HAGGiS Adventures Compass Buster Tour: Day 9 – Exploring Armadale

We had such a grand time exploring Isle of Skye and at Saucy Mary’s, that when morning came, we were sad to leave. 😔

We were happy to hear that we still had one stop before leaving the spectacular Isle of Skye.

Our first stop to start off Day 9 of our Compass Buster Tour was Armadale, a small village near the southern tip of Skye. Armadale is home to the Clan Donald visitor centre, Armadale Castle and the Museum of the Isles. And this was our first stop!

We were given a lot of time to explore here! But most in our OG group weren’t feeling up for exploring a castle or a museum today or tracing our genealogy…  So we spent our allotted time outside in the beautiful Scottish fall sunshine. Who said Scotland doesn’t get sunshine?!

And here, we met a most unusual and un-Scottish friend – a peacock!

He wandered around the estate like he owned the place!

He even strolled into the cafe to check it out!

We imagine the cafe was up to his standards!

Having explored the public space around the visitor centre, we decided to take a wee walk on our own.

We could see a glimpse of the coast and decided to cross the street, pass through the woods and explore the coast!

And boy, were we glad we went on this wee walk!

This rocky (and kelp-y) beach was beautiful in the sunshine!

This whole area reminded me of our Pacific coast and the intertidal zone. This made me want to explore more of our backyard – the beautiful British Columbia coastline and Vancouver Island!

As usual, there is always time for an epic gazing photograph!

Eventully, we said a reluctant goodbye to the beach and headed back up to meet up with the rest of our group.

~~~~~

Next, we were off to the ferry terminal. We got there much earlier than our ferry and, again, had lots of time to explore. We checked out a couple of cute clothing and gift shops near the terminal before heading out further for a wee Woodland Walk.

The area we explored is called Ruabh Phoil. The Woodland Walk promised to take us through the woods to explore faerie gardens, healing gardens, great viewpoints and even seals on Seal Island!

Note: it seems like Ruabh Phoil had been sold in 2016, but the current owner intends to keep the Woodland Walk open to the public. So if you happen to be near Armadale, we would heartily recommend a wee walk here!

We didn’t spot any seals on Seal Island but we did make more new friends!

I think this is decidedly one of the most well-placed benches I have ever seen!

Perhaps not so great in a storm but if you had a warm, waterproof jacket… this might be good for storm watching?!

It was really neat to explore Rubha Phoil – to feel that connection to nature. Definitely a good way to break up the bus and ferry travel!

~~~~~

Once it was time to board the ferry, we gathered at the terminal with our tickets and climbed on board.

Since it was a beautiful sunny day, we spent much of our time up on the open decks, soaking in the sunshine.

And what better to enjoy the Scottish landscape and the Scottish sunshine than with some local Scottish ice cream! We heard that this Honeycomb flavour is one of the most popular, so of course we had to try it! It was creamy and rich, with bits of honeycomb melted throughout the ice cream. The perfect ferry-crossing treat!

It was a short ferry ride and before we knew it, we were approaching Mallaig. As we arrived into Mallaig, excitement was building as we would soon be boarding the train to Hogwarts!

Hogwarts, here we come!

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 – 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!

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 6 – Adventures in Yesnaby

After visiting Skara Brae, the Ring of Brodgar and the Stones of Stenness, we headed out for another wee walk to end off Day 6 of our Compass Buster tour! We loved being outside and experiencing the amazing scenery of Scotland – instead of being cooped up on a bus!

This time, we headed out to Yesnaby.

We left our wee yellow bus behind as we set off to explore the wild, unforgiving and beautiful landscape of Yesnaby.

This was probably my favourite wee walk of our trip. Coastal walks are my favourite – the crashing waves, the open water and the never-ending views! It was a bit gloomy and cloudy earlier in the day, but when we arrived here on the west coast of Mainland, the sun came out! And it was all thanks to the STRONG Orcadian wind blowing all the clouds away.

Walking away from our parked bus, we were immediately blown away by the coastal cliffs and the views out over the water.

We couldn’t help but start taking photographs right away!

There’s always time for a gazing photograph!

