. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 3rd August 2013

The Cuillins, Sligachan, Isle of Skye. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 3rd August 2013

The Cuillins, Sligachan, Isle of Skye. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 3rd August 2013

We headed back up to Portree for the night. I stopped off at the hostel where they’d moved me into a four bed female dorm. I hung up my wet clothes and changed before heading up to The Co-operative Supermarket for a few things, then up to the Bosville Hotel restaurant for supper. Some of my tour mates had gone there the evening before and had recommended the place, so I decided to take them up on it and I’m glad I did – fantastic meal and dessert – and grateful for the time I went, as shortly after there was quite a queue for seating. I headed back to the hostel and relaxed for a while, got showered and dressed for bed before writing up some more postcards. I listened to a couple of BBC Radio4 podcasts before falling asleep.

Exploring Scotland – Part VIII: Harris & Skye

Day 8: 2nd August 2013

Today we left the flatter hills of Lewis for the more mountainous area of Harris, as we ventured southwards in order to catch the ferry over to Skye in the afternoon. It was fairly barren, given the landscape, but quite beautiful.

Isle of Lewis, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 2nd August 2013

Isle of Lewis, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 2nd August 2013

Isle of Lewis, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 2nd August 2013

Isle of Lewis, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 2nd August 2013

Isle of Harris, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 2nd August 2013

Isle of Harris, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 2nd August 2013

Isle of Harris, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 2nd August 2013

Isle of Harris, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 2nd August 2013

Isle of Harris, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 2nd August 2013

Isle of Harris, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 2nd August 2013

We stopped off at the newly opened Harris Tweed Centre in Drinishader, Harris, where you could see an exhibition on how the process is making tweed from the initial stages of getting pure virgin wool to the mills where it is dyed according to requested colours to the spinning of the wool onto spools and spun into cloth in the weaver’s homes then returned to the mills for finishing. To get an idea of the process of how tweed is made, the Harris Tweed Authority demonstrates this in a 4-part series of posts on their blog: How to Make Harris Tweed. It’s really quite fascinating if you really like crafting as it is a detailed but fascinating process.

Harris Tweed Centre, Drinishader, Isle of Harris, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 2nd August 2013

Harris Tweed Centre, Drinishader, Isle of Harris, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 2nd August 2013

Harris Tweed Centre, Drinishader, Isle of Harris, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 2nd August 2013

Harris Tweed Centre, Drinishader, Isle of Harris, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 2nd August 2013

We browsed through the shop at the various items from tweed iPhone covers to hats, jackets, and various other things made with Tweed. Looks wonderful, alas, I can’t wear wool such as a sweater or jacket unless it’s fully lined and I’ve got a cotton long-sleeve turtleneck on. Mum’s the only one in the family that can wear wool.

After this we headed south to Rodel in the south end of Harris to see Tùr Chliamainn (St. Clement’s Church), a fifteenth century church that had been built for the Chiefs of the Clan MacLeod of Harris. There are two chapels on either side of the main hall, and the rear of the church, there’s a tower that you could go up along to a small room. The high winds could be heard loudly as you went up the tour and the overcast skies made for an eerie atmosphere.

St. Clement's Church, Rodel, Harris, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 2nd August 2013

St. Clement’s Church, Rodel, Harris, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 2nd August 2013

St. Clement's Church, Rodel, Harris, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 2nd August 2013

St. Clement’s Church, Rodel, Harris, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 2nd August 2013

St. Clement's Church, Rodel, Harris, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 2nd August 2013

St. Clement’s Church, Rodel, Harris, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 2nd August 2013

St. Clement's Church, Rodel, Harris, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 2nd August 2013

St. Clement’s Church, Rodel, Harris, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 2nd August 2013

St. Clement's Church, Rodel, Harris, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 2nd August 2013

St. Clement’s Church, Rodel, Harris, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 2nd August 2013

