Just Chillin’

We have had a bit of a change of pace for the past few days.  On Monday and Tuesday we caught the train from Edinburgh to Swansea with an overnight break in Bristol.

Our friends met us at the station in Swansea where we spent 3 nights with them.  I took the opportunity to catch up on some housekeeping jobs – washing, ironing and a couple of bits of mending.  It was lovely to spend time together, prepare and share meals and simply be together.

There was still time for a couple of outings. On our first evening in Swansea we were fortunate to be able to attend a concert in the beautiful All Saint’s Church.  It was part of the Mumbles Festival of Music and the Arts and featured Morriston RFC Male Choir and a soprano soloist, Ros Evans.  I am totally indebted to Julia who found the concert and organised the tickets for us.  It was a wonderful experience.

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The view from our bedroom window and the promise of a perfect day.

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The weather was fine and sunny for the whole time in Swansea so we made the most of it and took a hike in the countryside on the Gower Peninsula, not far from Swansea.  We set out from the picturesque village of Rhossili and the adjacent Worm’s Head.

After an initial steep climb we were rewarded with great views back over Rhossili.

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And Worm’s Head.

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We then  made our way across Rhossili Downs with magnificent views in all directions.

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A view of Llangennith, our destination where we stopped for a well-earned rest and lunch.

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The King’s Head Inn was a welcome break.

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Our route back to Rhossili was along the beach.  It was even warm enough paddle in the shallows.

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An amazing day and one which I will cherish for a long time.

 

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Ending in Edinburgh

On our last full day in Scotland we made our way back to Edinburgh from Aberfeldy.  Of course, it was by a rather circuitous route in order to do a bit more sightseeing.

Before leaving Aberfeldy we stopped at the Black Watch Memorial by the River Tay and the picturesque Wade’s bridge nearby.

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We spied some very early signs of autumn.  I imagine that the heavily wooded area from Killiecranke Pass to Aberfeldy will have some stunning autumn foliage in the next month or so.

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Then we headed south-east to St Andrews which seems to have something for everyone.

Most people know it as the home of golf and the prestigious ‘Old Course’.  Additionally, there are numerous other golf courses in the vicinity and a golf museum.

The medieval history of the town is on show with the ruins of the cathedral and castle.

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St Andrews is also home to the oldest university in Scotland, dating from 1413 and recently famous as the alma mater of both Prince William and Kate Middleton.  Undergraduate students in their red academic gowns provide ample evidence of its status as a university town – even on a Sunday afternoon.

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The town is perched on the east coast adjacent to the expansive West Sands Beach which has had its place cemented in popular culture as the location where the opening scenes of ‘Chariots of Fire’ were filmed.

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After our brief visit to St Andrews we continued around the East Neuk of Fife through the small villages of Crail and Anstruther before a final run into Edinburgh and across the impressive Queensferry Crossing which opened in 2017.  I was not in a position to take a photo but suffice to say it looks amazing.  You can read more about it here.

This completed our driving adventures in Scotland and the next stage will begin with a train trip to Bristol in England.

 

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Fun and Games

When we planned our itinerary for this trip we chose to spend 2 nights in the central highlands.  Our first choice was Pitlochry, however, we were unable to find accommodation which met our criteria so I opted for Aberfeldy which is about 24 km away.

We had no particular plans apart from the fact that the area seemed to have some very pretty scenery as well as being a convenient location between our previous accommodation in Inverness and a final day driving to Edinburgh.  I was confident that we would find plenty to see and do.

However, a few days ago I happened to stumble upon a program of Highland Games for 2019 and discovered that the Pitlochry Highland Games were to be held on the full day that we would be in the area.  It was too good an opportunity to pass up so off we went.

As well as traditional track and field events there were some events that were uniquely Scottish.

Solo piping

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Massed pipe and drum bands

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Highland dancing

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There was also caber tossing and other events that really tested the strength of the participants.

I will upload some videos of the action to my Somewhere, Anywhere Facebook page if you would like to see more.

EDITED TO ADD:  No videos at the moment as I have insufficient internet to upload them.

We enjoyed our day of something completely different.

 

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Bloody Battles

As we have travelled around and delved into Scottish history there seems to be a recurring theme – conflict.  The Scots are no strangers to battle and have been involved in bloody conflicts against the Romans, Nowegians, the English and even themselves.

One of the bloodiest of all, and certainly the best documented is the Battle of Culloden on 16th April 1746.  This was the culmination of the 4th Jacobite uprising of 1745, known locally as “the ’45”.

Culloden Moor is located about 5 miles east of Inverness.  Today it is managed by the National Trust for Scotland and a large interpretative centre helps visitors to understand the complex allegiances and events leading up to the last pitched battle on British soil and the final, comprehensive defeat of the Jacobites.

We made the wise decision to join a guided tour of the battlefield for a small additional cost and were treated to a comprehensive and dramatic presentation of the events of the fateful day of 16th April 1746.

The weather was cold with a biting wind and some drizzling showers which meant that photography was out of the question.  However, at the end of the tour the weak sun made a brief appearance and I was able to capture a photo of Leanach Cottage.  This dwelling was located here at the time of the Battle of Culloden although it has been altered and restored on several occasions since that time.