As we walked farther from the car park, we marveled at Nature’s unrelenting power in shaping this land, the cliffs, the arches and the sea stacks that we were headed towards.

Another photo stop – this time with our friend M!

Remember how we said earlier that the winds had blown the clouds away? Just to show you how windy it was – you could literally lean back and the wind would support you! 🌬 (Also, check out the windswept hair – not staged at all!)

Continuing on, being blown this way and that, we found a lone Standing Stone in the middle of a field. I wonder what its story is…

Besides spotting a Standing Stone, we also passed by inlets, rocky beaches, little streams and of course – more cliffs!

As much as we enjoy exploring and adventures, we do have a safety message… These cliffs and the area here are truly epic and spectacular. So they make for great photo opportunities! Having said that, do be careful – these cliffs can be dangerous. Especially if you are visiting in inclement weather or if you have little ones in tow! Make sure to stay a safe distance away from the edge and be careful of your footing. We also advise wearing good walking/hiking shoes or boots.

As we paused for our next photo stop, we turned back to check our progress and this view took my breath away! This landscape doesn’t even seem real! It almost seems a fake photo backdrop. But we can assure you that it is most definitely real and if you enjoy coastal walks as much as we do, we would definitely recommend you visit!

Can you spot our wee yellow bus off in the distance?

Here’s the nerdy side of me coming out again… 🤓 The rock formations here were really interesting – from the layers of rock pressed upon each other over the centuries, to the way the cliffs were “cut”, to the fragments of rock that are strewn around the cliffs. The Old Red Sandstone of Yesnaby hides a lot of history, I’m sure.

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We were a little bit drawn to the rock formations… just a wee little bit! We may or may not have scamper around and climbed over rocks to have a mini photoshoot…

And finally, we saw it – our destination. Yesnaby Castle.

No, it’s not an actual castle. But Yesnaby Castle is the name of the sea stack you see here. We hurried along to get closer…

But before we got to Yesnaby Castle, we came across the “False Stack”, which looked epic in its own right. The False Stack is a little sea stack, which is connected to the Yesnaby cliffs via a little rock bridge. Even though the bridge was maybe 3 feet(?!) wide, it felt much more narrow when you are approaching it – or rather when you are standing there!

Again, if you do choose to walk onto the bridge and take a photograph, do BE CAREFUL! And you definitely do NOT have to walk over the bridge or even go near it. A photograph from afar would do just as well!

Carefully picking our way over the rocks to the little bridge, we did stop for a couple of photographs. And I think once in our lifetimes is enough! If we do return to Yesnaby, I think we’ll be taking photographs from afar this time.

And, of course, the ballet side of me couldn’t leave without at least doing an arabesque in this wild and beautiful location!

Safely back on solid and less-treacherous land, we continued on our journey.

Here is a closer look at Yesnaby Castle.

Instead of stopping here, we continued further. And we were rewarded with this stunning view of this famous sea stack. It was well worth the journey!

As we looked further south, we could just make out another famous Orcadian sea stack WAY off in the distance…

Can you guess what we were trying to spot?!

