HAGGiS Adventures Compass Buster Tour: Day 10 – the National Wallace Monument

Day 10.  The last day of our 10 day Compass Buster Tour 😢 But before the tears, there was some more exploring to be had!

We drove away from Oban early in the morning. Unfortunately as we got into Oban in the late evening, we didn’t get to explore it. And because we left early in the morning, we never got the chance to see Oban properly. We will have to come back to Oban for a proper visit and perhaps to take a trip out to the islands!

As we headed east across Scotland, the mist and rain surrounded us and made for a moody, mysterious atmosphere.

Our first stop was Doune Castle.

Does this castle look familiar?

Monty Python fans? Game of Thrones fans? Outlander fans?

The various rooms and grounds of Doune Castle were featured in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. This iconic castle also served as Winterfell in the Game of Thrones TV series and as Castle Leoch in the Outlander series.

We had but a brief stop here – a chance to take some photographs, wander around the grounds a little and to kick a football (soccer ball) around. Although we didn’t this time, you can go inside for a visit – tour the impressive great hall, visit the kitchen where many dinners and banquets would have been prepared, peek inside the living quarters of the Duke and Duchess and enjoy the views from the battlements.

Doune Castle is currently in the care of Historic Scotland.  Information on prices and planning your visit can be found here.

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Next up was a stop at the National Wallace Monument in Stirling. This monument commemorates the life of Sir William Wallace, who was instrumental in leading the fight for Scottish independence in the late 1200’s. (You may also know him from the movie Braveheart.)

Our tour bus stopped in the car park and visitor centre. As admission to the National Wallace Monument was not included in our tour fees, this was an optional visit. We were given the choice to hang out at the visitor centre, souvenir shop and cafe or to head up to the monument for a visit. We decided, since we were here, that we would pay it a visit and learn more about Sir William Wallace. If you are interested in visiting, information on admission prices and opening hours can be found here.

After getting our tickets, we headed up to the monument. There was a wee walk between the visitor centre and the actual monument. But it was a nice walk through the cool and refreshing wooded area of Abbey Craig. There is a minibus service that cycles between the visitor centre and the monument for those who are unable to climb the Abbey Craig.

The National Wallace Monument peeking out from the trees!

Here we are – at the National Wallace Monument. We’ll try not to spoil this for you – in case you are planning to visit yourself!

The National Wallace Monument was erected in 1869. This site was chosen because of its proximity to the site of the Battle of Stirling Bridge. At the Battle of Stirling Bridge, the Scots led by William Wallace, out-maneuvered and defeated the English – even though they were vastly outnumbered by the English. Although Wallace was eventually betrayed, found guilty of treason and executed brutally, the fight for Scottish independence continued with Robert the Bruce.

The various levels of the National Wallace Monument provides an insight into William Wallace’s life, his cause and the historical events that took place. There was lots of informative details on all of the displays in the Halls. There were also engaging films and reenactments. It was a great learning experience and gave us good insight into Scottish history and the fight for independence.

Inside the Hall of Heroes, you will find the Wallace Sword. It is said that this sword is sometimes called the Freedom’s Sword.

In addition to learning about William Wallace, we also learned about Robert the Bruce – who continued fighting for Scotland’s independence after Wallace was executed. Robert the Bruce, who has inspired many legends, was eventually crowned King of Scots in 1306, although the fight for independence did not end there.

To top off our visit, we headed up to the Crown – on top of the National Wallace Monument. From here, you can get an amazing panoramic view of the surrounding area, from Ben Lomond to the Pentland Hills.

Although it was a cloudy, misty and rainy day (and visibility was poor), the view from up here was still amazing.

From way up here, there was still learning to be had! Here, we learned about the Battle of Stirling Bridge and how the Scots defeated the English.

What I found really cool was trying to compare the current landscape with what it would have looked like during the Battle of Stirling Bridge.

Can you spot where the the battle site and the original battle bridge might be?

Soon it was time to walk back down to our tour bus and head off to our next stop. Stay tuned for the last post in our Compass Buster series!

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

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

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

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

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

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

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

A very brief history:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

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

HAGGiS Adventures Compass Buster Tour: Day 9 – Exploring Armadale

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

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

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

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

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

He wandered around the estate like he owned the place!

He even strolled into the cafe to check it out!

We imagine the cafe was up to his standards!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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!

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

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

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

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

Hogwarts, here we come!

