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Trip Report Slow Drivin' and Island Hoppin' - Scotland August 2012

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Isle of Arran was our first island on the list. Renting the car from Hertz was a speedy procedure, and driving to Ardrossan easy so we were in the ferry port early enough to catch the one ferry earlier then the one booked. Also lucky enough as we have been chosen as the last car to embark. It was sunny and warm enough to spent the 60 minutes on the top deck, taking in the views with an occassional photo. Arriving in Brodick at 11.00 gave us plenty of time to enjoy the Brodick Highland games. Programm listed different track&fields events, big boys were trowing the heavy objects all over the field, and on a stage, girls were showing their skills dancing. Crowd was pleased as the weather stayed warm and sunny through much of the day, and later short shower did not spoil the good time we all have. Of course the pipe bands were playing and marching several times around the stadium to keep the spirits high. For three nights we have stayed at The Glenartney Guest House. Five minutes walking uphill, great views, nice room and very very good breakfast.
Sunday was our first full day. We started our exploration with Brodick Castle. Not really a castle, more like a fortified house, this was a summer house and a hunting lodge. Now in the hands of National Trust of Scotland, it is nicely restored, and the self guided walk inside took us through different rooms and different times. The custodians are more then happy to share their knowledge of (not so interresting) historical data and (much more interresting) related stories. Outside is a vaste area with gardens, woodland walks and paths. The walled garden was enough for us. Continuing anti-clockwise we first stopped in Corrie, for a coffee at Rock Pool Cafe that is also a gallery, then we crossed the mountain pass and descent into Lochranza. The Arran distillery is quite new, opened in 1995. There are guided tours which we skipped, however we patronised their shop and added a bottle of 10 years old single cask signed whiskey to our collection. In Lochranza the most important building is the Castle. Well preserved, in dominating position offers a splendid photo ops, both with sea and with mountains backdrop. After checking the ferry to Claonig timetable we pushed forward as the sky become darker. Not far from Pirnmill it started to rain, and soon the road starts to be more like a river. It must have been raining hardmin the mountains above as many stream have started to flood the road. We drove even slower then before, and in Blackwaterfoot the rain stopped. It was late so we leave the south part for next day and took the short road over to Brodick. For dinner we decided to try Arran On The Plate. It was early so we were able to choose the table by the window, nice view. The food was very good. My wife had a salmon for starter and for main dish and she was very happy with her choice. My main dish were chicken strips with herbs, also full of aromas. The prices were reasonable, just below 40 £ for all, without drinks. Speaking of drinks, there is a local brewery but did not won me over.
On Monday the weather starts as it ends on Sunday - overcast with light rain. Late breakfast, and some reading, then it starts to clear and this time we took the clockwise route. First stop Lamlash, nice village along the beach, with Holly Island across. Whiting Bay was too close so we continued to Kildonan. We stopped on the exit road to take several photos of the coast and of the lighthouse on a small island just off the coast. It was already sunny now, with temperatus reaching 20 degrees Celsius. In Blackwaterfoot we made another pit stop. There is a big parking place near the Best Western hotel. Continuing the road took us inland and for lunch we stopped at The Lagg Hotel. This is a very old hotel, from 1791, with nice interiors and very attractive garden area. Our lunch was the soup of the day. Then onward to Machrie where I was planning the walking to see the Standing stones but the weather changes again so we skip the walk. In Pirnmill we want to check the Lighthouse restaurant but it is closed on Mondays. Through Lochranza this time without sun, but on the other side of the mountain it shine again. From Sannox onward we have scanned the coast for the seals, and just past the Corrie we were lucky. One has decided to warm up on a rock near the picnic area so we have plenty of time to take many shots and also to observe him (?) through the binoculars. Also the sun was helping us, the light was soft so we hope that at least some of the photos will be good. After driving just under 100 km round the island we retraced back to Brodick. Went to our room and after a while decide to have a dinner. But we forgot that most places are closed after 9.30 pm. Luckily not the chinese take away, and they have decent food also.
