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!

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HAGGiS Adventures Compass Buster Tour: Day 9 – Exploring Armadale

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

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

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

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

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

He wandered around the estate like he owned the place!

He even strolled into the cafe to check it out!

We imagine the cafe was up to his standards!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~~~

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

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

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

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

Hogwarts, here we come!

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

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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 Рinstead 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 Рthe 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! ūüƨ¬†(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… ūü§ď 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.

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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 Рwith its alternating red and yellow sandstone from the Orkney isles. St. Magnus Cathedral has an interesting history Рfrom 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! ūüėč But we had a really lovely time chatting with our friends, cooking and sitting down to a nice dinner and some sangriaūüć∑!

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 ūüėČ

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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 Рwhich also organizes some day tours

Orkney Ferries Рif you want to explore the other islands of Orkney

Lonely Planet – Orkney

Heart of Neolithic Orkney

Orkney Explorer Pass

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

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

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

HAGGiS Adventures Compass Buster Tour: Day 5 – Tomb of the Eagles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Tomb of the Eagles is a very popular and family friendly attraction located on the island of South Ronaldsay. This historic site was discovered by a local farmer, Ronnie Simison. In 1958, he noticed some stones that looked a bit… out of place on his farmland. Intrigued, he began digging near the drystone wall. He discovered “a cache of beautiful polished artefacts ‚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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© 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 4 РExploring the West Highlands and Inverness 

After a visit to one of Scotland’s most iconic castles, we were off to do some exploring in the great outdoors!

You have not visited Scotland properly until you have gone on an adventure through its wilderness!

Our first stop would be a view point overlooking Loch Carron. The views from the lookout were impressive to say the least!

The Loch itself is on the west coast of Ross and Cromarty in the Scottish Highlands. It is the point at which the River Carron enters the North Atlantic Ocean.

As you can see from the information board above the lake is surrounded by various peaks and even on a cloudy day is pretty spectacular.

After taking several gorgeous photographs, we were back on our bus headed off to our next stop.

This next stop would combine adventures and exploring with a wee ramble through the woods!

This is Rogie Falls!

We read that this is a popular salmon river – great for catching a glimpse of salmon leaping upstream to their birthplaces to spawn.

As you can see in this next photograph, a salmon ladder was created on the right hand side to aid the fish in going upstream!

In order to cross the river, we had to go over the suspension bridge pictured below!

The bridge is actually a great spot to take some epic pictures of the river and the falls below!

After crossing the bridge, Greg took us to another spot where we could take some good pictures and view the falls – and try to spot some salmon!

Below is a picture of the super tiny “bridge” that we would have to cross to get to that point.

I myself couldn’t cross it ūüėě. Vertigo hit and nopeūüė®! I waited for Natalie while she went to explore the other side. ¬†We now realize there were¬†a couple of things that we did on this trip, which we’re pretty sure travel insurance wouldn’t have covered, had any misfortune come our way! Although these were all exciting things, we will have to make sure safety comes first.

Photo taken inadvertently while stepping off the teeny, tiny bridge – perfectly expressing the feeling of crossing said bridge!!!!

After the wee walk, we drove into the town of Beauly for a quick stop and an afternoon snack.

The town of Beauly is centered around the old priory which was founded in the early 13th century. The history of the town is linked with a number of Scottish clans:

“most notably the Lovat Frasers who owned much of the land around the village and had their base at Beaufort Castle. The Chisholms owned much of the land on the north side of the River Beauly and ruled from Erchless Castle while the Mackenzie clan ruled the lands to the North of Beauly.”

Mary Queen of Scots visited Beauly in the 16th century and was said to have said “C’est un beau lieu.” This is one of the more popular explanations for the name of the town.

Beauly Priory was built around 1230 for the monks of the Valilscaulian order. These monks seem to have come from France and settled in this area and two other priories around the same time.

The site was impressive both in architecture and size. Although it is in ruins today, the priory was only a small part of a complex that had a cloister to the south, complete with east and south accommodation and a west range providing the prior’s lodging.

The patron of priory was Sir John Bisset, who would later have his family joined in marriage by the Frasers of Lovat.

If you want to learn more about Beauly Priory’s history, you can do so here.

It was after the Reformation that the priory fell into disuse. It seems that much of the priory had become a quarry at the time, the stones being used for other buildings in construction during the 16th century, hence so many missing pieces.

Currently, Beauly is in care of the State and has been so since 1913. It is being looked after by Historic Environment Scotland.

After exploring Beauly Priory’s ruins, we decided to take a turn around the town before heading back to our yellow bus.

We were all getting hungry and craving something sweet so our whole group gathered at a little cafe and delicatessen¬†–¬†Corner in the Square¬†for a snack!