Leanach Cottage

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There is a small display inside the cottage about a new threat facing the battlefield today – the encroachment of housing development into the surrounds and potentially impacting sightlines from the battlefield.  I think this would be a terrible outcome as this is a war grave to hundreds of men and should be treated with respect.  You can read more about the campaign to save Culloden Battlefield here.

After our visit to Culloden we were heading south to our next destination at Aberfeldy.  During our tour at Culloden our guide reminded us the the Battle of Killiecrankie had taken place nearly 60 years earlier on 27th July 1689 during the 1st Jacobite uprising.  Since we were going to be passing Killiecrankie we decided to stop and visit.  A short detour off the A9 road and we found the Visitor Centre.

There is information on the battle but the major focus here is the natural geology and wildlife of the deep Killiecrankie Gorge.  However, a location known as Soldier’s Leap is identified as this is reputedly where a fleeing Redcoat soldier leapt 18 feet across the River Garry to escape his Jacobite pursuers.

The depth of the gorge is evident  and it is difficult to imagine two armies engaging in hand-to-hand combat in this terrain.

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We descended along the track to the base of the gorge and walked alongside the tranquil River Garry.

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A pleasant walk beside the base of the viaduct.

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The viaduct to carry the railway was completed in 1865 and is still in use today.

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A Couple of Castles

There is no shortage of castles to explore in Scotland and we are certainly not going to visit them all.  As we drove from John O’Groats to Inverness we came upon Dunrobin Castle, the family seat of the Earl of Sutherland and although we did not go in I did take this photo.

The multiple turrets are reminiscent of the castles in fairytales.

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Castles certainly come in all shapes and sizes.  Yesterday we ventured south from Inverness to Urquhart Castle on the western shore of Loch Ness.  Unlike Dunrobin Castle, this is a ruin, albeit, a very well-presented one by Historic Scotland.

This information board shows an overview of the extent of the fully-functioning castle complex.

These are some of the views of what you can see today.

Visitors approaching.

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The Water Gate where arrivals from the loch approached the castle.

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Pathways allow access to various areas of the ruins.

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The somewhat overgrown citadel provides a wide view from its strategic position.

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There was no sign of the Loch Ness monster in the adjacent waters.

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Off to Orkney

As I mentioned at the end of my last post, we ventured north of the Scottish mainland to Orkney, a group of over 70 islands including 20 which are inhabited.

We decided against taking the hire car and opted for a day tour which included a return trip on the passenger ferry, MV Pentland Venture.  A coach tour with an informative guide took us to the major points of interest on Mainland, the largest island, as well as several smaller islands which are linked to Mainland by the Churchill Barriers.

Our first stop was Kirkwall, the major town and capital of Orkney.  The skyline is dominated by St Magnus cathedral.  This magnificent building dates back to the 12th century although it has seen additions and modifications since then.

Part of the interior of the cathedral.

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A view of the imposing exterior.

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Our tour guide also recommended the museum which is almost directly opposite St Magnus cathedral.  We enjoyed the exhibits on the history and characters of Orkney then made our way out to the walled garden at the rear of the building.

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Brightly coloured windows and doors complemented the stonework on this building.

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We then headed to Stromness where this statue overlooks the harbour.  It is Dr John Rae who is credited with finding the last link in the North-West passage while searching for the fate of the Franklin expedition.  History did not treat him kindly after his report of cannabalism amongst Franklin’s men as told to him by the local Inuit people.  However, the unveiling of the statue in 2013 has gone some way to providing the recognition that John Rae deserves.

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Then it was on to Skara Brae, the best-preserved Neolithic village in Europe.  This habitation dates back to 3000BC.  The visitor centre provides excellent information and context to the excavated dwellings.

One of the houses with a central fire-pit and recessed beds set into the walls.

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The area is rich in ancient relics and a few miles away is the Ring of Brodgar, a massive stone circle from the same era.

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The Stones of Stenness are also close by.

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Our final stop was some much more recent history.

This is a view of one of the Churchill Barriers which were built towards the end of World War II.  They link Mainland, the largest island in Orkney with 4 smaller islands and provide causeways over which the road now links those islands.  It also provides a strategic marine defence on the eastern side of Scapa Flow, a large, natural harbour.

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The Italian Chapel is a relic from World War II.  This was constructed from 2 Nissan huts by Italian prisoners of war.

The interior is painted using trompe l’oeil technique to look like tiles.  The detail is amazing.

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The fancy front of the building belies the modest Nissan huts seen from the side.

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Then it was back to the ferry for the trip back which was somewhat rougher than the morning crossing as the wind had strengthened considerably.

 

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Travelling North

When we left Ullapool we headed north along the route known as the NC500.  It sounds like a car race but that was certainly not our intention.  It is the North Coast 500 which refers to the 516 mile route which takes in the northernmost part of Scotland and begins and ends in Inverness.

We drove 170 miles which is about 275 km from Ullapool to John O’Groats.  The scenery is spectacular and we made several stops along the way.

