After an uneventful ferry crossing from Stromness on Orkney to Scrabster by Thurso on the Scottish mainland, we faced a long drive to our lodging for the next week—Scandinavian Village, Aviemore in Cairngorm National Park. Our first break in the drive came via an eight mile detour from our main route to visit Grey Cairns of Camster (aka Camster Chambere Cairns).
These are neolithic tombs or passage tombs built between 5000 and 6000 years ago—they are among the oldest buildings in Scotland. The site is a set of two cairns; one called Camster Long and the other called Camster Round.
The Long tomb is about 200 feet long with two burial chambers and two passage entrances—at one time they may have been separate cairns which have been combined for some reason unknown. The two tombs are each about 15 feet tall and are about 50 feet apart. If you have a torch (flashlight) the tombs are accessible,
but it’s almost a crawl and is definitely more fitting for younger more agile explorers. The other tomb,
|The Round Cairn|
Camster Round, is a single cairn about 60 feet in diameter and 12 feet tall. You approach both the cairns, which are in the care of Historic Scotland, by a wooden path over the moor. An interesting and photogenic stop.
After a stop for a quick bite of lunch and a walk around the small harbour at Lobster,
we checked into our digs for the week, Scandinavian Villege Unit #1, a two bedroom villa unit (villas have the bedrooms upstairs).
This is a timeshare unit we exchange into on more than half our trips to Scotland; it’s become our second Scottish home after Merlindale B&B in Crieff.
|The view from our unit.|
The mountain village of Aviemore, a base for hikers-climbers-skiers, is centrally located in the Highlands. From here we can get to the North Sea coast in an hour,
have easy access to the Whisky Trail (more than twenty open distilleries are within an hour and a half), have numerous castles available for touring (including Brodie, Cawdor, and Ballindalloch),
|Loch an Eileen Castle|
and have plenty of historic tourist attractions nearby (Culloden, Clava Cairns, Highland Wildlife Park, Cairngorm Mountain Funicular, and Strathspey Steam Railway). And most importantly, it’s perfect for reaching some outstanding Scottish golf courses—Royal Dornoch, Nairn, Tain, Boat of Garten, Granton-on-Spey, Moray Old and New, and a couple of dozen more.
|Relaxing on our patio with computer, whisky, and crisps.|
One of the interesting villages nearby is Cromarty on the tip of the Black Isle,
|On the Black Isle--rape seed fields and oil rigs.|
a peninsula with water on three sides and separated from the mainland on the forth side by rivers. The name (in Gaelic t-Eilean Dubh) most probably refers to the black soil of the rich farmland of the peninsula. Cromarty is a small seaport at the mouth of the Cromarty Firth.
|Looks like the fishing wasn't so good this day.|
It used to be a ferry terminal for the smallest commercial sea ferry in the UK—the ferry to Nigg—and a fairly major fishing port.
|The small Cromarty harbour and oil rigs.|
Now it’s known for its work on building and repairing off shore oil rigs.
For us, Cromarty is a quaint harbour and beach with some nice shops and plenty of photo opportunities, including the local lighthouse.
One of the highlights of our stay in Aviemore this trip was a visit to the Cairngorm Reindeer herd.
The herd is Britain’s only free-ranging reindeer herd. Records indicate that reindeer along with red deer were hunted in the 1200s, but reindeer were extinct in the UK by the 1900s. Mike Utsi and his wife Dr. Ethel Lindgren co-founded the present herd, importing seven individuals from Sweden in 1952. The present herd, ranging in two areas of the Cairngorms, is made up of 150 deer (all named). The current managers, Mr. and Mrs Allan Smith, took over the herd in the 1980s and maintain the herd with a small but efficient staff of herders and volunteers. Hill trips to the herd leave the Reindeer Centre at 11:00 year round. First, is a one mile drive to a specific parking area,
followed by a guided 20-30 minute hike (not too strenuous) up to the herd. On the tour, we met about thirty deer who gathered round to get fed by the guide, Abby,
and then hand-fed by members of the tour (about thirty of us).
|The deer know there's going to be food.|
The deer are not really pets and don’t care for much handling, but they are sort of friendly and some were interested in us, though mostly they were interested in the food.
|Abby spread out some grain to attract the deer.|
|Anne is hand feeding a yearling some special grain.|
One of the interesting facts we learned was that reindeer and caribou are the same species. The Reindeer Centre maintains and enlightening Blog at www.cairngormreindeer.wordpress.com. Anne and I thoroughly enjoyed our hike and our visit with the herd. The next story, from The Rambling Adventures of A Traveler and Golfer (2014), also relates to the reindeer:
They Do Exist. Ailsa, our adopted Scottish niece (daughter of our B&B hosts), spent three days with her schoolmates at an outdoor camp near Aviemore in the Highlands. She was only thirteen and this was a big adventure—camping out, cooking out, special wildlife experiences. She returned exhausted, starving for her favorite foods, and angry. Exhausted we understood when we heard all that she had done. Starving was also understandable, after all she had had to cook for herself on a campfire. But the anger surprised us. After a shower and at dinner she said, “We saw reindeer at the reindeer farm, and they were real.
I felt so stupid. I thought they were just made up in the stories. Nobody ever told me they were real!” It took several minutes for all of us to stop laughing.
|River Luinaeg in the Cairngorms--on our way down from the reindeer herd.|
Next: Some great golf on this spring trip.