HAGGiS Adventures Compass Buster Tour: Day 10 – The Kelpies and Goodbyes

As we got closer and closer to Edinburgh, we dreaded the end of this epic trip. But there was one last stop before this all ends!

Our last stop of this trip was the Kelpies! The Kelpies, two beautiful horse sculptures, are located in Falkirk at Helix Park.

What are kelpies, you ask?

Well, a kelpie in Scottish legends is a shapeshifting spirit that is said to dwell in bodies of water (though whether they dwell in streams, rivers or lochs, has been debated through the years!) Kelpies are said to take the shape of a horse, sometimes equipped with a bridle already. But beware, its magical hide means the rider will be stuck on its back. Then the kelpie will ride back to its watery lair and devour the human on its back. 😲

There is one bright spot… If you are able to grab hold of a kelpie’s bridle, you will have power over it and may capture it. It is said that a captured kelpie is highly prized, for it has the strength of 10 horses and stamina of many more.

The Kelpies at Helix Park are considered the world’s largest equine sculptures. Although these sculptures are named after the mythological kelpies, they are actually dedicated to working horses and horse power which helped to shape central Scotland’s early industries – particularly the canal horses who used to pull barges along Scotland’s many canals.

Each Kelpie weighs more than 300 tonnes and stands 30 metres tall. It was also built on site in 90 days. Check out this video for a really cool time lapse of the construction!

Each Kelpie was based on a Clydesdale horse – a breed of working horse. Duke and Baron, the two model horses were on hand at the opening ceremony of the Kelpies on November 27, 2013.

Since this was our last stop on this tour, it was fitting for our OG 10 day group to take a group photo. And it is one of our favourites from the whole trip ❤

Taken from good ol’ Facebook

After admiring the Kelpies and stretching our legs, we headed back to the tour bus. Once there, we were informed that we would be making a stop at Edinburgh Airport as some people from this tour guide’s group had flights to catch. We weren’t aware that airport drop off was included in this tour! (Perhaps we should have asked for personal drop off service to our hostels! 😞) This really didn’t seem like the best use of our paid tour time… but guess it was a nice service for those who needed to get to the airport right away. (Even though we were told not to book flights or onwards travel plans immediately after the tour ends, in case of any delays in getting back to Edinburgh!)

After a stop at the airport, we approached Edinburgh. We neared Edinburgh nearly 2hrs earlier than our expected arrival time. (Not sure whether people’s departure times and subsequently timing of the airport stop affected our earlier arrival?! 😯)

Our group thought that this time could have been better spent with a longer visit at one of our earlier stops, seeing something else on our way back to Edinburgh or perhaps going on a walk or exploring an area – even if it was just exploring an area near Edinburgh like Dean Village or Portobello beach. But unfortunately we were dropped off back on the Royal Mile early and feeling like we hadn’t gotten the most out of Day 10. 😔

Unfortunately, in speaking with our groupmates, we all felt like the last part of our Compass Buster tour could have been better, especially compared to the first two tour guides we had and the first 7 days of our trip. Our last tour guide did not make an effort to get to know the people in his group. Of course, it was a large tour bus full of people by this point and we definitely didn’t expect him to know everyone by name or know our life history, but he stuck with the passengers who came out with him and really did not make an effort to get to know the rest of us who joined his group for Day 8. He also didn’t try to engage us in any of the activities he planned for his group. (On the other hand, Sergio, the bus driver, was friendly to all of us!) Some of the stops that we had on the last 3 days also felt like they could have been arranged better. Some felt like “filler” stops – just making a stop to kill some time and just for the sake of it. Some stops were repeats for us and there were other stops that we would have loved to see instead. And Day 10… making 3 visits, a stop at the airport and arriving into Edinburgh almost 2 hours early… it unfortunately just felt like we had wasted half a day, if not a full day of paid travel time and experience 😔

But such is life and we did have an amazing time travelling all over Scotland. There were places that I know we would not have visited, had we travelled on our own – places like the Outer Hebrides and the Orkney islands. We also managed to visit a lot of well known attractions like Eilean Donan castle, Portree, the standing stones at Callanish and the UNESCO world heritage sites in Orkney. We were really glad we went with the 10 day tour instead of the shorter ones. Even though there were some repeat stops, we are really happy we got to see all the varied landscapes of Scotland – from the islands (where each had its own personality), to the rugged highlands to the scenic lowlands. We would recommend taking the 10 day tour if you have the time and are interested in seeing many parts of Scotland. We know that HAGGiS has changed up their 10 day tour itinerary, so hopefully stops are arranged in a better manner.

