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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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 – 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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HAGGiS Adventures Compass Buster Tour: Day 6 – Orcadian Standing Stones

After visiting the prehistoric village of Skara Brae to start off Day 6 of our Compass Buster tour, we were off to see some more standing stones. (Another chance to get through to Jamie Fraser?!) We had already seen the famous Callanish Standing Stones while we were on the Isle of Lewis, this time we would be visiting some Orcadian standing stones.

Our next stop was the Ring of Brodgar, which was a short drive from Skara Brae.

Even walking up to the site, we could see how expansive and impressive it is! This stone circle has a diameter of 104m, which makes it one of the largest stone circles in the UK.

This stone circle and henge is estimated to have been built between 2500BC and 2000BC. The exact age is not known. And we still do not know exactly why this was built. It seems likely this site, along with the Standing Stones of Stenness – located a short distance away, played a ceremonial role for the peoples living here in the Neolithic times.

What a moody, wild and beautiful landscape.

It is thought that there were originally 60 stones in this circle. Currently, 36 stones remain – some standing, some prone. These standing stones are large – some stones are up to 4.7m tall! It is really incredible to think how the Neolithic peoples would have planned, quarried the rock, transported them and constructed this stone circle…

Expansive panorama of part of the Ring.

Walking around the stone circle, we came upon this:

It appears lightning had shattered this standing stone, causing part of it to lie flat on the ground.

This particular lightning strike was recorded in 1980 – relatively modern. It is reasonable to think that lightning strikes over the past centuries would have also caused the other standing stones to have shattered – resulting in broken and fallen stones.


Besides these standing stones, there are also several mounds in the surrounding area. Similarly, we do not yet know exactly why these mounds were built. Perhaps they had a ceremonial use? Or perhaps some other purpose entirely!

A knowe – or mound, surrounding the Ring of Brodgar.

Although we may never find out the real reason why the Ring of Brodgar was built, I’m tempted to believe this tale – The Dancing Giants of Brodgar. This tale tells of a group of giants, who were so entranced by the music of their fiddler, that they formed a circle and danced the night away upon the Ness of Brodgar. Losing track of the hours and the night, the giants danced and danced until the morning sun rose from the horizon. When the sunlight touched the still dancing giants, it turned them into stone – thus giving rise to the Ring of Brodgar.


If you are planning a visit to the Ring of Brodgar, this website has directions and information to help you plan your trip. We found it really peaceful, walking amongst these megaliths. And there was a great sense of history seeped into the stones and the atmosphere here.

This landscape and incredible megaliths are pretty impressionable – I don’t think either of us will be forgetting this visit!

~~~~~

After visiting the Ring of Brodgar, our next stop was just a few minutes away – The Standing Stones of Stenness. This is also part of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site.

The Standing Stones of Stenness is estimated to date back to 3100BC – similar to Skara Brae. This makes it one of the earliest stone circles in the UK. Experts think there were supposed to be 12 stones constructed in this circle – although 1-2 may not have actually been raised.  This stone circle is smaller than the Ring of Brodgar, with a diameter of 44m, but the standing stones here are much larger – true megaliths! Some stones are reported to be 6m tall!

Even as recent as in the 1700’s – 1800’s, the Standing Stones of Stenness and several nearby Standing Stones (particularly the Odin Stone) were shrouded in traditional myths and legends. People of all ages would have visited these stones – sealing pacts, declaring oaths and performing various ceremonies within this circle of megaliths.

Currently, there are only 4 stones standing here at this site. Unfortunately over the years, some of the Standing Stones were destroyed. In particular, one farmer (stressed to be a non-native Orcadian) set out to destroy these Stones. Perhaps he was sick of having to weave around the Stones with his plough, or perhaps he was tired of people walking through his fields to visit the Stones – particularly the Odin Stone. Whatever the reasons, he took down the Odin Stone, toppled one of the Standing Stones and destroyed another. He was eventually stopped before further damage could be inflicted on the remaining Standing Stones.

In early 1900’s, the Standing Stones of Stenness was placed into state care and in 1999, this site became part of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney UNESCO World Heritage Site.

There are some fascinating links between the various Heart of Neolithic Orkney sites – both in their proposed functions, geographically and also in their alignments with each other. One such connection that I found fascinating is that you can view Maeshowe perfectly aligned in between the two dolmen stones near the entrance to the Standing Stones of Stenness circle. I think this is way too perfect to be coincidence!

If you’re interested in visiting these stones to see for yourself the fascinating Stones of Stenness and to admire the work of Neolithic builders and engineers, you can find more directions and information here.

