Scotland


1
Jun 17

Top of the world, end of our trip

We went up to the top of the Cairn Gorm today. I made a video for you:

We took some photos at the top. It was windy, but I found some new hairstyles.

We took quite a few pictures, actually. I made a montage:

The Cairngorm range being the physical barrier between the Highlands and Lowlands it seemed a fitting place to turn and say goodbye. Our trip is winding down, which is sad, but what a terrific trip it was. So we headed south, and found a gas station literally in the nick of time. They don’t just put them on every street corner here, and we were pretty close to using the old “coast it in” strategy. But, after a few failed attempts, we found a gas station and made it back in Edinburgh. That’s a city, of course, which means people and stores and traffic and advertising. And I guess this is something you need around here:

Some of it seems like really odd advertising:

You guys do know what happened to that character, right?

We walked around on the Royal Mile and saw The Hub:

The Hub is just that, home to the Edinburgh International Festival, and where you go for information on all the events in town. The spire is the highest point in central Edinburgh. Built in the 1840s for the Church of Scotland, it was then known as Victoria Hall. The church merged with another and moved out in 1929. It has also previously been used as an occasional meeting place for the Scottish parliament. This is the view from the Lawnmarket, the area making up the oldest part of Old Town:

And this is St. Giles Cathedral, just down the road, and still on the Royal Mile. The building itself dates to the 14th century, though there are claims of worship here dating back a few centuries prior. This is considered one of the central locales of Presbyterianism, is full of history and must be absolutely beautiful inside:

I’ve seen pictures, and I wish we had the chance to have a look.

But it was time to eat and then repack our bags and get ready for the flight back to the States. Such a great vacation. It is a shame it is over, but we saw so many beautiful places and neat things and had a great time. We’ll always have those memories. And the slow motion videos:

Also she planned it, and as always, she created a great trip:


31
May 17

We are now experienced canyoneers

This morning we left our bed and breakfast in Kingussie and drove about 15 minutes north. There, in a small, humble little building hidden by highway construction, we met our guides for the day. We changed clothes.

They gave us wet suits. There were plenty of sizes to try. And they gave us shoes. And then we all loaded up into two vans, this merry band of adventurers who were small clumps of families in a larger group of 16 strangers. We traveled for, oh lets say two hours. Full wetsuits, feeling nice and cozy.

We were going canyoneering. Now, there are a few things you have to know here. Canyoneering is what it is called in the U.S. In Scotland it is canyoning. In the U.S. it is more about climbing and being in dry canyons. Here, there is plenty of water involved.

Here are some more things you need to know. That water is cold. Also, I am not as young as I once was. Oh, I’m still pretty much fearless, but what little agility I have left was obscured by wearing a 10 millimeter wetsuit and a giant life vest. Also, I don’t do well in cold water. And I’m nursing a sore ankle while walking and climbing around on slippery rocks.

It was so much fun.

canyoneering

There goes The Yankee, sliding down a little waterfall.

canyoneering

And it is funny how the river here can trick you, and then remind you in a flash, this water is impressively cold.

canyoneering

Here’s my own example. One of our two guides — who were patient and fun and knew exactly what they were doing — took all of these pictures:

canyoneering

Next you slide down this large rock, like you so often do.

canyoneering

Sliding through a narrow little channel in the rocks:

canyoneering

We’re having a great time …

canyoneering

… and after a few seconds you can forget how cold it is, because the wet suits were doing their job. Until you put your hands in the water. So a lot of the time was spent floating around like you’d just scrubbed in for a surgery:

canyoneering

There were two jumps. I’ve been off larger rocks. But this was a fairly shallow little pool, so it was about the right height.

canyoneering

Now there was one lady who got up to the top of the first jump and she froze. And then she tried again and froze. She tried a third time, but no jump. Each time she was getting closer and closer, though. She’d been the last one and we were all waiting for her below and on the fourth time she finally let herself fly. We had a great cheer for her bravery. I hope her pictures turned out, she certainly earned it. She did not go off the second jump. She’d already proven herself.

canyoneering

The rest of us, however, jumped again:

canyoneering

This was taken just before the most embarrassing part of my day:

canyoneering

We actually roped our way down this waterfall to conclude the adventure. It wasn’t actually rappelling, but it was close enough. And somehow I managed to be at the back of the group for this test. And somehow I managed to do something our guides said they’d never seen before. I managed to get sideways in the harness and then, somehow, upside down. Not supine, but feet up in the air, head nearest the rocks and the water. This isn’t a challenging descent. We, after, all were doing it with at least 45 seconds of being told how to use the rope and harness. And yet, there I was, having previously just narrowly avoided one disaster above this waterfall (I almost went over and, look at that photo, you don’t want to go over) and now I’m upside down and hoping I can get righted before someone up above dropped me on my noggin. It was not my best athletic display.

But it was such a great trip.

canyoneering

Now if they’d just turn on the warm water faucet upstream … Photos via G2 on Facebook.


30
May 17

Whaligoe Haven

Near Ulbster, a slightly-less-narrow spot on a diminutive two-lane Scottish road, you’ll find Whaligoe Haven. This is a beautiful little place you’re told to watch out for, but it doesn’t show up on the national maps and there is no signage. You park behind a hotel and walk through someone’s garden to get there. And then, there are the steps.

You go down to look up, and when you look up you are surrounded on three sides by 250-foot cliffs.

It is a beautiful harbor, at the bottom is a manmade grassy area and the ruin of an ancient storage building that held salt used to cure fish. You’re standing just in front of what’s left of the stone walls from this view:

So let’s talk about the name. A “goe” is a rocky inlet surrounded by cliffs. The prevailing opinion is that Whaligoe was named after a dead whale that was washed ashore here.

There are 334 flagstone Whaligoe Steps, and this dates back to at least 1769, but there’s no consensus on when they were built. The current design, however, dates back to 1792.

More than 20 fishing boats used this harbor each summer during its most successful period in the 19th century. The last ship sailed away in the 1960s.

Whaligoe Haven is now maintained by volunteers.

Tonight we’re in Kingussie, in the Cairngorms National Park, where we’ll spend two days. We walked through town today, had afternoon tea and saw a few gift shops. I liked the cover of this day planner:

And of course I took pictures of this book to send to people.

It was a tongue-in-cheek sort of thing, but it made fun of men far more than women:

We’re staying in a 140-year-old Victorian home. After dinner in a pub downtown, we’re having tea and shortbread before we call it a night. Tomorrow, we go canyoneering!


29
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.


28
May 17

Today’s slow motion videos

Of course I shot more of these. They are rather hypnotic and fascinating, wouldn’t you agree? Check ’em out:

The first video was on the journey on Cape Wrath. We were sitting on the van and the road bottoms out to the Daill River drainage basin. I shot this through the glass, thinking you don’t see places like too often:

For an American, though, I suppose you could say that a lot about this part of the world. Check out this terrain:

Science is just a few steps away from proving that bodies of freshwater just look more exotic if you call them lochs:

Of course those hills and mountains and clouds making such a dramatic backdrop don’t hurt, either:

You’d have to work hard to top a view like this: