Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Scotland Spring 2016 #4: Back on the Mainland

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, 
Hopman Harbour

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.


Monday, June 6, 2016

Scotland Spring 2016 #3: To the Orkneys

Arctic Tern
       In the last post on this blog site I told you about time we spent in Durness in the far northwest corner of mainland Scotland.  In this installment we go even further north to the Orkneys Islands.  The islands are an archipelago of 70 islands (20 of which are inhabited) ten miles north of the Scottish mainland.  The islands are populated with Neolithic and Iron Age sites rather than people—the population of the islands is just over 21,000.  We spent our time on the main island, called Mainland, with its two major towns, Kirkwall and Stromness.  
       In the two and a half days we spent in the Orkneys we visited some ancient sites we’d been to before and a few sites new to us.  The most impressive ancient site on Mainland is Skara Brae, a Neolithic village which lay hidden under sand for over 3000 years until a major storm in the 1850s swept away the sand and revealed the buried village.  

The dwellings were built into the ground for protection from the weather and were quite sophisticated for having been lived in from 3000 to 2400 BCE—stone beds, cupboards, central heating, etc.  We walked above the structures and marveled at the designs of which early people were capable. In the northwest corner of the island we next went to the Birsay Bay Cafe for lunch.  

The cafe is literally at the end of the road at the end of the island, and you’d think you were at the end of the world except for the crowds.  The cafe with its homemade sweets and locally grown products is so well known that both days we had to wait for a table.  
Anne at the Earl's Palace in Birsay village.

After lunch we toured the Earl’s Palace, a castle belonging to a former Earl of Orkney, and now an interesting ruin.  Since the tide was out (low tide) we took the opportunity to walk
The causeway to Birsay Island at low tide.

The Brough of Birsay and view back to Mainland.

Birsay Lighthouse
over the causeway of cement, stone, and sand to the tidal island of Birsay.  Here we wandered the remains of foundations of an Iron Age brough (small agricultural village) and then climbed to the top of the island for a look at the Birsay Lighthouse.
      On our second day we took the morning tour of Highland Park Distillery in Kirkwall, the capital of the islands and where we had booked our B&B stay (Avalon House, a great B&B just out of town along the bay).  
The tour guide shows us peat which is burned to dry barley and to add flavor to the whisky.

Highland Park pot stills

Coal fire also used to dry malted barley.

A little too expensive for my taste, although I'd love a taste.

The Highland Park whisky is considered by many to be the best of Scotland’s single malt whiskies (with the awards to back up the claim).  The tour was conducted by a very knowledgeable guide (engineer-type) who also gave us a guided tasting of the distilleries most popular malt, the 12 year old.  After our bit of liquid refreshment, we drove out to   Barnshouse, the remains of a Neolithic village near the Stenness standing stones and Ring of Brodgar.  
Sternness Standing Stones

Part of the large stone circle (as big as a football field) called the Ring of Brodgar.

Barnshouse Iron Age village.

The village was interesting, but I was fascinated by a herd of swans [That’s the official group name for swans.  Personally, think they are too graceful to be called a “herd.”  That’s for cows, not swans.] in the nearby loch.  

The rest of the afternoon was spent in a tour of Maeshowe, a Neolithic chambered cairn and passage grave.  
Anne walking out to Maeshowe Chambered Cairn.

Our archeologist guide.

Built around 2800 BCE, Maeshowe along with Skara Brae was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999.  We walked the quarter mile out to the tomb and then took a tour of the interior guided by an Historic Scotland archeologist who obviously loved her job.  

     Our last full day in Orkney was spent first playing golf at the Stromness GC and then touring the Broch of Gurness.  

The broch is the remains of an Iron Age (500-200 BCE) broch village, a defensive structure indigenous to Scotland.  The structure, besides the broch tower itself, shows some of the same constructions we saw at Skara Brae.  
Kirkwall Harbour at sunset.

That evening as we wandered around Kirkwall harbour, we were treated to a grand sunset over Kirkwall bay.  A fitting end to our three day stay on Mainland Orkney.
A fence of wool.