Isle of Arran is easy to reach, has many seaside picturesque villages, and for those with cars, good round the island road. With its well designed walking paths it offers much to do for those willing to walk, and there were also many cyclists on the road, despite the ever changing weather. For animal lovers there are many seabirds feeding on the shoreline, we have seen also a red deer (on the Lochranza golf course) and several squirrels. What surprised us were quite many swans making company to seagulls. And the seals, of course.

Driving to Isle of Mull should be simple straightforward affair. Between Arran and Mull are only 125km, one ferry ride from Lochranza to Claonig and one ferry ride from Oban to Craignure. This is a route for tourists that need to visit half of Scotland in a week. We are different. And to my luck I have found a back door route to Mull, described by one of the regulars here. Thus a half day ride became two day travel. We took the ferry from Lochranza to Claonig, there is one every 75 min. Ours departed at 10.45 am, almost full. The capacity of the ferry is 18 passenger cars. 30 min is crossing time. No bookings available, and you pay on fare on board. The deck is open, so we enjoyed the sun, the views and the sea breeze. A lonely seal was also spotted. My original idea to tour the Kintyre was abandoned in favour of dedicating more time to historical sites at Kilmartin Glen. But first we stopped in Tarbert, another picturesque fishing village. On the entrance to the village is a church with very specific tower. In the centre there are several galleries and shops and restaurants. The day was really lovely, almost cloudless sky, warm. The traffic was low and driving enjoyable. In Kilmartin Glen we first visited the hill fort of Dunadd where the first Scottish kingdom has its capital. From the top of this rocky hill there is a 360 degree views over the entire glen. Nice parking area below, not entry fee, maybe a 10 min uphill walk. Easy when dry but might be slippery if rained. These old folks really had a nose to find prime locations. This hill is a natural fort, using just some timber they were able to have a real castle there. Next stop were the Kilmartin prehistorical sites. Standing stones, ritual monuments at Temple Wood, and the southest of the burial cairns are all in easy walking distance from the parking place. No entry fee either. Finally we parked our car in front of the Kilmartin Museum. The curch and the churchyard are both filled with carved tombstones, old Celtic crosses and medieval grave slabs. Any real man must became thirsty after so much history so next door hotel and its bar (a historical site also, if you ask me) offered much needed pint of ale. Reinforced we continued toward Oban until a sign for Bridge Over The Atlantic catches our attention. Since it was still early we made a detour and were not disappointed. The bridge itself is imposing, and the story behind intriguing. Back to Oban and after finding the b&b we went for a dinner. Room 9 restaurant was on my list already in 2010. Although without reservation we managed to get the last early bird table. Seated at 18.15; 30 min later the waitress came to take our orders; at 19.25 I asked her if this is now a "slow food" restaurant. "Not really" was her answer, delays are due to only one chef in the kitchen. Hmmm, probably there was no chef at all in the kitchen, at least not when we arrived. My wife started to play games on her iphone to distract herself from the fact that she is missing the good light in the harbour. To shorten the slow story, we finishe our dinner at 20.30! On the bright side, the food was good, the early bird three course menu great value at 14,99 £ and the bottle of beer for me was on the house. We were still able to catch few sunset photos, so the day ended OK.
Now the second leg to Isle of Mull was the part that I named The Backdoor Route. Driving the A85 to Connel, crossing the bridge and taking the A828 toward Fort William. If on this road stop to admire the Stalker Castle near Appin. There is a parking and viewing area to this privately owned castle. Bring a tele and a tripod. In Corran we crossed Loch Linnhe by ferry (no timetable, 7 £ per car, pedestrians free). On the other side, in Ardgour, the really interesting part of this trip starts on road A861 and before Strontian, on a single track A884 toward Lochaline. First along Loch Sunart then up in the mountain and through several beautiful glens before descending to Lochaline. No traffic at all, beautiful sunny day, green glens and white dots on it ... Trully a magical place, just like we memorised the Highlands from our 2010 journey. This route should be on top of "The Best Of" (and yes, I have driven the Bealach Na Ba!). The ferry ride to Fishnish was 30 min and it costs 19,80 £ for a car and two passengers. Thus we have arrived on our second island, Isle of Mull.