After a while, we headed up a little to have lunch at The Anchorage Restaurant in Leverburgh, over-looking a lovely bay. We then drove up the western coast of the lower end of Harris, heading back to the Port of Tarbert where we were to catch the ferry over to the Isle of Skye. Along the way we stopped at for a couple photo opportunities on the A859, overlooking gorgeous beaches with soft sands and shallow turquoise waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

Seilebost Beach, Harris, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 2nd August 2013

Seilebost Beach, Harris, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 2nd August 2013

Seilebost Beach, Harris, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 2nd August 2013

Seilebost Beach, Harris, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 2nd August 2013

Seilebost Beach, Harris, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 2nd August 2013

Seilebost Beach, Harris, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 2nd August 2013

On the ride over to Skye, the winds were up and so were the waves. I found a place to sit down, and watch a bit of tele that was running a few episodes of “Midsomer Murders”, though at some point I fell asleep and woke shortly before we were to disembark the ferry as we arrived in Uist on the Isle of Skye and from there we made our way to Portree where we were staying for two nights. There was a minor quibble when we got to the hostel in that they couldn’t find my reservation, but they were able set up an extra mattress in one of the dorm rooms. Anyway, I got my stuff sorted for the time being and headed out to wander the streets of Portree. Given that my computer was down I was happy to find a shop that had some books to buy. I found a copy of Denise Mina’s “Still Midnight”; I couldn’t remember if I had a copy of it at home (ETA: I do), but I hadn’t read it yet, so I picked up a copy to read. I stopped round the Cooperative supermarket to pick up some cereal for the next two mornings, some fruit and soft drinks before heading for food for supper.

It was still mostly overcast, but as I was headed down to the pier to get some supper from the Fish & Chips shop, it had started to clear off a little. I took this shot down at the pier and took my take-away back to the hostel. I finished my tea and got ready for bed, curled up on the mattress and read for a little while before turning in for the night.

Portree Harbour, Portree, Isle of Skye, Scotland. ©  J. Lynn Stapleton, 2nd August 2013

Portree Harbour, Portree, Isle of Skye, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 2nd August 2013

Exploring Scotland – Part VII: The Isle of Lewis

Today, we headed out in the direction of the Arnol to see the Blackhouses. The Blackhouse provided an insight into what island life may have been like up to 150 years ago up until the early 1970s. The roofs are thatched with cereal straw over turf and then weighted down with large stones tied down each side of the roof.

The Arnol Blackhouse, Arnol, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 1st August 2013

The Arnol Blackhouse, Arnol, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 1st August 2013

The Arnol Blackhouse, Arnol, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 1st August 2013

The Arnol Blackhouse, Arnol, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 1st August 2013

The Arnol Blackhouse, Arnol, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 1st August 2013

The Arnol Blackhouse, Arnol, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 1st August 2013

The Arnol Blackhouse, Arnol, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 1st August 2013

The Arnol Blackhouse, Arnol, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 1st August 2013

I managed to set the camera down and get a lovely shot of the peat fire that was burning on the floor in the centre of the blackhouse. As there are no chimneys in the blockhouses, it’s the burning peat that gives the houses it’s name because the soot from the peat fire coats the interior of the homes, and smoke escaped through the roof. The houses not only held residence for people but also domestic animals and livestock. As we were in there for some time, the smell from the peat fire clung to my clothing. It was quite a nice smelling earthy scent. Outside, there was a pile of peat drying in order to burn later.

The Arnol Blackhouse, Arnol, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 1st August 2013[/caption]

The Arnol Blackhouse, Arnol, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 1st August 2013

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As we drove down the A858 Barraid an Duin, we came upon the largest whale jaw bone being used as a gateway arch in someone’s yard.

