A Travellerspoint blog

Ireland - Dublin and the east

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Tipperary was our first destination on this trip. In order to see as much of Ireland as possible, we preferred to travel through the smaller towns rather than the often more direct national roads and motorways, trusting TimTam (our GPS!!) to assist us. However, as 'he' preferred to take us via the major roads, we countered this by plotting the towns as we went on the roads we wanted to travel. However, we still had to check our map, which was far from ideal as it didn't give enough detail on the smaller 'B' roads. At one point I thought I knew where we were but couldn't correlate the map with the road we were on. Eventually I realised that Timmy had taken us out of our way and on a different road altogether. I know it is a long way to Tipperary, but I think on this occasion Timmy must have been on the Guinness.

We finally made it to 'Tipp Town' as the locals call it - cold, wet, 14degC - but perfect for lunch at the local. After lunch we went for a short walk down the main street (in the rain), but it was too uncomfortable so we continued on our way. But I was very pleased to be able to say that I've been there. Timmy must have recovered as we found our B&B in Clonmel without further trouble.

Lunch at The Kickham House, Tipperary Town

Lunch at The Kickham House, Tipperary Town

Next day, the Rock of Cashel
This is a spectacular group of medieval buildings set on an massive outcrop of limestone. The majority of buildings on the current site date from the 12th and 13th centuries. Few remnants of the earlier structures survive.

The buildings which remain include Cormac's Chapel, St Patrick's Cathedral, The Hall of the Vicars Choral and The Round Tower. Cormac's Chapel, begun in 1127 and consecrated in 1134, is the most important, historically and architecturally. The frescoes in Cormac's Chapel, which are the oldest Romanesque wall paintings in Ireland, were covered with whitewash at the Reformation (16thC) and remained hidden until the 1980s. Extensive remains of paintwork were also found on the south wall showing part of a scene depicting the baptism of Christ.

A wall surrounds the entire plateau on which the buildings and graveyard lie. Initially important as a fortress, it was the traditional seat of the kings of Munster, and its origins as a centre of power go back to 4th or 5th centuries. Its history is filled with political intrigue. In 1101 the then King, gave the Rock of Cashel to the church thus enhancing his own position and depriving his enemies, the original owners, of the opportunity to take it back. In 1111 it was set up as one of the main dioceses of the church, and in the early 12th century the Rock began to be developed into a major Christian center.

Notice the arch in the first pic .. it is positioned off-centre. Our tour guide couldn't give an explanation why it was built this way .. design fault, incompetent builder!!! but I think it adds interest.
The beautiful vaulted ceiling and arched doorway

The beautiful vaulted ceiling and arched doorway

The chancel of Cormac's Chapel. One can only imagine how beautiful this would be with the vibrant colours of the original medieval decorative paintwork.

The chancel of Cormac's Chapel. One can only imagine how beautiful this would be with the vibrant colours of the original medieval decorative paintwork.


Main living room of the Vicars Choral with restored timber gallery

Main living room of the Vicars Choral with restored timber gallery

The buildings have been built at different times over centuries. The earliest is the round tower, rising 28m high it dates from shortly after 1100. St Patrick's Cathedral was built in the 13thC and remained in use until 1748. The Hall of the Vicars Choral, built in the 15thC century was restored in 1975 and is now used as the information and entrance centre to the complex. The vaulted undercroft beneath the hall contains a collection of stone sculpture mostly from the Rock.

The grounds around the buildings are home to an extensive graveyard. A ballot was used to draw the names of local residents who wished to be buried in the grounds. Only a few were lucky as there are only a small number of sites remaining.

The nave of the cathedral

The nave of the cathedral

South face of the Cathedral

South face of the Cathedral

Fortified tower house with part of fallen tower on the ground on left.

Fortified tower house with part of fallen tower on the ground on left.

The Round Tower with graves

The Round Tower with graves

Another interesting item is 'St Patrick's Cross' (12thC). The original cross, now quite weathered and damaged, was carved from sandstone. It was moved inside in the 1970s to protect it from weather damage. A concrete replica now stands in the place of the original. I think the Irish High Crosses are beautiful and I was on a mission to find the oldest and most beautiful during our trip.

The original 12thC St Patrick’s Cross displayed in the undercroft of the Vicars Choral

The original 12thC St Patrick’s Cross displayed in the undercroft of the Vicars Choral

Looking down to St.Mary's, a ruined Cistercian monastery

Looking down to St.Mary's, a ruined Cistercian monastery

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TimTam did an excellent job taking us through the Dublin traffic and we arrived at our B&B quite easily. Our main reason for coming to Dublin was a visit to Trinity College, specifically to see the 'Book of Kells' exhibition in Trinity College Library. We arrived early (an excellent strategy if you wish to get in before the hoards!!) and it was fun to watch the students setting up stalls and clowning around - I think it must have been 'O' Week. Universities definitely have a great vibe.

Unfortunately no photos or video were allowed so I cannot show you the beauty of this exhibition, but I have to say this is one of the most exciting and spectacular exhibitions I have seen.

The Book of Kells is a manuscript which contains the four Gospels of the New Testament. Written in Latin, on vellum (prepared calfskin), it is an 'illuminated manuscript', which means that the text is supplemented by the addition of decoration. Probably produced in the early 9thC by the monks at a monastery on the Scottish island of Iona, and continued after fleeing to Kells, Ireland, some time after 806AD when attacked by Vikings which left 68 of their community dead.

The illustrations and decorations are beautiful, depicting human figures, animals and mythical beasts, together with Celtic knots and interlacing patterns in vibrant colours. The complexity of the images, the artistic talent of the monks and the beautiful colours are mind blowing. It is hard to comprehend how they were physically able to sit for long periods, and maintain concentration and steadiness of hand to complete these beautiful intricate designs.