Isle of Mull is one large island. With almost only single track roads. And staying in Tobermory has given us the chance to see (and drive) it in its full length. Arrived by ferry to Fishnish we found much more traffic; the "bus stop" were used frequently. Tobermory is another colourful fishing village turned into lively tourist town during the season. It has a distillery, several hotels, restaurants and a marina, and of course infinite number of b&b's. Ours was on the hill above the Main street, 5 min walk to pier (yes, if you are a triathlon competitor, otherwise count on 15 min). The Main street is lined with houses painted in vivid colours, there is a ferry port on left side and a marina on right side, with a pier in the middle. Important tip: on the pier is parked a Fish Van, offering excellent Fish and Chips plus fresh scallops. It is open from 10 am till 9 pm. No tables but improvisation. The afternoon sun was warm and at 7 pm eating out on the pier was almost like having a dinner at Fish Cafe.
For our first full day we decide to visit the famous Iona. Located on the opposite side of Mull, 95 km away, it requires an early breakfast. Some optimists says you need two hours to reach ferry to Iona. No way. Driving more then 50 km/h is really fast for this narrow and winding road. So take it slowly, as we did, stop often, let others to pass you. Iona will not go away. Crowds could be there, or they could not be there. Just as unpredictable as the weather. We have had luck with both. Arriving at noon, the overcasted sky starts to clear, and with only 6 buses in the parking, Iona was a joy. We walked through the nunnery and around the abbey, but did not enter the later. Instead we have taken full benefit from the beautiful sunny day, with cotton white clouds, and seated outside the abbey, then we walked around for a while. Four hours passed by fast. Return drive was faster, as we should arrive for a booked dinner at Cafe Fish at 18.30. Not today, we were late so our host re-booked us for next day. Thus we have had one more open air dinner at Fish Van on the pier. My wife decided to try scallops, and they were really tasty.
Our second full day on Mull also started with amlight overcasted sky, yet even before we reached Castle Duart the sun was in full force. Castle Duart is one of the oldest inhabited castle in Scotland. It is in the hands of clan Maclean and lovingly restored. It occupies a rocky promontory on the sound of Mull, views are excellent, and the collection of artefacts in the castle is amazing. After almost three hours a visit to cafeteria was almost obligatory. If we would have young kids with us, there is a splendid lawn to play with in front of the castle. Back to Craignure to fill up the car and then we took the west road to Calgary. Fantastic drive!! Just before Salen turn left on B8035 and when on the other side, another left to B8073, then drive slowly and enjoy the scenery. We noticed the sign for ferry to Ulva, and we made a short detour. Ulva Island is close to Mull, one could swim over. The ferry is for passengers only (and bikes). The boatman is on the other side. To get his attention one is to yell loudly, jump up and down and wave its hands vigorously. OK, there is one more way how to attract the boatman attention. Less interesting but equally effective, and it is described on the table near the landing point. Ulva has a net of walking paths, and boasts a wide array of wildlife. Very few visitors. The Boathouse restaurant offers fresh seafood. Ulva is even more tranquil place then Mull, if not ready to walk then bring a book and spent a day away from modern life. Back on the "mainland" we continued our anti-clockwise drive on B8073 towards Calgary. While crossing on of the stone bridges we saw a beautiful small waterfall close to the road, hidden well behind oak trees. We parked the car and surprisingly, we were not the only ones that have been attracted by the beauty of this place. A small pond was occupied by a young couple. The sun warmed the water and they took the opportunity for a quick splash. The road after Calgary goes inland and over the hills before descending into Tobermory. One more perfect day was behind us, and a perfect dinner in front. Cafe Fish is a simple place but with exquisite seafood offerings. In season it is fully booked almost all days, and rightly so, because the food is excellent and the rations generous while the prices are reasonable. We ended the Isle of Mull in style.