After some time reflecting on our trip with our group mates, we pulled into Edinburgh. As we grabbed our backpacks and prepared to head back to our hostels, we made plans for that night to meet up with our OG 10 day squad and our new friends we met from Andy’s group for one last hurrah.

We headed back to Castle Rock Hostel, freshened up and got ready to go for dinner. A couple of us decided to meet up for dinner and after wandering the Royal Mile looking for a restaurant, we ended up at The Advocate. As a last tribute, I ordered the vegetarian haggis. (I think the haggis I had in Portree was better!)

After a yummy dinner, we headed to the Belushi’s Bar to meet up with the gang. There was a birthday to celebrate, drinks to be had, our trip to reminisce, Facebook info to be exchanged and shenanigans with waterguns and sunglasses to be had. We decided to go for a walk and explore Edinburgh at night. Let’s just say navigating the many stairs of Edinburgh was an adventure that night! 🤣 We wandered through Grassmarket, where we were regaled with crazy stories and legends – that had us laughing our heads off. We eventually ended up at The Three Sisters, where we met up with more friends – including M, we became friends whilst visiting Orkney! We managed to snag a section of the long tables outside in the courtyard for our group. One of the moments that was the most memorable was impromptu karaoke – especially when we all sang 500 Miles (Andy’s version) together!

Because blurry photos are the best ❤

Alas, all good things must come to an end and there were hugs all around as we parted ways. There was also some waterworks… 😭 once one person started crying, more followed – we must have gotten strange stares from the other patrons of the Three Sisters! There were also promises of future trips together. With most of us being from Canada and Australia – 2 cross country road trips would allow us to easily meet up for more adventures!

As our little group wandered back up to the Royal Mile, it was time for more goodbyes. There was more tears on the Royal Mile 😢 as we said another round of goodbyes and headed off towards our respective hostels and M headed home. But with the wonders of Facebook, we still happily keep in touch with M and our OG 10 day squad + honorary members.

And there you have it – the end of our 10 day Compass Buster Tour. What an amazing trip! We are so glad we decided to go with this tour and are so grateful for the experience and all the people we met!

We had one last day in Edinburgh and we were going to make the most of it with a little daytrip out to Queensferry!

Check back soon 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!

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HAGGiS Adventures Compass Buster Tour: Day 9 – Glen Coe and Oban

After our trip to Hogwarts, it was unfortunately time to head back to our tour bus. 😢

We were told that Glen Coe or Glencoe is usually a stop for the last day. But we would be squeezing it into Day 9 of our Compass Buster Tour.

We didn’t actually go inside the Glencoe Visitor Centre but instead continued to the infamous Weeping Glen.

What happened in Glen Coe is known as an atrocious massacre of the MacDonalds – the Massacre of Glencoe.

A very brief history:

Before January 1st of 1692, all clan chiefs were to swear an Oath of Allegiance to King William of Orange. Due to a number of circumstances, the MacDonald chief was delayed in swearing the oath but his late oath had been sworn. Unfortunately, the damage had been done already. To make an example of those who did not follow orders, the MacDonalds were to be killed. Robert Campbell was to carry out this crime, along with his men. They arrived in Glen Coe and asked for shelter. Although the Campbells and MacDonalds did not get on well, the MacDonalds honoured the code of Highland Hospitality and provided them with food and shelter for 12 days. The next day, as a blizzard swept through the glen, the Campbell guests set about their task of killing all of the MacDonalds. Those who were not killed fled into the blizzard, where many succumbed to the frigid conditions. It seemed like some of the Campbell men did try to warn their hosts of their impending danger and some allegedly even broke their swords so they would not be able to kill. But when morning came, 38 MacDonalds had been killed, including the chief.

Even though the atrocious and callous massacre took place over 300 years ago, many still feel very strongly about it. It is said that there is still a sign at a Glencoe Inn that says “No Campbells.”

Glencoe certainly is a beautiful and scenic location – popular with outdoor enthusiasts. But you can imagine how incredibly difficult it would have been to try to escape the massacre in blizzard conditions through this terrain.

Many film fans also visit Glencoe to see the backdrop used in James Bond’s Skyfall and the Harry Potter films. We will have to research these locations and check them out on our next visit!

As the afternoon faded into dusk, our tour bus took a scenic, coastal route from Glencoe to our final destination for today. Along the way, we were able to admire more gorgeous views.

