Travel Mascots Part 4

The return of Iain

Several weeks ago, I reported that I had very carelessly lost Iain, my wee travel companion. I surmised that I had perhaps left him on the rooftop of my car while I packed my things or that I had simply left him on the rocks at Salen Jetty.

 

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The last known sighting of Iain

 

While devastated by his loss, I found another travel companion, Iain mac Iain. His black watch kilt and shawl at odds with the Royal Stewart tartan of his “father”. But hey, you have to make do with what you have, and I had a very generous donation of black watch tweed from my Airbnb host in Lewis.

Iain mac Iain was a valiant replacement. Forever seeking out his father, befriending other seemingly lost or abandoned travel mascots, he made it home safely to Australia after spending the better part of a month in Scotland. He had some grand adventures and has appeared in many unknown facebook posts as he was included in other people’s family snaps.

I sought the help of the good people of Salen Jetty. I messaged the shop as soon as I realised he was missing. We stayed in contact and finally the day after I flew back into Australia an Iain- sighting was made on Facebook! True to his armoury loving-self he was found sitting on top of a canon! My Salen Jetty shop contacts were quick to claim on my behalf.

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Now, three weeks after that first sighting he is here with me in Wollongong, Australia having a grand reunion with his dad! After an awkward handshake and a few minutes of small talk, it was man hugs all round!

 

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Dad!

 

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come here, Son!

Thanks to the power of the interwebs and the friendliness of a small community, we have been reunited! If you are ever in Salen Jetty, please drop in on these good folks, tell them you read the story of Iain and thank them on my behalf!

Thank you also to my friends who have joined in on Iain and Iain’s journeys, we’ve had some fun!

 

Walking in the Orkney Islands.

As part of my recent  Scottish Adventure, I booked a 6-day walking tour with About Argyll Walking Holidays. It was all-inclusive except for dinner and drinks. I won’t include details of price or the intinerary here. You can find the most up-to-date information on their own site.

I have written about my experiences with small group tours in some other posts, and I am pleased to report that this was a very positive experience that would suit most people interested in walking, history and wildlife (in particular – birds). This is NOT a rollicking adventure holiday! If you are looking for strenuous walking or wild partying – look elsewhere! If you are looking for pleasant walking in the company of like-minded people with a well-informed guide; then this is the holiday for you.

The walks, for the most part, are gentle and do not extend beyond 10km (6 miles). The terrain, while sometimes uneven and rocky and at other times very close to cliff edges,  was not difficult to traverse. Having said that, you do need to have a reasonable level of fitness if you are going to enjoy it and not slow everyone down. The group I joined was fully booked with 8 people. Two couples and four singles. From the UK, Italy, the US and me the Aussie. Our tour guide Nigel, also from the UK, rounded off the group.

The tour starts at either Glasgow or Aberdeen Railway stations and takes the Northlink Ferry to Kirkwall and back. This first 7-hour ferry ride gives you the opportunity to get to know your fellow travellers quickly. On the way back you get a sleeper cabin.

We stayed at Bellavista, which was a little less than 2 km from the town of Kirkwall. The rooms were comfortable and cosy. The breakfast provided was generous, and the owner, Patsy,  prepared our packed lunch for each walking day. We ate in the restaurants of local hotels except for one night when we had a quick fish and chips before heading off to listen to some traditional Orkney music at The Reel. Nigel sounded out the group on the first night to get an idea of the type of places we would like to eat at and how much we wanted to spend and then booked them on our behalf. We ate dinner as a group and were usually back at the BnB by 10PM each night. I spent around £30-35 on most evening meals which included two courses and two glasses of wine.  We started the day at a very civilised time with breakfast at 8 and departure at 9AM.

The group meshed well with everyone generously sharing stories of their life and times. We were mostly in the same stage of life with grown-up children and grandchildren. I enjoyed chatting with C from Italy, who was keen to improve her already excellent English. We had some fun discussing the various different euphemisms for urinating, and we laughed when we decided that “taking a leak” was preferable to “taking a piss” and “call of nature” was perhaps the most polite! The English and Australians see a “man about a dog” while in the US they “talk to a man about a horse”. Urinating was a topic of conversation because when you’re walking in the middle of nowhere with very few trees and a group of people, you have to talk about it!