From Mull to Skye. Early wake-up to park the car in line for 9.30 ferry from Tobermory to Kilchoan. On return from breakfast we realised that panic was not needed but better safe then sorry. Calm sea made for an uneventful crossing. On firm land again we decide to visit the most westerly point on Scotland, in fact the most westerly point on british mainland, Ardnamurchan Lighthouse. Should I mention that we have had another sunny day?! Back to Kilchoan and further on twisty single lane B8007 alongside Loch Sunart till Salen where we finally reached a two lane motorway A861, and A830 from Lochailort till Mallaig. Entering the town just as the famous steam train The Jacobite departed the station at 14.10. A must see for all Harry Potter fans. As we were early for our pre-booked ferry to Armadale, we have hoped that we could catch an earlier one. Already here we found out that Skye is one of the top tourist destination in Scotland. All ferries for the day were full so we need to wait for ours, which I have booked well in advance. Fish and chips lunch we took in the train station ( be aware that many eating places are closed after 15.00), then strolled around the small fishing town. For us the best attraction was the port with many colourful fishing vessels. To shorten our waiting a seal swim into the port so we have fun chasing him (her) with camera up and down the pier. With a half hour delay we have reached Isle of Skye and an hour and half later we arrived in Portree. Our b&b was smack dab in the centre of the town. Excellent for walking to dinner, not so good for parking the car. However after second drive by we got a place just around the corner. Tired and hungry we hurried to Cafe Arriba. As good as we remembered it from two years ago. Very good food, decent portions, but be aware, the spices are used with a big spoon. No bookings here, first come first seat rule, and I liked it. The bed was comfortable after a long hot day. One more of the best thing you get at any b&b, the breakfast. Chatting with hosts and other guests usually brings new destinations into a preplanned itinerary. This time it was a small cafe, The Small & Little Tea House. So we started our day driving towards Staffin, stopping along the road to take several photos of The Old Man of Storr, then walking to observe the old now derelict factory of diatomite, and of course, to admire the Kilt Rock waterfall. Well, no rain no waterfall yet great views over the Kilt Rock cliffs. As an added attraction a small yellow cross was spotted on the cliff way behind the waterfall. Using the binoculars showed us that there was a rock climber already high in the wall. then finally our destination of the day. There are several signs along the road to point you to the place, which is in small community named Digg, just a few hundred meterso after whe the road to Quiraing starts. Watch for a black tea pot sign on your right. Tea house is open from 12.00. Interior is indeed very cozy, a selection of cakes wide, and for tea lovers, selection of teas is great. After filling ourselves with almond cake and tomato soup we went back to where the road over Quiraing starts. This single track of asphalt does not even has a number. It is a short version of famous Bealach Na Ba. On top there is a parking place and walking paths in different directions. Although sunny the light was not as we expected so we drove back and continued to the top of the Trotternish peninsula, to Duntlum Castle. A tranquil bay lays below the Duntlum Castle Hotel (closed when we were there) and a narrow path leads first down to the beach and then up to the castle. Castle itself is off limit to visitors due to construction instability. However it is worth to walk up and then down on the other side to admire its position on the high cliff. Back at the hotel where my wife waited for me. Once more we we sorry that hotel was closed, it was perfect day for a cup of tea or coffee. Well, maybe next time. So we drove to Uig. Strangely but here we found that they served food also after 15.30. In a simple tea house we got smoked salmon and chips with cheese, and coffee of course. Here we waited for about an hour giving the sun time to descent before going back through Quiraing hills. The road from the west side is less steep then the part from the east side, however afternoon light was good to us. Coming to the parking place at around 17.00 was not late enough for that best light at sunset but we were happy with what we get, the combination of shadows on green hills makes good photo ops. We hoped for similar at Kilt Rock cliffs but the sun was already too low and the cliffs were in shade. Driving back to Portree we were able to get some more decent shots of Old Man, which totalled the number of photos taken on this day up to 356. Back in room early, no dinner tonight, yes the Olympic closure. BTW, great show, great games, bravo Team GB!
