May 17

Riding across the top of Scotland

We spent the morning and a bit of the afternoon in Durness, shopping and exploring the little artists’ village there. It was originally a military installation that never really got off the ground. Eventually the government invited some folks to come live and work there, and so the artists moved in. After a good long while, they were given the option to buy the little buildings. It is a great little walking area. Everything is close together, the tourists come and browse it all and, in our case, we hit about half the stores and picked up a few souvenirs from some of them. We had chit chat and got some tips for what to do on the last bit of our trip and generally had a casual time of it.

I said it was an artists village. Did I mention the chocolatier? There is a chocolate store there. They call it a factory. It doesn’t quite fit the sense of scale you might imagine, but you can … fudge … a bit on the details.

They also boast the world’s best hot chocolate:

You got to hand-select the bits of chocolate you would chase the hot chocolate with, so that was a nice bonus. And it may or may not be the world’s best hot chocolate, but we agreed it was tasty:

A few quick pictures on our way out of Durness:

And then our right turns continued. We are going across the top of Scotland today. We ran across this just after we’d left the village. Ceannabeinne Beach, is known in its Gaelic name, as the beach of the burn of bereavement and death. There’s a tragic old woman drowned here story. And, almost as sad, there are ruins of former farms where families were forced off their lands. But the beach, just down from the road, and isolated enough to be delightfully empty, is a lovely looking place:

Some time later we pulled into Dunnet Head. Today it was chilly and breezy and felt fairly lonely. You go there to see it. If it had been warmer we might have stayed a bit longer, and that would have been OK, too. Anyway, this is the northernmost point of the mainland British Isles.

Though Scotland also records its actual northernmost point on an island some 170 miles in the distance.

We did not swim out there.

We sea kayaked.

(We didn’t do that, either. Thankfully no one had that idea.)

That rock type is called Old Red Sandstone, by the way. You can see it here, Ireland, Norway, Greenland and on the northeastern seaboard of North America.

May 17

Cape Wrath and Smoo Cave, in Durness Scotland

There’s a ton of great stuff here. (The short version is, if you’ve contemplated visiting Scotland, you should make it happen.) In this post there are two videos, two dozen photos and a panorama at the end. They are all worth seeing, so let’s get right to it.

I took this picture thinking, really, how often are you going to see a lamb warning written on a tire?

Six times, as it turns out. Here are three of our Ovis friends now:

We visited Cape Wrath, on a whim, really, and it was worth it. I made you a video:

Only one person lives there now. There are a few houses, leftovers from the drovers and shepherds. And you drive right by the bombing range. It is a sparse and scenic one hour, 11-mile van ride to get up to the cape. The whole trip is worth it. Here’s some photo proof:

Cape Wrath is about a mile out of Durness, which is the little village on the northwest corner of Scotland. In that little quiet little place there are two small restaurants, an artists’ village, one gas pump, a hotel and Smoo Cave:

This area is dangerous for stick figures named Cliff. (The rest of us are on our own.)

Hey, sheep, your name isn’t Cliff, is it?

Finally, this panorama is from above the inlet at Smoo Cave. Way, way off in the distance to the left you could just make out Cape Wrath. And way off in the distance to the right, on a clear day, you could almost imagine seeing the far cliffs of the north east of Scotland. We’ll be there in a day or so. As always with the panoramas on the site, click to embiggen:

May 17

From Shieldaig to Overscaig – with so much in between

There are three videos, three panoramas and 10 photos below. You’ll enjoy them all.

If you’re just joining this story, we’re touring Scotland. It is a big tour and a grand place. It is worth your consideration.

We’re touring all of Scotland. This is what we are driving:

Vauxhall Adam

For scale, each letter above the car is the width of a quarter. Place them edge to edge, that’s the size of our car. It holds everything we brought to the UK, but only just. And all of the things must be configured in a particular fashion to fit. But we have legroom, it is pretty easy on gas mileage and our Vauxhall Adam cranks every time. Today, it got driven a lot. And we stopped and started our way through a great deal of this magnificent countryside today.

Here are a few clips from this morning’s drive:

The day’s first panorama was at your standard issue, beautiful Scottish loch. Click to embiggen:

loch panorama

You could get used to this sort of thing.

We also hit the beach!

Udrigle Beach

This is Udrigle Beach. White sand, mountain views, odd smells. There were a few people enjoying the beautiful springtime weather. (We’ve been lucking out on the weather so far.) There were a few dogs digging in the sand. I had a nice little chat with an elderly woman who’d walked down from the nearby lodge to sit and soak up the sun. It was a lovely day, she said. She said it again to someone else, so you know she meant it.

