Thursday, June 13, 2019

Scotland, Part 2: Isle of Skye

We spent the next couple of days on Isle of Skye and it was spectacular. It was crowded, but we used our strategy for big US national parks and it worked out well: Visit some of the most crowded places while other people are starting to head to dinner.

We started the day at the Fairy Glen in Uig. We got there pretty early, but it was already a challenge to find parking, made more interesting by the fact that the road is a single track with pullouts and is super windy. This actually ended up being good practice for the rest of the trip. We walked around The Fairy Glen for an hour or so. It was really pretty and not terribly crowded while we were there. There were a lot of cars on the road in as we were headed out.
 A very distinguished looking Scottish Blackface Ram
 Looking down from the top of a little butte in The Fairy Glen.
 Bootshot of The Fairy Glen. I took the previous picture from the little butte in the upper middle of this photo (the high point).
 The Fairy Glen by the road.
 We stopped for lunch at a roadside park with a historic site. This cute Cheviot lamb insisted that I take its picture.
 Next, we went to the Museum of Island Life, which was well worth the admission fee. This is an example of a traditional croft with a thatched roof.
 We meandered around the northern part of the island and then made our way down the eastern side of it, which was definitely busier. After a stop at a yarn store, we decided to hike Old Man of Storr. It isn't a long hike, but it definitely gets busy. You can see all of the social trails in this photo. We didn't start until about 4:30 pm, so most people were on their way down.
Old Man Of Storr from above. This was a beautiful hike and we had really great weather except for some gusty wind.
  After our hike, we went to Portree for dinner. At this point, we decided we should try to locate the best sticky toffee pudding in Scotland. The restaurant in Portree couldn't beat the restaurant the previous night in Uig.
 After dinner, we drove back up the east side of Skye to the Quirang, which is a band of dramatic cliffs. On our way up the little road, we saw these Scottish Blackface lambs. They were adorably headbutting each other.
 The Quirang. That is the road winding up the right side of the picture. There are big yellow bins at the top and bottom of the steepest section with "salt and grit." Should you decide to drive the road in the winter, you are welcome to salt the road yourself! It was beautiful up there, but it was so windy that we didn't linger very long.

The next day, we woke up to rain and gloom. We drove west on Skye, found a coffee shop and took a bit to figure out what we wanted to do while eating a pastry. On our way into the shop, we chatted with a young woman from Glasgow who was bike touring on Skye. It made me want to come back with my bike, even with the bad weather.

We ended up going to Dun Beag Broch, which is a Bronze Age ruin of a dwelling and, a little further from the road, a fort.

This is the dwelling (or...broch) from the outside. Definitely a defensible position!
 The inside of the dwelling. It was double-walled and would have had a wooden structure above the stone walls.
From the house, we walked across the valley to the hill in the distance. There is a lump on it that is almost in the center of the photo that is the remains of a fort called Dun Mor.
 The walls of the fort.
 The view from Dun Mor.
 Looking down from the fort towards the broch.
 Scots are very direct about keeping your dog on leash when hiking.
We drove around to the south part of Skye. I wanted to go visit another shop where a woman sells yarn she spins from wool from her own flock of Jacob Sheep. We ate amazing seafood at a little shack by the side of the road. Then, before leaving Skye, we stopped briefly at this coffee shop and at the Talisker Distillery.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Scotland, Part 1 (and a little bit of London)

Michael and I have wanted to go to Scotland for a long time and this year, we finally decided to do it. Uncharacteristically for us, we decided to stay in bed and breakfasts and sightsee, rather than doing a backpacking or cycling trip. We'd do a little bit of hiking, but mostly we were just going to see what we could see.

On our way to Scotland, thanks to British Airways canceling a flight for us, we had an 11 hour layover in London. Neither of us had every been to London before. Although we slept very little on the plane, we decided sleep was for the weak and took the train into town. Our first stop was Buckinham Palace:
 Buckingham Palace.
One of the guards at Buckingham Palace. I will say this: I am used to the crowds that flock to the National Mall here in Washington, DC. This was every bit as crowded as DC is for the Fourth of July.

From there, we walked through St. James Park, which was really pretty. Then we found a fish and chips place for lunch. After lunch, we went to Westminster Abbey. I really, really would have liked to have been able to take a tour of Westminster Abbey, but one look at the line quickly made made me realize that wasn't going to happen.
Westminster Abbey

Then we walked towards the Thames and the Houses of Parliament. Big Ben is being renovated, so it isn't visible at the moment, but the building is still incredibly impressive and ornate.
From here, we got back on the Underground and went to the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge:
 The Tower of London. I was in the middle of listening to a biography of Elizabeth I on this trip, so seeing all of these place and getting some geographical context was pretty cool.
The Tower Bridge

By this time, we were pretty beat and we needed to eat dinner at the airport, so we headed back to Heathrow. We landed late in Inverness and promptly fell into bed in our inn.