That is the Old Man of Hoy in the distance. Similar to Yesnaby Castle, it is a sea stack. Located off the coast of Hoy, it is said to be the tallest sea stack in the UK at 449ft! Experts estimate that the Old Man of Hoy is less than 250 years old, as there are old maps and paintings that do not depict this sea stack. The strong winds and waves here have carved this sea stack out of the Old Red Sandstone relatively quickly. It is said that the Old Man of Hoy once had two legs – an rocky arch for legs. But with continual erosion by wind and water, that arch collapsed – probably some time in the nineteenth century. This sea stack, and Yesnaby Castle also, is popular with rock climbers. Unfortunately, experts say that this sea stack will probably collapse soon. Although we didn’t get the chance to visit Hoy or the Old Man of Hoy on this trip, we were glad to have set eyes on it – even though it was from afar.

~~~~~

As the sun started setting, it was time to make our way back to our bus and return to Kirkwall.

Before heading back to our hostel, we made a quick stop at St. Magnus Cathedral.

We did not go inside but admired it from the outside. The building is striking – with its alternating red and yellow sandstone from the Orkney isles. St. Magnus Cathedral has an interesting history – from the martyrdom of St. Magnus, to the founding of this cathedral by his nephew Earl Rögnvald, to the reformation. You can read more about its history here.

Across the street from St. Magnus Cathedral, are the Bishop’s and Earl’s Palaces.

This site is maintained by Historic Scotland. Information on making a visit can be found here.

Although we did not go inside, we had a wander around the ruins on the outside. We also read a bit about the history surrounding these two buildings and were intrigued by its Norse roots, its transition to Scottish rule and the tyrannical means that the Earl’s Palace was allegedly built. More on the history of these Palaces can be found here.

We tried to imagine what the complete building would have looked like…

After a full day of adventures, we headed back in the direction of our hostel, with a beautiful sunset leading us back.

Most of us decided to make a grocery store run (there is a Tesco near the Orcades Hostel) and prepare a nice dinner in the hostel’s well equipped kitchen.

Let’s just say there were a lot of cooks in the kitchen that evening! 😋 But we had a really lovely time chatting with our friends, cooking and sitting down to a nice dinner and some sangria🍷!

As we were chatting and cleaning up after dinner, we could hear and feel a storm brewing outside. The wind was something fierce! I guess they weren’t kidding about the unrelenting weather up here. And it howled all night… We were a little concerned about taking the ferry the next morning in this weather! I don’t think we would have been too heartbroken if the ferry got cancelled – it would just mean more time spent in Orkney 😉

~~~~~

The Orkney Islands are full of fascinating stories and have a rich history going back to the prehistoric times. By no means did we traverse all of the islands, visit all the historic sites or see all that the Orkney islands had to offer, but we got a glimpse of its history, charm, its natural and scenic beauty. We are really glad we got to explore these islands on this tour. I’m not sure that we would have made it all the way out here, if we had made our own way around Scotland.

If you’re travelling around northern Scotland and have a couple of days to spare, we would definitely recommend catching the ferry over to visit Orkney. (Just be sure to check ferry schedules and weather conditions!)

Here are some useful websites if you are planning a visit to Orkney:

Visit Orkney

Orkney Events

Northlink Ferries’ Guide to Orkney

Pentland Ferries

John Groats Ferry – which also organizes some day tours

Orkney Ferries – if you want to explore the other islands of Orkney

Lonely Planet – Orkney

Heart of Neolithic Orkney

Orkney Explorer Pass

~~~~~

Check back next week for our journey back to mainland Scotland.

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 – Tomb of the Eagles

We started off Day 5 of our Compass Buster tour with a wee walk and a visit to the Duncansby Stacks. Then it was time to get to the ferry terminal and head for the Orkney Islands!

The Orkney Islands are a group of 70 islands to the north of mainland Scotland. Orkney has its own distinctive culture and tradition – being influenced both by Scotland and by its Norwegian settlers during the 8th and 9th centuries. Although many of its islands are uninhabited now, there is evidence that people have lived on some of these islands since 5000BC. The Heart of Neolithic Orkney is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, consisting of Maes Howe, the Stones of Stenness, the Ring of Brodgar, Skara Brae and other burial and ceremonial sites in the area. All of these provide a fascinating glimpse into life during the Neolithic era. We would be visiting some of these sites during our visit to Orkney – more on these in our upcoming blog posts! But for now…

We were enjoying a sunny crossing across the Pentland Firth from mainland Scotland to the Orkney Islands. The ferry crossing gives you plenty of time to enjoy the passing scenery and to try spotting some wildlife. (We were told there are always sea birds and sometimes seal and whale sightings – although we didn’t see any on our crossing today.)

As we sailed across the Pentland Firth, we were able to spot the island of Stroma in the distance. We learned that this island is sadly no longer inhabited, with the last of its residents leaving in 1962. You can still see abandoned houses and crofts, although some have lost their roofs and are ruins now. The island is still inhabited by sheep and some cattle – set out there to graze by the island’s current owner.

At the northern tip of Stroma stands its lighthouse, which is now completely automated. It was built to alert boaters of the most dangerous whirlpool, the ‘Swilkie’, in the Pentland Firth.

Although we didn’t spot any seals or whales, I did spot lots of interesting rock formations… (What a nerd! Haha!)

Almost vaguely reminds me of the basalt columns of the Giant’s Causeway…

On the ferry ride, we heard a little bit about the role that the Orkney islands played during WWII. We could see evidence of this in the gun batteries and defences as we approached our destination.

After we got off the ferry, it was off to the Tomb of the Eagles for a bit of a history lesson and a good hike!

The Tomb of the Eagles is a very popular and family friendly attraction located on the island of South Ronaldsay. This historic site was discovered by a local farmer, Ronnie Simison. In 1958, he noticed some stones that looked a bit… out of place on his farmland. Intrigued, he began digging near the drystone wall. He discovered “a cache of beautiful polished artefacts – a mace head, three stone axe heads, a black ‘button’ and a small Chert knife”. After more digging, Ronnie then discovered some 30 human skulls in a stone chamber. This site was later confirmed to be a Neolithic tomb, which dates all the way back to 5000BC! Along with human bones, the bones and talons of sea-eagles were also discovered on this site. Thus giving it the name – “Tomb of the Eagles”.

Entrance to the Tomb of the Eagles was already included with our Compass Buster tour price. If you are visiting on your own, you can find the admission fee and all the other details here.

Before heading out to the actual tomb, we got a history and archaeology lesson on a guided tour through the Visitor Centre. We won’t spoil this visit for you but we will say that there were lots of fascinating 5000 year old artifacts that we got to see and touch!

After the tour, we headed outside. It was a bit muddy but we had the beautiful sunshine with us on our 1-mile long cliff-top walk to the actual tomb.


Before reaching the tomb, we stopped to look at the Bronze Age site. This site, a little bit inland from the Tomb of Eagles, is believed to be about 3000 years old. This site here consists of stone trough, water system and hearth. We don’t yet know for certain what this was used for. There are some suggestions that this was used for cooking or perhaps a sauna, with the hearth heating the water.

After this short stop, we continued on our way to the Tomb of the Eagles.

Just this cliff-top walk alone is well worth a visit! What a view!

We were lucky to have visited on a sunny day. I imagine it would be completely different on a windy, blustery Orkney day!

As we were hiking, I spotted this little guy, which looks to be perhaps an inuksuk. The inuksuk is a bit of an unofficial symbol of Canada, so it was really special and cool to find it here in Orkney, Scotland.

Inukshuk, the singular of inuksuit, means “in the likeness of a human” in the Inuit language. They are monuments made of unworked stones that are used by the Inuit for communication and survival. The traditional meaning of the inukshuk is “Someone was here” or “You are on the right path.” – Inukshuk Gallery

Inuksuit can be found across the Canadian arctic, as well as Alaska and Greenland. Besides these areas, many monuments and statues in this likeness have been built all over Canada. We also have a well-known inuksuk monument in Vancouver, as well as another famous one in Whistler – created for the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. Although its use as a symbol of the 2010 Olympics was a bit controversial, I believe it brings forth a message of friendship and welcome.

I’m not sure whether someone had built this to be an Inuksuk intentionally or whether they just happened to build a human figure out of rocks, but I like to think we have a little bit of a connection to it!

In between photo stops, we continued on our way towards the Tomb, following our guide – Andy.

There is always time for a gazing photo!


Finally, we arrived at the Tomb. The space inside the Tomb is small, so we had to take turns going in. It has a rather unique way of entering!