To quote from Wikipedia: "The illustrations and ornamentation of the Book of Kells surpass that of other Insular Gospel books in extravagance and complexity." Widely considered to be Ireland's finest national treasure, over 500,000 people visit the exhibition each year.

The Book of Kells remained in Kells until 1654. In that year, Cromwell's cavalry was quartered in the church at Kells, and the governor of the town sent the book to Dublin for safekeeping. It was presented to Trinity College in 1661. In 1953 the manuscripts were rebound into the four volumes that it is today. The exhibition displays two volumes at a time on rotation, one opened to display a major decorated page, and one to show two pages of script.

I thought this exhibition was exceptional, more from an artistic rather than a religious perspective. The highlight of our trip.
Have a look at the Wikipedia site to see examples of the illustrations in the book. You won't be disappointed - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Kells

Trinity College Library

Trinity College Library

The Book of Kells exhibition is housed in Trinity College Library, a tour of which is included in the entrance fee. The main part of the library, The Long Room, is amazing. 65m in length, with two stories, it houses over 200,000 of the library's oldest books. Other items of interest in the Long Room is an exceptional collection of marble busts of famous people, one of the few remaining copies of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic, a beautiful old harp (the oldest of its kind in Ireland dating from the 15thC), and many magnificent original books on display, such as the first Bible ever printed in England. Oscar Wilde and Jonathan Swift, along with many other notables, studied here.

It is hard to explain the beauty of this room, so those of you who are bibliophiles have a look at the picture on this site: http://kimbofo.typepad.com/readingmatters/2009/08/a-visit-to-the-long-room.html
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We also had a quick visit to Dublin Castle, which really wasn't a castle but more a collection of government buildings which include the State Apartments. We were only interested in a visit to the Chapel Royal which was, unfortunately, closed for renovations. However we had a wonderful vegan meal at The Silk Road cafe in the Chester Beatty Library which was delicious.

Lunch at The Silk Road, Dublin Castle

Lunch at The Silk Road, Dublin Castle

Entrance door to the Chapel Royal, Dublin Castle

Entrance door to the Chapel Royal, Dublin Castle


Gate of Justice, Dublin Castle. One of a pair of massive arches erected in the inner courtyard in 1750.

Gate of Justice, Dublin Castle. One of a pair of massive arches erected in the inner courtyard in 1750.

Gate of Fortitude, Dublin Castle.  One of a pair of massive arches erected in the inner courtyard in 1750

Gate of Fortitude, Dublin Castle. One of a pair of massive arches erected in the inner courtyard in 1750

After a brief visit to Temple Bar (just to say we've been), we went to Ryans for dins, part of the F.X.Buckley Grill group, a family of butchers who have taken their steaks into a chain of restaurants. Ryans is a quality restaurant above the bar, however there was not a lot for me on the menu, I explained that I was vegan and asked if the chef could put something together. I was thrilled to receive a delicious, beautifully presented meal specially prepared for me. It was very much appreciated and enjoyed.

My wonderful vegan meal at the grill bar

My wonderful vegan meal at the grill bar

Entrance to F.X.Buckley. Grill and Bar

Entrance to F.X.Buckley. Grill and Bar

Unfortunately we only had one full day in Dublin ... next stop the Wicklow mountains.
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Posted by patsaunder 00:39 Archived in Ireland Tagged churches places historical Comments (0)

Ireland - home of my ancestors

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Our time in Ireland was spent in Cobh (pronounced Cove), a little town on Great Island in Cork Harbour. It felt very strange to be here. As a child Ireland featured largely in my catholic upbringing. The St Patrick's Day concert was a big event in our school year and we grew up with Irish songs, shamrocks, leprechauns, the little people, and stories of the struggles of the Irish. The names of Irish places were filled with mystery and magic as a result ... Tipperary, Limerick, Killarney, Galway .... but mainly Tipperary, the traditional home of the Ryans. We only have a little info about my ancestor who immigrated to Australia. I think it was my great grandfather, probably in the 1870s or there abouts. It didn't matter ... for me it was enough to know our roots were in Tipperary. I knew where I was from.

However, being in Ireland has ignited my interest in finding out more ... a very time consuming, often frustrating, and usually expensive journey. Where's 'Who do you think you are' when you need them! ..... And I just couldn't resist putting this little ditty together ...........

Ireland's struggles of a past day
forced many to leave for lands far away
One, Robert Ryan
commenced multiplyin'
which brought me back here today.

.... Yeah, I know!!!

Anyway, back to OUR story. On arriving in Cobh we took some 'time out' to relax and settle into our lovely exchange home and get the feel of the country. One thing which surprised me is Ireland's size. For some reason I thought it was a small island, but I quickly realised we would not be able to see everything on our 'to do' list. I was also surprised to see place names, and other signs, written in both Irish Gaelic and English. The Constitution of Ireland actually recognises Irish Gaelic as the national and first official language of the Republic of Ireland, with English second. I was interested to read that Irish remains a required subject of study in all public schools, but there is also an independent primary and secondary education system in which all lessons are conducted in Irish. As a result the number of Irish speakers is increasing.

Cobh is a lovely little town, very historical with a great story. It is a town with three names. Initially called Cove ("The Cove of Cork") in 1750, it was renamed Queenstown in 1850 to commemorate a visit by Queen Victoria. This remained the town's name until 1920 when it was renamed Cobh (a gaelicisation of the English name Cove) with the foundation of the Irish Free State.

I don't think you can talk of Cobh and not mention the cathedral - St Colman's which definitely makes a statement dominating the town from the top of the hill. A magnificent building, it took over 50 years to build (1868-1919) but first mass was celebrated in 1879 while construction was continuing. The spire was built in 1915, and the wonderful carilion of 49 bells (the largest in Ireland) and the clock installed in 1916. The rose window and the ornate entrance are beautiful. Unfortunately I only had a glimpse inside as a wedding was in progress when we visited. I didn't think they would appreciate my running around with a camera at that time, and I'm sorry I didn't get to return.