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

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

HAGGiS Adventures Compass Buster Tour: Day 8 – Hiking the Old Man of Storr

After enjoying our lunch in Portree, we were off to explore more of Skye on Day 8 of our Compass Buster tour!

First up was a stop at the village of Sligachan – a good spot for viewing and exploring the Cuillins.

This is River Sligachan. Legend has it that if you dip your face into the waters of the Sligachan, you will be granted eternal beauty. The important point is that you cannot just splash the water onto your face, you must get on your hands and feet to dip your face into the magical waters.

We scrambled down the rocky riverbank to have a look at this legendary river.

Even though we didn’t dip our faces into the waters, we did get some lovely photographs of the picturesque Sligachan bridge from this vantage point.

After some of our group attained “eternal beauty”, we piled back onto the bus headed for a wee hike!

Our destination? The Old Man of Storr.

Before heading out, we were told that we only had a limited amount of time here and that we had better hike fast if we wanted to make it to the top and back in time. We had been so used to taking our time, enjoying the scenery and exploring with Andy and Greg, that this was a surprise to us! We were also used to having Andy and Greg leading our group on these walks and sharing tidbits of what we were seeing, the legends, myths and history with us. But this would not be the case today as we were sent off on our own for the walk with a stern warning to come back on time!

So with that warning, we ran out of the bus and started up the trail.

Even just a couple minutes up the trail, we were afforded this beautiful view!

We did have quite a ways to go! 😥

The weather was forever changing – with a mix of blue skies and then dark, angry looking clouds rolling in! We were just glad it didn’t rain – as we heard that it can get quite muddy and slippery in the rain.

Looks a bit different in a different light!

Still a long ways to go!

The dark clouds created some lovely shadows and lent a moody atmosphere to these photos – completely different from the ones bathed in sunshine and blue skies! We promise all of these photographs were taken on the same day!

Even way up here, we made an animal friend!

Here we are – getting closer to the Old Man of Storr.

There are many myths and legends surrounding the Old Man of Storr. Some say this is actually the thumb and fingers of a giant who died here. Another legend tells of a man and his wife who were running away from some giants. As they ran, they looked back at the giants and were instantly turned to stone. Yet another tale tells of a man who died of a broken heart following the death of his wife. This man had a friend in a Brownie – a mythical creature. And when the Brownie heard of his friend’s death, he carved out the man and his beloved wife here as a tribute. I’m sure if we asked all the locals of the surrounding area, they would each have their own version of the tale!

We made it!

Taking it a bit further, I scrambled up the rocks to get closer…

At this time, we had to make a decision… We wanted to keep going to what we were told was a spot to view the Old Man of Storr from another vantage point, but fearing that we wouldn’t make it back to the bus in time, we decided to play it safe and head back down. We didn’t want to get left behind! 😓

After seeing the photographs that our group mates took – looking across at the Old Man of Storr, I think we will have to come back to Skye so we can complete the hike!

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Once we were all back on the bus, we headed off to our home for the night – Saucy Mary’s Lodge.

Ah Saucy Mary… Legend has it that a Norwegian princess named Mary lived around here, near present-day Castle Moil, with her husband who was a clan chief. She charged a toll to all ships for the right to pass through the narrow channel between the Mainland and Skye. She would then thank them for paying the toll by flashing the ships as they passed through – thus earning her the name of Saucy Mary.

What a gorgeous view of the sunset and Skye Bridge from the hostel – just breathtaking!

We reheated a quick microwave dinner and relaxed in the kitchen with some cider. Great way to chill and recap the day.

We headed down to the bar for some drinks after dinner. There was music, chats, jokes and we even met a guy who had apparently been wandering the wilds of Skye before being invited to stay at the hostel. We were so busy chatting and laughing away that we didn’t even realize when the bar closed. We only noticed when staff started putting the stools up and sweeping the floors… oops!

We were going to head off for some beauty rest (seeing as we didn’t dip our faces into the Sligachan, so didn’t gain eternal beauty 🤣), but our OG 10 Day squad was going to follow some of the guides/hostel staff to another bar and convinced us to go. Unfortunately, or fortunately, our OG group got left behind at the hostel – so we found a little lounge area and continued chatting, swapping stories and reliving memories from earlier in the trip. What a great night with these guys! (Even though we were confronted with the infamous beach incident again – Guys, honest we didn’t mean anything by our seating arrangements that day!) We were still smiling to ourselves as we wandered up to get some sleep.

Next up? Day 9 and a special day that we had been looking forward to since we booked the trip. This is the day we head to Hogwarts!!! (I knew I would get that Hogwarts letter one day!)