The weather was very mixed and unpredictable. We had a combination of sun, rain, fog and wind. You will need to be properly equipped with water-proof clothing and a cover for your backpack. (I fashioned quite a useful one from a sturdy plastic carrier bag! see the header photo) Although our walk was in early July and theoretically summer, I started each day with thermals under my hiking pants, a warm fleece and jacket. I also wore a beanie and scarf for at least part of every day. On two of the days when it warmed up to 22°C,  I stripped down to my undershirt and wished I had not worn the thermal tights. Proper waterproof hiking boots/shoes with good tread are essential as there are several very boggy areas to walk across.

I made these little videos each day using my iPhone and iMovie.

I found this tour to be the most relaxing part of my 5-week holiday. I didn’t have to worry about anything! I could let go of the super vigilant reins I had been holding and let someone else do all the running around. The most taxing element for me was deciding whether to try haggis or not!

 

PS: I did try the haggis – once – that was enough!

 

My Scottish Road Trip comes to an end.

I began this post while I was sitting at Heathrow Airport, waiting to fly back to Australia. I have been home for a few days now, but have only just managed to get time to put something together for Friday’s deadline. I am planning on publishing some more considered posts about my vacation in Scotland over the next few weeks. I had a fabulous time and have so much to share!

–ooo–

The joys(?) of long haul flights

Edinburgh – 09:30

The prospect of being awake and upright for the two days is not a happy one. My Scottish vacation has come to an end, and today is the day to head back to Australia. The journey starts waiting for the (delayed) LNER (London and NorthEast Rail) 10:00 AM Edinburgh-London Express.

Kings Cross Station – 15:30

Five hours later I transferred on foot to the Piccadilly Line for the 55 minute trip to Terminal 4. The carriage is airless and hot, with only an occasional breeze fluttering my hair when the doors open. The number of passengers dwindles as we get closer to the airport and I can feel less guilty about my big suitcase blocking the aisle and my backpack taking up a seat.

 

An action figure in a plush red train seat
Iain rides the train to London

Wednesday: 17:00 GMT – Landside

I had completed a web check-in, but the fellow at the KAL counter (quite rightly) decided that my backpack was too big and bulky to be considered cabin luggage so I need to check it in. On top of that, my rolling suitcase is overweight. I joined the clusters of people scrambling on the floor to publically reorganise my luggage, switching 3 kg from one bag to the other. To be fair, I knew the backpack was too big, and I had planned to try and bluff it. When I left Sydney, I had all the compartments zipped up and strapped down, but with all the bits and pieces I had bought, it was now fully expanded!

Wednesday 17:30 – Landside

Wheeling the luggage-laden trolley into the accessible toilet cubicle, I get changed into warmer clothes and heavier boots. I am desperate to wash my feet after wearing sneakers on the unexpectedly hot Tube ride. I baulk at the notices over the bathroom basins indicating there is a foot wash in the multifaith prayer room next to Gate 9. Many others besides me must have considered washing their feet in these sinks.  I decided to give it a miss. It would have to wait until I had a shower in Seoul. The halfway home point. Until then, I’d have to keep my shoes and socks on!

A second turn at checking-in is successful, and with both the big bags off my hands, I can head to security.

Wednesday 18:15 – Airside

With the frantic flurry of repacking, check-in and security clearance over, I have settled in for the wait, and I’m quietly enjoying a very large glass of Pinot Grigio. I fiddle with my phone and add up the time ahead of me. Another ninety minutes till I can board, twelve hours from London to Seoul, another 11 to Sydney after a four-hour layover in between. Sigh! At least I can have that shower in the Prestige Lounge at Incheon Airport courtesy of my FF points! Perhaps, if there are any vacant lounges in the “relaxation room”, even a blissful lie-down

Next time I travel long haul I am going to consider booking Prestige seriously. Really seriously! Even if only for the final leg home. That last 10 hours; when you are so weary, you will commit a crime for a lie down – that bit.

 

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The last tedious bit: perhaps its Thursday?