~~~~~

We would definitely recommend visiting these sites if you are in the area. It is really awe inspiring to gaze at something that was erected thousands of years ago and without using any of our modern day technologies. Makes you wonder how wise these Neolithic people must have been! It is definitely possible to visit the various sites of The Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site all in one trip – like we did on this tour.  And if you are traveling independently, you can spend as much as you would like in each location, more time at one and less at another. We were fortunate enough to have visited 3 of the 4 major sites of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site on this trip. All that we missed was Maeshowe, which is accessible only via a guided tour – guess we’ll have to come back to Orkney another time for this!

After our very interesting history lesson, we were off for a wee walk to finish Day 6. Stay tuned next week for more!

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.

~~~~~

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

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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 5 – Scapa Flow and the Italian Chapel

After a visit to the Tomb of the Eagles, we got another history lesson – this time from Andy as he was driving us to our next stop.

We heard about the history and the role that the Orkney islands played during WWI and WWII – the most significant being the body of water known as Scapa Flow.

Scapa Flow has been used since the Viking times – with 5 major Orcadian islands and several smaller ones sheltering its waters. Besides trade and travel, its protected waters made it ideal to anchor Viking longships and… much later on in history, as a base for the British Royal Navy during World War I and II.

In order to protect Scapa Flow from submarine attacks during WWI, blockships were strategically positioned at many of the entrances to Scapa Flow. There were also nets, artillery and minefields that further strengthened the defences.

Even now, you can still see some of the blockships lying at rest in the waters of Scapa Flow. We pulled over to a little beach, where we got to look out at some of these blockships.

This blockship, I believe, is the SS Reginald.

I believe this one below might be the steamer – Emerald Wings.

Another significant event that happened in Scapa Flow was the scuttling of the German High Seas fleet at the end of WWI. At the end of the war, this fleet of 74 German ships was sent to Orkney to await their fate, which was being decided at the Paris Peace Conference. Thinking that the fleet would be seized by the Allies, the Rear Admiral in charge set into motion plans to scuttle the entire fleet so it would not fall in enemy hands. On June 21, 1919, while most of the British ships and personnel were away on an exercise, the signal was given to scuttle the entire fleet. The British tried to stop the scuttle and successfully beached and saved some of the ships. But by the end of the day, it was reported that 52 of the ships had sunk.

Over the years, some of these ships were lifted from the seabed and salvaged while others lie in their final resting places under the water. The 7 wrecks that remain underwater, along with the various blockships in the Scapa Flow, are very popular with divers today.

Years later, Scapa Flow would again become a base for the British Navy during WWII. Unfortunately, the defences that were in place during the previous war were no longer sufficient in protecting the waters of Scapa Flow. On October 14th, 1939, a German U-boat managed to move into Scapa Flow undetected and fired its torpedoes at the HMS Royal Oak. The Royal Oak sank quickly, resulting in the loss of over 800 men. It is now a designated war grave, with no unauthorised diving allowed.

Following this incident, new defences – including new blockships and mines, were installed to protect the waters of Scapa Flow. Winston Churchill also ordered new permanent barriers to be built to protect Scapa Flow and the naval base there. Gabions and concrete blocks were used to build 4 causeways, helping to close off the channels leading into Scapa Flow. These barriers became known as the Churchill Barriers.

Concrete blocks of the causeways

After the war, these defences became a means of transportation, linking the islands around Scapa Flow. As we drove around the Orkney Islands on these causeways, we were able to appreciate the history behind them.

We drove across one of the causeways, also known as one of the Churchill Barriers, on the right side there.

Crossing another Churchill Barrier to our next destination…

The Churchill Barriers were constructed by Italian POW’s. Besides building these barriers, they also built a chapel – now known as the Italian Chapel. And this was our next destination.

The Italian Chapel is located on Lamb Holm. This chapel was built by and built for the Italian POW’s who were living on this island and constructing the Churchill Barriers.

The war memorial outside the Italian Chapel

The Italian POW’s wanted a place to worship and they were able to convince the camp commandant to grant their request. The chapel was built using very limited, often scavenged and recycled materials. But you would never guess – looking at its beautifully clean facade or the ornate frescoes inside.

The interior was mostly decorated by Domenico Chiocchetti. He was so dedicated that he stayed behind for 2 extra weeks to finish the chapel while the rest of the POW’s left Orkney. Nearly 20 years later, Chiocchetti returned to the Italian Chapel to assist with a restoration project. He write a letter to the people of Orkney upon his departure:

“The chapel is yours – for you to love and preserve. I take with me to Italy the remembrance of your kindness and wonderful hospitality . . . I thank the authorities of Kirkwall, the courteous preservation committee, and all those who directly or indirectly have collaborated for the success of this work and for having given me the joy of seeing again the little chapel of Lambholm where I, in leaving, leave a part of my heart”. – Domenico Chiocchetti, dated 11th April 1960.

There is a lot of meaning and symbolism in this building. The one that I’m most drawn to is the Madonna and Child, with the Child holding an olive branch. There is a sense of peace and reconciliation here.

When we visited, there was no cost to enter the Italian Chapel. Currently, there is a small fee to enter and they do advise that you book ahead. More information on opening hours and the entrance fee can be found here.

As we stepped out of the Chapel, we were greeted by more of that gorgeous Orcadian sunset.

We also spotted the cows coming home!

Coming home for dinner, it seems!

Driving away from the Italian Chapel, we headed towards Kirkwall. Look what we spotted from the road!

Those distinctive chimneys must mean one thing: a whisky distillery! The chimneys belong to the Highland Park distillery. (Because the bus was moving, I didn’t manage to snap a picture of the gate and sign.) Highland Park is the most northerly distillery in Scotland. Unfortunately we didn’t make a stop at the Highland Park distillery for a visit, but I think if I visit Orkney again, this will be on my list, for sure!

After a very full day of learning, adventures and exploring, we were on our way to our home for the next 2 nights – The Orcades Hostel.

This was definitely one of our favourite hostels on this entire trip. The rooms were clean and spacious with nice bunk beds. It was also a smaller room – sleeping only 6. Our room even had its own ensuite bathroom, with a hair dryer! Oh, those little luxuries! 😉

After freshening up, a group of us followed Andy as he led us to The Shore for spot of dinner at their pub.

And this is where we first came across… Thistly Cross Cider. A most delicious cider, of which we tried at least 3 varieties that night. Our favourites being the elderflower and the whisky cask.

To this day, we still scour our liquor stores, in the hopes that someone would have imported Thistly Cross into Canada by now. (Maybe that’s what we need to do – import it ourselves! Haha!) But alas, we are still waiting for that day to come. For more on our hunt for Thistly Cross Cider here on the westcoast of Canada, check out our next blog post!

After our dinner, music and some more cider, we decided to head back to the hostel for some sleep! Heading back to the hostel was a bit of an adventure… Firstly, it was pitch black, save a couple street lamps. Secondly, it was very windy. Thirdly, we had to cross a pond area (who knows how deep it was… I certainly wasn’t about to find out!) on some narrow footpaths, which didn’t seem nearly as daunting in the daylight. Oh and did I mention it was pitch black outside?? Eventually, with the dim light from our cell phones, we were able to safely navigate our way back to the hostel. 😥

After a good night’s sleep, we were ready for Day 6 and more exploring around the Orkney islands!

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 3 – Beachcombing

After meeting some hairy coos and visiting St. Clement’s church to start Day 3 of our Compass Buster Tour, we were off for a wee walk and beachcombing adventure!

Northton would be our next stop with some amazing beach views you wouldn’t expect to see in Scotland.

Our walking route can be found here, for anybody who is looking to explore a different side of Scotland.

We were really excited to be walking through the moors of Harris. The landscape was glorious and as the above website explains, it was created by sand being blown over the peat. It is a rather unique grassland habitat housing many species of birds and beautiful flowers in the summer!

We didn’t get to see any birds but we did catch a glimpse of some wild flowers! The landscape never fails to amaze us. The grandeur of the Scotland hillsides was amazing as expected.