Whale bone arch, Barraid an Duin. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 1st August 2013

Whale bone arch, Barraid an Duin. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 1st August 2013

Our tour guide next took us to Carloway Harris Tweeds, to a local weaver of Harris Tweed, Norman MacKenzie. His specialty is working with single width (60cm / 24in), and doing more customized weaving, compared with some of the other weavers hired by the mills that use double width (120cm / 48in). While I was looking up some information on the weaving, I actually found a YouTube video of the weaver we visited. It was really interesting seeing how he stretched out the yarn to be put on the warps and the shuttle (or weft) and then how the yarn was woven on the loom. It’s all hand-woven, human powered weaving. Authentic Harris Tweed to be officially designated as such, must be woven in the Outer Hebrides of Lewis and Harris, must be pure wool and must be woven in people’s homes. The tweed and the process is regulated by The Harris Tweed Authority – Ùghdarras a Chlò Hearaich (Guardians of the Orb).

Carloway Harris Tweed, Park House, Carloway, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 1st August 2013

Carloway Harris Tweed, Park House, Carloway, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 1st August 2013

Carloway Harris Tweed, Park House, Carloway, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 1st August 2013

Carloway Harris Tweed, Park House, Carloway, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 1st August 2013

We then headed up to a Gearrannan Baile-Tughaidh Blackhouse Village where they’ve got blackhouses that had been converted inside and are being used for vacation spots. It looked amazing and something I’d love to try some day to stay for a visit. There are four cottages; one sleeps 2, two that sleep 4-5, and one that sleeps up to 14.

Gearrannan Blackhouse Village, Carloway, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 1st August 2013

Gearrannan Blackhouse Village, Carloway, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 1st August 2013

Gearrannan Blackhouse Village, Carloway, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 1st August 2013

Gearrannan Blackhouse Village, Carloway, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 1st August 2013

Gearrannan Blackhouse Village, Carloway, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 1st August 2013

Gearrannan Blackhouse Village, Carloway, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 1st August 2013

Gearrannan Blackhouse Village, Carloway, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 1st August 2013

Gearrannan Blackhouse Village, Carloway, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 1st August 2013

Continuing on our adventures, we headed over to the Doune Broch Centre (Ionad an Dùin Mhòir), then up to the Broch itself. The Iron-age broch dominates the crofting village of Dùn Charlabhaigh (Dun Carloway) and it’s one of the largest and best preserved brochs, built sometime around the first century BC, with radiocarbon dating of some remnants within the broch showing it was probably last occupied in 1300 AD. The east wall is 9 metres high and about 14-15 metres in diameter at the base. Like the blackhouses, the brochs also housed people and animals. Because of its position high up on the hill, it provided a great defensive location and had still been used as a defence between disputing clans.

Dun Carloway Broch, Carloway, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 1st August 2013

Dun Carloway Broch, Carloway, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 1st August 2013

Dun Carloway Broch, Carloway, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 1st August 2013

Dun Carloway Broch, Carloway, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 1st August 2013

Dun Carloway Broch, Carloway, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 1st August 2013

Dun Carloway Broch, Carloway, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 1st August 2013

Our next stop of the day was to go see the Calanais Standing Stones. These standing stones here have a smaller circular ritual placement with four length extensions from that centre outward. It is symmetrical, running true east-west; the western half being a true semi-circle but the eastern half is flattened. Construction of the site dates back between 2900 and 2600 BC. There are also two secondary Calanais standing stones sites not far from the main set of stones.

Calanais Standing Stones, Calanais, Isle of Lewis. ©  J. Lynn Stapleton, 1st August 2013

Calanais Standing Stones, Calanais, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 1st August 2013

Calanais Standing Stones, Calanais, Isle of Lewis. ©  J. Lynn Stapleton, 1st August 2013

Calanais Standing Stones, Calanais, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 1st August 2013

Calanais Standing Stones, Calanais, Isle of Lewis. ©  J. Lynn Stapleton, 1st August 2013

Calanais Standing Stones, Calanais, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 1st August 2013

Calanais Standing Stones, Calanais, Isle of Lewis. ©  J. Lynn Stapleton, 1st August 2013

Calanais Standing Stones, Calanais, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 1st August 2013

The Uig Chessmenrefers to a Viking chess set discovered on one of the sandy beaches in a small stone chamber, and were made probably around the 12th century. There are pieces held in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, the British Museum in London, and at the Stornoway Museum. This statue of the King remains at near one of the Uig beaches.

