We booked a week in a holiday cottage on the south shore of Loch Sunart. This is an area of the west coast of Scotland we haven’t really explored before. Years ago we drove through part of this area to catch the ferry to the Isle of Mull, but it warranted a longer stay, especially as it has one of the highest populations of otters!
Our cottage was called Camus na h-Airdhe, one of a few cottages owned by the Laudale Estate. The cottage looks out on Loch Sunart and from our french door windows we saw a small pod of dolphins, an otter, a pine marten, lots of heron, a raven and lots of smaller birds…oh and some amazing rainbows. We also saw some deer and lots of seals.
It rained most, if not all, days! Unfortunately the west coast of Scotland does seem to get the tail ends of the hurricanes and storms that travel across from the Caribbean and Florida areas, thanks to the North Atlantic jet stream. Even our supposedly waterproof Gore-Tex over-trousers and jackets couldn’t hold back the rain on one of the days, but we didn’t allow it to spoil our holiday and it made lighting the wood burning stove in the evenings even nicer.
Enough waffle, onto some pictures.
Our cottage is shown in the first picture, albeit a bit dark as the sun was going down.
A family picture at the Lighthouse which is on the most Westerly Point of Mainland UK! I think we’d always thought Cornwall, on the southwest coast of England, would have the most westerly point, but nope it is in Scotland and here we are wrapped up and trying not to blow away! (We now just have the most easterly point to do and we will have done them all.) The beach was one we stopped off at on the drive back and I couldn’t resist posting a photo of Ylva’s sandy nose!
Not much done…in fact nothing on my YOP list, but I have expanded my stash, which was definitely not on my ‘to do list’ oops!
But whilst in Orkney for a week, you HAVE to buy some wool from the rare North Ronaldsay sheep, which eat the seaweed on the coast of North Ronaldsay and Isle of Auskerry, which are the only 2 places they live. So when I say ‘some wool’, what I mean is…
Enough undyed wool to knit a jumper (6 balls in Seal Grey and 1 in Slate Grey)
Enough dyed wool to add some interest to the jumper or for accessories
Enough fibre (in 3 different natural colours) to spin goodness knows how much more yarn
some silk hankies and silk in colours that will go on the scarf I am going to make for my sister’s 50th birthday (hand dyed on Orkney)
And while I’m at it I may as well buy 200g of sari silk because it was too beautiful and reasonably priced not to..despite having nothing to do with Orkney!!!
Anyway, I did manage to knit a bit of my 3rd hitchhiker scarf, using home spun yarn and did some spinning of one of my first dyeing efforts.
If you are interested in seeing some pictures of Orkney, please check out my Week in Orkney post.
The Orkney Isles are located off the North Coast of Scotland. Some of its Isles can clearly be seen from the North Coast, like at John O’Groats, where cyclists set off to (or arrive from) Lands End (on the South Coast of England). For more than 10 years we have looked across and said ‘we must go there one day’…Orkney I mean…never have we thought we must cycle to Lands End 😉
With our reduced income we are exploring more of Scotland with our dog and our tent. So, finally, we booked ourselves on a week long trip to Orkney.
We based ourselves at The Orkney Caravan Park in Kirkwall. A great location as we can easily walk into the town centre, its close to 3 supermarkets and its a lovely campground with lots of ‘extras’, like a campers kitchen with everything but an oven (so microwave, toaster, kettle, fridge, freezer etc.). Its shower cubicles have sinks and toilets within, plus spare sink and toilet cubicles. It is next to the leisure centre and you even get 2 free passes if you want to go swimming or play racket sports.
Kirkwall is the capital of the Orkney Isles and is on the Mainland. There are various ferry ports across the Mainland giving you access to some of the other Isles:
from Kirkwall you can sail to the isles of Stronsay, Eday, Sanday, Westray and Papa Westray
from Stromness you can sail to the isles of Graemsay and Hoy
from Tingwall you can sail to the isles of Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre
from Houton you can sail to the isles of Flotta, Hoy, South Walls (there’s also a causeway from Hoy to South Walls)
there is also a causeway you can drive across to Land Holm, Burray and South Ronaldsay
So The Mainland seemed ideal to base ourselves for the week. The most northerly isles are not feasible to do in a day, but we hoped to add to our list of Scottish Islands visited.
With the North Sea to the East and the Atlantic Ocean to the West the crossing was a wee bit choppier than we experienced visiting the Inner and Outer Hebrides Isles. Our steward at the campground said the West side usually has the best weather, so if we encounter rain head West.
Anyway, that’s more words than I usually write, so I’ll get to the pictures!
Capital of Orkney, population 10,000. Lots of 17th and 18th Century houses.
St. Magnus Cathedral
The most northerly cathedral in Britain. Romanesque architecture, built in 1137 and additions made over the next 300 years. It was built for the bishops of Orkney when the Isles were ruled by Norse Earls.
The Bishop’s Palace built in the 12th Century and the Earl’s Palace built in 1607.
Notice the side street called ‘Khyber Pass’!
