Archive for June, 2015

ISE OF MULL – OR NOT THE ISLE WE’D INTENDED JUNE 30

Our original plan back when this trip started was to go to Islay after Edinburgh. I really wanted to visit the Laugavulin distillery, mostly so I could get a photo there and send it to my brother. Unfortunately there’d been a rumor of a possible stike by the ferry operators and you kinda need a ferry to get there. Which brings us to today and our trip to the Isle of Mull. Since it was sunny and blazing hot, we decided to sit on the top deck and take in the scenery on the ride.

Once we made port I was taken aback. There’s pretty much nothing there – a tourist information place, a coffee house and a charity shop. That’s it. In the port where the car ferry docks. Well, that and buses. Lots of buses. To take you to the part of Mull where there is actual stuff – Tobermory, which is about 30 minutes away. Okay.

Now Tobermory is an adorable little town, but the port can’t accommodate the car ferry. Hence the probably lucrative bus business at the car ferry port.

It was still blazing hot and nary a cloud in the sky, something for which we weren’t really very prepared. And by that I mean we had on jeans and I wanted to die. Someone give me some scissors, please!

What’s the first thing we do? We go exploring on a walking trail. Because even though it’s blazing hot and we’re wearing jeans, that’s how we roll.

It was a lovely walk with seriously charming views of the harbor. At one point we came across a little waterfall and stream that could have been plucked out of the Monongahela National Forest and would not have looked out of place.

Next up: Tour of Tobermory Distillery. We lucked out and had a small group, 6 of us and our guide, which was good because it’s a wee little distillery.

Unfortunately we weren’t able to take photos during the tour. Bummer. The tour was interesting, and blazing hot because you need heat to make whisky. I also learned that the shapes of the stills determine the type of whisky. And the stunning stills at Tobermory looked very much like the lamp from “I Dream of Jeanie”.

We didn’t buy any whisky, can you imagine if that broke inside our suitcase?

But we did get a baseball cap for Chad and a toboggan for me, which, you know, seemed like a ridiculous purchase on a day that was hotter than the surface of the sun. Turns out it was a brilliant purchase, because by the day’s end it was foolishly cold and I ended up wearing it!

We did grab a single cache on Mull. It was a nano on a (defunct, obviously) water mine. Plus I saw this….I only wish I’d seen an actual otter.

We just missed the next to the last bus, which meant we had some time to kill. We got ice cream and sat and watched the harbor.

And then hung out and read. It was starting to get chilly as we waited.

At the end of a long day we were back at the ferry port of Oban and heading to our car. As we rounded the corner I could hear bagpipes. And I said to Chad, that’s not one, there’s not one, there are several. We looked up and there was a guy facing the wall playing, tuning up really. Ok. So big deal, this is Scotland we’ve learned that stuff really does happen here. Then we walked into the car park and hello! It was a pipe band warming up. They were everywhere. Including one guy who was right beside our car. Oh Scotland, you do not disappoint.

Check out the rest of the photos below. Clicking on the tiny photo will bring up full sized images.

chris on June 30th 2015 in Geocaching, Travel

SKYE TO LOCH MELFORT JUNE 29

Full and happy after breakfast, we headed out to check out the parts of Skye we had yet to explore.

It was wet and damp and soppy with more of the same forecasted. So basically what everyone imagines when they hear about Scottish weather. Only it’s not as bad as all that. Our first stop was Skeabost – St. Columba’s Isle – but darn if the guidebook could be any more specific than putting a dot near the road and telling you what it was.

Well thanks, quite helpful. Fortunately there is a geocache at the site and the description included specific and easy to follow directions.

There were several ruined buildings, a wonderful effigy of a knight, quite similar to the one at the cemetery at the top of the northern point

And a mortuary chapel where 28 Chiefs of the Clan Nicholson have been buried, among others. There was a knight effigy there as well.

Skeabost was an amazing little piece of history tucked away. It was quiet and lovely, green as far as you could see and surrounded by rushing water. A perfect spot to start the day.

Next up: Fairy Bridge, where the wife of the chief of the Clan MacLeod left him to return to her own people. Instructions were as follows: Greet the fairies, lest the flummox our search for the geocache. So we did. Didn’t help much, we still had a witch of a time, but Chad finally came up with the cache.

Out of nowhere appeared a field of rock cairns. Although maybe more appropriate to call them rock stacks since they weren’t marking trails or anything. We went past and when I started making weird noises and motioning behind us, Chad made a U turn so we could investigate. I have no idea how this field of awesome came to be. But here it is. And yes, I made one too.

We stopped at Dornie for lunch. As luck would have it, there was a cache nearby. Ok, so yes, there’s quite often a cache nearby. It led up through a sheep pasture to a stunning view of Eilean Donan Castle. We’d already stopped to see the castle on our way out to Skye, but were too cheap to actually take a tour. So after this lovely lunch, we headed UP through the pasture. It was boggy. Let me repeat, IT WAS BOGGY. Squish. Squish. Squish. I ended up rolling my pants up to keep them dry. It was rough going, particularly since we were stuffed full of food.

