The Rock Route

Science Nerd Heaven?

Scotland is an excellent place to get your geology nerdiness happening! The Rock Route, which is part of the Northwest Highlands Geopark, is a great way to see some breathtaking scenery and get a bit of education at the same time.

Rock Route Explainer Board.
The explainer boards point out the major features that you can see in an easy to understand way. Here my photo is overlaid with sections of the board.

For me, a science nerd from way back, the “Rock Route” was a dream come true and discovered almost by accident. I was heading that way anyway and then I saw the purple road signs. It combined my existing road trip, incredible scenery and information all in bite-size chunks!

Rock RouteP1870177

 

With plenty of “explainer boards”, maps and signposts along the way you can trace the tumultuous geological history of the area.  The rocks along the rock route are old, really old and represent the oldest rocks found in Europe. They contain evidence of tectonic movement and the fossils captured in the sedimentary rocks are some of the earliest life forms ever discovered.

 

The Rock Route
It’s easy to see the two layers of different rock in this image. The darker rock, now on top, is older than the lighter one.

To top it off, the North West Highlands was one of the birthplaces of modern geology with Benjamin Peach and John Horne showing how stratigraphy needed to be carefully interpreted because the rock layers on top might not necessarily be the youngest. The accepted idea is that rocks are laid down in layers. The rocks on top are the youngest, the ones underneath are older. However, if the layers become deformed and folded, they can overlay each other, and older rocks might be higher than younger rocks. Geologists look for clues in the types of rocks and fossils to help put the rocks in the right order.

 

 

 

I started the Rock Route in Ullapool and while not stopping at all the highlights was able to get a good feel for the area. I dallied at the Rock Shop in Kylesku (just north of Unapool) and had one of the best toasted cheese and tomato sandwiches I have ever had! The day was a bit bleak outside and the warm cosy shop and museum, a welcome respite.

UNESCO Geoparks

The NorthWest Highlands Geopark is one of the many UNESCO Geoparks.

The UNESCO Geoparks are

“are single, unified geographical areas where sites and landscapes of international geological significance are managed with a holistic concept of protection, education and sustainable development. Their bottom-up approach of combining conservation with sustainable development while involving local communities is becoming increasingly popular. At present, there are 147 UNESCO Global Geoparks in 41 countries.”

Getting to the Rock Route

I don’t think it would be efficient to do the Rock Route any way except by car. This allows you to take your own time, stop where you want and take as long as you like. I did the trip from Ullapool right through to Scrabster in one day covering a  distance of 197 miles  (317 km).  This was made possible through an early start and a late finish, thanks to the long daylight hours!! As stated, the weather was not great, and I did not take in all the highlights or linger long except at Knockan Crag, where I took a walk along the well-marked track and Unapool for lunch.

The best place to start the Rock Route is either Ullapool or Durness. Look out for the signs with a purple Celtic design on the A835 heading out of Ullapool.

Durness Beach - The Rock Route
The end of the Rock Route at Durness.

 

St Kilda, Scotland.

St Kilda Island - Sea Stack

St Kilda Island

I often develop a theme for my travel photography. For instance, when I went to France for my 50th birthday, I took pictures of the numbers from 1 through to 50. In Italy, it was doors. In New York, it was taking photos of photographers taking photos.

My original intention on my vacation to Scotland was to take photos of place names that were the same as places in Australia. I was quickly overwhelmed, with nearly every place name having a twin somewhere in Oz. I would have had to of stopped at every suburb, so I ended up abandoning the idea.

St Kilda is a case in point. In Scotland, it is a tiny remote island in the outer Outer Hebrides. Two and a half hours from Harris (on a relatively speedy boat)  which is already about an hour from mainland Scotland on the ferry. In Australia, it’s a hip inner-city Melbourne suburb. They don’t seem to have a lot in common!

St Kilda is a dual World Heritage site and managed by the National Trust of Scotland. It is listed for both its historical value and its wildlife.  It has a fascinating history. Now abandoned, it was once a small community of only 36 people. These hardy souls were evacuated in 1930 because they had no food and no way of supporting themselves.

These days, St Kilda is a defence base, a tourist destination and a place for scientific research. It’s not easy to get to, so visitor numbers are relatively low, although smaller cruise ships can come into its harbour.

Kilda Cruises

I took a trip out to St Kilda with Kilda Cruises.  Kilda Cruises takes small groups (max 12) out to the island from Leverburg, on Harris Island, a few times a week, depending on the weather. When you book, you need to make allowances for a two-day travel window. If the seas are too rough for travel on one day, you need to be available the next day. If it is still too rough, you will get a refund.

It takes about 2 and ½ hours cruising to get to the island. If you are prone to seasickness, I suggest you stay out on the back deck. Here you will be able to watch the sea birds following the wake and breathe in the fresh sea air. It is, however, noisy, so you may want to consider noise-cancelling headphones.  You may catch sight of puffins diving into the water and coming up with mouthfuls of small, silver fish. You might also be lucky to see some whales or dolphins.

St Kilda

The boat leaves Leverburg at 7:45AM and returns at around 7:30PM. You can get a great cup of tea and a bacon butty at the Butty Bus before you depart. The Kilda crew will drop you off at St Kilda’s little harbour where you will transfer to the island in a small dingy. A ranger from the National Trust will give you a run-down on  the island and its history. After this introduction, you’ll have around 5 hours to explore, walk and take in the scenery on your own.

Swamp Orchid - St Kilda

There is no place to buy food, so you need to take your own food and water for the whole day. There is a toilet in the village, near the museum, but away from there, it is a matter of “hide and squat” behind one of the many stone walls!

On the way back, Kilda Cruises provides a lovely hot cup of tea, cake and a shot of whiskey to warm you up. Even though I went in “summer”, I was dressed in fleece-lined Gortex pants, a Gortex jacket, beanie, gloves and a few other layers! Make sure you wear good shoes and be prepared to step in a lot of sheep shit!

Here is a short (long) video of my day on St Kilda. Sorry about the wind noise! While too late for this post, I now have a proper mic for connecting to the phone to cut out the wind!

 

This video shows some of the histories of the island and is obviously (!!!!) not made by me!

 

My Scottish Vacation Photo Album

The family slide show

When I was a little, I remember family gatherings where we sat at my maternal grandparent’s house to watch the “slide show” of a recently past family event.  It was one of my favourite things to do. At the time, I was more concerned with whether I was actually in any of the shots, rather than any aesthetic quality the photographs may have had.

These days we can publish our photos via so many media; Facebook, Instagram, Stellar, blogs etc., etc. Despite this, I  still always produce a physical photobook of my vacations. I start them as soon as possible after returning so I have the places and events fresh in my mind. For this photobook, I went from over 6000 Raw images down to around 300 processed “artworks”.

The coffee table book

My aim for the photobook is not so much recreate the journey, but rather present the most noteworthy images. It is not a journal as such, but rather a coffee-table book.

You can see the photobook from my Scottish Road Trip here on Yumpu. I was unable to alter the canvas size, so there is a section of white space above and below what are sometimes meant to be full-page images. This is a bit distracting, but I don’t know how to fix it. Let me know what you think.

The actual book itself is 17 x 12 inches with a hardcover and  186 pages. I chose eggshell matte paper. For the past 10 years, I have used Photobook Australia, which I find excellent value for money. (I am not affiliated with Photobook Australia in any way)

 

 

 

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.

 

IMG_8220
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.

IMG_0239

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!

 

IMG_0309 2
Dad!

 

IMG_0312 2
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.

 

IMG_0229

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!