After seeing all the delicious cakes and baked goods, we decided this would be the place for our snack. Natalie decided to get the cheesecake, while I got a plum coffee cake. Honestly, this was probably the best cheesecake we had ever tasted! It was so rich and creamy – it was literally like a cloud. The plum coffee cake was beyond delicious as well and very filling! As a result, we are definitely putting Beauly on our to-return-to list just for this reason!

We didn’t even manage to get a photo of the slice whole – we dug in right away! Hence the half eaten photo…

After our short stop over in Beauly, it was onward to our home for the night in Inverness. We stayed at the Youth Hostel, SYHA, and we were informed by Greg that this would be our last stop with him as we would be getting a new guide and new group in the morning!

As you may recall, this was one of our only issues with this specific tour. Due to the length of our 10 day Compass Buster tour, we were shuffled around to join several other shorter 2, 3 and 5 day tours. In the end, we changed tour guides a grand total of three times – making it feel a bit interrupted and disjointed.

The SYHA itself was a great place to stay with plenty of rooms and close enough to the centre of Inverness so we could go out and explore a bit, as well as buy some food for the next day! It was a bit… institutional (?! if you know what we mean…) and wasn’t as cozy or friendly as some of the other hostels we had stayed at/would stay at later on – but it would do for the night!

If you would like more information about the SYHA or you want to book your stay, you can do so here.

After settling in, we decided to walk into Inverness for some dinner and dancing – bagpipes and crazy cardio dancing included!

We decided to have dinner at Hootananny РA suggestion from Greg! When we arrived, rather early, the place was quite slow and we got a table right away. Little did we know that as the evening wore on, the place would turn completely rambunctious and music and dancing would take over!

Excuse the blurry photos as we were all a bit excited from everything going on around us! At the end of the night, we walked back to the hostel with sore feet, ringing ears, the breeze cooling us down and still talking about this crazy night. It was an amazing night full of live music, some Scottish dancing (or perhaps what we imagined it to be?!) and more than a few entertaining dancers on the floor! We would definitely recommend Hootananny to anyone looking for a fun Scottish night-out experience in Inverness!

Overall, Day 4 was full of surprises and amazing sites. Stay tuned for Day 5 and many more adventures as we venture North towards a pretty special group of islands!

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

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

HAGGiS Adventures Compass Buster Tour: Day 4 – Eilean Donan Castle 1.0

I’m sure if you’ve heard anything about Scotland before, you will have heard about the epic castles that are sprawled about the landscape. These castles and keeps are obviously romanticized in many novels, but once you see one for yourself – you’ll understand why.

After visiting the Fairy Pools on the Isle of Skye, we headed towards Eilean Donan Castle for our first visit! (We would return later towards the end of our trip – due to the circuitous nature of this particular tour).

Eilean Donan Castle is located in a spectacular location – on a small island where three lochs meet.

Even before our yellow bus was parked, we were already giddy and ready to go exploring! It was an anticipated stop on our tour and we obviously couldn’t contain ourselves from taking loads of photographs!

To get to the castle itself, you have to cross a lovely bridge that adds to the picturesque nature of the location. (Note: Whilst the castle is open to visitors, you do need to purchase a ticket to cross this bridge! Even if you only want to walk across the bridge or wander around the castle grounds… )¬†

The castle was apparently first inhabited around the 6th century but not fortified until the 13th. Since then:

“at least four different versions of the castle have been built and re-built as the feudal history of Scotland unfolded through the centuries.”

Today, the castle is owned and maintained by the MacRae family, whose ancestor had purchased the island that the castle was built on in 1911. There are four generations of the family that still inhabit the castle today (though not on a daily basis)!

The name of the castle seems to come from the Irish Saint Bishop Donan who came to Scotland in 580 AD.

As you’ll notice, the castle has varying layers of protection around it.

As mentioned before, it was fortified in 13th century BC in order to defend against the Vikings who raided Northern Scotland at that time.

We had already decided when we arrived that we would definitely be taking the tour of the inside of the castle. (Eilean Donan Castle was not an inclusion on our Compass Buster tour, so you could choose whether you wanted to go inside the castle, or just admire it from the outside.)

So, after we bought our tickets and made our way across the bridge, we finally got up close and personal with Eilean Donan Castle’s history.

If you are travelling independently, the admission fee is £7.50 for an adult. More information about opening hours, admission and visiting Eilean Donan Castle can be found here.

Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take pictures inside the castle itself – seeing as it is still inhabited by the family who owns it. But we can say this, the inside is lusciously decorated and befits the castle’s history! As you go through the various rooms, you get a sense of what it may have been like to live here during differing time periods and also gain some knowledge on some of the previous inhabitants of the keep.