Ring of Brodgar
A neolithic henge erected between 2500 BC and 2000 BC! A UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Standing Stones of Stenness
A neolithic henge, erected ~3100 BC…wiki says this could be the oldest henge in the UK!
Scara Brae and Skaill House
Scara Brae is a village (well 8 houses) which pre-dates the pyramids of Giza and Stonehenge, occupied 3180 BC to 2500 BC. A UNESCO World Heritage Site. Skaill House was built in 1620.
East coast facing west!
Mull Head Nature Reserve and The Gloup (sea arch)
The 2nd picture on the left is Auskerry Island, where the wool I have bought comes from. They are the only other place to have the North Ronaldsay sea weed eating sheep. There’s just one family on the island. Gloup derives from Old Norse ‘gluppa’, meaning chasm, it is a collapsed sea cave.
There are some very interesting information boards here, which explain how this used to be part of a lake (below the equator!) millions of years ago and some of the cliffs were sanddunes on the edge of the lake! That’s my husband and our dog on the top left picture.
Brough of Birsay
This is an uninhabited tidal island. The 3rd image is of a settlement, originally Christian (6th Century), then a Pictish settlement (7th-8th Century) and finally Norsemen (i.e. Vikings 9th Century). The beach is full of beautiful shells, as shown in the bottom picture.
A miniature Isle which is home to the Italian Chapel. The chapel was built during World War II by Italian prisoners of war, who were there to construct the Churchill Barriers.
Glimpse Holm and the Churchill Barriers
Tomb of the Eagles
No photos inside the tomb, but we did crawl in. 16,000 human bones and 725 bird bones were found here. The tomb dates back to 3500-2000 BC.
Isle of Shapinsay
Balfour is the only village on the Isle of Shapinsay. Balfour Castle, its gatehouse and douche, privately owned unfortunately…well not for the owners but for visitors to the Island. RSPB Mill Dam site had lots of birds to spot from the bird hide above the loch. The Smithy tea room had the best Orkney Fudge Cheesecake and ginger bread…so good we bought more cake to go! We went on the ferry as foot passengers and it worked out a great half day trip.
So to sum up our Orkney holiday…we really enjoyed the Mainland, so much so we only ended up doing one ferry trip to another isle, but we did explore all the ones joined by causeways. We were blessed with the weather really, it rained some nights but days were mostly beautiful sunshine. We visited lots of bird hides and spotted some new birds we haven’t seen before. We ate loads of cakes! Goodness knows what the scales will say when we are home! Lots of places were dog friendly and the cafes that weren’t had picnic tables outside if you could cope with the wind! Allistar did lose a bit of lettuce off his plate outside the Orkney Brewery.
I wouldn’t say that history is really my thing…but I am interested in the Vikings and the Norse history of these Isles. I think we will likely come back and stay on one of the more northern isles, but we think we will rent a cottage and not camp next time. We slept fine, but as I write this, on our last evening, it is blowing a hoolie and we are in a sheltered spot in the town!
My life was consumed with working hard and very long hours to earn money for a few weeks a year of international travel. We went to many fabulous and breathtaking places around the world including Hawaii, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Costa Rica, Australia, various US states and parts of Italy. I also travelled to Peru and Bolivia for 31 days as a mix of holiday and unpaid leave (Follow links to see photo highlights). And so I thought my blog was turning into a travel blog…
At the end of 2016 I started to burnout and lose control of my mind, I wasn’t coping at work despite (or perhaps because I was) working almost every waking hour and not making enough progress to satisfy my own high standards. By early 2017 I was a jibbering wreck, unable to stop crying all the time and was eventually signed off with anxiety and depression. When my sick pay ran out I couldn’t face returning to work, stressed at the thought and afraid that my resilience was too weak and I would return to old habits of working every hour and so I requested a 12 month sabbatical (unpaid leave). So I am due to return in September, unless I resign.
My new life…
Whilst off work I have started doing more craft type things, I have wet felted a hat and a handbag learned how to knit, made some sea glass jewellery, bought a spinning wheel and I’m now learning how to spin. We bought a tent last autumn and instead of international travel we have been exploring the North of Scotland and some of its many Isles either with the tent or renting small cottages.
I have been blown away by the scenery that we have seen…and with my calmer mindset I can actually be present and fully enjoy being in the moment and after walking 20k steps enjoy an evening sitting in our tent with my husband and dog and knitting another hitchhiker scarf! Scotland has white sandy beaches and turquoise water, okay you need to wear layers, not a bikini…but then you often get a beach to yourselves!
We headed to Skye for a week to celebrate our 10th Wedding Anniversary. I first came to Skye on our 1st Anniversary and we have been many times since, but usually just for 1 night and so we wanted to stay longer to explore areas we haven’t seen yet. On our first full day we headed to the North West, beyond Dunvegan Castle and up to see Coral Beach. We were up and out early, so fortunate to be the first ones there, although there were others shortly behind us. The walk to the beach is only 1 mile each way, we walked a little further around the coast and saw an eagle perched on a rock. We could also see some seals across the water on a tiny island.
