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‚ÄĚ. –¬†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! ūüėČ

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. ūüė•

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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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 ‚Äď a mace head, three stone axe heads, a black ‚Äėbutton‚Äô 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 Рcreated 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

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HAGGiS Adventures Compass Buster Tour: Day 5 – Duncansby Head and John O’Groats

After a really fun night out in Inverness, we had an early start on Day 5 of our Compass Buster tour. ¬†We also had some goodbyes to say before we left Inverness ūüėĘ

Day 5 meant the splitting of our group. Some of our group mates were only doing a 5 day tour, so they were heading back to Edinburgh today, while we continued on our 10 day tour with a new group and our new tour guide – Andy. It’s funny how much you get to know someone when you’re travelling and adventuring with them and spending time together pretty much 24/7. This was especially true for our friend V, because we had done our 7 day Shamrocker tour with her as well, prior to this tour of Scotland. Lots of photographs, inside jokes and memories with this one! Since NZ is on our bucket list, we’ll have to drop in on V and ask her to be our personal tour guide for our visit! And of course – we can’t wait to play tour guide to V when she comes to visit us in Vancouver – we’ll be sure to include lots of opportunities for adventures, exploring and gazing! ūüėč

After saying our goodbyes, we loaded our bags onto a new bus – gasp! We are such creatures of habit. ūüėÖ We had only spent 4 days on our first bus and we had already gotten so used to our seats, our view and everything. It was a bit strange getting onto a new bus and finding new seats!

After we were all settled, we headed out of Inverness.

Heading out early does have its perks! We caught a beautiful sunrise – one that made Andy pull over to the side of the road so we could all pile out of the bus and admire it.

It just made me breathe and want to stay in that moment forever.

After a peaceful moment of admiring the sunrise, we were back on the road watching the scenery fly past us. Who knew there were picturesque fields like these in Scotland!?

Eventually we reached the northernmost area of the Scottish and British mainland – the area around John O’Groats.

John O’Groats is considered to be the most north-easterly inhabited point on the British mainland. It is also famous for being part of the Land’s End to John O’Groats journey. Many people will make these “End to End” Journeys – traversing the UK mainland, from the most south-westerly point of Land’s End in Cornwall to this most north-easterly point of John O’Groats.

Instead of stopping at John O’Groats, we continued a couple more kilometers north to our first scheduled stop of the day – Duncansby Head.

Hopping out of the bus, it was nice to stretch our legs with a wee walk. This was one of the many walks that we would go on with Andy. Although this was a short walk, we had plenty of time to explore and take photographs.

Duncansby Head is marked by its lighthouse, which was built in 1924.

Walking past the lighthouse, we headed towards the Duncansby Stacks.

The journey to our destination was almost as beautiful as the Stacks themselves – tranquil yet wild.

You might be wondering… stacks of what?! The Stacks of Duncansby are actually¬†sea stacks – coastal geological landforms that are shaped¬†by the processes of¬†erosion.

Check out the gorgeous scenery – it almost doesn’t look real! Plus, it seemed like this beautiful area is still a little bit off the beaten path and there weren’t throngs of tourists crowding around. We had this beautiful view pretty much all to ourselves!

Geology and landscapes fascinate me! It’s amazing to think about the forces of nature, the power and the time that it took to shape this coastline. I’m no geologist, but a quick google search tells me that crashing waves power their way through the headlands – first creating small cracks, then bigger caves, then all the way through the rock and creating arches. With further erosion by water and by wind, the arch can collapse into the sea, leaving behind these spectacular columns or stacks. Take a look at the next photograph – can you spot the little arch that is beginning to form? (It’s towards the middle of the photograph.) It will be interesting to see if this turns into the another Stack of Duncansby in the years to come!

Duncansby Head also has one other claim to fame. Remember the Land’s End to John O’Groats journey we were talking about earlier? Well, some people actually consider Duncansby Head to be “the end of the road” since it is a couple kilometers down the road past John O’Groats. Thus, technically making it the furthest location by road from Land’s End in Cornwall. So how do you decide where to stop at, on the end of your “End to End” journey?