Next morning the sky was dark grey and the street was wet. It finally rained on Skye. Obvious decision was to head to Dunvegan Castle, one more privatly owned by MacLeod chief of clan and home of the family for many generations. Gardens are also nice but it rained too much for that. In Dunvegan do visit the Jenne' Cake Shop. Excellent cakes and nice choice of soups. Only problem is lack of seating places, so we have move to nearby bakery. DO NOT order chips here. Our portion of fish (barely passable) and chips (a disgrace to any chips in country) was left almost untouched on the table. The coffee was good, though, and also bakings looks OK. Weather was still somewhere between dark grey and slow drizzle so we opted for another indoor attraction, the Talisker distillery. Entering into the town of Carbost The wether starts to improve. The parking lot was full of visitors and we were lucky enough to get a place in the last tour of the day. Having two hours before our tour starts some more slow drivin' in the general direction of Talisker. Arriving at the end of the road we found no place for parking so back to Carbost. TIP: in distillery shop there are application forms for free membership to Friends of the Classic Malts. As a welcome pack there is a passport to 14 distilleries giving the free tour at each one. Plus the entry ticket is a 3£ discount voucher to be used if buying one 70 cl bottle of any classic malt whiskey in the store. The tour itself was describing the usual process of making the water of life. Our guide did a great job by explaining everything in a very understandable English. Already 17.00 when we started our way back to Portree and arrived for some spectacular sunset coloured clouds above the town roofs. We would prefer to be somewhere else, like close to Quairing or Old Man, yet we took best of what we had. A worthy end to a spectacular island.

From Skye to Orkneys is a long way. So we tackle it in two stages. First stage was from Portree to Ullapool via Applecross. Started at 9.30 and after a refuelling in Broadford (cheapest gasoline on Skye) we crossed the bridge and headed toward Lochcarron. A low flying jet has been the most interesting thing till we came to Lochcarron where the weather starts to improve. We arrived in Kishorn at around 11.00 and it was time for first break. The small light blue painted wooden house is also a well known seafood restaurant, Kishorn Seafood Bar. Their cullen skink was exceptional. If on your way to or from the Applecross do make a stop here, you will not be disappointed. Then it was time for famous Bealach Na Ba, or Pass of the Cattle. We gave it plenty of time, with frequent stops, so we were on the other side after an hour and a half. The traffic was very quiet that day, and the weather just excellent, sunny with big white clouds. The road itself is narrow but almost all the way up it is straight. There are only three hairpin turns below the summit. Being fairly straight road it is easy even for a motorhome driver to anticipate the oncoming traffic and stop at the passing place. The other side down to Applecross is even easier to drive. Completing this infamous road means that one has to celebrate at the Applecross Inn. Always great food and great atmosphere. Next we took the long way around the peninsula to Shieldag. Single track road all the way yet extremely interesting and not too demanding. After Shieldag we were on A869, a double track motorway, and our average speed has increased significantly. Reaching A832 we turned left driving along Loch Maree, passing Gairloch. We reached Poolewe at around 17.00 so it was time for the afternoon tea. Just before the bridge on the left hand side, there is the post office, and across the best cakes we had so far, Bridge Cottage Cafe and Gallery. A double chocolate cake and a ginger cake accompanied the tea for two. In first floor (do visit also toilet) there is a small room functioning as a gallery. All in all, one of the places that we will remind for our next visit. Reinforced with sugar and teine (caffeine) we proceeded for the last quarter of our today drive. One shower and more photos and one hour and half later we reached Ullapool, just in time to admire a gorgeous rainbow over the bay. We finished the day with well deserved dinner at The Ferry Boat Inn. Excellent food, great service, a must place to visit. And our room was only steps from its bar.