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

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

HAGGiS Adventures Compass Buster Tour: Day 7 – Chasing Waterfalls and Bridges at Invermoriston

After a bit of castle spotting, it was time for another wee walk! Yes, Day 7 of our Compass Buster tour was not over just yet! This day would be full of little stops to break up our 6+ hours bus journey from Orkney to Fort Augustus. We were grateful for each one of those stops – which allowed us to get out of the bus, stretch our legs and see more of beautiful Scotland!

This wee walk took us to Invermoriston, a village a short distance from our home for tonight. We hopped out of our wee yellow bus and went exploring!

River Moriston and the new bridge

One highlight in the area is the Invermoriston Falls. And so we were off  to chase waterfalls 😉

As we walked through the forest towards the falls, we came upon the Summer House. This little stone building is perched on a rocky outcropping above the River Moriston.

From its windows, you can see the rushing water of the falls and two famous bridges. This summer house is a great spot to photograph the falls from downriver.

Can you spot the arches of the two bridges in the background?

After seeing the falls from the Summer House, we walked further into the woods. This walk, with the trees, the mist and the smell of nature, reminded us of home – our Pacific temperate rainforest 🍃🍁

There were huge trees that were completely uprooted!

And tree roots that are partly exposed and beautifully twisted by Mother Nature.

After walking through the forest, we headed off to see the famous bridge – the old Telford bridge crossing River Moriston.

Thomas Telford was a famed Scottish engineer. Throughout his career, he designed and built a vast number of bridges and roads, various canals and 32 Telford Churches . I first heard Telford’s name and the term “Telford Church” watching an episode of The Restoration Man. The episode was about an art professor who bought a listed Telford Parliamentary Church on Berneray in the Outer Hebrides. He and his wife transformed the dilapidated church into a beautiful, modern home and arts studio. Although we did not get a chance to visit Berneray on this trip, we did get to see and cross this Telford Bridge in person!

Built in 1813, this stone bridge has started to show signs of wear and tear. And in 1933, a new bridge was constructed to provide another crossing over River Moriston.

Standing on the new bridge, you can look back down the falls at the Summer House perched neatly on its rocky platform.

After visiting the falls, the bridges, the trees and sufficiently stretching our feet, we headed back to our bus.

Next up? Monster spotting! 🐉

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

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

HAGGiS Adventures Compass Buster Tour: Day 6 – Adventures in Yesnaby

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

This time, we headed out to Yesnaby.

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

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

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

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

There’s always time for a gazing photograph!

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

Another photo stop – this time with our friend M!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is a closer look at Yesnaby Castle.

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

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

Can you guess what we were trying to spot?!

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

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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 – with its alternating red and yellow sandstone from the Orkney isles. St. Magnus Cathedral has an interesting history – from the martyrdom of St. Magnus, to the founding of this cathedral by his nephew Earl Rögnvald, to the reformation. You can read more about its history here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Visit Orkney

Orkney Events

Northlink Ferries’ Guide to Orkney

Pentland Ferries

John Groats Ferry – which also organizes some day tours

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

Lonely Planet – Orkney

Heart of Neolithic Orkney

Orkney Explorer Pass

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

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

LettersofWanderlust3


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

HAGGiS Adventures Compass Buster Tour: Day 6 – Exploring Skara Brae

We began Day 6 of our Compass Buster Tour with more Orcadian and human history, which I found fascinating! I had no idea there was so much history surrounding these islands!

Orkney is home to one of Scotland’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites – the Heart of Neolithic Orkney. This World Heritage Site includes Maeshowethe Ring of Brodgarthe Stones of Stenness and Skara Brae. These sites give us a glimpse of what life might have been like for the people living on the Orkney islands some 5000 years ago. Day 6 would be full of adventures, exploring and learning as we visit 3 out of the 4 major locations of this World Heritage Site!

From our hostel, we set out for our first stop of the day – Skara Brae.

Skara Brae is a Neolithic village that has been remarkably preserved. It is estimated to date back to 3100BC, which is older than Stonehenge and the pyramids! Skara Brae was designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 1999, as part of the aforementioned Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site.

If you are travelling around the Orkney islands, we would highly recommend making a visit here. There is heaps of history to learn about, plus the preserved settlement is in the great outdoors, meaning you aren’t stuck inside a museum for your whole visit! And… did we mention that the settlement faces a beautiful beach? Well, now you know! 😄 If you are travelling independently, more information on tickets, opening hours and location can be found here.