The King, Uig Chessmen, Uig, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 1st August 2013

The King, Uig Chessmen, Uig, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 1st August 2013

Also near the beach was a hilly field with some highland cattle, including a russet one and a black one. And my final pic of the day was a pretty purple wild flower that a few of us found on the way back to the bus.

Russet Highland Cattle, Uig Beach, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 1st August 2013

Russet Highland Cattle, Uig Beach, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 1st August 2013

Black Highland Bull, Uig Beach, Isle of Lewis. ©  J. Lynn Stapleton, 1st August 2013

Black Highland Bull, Uig Beach, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 1st August 2013

Wild flower, Uig Beach, Isle of Lewis. ©  J. Lynn Stapleton, 1st August 2013

Wild flower, Uig Beach, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 1st August 2013

We made our way back to Stornoway where we spent our second night, and Thea (one of the women on our tour who was staying at the same B&B that I was) and myself went to supper at the dining hall of one of the local hotels, for a wonderful meal before returning to our Bed & Breakfast after a stop at Tesco’s, which was on the way.

Exploring Scotland – Part VI: Outer Hebrides – Isle of Lewis

We left Ullapool in the morning on the ferry to head over to Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis. It was a two hour plus ferry run, so after writing up a few postcards, I put stuff away and curled up on the large cushions and fell asleep. When I woke, it was close to the time to head down to our Rabbie’s bus, so I gathered my backpack and camera bag and met up with the others in the lounge and headed down to the vehicle deck. Once in Stornoway, we got a brief run around to see where things were before parking at a bus terminal and getting out to explore a bit and grab some lunch. Afterwards we were back on the bus, heading west then north up to the Port of Ness. As we travelled along, we could see at various points along the flatter lands of Lewis, long strips out of the land where they were digging up peat to be dried out and then used as fuel. When we got to the Port of Ness, we stopped off at the beach there to the lovely soft sands; the water was turquoise with the underlying sand and shallow waters.

Port of Ness Beach, Isle of Lewis © J. Lynn Stapleton, 31st July 2013

Port of Ness Beach, Isle of Lewis © J. Lynn Stapleton, 31st July 2013

Port of Ness Beach, Isle of Lewis © J. Lynn Stapleton, 31st July 2013

Port of Ness Beach, Isle of Lewis © J. Lynn Stapleton, 31st July 2013

When we left there we headed up to the lighthouse at the Butt of Lewis. While we were up there, there was a bit of a flurry as a small pod of dolphins that kept surfacing, however briefly. I did manage to get one photo off of a dolphin’s dorsal fin but it turned out quite blurry. That said, the surrounding area with rugged coast was really quite beautiful.

Butt of Lewis, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 31st July 2013

Butt of Lewis, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 31st July 2013

Butt of Lewis, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 31st July 2013

Butt of Lewis, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 31st July 2013

Butt of Lewis, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 31st July 2013

Butt of Lewis, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 31st July 2013

Lighthouse, Butt of Lewis, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 31st July 2013

Butt of Lewis Lighthouse, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 31st July 2013

As we made our way around the north end of Lewis, we noted some other standing stones around the island in seeming random places, including those incorporated into crofts on the lands. We drove up to one on a side street where there was one that had been incorporated alongside someone’s garden.

Standing stone, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 31st July 2013

Standing stone, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 31st July 2013

Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 31st July 2013

Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 31st July 2013

While it was quite overcast in the north part of Lewis, when we returned to Stornoway, the weather was starting to improve and we shown to a few more restaurants in the area then we were dropped off at our respective accommodations. Here I was actually staying at a Guest House, and one of my tour companions, Thea was also staying at the same place, so we decided to take a walk, which wasn’t too far to the Lewis Castle – which is now part of the University of the Highlands and Islands. The castle itself is now being renovated, so there’s a big chain link fence around it. There was a beautiful path on the way up to the castle. There were quite a few rabbits around, too, and I finally managed a good pic of one that didn’t skitter off too far, but needed the telephoto lens.