I am now one flight down and boarding a smaller plane. The Korean crew welcome me most warmly, and I make my way to my seat. After “the chicken” or “the beef” decision, the lights are dimmed, and people drop off to sleep while I curse the fact that during my frantic luggage re-sort, I left my antihistamines in the other bag and can not rely on them to make me drowsy. A few hours later, I give up trying to sleep and watch five more episodes of the police drama I downloaded to my iPad.

The map on the back of the chair shows a familiar outline of the SE coast of Northern Queensland, and while breakfast is served, we head over the Great Barrier Reef. I’m over Australia, but it’s still 2 hours 55 minutes till we land. Soon the lights of Sydney are blinking in the sunrise, and I’ve got 10 minutes to watch in the final episode! Can’t you go around one more time? Give me ten more minutes till I get to the ‘who-dun-it”? The flight attendant insists I pack it away.

 

a photo of aSydney taken from a plane window at dawn
Sydney comes into view

Another queue to pass through immigration and quarantine. I join the “something to declare” line since I ‘ve been hiking in agricultural areas, but I’m waved through after an explanation of where I’ve been. Yet another wait for the Airport Shuttle and a 90 minute drive to my front door. Thursday has vanished somewhere, lost in changing time zones.

Friday 10:00 AEST

I finally open my front door and sigh with relief that all is as I left it. It’s been 47 hours since I left the Airbnb. My goal now is to stay awake until it’s dark to help combat jet lag.

That’s another seven hours away.

Fill up the kettle, start making the coffee and wish me luck, it’s gonna be at least a 6-cup day!

 

 

Musings on Tourism in Edinburgh.

The interminable bagpipe playing continues unabated as you move from one corner to the other. Some pipers clearly know only one piece. If you stand in the same place long enough you hear them play it again and again. 

National Portrait Gallery

My last stop in Scotland is Edinburgh. I am glad I didn’t come here first,  it would have swayed my opinion of this wonderful place.

The sun is shining down on the people sitting outside one of the authentic Scottish pubs. Authentic, except everyone there is not from Edinburgh. Not even the staff.

Waverly Station

Some of my melancholy may stem from the fact that I fly home tomorrow and my big adventure ends. I think some stems from the fact that this city is in danger of losing itself. Losing itself up the arse of overtourism. I wrote about this in a previous post and here I find myself conflicted again.

St Giles Kirk
National art gallery

I am a tourist.

I am in Edinburgh.

I’m part of the problem. 

There is absolutely no doubt that this is a place to visit. 

The architecture? Sublime! 

The history? Incredibly long and intriguing.

The winding streets and narrow closes (laneways)  a photographer’s delight.

But the people? So many people. Jostling and bustling.

Selfie after selfie. In front of the castle. In front of the Kirk. In front of the shops with the fake wisteria.

Street performance getting ready
Plenty of stairs!

We’ll all have the same photos. I retreated to the Galleries and the breathtakingly magnificent Scottish Museum.

I wish I could have been here 30 years ago. (But with the same digital technology I have now!!) Then,  it would have been truly spectacular!

What do we do? What do we do? There is obviously too much money sloshing around in the collective travel bucket of the world, including my own.  I feel badly for the people who do call this place home. They have lost their city. AirBnB has taken up most the properties nearest the city and people can not find places to live. Their pubs are crowded, their streets noisy. I apologize for the contribution I made.

Next big adventure? Definitely most definitely, has to be in Australia. 

A day on Rousay, Orkney Islands

It was a case of a proverb being lived out in real life. As I stood with the bright hot sun shining on my face, I watched the hay baler wrapping up the cut silage like a spider wraps up a fly. Even from this distance you could hear the black plastic peeling off its spool. 

The liquorice log plopped onto the field and the tractor moved on. In the neighbouring paddock, the slasher was busily mowing down the long stalks of green and leaving them in neat trails behind. A mass of seabirds wheeling above catching any insects that were trying to escape the blades of the tractor. A case of out the blade and into the gulls mouth. 

I had seen this process back in Australia and in Canada and the US. The only differences here were that the bundles left behind were black rather than pink or green and the birds trailing behind were a different species. I surmised the black was to allow greater absorption of heat and hence faster fermentation of the silage.