Second leg of our journey to Orkneys started in a beautiful sunny morning. Another full day of driving was ahead of us. We took the longest possible way to Thurso. On A835 North Road then left on A837. First we stopped to take photos of Ardvreck castle on Loch Assynt. No time enough to stroll to it, as some others have done. Continuing on A837 we reached the town of Lochinver. Nothing catches our interest so we drive back and took the first road left, the B869. Single track road ends 25 miles later near the Kylesku bridge, and is a one of the most scenic drives we had. It goes up and down glens and lochs, and passes several beautiful white sand beaches. It takes one hour of slow driving. Once at Kylesku we took few shotsof the bridge and experienced a strong wind, which accompanied us almost all the way to Thurso. We did not stopped anywhere while on A894, and at Laxford Bridge we turned left on A838. We took a detour to Kinlochbervie. Waste of time, really nothing we have seen there. At least the road was mostly dual lane so not much time was lost. Back on A838 it was already time for lunch stop. We did it in Durness. First visit to old church and churchyard close by another wide white sand beach. Then we stopped at the Craft Village. The fish and chips we took from the Bookstore Restaurant, yet for desert we went to Cocoa Mountain Chocolate Factory. What a find! Fantastic home made truffles, and best hot chocolate ever!!! Do not miss if nearby. Full and happy (chocolate really does miracles to boost good vibe) our next stop was to see the Smoo Cave. This historic place has traces of many centuries of human presence. Back in the cave is the waterfall, and if weather permits, the are guiding tours into the second and third cave. Due to heavy rain a day before no tours were available. Yet the waterfall was showing off for us. there are some more white sand beaches with light green sea just after Durness. Approaching Tongue the clouds changes the colour from white to pale grey and finally to dark grey. Another left turn, this time on A836, which leads us to final destination of the day, Thurso. A strong wind was blowing and low flying grey clouds (or it was fog?) prevents any visual contact with Orkney. We left our luggage in b&b and drive into the town. Quite empty, yet understandably so because the wind was really strong. Had a light dinner at Le Bistro. Then into the bed.
Notice: we made 310 km in 10 hours first day and 300 km in 9 hours second day. Driving in Scotland, and specifically in Highlands, is a slow affair. Do not hurry and do not drive too long without taking a pit stop. Once every two hours is a minimum. I love to drive but at the end of the day I was tired. Mix some days of less driving with a day of more driving. And once more: do take a pit stop every two hours!