To make it more simple, we recommend stopping at Duncansby Head for a wee walk to see the sea stacks and also stopping at the village of John O’Groats to take a photograph with this iconic sign post.

We might have to return to John O’Groats and make the journey to Land’s End to take a photograph with the corresponding sign post there! It’s only… 874 miles…

After our photographs with the iconic sign post, we wandered down to the harbour. We caught sight of the restored¬†Inn at John O’Groats.

I love the splashes of colour on those buildings!

And just in case you forget where you are, there is a little reminder down by the harbour.

I didn’t know the stacks had names, or I would’ve addressed them accordingly when we were visiting them!

After exploring the harbour, we popped into some of the shops and had a poke around. I picked up one of my favourite souvenirs of this trip here! It’s a little book called “The Wit and Wisdom of Highland Cows“. And let me tell you – they are very wise indeed! Highly recommended for a bit of thinking and a chuckle¬†ūüėč

Eventually, it was time to head to the ferry terminal. We, and our yellow bus, boarded the ferry¬†and set sail for the Orkney Islands! Stay tuned for our Orcadian adventures in our next few blog posts! There’ll be more wee walks, epic scenery, history, archaeology and, of course, exploring and adventures!

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

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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

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HAGGiS Adventures Compass Buster Tour: Day 2 – The Butt of Lewis and Port Stoth Beach

After a good sleep at the Heb Hostel in Stornoway, we were off to start Day 2 of our Compass Buster Tour!

Greg informed us that Day 2 would be just as action packed as Day 1 had been and we were excited to be on our way! After grabbing some breakfast from Tesco (and maybe another snack or two), we were back on our yellow bus and headed towards more adventures and exploring in the Outer Hebrides.

The Outer Hebrides is a chain of islands located just off the western coast of mainland Scotland. Even in the short time that we spent here, we could see that people here have a very unique and special way of life – with Gaelic being the predominant language and their own traditions, culture and customs. They are also surrounded by some pretty wild, stunning and beautiful scenery, which we were lucky enough to explore on this trip!

As we were on the Isle of Lewis, it was only natural that we would have to visit its northernmost point: The Butt of Lewis!

“The¬†headland, which lies in the¬†North Atlantic, is frequently battered by heavy swells and storms and is marked by the¬†Butt of Lewis Lighthouse.”

Once we stepped off the bus, we already noticed the wind. This would be a common reoccurrence, as we would be visiting many cliffs while in Scotland. After seeing so much of the Atlantic Ocean in Ireland, it was a welcoming sight yet again!!!

Greg gave us free rein to explore as much as we wanted and we took the opportunity to take as many pictures as we could! Our gazing pictures, which started in Ireland, continued on this tour as well…

The Butt of Lewis actually has some of the oldest rocks in all of Europe! They were formed in the Precambrian period over 3000 million years ago! And look at us Рstepping foot on these historic rocks in the present day!!!

The wind was really picking up and we could tell by the waves that continued to beat against the base rocks of the cliff! They really do make a thunderous yet calming noise as they crash!

We even spotted seals just hanging out in the water, braving the choppy waters and peering curiously at us!

The basins around the cliffs were amazing in colour. I can only imagine what the water would have looked like on a sunny day. Another reason to return to the Isle of Lewis (as you will later find out).

The Lighthouse, which sits on the site, was built in the 1860’s by David Stevenson. It was built to aid in shipping. It was constructed of red brick and never painted. It was said to be one of his most benign works but even so it has played an important role guiding ships away from the cliffs!

There is not much known about the lighthouse station’s early days but it has changed much over the past century. A plaque outside of the station states that the current equipment was added in 1905.