Udrigle Beach

And here’s a beach panorama. Click to embiggen:

loch panorama

We watched the ocean from the roadside for some time today, too:

I realized I tend to take a lot of panoramas with water as a main focal point. So I changed this one up and put a person in one corner of the shot. Look how The Yankee is peering through her camera allllll the way across the shot. Click to embiggen:

Udrigle Beach panorama

We also saw this today:

Corrieshalloch Gorge

Let me explain.

We found that gorge along the way. This wasn’t one of our planned stops. It was just a name on the map. But you have to learn to be curious about names on maps. That curiosity often rewards you.

Down from the Victorian-era suspension bridge there is a viewpoint, where you see the gorge from a better perspective:

Then we saw a castle:

Ardvreck Castle

And you know what that means, right? Castle selfies:

Ardvreck Castle

I put the details of the ruins into a video package which is conveniently located here:

I don’t know how the routines in your life treat you, but we seldom get to take castle selfies, so we took another:

Ardvreck Castle

And now we are in Overscaig, which is about the most middle of nowhere place you can ever be. Over the last few days locals have been asking us our next stop. We’d tell them and they all said, “Where is that?” No one knows. And that’s a shame. It is simply stunning up here:

Vauxhall Adam

We’re dining in with our bed and breakfast hosts tonight. I have some more videos to show you after that. I’ve discovered a new technique that I’ll no doubt use far too often …

May 17

Walking in Torridon

It was a good day to take it easy. Our vacations are usually action packed in some way or another. Often there are three or four different ways the action is packed in. And this trip is no exception. That’s not a complaint: there is so much to see and marvel at here. Eventually, though, you think about slowing it down a little bit. And that’s exactly what my travel agent, trip pilot and all around best girl had planned for today.

We’re in some of the most picturesque rugged mountain country that Scotland has to offer, with some incredible walking trails. We tried a few of those today, and the views and the scenery and the surrounding was worth it. I could tell you, but here see for yourself. This is on the 54-acre Torridon estate:

Now, if you didn’t watch that video, here’s your chance to go back and press play. You’re missing views like this:

On a different walk today, we saw several red deer:

I don’t know if you’ve ever had a loch, or a lake, all to yourself, but you should try it sometime:

I want to try it sometime soon again, myself!

Walking, we didn’t see anyone for more than an hour, which was grand, on trails like this:

Here are a few more bits of video I shot today:

We had dinner at the Torridon Inn tonight. I’m eating a lot of meat pies. They are all a little different from one another, and they are all so tasty. And they look pretty inviting, too:

May 17

That time a seal scared a submarine

Today we went kayaking in the Atlantic, at Applecross. The water was calm and the sun was out and the weather was lovely. It was a perfect sort of day for it. We paddled in the morning and afternoon, with a local guide, who took this picture:


Our guide, Iian, started out with about 10 clients and we outlasted the rest of them. Late in the day we went to see the seals. It was a full day, covering about 12 kilometers, so not quite eight miles.

I am sending videos home to briefly describe our day. Here’s the report I filed today:

See, what had happened was, our guide Iian was telling us about how out in the main channel the British often come and test their submarines. Sometimes, he said, you can see their masts break break the surface. While we were on our way to see the seals, one of them startled a submarine. And the submarine got startled, rose near the surface and knocked over my orange kayak.

That story is much better than this one: The Yankee had stopped paddling and came to a complete stop. she said. And as I was coming up alongside of her I stopped paddling. Only I was still drifting. Just as I was making some sort of move to not run into her, she said “A seal!” And then, suddenly, I was upside down.

I quickly remembered this video I’d seen years ago about how kayakers roll their boats back over. It has to do with the hips. And then I quickly remembered that I’d never tried that before. Never been in a kayak before. And so I then quickly remembered what Iian told me earlier in the day. You simply reach forward, pull on this strap on the black spray skirt that keeps you in and water out and your problem is solved. That seemed easier. I did that.

So I came to the surface and flipped my kayak back right-side up. Iian, for some reason, told me to turn it over again. So I did, and then he came alongside, flipped it over, told me to swim around the back and held on while instructing me how to get back in.

Hey, the water was cold. While in college, I once dove with manatees in Defuniak Springs in 56-degree water. But today’s 48 is a new personal record. As soon as I climbed out of the water, though, I mean immediately, I was warm and fine.

Off came my hat, down went my sunglasses. Into the water went our snacks. I think I scared Iian, who really wanted me to take it easy and collect myself. But I was fine, naval disaster aside. That’s what happens when seals scare submarines.

Seriously, this is how flat the water was:


We ate dinner under a little tent outside of the Applecross pub. We’re in a part of the world here where your dining options are limited, but all of the food has been grand.

Later, we saw this Highland cow:

Some of the other livestock we saw today:

Highland coo

Highland coo


And some of the things we saw while driving back to our room in Shieldaig this evening:

Highland coo

Highland coo

Highland coo

Highland coo

Some of those will wind up as banners here on the blog. Just as soon as my arms stop hurting from all of that paddling.