St Colman's Cathedral dominates the town

St Colman's Cathedral dominates the town

St Colman's Cathedral

St Colman's Cathedral

Beautiful St Colman's Cathedral

Beautiful St Colman's Cathedral

Rose window, St Coleman's Cathedral

Rose window, St Coleman's Cathedral

Ornate entrance, St Colman's Cathedral

Ornate entrance, St Colman's Cathedral

Lovely streets of Cobh

Lovely streets of Cobh

Cobh town

Cobh town

Looking down on Cobh from Cathedral Place

Looking down on Cobh from Cathedral Place

It's beautiful natural harbour has made the town a significant shipping port since the 18thC, and as such was a much desired holiday destination in the 19thC. As the country's main port of call for transatlantic liners it was the place from which the stream of emigrants left Ireland. My great grandfather probably walked these streets!
Excellent sculptures depicting the emigration from Ireland

Excellent sculptures depicting the emigration from Ireland

For those of us in Australia it is especially poignant as it was from here that the first convict ship traveled from Ireland to Australia in 1791, the last in 1853. In these 60 years 30,000 men and 9,000 women were transported, often for petty crimes. So together with the thousands who emigrated to try to find a better life, Ireland lost many of its young men and women. One of the documents I read stated that at least 8 million men, women and children emigrated from Ireland between 1801 and 1921, 80% of them between 18 and 30 years old. This is equal to the total population of the island in the fourth decade of the 19th century. These are horrendous figures, but for me they are significant in giving a perspective on the struggles of the Irish people.
Australia's convict connection

Australia's convict connection

Cobh was also the last port of call for the Titanic which left Queenstown (as it was called) on 11 April 1912 having taken on board 123 passengers (with 7 lucky ones disembarking). I visited the exhibition The Titanic Experience in which I was given the identity of one of the passengers and was taken through their experience of boarding the vessel that day. It was interesting to retrace their steps in the building which was the actual White Star Line Ticket Office during this 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. It is still a busy port and tourist destination. Many passenger liners continuing to visit.
The jetty from which the passengers were ferried to the Titanic anchored in the harbour.

The jetty from which the passengers were ferried to the Titanic anchored in the harbour.

The actual White Star Line Ticket Office

The actual White Star Line Ticket Office

Our first trip was to a little place in the south west, Skibbereen, which was one of the areas in Ireland which suffered terribly during the period of the Irish Famine 1845-1852. We visited the heritage centre to learn more about this event, which is now recognised as the most appalling disaster of 19thC Europe. In the local Abbeystrowry Cemetery is the mass burial site of between 8000-10000 unidentified people. I was shocked to learn that the population of Ireland in 1841 was 8.5million. Astounding given the current population of (approx) 6.4 million (including Northern Ireland).

The cause of the famine was a potato disease which resulted in crop failures over successive years. While other countries in Europe were also affected by the disease, it was devastating for Ireland as the potato was a staple food for one-third of the population (the poorest families) which were entirely dependent on it. The conditions in which they lived and the suffering of the people was horrific and were exacerbated by a host of political, social and economic factors at the time. Believe it or not, records show that food continued to be exported to England even during the worst years of the Famine. As a result, by 1850 one million had died and another million had emigrated as refugees. It was very moving.

Sign at Abbeystrowry Cemetery

Sign at Abbeystrowry Cemetery

The mass burial site for 8-10000 people at Abbeystrowry Cemetery

The mass burial site for 8-10000 people at Abbeystrowry Cemetery

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It was now time to venture further afield ... Dublin here we come!!

Posted by patsaunder 02:35 Archived in Ireland Tagged landscapes waterfalls mountains churches buildings people boats places historical Comments (0)

Scotland -

our holiday almost finished

overcast 15 °C
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Arriving back on the mainland we headed down towards England. Having taken 11 days to explore the west and the Orkneys, we now had 3 days before having to return the car in Manchester ... but with a few adventures still in store.

The first was a fantastic day in the Cairngorms National Park, Britain's largest National Park. It has everything ... the highest and most massive mountain range, native forests, beautiful pristine rivers and lochs, moorland and farmland, and Britain's most popular skiing area.

As it was a cold and wet day, and we only had a few hours, we decided to ride the Finicular mountain train and have lunch at the Ptarmigan Restaurant, the highest restaurant in the UK. It is 1,097m above sea level and only 148m from the summit of Cairn Gorm. The 2km train journey is great, increasing in altitude by 462m in 8 minutes providing a beautiful view of the surrounding mountains. Four of the top ten highest mountains in the UK are visible from the restaurant terrace. It is really a spectacular view.

Spectacular views

Spectacular views

View as you ride the Funicular to the base

View as you ride the Funicular to the base

Across Loch Morlich to the Cairngorms.

Across Loch Morlich to the Cairngorms.

And to top it off - Lentil soup, fresh green salad, and ... memories of home, Bundaberg ginger beer. I couldn't resist!

Lunch at the Ptarmigan Restaurant 1097m above sea level

Lunch at the Ptarmigan Restaurant 1097m above sea level

We would have loved to have taken the walking path to the restaurant (approx. 90 minutes) but unfortunately we didn't time. We still had a lovely and relaxed day .. with spectacular scenery.

Our next stop was Doune Castle. Avid Monty Python fans may recognise it as the setting for parts of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. We try not to 'do' castles, but as an Englishman Chas was keen to visit (being one of the avid MP fans).

Doune Castle is one of the best-preserved medieval castles in Scotland. Built from 1386 to 1420, by Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany and Governor of Scotland, it has changed very little and remains mostly true to its original plan. For its time this was luxurious accommodation - every bit a royal residence.