“The lighthouse continued to be supplied by sea until as recently as 1960. The communications wires strung from the lighthouse are associated with its role in acting as a relay for the Flannan Isles lighthouse to the west. Since 1998 the Butt of Lewis lighthouse has itself also been operated automatically. Nearby is a foghorn which ceased operation in 1995.”

Even with the stormy weather, we couldn’t stop snapping pictures. We will let them speak for themselves:

When someone says “Let’s take a selfie.” And you BOTH take out your cameras… Hahaha!

After we had enough of this side of the Butt of Lewis (ha ha ha), Greg decided to take us to Port Stoth beach – which was on the other side of the road we came on.

Okay, imagine what this beach would look like on a sunny day. GORGEOUS! Even on a cloudy blustery day, the water was this colour. It’s almost tropical – if you forget about the wind and chill!

Port Stoth Beach was used to land all the materials for the building for the Butt of Lewis Lighthouse! It continued to be used to bring materials to the lighthouse until the 1960’s! The ramps that were used are still on the beach today!

Of course, I had to somehow prove that I had been there by writing my initials in the sand! Maybe if it was a warmer day and I wasn’t sick, then I would have gone into the water for a wee dip of my toes!

As we walked back up the slipway, we caught a glimpse of our lovely “Wild and Sexy” yellow bus waiting for us to continue our adventures!

After taking one last selfie, we had to say goodbye to beautiful Port Stoth Beach and head out towards the Trussel Stone and Gearrannen Blackhouses! Stay tuned for more of our Day 2 adventures!

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

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© Letters of Wanderlust, 2016. 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 1 – Corrieshalloch Gorge and Falls of Measach

After visiting Dunkeld and finally waking up (maybe) with the help of some coffee, Greg told us that our next major stop for the day would be the Corrieshalloch Gorge and the Falls of Measach. After that, we would be heading to the port at Ullapool to take the Ferry to Stornoway, our stop for the night!  Our excitement level was starting to increase!!!

Before we reached our destination, we had another short stop that would definitely give us a taste of what we should be expecting from our tour around Scotland. Greg pulled to the side and we got views of a landscape that was exactly what I had hoped to see!!!

Through a wiki search (always accurate, right?!), google maps and a list of dams in Scotland, we figure this is probably Loch Glascarnoch.

The mix of hills and lochs and Scottish Heather made for a spectacular view!  I think it was at this point that I finally realized we were going to travel around SCOTLAND and see sights like this all over the place Рif not even more impressive!

It also happened to be World Ballet Day at the time, so Natalie took the opportunity to do an arabesque with a beautiful Scottish landscape behind her!

It was at this point that we found out that Scottish Heather is specific to this landscape and that it can be used to make rope! That’s how strong it is.

At this point I was a bit reluctant to leave this calming landscape. I literally just wanted to sit there and absorb the scenery <3.

Greg burst my bubble by informing us we had to get a move on for we had more sights to see. This leads us to our next stop: Corrieshalloch Gorge and the Falls of Measach.

We would be walking across a suspension bridge that day to get to the Falls! The bridge was actually:

“Built by John Fowler (1817-98), joint designer of the Forth Railway Bridge.”

The gorge itself is 61 metres deep and is one of the best examples of a boxed canyon in Britain. It is located on the River Droma, south of Ullapool. It’s actually 1.5 km long and there are two walking paths to explore the area. We took the shorter, less strenuous one that would lead to the viewing platform, as we still had a lot of travelling to do.

Luckily for us,¬†the sun decided to stick around and we got great sunny weather to explore in. As we crossed the bridge, boys, of course, would be boys and they shook it. We already knew our trip mates would be a fun crowd! There was even a sign warning of the maximum number of people on the suspension bridge at one time! But we weren’t too worried… (Plus, we had an engineer in the group and he said it would be safe – so we believed him!)

The pictures we got of the Falls of Measach were gorgeous! It was another lovely example of what Scotland had to offer.

