Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Orkney Islands - exploring mainland

We drove off the ferry and parked-up immediately in the long-stay car park and then walked into Stromness itself.  The town has had a £3.5m facelift apparently though most of the funds were spent on the ground, as the narrow main street is also used by cars:

We visited the Stromness museum before lunch and then headed on to visit the first of the 'must do' archaeology sites on the mainland, Stenness Standing Stones:

Current thinking has Orkney as the centre-point and indeed origination point of the neolithic religion that included standing stones, stone circles, etc.   This 5,000 year-old stone circle at the start of the thin land bridge that also includes the Ring of Brodgar is as impressive as you would expect:

We enjoyed wandering around both sites before heading on to the coast and Skara Brae, the neolithic village found on the coast to the West of mainland:

And the beach/coast location itself:

It is amazing to think that 5,000 years ago these people were as sophisticated as they have demonstrated being.

Making the most of the lack of rain, given the prevailing forecasts, we headed on then to the Brough of Birsay, enjoying the geology of the coastline:

As well as the Viking settlement itself, this a mere 1,000 years old:

We headed on to our hotel late afternoon in Dounbsy and hoped for fine weather the next day.  I couldn't help but stop and get my picture taken with this signpost though:

Sunday was grey, showery and windy, but determined to make the most of the trip we headed out and to the far end of South Ronaldsay, passing on the way the visible remains of one of the Churchill barriers, the vessels sunk to make a protective screen around the natural deep-water harbour of Scapa Flow, at the start of the second world war.  You can also see the causeway which was subsequently built by Italian POWs shortly thereafter to make the defences impenetrable to submarine attack:

Our first planned stop was at the Tomb of the Eagles, a privately owned and run Neolithic archaeology site, discovered and explored by a self-learned land-owner as the authorities had ignored his initial findings and pleas for professional help.

His two daughters now run the operation and provide a very detailed understanding of the site, it's finds, history, etc, which we enjoyed.

It rained on the walk out to the Tomb, this is Helen pausing to take in the view and enjoying the weather on the way:

On the way back North we stopped on Lamb Holm to visit the Italian Chapel, built by the POWs so they had their own place of worship during their time on the Islands:

An impressive though fragile building it is too:

We explored the area around Scapa Flow and the coastline on our way back to the hotel as the wind and the rain increased.  We were thoroughly enjoying the trip though, there's so much to see and learn about.

Monday was the rain day we'd feared.   Winds from 25-30 mph and showers that were light or intense with no particular warning and no let-up in the rain, so we headed for Kirkwall the Capital to see what we could see there.

St Magnus Cathedral is a very impressive building, inside and out, and well worth a visit:

The same goes for the Earl's Palace next door.

After seeing these two impressive buildings we began a bit of a shopping odyssey.   There's a wood-smoking business located close to Stromness, which smokes cheese, fish, garlic, etc.  We wanted to see what we could find to bring home, particularly smoked garlic.  None of the produce shops we visited, in the pouring rain, had any and recommended in turn another.  We visited them all but no joy.  So we drove to Stromness, driving through rivers running roads, such was the rainfall, but we couldn't locate them.   We finally found them the next day on a second attempt, having been directed by a postman.   The building is not where the website says it is and they don't have a shop.   Nor apparently can you buy their smoked garlic anywhere on the mainland and the smoked foods they do provide to local retailers are fridge only.   It's crazy.   Surely they could seal smoked cheese in wax so people could buy it and take it home?   Surely they could do this with hot smoked fish too?   I think they are missing a volume business opportunity there...

Anyway having been bounced around Kirkwall we decided to head back to the car as the weather was getting worse, cue taking a wrong turn, walking half a mile and getting absolutely soaked to the skin, so much so I caught a chill that became a fever but that's in the future...

The next day Tuesday was our last day on Orkney and we decided to complete our tour of the mainland by visiting Deerness and some of the old military installations on the coast:

You're not supposed to go inside but the view from this old gun emplacement was worth it:

We visited the Gloup, a sea blow-hole worn into the coast and enjoyed another side of Orkney as the sun shone across the islands, really bringing out the colours of the landscape.

We enjoyed our last dinner at our hotel before leaving to board the ferry and stay in our cabin ahead of the 06:30 sailing to the mainland and the long drive from Thurso to Falkirk.

We really enjoyed visiting and exploring The Orkney Islands, as much as we could given the weather anyway, we'd have liked to visit Westray and Sanday but given the conditions it wouldn't have made sense.   We were delighted with the number of birds, everywhere, the lack of trees means there's no industrial shooting of birds, which means greater numbers and abundance, a rare sight in the UK and indeed much of the world these days.  The people we met were friendly, helpful and patient.  There's a real sense of the Viking heritage (one third of the population have Viking DNA) and it's a remarkably peaceful place to visit.

The Orkney Islands - on the way there

We really do want to see as much of our adopted homeland as possible, next on the list then is The Orkney Islands, for a first visit.  It's a long way North, and takes quite a journey to reach it.

We decided to overnight first in Inverness, with me meeting Helen off her train after work, having driven up earlier in the day.

I stopped at Castle Urquhart on Loch Ness which was, I thought, nothing special in terms of a number of other historical buildings that we have seen, though i did at least provide a good meal for a number of the local midges.

