Thursday, April 28, 2011

Loch Ness and Pitlochry

Who knew I would stay in Loch Ness ever in my life?

Scotland is a magnificent place, full of beauty and surprise, and castles. Oh, and Highland cows. I did love the cows.

I fear I will sound like a broken record ... the rugged beauty of Scotland stole my heart away. I really can't wait to go back there some day and revel in its wildness and grandeur once again. We hiked in Cairngorms National Park, up the side of a mountain and down again. Her Majesty's Royal Air Force decided to give Lori a minor heart attack during our hike, as well, by buzzing the valley below us, which would have been less frightening overall if we had been able to see them through the trees instead of just hearing the screaming explosion of sound echoing off the valley walls. Lori's flight response kicked in, but she didn't run far, just far enough to grab my arm :)

The travel sloth finally makes his debut here, at least in my photos. He rode on the dash of the car the whole trip, but as I was the one driving, I don't have many photos to that effect. Had to keep my eyes on the road, ya know?

I didn't want it to end... Ireland could never measure up to the glory of Scotland... and truthfully it didn't, but that didn't stop me from enjoying my time there as well.

I hope you enjoy my photos!

Oh so many castles

On the shores of Loch Ness

Our hostel

A stack for Noah


Lori, marveling at the gigantic black slugs on the trail

The awesome highland cows!

The view from the Pitlochry hostel

Castle Braemer, Cairngorms

The cackling phesants


A view of the valley

On our way back down through the heather with only a deer trail to guide us

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


What can I say about the Orkney Islands? They were just about as magical as I expected... remote and wild, full of lore and history, beautiful and rugged... and largely empty of tourists, which worked out well for Lori and me, because Lori hates people in general and I hate stupid people (which are often found blundering around with tour groups).

To get to Orkney we drove north from Edinburgh to Aberdeen to catch a 6 hour car ferry that put in at Kirkwall at 11:15 p.m. We had a little adventure finding the hotel because we didn't write down the address or directions, but there are really only a few main roads on the island, and after passing our turn and stopping once to ask directions in the middle of the night, we made it to our destination.

We stayed at this cute little hotel called the Merkister. It's in the middle of the main island, between the two lochs (that's Scottish for "lake" if you were wondering, and yes, it will come up again). During the "on" season, apparently this place is known for it's great trout fishing. In the "off" season, when we were there... it's pretty much empty. Oh, and when I say empty, I mean that we were literally the only guests at the hotel for 2 of the 4 nights we were there. The other 2 nights we had 1 other guest staying in the building.

I was so excited to take in as much as I could without overdoing it on the "touristy" thing... so we started out the next morning with a jaunt to the neolithic standing stone rings at Stenness and Brodgar. Amazing. 5000 year old sites of mysterious and mystical ritual that are still there to be witnessed and experienced today. After the standing stones, we went to Skara Brae, an excavated neolithic village on the shore. Pretty amazing, too, I must say.

Excerpt from my journal on what we did next: "We visited the Castle Stack at Yesnaby. That was my favorite part of the day. We hiked along the rugged Orkney coastline, gazing at the North Sea and listening to the calling birds and the thundering crash of the waves in the sea caves below us, smelling the sweet moor grass and the salty sea air. There was magic there for certain. I will forever be in love with the shores of Orkney. My heart was swept away with the tide. The amount of migrating birds is exciting! There are mute and whooper swans, oyster catchers, curlews, ravens, hooded crows, gulls of every shape and size and a myriad others I have no names for. The puffins won't be here for another month, so I'll have to come back again to see them... but I think I will. I want to bring Noah with me..."

My travelling buddy and our cute little car

Take a moment to reflect that this photo is NOT taken in a mirror

On the ferry to Orkney!

View from the hotel room window. Since we were literally the ONLY people staying there, they upgraded us to a Loch view room :)

Orkney wildlife

Shetland pony! The Shetland Islands are about 6 more hours away by ferry...

One of the standing stones at Stenness

simply amazing. These stones were erected 5000 years ago!!!

The Ring of Brodgar

Oyster catcher!

This is for Leslie... thinkin' of you, friend! Missing you much :) For the record, a "close" is an alley that doesn't have an outlet...

I loved the springy hummocks of grass!

The stunning coastline at Yesnaby.

The Yesnaby castle stack

There were shorebirds nesting all over the cliffs. If we'd been there NEXT month, the puffins would have been there, too. Note for next trip :)

in downtown Kirkwall

This church was built in the 1100's A.D. Amazing!

A lot of the graves from before 1600 had skeletons/skulls/hour glasses/"Memento Mori" inscribed on them... they were very conscious of their mortality... and didn't candy coat it the way we do now... interesting.

The church as seen through the ruins of the bishops palace across the street. I'm still amazed that the palace, built in 1600, is in ruins but the church, built 500 years earlier, is not only functional but pristine!

The Italian Chapel. This is an amazing story. You can read about it here.

Brough of Birsay. The Norse ruin on the island is accessible at low tide only. Of course we waited for the tide to go out so that we could cross :) 

On Birsay at the ruins of a Norse chapel.

The solar powered lighthouse!

Rainbow and a passing storm. It stayed off to the east and didn't rain on us.

I built a rock stack for Noah at Mull Head... but it was so windy that it was already falling down when I took the picture!

This dog was amazing. Look for a short story on him in the very near future...

Birsay at sunset on our last evening in Orkney.

We took a different ferry from Stromness when we left Orkney... saying goodbye to the island...

Old Man of Hoy stack. Next time I go, I'm going to visit Hoy and hike out to see him.
My souvenirs from Orkney: a silver necklace made on the island of Odin's Bird, a book of Orkney folklore (research), and some North Ronaldsay yarn to knit a scarf.

The purpose of my trip to Scotland was to visit the Orkneys. I am writing a novel set there (or a novella not sure how long it will turn out to be) and I wanted to see the islands first hand. Magic...