On our way back to the bus, we got another look at the River Droma and the gorge. The gorge was actually made at the end of the Ice Age so the rock formations we saw were very interesting and somehow reminded me of the geological formations in Ireland! Dare I say that the colour of the water and the foaming parts that hit the rocks reminded me of GUINNESS!? Because it really did ūüôā

This was another beautiful landscape to add to our list that day.

After snapping some epic pictures of water and sky (yet again), we were back on the road.

Our next stop would be something that I hadn’t expected in Ireland and again hadn’t expected in Scotland: A BEACH! More specifically at Ardmair Bay, overlooking Loch Kanaird.

The village of Ardmair is a fishing village in Wester Ross, north of Ullapool. It is small, quaint and just plain beautiful! The houses were all white surfaced and fit perfectly with the bay it is situated on. I was just as shocked at the beauty of this beach and little town as I had been in Ireland when we traveled along the coastline.

The beach is full of perfectly smooth rocks, which are PERFECT for use as skipping stones!

We, of course, had to try our hands at it but we had to be careful because it was low tide and the moss on the stones made it extra slippery to get around, but it was so worth it to get to the water and look out at the landscape <3. It was just amazing. So, if I left part of my soul in Ireland, I was already leaving another part of my soul in Scotland!

Here’s a look at Ben Nor Coigach in the distance.

The sun didn’t fail us that day and came out in another glorious display of sky and water.

After getting our fair share of photographic opportunities, we were back on the road to Ullapool – where we would be catching the Ferry to our final stop of the day: Stornoway. Ullapool is a village in Ross-shire, Scottish Highlands which is nestled on the shores of Lochbroom. We didn’t have much time to explore Ullapool but it is supposedly a ideal place to stay on a trip to Scotland because of its proximity¬†to several other Scottish villages and sites, not to mention Inverness Airport!

If you want more information about Ullapool, you can find it here.

Ullapool would be where we had to grab a quick bite to eat before our 2+ hours Ferry ride to Stornoway. We wandered the streets for a little while, before deciding to eat some fries (chips?! ūüėČ) while getting to know some of our group mates better.

We were treated to another amazing light and water show. I honestly have never seen such beautiful sky scenery as I did in Scotland. Just look at how that ray of Sun comes out of the clouds specifically on that spot on the water -truly magical!

We would be taking the Calmac Ferry to the Isle of Lewis and we only hoped the waters would be calm! The clouds that were rolling in looked a bit threatening but I was really excited to be on the water and experience Scotland in this way. The Calmac Ferry runs both in the summer and the winter out to Stornoway and you can find more specific information on the rates and the schedules here, in case you are planning your trip to the Hebrides!

As we left Ullapool, we made sure to take a seat by the window to snap some more shots of the beautiful scenery before us!

After first exploring the Ferry a little bit, we decided it was time to eat our dinner. The Ferry had a rather good selection of food from their cafeteria! I believe both Natalie and myself got the fish and chips and I finally gave in and wanted to try the Irn Bru that seemed to be a popular drink in Scotland. Greg had talked it up enough on the bus ride that a bunch of us were willing to try it. Apparently Irn Bru is good to cure anything :P. Whether this is a true or false statement, I will leave it up to you to decide once you try it. In my opinion, it is a rather acquired taste!

Before we knew it, our Ferry had docked in Stornoway and we were on the road to our accommodations! Our accommodations for the next two nights, as we explored the Outer Hebrides, would be the Heb Hostel in Stornoway. It was a pleasant little hostel with enough room to house our whole horde of people. There were quite a few of us in one room and there were washroom facilities on each floor but, even so, it took quite the coordination for us all to share, especially with more than 10 girls under one roof!

Once settled into our respective rooms, we decided it was time to shower and make use of the Wi-Fi they have in place in order to tell our families back home what we had seen that day! One thing about the Heb Hostel was that the Wi-Fi worked perfectly in the common room but not so great in the rooms themselves. But it really seemed to depend on the phone you had, as some people could catch the Wi-Fi and other people not so much (I was in the not so much category).

