05.10.2014 - 10.10.2014 5 °C
I'm sitting on the Jacobite Train in Mallaig waiting to depart for Fort William. Took some beautiful pictures of the isles of Eigg, Rum and Skye. Wandered around this tiny, little town a bit, had Cullen Skink for lunch. I'll tell you a bit about Orkney while we wait for the train to get under way.
We were the 3rd car off the ferry in St. Margaret's Hope. It was already dark when we arrived so we're heading into an unfamiliar little town, looking for the road to Kirkwall. I've got a ferry load of crazy Orcadian drivers on my tail. Didn't try to stay ahead of them for very long. Pulled over and they all went screaming by. Now I had tail lights to follow. I'm watching the road, Lorri is watching what she can in the dark. She saw a wall of water heading for us but had no time to say anything before the car was drenched by a wave. We found out later this area is called the Churchill Barriers put up during WWII to keep the Nazi u-boats out of Scapa Flow. In really stormy weather this road is closed. It got closed the very next day for several hours.
Made our way into Kirkwall not knowing the exact location of our hostel, the Kirkwall Peedie Hostel. Stopped on the waterfront to regroup when Lorri spotted a tiny sign on the building we were in front of...Kirkwall Peedie Hostel. We had arrived. Found our key, dumped our bags and walked next door to the Ayre Hotel where we had a roast beef dinner. Beef is the main industry and export on Orkney. Mostly Aberdeen Angus and some Charolais. Cattle are free range. All the bulls, cows and calves living together like one big happy family. The bulls look VERY happy! This makes the cattle much less stressed, less need for vaccines and produces a superior beef product. Genuine Orkney beef must be raised, killed and butchered on Orkney or it can't be called Orkney beef.
We had talked about taking the world's shortest flight which would have been really neat but that meant getting up to be at Kirkwall airport for 830am. Pass. Turns out the flight was cancelled because of wind too.
Helen Woodsford-Dean met us at the hostel at 10 and we headed off to visit the Neolithic ruins that are everywhere on Orkney. We visited the Stones of Stenness, the Ring of Brodgar, Barnhouse settlement, Kirbister Farm, Maeshowe and the Unstan Cairm. Maeshowe is a cairn with a long, low passage inside. The visitor centre had a wheelchair so Lorri was able to make it across the fields to the Cairn. You have to bend all the way over as the passageway is just above waist height. I went in first, backwards, pulling Lorri in the chair. And then the roof got lower! Lol! Once inside you could stand fully upright. There were 10 of us including Aneta, our guide. She told us what archeologists have been able to surmise or guess at what it was used for 5000 years ago. She also pointed out the graffiti! Written by Vikings in the 12th century, less than 1000 years ago.
The storm just kept getting worse. First wind and then the rain. The rain was coming at us straight sideways. We packed it in around 330 because it was just not fun being that cold and wet.
Sitting in a pub in Leicestershire with Mel so will continue the saga.
Tuesday we were supposed to tour around with Helen again but the weather forecast is worse. So we switch our days around. Helen on Wednesday, Highland Park whisky tasting Tuesday. Breakfast at Judith Glue. Saw the Bishop and Earls Palace and St. Magnus Cathedral, did a bit of shopping and for the most part stayed dry. Supper at Helgi's just down the street from the hostel which is where I noticed this whiskey, The Dragon. Only £43/ounce. I took a picture of the bottle, that's all I could afford. Lol. Supper was delicious, Salt and Pepper Squid.
Wednesday morning started a bit grey but the sun soon came out. We had a beautiful day. Helen guided us around Scapa Flo and told us about WWII events, Churchill, how the u-boat snuck in and sank a British ship right in the harbour. We saw the Brough of Birsay which is only accessible at low tide. Tricky walk across the causeway but sooo worth it. We also visited the Broch of Gurness, an Iron Age tower. Scara Brae was open today. Scara Brae closes when the winds are high because people have been blown over and fallen into the houses. It really looked like Hobbit homes. When I mentioned this to Helen she said Tolkien had to have visited Orkney. His description of places, the Elvish language are all spookily like Orkney. Helen also explained that the people that lived here were very young, an elder would have been in his thirties. So most of the "adults" would have been teenagers, impulsive, not so conscious of the consequences of their actions perhaps. What in the world happened to them?
Visited Barony Mill. Finally heard the Orkney accent. Tasted bere biscuits and bere shortbread. And suddenly it was 1548!!! Last check in for the ferry is 1635 and we have to get back to Kirkwall first. Yikes! But we made it. Orkney is incredible. I would go back just to spend more time at places like the Ring of Brodgar. Lorri said Orkney was creepy but that's not quite the right word. She said it was like there was whispering all around. It's hard to wrap your head around the fact that people lived here 5000 years ago.
Once back on the Scottish mainland we headed south for Wick. Remember way back at the start of our visit to Scotland we met the Ladies of Lallybroch in Inverness? Elenna and her daughter Janine helped organize the LOL Gathering. Elena owns the Harbour Guest House in Wick. We had made arrangements to stay there and have supper together. 200 year old house and four flights of stairs but wonderful people. Elenna had breakfast ready for us the next morning and then it was off to Fort William.
Our plan was to take the afternoon Jacobite Train to Mallaig. But it is now October and all touristy stuff change their schedules, there is no afternoon train. There is a 3 pm cut off for booking tickets online for next day travel and our lovely Vodaphone throw away is already out of call credits and won't work. Dora Mount, our very friendly and helpful hostess at Myrtle Bank Guest House told us what to do. Queue up by 845 the next morning and buy standby tickets. So we did and here we are, on the train. Myrtle Bank Guest House is the best place we've stayed this whole trip. Reasonably priced, beautiful location, amazing view of the sunset and a really wonderful hostess. Made us feel so at home and made sure we had no stairs to climb.
Met some Australians while waiting for train tickets. They have been to Canada several times and not just to Toronto or Calgary. They did a polar bear tour to Churchill and they've been to Winnipeg. Train tickets are finally on sale. The Australians are first and get the last of the First Class tickets which puts them in the Harry Potter car. That's the one with the passage along one side of the car and sliding doors into each compartment. We're not so classy. Centre aisle for walking and tables that seat 4 along each side. We arrange with the guard to have a table to ourselves so that Lorri doesn't have her cast in the aisle. This is a coal fired steam engine so when we opened the window to get some of the condensation off the window we let in coal dust. Lol! Beautiful scenery and the Glenfinnan Viaduct was everything I expected. Check out the video clip I posted on Instagram, search for icenikween.
The train arrived back in Fort William at 1600. Back in the car and we have the naive idea that we can drive to Lockerbie tonight. Boy were we wrong! We stopped in Oban for supper then back on the road. So in the dark we drove around Loch Lomond. Hairy driving! 35 mph was fast! Tonight is the first time we have no place booked to stay. Got almost to Glasgow and found The Milton Inn Hotel in Dumbarton. Ah, feels good to be horizontal for a few hours!