At one point a pair of pink ears popped up from the reeds. It was a little lamb. Chad and I stood still, trying to both get a good photo and let the lamb decide if it was going to flee. Finally it decided we were scary two-legged wolves and ran up the hill crying “maaaa….maaaaaa…..” Up until then I thought that perhaps the sheep in these parts were mute.

We continued our climb to the cache site and were indeed greeted with a spectacular view of Eilean Donan Castle. I probably typed this earlier, but you may recognize the castle from the movie The Highlander.

One more cache stop at The Jubilee Bridge – a footbridge joining two little communities so they didn’t have to take a ridiculous long path WAY around the water. From the bridge we had a great view of a nearby castle on a tiny island. We saw folks being rowed back to the mainland from it.

Stopped at Fort William to stretch our legs and check the town out.

It was an adorable, bustling little place. The West Highland Way – a rather long trail – ends here, and it’s a starting off point for folks hiking Ben Nevis (as we’d planned to do). We settled on having a pint at the Ben Nevis Pub. I wish we had a pub that looked like this at home.

Also, apparently there is mountain biking to be had nearby. So basically the town was full of folks in varying outdoor gear looking bedraggled, relieved, triumphant, and expectant, depending on which part of their journey they were.

Loch Melfort Inn was pretty much at the ends of the earth, which made the view from our balcony lovely.

Check out the rest of the photos below. Clicking on the tiny photo will bring up full sized images. Once again, we took a lot of photos. Enjoy!

chris on June 29th 2015 in Geocaching, Travel

SKYE – LAND OF TUMULTUOUS WEATHER June 28

Today’s forecast for the Isle of Skye: sunny and bright. The reality: pretty much every weather condition but snow and hail, but mostly rain; a lot of rain.
We had a brief stop to check out Eilean Donan Castle on our way. We didn’t take the tour, but stopped for a quick few pictures between the rain.

Our first geocache on Skye promised great view of the water and the mountains, no matter what the weather condition. Um, yeah. I’m sure it was stunning, but I could not see much through the driving rain. That and the cowl of my rain jacket.

Back in the car and approximately 20 seconds later it was no longer raining. Our first official stop in Skye was Portree, where we would be staying the night. It was still far too early to check in to our hotel, so we figured we’d do some geocaching and then grab a bite to eat. The first cache we targeted was called, believe it or not, Viewpoint of Doom! How can you pass that up? I didn’t find much doom, but the view was beautiful!

From there we scampered back up the hillside and thought we’d search out a cache called The Lump where the Portree Highland Games have been held since forever. You’d think we’d be easily able to locate such a place, since they had dynamited a place above the town to create it. You would be wrong. We found a path that seemed to be right. Only it went under the high point, which was where the arrow insisted we go. After almost a complete circle, we spied the road – yes road – up to a folly.

But still, no big flat space fit for Highland Games. We followed the sound of a person and dogs playing fetch and BOOM! There it was. The cache was a micro, but was marked with this red plastic flag, which I found to be hilarious. If you are a cacher, you’ll appreciate how silly it was.

From there we let caches and hoards of people be our tour guide. If we could see all kinds of cars parked and throngs of people we tended to stop. Except at the layby for the Old Man of Storr. It was packed, so we drove on by and found an empty layby with no one in it and a great view of the Old Man of Storr. It’s impressive, and the photos don’t do it justice. You may recognize it from The Wicker Man.

We were going to bypass the old dolomite factory, but upon seeing the crowd gathered, Chad whipped the car into the layby. It was insanely windy (but not raining) and to get to the shore you walked down a well worn sheep path and hoped to avoid stumbling into the sheep. They seemed generally unconcerned about all the two-footed idiots on their paths.

Next up, Kilt Rock. It’s a basalt formation that looks like the pleats of a kilt. The overlook was packed and the wind was insane. It came whipping up from the water and flowed through the metal fence which made a lovely, harmonic sound. It was weird and delightful all at the same time.As if that wasn’t enough, looking toward Kilt Rock, there was a thin waterfall that was being whipped about by the wind. It was a lot to take in from one spot!

The water below was so clear we could easily see the huge boulders in it.

We continued on up North with the weather shifting from a driving rain to sun and back again. And again. And again. The scenery was stunning, even in the driving rain. Well, when you could see it. We kept on until we got to the cemetery where Flora MacDonald is buried.

And of course there was a tour bus coming at the same time. At moments like that I feel like I need to jump out of the car and shout, “RUN!” so we can have a moment’s peace before the flood of people overwhelm us. As luck would have it, the tour folks first went to the crofter museum.

We had plenty of time to see the amazing knight’s effigy stone – there’s a story about how it was stolen from a Scottish king’s grave by one of the of the MacDonald clan – and quite a few of the others to boot before heading onward and finishing the loop back to Portree.

