Category Archives: Scotland

Loch Ness and Thoughts of Home

Today, both of us getting very tired, we have travelled the whole length of Loch Ness – no monsters in sight – and this evening have unloaded everything from the car so we can sort out who is taking what tomorrow morning.

The odyssey is almost over. My brother and I are still friendly and have been very compatible this whole trip. I’m ready to come home – there is much waiting for me…

Today is my last day in Scotland. I’ll be taking the train from Glasgow to London tomorrow, staying there for the night, and leaving early for my flight back to Vancouver.

This has been a very eclectic research adventure – hopefully a fruitful one.

Dunrobin Castle in Inverness

Leaving the Orkneys, we drove south to Inverness, finding a lovely café for morning coffee, Dunrobin Castle as a quintessential Scottish Castle, and a small museum of Pictish stone carvings and the modern research and work of George Bain which will be well known to Waldorf teachers for Form Drawing.

The Orkney Islands

From the northernmost coast of Scotland we took another ferry to Stromness in the Orkney Islands.

Arriving in the dark and the rain, we found Stromness has basically one street with the same width as the C roads! It reminded me of driving in Tenerife on a road that was really built for donkeys and, for Paul, a very stressful drive in an Italian hill town. And strangely, in none of these cases were the roads only one way. In the daylight next morning there was a certain charm to it but late at night in the rain it was no fun.

We visited Skara Brae, the well known pre-historic village, more stone circles and a Neolithic burial chamber, still incredibly intact. We also visited the Italian Chapel, so called because it was built by Italian prisoners of war during World War II out of whatever scraps they could find. It was quite lovely and a tremendous testament to the human spirit.

The Island of Skye

We had one more night in Finsbay and then had a truly harrowing drive in the dark on that daring C road to get to the ferry by 7:00 for the trip over to the Island of Skye.

I’m getting some insight about what kind of tour this would be and this simplifies our travels.

Given the condition of the roads I’m thankful.

We mostly explored the southern peninsula of Skye looking for accommodation for 24 people. I can see the itinerary very differently now having travelled there.

We spent the night in a B&B at Drumbuie (no – not Drambuie!) and drove on next morning to Plockton – a truly charming place. The planned tour itinerary in my mind changed again  As we drove up the western mainland coast the scenery became more and more beautiful and dramatic – fabulous sandy beaches, mountains with exquisite lines – and more and more sheep.

The Scottish Island of Lewis

The next day we drove to various sites on the Island of Lewis which is actually attached to the Island of Harris; the Callanais stones – an impressive stone circle – some other pre-historic sites and a Blackhouse village. These homes were all heated with peat which is still cut, dried and used for fuel.

History tells us that the people used to live in these stone croft houses, with thatched roof and a hole for the smoke to go out. Then they were improved with fireplaces and chimneys and a slate roof. Invariably they were almost black because of the smoke. Then people built more modern houses and painted them white – hence the names of black houses and white houses. Sometimes one can see both in ruins on a piece of land with another modern bungalow (one storey house) beside them so you can see the progression of comfort in homes.

Outer Hebrides Islands and UK Roads

We left Iona and the Island of Mull, ferried back to Oban and then took a long ferry ride to S. Uist, one of the southernmost of the Outer Hebrides islands. I nearly forgot my medication for seasickness which could have been disastrous given the ocean swell on that trip. From there we drove north, visiting several sites, including an unearthed Viking ship and, by the end of the day, were in Finsbay on the island of Harris (where Harris Tweed comes from).

Let me tell you about roads in the UK.

The M roads are motorways, like our freeways. The A roads are the main roads that were the quickest route from one place to another before the M roads were built. I remember my father saying that he could average 30mph on A roads but they’ve improved since then and cars have also – but there should be no great expectations. Then there’s the B roads, which are country roads, often one lane with passing places. And now I’ve found out about C roads – which are about 6 ft wide, and have tiny passing places. Finsbay is on a C road, running over and around mountains with a drop on at least one side of the road and sometimes both. The challenge on that road has often been that the ‘cute’ little road rises to a summit and one expects it to go on straight, but instead there’s a sharp turn and if you miss that turn you get to fly off the edge of the road and dive down into the sea. Such fun!

Iona and the Abbey

Iona is lovely.

I walked and spent time restoring order which was needed for my sanity – e.g. laundry etc.

Iona is, indeed, a very special place and the Abbey was stunning. Paul went to a morning service and I joined him for an evening one which was very special for me. Although the Abbey was in ruins and has been rebuilt, the atmosphere is still very much there and the Iona Community is modern monastic, bringing fresh perspectives to the Anglican/Episcopelian/Church of England church. The words of their hymns were modern and meaningful and the tunes easily learned – while also lovely. I was tempted to buy their hymn book! Hard to believe but true – but it was large and heavy and I am extremely cautious what I buy and therefore have to carry.

Seil Island

Seil Island – a lovely lonely spot. We took the ferry to the Island of Mull, drove to Tobermory, a village with considerable charm, then on a very dramatic route to Fionnphort to get the short ferry to Iona.

Loch Lomond and Loch Awe

Next day we started out of Glasgow along Loch Lomond and then into the mountains and glens. We paused somewhere near a church holding a funeral with bagpipes playing.

Sheep, sheep and more sheep – everywhere. When on the road they know perfectly well who has right of way and behave accordingly and with ‘attitude’.

We drove alongside Loch Awe on the most magical road but while I oohed and aahed I realized that this could only be appreciated by people facing forward and people riding in a bus wouldn’t get that view so – it was for me only, not for a group.

Paul was concentrating on driving – it was challenging.

I also realised in the first couple of days that my back was not happy with all the bouncing around on very bumpy roads, stopping suddenly for oncoming traffic since these were one lane roads, and the winding bends one after the other. We have agreed that B roads are to be avoided. Even A roads are often just one lane here but the surface is better.

Our first overnight in Oban was a poor experience though I suppose a one-toothed barmaid to check one in can be considered a cultural experience. Four flights of stairs on old, worn carpet patched with duct tape, a bathroom so tiny you could hardly turn around in it, leaking roof when it rained, furniture falling apart, and the ubiquitous kettle for making morning tea had something black and really nasty inside. We were glad to leave.

Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland

Scotland is stunningly beautiful – in sunshine, mist, rain or fog. The mountains look like they are covered in green velvet with rocks with quartz and small waterfalls shining through.

But first – I met my brother, Paul, at Glasgow airport and we drove to Rosslyn Chapel which is stunning in its own right – such complex and beautiful stone carving. It is not allowed to take pictures inside so I can only share one from outside. I wish I had someone there who could have shared the spiritual meaning of what I was seeing but that must wait until I can bring a tour group and leader.