Path to Lewis Castle, Stornoway, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 31st July 2013

Path to Lewis Castle, Stornoway, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 31st July 2013

Path to Lewis Castle, Stornoway, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 31st July 2013

Path to Lewis Castle, Stornoway, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 31st July 2013

An abandoned stairway on the path to Lewis Castle, Stornoway, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 31st July 2013

An abandoned stairway on the path to Lewis Castle, Stornoway, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 31st July 2013

Lewis Castle, Stornoway, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 31st July 2013

Lewis Castle, Stornoway, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 31st July 2013

Lewis Castle, Stornoway, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 31st July 2013

Lewis Castle, Stornoway, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 31st July 2013

Rabbit in the Field, Lewis Castle grounds, Stornoway, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 31st July 2013

Rabbit in the Field, Lewis Castle grounds, Stornoway, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 31st July 2013

Street sign, Stornoway, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 31st July 2013

Street sign, Stornoway, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 31st July 2013

We wandered back to the downtown core on our way to find a bite to eat, a local passerby gave us directions to a spot for a good meal, so we popped round to Eleven at Caladh Inn, and had a wonderful supper, so much so that we were planning to return the next night for supper. Given that our Guest House wasn’t far, we walked back after a quick stop round to Tesco’s to pick up a thing or two. I worked a while on my computer before it decided to stop working. Mild panic. Up in the Scottish north with my MacBook not working and not exactly a spot to have it easily looked at to see what’s wrong. So, I decided to work on some more postcards and watch a bit of tele until I fell asleep.

Exploring Scotland – Part V: Ullapool & The Summer Islands

Day 5 – 30th July 2013

Today I had a free day, so while I was out the night before on my way back to supper, I picked up a couple tourist pamphlets down at the dock for days out adventures. It was a nice sunny day with a few clouds, so I left the hostel and headed down to the pier – which given that the hostel was right across the street from the stone beach. Two of my travel companions from the tour – Thea and Wade – were also going on the same boat ride out to the Summer Islands that I was going on, which was nice. While we were waiting for the boat to disembark, I took the chance to take a couple of shots.

Shore Street, Ullapool. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 30th July 2013

Shore Street, Ullapool. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 30th July 2013

Ullapool docks. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 30th July 2013

Ullapool docks. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 30th July 2013

Ferry to Summer Islands, ©  J. Lynn Stapleton, 30th July 2013

Ferry to Summer Islands, © J. Lynn Stapleton, 30th July 2013

As we headed out to the islands, there were a few sections of shoreline where seals were lying on the rocks, enjoying the sunshine.

Ferry to Summer Islands © J. Lynn Stapleton, 30th July 2013

Ferry to Summer Islands © J. Lynn Stapleton, 30th July 2013

As we continued on, there was a little cave in the rocks, so the tour boat captain directed the boat right up to the cavern.

A little cavern in the rocks, Summer Islands, © J. Lynn Stapleton, 30th July 2013

A little cavern in the rocks, Summer Islands, © J. Lynn Stapleton, 30th July 2013

We arrived in the Summer Islands, at the small Ardnagoine pier, where we had stopped for an hour and a half lunch break.

Summer Islands Post Office, Summer Islands, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 30th July 2013

Summer Islands Post Office, Summer Islands, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 30th July 2013

Summer Islands, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 30th July 2013

Summer Islands, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 30th July 2013

Summer Islands, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 30th July 2013

Summer Islands, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 30th July 2013

As we were returning to Ullapool, the clouds were rolling in more as we got closer.

Returning to Ullapool, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 30th July 2013

Returning to Ullapool, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 30th July 2013

When we got back to the dock, it was almost 2pm and the hostel wasn’t going to be open until 4pm (they close between 10am – 4pm each day for cleaning, so I wandered about a bit to the post office to mail off a few postcards, and then found a tea shop and stopped off for some soup and a biscuit, and read for a while before heading back to the hostel’s quiet room until they officially reopened. As the afternoon got later, I looked out the window just before the rain was going to start and saw this beautiful view.

Ullapool, Highlands, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 30th July 2013

Ullapool, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 30th July 2013

It was a quiet evening, I headed up the road a bit to a tourist shop to pick up a new umbrella – my other one got left somewhere – and then further up the road to the Ferry Boat Inn (FBI) pub for delicious supper and interesting chat up at the bar with a couple from Australia. When I got back, I went and got a shower and ready for the night, so that I wouldn’t have to cue for the showers in the morning. Got my devices charged up and headed to bed. I was joining the Outer Hebrides Tour in the morning.

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.

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

Exploring Scotland – Part I: A Journey Through Time

I’m breaking this up in to sections due to amount of photographs that would slow down loading of the page.

I arrived in Edinburgh later than planned in that I got on the wrong train; two TransPennine trains leaving about 5 minutes apart. Got on the earlier of the two and by the time I realised my error and switched back to Manchester Piccadilly, the train I needed had left. So, I talked to one of the TransPennine agents and I could get on the next train departing two hours later. That was a bit of a fun ride as we were packed in tight, standing in the carriage aisles and door passageways with a group of young men and women heading to a music festival. About an hour and a bit into the trip I finally managed to get a seat and we finally arrived in Edinburgh around six pm. I took a taxi to the Castle Rock Hostel where I was staying for the night. After checking in, I ventured out for more photo-taking and a search for food. Unfortunately, Edinburgh Castle was closed to visitors in the evening – tours (walking or guided) run in the mornings and I was going to be off on my Rabbie’s Tour by then, so I wandered around a bit and got some distance shots of the castle. I finally ended up at the White Hart Inn, which as the oldest pub in Edinburgh, built in 1516, is a place I’d been before but it was well worth the return. Steak & Ale pie, wine, and listening to local live folk music.

Balmoral Hotel in the distance, © J. Lynn Stapleton, 25th July 2013

Balmoral Hotel in the distance, © J. Lynn Stapleton, 25th July 2013

Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 25th July 2013

Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 25th July 2013

Edinburgh Flower Clock, Princes St. Gardens, Edinburgh, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 25th July 2013

Edinburgh Flower Clock, Princes St. Gardens, Edinburgh, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 25th July 2013

High Street,  Edinburgh, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 25th July 2013

High Street, Edinburgh, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 25th July 2013

Old City, Edinburgh, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 25th July 2013

Old City, Edinburgh, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 25th July 2013

White Hart Inn Pub, Edinburgh, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 25th July 2013

White Hart Inn Pub, Edinburgh, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 25th July 2013

Stairway to Johnston Terrace, Edinburgh, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 25th July 2013

, Edinburgh, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 25th July 2013

Orkney & Outer Hebrides Tour – Day 1
On Friday morning, I headed down to the mid-lower end of High Street / Royal Mile to where the Rabbie’s Tours were to be departing. Like the Wild-In-Scotland Tour I took seven years ago, these tours also operated 16-passenger small bus tours around England, Scotland, and Ireland. The 10-day tour I was taking was essentially two tours combined in to one large one – Orkney & Outer Hebrides. The great thing with Rabbies is that they guarantee departures, even if it’s just one person taking the tour (aside from the tour guide). However, our tour was full. We had folks from Canada, Germany, Denmark, Taiwan (though living in Germany), United States, United Kingdom and Australia; and in the second tour there were four of us from the first tour also doing the second. Rabbie’s Tours took their name from the Scottish Poet Robbie Burns, and they’ve won several awards as a tour company. Our Tour guide for the first section was Gus, who was from around the Inverness area, and gave a great history of the areas that we were passing through.

Today we started out heading from Edinburgh and over to Stirling, where we went up to the Wallace Monument, standing on the Abbey Craig that overlooks the city of Stirling and was constructed in the 1860s.

