Thursday, July 31, 2014

White Sands in Northern Scotland

Anywhere else in the world, these beaches would be surrounded by hotels. But here in the northern most reaches of mainland UK a series of gem like beaches are desolate of people, the only other inhabitants, sheep and cows grazing on green meadows and restrained by cattle grates across foot paths leading down to the beige-white sand. Perhaps the howling wind and rain keep the crowds away. But those of us who don't mind a hearty display of weather, are treated to stunning views, crashing breakers, soft sand and entire beaches to ourselves.

The beaches are separated by green fields falling away to shear cliffs, a smattering of old houses, a village or two... All of it breathtaking!

Castletown was a center of flagstone excavation over a century ago and we wandered through the old buildings and gardens that still stand tribute to a time when flagstone was a prominent building material.

The beach was entirely made up of flagstone in all sizes, the greyed teal and rust tones similar to the slate in our home! Too bad about the 50 pound weight limit for our luggage...


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Scotland: From Skye to Thurso

Today is a day for shooting across the Highlands from the western islands to the north east point of mainland UK.

A last look over our shoulders at the Isle of Skye and our lovely hosts, Sally and Rob (and their kitty and dog) in the Art House.

We started out along the western coast along a 'highway', in this part of the world... but a one lane track to you and me, with little turnouts or 'Passing Places' every now and then. An hour or so of flying with the 60 mph traffic then coming to a dead stop to let oncoming cars and lorries pass, became a wee bit stressful. So we turned off the scenic route and headed north east across the country along the really big 2 lane road (center line optional) towards Inverness.

By happy chance we landed in Strathpeffer for lunch - a Victorian watering hole and town of stunning architecture.

The center and east coast of the Highlands are beautiful in a completely different way from the west. We passed through fields planted in wheat, castle ruins here and there, sheep farms, peat bogs, wind farms and hundreds of old stone croft houses in various stages of ruin.











Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Under Attack!

Day 4:

The Cuillin Mountains are just a wee (notice the Scottish creeping in!) drive away from our B&B so we thought we'd go on a hike before lunch. With the peaks ahead of us, and a field of heather on the side, we followed the river Sligachan up a beautiful rocky path.

However about 15 minutes in, they attacked! The dreaded midges! Teensy but over-powering because they converge in swarms and take tiny bites out of every exposed surface. And I mean every.

Word to the wise (and speaking from experience!): not a good place to answer nature's call.

Luckily we came prepared and donned our extremely attractive head nets, slathered Avon Skin So Soft all over and (quickly) covered arms, legs and, well... everywhere else. Unfortunately game one still went to the midges. Even dressed like this, my poor son had 31 bites on his face and ears.

Fleeing midge invested territory, we headed for the beach on the Sleat peninsula (rain, wind, hot sun and salt air all seem to keep the midges at bay).

After a lovely pub lunch, we wandered onto the beach and were in beachcomber heaven... Seaglass everywhere!!

I could have stayed on the beach forever but my hubby wanted to press on to the southern tip of Sleat, to soak up the green fingers of land stretching into the sea, castle ruins here and there, more little villages nested in the hills with only a one lane road connecting them to civilization.

We hiked up a (midge free) hill amongst cows and sheep one glorious view upon another.

On our way back down the hill, we ran into a friendly cow farmer who stopped to chat, turns out he has lived in this village for all of his 70+ years and is farming land that has been in his family for over 350 years. Walking away I was left with a profound sense of home, of belonging.


Monday, July 28, 2014

Exploring the Isle of Skye

How can I possibly describe the beauty of Skye? Green peaks rising from deep blue lochs, white houses clustered on hillsides overlooking bays dotted with fishing boats. Mists giving way to shafts of sunlight.

Day 3 in Scotland:

We visited Dunvegan castle (seat of the MacLeod clan) on the western side of the island, missing a clan meeting and visit by Her Royal Princess by 2 days.

Just north of Dunvegan, up a one track road and small hike through the fields we came upon the famous Coral Beach of Claigan, a spot of beach glowing peachy white with bits of dessicated and sun-bleached algae that resemble coral. (Sorry, camera battery died so no photos!)

We swung around to the Capitol of Skye, Portree, for a spot of tea. Then decided to pick up pizza and have a picnic dinner along the tiny road to our B&B.

Isle of Skye is at the 57 parallel with long summer days and since the sun was planning to stay up late, we did too. A drive south to Sleat (pronounced Slate) took us to more picturesque hamlets and some castle ruins, my favorite Castle Knock stronghold of the MacDonald clan.

An aside... Getting to our B&B

Google maps tried its hardest to guide us to our B&B, got us as far as Broadford, and routed us right to the post office (charming red and white post office and craft shop all in one!). By trial and error and a lot of faith we turned onto a tiny one track road (started as a cart path and looks quite a bit like one still). Curving through green hillsides with open views we wound our way past cows and sheep to the Art House B&B in Heaste (pronounced Haste).

Proprietors Sally and Rob delightful, interesting, artistic, beach combers... Can you tell why I booked this B&B months ago?


Sunday, July 27, 2014

Falling in Love with Scotland

Day 2:

The sun escorted us across Loch Ness and to the stunning ruins of Urquart Castle with it's raw stone walls and bits of grass and wild flowers clinging in the crevasses. I'm drawn to ruins, visual testaments of the battle for power and control.

The Scottish mist descended on us soon enough and all the rain gear came out for a lovely little walk to the shores of Loch Luanie.

Eilean Donan Castle rests like a jewel set into the intersection of three Lochs, it's long footbridge lending romance to the stark stone fortress. (The second photo emphasising the sky makes everything delightfully foreboding don't you think?

Then on to the Isle of Skye. Watery inlets and heather covered hills soaring up into peaks, peat stained streams cascading down the hillsides - this breathtaking island is one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen! Photos will come tomorrow when I've had a chance to recharge my camera batteries.

Always on the search for gluten, dairy, egg free pizza - found a winner at Cafesia in Broadford, Isle of Skye! Handmade gluten free crust, the chef tells me it is made from scratch with extra love when the order is placed.



Saturday, July 26, 2014

A Scottish Welcome

Prop plane dipping into green fields, walking across a windswept tarmac, a chatty customs agent, being met by a car rental agent who calls out our name... Where else than the tiny International Airport in Inverness, Scotland?

Deeply jet lagged we navigated the wrong side of the road, at least where there actually were 2 lanes, and found our way on the south side of Loch Ness to Whitebridge Hotel.

Warm sunshine bathed the hills around us - everyone informing us that we had come in on the last day of a heat wave (26C) but assuring us that by morning we would be back to good old Scottish weather.

(View out our hotel window)