Same same but different. 

Walking on a little, we moved out of the way of the tractor carrying four bales to the ever growing pile that was up against an enormous stone farm shed. The shed was an impressive structure with a curved roof. Rich farmers I thought to myself.

I was surprised when our guide took us into the shed and we discovered it was filled with another stone building. A much older one. The outer more modern building was there to protect the crumbling ruins from the elements.

The Midhowe Chambered Tomb is surrounded by gantries so you can look down into it rather than walk through it. These types of ruins are in as much peril from scrambling humans as they are from the fierce weather. The interpretive sign gives you context and the deduced purpose of the building. A burial chamber with individual stalls and shelving for the bodies. Twenty five skeletons were removed and taken to XYZ Museum. (Research needed! 😃) Your mind can make a good picture of what it may have been like 5,000 odd years ago.

A few more metres along the shore line is a broch – a circular dwelling with rooms, dividers and built in cupboards! The ancient story continues with a Norse dwelling and a very ruined medieval church.  

“They say if you kick the ground in Orkney, it bleeds archeology”  our walking guide tells us as we look over the trail of ruins behind us.

Ahead, are much more modern buildings, the actual farm sheds and the tents of an active archaeological dig at Swandro . The lead archeologist greeted us at a big sign board which showed an aerial view of the dig. She explained to us in detail, what they were doing and what they had found, before taking us to view the shovel wielding, brush dusting students and volunteers who were doing the actual digging. They too were basking in the lovely sunshine and light breeze. This dig is a race against time because it is right on the beach and is being rapidly eroded. The site is of particular significance because of the metallurgical evidence they have found which shows the Smithy was using zinc. This was well ahead of the expected time frame for zinc use in these parts. Her talk ended with a plea for much needed donations to continue their work.

In the afternoon we walked across a patch of typical Scottish moorland with the heather just beginning to bloom. The boggy ground caused a few slips and falls. The descent brought us back to the ferry wharf, a tea house, Orkney Icecream and a much needed toilet! 

Perhaps because the walk had not been so physically challenging, I decided to push myself by ordering Haggis and Claptrap for dinner at the Ayre Hotel. Claptrap is a mash made from potato and turnip. Haggis, well you know what haggis is. I have a violent aversion to offal but decided to step up to the plate and be a brave old chook! I’m afraid it was a challenge too far. After 3 – 4 mouthfuls the offally flavour became overwhelming and I could go no further. I should be content in the knowledge that at least I gave it a go and it was a one in a lifetime occurrence. 

The Claptrap on the other hand? Quite good!

You’re going to Fraserburgh?’

The opinion of others.

Culloden Moor Inn carpark was full, yet when I walked into the Keppoch Bar there were only two people other than the barmaid. They eyed me warily.  I asked the barmaid if I could get a drink and some food.

“You might be more comfortable in the restaurant?”

“No” I said “I’m happy to sit here in the bar”

The “crowd” relaxed

The older fellow struck up a conversation immediately picking up on my Australian accent. The usual questions. Are you on your own? Where have you been? Where are you going?

“Fraserburgh???” Willy asked “Why yea going there?”

“Don’t hang aboot there too long” the young bike rider quipped as the barmaid chortled.

I laughed nervously, this was the second group of people who suggested Fraserburgh was a less than desirable place to stop. Mutterings about a drug culture and a depressed economy since the end of the fishing.

“Ummmm, It seemed like a good place to stop and … and it’s got a Lighthouse Museum.”

“Och, Aye” with nods that could be interpreted as sympathetic. Had I made a bad choice based solely on geographic location and a museum? Only time would tell.

It was my intention to hug the Moray Coast east (across the flat bit of northern Scotland), turn right at Fraserburgh and drop down to Aberdeen. I discovered that this was called the Coast Trail (east) and it was well signposted. Since being here I have discovered lots of signposted routes. The NC 500 (I knew about that one) but others. The Rock Route, The Pictish Trail, The Castle Trail to name some which all take you to themed points of interest. I followed most of the Rock Route by chance and most of the NC 500.

The drive from Forres to Fraserburgh was grey and wet. The bright colours of the sweet little towns of Buckie, Portessie, Cullen and Findochty muted by the rain. The ocean steely blue and the beaches, dull despite the light coloured sand.

