HAGGiS Adventures Compass Buster Tour: Day 8 – Hiking the Old Man of Storr

After enjoying our lunch in Portree, we were off to explore more of Skye on Day 8 of our Compass Buster tour!

First up was a stop at the village of Sligachan – a good spot for viewing and exploring the Cuillins.

This is River Sligachan. Legend has it that if you dip your face into the waters of the Sligachan, you will be granted eternal beauty. The important point is that you cannot just splash the water onto your face, you must get on your hands and feet to dip your face into the magical waters.

We scrambled down the rocky riverbank to have a look at this legendary river.

Even though we didn’t dip our faces into the waters, we did get some lovely photographs of the picturesque Sligachan bridge from this vantage point.

After some of our group attained “eternal beauty”, we piled back onto the bus headed for a wee hike!

Our destination? The Old Man of Storr.

Before heading out, we were told that we only had a limited amount of time here and that we had better hike fast if we wanted to make it to the top and back in time. We had been so used to taking our time, enjoying the scenery and exploring with Andy and Greg, that this was a surprise to us! We were also used to having Andy and Greg leading our group on these walks and sharing tidbits of what we were seeing, the legends, myths and history with us. But this would not be the case today as we were sent off on our own for the walk with a stern warning to come back on time!

So with that warning, we ran out of the bus and started up the trail.

Even just a couple minutes up the trail, we were afforded this beautiful view!

We did have quite a ways to go! 😥

The weather was forever changing – with a mix of blue skies and then dark, angry looking clouds rolling in! We were just glad it didn’t rain – as we heard that it can get quite muddy and slippery in the rain.

Looks a bit different in a different light!

Still a long ways to go!

The dark clouds created some lovely shadows and lent a moody atmosphere to these photos – completely different from the ones bathed in sunshine and blue skies! We promise all of these photographs were taken on the same day!

Even way up here, we made an animal friend!

Here we are – getting closer to the Old Man of Storr.

There are many myths and legends surrounding the Old Man of Storr. Some say this is actually the thumb and fingers of a giant who died here. Another legend tells of a man and his wife who were running away from some giants. As they ran, they looked back at the giants and were instantly turned to stone. Yet another tale tells of a man who died of a broken heart following the death of his wife. This man had a friend in a Brownie – a mythical creature. And when the Brownie heard of his friend’s death, he carved out the man and his beloved wife here as a tribute. I’m sure if we asked all the locals of the surrounding area, they would each have their own version of the tale!

We made it!

Taking it a bit further, I scrambled up the rocks to get closer…

At this time, we had to make a decision… We wanted to keep going to what we were told was a spot to view the Old Man of Storr from another vantage point, but fearing that we wouldn’t make it back to the bus in time, we decided to play it safe and head back down. We didn’t want to get left behind! 😓

After seeing the photographs that our group mates took – looking across at the Old Man of Storr, I think we will have to come back to Skye so we can complete the hike!

~~~~~

Once we were all back on the bus, we headed off to our home for the night – Saucy Mary’s Lodge.

Ah Saucy Mary… Legend has it that a Norwegian princess named Mary lived around here, near present-day Castle Moil, with her husband who was a clan chief. She charged a toll to all ships for the right to pass through the narrow channel between the Mainland and Skye. She would then thank them for paying the toll by flashing the ships as they passed through – thus earning her the name of Saucy Mary.

What a gorgeous view of the sunset and Skye Bridge from the hostel – just breathtaking!

We reheated a quick microwave dinner and relaxed in the kitchen with some cider. Great way to chill and recap the day.

We headed down to the bar for some drinks after dinner. There was music, chats, jokes and we even met a guy who had apparently been wandering the wilds of Skye before being invited to stay at the hostel. We were so busy chatting and laughing away that we didn’t even realize when the bar closed. We only noticed when staff started putting the stools up and sweeping the floors… oops!

We were going to head off for some beauty rest (seeing as we didn’t dip our faces into the Sligachan, so didn’t gain eternal beauty 🤣), but our OG 10 Day squad was going to follow some of the guides/hostel staff to another bar and convinced us to go. Unfortunately, or fortunately, our OG group got left behind at the hostel – so we found a little lounge area and continued chatting, swapping stories and reliving memories from earlier in the trip. What a great night with these guys! (Even though we were confronted with the infamous beach incident again – Guys, honest we didn’t mean anything by our seating arrangements that day!) We were still smiling to ourselves as we wandered up to get some sleep.

Next up? Day 9 and a special day that we had been looking forward to since we booked the trip. This is the day we head to Hogwarts!!! (I knew I would get that Hogwarts letter one day!)

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

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© Letters of Wanderlust, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of any written material and/or photographs without express and written permission from this site’s authors is strictly prohibited. Please get in touch if you would like to republish any of our materials or if you would like to work on a project together!

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HAGGiS Adventures Compass Buster Tour: Day 8 – Of Trees, Castles and Skye!

We woke up bright and early on Day 8 of our Compass Buster tour. We wandered outside and saw that a huge bus was awaiting us. We would no longer be traveling in our cozy wee yellow bus. Instead we were herded onto a packed, “your-typical-guided-tour” tourbus 😔 This time, we had a driver and a tourguide, instead of the driver-guide that we had for the first 7 days of our trip. With the music blasting (Walking on the Waves by Skipinnish – love!), we were off.

The Scottish Highlands are truly beautiful – with the mist, the mountains, the valleys and rivers coming together to create this spectacular scenery.


Our first stop was the HAGGiS grove in Glen Moriston. While this may not be a well-known attraction, it was a meaningful one.

We learned that thousands of years ago, the Highlands of Scotland was covered with native woodlands. Unfortunately through the years, human activities (humans are the worst!) have led to significant deforestation. Currently it is said that less than 1% of the original forests exist.

So HAGGiS Adventures has teamed up with Trees for Life UK to help restore the Caledonian Forest through their Stay Wild project. This project encourages passengers to support Trees for Life. And some trips, like ours, even have the opportunity to visit the HAGGiS grove and plant some saplings.

Once our bus was parked, we scrambled over some rocks and fences and walked a short distance to our tree planting site. There, we were met by a forest ranger who told us more about the factors leading to the loss of the Caledonian Forest, the Trees for Life UK organization and their goal of restoring the native trees and habitat. I thought this was a really inspiring and worthwhile cause and it was really neat knowing that we would be planting some saplings today which would become part of the forest here! Imagine coming back here in 20 years to see how our saplings fared!

Once our little saplings were safely in the ground, we waved them goodbye and headed back to the bus.

~~~~~

Our next stop was actually a site that we had already visited earlier on Day 4 – Eileen Donan Castle. I think our group would have appreciated visiting something that we hadn’t already seen, but seeing as some of our new group mates hadn’t been here yet, a stop at this iconic castle was up next!


We were glad to have another chance to see Eilean Donan – because this time, it was sunny! And we got to see the castle in a different light.

A piper photographed with the one of the most iconic Scottish castles in the background – perfection!

Because we had already visited the inside of Eilean Donan Castle, we spent our allotted time here trying to capture the castle from different angles!

After finding our tour bus in the busy parking lot (much harder to find this bus compared to our bright wild and sexy yellow midi-bus!), we piled back onto the big blue bus.

~~~~~

Our next stop was another repeat – the charming village Portree on the Isle of Skye. This time we were just stopping for a quick lunch.


We went down to the little harbour and grabbed some fish and chips. We had a lovely lunch by the water – despite having to defend our lunch from the aggressive seagulls!

Lunch with a side of this view was just amazing!

Amazing panorama!

Next up? A hike up to one of Skye’s most famous attraction! (Note the upgrade to a hike, instead of a wee walk 😥🤣) Check back soon for our next post!

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

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© Letters of Wanderlust, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of any written material and/or photographs without express and written permission from this site’s authors is strictly prohibited. Please get in touch if you would like to republish any of our materials or if you would like to work on a project together!

HAGGiS Adventures Compass Buster Tour: Day 7 – Searching for Nessie!

After our wee walk around Invermoriston, it was off to Loch Ness for some monster spotting to end off Day 7 of our Compass Buster tour! 🐉

With or without Nessie, Loch Ness is famous in its own right. Loch Ness is the second largest loch in Scotland by surface area and the second deepest. This freshwater loch is the largest by volume and contains more water than all of the rivers and lakes in England and Wales combined!

Besides being an incredible body of water, Loch Ness is also surrounded by the spectacular scenery of the Scottish Highlands. There are beautiful little villages on its shores – like Drumnadrochit, Fort Augustus (our home for tonight), Foyers and Invermoriston. There is even the beautiful Urquhart Castle on its Western shore. Even without Nessie, all of that would be enough to convince me to visit!

Because we arrived here towards the end of the day, we had this view pretty much all to ourselves!

The weather was forever changing… When we first arrived, it was a bit cloudy. Then the clouds parted slightly and we were bathed in the rays of the setting sun.

Can you see that the water of Loch Ness is not crystal clear – but a bit murky? That is due to the high concentration of peat particles in the water. It is said that visibility in the loch is only 4 inches. We didn’t jump in to test this fact – so we can only assume this is true!

Murky waters might be a reason why it is so difficult to get a clear photograph of Nessie!

We did try to look for Nessie, but I think she was being shy today! I like to imagine her popping her head out of that wave in the middle of this photograph.

Nessie is indeed a famous Scot – with hundreds of thousands of searches on google each month. The first recorded sighting was in 565AD, where St. Columba supposedly encountered a water beast and banished it into the waters of River Ness. In more modern times, thousands of people claimed to have seen Nessie, with some providing photographic “evidence”.

There she is! This is evidence enough, eh?

Many of these have now been proven false, yet Nessie continues to capture our imagination. Various searches and investigations using modern day technology have been conducted and the scientific community is leaning towards Nessie being a myth. But then again, you never know – Nessie might just be very good at hiding. Or there are also whisperings that she can move between lochs and rivers and even that she can teleport to different bodies of water around the world! Perhaps Nessie is friends with our own Ogopogo – who supposedly lives in Okanagan Lake a couple hours drive from us! Who knows 😉🤔

She’s not behind me, is she?!

Walking back from the edge of Loch Ness, we came upon the Canal.

Loch Ness is part of the Caledonian Canal – a series of 29 locks spanning the 60 miles along the Great Glen between Inverness with Fort William. This canal system crosses the entire span of the Scottish Highlands and provides a way to get from the East to the West coast of Scotland. Nowadays, you can explore the Caledonian Canal by boat, canoe, bike or on foot!

For more on how you can explore the Canal, check out this website here. I think this would be a really unique trip and it would be a great opportunity see the beauty of the Scottish Highlands and to see this engineering marvel.

The Caledonian Canal was engineered by the famed Scottish enginner Thomas Telford – the same man behind the old Telford bridge that we visited earlier in the day. Telford’s work took him to England, Wales and even to Sweden, where he oversaw the construction of the Göta kanal – sister canal of the Caledoninan Canal. Although his work took him to places far and wide, he never forgot where he came from. He undertook lots of projects in Scotland – from bridges to churches to entire towns. He also took on the task of making communications and travel throughout Scotland easier by building miles and miles of roads in his home country. I’m sure within our 10 days exploring Scotland, we must have traveled on one of his roads. Check out this Visit Scotland post on Telford’s top 10 greatest Scottish Constructions!

Although we only got a glimpse at one section of the Canal, we were impressed at how something built in the early 1800’s is still functional almost 200 years later!

~~~~~

Having had a full day of adventures and exploring, we were on our way to our home for the night – Morag’s Lodge. This hostel had cozy rooms, homecooked dinners available for purchase, a large communal dining area, a bar and tartan throughout its building!

When we sat down for dinner, we noticed another large group of people with the yellow Haggis Adventures wristband. This was when we realized another change in tour group and tour guide was coming tomorrow… 😔 Part of our group would be returning to Edinburgh with Andy and the rest of us would be joining another group to finish off our 10 day tour. It wasn’t off to a good start when our new group mates were already insisting that they had reserved certain seats on the bus and would not be allowing anyone else to sit in those spots… We decided to worry about them tomorrow and just enjoy tonight!

After dinner, we wandered over to the bar. Our OG 10 day squad (❤) would be continuing on together but a couple of our new friends would be leaving us tomorrow. (Don’t worry – we would all be reunited in Edinburgh in a couple of days!) So it was time for some drinks, chats, some live music and dancing to cap off our time together!

Some time in the evening, a loch monster costume was brought out, along with a chest of tartan fabric. Andy helped all of us to fashion our own traditional Scottish wear – kilts for the guys and a kind of “earasaid” for us girls.

We loved it!

We came to Scotland prepared for a night like this. And tonight was the perfect night to break out these socks and matching red flats to finish off our outfits!

Modelling the latest in tartan with our dear friends D and M!

Whilst wandering the halls of the hostel, we can across this poster – which quickly became a favourite 😉🙄😍

We ended off our night stargazing outside – chatting with our friends, wrapped in our tartan and gazing at the Milky Way. It doesn’t get any better than that 💙

Day 8 is next – stay tuned!

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

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© Letters of Wanderlust, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of any written material and/or photographs without express and written permission from this site’s authors is strictly prohibited. Please get in touch if you would like to republish any of our materials or if you would like to work on a project together!

HAGGiS Adventures Compass Buster Tour: Day 7 – Chasing Waterfalls and Bridges at Invermoriston

After a bit of castle spotting, it was time for another wee walk! Yes, Day 7 of our Compass Buster tour was not over just yet! This day would be full of little stops to break up our 6+ hours bus journey from Orkney to Fort Augustus. We were grateful for each one of those stops – which allowed us to get out of the bus, stretch our legs and see more of beautiful Scotland!

This wee walk took us to Invermoriston, a village a short distance from our home for tonight. We hopped out of our wee yellow bus and went exploring!

River Moriston and the new bridge

One highlight in the area is the Invermoriston Falls. And so we were off  to chase waterfalls 😉

As we walked through the forest towards the falls, we came upon the Summer House. This little stone building is perched on a rocky outcropping above the River Moriston.

From its windows, you can see the rushing water of the falls and two famous bridges. This summer house is a great spot to photograph the falls from downriver.

Can you spot the arches of the two bridges in the background?

After seeing the falls from the Summer House, we walked further into the woods. This walk, with the trees, the mist and the smell of nature, reminded us of home – our Pacific temperate rainforest 🍃🍁

There were huge trees that were completely uprooted!

And tree roots that are partly exposed and beautifully twisted by Mother Nature.

After walking through the forest, we headed off to see the famous bridge – the old Telford bridge crossing River Moriston.

Thomas Telford was a famed Scottish engineer. Throughout his career, he designed and built a vast number of bridges and roads, various canals and 32 Telford Churches . I first heard Telford’s name and the term “Telford Church” watching an episode of The Restoration Man. The episode was about an art professor who bought a listed Telford Parliamentary Church on Berneray in the Outer Hebrides. He and his wife transformed the dilapidated church into a beautiful, modern home and arts studio. Although we did not get a chance to visit Berneray on this trip, we did get to see and cross this Telford Bridge in person!

Built in 1813, this stone bridge has started to show signs of wear and tear. And in 1933, a new bridge was constructed to provide another crossing over River Moriston.

Standing on the new bridge, you can look back down the falls at the Summer House perched neatly on its rocky platform.

After visiting the falls, the bridges, the trees and sufficiently stretching our feet, we headed back to our bus.

Next up? Monster spotting! 🐉

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

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© Letters of Wanderlust, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of any written material and/or photographs without express and written permission from this site’s authors is strictly prohibited. Please get in touch if you would like to republish any of our materials or if you would like to work on a project together!

HAGGiS Adventures Compass Buster Tour: Day 7 – Urquhart Castle 

As we headed south towards our final destination for Day 7 of our Compass Buster tour, we stopped by for a quick look at the ruins of a famous Scottish castle – Urquhart Castle.

With the dark clouds and the low mist, the forests around here looked hauntingly beautiful that day.

Urquhart Castle is located on a promontory looking out over Loch Ness. So it makes for a nice trip to visit Urquhart Castle, Loch Ness and Invermoriston (more on those later!) all in one go!

Our first glimpse at the world famous Loch Ness!

Although we didn’t get the chance to go inside and explore the ruins of Urquhart Castle on this trip, we did manage to peer through some greenery for a glimpse.

Urquhart Castle has a rich history, from being a Pictish site to the struggle between the English and Scots. It is said that St. Columba may have set foot here and even encountered a monster in the loch! (Nessie?! 🐉 Is that you?)

Urquhart Castle has had a tumultuous past – being passed back and forth between English and Scottish control and also being raided by feuding Clans. Eventually the castle passed onto Clan Grant. They then constructed Grant Tower, which still stands as the tallest part of the castle and reportedly has walls that are up to 3 meters thick! Unfortunately the Grants’ hold on Urquhart Castle would not last. With the Jacobite risings, government forces were stationed at the castle and when they departed, they blew it up so that it could no longer be used by the Jacobites.

Urquhart Castle is now in the care of Historic Environment Scotland. You can visit and wander around the ruins of this famous castle. Admission and visiting information can be found here.

Just reading some reviews online, people report it can get very busy in the carpark – especially during peak season with all the tourists and tour buses. This is something to keep in mind when you are planning your visit to one of the most visited castles in Scotland. There are Loch Ness sightseeing cruises that include admission to Urquhart Castle – so that could be one way to get around the parking problem and spot Nessie while you’re at it!

As I promised last week, I want to share with you one of my favourite photographs from this trip.

And here it is:

I love the way the shrubbery frames Urquhart Castle. It provides such a nice frame – almost reminding me of fairy tales and Briar Rose, for some particular reason. The view looking out onto Loch Ness provides a moody and forlorn atmosphere, which suited this particular shot.

I can imagine how different and spectacular Urquhart Castle would look in the sun, with Loch Ness reflecting the mountains, the sun and the blue skies! Perhaps next time we are here, we’ll pop into the castle for a visit and hopefully get to see the castle ruins in the beautiful sunshine!

Stay tuned for a new post next week as Day 7 continues!

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

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© Letters of Wanderlust, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of any written material and/or photographs without express and written permission from this site’s authors is strictly prohibited. Please get in touch if you would like to republish any of our materials or if you would like to work on a project together!

HAGGiS Adventures Compass Buster Tour: Day 7 – Learning about the Highlands

After a great time learning about the history of Orkney and exploring its wild and rugged landscape, it was time to return to mainland Scotland for Day 7 of our Compass Buster tour.

The night before we were to return, there was a bit of a storm brewing! We could hear the howling wind as we were cooking dinner and having a night-in with our group mates at the Orcades Hostel. Even as we left the next morning, the wind was still blowing and the rain kept falling. The wind and the rain doesn’t really bother us – being from Raincouver and all! But we were a bit nervous about the ferry ride back to the mainland.

This ferry ride was completely different from our ride to the Orkney islands. That time, we were bathed in sunshine on the upper deck. This time, the ferry tossed from side to side and splashed up and down as we crossed back to mainland Scotland. Ioana and I decided to hide out inside. I will admit – I did feel a bit queasy 🤢 There may or may not have been stories of people throwing up on the upper deck… A great piece of advice we got from our group mates… don’t stand downwind from someone who might throw up! It most probably won’t end well for you!

At last, we arrived back to mainland Scotland and back on solid ground.

Our first mini-stop was only a couple of minutes from the ferry terminal. Unfortunately this stop is “mini” because we could not actually access it!

Pretty clear we can’t go in, eh?

This is The Castle of Mey – purchased by the Queen Mother in 1952. Prior to that, it was known as Barrogill Castle and was the seat of the Earls of Caithness. This castle, the most northerly on the British mainland, was restored and renovated by the Queen Mother.  The castle also includes several gardens, which the Queen Mother took much interest in selecting the plants and tending to them. You can even purchase fresh veggies grown from the gardens here!

Although we did not go inside for a visit this time, it is possible to visit the Castle, garden and grounds. More information on admission and visiting can be found here. I think it would be interesting to visit the Castle of Mey. It is said that much of the interiors is still set out as the Queen Mother had it, along with furniture, bathroom fittings, photographs and portraits that she chose herself.

Alas, we would have to resign ourselves to a faraway photograph on this trip!

After reveling in our little Royal visit, we hopped back onto the bus for a short ride to Dunnet Bay. Even though it was still windy and spitting rain, I found it beautiful and calming – even with the rolling waves. Perhaps it was because we had this beach all to ourselves.

You could wander on and on…

From Dunnet Bay, you can even get a glimpse of Dunnet Head – the most Northerly point on the British mainland.

After a bit of a reprieve from the storm, it picked up again, just as we arrived at our next destination – Dunbeath Harbour.

Check out this spectacular and wild coastal scene. The white castle perched up on those cliffs, with the storm brewing all around it and the waves crashing underneath.

What a wild and rugged picture. I’m actually glad we saw this on a stormy day – it kinda fits the picture that I have in my head of Scotland. But I imagine it would look quite different and beautiful on a clear, sunny day.

This building is Dunbeath Castle. As it is a private home, it is not open to the public. So I will have to just imagine the stunning views from the windows of this castle – stormy or not!

Heading out of Dunbeath, we continued south towards our next stop. This next stop was a sobering history lesson.

We soon arrived at Badbea Clearance Village. As it was pretty miserable outside, Andy did give us the option to stay on the bus. But most of us wanted to learn more about the Highland Clearances, so we followed Andy out into rain.

Walking through this area with the rain and wind around us set a solemn tone for us as we listened to Andy explain the history and factors behind the Highland Clearances.

The Highland Clearances occurred mostly during the 18th and 19th centuries. Entire Highland families were evicted from their homes and farms, some forcibly and some with their homes and villages burnt to the ground. Instead of being resettled to green pastures where they could continue farming, these families were given small plots of land, which were often not well suited to farming.

One such Clearance Village is the Badbea Clearance Village. Located on the rugged coast and on a steep slope, residents had to clear the land for farming and build their own homes with whatever they could find.

The village is no longer inhabited and has fallen into ruin. But even just looking at the land and the ruins, it was easy to see that this is not very good farmland. Villagers tried to make the best of the situation – some turned to fishing and its associated industries, while others took on spinning and carding wool. But ultimately, the village’s last resident left in 1911. All that is left here are the ruins of their homes, which nature has already taken over again.

The monument here, erected by a descendent of a Badbea villager, commemorates the people of Badbea.

The Highland Clearances had other far reaching and permanent effects. The culture of the Highlands was forever changed. The old, traditional Clan system, their way of living and their settlements were no more. Wearing of Highland Dress, including tartan and kilts, was banned with the Dress Act 1746. Even speaking Scottish Gaelic could be met with punishments. It also led to the emigration of Scots to all corners of the globe – for example Nova Scotia or New Scotland. Even though the Dress Act 1746 was repealed and there are now efforts to revive and promote Scottish Gaelic, all of this has had a huge impact on the cultural fabric of present day Scotland.

After a tragic and reflective history lesson, we headed off to our next stop still deep in thought.

Half an hour later, Andy pulled the bus over and our group took a stroll down this pretty laneway to our next stop.

Can you spot our destination yet?

What a grand entrance into Dunrobin Castle!

We didn’t get the chance to go inside but we admired its beautiful facade, architecture and…

… its beautiful clock tower!

We also noticed these little features on the walls – can you spot the cannons?

Before heading off to our next destination, we stopped for a quick afternoon snack 😋 We could never resist dessert! This time it was a beautiful and sparkly blueberry and white chocolate cheesecake. Although this cake was really yummy, the cheesecake we got at Beauly was still the most delicious!

First time having a SPARKLY cheesecake!

Stay tuned for our next post – it’s going to feature another one of my favourite photographs from this entire Scotland trip!

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

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© Letters of Wanderlust, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of any written material and/or photographs without express and written permission from this site’s authors is strictly prohibited. Please get in touch if you would like to republish any of our materials or if you would like to work on a project together!

HAGGiS Adventures Compass Buster Tour: Day 6 – Exploring Skara Brae

We began Day 6 of our Compass Buster Tour with more Orcadian and human history, which I found fascinating! I had no idea there was so much history surrounding these islands!

Orkney is home to one of Scotland’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites – the Heart of Neolithic Orkney. This World Heritage Site includes Maeshowethe Ring of Brodgarthe Stones of Stenness and Skara Brae. These sites give us a glimpse of what life might have been like for the people living on the Orkney islands some 5000 years ago. Day 6 would be full of adventures, exploring and learning as we visit 3 out of the 4 major locations of this World Heritage Site!

From our hostel, we set out for our first stop of the day – Skara Brae.

Skara Brae is a Neolithic village that has been remarkably preserved. It is estimated to date back to 3100BC, which is older than Stonehenge and the pyramids! Skara Brae was designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 1999, as part of the aforementioned Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site.

If you are travelling around the Orkney islands, we would highly recommend making a visit here. There is heaps of history to learn about, plus the preserved settlement is in the great outdoors, meaning you aren’t stuck inside a museum for your whole visit! And… did we mention that the settlement faces a beautiful beach? Well, now you know! 😄 If you are travelling independently, more information on tickets, opening hours and location can be found here.

The visitor centre is the first stop – where you can learn more about the discovery, the history and the people who lived here.

Back in 1850, the Orkney islands were battered by a storm. In the aftermath, the outline of some stone buildings were discovered. It is said that the local laird decided to excavate the site. A number of stone houses were discovered, before work stopped on this project in 1868.

Fast forward to the 1930’s, when modern day excavations started at this site. At first, these buildings were thought to be 500 years old. But radiocarbon dating finally placed this settlement in the Neolithic era, much older than previously thought!

Inside the visitor centre are various artefacts, from jewelry to pottery, that were discovered during the excavations. It is incredible to think these artefacts survived some 5000 years! There is also a replica house, that you can step inside and imagine how your life might have been like back in the Neolithic era. After wandering through, it was time to head outside to see the actual village.

This village of prehistoric houses is viewed from a series of elevated walking paths, with informative signs sharing more details on what you are looking at. To preserve these delicate houses, you cannot actually walk through the village.


There appears to be 8 buildings in this settlement. Because this village was so well preserved, you are able to peer inside these Neolithic Orcadian homes and see the layout and furnishings.

Check out that inset wall shelf!

Each home had a similar design, with furniture that we would recognize today! What can you spot in this photograph?

There seems to be two beds, some shelves and even an inset shelf built into the wall that might be for displaying something special!

Remember that beach I was talking about earlier? Well, here it is!

Since this site is so close to the beach and the Bay of Skaill, there is a risk of erosion by sand and water, that may damage these prehistoric buildings. We hear, though, that there are measures being taken to minimize the damage and protect this UNESCO world heritage site.

After spending some time exploring these Neolithic homes, we were off to explore something that was built closer to present-day. Can you spot our next destination in the background of this next photo?

Also included in our ticket to Skara Brae was admission to Skaill House.

Skaill House is “the finest 17th century mansion in Orkney.” The mansion house was originally built in the 1620’s by Bishop Graham and subsequent lairds have enlarged it, added more rooms and wings to the mansion. This property has been passed down through the family for almost 400 years. Of particular note, it was the 7th Laird, William Graham Watt, who discovered Skara Brae in 1850 and started the excavations!

The current owner of Skaill House is the 12th laird – Major Malcolm Macrae. He inherited the mansion in 1991 and started renovations to restore it and eventually open it to the public. In 1997, Skaill House was open for visitors.

There are some spooky stories surrounding Skaill House… When the mansion was being renovated, skeletons were discovered buried under the house. It was discovered that Skaill House was built on top of a Norse graveyard. Tales of ghosts have been reported by the current laird, staff and visitors!

The mansion is styled as a 1950’s family home. After walking through Skara Brae and seeing homes from the Neolithic times, it was time to see what a home in the 1950’s would have been like.

What a beautifully set dining table! I think we would enjoy a nice dinner here. 🍷

This could be a cozy room to do some reading and writing, with a warm fire glowing in that fireplace!

A bedroom decorated in the fashion of that era.


I always love looking for Canadian connections when I’m travelling. And I found two just in Skaill House alone!

I learned that the Hudson Bay Company, previously a fur-trading company and in modern days more known as a top Canadian department store – the Bay, used to have an agent stationed in Stromness. And many Orcadian men and boys as young as 14 years old would go to Stromness, sign a contract and leave Orkney to work for the Bay in Canada. At one point in time, around 80% of the Bay’s employees were from the Orkney islands!

This artefact was something that was brought back to Orkney via the Hudson Bay Company.

Here’s another little Canadian connection that we found in Skaill House. If we ever find ourselves in Manitoba, we’ll have to make a stop at the town of Binscarth.

We had a grand time walking through Skaill House and imagining our lives in this mansion! For more information on Skaill House opening times and admission, check out this link here.

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We really enjoyed our visit to Skara Brae and Skaill House. It was a unique opportunity to learn more about the history of the Orkney islands and also of human civilization. It was remarkable to see the furnishings – the beds and the shelves, that these Neolithic people had built over 5000 years ago! And this is what I love about travelling – learning more about the place I am visiting, the history, the human connection and impact.

Before we left Skara Brae, we had to try their scone, which Andy had recommended as one of the best! This scone was buttery and dotted with raisins – a nice mid-morning snack!

After our little ramble and archaeology lesson at Skara Brae, we headed off to our next destination. Check back next week for more!

From Vancouver with Love,
Ioana and Natalie

LettersofWanderlust3


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