Here is a beautiful photograph of the iconic Castle Stalker – having been featured in numerous tourism videos, photographs and postcards! We didn’t have the chance to visit on this trip but if we were to return to the west coast of Scotland, this would definitely be on the list to see! This unique castle sits on an island and access is only via boat. (I did read that you could access the island on foot during low tide, but with great difficulties…) Castle Stalker is currently owned by the Stewart Allward family and they do offer boat trips to the island and a tour of their family home several months of the year. I think this would be a really interesting visit!

We finally rolled into our home for the night – Oban. Unfortunately as we squeezed in a visit to Glencoe on day 9 instead of day 10, we arrived pretty late into the town. By this time, most of the city had already shut down for the evening. We were told that there were some nice jewelry and little, local craft shops. But that will have to wait for our next visit. We also wished we had more time to explore the village of Oban – like McCaig’s Tower.

Can you spot McCaig’s Tower, up above Oban town centre?

We dropped off our things at our hostel – Oban Backpackers Plus and went in search of some dinner. As usual, being as indecisive as we were… it took us a while to decide what to eat. At least, we had the chance to wander down to the harbour to catch this iconic view of Oban in the beautiful evening light. At the harbour, we saw various posters of day trips to the neighbouring islands of Tiree, Mull, Iona and Staffa (where we could visit Fingal’s cave!) We definitely would like to return to Oban and take some day trips out to this islands!

At first, we wanted to try something more unique and local to the area but after wandering around, we decided to just go with a Wetherspoon pub – the Corryvreckan, which was recommended by the tour guide. It was quite busy that night, so our group separated to grab tables and get a bite to eat. There was great variety in the menu here. There was even enough vegetarian choices for myself and another vegetarian in our little group! We order a bunch of dishes to share and were quite impressed with the food – given the “pub” setting! Once refueled, we were ready for our next activity – a ceilidh!

We headed to Skipinnish Ceilidh House to dance the night away! Entrance for us was included in our Compass Buster tour and it included two drink tickets each. This place may look like just a club but… there was traditional music and ceilidh dancing to be had first!

Of course, many of us had never done any ceilidh dancing before but that wasn’t a problem at all! The band who was playing that night (we recognized a couple of the band members from the actual Skipinnish band!) talked us through all the steps – from the front/back/side steps to the make-an-arch-while-another-couple-runs-through-it! It was SO MUCH FUN! High energy, lots of laughter and definitely a memorable experience – especially dancing with Sergio, our tour bus driver, who had the best expressions!  If you want to do something a bit different whilst you are in Oban, we would highly recommend spending an evening here at Skipinnish Ceilidh House. Sure, it may be more tourist-oriented but the music is free and the ceilidh dancing is traditional – and FUN!

After the ceilidh dancing was over, the dance floor cleared and the band changed to a DJ. The night was not over yet – there was more dancing to come! Our 10 and 5 day tour groups danced and sang the night away – including our very own rendition of 500 Miles… as taught to us by Andy!

As the night drew to a close, we headed back to our hostel for a bit of rest before the last and final day of this tour!

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 9 – Heading to Hogwarts!

This was the day that we had been waiting for…

Day 9 of our Compass Buster Tour would be the day we head to Hogwarts!

Didn’t think it would happen, did you?

But we got our Hogwarts letters and were about to take the Hogwarts Express!

After traveling from Skye to Mallaig on the ferry, our tour bus stopped near the Mallaig train station. Once there, our guide explained what would be happening. Those of us who had pre-purchased tickets were guaranteed a spot on the train. For those who did not pre-purchase tickets, they would try to source some tickets to accommodate everyone. And for those who did not wish to take the Hogwarts Express, they would stay on the tour bus, see the Glenfinnan Viaduct and meet up with the train in Fort William.

We were eager to get off the bus! We had an important mission – secure the perfect seats for this scenic journey! So as soon as we could, we all walked excitedly to the train station.

A tad different than Platform 9 3/4…

We were told which seats were reserved for our group and after snapping a couple of pre-journey photographs, we hopped aboard the Hogwarts Express!

Crossed off another bucket list item! Yessssss! As we settled into our seats, chatting with our group mates and some new traveler friends, we finally heard the engine rumble and the train come alive! Not to mention we had secured ourselves some wands for the journey and whipped them out as soon as we were seated!

We even tried to perform some spells…like Wingardium Leviosa. Whether it worked or not is another matter all together :P.

Even without the magic of Harry Potter, this train journey was still pretty special! This train would be taking us from Mallaig on the west coast through the Scottish Highlands and finally to Fort William.