Walking inside and outside the castle to get to various rooms, you hear stories about what had taken place within its walls. It turns out there are literally skeletons in the closet in this castle – but we won’t spoil it for you!

And even in the windows! A little spooky, right?

Looking out from the castle, you are rewarded with some spectacular views of the lochs and the mountains of the surrounding area.

This castle has seen a lot of changes over the centuries – having dealt with Jacobite raids, Spaniards, English and many other attempted invaders. Thank goodness for the MacRae family and all their efforts in rebuilding and renovating such a beautiful example of Scottish castles.

If you want to learn more about Eilean Donan’s history, you can do so here.

Visiting one of the most photographed castle in Scotland was definitely a highlight of our trip! (And we would be returning in a few days for a second visit!) We hope we gave you enough of a sneak peek that it entices you to go visit the site as well =D.

But for now, we leave this iconic castle as we headed off to our next destination. Check back next week for the rest of Day 4!

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

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

HAGGiS Adventures Compass Buster Tour: Day 3 – Coo’s, Seals and Historic St. Clement’s Church

We left Stornoway on Day 3 of our Compass Buster tour and boarded our Wild and Sexy yellow bus, headed leisurely towards our destination for tonight – Portree, the largest town on the Isle of Skye! We were excited because this meant more adventures and exploring, of course.

Day 3 started with more epic skyscapes! You could literally be driving anywhere in Scotland and mother nature will treat you to a beautiful landscape.

We actually stopped by the site to take some pictures because of the particular beauty of the clouds and the rays of sun beaming through. It was a somber scene, because of the cemetery, but it was made even more epic because of the clouds above!

After getting back on the bus, Greg told us we’d see a number of different sites that day including a few beaches- which we would be surprised were located in Scotland, and a historic church, before heading to Portree and finishing our night there.

We were literally just back onto the road when Greg SLAMMED the brakes on our yellow bus and we thought perhaps we had hit something!!!

Little did we know we had finally come upon some of Scotland’s most majestic creatures (after the unicorn, of course!): the Hairy Coo! (Or also known as the Highland cow, Heilan’ coo or just… coo)

Just look at the stylish hairstyles these coos’ have! Adorable!

A little backstory on these Highland Cattle:

They seem to have originated in Scotland and are mentioned as far back as the 6th century. They are certainly in no danger of extinction!

“They are a hardy breed due to their native environment, the Highlands of Scotland. This results in long hair, giving the breed its ability to overwinter.”

As you can see below, we were more than a little excited to find some Hairy Coo!

After this, we would constantly be searching for Hairy Coo wherever we went! We fell in love with them!

Sidenote: we even went as far as searching for a hairy coo back at home! And voilà Рhere we are meeting a new friend at a farm about 20 minutes away from us. A little piece of Scotland in the suburbs of Vancouver!

The landscape and clouds continued to be amazing, matching our shadowy Hairy Coo on the cliffs.

Just look at that light glowing on that small loch. Mesmerizing! Somebody take me back to Scotland right now!

As we drove on, we continued our animal spotting and actually came across some geese…

And then we had to actually stop the bus because we found SEALS! Take a look at all those little heads bobbing in and out of the water greeting us. We took way too many pictures to count, even though we had seen seals on our trip already…

Leaving our new animal friends behind, we made our way to one of our main destinations for the day: St. Clement’s Church on the Isle of Harris.

St. Clement’s Church is very well preserved and built around the 1520’s, named after Pope Clement.

“The church was built using local Lewisian gneiss rock. Its ground plan is cruciform and there is a tower at the west end, accessible through a door at the west end of the nave and a set of stone staircases and wooden ladders.” – Wikipedia

The church was supposedly built for the Chiefs of the MacLeods of Harris, probably around 1520. Above is a photo illustrating the wall tomb that Alasdair Croatach MacLeod built for himself in 1528.

It is rather eerie how the shadow of the body still looks so present in the space!

The art work is exquisite and very well preserved.

The church had many uses throughout the centuries, from supposedly being a monastery to being used as a cow byre.

The 9th chief’s son William built his grave on the south wall of the church, while the 10th chief built a third grave in the south transept.

The graveyard which surrounds the church contains a number of MacLeod tombs.

It was in 1873 that the Countess of Dunmore restored the church and in 1907 the tower was rebuilt after being struck by lightning!

Here’s how it looks today – standing fast in the Scottish landscape.

The church was truly different than what we had seen before. It is currently under the care of Historic Scotland. For more information on visiting St. Clement’s Church, check out their website here.

The Isle of Harris was already proving eventful! The scenery was much, much different than on the Isle of Skye and we also came across some Harris Tweed which we will comment on in a future post!

Next up is some beach combing!

Stay tuned!

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

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¬© Letters of Wanderlust, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of any written material and/or photographs without express and written permission from this site‚Äôs 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!