I have visited stately homes, and royal castles, with their magnificent furnishings, great works of art, and lavish opulence. But I really love wandering around in castles, such as Doune, which, while unadorned with the frills of royalty, allow the visitor to imagine what it would have been like with the hectic activity of a busy castle accommodating kings and queens, various officials, and a myriad of staff to keep it all rolling along.

And to guide us through its many nooks and crannies, giving a history of the castle and its residents and bringing it all to life .. who else but Terry Jones on the audio. It was excellent and I think added immensely to an enjoyable visit.

Doune Castle

Doune Castle

Archways showing the quality of the structure

Archways showing the quality of the structure

Looking down into the castle from the floor above

Looking down into the castle from the floor above

The royal ensuite

The royal ensuite

The Great Hall, the grandest room in the castle

The Great Hall, the grandest room in the castle


The Earl's Hall with its impressive double fireplace.

The Earl's Hall with its impressive double fireplace.


View from the roof through a portal

View from the roof through a portal


Who walked these steps hundreds of years ago??

Who walked these steps hundreds of years ago??


Chas dropping a boulder onto the nasty English invaders below

Chas dropping a boulder onto the nasty English invaders below


Gargoyle, Doune Castle

Gargoyle, Doune Castle


I love gargoyles

I love gargoyles


OMG a ghost in the fireplace!!

OMG a ghost in the fireplace!!

We then experienced something a little different at White Scar Cave in the Yorkshire Dales National Park which we came across unexpectedly. This is a network of caves which have been chiseled out of the limestone by water over thousands of years. It is the longest 'show' cave in Britain (tourist caves).

The cave was found in 1923 by a Cambridge student on holidays in the Yorkshire dales. On his first visit into the 'unknown' he used candles stuck in the brim of his hat to see his way in the cave. His dream was to open the caves to visitors, the first coming through the front gate in 1925.

The tour extends approx 1-1/2km into the extensive and significant underground system, but the cave actually continues a considerable distance further on. There are two low-roof sections so safety helmets were required, and I did hear quite a loud bang when I hit my head on a couple of occasions.

Caveman Pat

Caveman Pat

Caveman Chas

Caveman Chas

The first point of interest a little way into the cave is a cascading waterfall. Water flows continuously, and quite forcefully, under the walkways. Our guide told us that they constantly monitor the water levels when taking tours through the cave, and on occasions have had to cancel and quickly exit the cave as the water can rise rapidly. He'd recently had a tour group who were knee deep in water by the time they arrived back at the entrance!!!

Water flows constantly through the cave.

Water flows constantly through the cave.

Over time the stalactites (hanging from the ceiling ) and stalagmites (rising from the floor) have formed into some very interesting shapes. For example, ...
Witch's fingers - created by natural forces

Witch's fingers - created by natural forces


The Judge's Head - Stalagmites grow upwards where drops of mineral-rich water land

The Judge's Head - Stalagmites grow upwards where drops of mineral-rich water land

... sometimes joining together to form columns.
Arum Lily - The 'stalk' of the lily is an example of a stalagmitic column, where the stalactite growing downwards and the stalagmite growing upwards join together

Arum Lily - The 'stalk' of the lily is an example of a stalagmitic column, where the stalactite growing downwards and the stalagmite growing upwards join together

Part of the folklore of the cave is that you should try to avoid being dripped on by the Devil's Tongue. Not to be daunted, Chas and I went even further and drank the saliva dripping from the 'The Devil's Tongue', a fine specimen of flowstone hanging from the cave roof which is still growing!
We drank the saliva dripping from 'The Devil's Tongue'

We drank the saliva dripping from 'The Devil's Tongue'

These were quite a surprise ... Believe it or not the large knob is actually a piece of fossilised coral

Believe it or not the large knob is actually a piece of fossilised coral


Fossilised crustacean

Fossilised crustacean


Wet limestone with pool

Wet limestone with pool

The tour ended in a massive ice-age cavern which they call 'Battlefield Cavern'. It literally has thousands of very thin, very beautiful stalactites. Unfotunately, no photography was allowed in this section (apparently the flash may affect the fragile stalacities). We were treated to a lovely show when all lights were turned off, other than some UV lighting which made the stalactites glow. It was quite beautiful. You can see it, and the other highlights of the cave, here Battlefield Cavern

Another special features of this cavern were delicate orange statactites which look just like carrots (surprisingly the technical term for them is 'carrot stalactites'). These are thin pencil-like stalactites which are actually hollow which allows drops of water to drip through them causing the calcium carbonate to grow at its end.

Both these features were very beautiful and a great end to the tour.

One of the joys of traveling is the interesting characters one meets. On our trip we stayed at 12 different Scotish B&Bs - of which five were run by English people, one by a lovely French lady, one by an eccentric Dutch chap, and only five by Scots. Most of the accommodation was great, a couple needed some improvement. But all were friendly and welcoming.

The full map of our travels can be seen here Scotland map which showed that we covered 1546km on our journey.

Finally we returned out car at the Manchester airport, and waited for our flight to Cork in Ireland. While waiting I reflected on our two weeks traveling the Scottish Highlands. It was fantastic with lots of great times to remember.

Posted by patsaunder 00:38 Archived in Scotland Tagged landscapes mountains lakes castles places historical Comments (0)

Scotland - the Orkney Isles

all seasons in one day 14 °C
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Leaving Durness, our next destination The Orkney Isles, a group of around 70 islands approx 15km from the north coast of Scotland. To get there we had to travel across the top to the north east. No much to say about the trip .... just the usual magnificent scenery of the coastline and the islands beyond, sandy beaches, beautiful lochs, heather with a touch of purple (unfortunately not quite in flower) on the ever-present mountains, and very isolated. An interesting trip.