So it was 4:30 when we hit the bustling metropolis of Portree. It seemed like a good time to check in to our hotel. Except, did I mention, it was 4:30 and apparently the pub at the Fair Isle Inn was quite the place to be. We could barely even get in the door. So we wandered around town a bit more and searched for some place that might be willing to give us food.

Today was the day in our trip where we hit the wall of exhaustion. After dinner we could not manage to drag ourselves downstairs to the pub. Just could not budge from our room. I sat there, watching the sun not set. At 10:30 it was still quite bright. at 12:30 it was still not even dark. I can only imagine how dark it is here in the winter.

Check out our additional lovely photos in the gallery. Skye really is an amazing place. We took A LOT of photos. A LOT. 

chris on June 28th 2015 in Geocaching, Travel

KILT TIME & STAC POLLAIDH June 27

After last night, you’d have thought I would make sure the drapes were closed tight to keep the terribly early sunlight out. You’d be right. But I forgot to shut the bathroom door and there are no drapes in there. Hello 3:30 am! I hate you!

There were two things on our agenda today:

  • Get Chad measured for a kilt
  • Hike Stac Pollaidh

Not the most ambitious agenda, but we were hedging on how much hiking we’d do on Stac Pollaidh. If my knee held up, we’d make the final push of doom to make the summit, we’d do that. Otherwise we’d take the wussy trail and just enjoy a scenic hike and eschew the final climb of doom.

After a hearty breakfast of an insane amount of porridge, and by insane amount I mean as much porridge as I would eat in an entire week at home in one bowl, we stopped at Chisholm & Son’s Kiltmakers to get Chad measured for a kilt. The most adorable, sweet, utter delightful, older woman (Heather) helped us. Once Chad explained that he wanted a kilt using the colors of his University, she started rattling off all the different ones that had blue or gold in them. Chad settled on the MacLeod of Lewis pretty much right out of the gate.

While we waited for Mr. Chisholm to come back from parking his car I wandered around trying really hard not to touch every bolt of tartan and poke at all the finished garments (and deer head). I tried really, really hard.

In short order, Chad was measured and Heather explained how he needed to wear the kilt – giving me a squeeze she said she trusted me to make sure he looked proper. We promised to send her a picture of Chad wearing his kilt at “our University’s American football game”. I’m anticipating the kilt arriving in time for the cold weather games late in the season. I will be giddy when it shows up. Just giddy! (I’m sure Chad will also be excited.)

At the trailhead for Stac Pollaidh we headed out – and up – giving me terrible flashbacks to the Ben More debacle. I was also starting to sweat profusely; carrying 2 liters of water on your back will do that I suppose. So like last time, I was soon back to hiking in short sleeves.

The wind was insane and constant. And again, like last time, I was all goose fleshed and my arms were numb. So I put on my jacket. Ah. Relief. And then it started to rain. So we pulled out the rain jackets. And polar fleece hats. Because, of course. On the trail for 30 minutes and I’d already changed three times. (I’d like to take a moment and thank Chad for taking photos that make me look like a hiker who knows what’s up. Thanks, babe. I like looking like I know what the hell I’m doing!)

We hiked up the main part of the loop trail with no problem. And then we stopped and looked up. Oh the top looked so tempting. So very tempting.

But the Walking Highlands website described the final climb as requiring a “high level of scrambling expertise”. We did a little exploratory scramble and then decided, as we slid down off the loose rock that making the final push to the top was just not going to happen. So we did this instead.

I had no doubt that we could have gotten up without much damage, but the coming down seemed like it would be more treacherous than we were prepared for, not to mention I didn’t really want to ruin the rest of our trip by breaking myself completely.

We finished the loop, enjoying the views and the non-brutal terrain. It’s amazing how enjoyable a nice mild hike can be. Sometimes I forget.

From Stac Pollaidh, we drove over to the east coast, north of Inverness, to check it out. After all, we were relatively near and had no other plans for the rest of the day. We ended up on The Black Isle, which is neither black, nor an isle. Our end game was Cromarty since it was supposed to be an adorable little town and we needed food.

Unfortunately for us, most of Cromarty shut up shop at 5, which I am sure is quite nice for the locals. Fortunately we managed to find a pub that was open and had a super late lunch / early dinner. After food we had a nice little walk and enjoyed the view on the water. The big drilling platforms were quite disconcerting to me. So massive. So crazy massive. But the rest was quite lovely.

Winding our way through this little town on our way back to Drumnadrochit I spied the ruins of a cathedral. We stopped the car and rushed over to see it. What a strange thing it was. Even after we saw the image of the full Cathedral, the part that remained seemed odd.

Finally made it to our hotel and were quite pleased to see that since it was Saturday, there was live music – guitar, 2 fiddles, accordion and bellows pipes. Fun!

Clickity on the photos to make them full size. There are lots of lovely photos for your enjoyment! 

chris on June 27th 2015 in Travel