I spent a while at Lossiemouth in the Museum of Fishing and Community. Run by volunteers,  it was small but had some fabulous model boats and quite good archival material if you were looking up family who may have lived in the area. I found the 14th April 1912 issue of the Daily Mirror interesting. The front page news was about the Titanic. The the page 3 banner proclaimed that all passengers were safe!. Goodness! Was that a bit of false news or what? It would take another day to reveal the true story.

As I had arrived in Fraserburgh in the late afternoon, I went directly to the Lighthouse Museum and just managed to join in on the last tour of the day with one other fellow. The guide gave us his undivided attention and it was inspiring  to go right up to the lens room and see how the whole mechanism worked. (Ok, ok so I’m a bit of a nerd in that respect!) The Kinnaird Head Light is built over a castle and therefore has some unique features. It is no longer operational. The museum exhibits have a large collection of beautiful glass lenses which are fun to look through.

As to the rest of Fraserburgh? It was bleak with ALL the buildings made from the same dull grey stone. The dark skies adding to the gloom and things were quieter than the other places I had been too. It had obviously been a prosperous town with its public buildings and monuments reflecting more opulence than it now had.

The large harbour was filled with fishing boats that ranged from tiny dinghys up to huge trawlers.

The lovely host of the AirBnB had recommended the fish market as a place to take good photos, so in the morning I went in search of them. I asked for directions at a cafe and a very hospitable young fellow, Mathew, who works on his dad’s trawler, gave me a private tour of the selling floor, despite the fact he had a cup of tea going cold!

So yes Fraserburgh was bleak, it did seem gloomy but the people I meet added a little sunshine!

Scottish Road Trip – Stage 1 comes to an end.

It’s been 21 days since I flew out of Sydney. I am now in Aberdeen on Scotland’s east coast, listening to the calls of the giant seagulls which  have followed me for the last 2 weeks as I hugged the coast. I covered 1572 miles or 2530 km. I didn’t think Scotland had that many kilometres to do! Criss-crossing along the single track roads has added up.

I have stayed in 11 different AirBnBs, 2 guest houses and one youth hostel. I did 5 ferry crossings, one chartered boat voyage, one overnight train, 3 buses and 1 taxi ride. I  witnessed and gave first aid at one serious road crash. I have lost track of the number of castles and castle ruins I have seen and I have been to 5 museums. I have walked 285 kilometres. I lost one travel mascot and found another.

I am not going to add up how much I have spent, but it’s been a lot!! Things here priced the same “number” but cost twice as much. I mean it might cost $4 in Australia and £4 here, so in effect $8AUD.

I have met some wonderful people and become Facebook friends with one. (AMcL – that’s you!)

My overall impressions of Scotland have been very positive. I have felt comfortable going into pubs on my own and chatting with the locals. I have promised a postcard from Wollongong to Willy at the Culloden Moor Inn. He wants to show it to his mate who has been to Australia at least six times but wasn’t there on the night.

The main topic of conversation revolves around me traveling alone.  

One fellow at the  Red Lion at Forres declaring that it took some balls to travel solo and even he would be too scared to travel in another country alone.

I don’t feel brave. I have said before in another post that I don’t take stupid chances. I am usually tucked up in my room well before dark and don’t lurk in places that seem a bit dodgy. Although, that is sometimes a bit hard in cities you don’t know and you accidentally witness drug deals and prostitute haunts.

I did feel very brave staying in a youth hostel though. A first for me, and I must say I was a bit worried about a number of things:

1. Not being a youth,

2. Sharing a room with four women I didn’t know

3. Bed bugs and

4. The prospect of people throwing their shoes at me because I snore!

It turned out fine. I only chatted with the French lady who was about 10 years younger than me – the three others came in later after I was already in bed and no-one threw shoes at me! I had no red welts in the morning, so it seems my worries may have been unfounded. I sat in the community lounge after dinner editing the day’s photos and watched some other “mature” youths (average age 40) doing a whisky and chocolate taste testing  party and teasing each other unmercifully, after a wreck diving expedition. They invited me to join in. I tested the chocolate but not the whisky!