We caught the vehicular ferry for the 90min. trip to Stromness on the west mainland.

You may ask "Why go to Orkney? It's so out of the way, and what's there anyway?" Well, I did also ... fortunately for me I have Chas who plans wonderful adventures for us, and gives me the opportunity to share interesting experiences and places I would never have thought of.

The countryside is beautiful, predominantly still a farming community, very green, quite flat but with small undulating hills and lovely lochs. Surprisingly it is tree-less, the evidence indicating that Orkney lost most of its trees thousands of years ago. The towns are small communities with beautiful narrow, windy paved streets. With beautiful scenery, stunning coastline, unspoilt natural environment and wildlife, walking, cycling, fishing, water sports, and cultural activities there is heaps to do. Unfortunately we only had two days ... our focus was to explore the Heart of Neolithic Orkney and its history.

So, what is the Heart of Neolithic Orkney, and why is it special? It is an area on the western mainland which was designated a UN World Heritage Site in 1999 located in low-lying land around the lochs of Stenness and Harry and surrounded by small hills. Nowhere else in Europe can you visit a combination of 5000 year old villages alongside the spectacular ritual and burial monuments created by their inhabitants ... clearly an important place for them.

The Neolithic and Early Bronze Age monuments that form these sites date from between 5100 and 3500 years ago, with different settlers over time each leaving their mark on the environment. It is estimated that the first people arrived in Orkney about 8500 years ago. Then the Picts, mainly farmers and fishermen, arrived in 715AD and imposed their legacy. The Norwegians from the end of 13thC, their rule still evident today with language and place names dating back to the Vikings. Then Scottish rule from early 15thC. The site are now all in the care of Historic Scotland.

For me these sites have a mystical energy. It is impossible not to be moved by them, and try to imagine how the lives of those who lived here are interwoven with their monuments and artefacts. While the environment has changed over time, with some of the sites surviving better than others, when standing quietly beside or inside them one does wonder how they experienced their real and imagined worlds 5000 years ago.

Of the seven sites which comprise The Heart we only had time to visit three. However these are just the tip of the iceberg of the archaeological activity in the area with many other burial mounds, standing stones and chambered tombs. And archaeologists are still finding sites.

Our first stop Skara Brae Village .. the best-preserved prehistoric farming settlement in northern Europe. It was continuously inhabited from approx 3100BC to 2500BC when it appears the people moved on to somewhere else. The village has survived because it's construction was largely underground and the village was gradually buried underneath the shifting sand dunes after it was abandoned. It was only discovered in the 1850s when a storm stripped the grass from the dunes and exposed the secrets below. Interestingly, it was an Australian archaelogist, Gordon Childe (then Professor of Archaeology at University of Edinburgh) who excavated the site from 1928-31 and who is responsible for the presentation of the settlement seen today.

This was a small settlement which consisted of 10 structures (houses and workshop) which housed 50-100 people. The skeletons of two women were found in one of the houses during excavation. The design of the houses suggests a community of people who worked and lived close together. They were quite elaborate with actual stone furniture - beds, dresser, cupboards - and stone or wooden slabs which served as doors giving security and privacy.

"A place that touches the heart .. a cluster of houses where we can see that people moved and lived and loved." (George Mackay Brown in Maeshowe and the Heart of Neolithic Orkney, Official Souvenir Guide).

Clear outline of house design

Clear outline of house design

Actual house showing dresser, bed and hearth

Actual house showing dresser, bed and hearth

Actual house

Actual house

Entrance to house

Entrance to house

Corridors between houses

Corridors between houses

Reconstruction of inside of house showing dresser, bed on left, cupboards set into the wall, and hearth

Reconstruction of inside of house showing dresser, bed on left, cupboards set into the wall, and hearth

Depiction of family activities

Depiction of family activities

Depiction of village

Depiction of village


Next The Ring of Brognar, one of the largest of all Neolithic henges. Almost a perfect circle considered to have included up to 60 original stones. Only 27 still stand today, with one split by lightning in recent years, its remains lying silently by its side.

Because the interior of the Ring of Brodgar has never been fully excavated, or scientifically dated, the monument's actual age remains uncertain, but it is considered to have been constructed sometime between 4500 and 4000 years ago. It is thought that it fulfilled a social and ceremonial function, probably associated with the commemoration of the dead. This is a very large site, measuring 130m in diameter including the ditch which surrounds it.

Interestingly archaelogists believe it was not just a stone circle and henge, but was considered a focus for the other standing stones and burial mounds which survive in this local area, which can be clearly seen when standing at the site.

The stones are enormous, varying in height from 2.1 metres to a maximum of 4.7 metres ... it would have been a massive accomplishment to transport and erect them on this site.

The day we visited it was 15deg. overcast, and very windy. The video below indicates how I was buffeted by the wind. I had trouble holding the camera still, and you can see Chas hunched up against the wind. I apologise for the quality. I was actually speaking all the way through explaining the site, but unfortunately the the wind won the day.

Ring of Brodgar standing stones

Ring of Brodgar standing stones

Standing stone, Ring of Brodgar

Standing stone, Ring of Brodgar

Standing stone with part of slab lying beside

Standing stone with part of slab lying beside

Ring of Brodgar standing stones

Ring of Brodgar standing stones

It is a very impressive site .. set in a lovely environment. You can see the Lochs of Stenness in the distance. An excellent image which shows the size of the circle from the air can be seen here Ring of Brodgar from the air


Maeshowe Chambered Tomb
, the finest chambered tomb in north-west Europe and more than 5000 years old. It consists of a grassy mound which sits on a circular platform surrounded by a ditch, and is set in the open countryside with farming activity continuing around it. Archaeologists believed that it was used as a burial chamber, but this is not clear as the tomb has been disturbed and artefacts taken from it over time, without scientific examination.