Stirling, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 26th July 2013

Stirling, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 26th July 2013

Wallace Monument, Stirling, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 26th July 2013

Wallace Monument, Stirling, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 26th July 2013

Stirling Castle, Stirling, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 26th July 2013

Stirling Castle, Stirling, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 26th July 2013

Butterfly, Wallace Monument, Stirling, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 26th July 2013

Butterfly, Wallace Monument, Stirling, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 26th July 2013

The butterfly was taken just after the one of Stirling Castle, as we spotted it just before we were taking a path to head back to the carpark where our tour bus was waiting. Four of us, however, managed to take a wrong path somewhere along the way and headed in the opposite direction – the paths were not well marked – and we ended up coming out along the A907/Alloa Road. Two of us had mobile phones, so we contacted the Rabbie’s office and let them know where we were. Just as we got to a medical equipment supply shop the heavens opened up and the rain started to pour down. About 10-15 minutes later, the Rabbie’s van showed up to our great delight and much laughter was to be had.

Orkney & Outer Hebrides Tour – Day 1 (Continued)

Leaving Stirling behind, we moved through the Trussachs, Callander, Loch Lommand National Park, and headed into the Highlands. The further north we travelled, the place names on the signs changed from English only to Scots Gaelic, in larger font with the English in a smaller font beneath it.

Our first major stop was at the Ski Lodge where we stopped for lunch and two of us brave souls decided to go up on the lift to the top of the mountain for a look, not realising that it took about twenty minutes to get up, and then another twenty to return. The actual run up and back wasn’t so bad, and even, but the getting on and off the lift chair was a little nerve-wracking with the sudden lift up. I’m not a skiier so I’ve never done this before. In summertime, the Lodge often runs mountain biking tournaments…now, in looking at the trail as I went up the mountain – that’s some scary looking turns coming down. However, being up at the top did provide for some gorgeous views.

Glencoe Ski Resort, Glencoe, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 26th July 2013

Glencoe Ski Resort, Glencoe, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 26th July 2013

Glencoe Ski Resort, Glencoe, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 26th July 2013

Glencoe Ski Resort, Glencoe, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 26th July 2013

We drove along through Glencoe and as our guide gave us the history of the Massacre of Glencoe, it was at times hard to believe the beauty of the area was witness to such devastation 321 years ago as thirty-eight MacDonalds of the Clan MacDonald were killed by the king’s soldiers and another forty women and children died of exposure as their homes were burned to the ground.

Glencoe, UK, © J. Lynn Stapleton, 26th July 2013

Glencoe, UK, © J. Lynn Stapleton, 26th July 2013

Glencoe, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 26th July 2013

Glencoe, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 26th July 2013

Glencoe, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 26th July 2013

Glencoe, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 26th July 2013

After this, we went through the Great Glen, stopping at Spean Bridge along the A82 to see the Commando Memorial then along the length Loch Ness, stopping briefly at Urqhuart Castle to take a couple photos.

Commando Monument, Lochaber Scotland, UK © J. Lynn Stapleton, 26th July 2013

Lochaber

Urquhart Castle, © J. Lynn Stapleton, 26th July 2013

Urquhart Castle, © J. Lynn Stapleton, 26th July 2013

We finally ended up in Inverness for the night where we were dropped at our accommodations. I got signed in to the hostel where I had a booking, then headed out for food, picture-taking opportunities and souvenirs (not necessarily in that order). For supper, I met up with a few people from our tour group at Joy of Taste. It’s a really nice place where the staff, aside from the chefs, are volunteers that share in the love of serving fantastic food, they work one shift a week who are paid in food. And trust me, the food was fantastic 🙂

Inverness, Highland, UK © J. Lynn Stapleton, 26th July 2013

Inverness, Highland, UK © J. Lynn Stapleton, 26th July 2013

Inverness, Highland, UK © J. Lynn Stapleton, 26th July 2013

Inverness, Highland, UK © J. Lynn Stapleton, 26th July 2013

Inverness, Highland, UK © J. Lynn Stapleton, 26th July 2013

Inverness, Highland, UK © J. Lynn Stapleton, 26th July 2013

Stay tuned for more of my UK Vacation…