Now, in reality, the train is called the Jacobite Express. It boasts to be the greatest train journey in the world! A one-way journey from Mallaig to Fort William is about 42miles and travels through some of the best landscapes of Scotland – from lochs and rivers to mountains and viaducts. The train is a steam train and makes for that iconic photo of steam billowing out from the chimney of the train.

The Jacobite Express does provide seasonal service only – so make sure to check the schedule to plan your trip accordingly! Information on train schedule, times and fares can be found here. This train journey was not included in our basic HAGGiS Adventures Compass Buster tour fees. This was one of the Add-Ons offered on top of our tour fees. We knew we wanted to take this journey, so we had pre-purchased this ahead of time to guarantee our seats on this epic train journey!

The scenery was just spectacular!

Initially we stayed in our seats, admiring the passing scenery and snapping some photographs through the glass window. When we got up to stretch our legs a little, we saw that some people had stationed themselves in the connecting space between train cars. This space had open windows, which provided the perfect, glass-free spot to take photographs! Now, we are not sure what train rules or etiquette is around this, but we ended up spending some time by the window here. Especially since the Glenfinnan stop was coming up!

Here we are – approaching the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct! This was made world-famous by the Harry Potter films and is now a huge tourist attraction. This concrete viaduct is said to be the longest concrete railway bridge in Scotland and towers over River Finnan at a height of 100m. Set against the mountains, it makes for a gorgeous picture!

Our little group huddled by our little window and hurriedly and politely took turns taking photographs of this iconic viaduct. This way, we all got a chance to see the viaduct and to snap a couple of pictures.

I’m just imagining Ron and Harry driving the flying car over our train!


And just like that, we had traveled over the viaduct and continued on our way to our final destination.

I think we lucked out on our seats. Our train car was towards the middle/end of the train. When the train travels along a bend, we get this beautiful view of the steam engine and the cars in front of us.

We couldn’t help taking some train portraits!

It was interesting to see the change in scenery as we traveled in from the coast. It seemed like after every bend, there was a different vista to admire. We can definitely see why this is described as one of the greatest train journeys in the world!

I’m always on the lookout for a Canadian connection, when we are travelling. Can you spot our flag there? It was pretty cool that we were able to spot our Maple Leaf all the way in Scotland!

Alas, the train journey had to end… Here we are arriving at our final destination – Fort William. (Unfortunately, not Hogwarts…)

It seemed like no one wanted to leave the platform! People of all ages enjoyed the train ride and everyone spent a couple of minutes taking photographs of this steam train. Regardless of whether you are a Harry Potter fan or not, this train journey through the highlands was pretty cool!

And although we didn’t actually arrive at Hogwarts, the train journey on the Jacobite and the amazing scenery was enough to make this one of the most memorable highlights of this trip!

We thought this train journey was worth it – being Harry Potter fans and also fans of the beautiful Scottish landscape. If we were to return, we probably would not take the train again. Instead we would probably find the perfect spot by the Glenfinnan Viaduct to capture the Jacobite Express crossing this iconic viaduct and perhaps make a visit to the Glenfinnan Monument.

We were a bit reluctant to return to our tourbus and back to reality.

When we got back on the tourbus, we swapped stories with our friends who didn’t take the train journey. Although they didn’t get to board the Jacobite Express, they told us of how the bus raced the train to make sure the group was in the optimal place to watch the Jacobite cross Glenfinnan Viaduct. They did take some spectacular photographs of this iconic steam train gliding over that iconic viaduct – made world-famous by the Harry Potter films.

After such an exciting adventure, we chatted excitedly and looked through our photographs as our tourbus took us to our next destination. Stay tuned for more of Day 9!

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

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!

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 😉

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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

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!

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!

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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.

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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 2 – Callanish Standing Stones

And we’ve finally reached my favourite part of Day 2 of our Compass Buster Tour: The Callanish Standing Stones <3.

After finishing with Dun Carloway Broch, Greg told us we’d finally be making our way to the standing stones! If you’ve been keeping up with the blog, you’ll know that we did come across some standing stones at Blarney Castle in Ireland. Since then, I had been more than a little excited to get to Scotland and see these standing stones up close!

Again, as you may know, we have been searching for Jamie Fraser…yes, yes we tried again here. Obviously and sadly, it didn’t work but it was a lot of fun!

From the moment we stepped out of the bus, I knew this place would be magical! Just look at that view as we approached the site:

It’s not often you get to see a procession of standing stones so greatly preserved!