The entrance to the cave is through a 10m entrance passage which is the only natural light coming into the interior. The soft, rounded exterior hides its complex construction. Inside is a small waterproof room, 4.7m across and 4.5m high, with side cells on three of the walls. The size of the stones used are amazing. For example, forming most of each wall of the passage is a single, gigantic, sandstone slab, the largest weighing about three tonnes.

The tomb was broken into by the Norse approx. 12C AD. This is significant as they carved 33 inscriptions and 8 sketches on the walls, the largest collection of runic inscriptions to survive outside Scandinavia. They are still visible and have been translated, some with light-hearted comments.

However, what is fascinating is the expertise, skill and knowledge across many disciplines which have gone into its construction, partcularly exemplified by the exact location of the passageway which is carefully aligned so that at sunset during the three weeks before and after the shortest day of the year, the light of the setting sun shines straight down the passage and lights up the back of the chamber. BUT ... the sun rays also align with a standing stone standing 800m south-south-west of Maeshowe. That is amazing and would be marvelous to see.

The day we visited was another wet, chilly and windy day. Entrance to the tomb is only allowed with an organised tour, and no photography is allowed. However, there is an excellent official video which explains far better than I, the wonders of this site. It is well worth taking 3 minutes to watch.
Maeshowe Chambered Cairn

Maeshowe

Maeshowe

The 10m entrance to Maeshowe

The 10m entrance to Maeshowe

Unfortunately, we only had one day in Stromness, an18thC settlement with windy streets which follow the shoreline, and one in Kingwall (the capital) on the eastern side. We had a great time but there are many other sites, and also beautiful buildings which we didn't have time to explore, such as St Magnus Cathedral founded in 1137 by the Viking, Earl Rognvald, in honour of his uncle St Magnus, and the more modern but beautiful Italian Chapel built by Italian prisoners of WWII.

I don't expect I will return, but I am very pleased that I had the opportunity to visit this lovely and extremely interesting part of the world.

Stromness taken from the departing ferry

Stromness taken from the departing ferry

The Old Man of Hoy, a 137 m sea stack on the island of Hoy, Orkney

The Old Man of Hoy, a 137 m sea stack on the island of Hoy, Orkney

Stone seat at Thurso which we found while waiting to depart for the Orkney Isles

Stone seat at Thurso which we found while waiting to depart for the Orkney Isles

Posted by patsaunder 11:56 Archived in Scotland Tagged places historical Comments (0)

Scotland - west coast

semi-overcast 20 °C
View Europe 2012 on patsaunder's travel map.

Our holiday started in Glasgow. So far so good. As we were waiting to collect our luggage Chas actually said to me that this is his most anxious time when traveling. And guess what - yep, his luggage didn't arrive!!! This is the 3rd time this has happening to us. It is so annoying and there is nothing you can do. The airline guaranteed that it would be delivered to him by courier when found, so he gave them the addresses for the next three b&b's on our itinerary hoping they would eventually catch up with us.

We picked up our car and off we went … our first stop Eileen Donan castle which is situated on an island at Dornie at the point where three great sea lochs meet (Loch Long, Loch Alsh, and Loch Duich). First built as a fortified castle in the mid 13thC, it was built and re-built over the centuries during the various eras of Scottish history until it was partially destroyed in a Jacobite uprising in 1719. It lay in ruins for over 200 years, until in 1911 the island was purchased by Lieutenant Colonel John MacRae-Gilstrap who over the next 20 years lovingly restored the castle to its former glory. It was re-opened in 1932.

The quality of the restoration is evident, as is the care and attention to detail. It was certainly a 'labour of love' as Eilean Donan was the ancestoral home of the MacRae clan and remains the private home for the MacRae-Gilstrap descendants. The castle is surrounded by some majestic scenery and is a lovely castle to visit. You can also take an excellent virtual tour here http://www.eileandonancastle.com/virtual-tour.htm#

Eilean Donan Castle

Eilean Donan Castle

Eilean Donan Castle

Eilean Donan Castle

Looking from castle to Loch Alsh

Looking from castle to Loch Alsh

Eilean Donan Castle

Eilean Donan Castle

Eilean Donan Castle portcullis

Eilean Donan Castle portcullis

Obviously during my schooling and adult life I had heard of this place called 'The Scottish Highlands'. However, I have to admit that it was just 'a place' to me, and I never really thought what the wod 'highlands' actually meant. Before I take you on our journey through the 'highlands of Scotland' I have to say that when traveling around this rugged but beautiful area, I was surprised to find that the geological history was never far from my thoughts. While I don't understand the 'how' or 'when' it all happened, the mountain ranges dominate the landscape and are 'awesome' in their size, their rugged grandeur and their isolation.

Similarly, it is hard to ignore the cultural history. The area is very sparsely populated and you wonder at, and admire, the tenacity and courage of those who do choose to live in these harsh climatic conditions. But there is something else which draws you to the mountains. They are beautiful.

The mountains rise up around you

The mountains rise up around you

Initially 24deg. when we arrived, the weather quickly changed to cold and wet as we left the city for higher ground and windy roads. And it doesn't take long .. Ben Nevis, Britain's highest mountain (1,344 metres above sea level) is not very far from Glasgow. It was fantastic to see our first mountain range, the Glencoe mountains with clouds enveloping their tops, and waters tumbling down the many crevises creating a series of spectacular waterfalls.

Scottish highlands

Scottish highlands

Mist on the mountains

Mist on the mountains

Awesome mountains of Scotland

Awesome mountains of Scotland

Glencoe is infamous for the massacre of the MacDonalds by the Campbells in the early hours of the 13th February 1692. While this occurred over 300 years ago, some things are never forgotten. This pic was taken in the reception of the local hotel where we had our first meal in Scotland.

Plaque in hotel reception

Plaque in hotel reception

For my introduction to Scottish food that evening I had 'haggis'. Yes, you heard correctly, vegan haggis - almost sounds like a contradiction in terms!! - made with red kidney beans, lentils, veggies, and nuts, served with neeps 'n' tatties. Delicious, and available on several menus as we traveled. A traditional meal.

Vegan haggis

Vegan haggis

The next day we headed for the Isle of Skye, our destination Elgol on the west coast. But to get there we had to travel from the east coast for 24kms on a single vehicle road. While we have since learned that many of the 'B' roads are single vehicles only, with passing bays every 100 meters or so, this was our first experience of these narrow, windy roads in Scotland. It was an amazing trip .. the road just went on and on and it seemed like we would never arrive. It is a very isolated area.

On the way we found ruins of this lovely old church and graveyard, many of the graves from the 19thC. The cross below is a memorial stone of a young 26 year old local lad who died during WWI in 1916. What stories of love, heartache, joy and sadness lie in these grounds? If only they could talk!!

Derelict church on Isle of Skye

Derelict church on Isle of Skye

Derelict church and grave stones

Derelict church and grave stones

Derelict church

Derelict church

Celtic cross on memorial

Celtic cross on memorial

The reason we came to Elgol was to go on a wildlife-watching and sightseeing trip to the small islands of the Inner Hebrides (Soay, Canna and Rum) with AquaXplore in a RIB (rigid inflatable boat). As we were going across the open water the skipper told us we would get a little wet with spray and said “The lady in the red hat, you'll get most of it”. Yes, me of course!! Didn't have to worry as I was in the wet weather gear provided. What the best dressed are wearing, don't you think???

Set for our trip on the RIB

Set for our trip on the RIB


Cliffs on Canna Island, Cuillin Sound

Cliffs on Canna Island, Cuillin Sound

Cliffs on Canna Island, Cuillin Sound

Cliffs on Canna Island, Cuillin Sound


On the RIB

On the RIB

It was a great trip. We saw heaps of gannets, shags, kittiwakes and shearwaters but unfortunately most of the migrating birds had left, especially the puffins. I was so disappointed to have missed them. It would be an awesome sight to see these cliffs in the peak nesting season as we were told there can be over 15,000 seabirds of 14 different species. But we did see a couple of Golden Eagles which was a treat. It was amazing scenery.

Basking seals, Cuillin Sound

Basking seals, Cuillin Sound

Basking seals, Cuillin Sound

Basking seals, Cuillin Sound

Wreck of French trawler, Rum

Wreck of French trawler, Rum

Red deer on Rum, one of the Small Isles in the Cuillin Sound

Red deer on Rum, one of the Small Isles in the Cuillin Sound

We had time to go for a wander on Canna which still has 13 families living there. I don't know how they do it as it is very isolated. There is even a restaurant (for the locals and boaties who shelter in the lovely bay) and even a manor house which was built in 1860s for the local Laird whose family had summer holidays here. All of the islands are now managed by Scotland's national trust. It was a great tour.

Our next destination was Staffin on the north-eastern side of the island. Yes, back on the 24km single vehicle road, and up the east coast. The scenery was spectacular the whole way. I found myself often saying "that's spectacular". So I've spent a little time contemplating the adjectives to use to describe the scenery. Lovely, nice, picturesque just doesn't cut it. Beautiful, spectacular, awesome (in the true sense of the word), imposing - that's better. So rather than describe it to you, I'll try to use photos which will give a sense of the beauty of the mountains, the lochs, and coastline and you can choose your own descriptive words.

Our B&B at Staffin (Achtalean) was fantastic with a view of both mountains and sea from our bedroom. We had 3 nights here. Hospitality and quality of the accommodation were excellent. Our hosts purchased rice milk and veggie sausages just for me, and Greg even treated Chas to a taste test of three different 10year old single malt scotches one evening. Now that's over and above don't you think. Greg is also a mountaineer who has climbed several of the world's highest (Kilimanjaro, Himalayas) and is also a member of the mountain rescue team. He was able to provide not only excellent knowledge on the history of the area, but also advice on where and when to climb locally. Skye is a climber's paradise.

However before we could get to go walking we were advised that Chas's luggage had arrived by courier from Glasgow at our Elgol B&B at 11pm the previous evening. But to get it we had to drive …. yes, you guessed it, back down the coast and across the 24km single vehicle road to Elgol. Took 4hrs of our day!! which are really nothing compared to the journey the poor courier driver had to get it to us.

Surprisingly there hadn't been decent rain on Skye for five months, and we were told that the locals were getting concerned about their low water levels would you believe. But on this day it was raining, which made me realise that I had left my wet weather trousers in Aus and would really need them if I wanted to go walking. So, we stopped in Portree (main town) to get them and some groceries and have a look around.

We set off early next morning for a 2hr walk along the imposing Quiraing ridge. We started out with light rain, and it rained on and off throughout the walk (approx. 15deg). We met a small number of other walkers going and coming. It was a beautiful, peaceful walk. Greg's first rule was "Don't go off the track". Chas had to remind me of this when I wandered a little. I looked around and was only a couple of metres from the edge!! The mist kept swirling around us blanketing the peaks. Greg's second rule was "If you can't see it, don't go there", so we cut our walk short. The views looking back to Staffin Bay are breathtaking. Quite an easy and enjoyable walk.