From there I drove beyond Inverness to Fort George, which was in the final preparations for a military tattoo.  I enjoyed the visit, the musketry that was ongoing by the chapel, and just walking around the base, it's an impressive military base:

Inverness itself is a small city built on a central river which was enjoying the lack of wind, though it was prey to passing showers:

We spent most of the holiday seeing rainbows, this was one end of one we could see the whole of at a very impressive National Nature Reserve at Loch Fleet as we headed North on the Friday:

We travelled on up to Wick to explore the coastline around there, passing the Old Pulteney distillery (and indeed many others along the way).

The geology at Wick was impressive:

However the landscape, geology and indeed Castle itself at Castle Sinclair Girnigoe was outstanding:

We were approaching the very end of the mainland, stopping at Duncansby Head to enjoy the landscape from the most Northeasterly point of the mainland of Britain:

Looking North we got our first sighting of Orkney, Hoy in particular:

We stayed at a B&B in Halkirk before setting off early on Saturday morning to catch the ferry to Stromness:

 On the crossing we saw a number of Northern Fulmar:

and Northern Gannet:

And as the mist closed in, the Old Man of Hoy was visible against the backdrop of the highest sea-cliffs in the UK:

 We were about to arrive in Orkney...

Monday, August 14, 2017

More exploring including the Isle of May

We've carried on exploring our local area and beyond here in Scotland.  One day we'd planned a hill walk but the weather looked ominous so we decided Plan B would be to visit Blackness Castle by walking from Bo'ness:

It's a very exploreable castle and quite photogenic too:

It's described as the 'ship that never sailed' due to the shape and location, alongside the water of the Forth.

We've also been walking up hills again.   I visited the NNR on Ben Lawers again and extended the visit by walking most of the way up Beinn Ghlas however there's one particular section of rock, stair-like, with extensive drops:

I explored off the path for a less steep way up on this particular section but couldn't find one and with time ticking on decided to head back down.   If i didn't have vertigo i'd have done a number of Munros by now.   The views on the ascent and descent were as usual breathtaking:

I then had a long pause around a small series of dental operations which thankfully were an outstanding success.   My thanks to the professionalism of the NHS and NHS dentistry in Scotland. 

Once i'd recovered it was time to head out again though the summer had passed in a blur it's now mid-August and already feeling Autumnal this far North.  I still however wanted to visit the Isle of May.  Having booked a day with an afternoon sailing i had spare time in the morning on the way to Anstruther so decided to stop first at South Queensferry:

And then North Queensferry to see and photograph the bridges over the Forth:

From there to a busy Anstruther, packed with tourists enjoying the sunshine and the beach.  I sought peace and quiet at the end of the harbour to enjoy my lunch:

Before boarding the May Princess and heading back out to the Isle of May.  The sea condition was frankly idyllic:

 We did land this time, unsurprisingly, and got to explore the now near-deserted Island.   The majority of the birds having left during the previous week.  That was a shame but it was still good to explore the place:

Not all the birds were gone.   Kitiwake fledglings were still roosting on the cliffs and the Island still hosted a number of gulls including these Lesser Black-backed Gulls

The freshwater reservoir was a popular spot for the Island's remaining inhabitants for bathing and drinking: 

I even saw a Red Admiral sunbathing on Ragwort:

The boat left after a few hours and we completed our circuit of the Island taking in 'The Bishop' rock formation on the way:

The next day we had guests arrive from Cornwall and had a great evening together before dragging them up to the Southern Highlands for some exploring.

We took in Loch Venachar, Loch Arkay, Loch Katrine before ascending Ben A'an, a short sharp ascent of only 1,500 feet but worth it, both for the views:

And because I finally managed a summit, it felt really good grabbing hold of the summit rock, i'd achieved something indeed we all had.

After lunch we rounded off the afternoon by visiting Rob Mulholland's 'Still' sculpture in Loch Earn:

It's a very eerie art installation and well worth a visit.   So that's me caught up for now then.... hopefully the arrival of some sunshine means more getting out and about, though the DIY is calling, still plenty of cold, dark days ahead...

Monday, June 26, 2017


Well Sister-in-law in fact but the one that lives in America, came to visit with her family for a week during which we were joined by another Sister-in-law and our household of two swelled to seven!

We decided to fill their week with all things Scottish so as well as feeding them kippers and veggie haggis we took them on a whirlwind tour including, the Kelpies:

The Falkirk Wheel, resplendent in reflected light:

This is the view along the canal to the wheel, the water looks to be suspended in mid-air:

The next day we took in Edinburgh including visiting the Botanic Garden:

The Royal Mile, the Scott Memorial, lunch in the shadow of Arthur's seat.  It was a thoroughly good mooch.

The next day was the one long walk we were allowed, we picked Ben Lomond, here a view from halfway up, taking in the Northern end of Loch Lomond:

This is a view to the East:

It's a fantastic walk and they all completed the ascent.  

After three days of burning sunshine the rain came in, we waited until it was light enough then headed up to visit Stirling Castle:

Another grey day saw us visiting Tantallon Castle and then New Berwick: 

For our last full day together we chose New Lanark which is a remarkable site even on the third visit in less than 12 months, we know we'll be going back again a few more times, for sure.   This is the upper falls:

We headed home albeit via Alloa and the sculptures on the roundabouts and finally the mysterious Pineapple building as the sun broke through the clouds again: 

It was a whirlwind of a visit and one we thoroughly enjoyed.  Shame it was over so quickly...