Our ultimate destination at the end of this trail would be the ruins of a medieval chapel on the headland. But before we reached the ruins, we would wander around 3 beautiful beaches.

After exploring Ireland, I shouldn’t have been surprised at seeing amazing beaches yet again. Obviously having endless coastlines means that there are going to be some pretty spectacular beaches to be found!

The first beach we saw featured amazing turquoise waters, similar to what we had seen at Port Stoth beach. We didn’t get a chance to get close to the water here, but Greg assured us there would be more sightseeing ahead.

The second beach we encountered was Traigh na Cleabhaig. Going through another gate we came along and saw this gorgeous view!

If we had more time, we surely would have stayed much longer and explored each and every beach! But time was limited and we had to walk on.

Along the way, we found more of our hairy coo friends! 🐮 We always get excited when we see Hairy Coo and this was not an exception 😋.

Finally, we reached our destination. The beach at Northton.

Once we reached this third beach, we all sat down to eat our picnic lunch. Before we set out at the start of today, we had stopped and grabbed a quick lunch so we were all well equipped to enjoy the scenery before us!

More than one of our tour mates will recall “The notorious beach incident of 2015.” HA! We won’t relive it here but, let’s just say that the guys and the gals got different views of the beach while eating lunch. Hahaha! This misunderstanding was cleared up in the end and we all had a good laugh over it! Definitely good times!

Below was our view of the beach!

After finishing our lunch we started our hike up to the Rubh’ an Teampuill headland and the Medieval Chapel there.

The Chapel was built on a prehistoric settlement mound and dates back to the 15th century

There is an eroding prehistoric settlement mound, which produced evidence from the Mesolithic, Neolithic and Beaker, and Bronze Age periods. A little further along the shore, on the headland of Rubh’ an Teampuill, are the ruins of a small late medieval chapel. A closer look indicates that next to the chapel are the footings of an Iron Age broch, which probably supplied the source of building stone for the chapel. – Visit Outer Hebrides

Apparently there was once even a stone wall surrounding the area! The area also seems to have been inhabited many times during the previous centuries, even perhaps having a broch present at one time. Burials date back almost

9,000 years ! That’s pretty darned amazing!

The chapel has had work done in order to save it from total collapse. This is good news for travellers like ourselves, as we get to experience another ancient part of Scotland’s history.

On the other side of the Chapel, we found a glorious rocky outcropping! It was very epic with the waves crashing against the rocks!

And also a very good spot for some epic pictures with the landscape.

We also made some more animal friends who seemed to enjoy grazing so close to the water.

After exploring the Northton Chapel and its surroundings, Greg led us back to our Yellow Bus and we headed towards Tarbert, the main community on the Isle of Harris, where we would be boarding the ferry to Uig and the Isle of Skye!

When we reached Tarbert, what was the first thing we saw as we drove into the town? HARRIS TWEED, OF COURSE!

We couldn’t wait to get out of the bus and go explore the tweed shops. Harris tweed sold on the Isle of Harris is obviously authentic! This is a brief history of Harris Tweed:

From time immemorial, the inhabitants of the Outer Hebrides of Scotland have woven a beautiful and intricate cloth the world knows simply as Harris Tweed.

The islanders of Lewis, Harris, Uist and Barra produce this luxury cloth entirely by hand and have long been known for the excellence of their weaving. However up until the middle of the nineteenth century, their cloth was used only on their crofts or sold at local markets, but in 1846, Lady Dunmore, widow of the landowner of Harris, the Earl of Dunmore, chose to have their clan tartan replicated by Harris weavers in tweed.

The results proved so successful that Lady Dunmore began to devote much time and effort to marketing the tweed to her wealthy friends further afield and as a result of her enthusiastic work, sales and trade of the island cloth were soon established with merchants across the country. – Harris Tweed Authority  

If you want to read a bit more about the background of Harris Tweed, you can do so here and here.

We obviously thought we needed a souvenir (or two) from the Harris Tweed shop! We got ourselves some oh-so-lovely wallets and matching coin purses ❤. We really had to stop ourselves from getting more, but that just means we will have to return again and get many more items to remember Harris by!

Soon after, we headed down to the pier and watched the ferry pull in. We piled onto the ferry and headed towards our lodgings for the night in Portree!

Stay tuned for a look at our first Haggis dinner and more of Portree!

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!