Given that the youth hostel was less than ½ the price of everywhere else I have stayed it makes good sense to try them out more often. The French lady says she really likes travelling on her own but stays at youth hostels because she can find someone to talk to in the evenings so it was a nice compromise for her.

The next phase of my adventure is with a small group walking tour in the Orkney Islands.

Let’s see how that goes!

Culloden Battlefields Circuit.

I recently did the 14km Culloden Battlefield’s Circuit which included the Culloden Moors, the Culloden Visitors’ Centre, and the Clava Cairns. It’s an easy walk, physically. Flat (for the most part) with made paths that are either gravel, forestry trails or footpaths next to the road. In that respect it’s easy. No physical challenge.

There is, however, some emotional challenge.

Like most of the world, I knew nothing about Culloden or the history of the Scottish people until I watched the first series of Outlander. While it may not be an accurate historical representation, it has certainly piqued the interest of millions, including myself.

On top of that, both sides of my family hale from Scotland. Some of my blood started here. I was drawn to Scotland, by my own history and partly by Outlander. (And to be honest, partly by Neil Oliver, the simmering historian!)

On the 16th April, 1746  the Battle of Culloden happened in this place. Lasting less than an hour, it led to the deaths of 1500 Jacobite men and 50 Red Coats. It was not a battle of Scottish against English. It was not a battle of Protestants against Catholics. It was a battle for Scottish independence and for the personal vanity of a would-be King.

For me, the emotional challenge started at St Mary’s Well, where the Jacobite Troops got their water and where they retreated to after the short-lived battle. The trees around the enclosed well are covered in bits of material. These strips are “wish rags”.

Rags tied with a prayer for healing and good luck.

There are ghosts here. You can feel them. I cursed my crunching boots and squeaking backpack buckles, I needed to be quieter.

“I am sorry” I thought  “Sorry to disturb your rest.”

I don’t know who I was speaking to, but I felt it. Like you sometimes feel the change in air pressure before a storm.

You feel it when you stop to listen. You feel it when you stop to take notice.

People had died here. Badly.

A few kilometres on,  I passed onto the “official” battlefield. I expected more ghosts, but none appeared to me. There were too many living people here. The air was disturbed with the conversations of the now. It was too noisy. The ghosts were hiding, looking for peace. Perhaps if you came back at night, they would be here. If you came back after the buses had gone, after the Visitors’ Centre had closed, perhaps they would be here then.

Even so, without the ghosts, it was a sad, bleak and windy place. No trees, just low shrubs. The wildflowers should have packed up and gone home, because even their bright colours failed to cheer things up.

There may be no ghosts, but my rational self imagined what it must have been like.  I thought “Are there bones under my feet? Am I stepping on someone’s corpse?”

The ground would have been covered in bodies, blood and flies. By the 19th of  April it would have been a stinking quagmire of gore, with human scavengers picking the pockets of the fallen.

The loud laughter of a group of women on a private Outlander tour disturb my imaginings.

Go slowly. People died here.

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The Visitors’ Centre was excellent, a very good balance between entertainment and sorrow. The walk continued for another 8 kilometres or so after the battlefields, well sign posted and level, it remained an easy walk. Along the way, the Clava Cairns take us back to an even more ancient past. Perhaps 4000 years old, these rocks, arranged in slotted rings, take us back much, much further than the battlefields.

There are no ghosts here. The ancients made sure their dead were at rest, unlike those who died on Culloden Moor.

The Cairns are peaceful.

They are just another brown signposted ‘place of interest’  on the road.

This video shows you what to expect on the circuit trail.

I am having all sorts of trouble uploading videos with the mobile version of WordPress! I will post the video on my public Facebook site – Old Chook Enterprises.

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This walk is well worth the time. It took me around 5 hours but that included a good stop at the Visitors’ Centre. I used a map from Viewranger which you can access from the Walking Highlands website (https://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/lochness/culloden-clava.shtml)  but it was very well sign-posted and it would have been possible to do it without the map. I would recommend the Culloden Visitor Centre, although you can walk right on by it if you chose to.

My advice? Walk quietly, listen for the ghosts.