“The Callanish Stones (“Callanish I”) are an arrangement of standing stones placed in a cruciform pattern with a central stone circle. They were erected in the late Neolithic era.”

They are near the village of Callanish on the west coast of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland.

It was a great feat for the people who lived near the site to be able to build it over 4,000 years ago. The stones were supposedly moved with rollers, wooden frames and brute strength. This cost them a lot of time and effort, to be sure!

It is still a mystery as to why these stones were built. This is obviously not the first and only site to have standing stones. During the Neolithic period, many communities across north-west Europe constructed these monuments!

It is most likely they were built for worship or religious reasons. Another common finding is that they may have been built according to astronomical events such as the midwinter sunrise and sunset.

It’s so exciting to still be able to see these standing stones and to speculate as to what the site was constructed for and what the stones mean!

As noted above, this particular site is built in a cruciform pattern. Inside the circle is a stone burial cairn. Supposedly, the cremated bodies were despoiled with pots and beakers which dates to between 2000 to 1700 BC.

“The Callanish Stones consist of a stone circle of thirteen stones with a monolith near the middle. Five rows of standing stones connect to this circle. Two long rows of stones running almost parallel to each other from the stone circle to the north-northeast form a kind of avenue. In addition, there are shorter rows of stones to the west-southwest, south and east-northeast. The stones are all of the same rock type, namely the local Lewisian gneiss. Within the stone circle is a chambered tomb to the east of the central stone.”

Perhaps, the site being used for ritualistic purposes is the most realistic explanation for the stones after all.

Of course between the two of us, our imaginations got away with us again and took us on a hopeful journey towards finding Jamie Fraser. We tried several stones which we thought might work to transport us back in time, but alas, it didn’t exactly work.

Searching for Jamie was getting tiring! We tried several stones that called to us but no Jamie resulted :(.

That being said, it was amazing to be able to touch these stones, which had been erected by people thousands of years ago and it was even more incredible to be able to stand on the same land they had stood on, but for obviously very different reasons!

It was such a pleasant day out and our Irish Rainbow luck still hadn’t evaporated! We took the opportunity to fool around a bit and take some epic photos for our collection :).

Today, the stones, as with Dun Carloway Broch, are managed by Historic Scotland.

Perhaps the Historic Scotland website has the best way to explain the stones:

“This is a story with no ending. Against the backdrop of their 5000 years, the stones have witnessed countless changes in the people and the landscape around them. The story tells about developing landscape, the evolving environment, a land of circles, stones, archaeology and conservation along with many other topics.”

The site was so peaceful, with so very few tourists buzzing about, I am very grateful Greg let us stay and absorb the power of the stones for so long! He basically told us to ponder our lives within these surroundings :P.

And ponder we did. I literally sat there in the quiet landscape listening to the wind and looking at the stones and the sky and the surrounding lochs, not wanting to leave!!!

It’s true when they say Scotland is magical. It’s just a feeling you get when you are out and about viewing the natural and ancient landscape!

We unfortunately had to leave our lovely Callanish I stones and move on to the Callanish II and III, which were not quite as extensive as Callanish I, but made supposedly with the same purpose in mind.

Callanish II and III are located not too far away from the main stones site and comprise of similar stone rings. Callanish II, which was dug out of the peat in 1858, is in the shape of an eclipse, while Callanish III consisted of two concentric eclipses.

It was rather difficult to get to the Callanish III site as it was extremely muddy and not as touristy as the main Callanish site. Nevertheless, we were in Scotland! Which meant we must adventure and explore as much as we could! It was still worth it to get pictures like the ones below!

All in all, this was a definite experience. I don’t want to say once in a lifetime, because I know I will go back again! If you travel to the Outer Hebrides and to the Isle of Lewis, you MUST visit the Callanish Stones. Information on visiting this amazing site can be found here.

This is not a site to be excluded from your Scotland trip! And don’t just spend 5 minutes, take a photograph and leave! Make sure to allot enough time for you to take in the standing stones, explore the area and take some time to reflect and think – as was recommended to us! We think it would be an amazing place to experience a sunrise or a sunset – the rays of light dancing between the stones. Or even to spot the Northern Lights here, with the Callanish stones as a backdrop? Amazing! We’ll definitely have to come back for another visit!

This was one of our favourite sites and is likely to be one of yours as well!!!

We end day 2 with a little evening stroll around Stornoway!

Stay tuned for more on that coming soon!

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!