The Quiraing

The Quiraing

The start of the walking track to the Quiriang

The start of the walking track to the Quiriang

Waterfall, the Quiraing

Waterfall, the Quiraing

Some parts were tricky

Some parts were tricky

A cute 4-legged walker we met walking the Quiraing

A cute 4-legged walker we met walking the Quiraing

Climbing over the fence during our walk of the Quiraing

Climbing over the fence during our walk of the Quiraing

The Needle - a jagged 37m high pinnacle, part of the Quiraing

The Needle - a jagged 37m high pinnacle, part of the Quiraing

The Prison, part of the Quiraing

The Prison, part of the Quiraing

Enjoying our walk in the Quiraing

Enjoying our walk in the Quiraing

The rugged landscape

The rugged landscape

Looking back to Staffin Bay from Quaraing

Looking back to Staffin Bay from Quaraing

The mist quickly moved in to conceal the pillars behind

The mist quickly moved in to conceal the pillars behind

Looking towards the bay

Looking towards the bay

After lunch we ventured to our next walk. The rain had eased and it was 18deg. The Storr is a number of weirdly shaped rock pinnacles, the remnants of ancient landslips. One of the most famous of these is known as the Old Man of Storr, 50m in height. This climb had been on Chas's wish list since his first visit to Skye many years ago.

This is a very popular walk with a large number of people walking the track. There were children and even one family with a babe in a back carrier which really surprised me as it was a challenging walk (for me at least). The beginning path was a bog as a result of the recent rain. Unfortunately I slipped over but managed to save myself from a major situation only getting mud on my left hand and my camera case (camera was OK), but with limited cleaning options!!

The path then zigzags through a pine forest up fairly steep ground which was OK, but still quite messy and slippery. Then you come out of the trees to an open area and can clearly see the pathway and the ridge above. Roughly the half way mark!! The ascent from here is steep and you have to negotiate loose stones and steps in sections. Not the best for someone with weak knees and ankles!! I was quite light-headed from the exertion and struggled up the last section. I said to Chas that it is the most difficult walk I have ever done BUT I made it, and very proud to do so.

Pathway to Old Man of Storr

Pathway to Old Man of Storr

Resting on the way up

Resting on the way up

Old Man of Storr

Old Man of Storr

They are magnificent structures, and when you turn around there's more …. behind you is a panoramic view across the Sound of Raasay to the Isle of Raasay and the Scottish mainland. Spectacular.

Old Man of Storr and pinnacles of The Storr

Old Man of Storr and pinnacles of The Storr


Panoramic view across the Sound of Raasay to the Isle of Raasay and the Scottish mainland.

Panoramic view across the Sound of Raasay to the Isle of Raasay and the Scottish mainland.

I made it ... Old Man of Storr

I made it ... Old Man of Storr

Chas trying to push it over ..

Chas trying to push it over ..

The area around Staffin is still a crofting area. This is a system of agriculture where the 'crofters' have small areas of land often mostly with poor quality soil. As a result lesiglation has been passed to allow them the use of the common areas around the townships to graze their sheep and cattle which roam freely. So not only do you need to take care of the animals on the road when driving, you also need to watch where you walk. I learned the hard way which is a mistake I didn't do again!!!

View from Achtalean, Staffin

View from Achtalean, Staffin

Pre-dinner drinks at 18th-century Flodigarry Country House

Pre-dinner drinks at 18th-century Flodigarry Country House

Looking out to Staffin Bay

Looking out to Staffin Bay

There is much to see in Skye but unfortunately we didn't have time to see it all. It is beautiful. As we travelled around Scotland I was very aware that I will probably never be here again as there are so many wonderful places in our world to visit.

Onward and upward north, on the way visiting the extremely narrow Corrieshalloch Gorge (60m deep) which was formed at the end of the last ice age. Very impressive. We bravely ventured onto the suspension bridge to view the spectacular (45m drop) Falls of Measach, then continued the circuit walk around the gorge and came across a couple of lovely surprises ... this exquisite seat fashioned from a single piece of timber with its beautiful view, and this series of lovely stone cairns which continued for quite a distance along the walk. Someone had gone to a lot of trouble to set them up.

Corrieshalloch Gorge

Corrieshalloch Gorge

Warning on suspension bridge, Corrieshalloch Gorge

Warning on suspension bridge, Corrieshalloch Gorge

Beautiful timber seat

Beautiful timber seat

Lovely stone cairns

Lovely stone cairns

..... to Gairloch (another fantastic B&B) ,
Gairloch

Gairloch

onto Lochinver (a not so good B&B) with the very imposing Suilven rising up into the cloud (1/3 way along on left)
Lochinver

Lochinver

How amazing are these views from our room!!!

Arriving at Durness on the north-west coast (and another great B&B). Chas chose to take the 'B' roads around the coastline. It was spectacular. In some places you are surrounded by rocky outcrops, then mountains up to 900m, then open grasslands, heather and wooded areas, with small lochs dotting the countryside. I was also surprised to find beautiful sandy beaches. Apparently Durness is a very popular surfing area!! (just a touch cold I would think!!) Map Scotland Have a look at the map to see where we went.

Sandy beach

Sandy beach

Looking out to the sea and islands, Drumbeg Scotland

Looking out to the sea and islands, Drumbeg Scotland

Another of Chas's long-held desires has been to play the Durness Golf Course which he read about in a golfing magazine when it opened 25 years ago. It is the most northerly golf course on the mainland. Luckily the day we arrived was sunny and warm, so what was he to do.

Chas's dream come true ...

Chas's dream come true ...


Tee shot over the ocean to the 18th green

Tee shot over the ocean to the 18th green

Forget the golf.   Just look at the scenery ..

Forget the golf. Just look at the scenery ..

Before leaving Durness we visited a memorial to John Lennon who spent many childhood holidays there with his aunt and cousins. In 1965 John composed the song "In my Life' in which he reflects on the places and people he loved, that place being Durness and the family and friends he had there.

John Lennon Memorial, Durness

John Lennon Memorial, Durness

Next post .... over the top, then on to the fascinating Orkney Isles.

Posted by patsaunder 01:47 Archived in Scotland Tagged landscapes waterfalls mountains churches buildings people boats places historical Comments (0)

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