Saturday, April 28, 2012

Adventures in Scotland Saturday & Sunday

Newtonmore & Oban
We had to check out of our lodge in Avimore on Saturday morning. We stopped at the McPherson Museum in Newtonmore. It was a slow day at the museum so the docent, Ruchard, pulled out his pipes and we had a wee seisseün.


We also saw McPherson's Fiddle

      He took the fiddle in both o his hands
      And brake it o're a stane
      Saying "There'll be nae ither hand tae play on thee
      When I am deid and gane

On the way to Oban we saw this old pile. The sun was shining and it was (finally) warm enough for the scent of the gorse to be detected. We walked through a large stand of gorse on the path to take this photo. When it's warm the gorse smells like coconut. I wonder what the honey would be like?

We spent the night at a hostel in Oban. The proprietor, McTavish,  has a wonderful flower garden and also made all the jams in the kitchen. 

There were fresh tulips everywhere.

There was a fiddle rally in Oban that evening which we attended. There were about 70 fiddlers who played medleys of traditional Scottish tunes. At one point there was a solo spot for three young pipers. They were about 14 years old and played brilliantly! After we left the rally we went searching for some traditional music. It was a quiet night but we followed our ears to find a tourist show, complete with a dancing piper. Here we are attempting Gay Gordon's.

Kilmartin & Inverary

modern stone
The reason we stayed in Oban overnight was to be able to spend the next day exploring the Valley of the Kings in Kilmartin. There are over 600 cairns, standing stones, kists, cup & ring sites, celtic crosses, hill forts etc. etc.


Standing stones
Celtic cross

11th century knight grave stones

Chambered cairn
Cup & Ring carving (there are hundreds these)

We really get into our explorations!


We left the Valley of Kings late in the afternoon. On the way to Inverary there were examples of Victorian-era castles. We stayed in a very nice hostel. We had time before supper to take a walk through the town

along the waterfront
This was the only rainbow we saw, despite all the rain.

and around the local mansion,

finally arriving at the George Hotel.

They won "Best Pub in Scotland" in 2011. The food was excellent and not too expensive. Regina and Julia had fish & chips, I think. I had grilled goat cheese with salad greens and pickle - all with some local brews, of course!

Adventures in Scotland - Thursday & Friday

My Escher photo - look for the second arched bridge under the arch of the first bridge) 

Lunch in the Vauxhall. The vacuum flask saved us about £6 in tea!
The "Telescope Stone" on the way to Huntly

On to Skye

We headed out for Skye in the morning, were detoured by a road accident and drove over the bridge to Skye about one o'clock. We stopped in Lower Breakish to see if our friend, Seanichan McLeod, was home. He wasn't, so we left a note that we would try later and headed up the East coast of the island. Before we did, though, we looked at his garden and found these mystery flowers, very similar to the flowers we found last year in Norway that nobody could identify.

Portree is as attractive as ever...

The Old Man of Stoor is still standing proud....

The Kilted Cliffs are as spectacular as ever....

And the Cuillen look as forbidding as the Mountains of Mordor!

This photo is identical to one we took in 1993...

However Health & Safety have been there since our first visit and added several safety fences and I couldn't sit in the window as I did back then.

We stopped at the Highland Folklife Museum (look at the size of that spade!)

The light on Skye is magical!

Seannichan was home when we came back through Lower Breakish. We stopped for a chat and a cup of tea and ended up staying way too late. He is keeping bees now, so he and Regina had a lot to discuss concerning apiary matters. Seanichan's wife is a basket weaver and herbalist so there was plenty to discuss there as well!

After a LONG drive we got back to Avimore about 1:00am.  Lights out, everyone.

Adventures in Scotland Wednesday-Thursday

Wednesday started out with rain. We were planning on going to a sing-around in Huntly in the evening so our exploring took us eastward to Aberdeenshire. During the day we encountered periods of rain, sun, hail and snow but always of brief duration according to elevation.  One of our stops was the Burn o' Vat, a nature preserve, where we had lunch (we're becoming adept at making sandwiches in the car)

The rain let up a bit so we walked up to see the Vat. Later on we found there was a rievers' (cattle rustlers) cave as well that we didn't find. Along the steep  mossy banks were lots of primroses blooming amongst last year's bracken.

There was another section to the park with a walk along the loch past an old (I guess they're ALL old) crannog, which is the remains of an ancient island round house, a castle island and a Pictish cross.

As we got closer to Huntly we found the Culsh souterraine, which is an underground chamber supposedly used for storing grain. No evidence of grain storage has actually been found and storing grain in an underground chamber in a damp climate seems impractical. The entrance faces the midwinter sunrise, the pink lintel is supported by a big "lucky stone" on one side and a quartz stone on the other. Just saying...


Our goal for the evening was the town of Huntly, where we were to meet our friends Trish and Gaye for dinner and then a song-session at the Crown. We got there too late to tour the castle but we were able to walk around on the grounds. We had a bit of a muddle catching up with the Fishwives (Trish and Gaye) but got sorted out in plenty of time to get to the seissiün. We heard many good traditional singers that night, including Keith Cockburn, who sang a version of Bogie's Bonnie Bell. I used to sing this song which I learnt from Jack Beck back in the mid-nineties.

