Okay, you all know how insufferable I am about travel. Especially overseas travel. Now, having returned from a week in Scotland, you’re going to have to indulge me for awhile as I inevitably cannot talk about anything else. All the lovely people we met and chatted with. The staggering beauty everywhere you look. The history. The sheep!
For those of you who don’t follow me on FB (you’re always welcome to, but beware I’m a wee bit more political there), you’ll need some background. (There’s also more pictures there from my phone that aren’t here)
My friend Kim and I rented a campervan from Big Tree Campervans out of Bankfoot in Perth and drove it through the Cairngorms to Thurso, on the northern coast, where we caught the ferry to Orkney. After Orkney, we drive down through the Highlands, past Loch Ness and down to Kennacraig where we caught yet another ferry to the island of Islay. Uopn leaving Islay, we drove back across the mainland to Bankfoot where we caught a train to Edinburgh for our last few days. It was magical. The van was absolutely perfect, and I cannot speak highly enough of the folks who run the business. Simon, Hazel, and Andrew were some of the loveliest people we’ve ever met, and I want to be their friend forever! (Plus there was a cat named Crunchy and a dog named Bob. I mean….what more could you ask for?)
We named the van Fergus. It was just what we needed for two of us: a bed, heat, a sink, and a stovetop, with plenty of storage space. And though driving on the left (correct ;-p) side of the road was weird at first, it quickly became easy.
When we reached Thurso the first night we quickly found the ferry so we’d know where to go first thing in the morning. After that we headed out to find a spot to park for the night and came across Murkle Caravan Park overlooking a field full of sheep (they really are everywhere. You cannot throw a stone in Scotland without hitting one).
We ate our dinner overlooking the field of sheep, which in turn overlooked the sea. (Yes, I asked. They were Texcel sheep, and I made friends with one by giving it a few salty crisps). Although we were hoping to see the northern lights, we sadly missed out. We did, however, see the Milky Way more clearly and densely than either of us ever had before.
The ferry to Orkney, the MV Hamnavoe, was gorgeous, and absolute luxury compared to the plane we had so recently taken. We both tried to stay awake for the scenery, but the gentle rocking put us both to sleep for most of the trip. Since they were not allowing anyone on the outside decks, I couldn’t have taken pictures anyway.
As for Orkney itself…..I’m not sure I’ve ever been this deeply in love with a place before. I’ll only get through part of it in this post, because I have far too many pictures.
Again, sheep and cows everywhere (actually we were so disappointed to see so very few Highland Longhorns that we took to calling the rest of them “Basic” cows.)
Our first destination on-island was Skara Brae, the 5,000 year old neolithic settlement on the coast.
Along the way we stopped for pictures (and hoped to find the small village of Twatt. We ended up driving through it a bunch of times but never found the sign. Oh well. Opportunity for shenanigans missed).
We did see quite a lot of Shetland ponies (and were offered one. If only he’d have fit in my carry on!)
The path leading out to the village site is like my dream of where I’ll take my daily walks with my dogs one day, walking stick (or crook) in hand, wrapped in a hand-knitted shawl of wool from my flock.
The unearthed settlement is incredible. It was found by the property owner after a particularly nasty storm had exposed some of the top layers, and was subsequently excavated over many years. The dwelling were dug out and supported by stone, with earthen roofs. They very much reminded us of hobbit homes, and were very intelligently laid out. It’s remarkable, given that this site is older than Stonehenge.
Believe it or not, the climate is actually quite mild here (thanks to the Gulf Stream). There are even palm trees! If I had to pick a prehistoric site to live, this would be it. Abundant sea life, wild hares all over, pheasants and water fowl, plenty of land for grazing livestock, a climate that’s neither tool cold nor too hot (they don’t generally get snow in Orkney).
As an aside, this roof. I love it! We did see one while we were there that was completely sod covered. Talk about fantastic insulation!
Along the beach just below the village are so many rocks that people have taken to stacking them in various configurations. When Kim and I saw we could access the beach, there was no way we weren’t going down there!
We spent some time collecting little shells and rocks to bring home.
And found crab parts everywhere. I’m guessing the seagulls feast on them and drop bits back onto the beach, because when I say everywhere, I mean everywhere. Legs, claws, bodies. I stopped counting how many we found. Giant blobs that I think were jellyfish were caught up in the sea detritus as well.
The colors! I am so inspired to start dyeing wool again.
From Skara Brae we drove to Kirkwall, Orkney’s main town. While strolling with no real direction in mind, we came across St. Magnus Cathedral, founded in 1137 by a Viking called Eric Rognvald. The entire island, in fact, has quite a lot of Viking influence.
We could have wandered around Kirkwall for hours, but we had already overstayed our parking, so we headed over to the pier for a final look at the town before heading out to find the standing stones.