The weather was my idea of perfect, cold enough to need a hat and scarf (made by me!) but sunny and blue skies.
We stopped for our picnic lunch at Dunvegan Pier, and then drove to the Duirinish area and explored the peninsula and walked to Neist Point lighthouse. This is a tougher walk, it was fine heading out to see the lighthouse but goodness climbing back up was taking my breath! I say this but a guy walked past us and climbed all the stairs and was then chatting to an elderly couple and he wasn’t out of breath at all…clearly I am not very fit. On our way back we saw a herd of deer. The only thing missing was sight of an otter…but we have the rest of the week to keep searching for one.
I kept saying to my husband, shall we retire here? He replied that if it rains the rest of the week I won’t be thinking that. But on a sunny day Skye really is hard to beat.
A brilliant tour and really interesting guide. I was picked up at my hotel in Miraflores and driven into the centre of Lima. First stop was the St. Franciscan Monastery for a look around the church, the museum and the catacombs. Yep those are bones through the grate, people should not throw money down there apparently.
Walking around Lima on such a beautiful sunny day you really do get to see it at its best. The bar is allegedly the oldest in South America…Hemingway is said to have been here. The green building is the old station which also is apparently the oldest in South America. I am going on what the guide told me, but haven’t verified anything.
The main square has a nice atmosphere and we felt very safe.
Changing of the guard at the Presidential Palace being watched by some tourists, locals and a couple of nuns.
The tour was 3.5 hours and I really enjoyed it. It wasn’t too far to walk, our guide bought us an ice cream which was appreciated as it was a very hot day. We learnt lots about the history of all the palaces and the gruesome stories about the catacombs and all the bones and skulls in there. There was also a really interesting story about a painting of the last supper that was in the museum…the artist was hung because of what he painted and he had said that Jesus was homosexual. Edwin was so enthusiastic and interested in history, architecture and art. We were a small group of just me and another couple, so for $36 I thought it was well worth it and would recommend to anyone.
I had seen a suggested day trip to Vienna from Bratislava on Tripadvisor but discovered the night before our journey, that the train station it suggested you arrive at, in Vienna, no longer exists!!
So instead we made some slight changes and caught the 8.43 train from Hlavne Stancia (Main Rail Station) to Wien Hauptbahnhof Hpf (Vienna) €14 return. The journey takes about an hour and you pass mile upon mile of farmland and fields. We had our ticket checked by a Slovakian conductor and when we entered Austria we then had it checked by an Austrian conductor. Having understood nothing that people had been saying to us for a few days it was refreshing to then hear some German which I have limited but some knowledge of.
At Wien Hpf we bought a Shoppers underground railcard, €6.10, that is active from 8am-8pm. Don’t forget to validate your ticket before you board the first train, after that you don’t need to do anything but make sure you have it on you.
From Hpf we took the underground to Schönbrunn to see Schönbrunn Palace. The Palace is opposite the underground station which is great and was easy enough to find, this is not a small palace! There are a number of different ticketing options and we opted for the Imperial Tour €12.90. You are given a time slot for your visit, ours was 2 hours ahead, so we had apple strudel and a hot drink in the garden and then wandered around the Christmas market.
The time soon went by and we didn’t even get as far as looking at the gardens. We paid 50c each to go to the toilet and when we got back to the hotel found we had been given a voucher for a free visit (it must have come with our food!) Ah well! I would recommend you go inside the palace a bit before your time slot so you can drop off any big bags and join the queue.
After the tour we headed to Herrengasse station on the underground and were lucky to book the last 2 slots on the 5pm English language tour at the Spanische Hofreitschule (Spanish Riding School).
This meant we had a few hours to tour the shops and we bought a late lunch at Nordsee which sells nice salmon with wild rice, potatoes or vegetables, among other seafood and fish options. The shopping streets of Vienna are so pretty.
The Spanish horses and riders have Monday’s off, but on the tour you can see the horses in their stables. The other days they have morning practice sessions you can watch but I imagine you need to book well in advance.
After the tour of the Stables we headed to Philharmonikerstrasse (which was quite a challenge to find). Here you will find the Hotel Sacher which has Cafe Mozart attached. Considering it is quite famous we were seated almost immediately, but it was very busy. I did try the Sachertorte (chocolate & apricot jam cake) which to be honest I found a bit dry and heavy (it was also lacking the mirror glaze I thought it was famous for). Their other cakes looked delicious, but felt I should give it a go.
We then walked to Stephansdom (St. Stephen’s Cathedral) and could just make out the spire in the fog. There are lots of people trying to get you to see a concert, but we just didn’t have time. It was then time for is to head back to Hpf station and catch the train to Bratislava.
Our train on the way back was an old fashioned one, with a corridor against one window and lots of little cabins that seated 6. No-one checked our ticket for Austria or Slovakia which was weird.
Considering how much cheaper it is to fly to and stay in Bratislava, this is a much cheaper way of seeing Vienna.