Orkney Islands were the last on our list of islands to visit. As Northlink departed the Scrabster at 13.15 we have had time to stroll in Thurso, taking pictures and buying postcards and souvenirs. It was another sunny day so we placed ourselves on the sunny deck. 90 minutes of travel time passed by fast, specially when we approached Hoy and having the opportunity to admire the Old Man of Hoy, a sandstone stack 137 meters high, standing (still) proudly. Arrived in Stromness some 15 minutes earlier (so the journey was 75 minutes not 90) we disembarked fast and headed toward Kirkwall. Kirkwall is the main town on the Mainland, which is the biggest islands of Orkneys. Mainland is very flat, there are fields and grazing plots everywhere, cattle in crowds everywhere, and the main road is a twin lane so driving from Stromness to Kirkwall takes around 25 minutes. As we have passed by Maes Howe site, we stopped and booked our tour (Maes Howe is one of rare sites that requires booking in advance) and we also bought Historic Scotland Orkney Pass. Most of the historical sites on Orkneys are run by Historic Scotland so if planning to visit more then two sites, it pays off to have this pass. After checking in we explore the town. The town centre is fairly small and dominated by the St.Magnus cathedral. The afternoon sun enhanced its features and colour. As interesting as from outside it is also, or more, in the inside. It was constructed in 12ve century and inside the cathedral one can find many artefacts from centuries passed. At 19.00 we have started our Maes Howe tour. Not much to write about, as many prehistorical sites also this one bears a song amount of magical vibe. The clouds started to thicken and the wind became stronger. Not a good sign. Which we realised next day. Grey sky, rainy clouds, windy. Still we get out for more history. This time we stopped first at The Standing Stones of Stenness. Free guided tours by WHS rangers is held every Monday, Wednesdays and Fridays, at 10 am. Well, in 2011 the tours started at 11 am and that is why we missed it. Never mind, we still had Monday as a back up day. So we moved a mile or so onward to latest excavation site, where a tour is held by a resident archaeologist every day at 11 am, 1 pm and 3 pm, also these are free yet a donation is warmly welcomed. The wether has worsened, well, it was not bad, just I was not dressed properly, so I missed half of the tour while my wife stayed for entire lecture. There is a small shop so inside I waited for here, chatted with two lovely ladies about weather and other facts of the life. Inside the car the weather did not looked so bad so on we go, toward famous Skara Brae. As the weather did not showed any sign of improvement we only visited the visitor centre, and then we headed back to Kirkwall. After having really good fish and chips at Harbour Fry it was time for some indoor attraction, so we went to Orkney Museum. Free entrance also here, and it displays history on Orkneys from neolithic to modern days. Some more of the cathedral, and several shops later we decided it was enough for that day. Next morning we were waken up by a fog horn. And looked through the window it was obvious why. The fog was so thick the birds were walking. Eh, what could we do but to have a hearty breakfast. And by the time we finished the fog starts to dissolve. Our first stop was way down at South Ronaldsay. A fine almost straight road, and the sun has won the battle over the fog. First on our way was the little Italian chapel, made by Italian prisoners of war who were also engaged in building the Churchill Barriers. Close by the next causeway lies the remains of a large ship, great photo op. also we noticed heavuly equipped divers probably on their way to explore the sunken German fleet or what is left down in Scapa Flow. Not our hobby so we continued into the warm sunny morning and finally parked in front of the reception office of the Tomb of the Eagles, another prehistoric site on Orkneys. This one is owned by a private family and they do a good job preserving the history. Along the prehistoric tomb another site is a bronze age house. First a short introduction to both is done, then a one mile walk to the tomb. To enter the tomb a simple self pull cart system is available. Funny in good weather, not so if rains. The walk back is along the high cliffs, so high that the birds were flying below us. There are benches to sit down and enjoy the sea, the cliffs and the birds. When we finished it was already past midday so to nearby Skerries Bistro for a tasty seafood lunch. The owners are kind of competitors as they have found their own prehistoric Tomb of the Otters. Not yet excavated in full the guide outside said that one can admire the many artefacts and human remains still in the chambers. Hmmm, maybe next time. As the sun was in full force we decided to visit the Skara Brae site, located on the opposite side of Mainland. Arrived at 15.30 just in time when the last bus tour group leaved the site and we have had it completely to ourselves for next ten minutes. What a treat, weather was perfect, site was silent and we could feel that special vibe. The tide was still low so we headed to Brough of Birsay. It is important to know the low tide schedule as this site is on an tidal island and reachable only by foot at low tide. The site represents the Pictish and Norse houses, mostly only the bases yet interesting nevertheless. At 18.00 the tide started to rise so we went back over to mainland, then a slow drive to Ring of Brodgar. Just as and another couple and fantastic sunlight - what a treat. And it was not end yet. Arriving at Stones of Stenness more great sunset light and more photos taken. Tired but happy we finally arrived home in Kirkwall.