The visitor centre is the first stop – where you can learn more about the discovery, the history and the people who lived here.

Back in 1850, the Orkney islands were battered by a storm. In the aftermath, the outline of some stone buildings were discovered. It is said that the local laird decided to excavate the site. A number of stone houses were discovered, before work stopped on this project in 1868.

Fast forward to the 1930’s, when modern day excavations started at this site. At first, these buildings were thought to be 500 years old. But radiocarbon dating finally placed this settlement in the Neolithic era, much older than previously thought!

Inside the visitor centre are various artefacts, from jewelry to pottery, that were discovered during the excavations. It is incredible to think these artefacts survived some 5000 years! There is also a replica house, that you can step inside and imagine how your life might have been like back in the Neolithic era. After wandering through, it was time to head outside to see the actual village.

This village of prehistoric houses is viewed from a series of elevated walking paths, with informative signs sharing more details on what you are looking at. To preserve these delicate houses, you cannot actually walk through the village.


There appears to be 8 buildings in this settlement. Because this village was so well preserved, you are able to peer inside these Neolithic Orcadian homes and see the layout and furnishings.

Check out that inset wall shelf!

Each home had a similar design, with furniture that we would recognize today! What can you spot in this photograph?

There seems to be two beds, some shelves and even an inset shelf built into the wall that might be for displaying something special!

Remember that beach I was talking about earlier? Well, here it is!

Since this site is so close to the beach and the Bay of Skaill, there is a risk of erosion by sand and water, that may damage these prehistoric buildings. We hear, though, that there are measures being taken to minimize the damage and protect this UNESCO world heritage site.

After spending some time exploring these Neolithic homes, we were off to explore something that was built closer to present-day. Can you spot our next destination in the background of this next photo?

Also included in our ticket to Skara Brae was admission to Skaill House.

Skaill House is “the finest 17th century mansion in Orkney.” The mansion house was originally built in the 1620’s by Bishop Graham and subsequent lairds have enlarged it, added more rooms and wings to the mansion. This property has been passed down through the family for almost 400 years. Of particular note, it was the 7th Laird, William Graham Watt, who discovered Skara Brae in 1850 and started the excavations!

The current owner of Skaill House is the 12th laird – Major Malcolm Macrae. He inherited the mansion in 1991 and started renovations to restore it and eventually open it to the public. In 1997, Skaill House was open for visitors.

There are some spooky stories surrounding Skaill House… When the mansion was being renovated, skeletons were discovered buried under the house. It was discovered that Skaill House was built on top of a Norse graveyard. Tales of ghosts have been reported by the current laird, staff and visitors!

The mansion is styled as a 1950’s family home. After walking through Skara Brae and seeing homes from the Neolithic times, it was time to see what a home in the 1950’s would have been like.

What a beautifully set dining table! I think we would enjoy a nice dinner here. 🍷

This could be a cozy room to do some reading and writing, with a warm fire glowing in that fireplace!

A bedroom decorated in the fashion of that era.


I always love looking for Canadian connections when I’m travelling. And I found two just in Skaill House alone!

I learned that the Hudson Bay Company, previously a fur-trading company and in modern days more known as a top Canadian department store – the Bay, used to have an agent stationed in Stromness. And many Orcadian men and boys as young as 14 years old would go to Stromness, sign a contract and leave Orkney to work for the Bay in Canada. At one point in time, around 80% of the Bay’s employees were from the Orkney islands!

This artefact was something that was brought back to Orkney via the Hudson Bay Company.

Here’s another little Canadian connection that we found in Skaill House. If we ever find ourselves in Manitoba, we’ll have to make a stop at the town of Binscarth.

We had a grand time walking through Skaill House and imagining our lives in this mansion! For more information on Skaill House opening times and admission, check out this link here.

~~~~~

We really enjoyed our visit to Skara Brae and Skaill House. It was a unique opportunity to learn more about the history of the Orkney islands and also of human civilization. It was remarkable to see the furnishings – the beds and the shelves, that these Neolithic people had built over 5000 years ago! And this is what I love about travelling – learning more about the place I am visiting, the history, the human connection and impact.

Before we left Skara Brae, we had to try their scone, which Andy had recommended as one of the best! This scone was buttery and dotted with raisins – a nice mid-morning snack!

After our little ramble and archaeology lesson at Skara Brae, we headed off to our next destination. Check back next week for more!

From Vancouver with Love,
Ioana and Natalie

LettersofWanderlust3


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