It was already dark outside by the time we had all showered and gathered in the common room. I was so tired out but our group mates were insistent in going out and finding a pub to grab a drink from! Greg informed us of a specific pub that would be hosting a karaoke night that we might enjoy going to. The only store open so late would be Tesco so we wouldn’t get to see much of the city itself at this hour. We decided to go to Tesco first to grab some snacks for the bus ride the following day and told our group mates we would go to the Pub that was recommended after.

Unluckily for us…we didn’t manage to find the pub. We wandered around a rather quiet Stornoway (there was nobody on the street so late) but couldn’t find the pub! We did stumble into an empty pub and got stared down by a bar lady! We did meet a cat along the way which I befriended and hesitantly left behind though. Having been unsuccessful, we decided to go back to the Hostel and turn in early so we would be refreshed for tomorrow.

Overall our first day in the Highlands was amazing! We were even more excited for what was to come the next day. You’ll notice that our days were packed with different stops and adventures and this is because of the number of places there are to be amazed by in Scotland.

Stay tuned for Day 2 where we explored some cliffs, finally saw some standing stones (Outlander shots to come) and found some historic ruins!

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

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© Letters of Wanderlust, 2016. 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 1 – Dunkeld

After a very long hiatus, I am back to share with you all our amazing HAGGiS Adventures – 10 Day Compass Buster tour!

I am so excited to finally be able to share our experiences on this tour! As Natalie pointed out, our expectations were set very high for Scotland. We had a specific image of what it would be like, how the landscapes would be, how the people would be, and just in general – how we would feel about it. We were thinking maybe our expectations were set too high and we would end up feeling disappointed.

Boy, were we wrong! The country was all that we expected and more!

The morning our trip began we woke up early, left some of our baggage at Castle Rock Hostel (because we would be returning for one night after the tour) and headed down to the HAGGiS Adventures office to check in for our tour. But… not before we took one last picture of Edinburgh Castle standing proud in the morning light.

It was a colder morning and as we made our way down the Royal Mile, we were still amazed by the beautiful city of Edinburgh.

An almost quiet Royal Mile before 8am… Quite a contrast to what this scene looks like during the day and evenings!

When we finally arrived at the office and checked in, we got our customary tour group wristband Рjust as we had on our Shamrocker Tour. Since we opted for the pre-paid bundle of accommodations and add-on attractions, we also received a HAGGiS t-shirt in the bright yellow that we would learn is their signature colour!

After being told to wait outside for our tour guide, we already noticed that there were some Canadians on this tour! We were excited to make new friends and even meet up with some old ones from our previous Shamrocker Adventures Tour. The next couple days looked promising! After a few minutes waiting and talking to our tour mates, we were herded to our tour bus! (Make sure you get on the right bus! There were several other tours also checking in and leaving at the same time as ours!)

Our “Wild and Sexy” ride was a bright yellow bus driven by our tour guide. On our Ireland¬†tour, as you may recall, we had a driver and a tour guide. It was an interesting change to have one person do both! Our guide for the first leg of the tour would be Greg. We could already tell he would be an enthusiastic guide, joking around as he helped us load our bags into the bus.

After everyone was packed and boarded, Greg gave us a brief overview what the next couple of days would like look and where we would be staying. Our first day would involve some bus time (we had to traverse Scotland up to Ullapool to catch our ferry this evening!), but still lots of sightseeing with stops in between for lunch and snacks, much like our Shamrocker Tour.

As we drove out of Edinburgh, we got to say goodbye to some famous sights like the Scott Monument, until our return in 10 days.

As we started driving out of Edinburgh, we noticed a thick fog had settled around the city. Because of it, we didn’t get to see the Forth Bridge! Luckily for Natalie and I, we would be seeing it when we visit Inchcolm Abbey after this Scotland tour. But it was too bad we didn’t get to see it as we crossed the Firth of Forth.