As average days with sun on Orkneys are within the range of the number of fingers on both hands, we have had no great hopes for Sunday. How wrong! Morning was sunny and when we entered Kirkwall it was warm already. Nobody on streets, not locals not tourists. The place to check out were two palaces, Earl's and Bishop's. From the outside they looked like ruins but we were positively surprised when entered the Earl's. Rooms and hallways are empty, without furniture, and several walls and ceilings were gone, yet with the help of very informative billboards and a hint of imagination, we have enjoyed walking up and down and through. There is an excellent lookout point overlooking the cathedral and lower part of the town. At 1 pm we joined the WHS ranger for free guided walk to Ring of Brodgar. Almost a private tour, with only six persons in party. The lady gave as very specific tour, with a different approach route, and we have appreciated this as we have done the more usual route a day before. The reason for low occupancy of our walk was the Open Day at the excavation location. We briefly stopped there before Ring, and what a difference from Friday. There were groups of visitors all around the place, and many archeologists and others were working on the site. It was so informative to see in real life how many different skills are used on such a project. OK, from Ring our next destination was Broche of Guerness. This is an Iron Age village, located northwest on the Mainland. Again fabulous weather and lack of other visitors made one fantastic experience. The best part of almost all locations (not in Skara Brae) is the possibility to walk inside e location, between and in the houses, thus enhancing the experience and being much closer connected with the people that once lived on these places. From there we went to finish the Skara Brae site visiting the Skaill House. Just in time to catch the last entry, and finished with closing time at 17.30. What a beautiful and fruitful day it was, with so much of nature and history available.
Monday was our blast day on Orkneys. Main event was another free guided walk with WHS ranger, the one we missed on Friday. We were on time and there were lot more participants this time. Not a surprise to us as we have been able to admire from the window of our room the enormous Caribbean Princess cruise ship dislodging its 3000+ passengers into Kirkwall port. Luckily most of them had their own guide, so Keith, our ranger, wisely decided to go first to nearby Barnhouse Settlement, and returning to the Standing Stones just between two bus tours. Keith had delivered what we were hoping for, a 60 minutes of facts and stories involving us in guessing about various aspects of life in prehistoric time. If on Orkney, do not miss the HWS ranger free guided walks. Since all important sites were already flooded by cruise ship tourists I hoped that less known will be less crowded. So we went to Orphir to learn more about the Orkneyinga Saga, an Icelandic saga about the conquest of Orkney by vikings, and subsequent life and events. One of the saga episodes was taken place near the rounded church (an important monument for itself) near Orphir. The interpretation centre hosts well designed interpretive billboards and also a 17 minutes video. The church and its churchyard are a peacful place to walk around. The centre is community owned and donations are highly appreciated. Now it was already past noon so we need to drive (slowly) to Stromness for ferry return to mainland. A lunch at Julia's Cafe and Bistro opposite the ferry terminal, and last stroll through Stromness finalised our visit to Orkney Islands. have I told you that we have had mostly sunny day again?! Just before boarding the sky became overcast, then heavy dark grey clouds rolled in. A chance to get the photos of Old Man of hOy in a completely different light and mood. Most of return journey was spent inside the ship due to heavy rain and wind outside. MV Hamnavoe, operated by NorthLink Ferries is crossing the Pentland Firth between Scrabster and Stromness six times a day, and is a very comfortable way to cross this many times very difficult sea. There are several areas for seating, a bar and a restaurant, and kids have their own entertainment area. It may not be the cheapest way to come to Orkneys but it is probably the most comfortable one, and we highly recommend using it, specially if traveling with kids.
We did have enjoyed Orkneys, both its nature and its historic side, immensely. Our highly positive judgement might as well be heavily influenced by unusual sunny and calm weather we have had, but it has to be equally impressive also in less favourable times. Definitively not to be missed if traveling in Scotland, yet you do need enough time, as it is far away from main touristic routes and destinations.

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