There is a wooden trolley/board on wheels, which you lie on. And using the rope, you are able to pull yourself into or out of the Tomb.

Once inside the tomb, you can see chambers and shelves that was once built to hold a variety of human bones and skulls.

In addition to human bones, the remains of at least 8 sea-eagles were also discovered inside the tomb. It is still not clear what the significance of the sea-eagles was. And were these sea-eagles placed into the tomb by the original builders or were they added over the years? We may never find out, but that adds to the mystery of this tomb.

It was fascinating to see something that was built over 5000 years ago and is still standing today. You really have to admire what these Neolithic people were able to do with the knowledge, materials and resources they had in the New Stone Age. After a couple of minutes inside the Tomb, we headed back out to the sunshine to enjoy the view some more.

Eventually, it was time to head back to the bus. The cliff top walk back to the bus was just as beautiful as our walk out – perhaps even more so with the setting sun as our backdrop!

Before we left the Tomb of the Eagles, I think pretty much everyone in our group bought a little cup of Orkney ice cream from the gift shop to try. Creamy, rich and delicious – it was the perfect post-exploration snack!

After a really interesting visit to the Tomb of the Eagles and the scenic, cliff top hike around the area, we drove towards the sunset!

And what a gorgeous sunset it was!

But our day wasn’t finished just yet! There were two more stops before we headed to our hostel. More on Day 5 to come in our next post!

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

LettersofWanderlust3


© 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!

Reykjavik Walking Tour with CityWalk

After an early check in at our hotel – Icelandair Reykjavik Natura at around 9am, we were just too exhausted from our day of travel that we needed a wee nap. Especially since we had a walking tour of Reykjavik coming up later on at 2:30pm.

After a bit of rest, we were ready to get to know Reykjavik! We always like doing a walking tour when we get into a new city. It helps us get our bearings, find out what we want to see and also to get to know the city from a local guide.

Since our hotel was about a 30 minute walk from the city centre and since we were still a bit weary, we took the city bus in. Once we arrived at Hlemmur Square, we saw that we were still a bit early, so we wandered down by the waterfront before making our way to the walking tour meeting spot.

Reykjavik showed off for us this afternoon, in glorious but cold sunshine!

On our ramble, we spotted a well-known piece of artwork. This is the Sun Voyager, or Sólfar. It is reported to be “a dreamboat, an ode to the Sun and dream of hope, progress and freedom.” It is a very striking sculpture. I found it very stirring – one because we are travelling right now and two because of all the changes that are happening in the world.

Continuing on along Sæbraut, we came upon another Reykjavik landmark – Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre.

What a building!

We loved this building, with the many glass panels of its facade. On this particular day, the glass panels reflected the beautiful sun and clouds in the sky. One of our guides later told us that sometimes they turn the glass panels into a display of the Northern Lights!

It was also a chilly day, so we sought shelter inside to warm up before continuing on and heading to the tour’s meeting spot.

We signed up for the ‘free’ classic walking tour with CityWalk. This is a similar concept to the SANDEMANs New Europe Tours that we have done previously in Dublin and Edinburgh. The tour through CityWalk is free and at the end of the tour, you pay what you feel is fitting for the tour. Reservations are required and all of the information can be found on their website, along with the other tours that they operate.

We arrived at the House of Parliament and met up with our guide for the afternoon – Marteinn. The group had about 20 people or so and once we were all accounted for, we started learning about Iceland and Reykjavik. We got the “winter” version of the tour because of the cold weather, skipping a couple of stops and having a few stops indoors to warm up!

We won’t say too much about each location or the history because it really is much better to experience it yourself than getting it from us! 😋

But we will share some photographs and our thoughts on the tour!

I really enjoyed learning about the history and culture of Iceland and its capital Reykjavik. CityWalk states that their walks are led by a local and history graduate. And that was evident in the information and interest shown by Marteinn. We touched on the history of Iceland, the Vikings, Iceland’s independence, the varied landscapes of this country and… the fact that Iceland is the most peaceful country in the world – having no army, navy or air force. You can walk right up to the Parliament house – there are no armed soldiers guarding it. And in this day and age, that really is something to be proud of! Besides just a history lesson, Marteinn also touched on some more current and possibly controversial topics – Iceland’s stance on women’s rights and gender equality, the homogenous nature of the Icelandic population (even now in 2017) and… the most common website viewed on Sunday mornings to make sure the object of affection you met that Saturday night isn’t related to you! And since we were tourists in Iceland, we also discussed the newly booming tourism industry and how tourism is changing the face and feel of the city and country.

Overall, it was a good introduction to both Reykjavik and Iceland. We got to ses and know some city landmarks and that would later help us to navigate around this city! We would definitely recommend this tour for any first time visitors to Reykjavik ☺️.

After the walking tour, we headed back to our hotel for an early night.

Stay tuned for our next post – our first adventure outside of Reykjavik!

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

LettersofWanderlust3


© 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!