We would soon find out that our bus ride would be highly entertaining as Greg told us stories about the landscapes we were passing and joked around about his own experiences around Scotland! It looked like it was going to be an entertaining few days. Our first stop for the day would be the little town of Dunkeld and Dunkeld Cathedral for a coffee break and to stretch our legs.

Once we reached Dunkeld Рit took us about an hour and a bit to get there from Edinburgh, we were all ready for a stretch and some coffee to wake up. Unfortunately for me, right after we finished our Shamrocker Tour, I got a horrible cold that would not let up. It continued to get worse and it was hard for me to enjoy everything when I was sniffling and coughing half the time. But brave it I did! I was finally in Scotland and I would enjoy even if I had to cough non-stop!

As we drove up to Dunkeld Cathedral, I noticed something familiar — SHEEP!!! I loved my Irish Sheep and it was exciting to see them again in Scotland! The morning was starting to clear up and the fog that had followed us out of Edinburgh started to lift. One thing we would notice about Scotland is the exciting cloudscapes that occurred any time of day. Just look at that wisp of cloud below after the fog lifted, it literally made the landscape look ethereal!


Dunkeld Cathedral was built in the early 13th century and stands on the North bank of the River Tay in Perth and Kinross, Scotland. Its history dates back to before that time:

“In 849, relics of St Columba were removed from Iona to protect them from Viking raids. They were brought to¬†Dunkeld¬†by King Kenneth¬†MacAlpin, who appointed a bishop at¬†Dunkeld. Columba became the patron saint of¬†Dunkeld¬†and its monastery.” – Historic Environment Scotland

It was actually a very crisp morning and the cathedral was also under construction, so we were not able to access parts of the building. So, to be honest we didn’t explore as much of the Cathedral as we could have. I did find it interesting that the Cathedral has mixed architecture because of the length of time it was under construction.

“There are paintings dating from the 1500s on the vault of the bell tower‚Äôs ground floor, which once served as an ecclesiastical court. There are also fine memorials in the choir, including the effigy of Alexander Stewart, Earl of Buchan ‚Äď notorious as ‚ÄėThe Wolf of Badenoch‚Äô.”¬†– Historic Environment Scotland

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The landscape around Dunkeld was also extraordinarily beautiful in the early morning and this was just an early glimpse of what was to come for the rest of our trip!

After exploring as much of the Cathedral as we could, we wandered into the little town of Dunkeld to grab a cup of coffee/tea to take back to the bus with us. We got to know some of our tour mates a little better and even bonded a bit over our Canadian-ness with our fellow Canadian tour mates! (Apparently we have Canadian accents! Who knew!)

The Atholl Memorial Fountain in Dunkeld

Dunkeld’s town history dates back to the Romans and the Picts and this is because of its strategic location. It became a centre for Christianity in the 7th century when Columba came over from Iona. In the 9th Century, King Kenneth MacAlpin, the first king of Scotland, made Dunkeld the head of the Celtic Church, as well as the newly formed nation of¬†the Scots and the Picts. So, as you can see there is plenty to learn in Dunkeld, we just didn’t have enough time to explore. Therefore there is an even bigger reason to return!

You can get a bit more info on the town and Cathedral on the town website here.

Getting back on the road, the scenery continued to amaze us! Scotland has some of the most diverse landscapes I’ve ever seen! It somehow reminded me a bit of home with its lochs and mountains but in a completely different setting.

Next, we drove through the Cairngorms National Park and stopped at Aviemore for lunch. We learned that the this national park is popular year round for loads of outdoor activities Рfrom skiing in the winter to biking, hiking and golfing!

After our lunch stop, we continued north – passing through Inverness. We didn’t stop here today but we would return to Inverness on Day 4 of the trip. After Inverness, we headed northwest towards the coast.¬†Greg informed us that our next stop would be Corrieshalloch Gorge and the Falls of Measach.

Come back and read more about these gorge-ous Falls in our next post! (Ha! Couldn’t resist!)

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

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© Letters of Wanderlust, 2016. 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!