The first section was where we had driven when sightseeing a couple of days earlier but here is what we saw as we went further on.

The Kylesku Bridge near Unapool.

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View across the Kyle of Durness.

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Smoo Cave.

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Plaque and John Lennon Memorial Garden.

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Sandy beaches.

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Sad stories.  Although the potato famine and subsequent mass emigration from Ireland is probably better known, the ‘Highland Clearances’ in the northwest of Scotland are an equally tragic part of our collective history.

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Dunnet Head with the lighthouse at the northernmost point of mainland Great Britain.

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John O’Groats, about 15 miles to the east of Dunnet Head, is not the most northerly point but it is significant as one end of the longest distance that can be traversed in mainland Britain – Land’s End to John O’Groats.

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While we have not travelled the entire route, we have been to both ends, albeit on different trips.

John O’Groats is also the departure point for the passenger ferry to Orkney.  This is used primarily by day tourists and was our plan for the following day.  More on that in the next post.

 

 

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Back to the Mainland

After three days on the Isle of Lewis and Harris we took our final regular ferry trip and returned to the mainland at Ullapool.  We had an early start with the alarm set for 4.30am as it was a 4o minute drive from our accommodation to the ferry terminal at Stornoway and the check-in was at 6am for a 7am departure.  This meant that we arrived in Ullapool at 9.30am with a plan to do some sightseeing of the area to the north of Ullapool.

Mountains and lochs.

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Locinver

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A walk in the conservation reserve near Loch Assynt.

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Ardvreck Castle ruins

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The next day was fairly quiet with just a short drive to Corrieshalloch Gorge.

Plants – one for the fairy garden.

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The rowan trees are covered with red berries in autumn.

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The gorge and suspension bridge.

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South to the Sea

Since Scotland has an extensive coastline and nearly 800 islands it is no wonder that many of my posts and photos feature water.

After our encounter with the wild northern tip of the Isle of Lewis yesterday we headed in the other direction this morning.  Harris which occupies the southern portion of the island is mostly very rocky and barren.

These are typical views.

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However, I had read about the amazing beaches on the west coast and wanted to see for myself.  Luskentyre Beach is famous for its white sand and we were not disappointed.  Even more amazing was the sunshine and relative warmth of 16C.

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Swimming was not on the agenda so we walked along the beach – rugged up against the still brisk wind.  We decided against exploring any more of Harris as we wanted to get back to Stornoway, the largest town and capital of the Isle of Harris and Lewis, for a unique experience.

I had discovered that there is an exhibition devoted to the story of Harris Tweed.  It is located upstairs in the Town Hall building and this afternoon there would be a display of actual weaving.  This happens for an hour each Thursday and Friday afternoon during the summer months and we were fortunate that it coincided with our visit.

The building is worth a look from the outside.

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All of the displays and videos were fascinating and aided by the audio guide but the highlight was definitely watching the weaving on 2 different looms, an older one as well as a current model.  The older loom required bobbins to be filled and loaded frequently whereas the newer loom was much more efficient as well as weaving a wider fabric.

The older loom.

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And the more modern one which was introduced during the 1990’s.

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Finally, it was back to the sea one more time.  In a village close to where we are staying I had seen a banner indicating an exhibition related to lighthouse keeping.  We stopped to see what it was about and discovered a small but well-curated display about the disappearance of 3 lighthouse keepers at the lighthouse on Eilean Mor, one of the Flannan Isles, about 20 miles west of the village.  Their disappearance in December 1900 was not discovered for over a week and the investigations indicate that they were most probably swept away whilst performing their duties during a wild Atlantic storm.  There is a memorial to them which is located a short distance from the Community Hall with the display.  It is close to the water and has been created by a local artist using stone from the immediate area.

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The tiny lighthouse is atop a large local stone.  The base is set with small stones representing the seabed and to the left of the photo is a large curling wave in bronze.  This indicates the likely cause of the men’s disappearance.

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Edge of the World

Our quest to see some of the remoter areas of Scotland continued yesterday when we left the Isle of Skye on the ferry bound for Tarbert on the Isle of Harris.

The Isle of Harris and Lewis is the largest off-shore island in Great Britain and the most northerly of the Outer Hebrides.  We are staying at Tolstachaolais, close to the west coast of Lewis.

Today we headed north to Port of Ness and then to the lighthouse at the Butt of Lewis, the most northerly point on the Isle of Lewis and what feels like the edge of the world.

The sandy beach at Port of Ness.

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The Butt of Lewis is almost the same latitude as the southern tip of Greenland but other than that there is nothing but the Atlantic Ocean between here and Newfoundland.

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You’ve heard of ‘a shag on a rock’?  Well, here they are.

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The red brick lighthouse standing sentinel on the edge of the cliff.

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After the blustery conditions on the cliff-top we headed south to see the Callanish Stones, a stone circle from the Neolithic era.  Unlike Stonehenge, the stones are easily accessible to the public.  It was pleasing to see the visitors respecting the integrity of the stones and the site in general.  Hopefully, the access will remain as open in the future.

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Scenery near Callanish.

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