On Sunday, we went to the Gordon Castle Highlands Games, which is about an hour east of Inverness. About 15 minutes after picking up our rental car and driving on the left, Michael said, "I can't believe they just hand the keys to Americans without a quiz or something." He spent the first three days reaching for the door handle every time he needed to shift. Somehow we managed to get to Gordon Castle without incident (Michael actually drove very well the entire time we were in Scotland).

We ended up spending the entire day at Gordon Castle. The Highlands Games were very much a Scottish version of a county fair.
 One of the pipe and drum bands performing.
 A few times during the day, the mass pipe and drum band paraded through the Games.
 There was a wide variety of food available, including traditionally smoked fish, which was amazing. I wish I had ordered more than one (seriously!).
 They had the traditional sporting events, including the hammer throw
 and the caber toss.
Another parade of the mass bands. A friend of ours suggested that a highlands games should be on our itinerary and I'm so glad we went to one. It was such a great way to start off our trip.

We spent the night in Inverness and the next day, we drove down the quiet side of Loch Ness and then to Isle of Skye.
 Loch Ness. We had all of our stops on Loch Ness to ourselves. We could hear the tour buses on the highway across the Loch. We did miss getting to go to Urqhart Castle, but I think I'm ok with that.
We did a short hike near Inverfairigaig. Wildflowers were blooming all along the trail.
 Falls of Foyers
 Eilean Donan Castle. We stopped here and walked around outside. It was getting late and we had to continue on to Isle of Skye. It would have been a bit prettier if it had been high tide while we were there.
Sunset from Uig, Isle of Skye. We got to our bed and breakfast and checked in just in time to go get dinner in Uig. More tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

A Short Hike in the Snow and Stars

A couple of weeks ago a group of us ended up hiking from Thornton Gap up to Mary's Rock in Shenandoah National Park. Although the valley was clear and not particularly cold, Skyline Drive was closed due to snow and ice. We must have been quite the sight for the fee station ranger. All of us had come from a memorial service and were dressed for that occasion: dresses, suits, ties, dress shoes, and wool overcoats. We changed in the parking lot and entered a fogged-in winter wonderland of hoar frost, snow and ice. It was beautiful and good to see old friends.

 A little bird on a rock. I don't know my birds, so if anyone knows what it is, feel free to tell me.
 Michael on Mary's Rock
 The clouds lifted for just a little bit while we were on Mary's Rock
 Michael petting a friend's dog.
Hoar frost on some branches.
The trail. We were all glad to have microspikes in some form or another.

This past weekend, we made a failed attempt at seeing the northern lights. It turns out that they weren't visible at all this far south. We were too close to the lights of the metro area anyway and couldn't find a good spot that was particularly dark. I did try some star photography, though. These aren't super clear, for a variety of reasons, but it was a fun first attempt.
 A covered bridge with the lower half of Orion visible just above and to the right of the bridge.
The Big Dipper

Sunday, February 10, 2019

More Brambles and Frozen Waterfalls

In my last post, I wrote about unsuccessfully going out to find the grave of my ancestor who was buried in what is now Shenandoah National Park. We went out again last weekend and, with a bit more (only a bit) information and some luck, we found it!* Now I have to say, I find it all sort of remarkable. I only live out here by chance. I grew up in rural Missouri, where most of my family still lives. I moved out here, by way of Oregon and a number of other places, for a job after graduate school. Other than my cousin, who I mentioned in my last post, I don't really have any family out here. Michael and I spend a lot of time in Shenandoah National Park, both volunteering and for fun, so it is pretty amazing to me that I have this kind of tie to the land in the park.

After my last post, a few people asked me about the history of the park and why there are cemeteries, many unmaintained there. The National Park Service has a bit of the history of the park here (link). Basically, the area was settled for well over 100 years before it became a national park. Also, the excellent podcast, Backstory, did a bit on the history of the park a few years ago (link) that I would highly recommend. It is only a few minutes.

Aaaanyway, after successfully finding the grave, we hiked up the Overall Run Trail, eventually to Overall Run Falls, but we also bushwhacked to another frozen waterfall. The weather was amazing - probably 60 degrees and sunny, which is more than you can ask for in early February. It was one of my more amazing days of hiking.

*Unfortunately, due to the threat of vandalism and theft, I am not posting any pictures of the grave nor the location. If anyone in our family wants more information, I'm happy to talk offline.
 Overall Run. By the afternoon, most of the snow was melted.
 Two cones of ice on the bank of Overall Run.
 Winter Orchid leaves. Likely a Putty Root Orchid. The leaves will die off in the spring and it will send up a stalk of flowers in the summer.
 An interesting fungus on a log.
 A frozen waterfall on a branch above Overall Run. It was hard to get in and get a good picture because the banks were so steep.
Overall Run Falls.