That night we spent with Gaye in her converted steading. This is a farm buiding like a U-shaped barn which Gaye and Paul have renovated into a wonderful house. Thursday it rained steadily for most of the day. We spent the morning meeting with a Scottish beekeeper (who just happens to play the fiddle and nyckelharpa) then drove home through the rain. I spotted a directional sign to some Pictish stones, so we pulled off the main road, down a twisty local road to a small church. The stones are displayed in a little porch and are purported to be amongst the best Pictish stones in Scotland.

We got back to our base in Avimore in time for a swim and a soak in the jacuzzi - no bad!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Adventures in Scotland Monday -Tuesday

Despite good intentions I have fallen behind posting for the trip. After a couple of days it becomes difficult to sort out what we did so this missive may be slightly out of order.
Monday April 16

Cairngorm Mountain

The day dawned clear and bright on Monday so we took the opportunity to drive up Cairngorm mountain. We drove as far as we could, which was to the car park for the ski area and funicular railway. Coming back down we stopped for the view across the loch. There are ducks swimming in the breakwater. We stopped at the reindeer center but we were too late to catch the tour to meet and pet the reindeer so we pushed on.


We were headed in the direction of Newtonmore on a B road and crossed the River Spey here in Feshiebridge. We all took photos of the bridge, the river, and the stones and, I think, a largish spruce tree. Had a bit of chat with a couple working in their garden. Julia and Regina recommended rosa rugosa for their situation. We got an earful about the ugly American in the adjascent house (not from Maine!) and then moved on to have lunch.

Frank Bruce Sculpture Garden
I had picked up a brochure about an outdoor sculpture exhibit (which is why we were on the Feshiebridge Road) The sculptor, Frank Bruce, died in 2009. His large wood sculptures were sometimes accompanied by his writing. Most were about serious themes like war, hunger, imortality. This is one of the more whimsical pieces called The Walker. Sadly many of the sculptures are being destroyed by insects and woodpeckers. There is an organization,, that is raising funds to build a gallery on the site for his smaller works.

Highland Folk Museum
This museum in Newtonmore is incredible! We went pretty much straight to the 18th century exhibit, skipping the 1930 farm exhibit, the black house, the saw mill and several other area and buildings, each of which deserved at least an hour to appreciate. As it was we spent the whole afternoon in this section. There were a couple of sheilings on the way over the hill to the Baile Gean township. There were houses for a cottar, a weaver, a stockman and a tacksman, a kiln barn barn used to dry grain and an exhibition barn. The interpreters were excellent and gave us a good understanding of the living conditions in villages like these, which were the way the highland folk lived from at least the late 17th century up through the mid 19th century, when the railroads brought tourists and increased economic opportunity to the area.
This is the living space. There were a couple of sleeping platforms, the dresser and stools, as you see. There was a box bed as well - literally a bed in a big wooden box which could be closed for privacy and warmth. There is no chimney or windows. The peat fire, which was never let go out,  provided all the heat and light -- not much of either! The other end of the house was the byre, where animals were kept at night and in the winter. That helped a bit with the heat, but not the light. As many as fifteen people would live a house like this.
The biggest and best appointed house belonged to the tacksman. We couldn't go in because the roof was being rethatched. All of these buildings are constructed with the methods and materials used in the originals. Thatching has to be repaired periodically and they use whatever is convenient - in this case broom.

After seeing this village and the living conditions of the highland folk it made us think how the American frontier must have seemed like a paradise. The living conditions were certainly no worse and the abundance of game and better soil would have been a marked improvement over conditions in Scotland at the time.

We left the museum to be home by 6:00 to have a visit, dinner and music with our friends Trish and Gaye. The singing and stories went well into the evening - this was a day well spent.

Tuesday April 17

Clava Cairns
Today we went hunting for cairns and Pictish stones
Our first stop was the Clava Cairns just south of Inverness. These are about the same vintage as the Egyptian pyramids. There are three cairns open to the public. Several others are nearby on private lands and have not been excavated. This cairn was never covered. The stones are in bands of different colors. This was somewhat difficult to see because of the moss and lichen, so we're trusting the archaeoligists a bit on this.

The other two cairns had passages aligned to the mid-winter solstice sunrise. The northern cairn at one time was roofed with corbeled stone to a height of three or four meters. The southern cairn was not roofed as the midwinter sunrise would have been blocked from the other cairn.

And of course there were standing stones!

We drove on to the Culloden battlefield and had our lunch in the car park. We found a thermos in the lodge with nesting cups, so we always had hot tea available. How civilized! 

Loch Ness
 The sun came out and we had a lovely drive along Loch Ness.

You can't drive past Urquart Castle without taking a photo or two!

  Invermoriston Bridges

As we were coming down Loch Ness we were looking for a holy well that Julia had note of. We stopped and took a walk in a lovely (if somewhat damp) wood along Moriston River to see the falls. We came across this stone summer house  on a high ledge overlooking the river.
Not one but TWO arched bridges. If you look carefully you can see a second bridge through the arch of the "new" bridge. The further bridge was completed in 1813 as one of the thousand bridges built in Scotland between 1801 and 1819. The guarantor for this particular bridge lost £2000 due to "an inattentive contractor" who took over two years to finish the project.

We drove home over the mountains on a single track road (scarey!!) and got back just in time to miss closing time at the pool.