Wednesday, August 31, 2011

On a Clear Day: Montreal

On a Clear Day: Montreal by susanvg
On a Clear Day: Montreal, a photo by susanvg on Flickr.
Photo: August 29, 2011

The remnants of Irene washed the sky clean of pollution. I have rarely seen such clear skies over Montreal. The views to the mountains in the distance were crisp and the buildings sparkled with their newly washed facades.

There is nothing like a walk on the mountain, but a stop to take in the view is essential.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Coming Through

Coming Through by susanvg
Coming Through, a photo by susanvg on Flickr.
Photo: August 27, 2011

The sound of the horn is deafening when you are this close to the train. But from our place it sounds plaintif. Trains pass through Casselman several times a day going to and from Ottawa.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Near the British Museum

Near the British Museum by susanvg
Near the British Museum, a photo by susanvg on Flickr.
The last few days of trip were spent in London. We walked many miles - it's such a great city for walking.

Both my spouse and I feel there are places we have to see each time we are in London. I love to walk the South Bank. I love the views, the river and the fact that we can walk in a place without cars.


Walking over the Millenium Bridge we got a view of Tower Bridge - one of our musts. Then walking on the other side of the river we passed by St. Paul's. On foot you see things you would not otherwise see. We explored small streets and lanes. Here's one find:

Hidden Courtyard

A little gem hidden away. We stayed near the Marble Arch - another favourite that we like to see.

Marble Arch

We took a long walk through Hyde Park, stopping to admire the water fowl in the Serpentine Lake.

The Serpentine - Hyde Park            Swan - the Serpentine - Hyde Park

A rain shower sent us into the Victoria & Albert Museum where we stopped for lunch. Here's a view of where we didn't eat, staying dry indoors. It was a pleasure to eat in the Poynter Room. I recently read The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt. Many chapters take place in the V&A.

Victoria and Albert Museum

Another day we took the tube to Westminster and walked from there back to our hotel near Marble Arch. We passed parliament, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace and walked through Green Park and Hyde Park. A good way to prepare for the long flight home.

More photos: click here

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Touching History

Touching History by susanvg
Touching History, a photo by susanvg on Flickr.

London - We spent part of the day at the British Museum. We had listened to A History of the World in 100 Objects, a podcast series from the British Museum and were looking forward to seeing some of the objects that had been described. It was exciting to find them and to really see the size and to be able to see them from all angles.

This object was not part of that series, but it was a thrill to be able to hold it. The museum has stations where volunteers display artifacts from the museum; they give the background and let you hold them. I remember some years ago holding a Roman coin and realizing that once this was the currency and someone who lived at that time carried it with them to spend on whatever was available at the time.

But this piece dated much farther back - 350,000 years. It is an axe that was fashioned by a homo erectus man. To touch this, to think that someone, not yet homo sapiens, used rock to chip at this to create the shape was amazing. Those fingers held this rock and thousands of years later we touched it and marvelled.

So much of this trip has been about touching history.

On the Moors

On the Moors by susanvg
On the Moors, a photo by susanvg on Flickr.
Photos: August 14, 2011

A day of travel - through mountains and past many lochs. In the ever changing weather we saw the last of the Highlands.

Craggy Mountains

We stopped in Doune to see the castle (it was used for the filming of Monty Python and the Holy Grail).

In Doune Castle

Back in Stirling we had dinner and returned our car. The weather did not disappoint. A brief rain shower then spread a rainbow over the town.

Rainbow over Stirling

The next day we boarded a train for London.

For more photos: click here

Friday, August 26, 2011

View on the Isle of Skye

View on the Isle of Skye by susanvg
View on the Isle of Skye, a photo by susanvg on Flickr.
Photos: August 12-13, 2011

Even in the light rain you can see the waves of mountains, row upon row. We crossed the bridge to the Isle of Skye from Kyle of Lochalsh, but a curtain of cloud came down, obscuring our views.

It is fascinating to me how quickly weather changes in this part of the world. It can be sunny in one spot  with cloud cover just a short way off and rain.

Sun in One Spot- Rain in Another

This can result in lots of rainbows.

Rainbow Over the Hills

We went to see Eilean Donan Castle which is supposed to be the most photogenic castle in Scotland, but cloud obscured the mountains behind.

Eilean Donan Castle

But sometimes it is nice to see these venues cloaked in mystery. It is easier to picture the events of the past, their echoes in the mist.

More Photos: click here

Thursday, August 25, 2011

One Track Road

One Track Road by susanvg
One Track Road, a photo by susanvg on Flickr.
Photos: August 10-11, 2011
This may look like a lane but in reality it is a one track road. While this one is narrower than some (it was part of a 12 mile detour), one track roads are common in northern Scotland. There is a whole etiquette to driving them.

Passing Place

If you are able to see ahead (not always the case when there are sharp curves) the one closest to the passing place, especially if it is on the left, pulls over to let the other pass. Both drivers wave thanks and continue on. If you meet someone unexpectedly (not unusual with these curves) the one closest to a passing place backs up. If there is someone behind you who wants to pass, pull into a passing place, the one who passes honks to thank you. If you are at a passing place and want to signal to oncoming traffic that you will wait for them to pass, flash your lights. The real challenge comes when you meet unexpectedly near curves. One of the drivers has to back up to the nearest passing place to allow the other to pass. It is all more complicated that fancy dance steps!

I found this challenging and I wasn't driving. But these roads took us through some spectacular scenery (though our eyes were often focused on the road ahead). Misty, rainy days brought moody closed in views and when the sun  shone, the vistas opened up to moors, mountains and lochs.

Kyle of Durness

Fortunately there were parking areas where it was possible to stop and just enjoy the views. Above is the Kyle of Durness. As we got near Kylesku the mountains were higher. They plunged down into the lochs. We decided against the very scenic route (another many mile one track road) as the main road actually allowed us to admire the scenery.


Even the main road (at this point two lanes - one in each direction) wound up and down the mountains.

Scottish Highlands

So many of Scotland's mountains are treeless. The views go on forever.


For more photos: click here

Goodbye to Stromness

Goodby to Stromness by susanvg
Goodby to Stromness, a photo by susanvg on Flickr.
Photo: August 10, 2011

The Orkneys are a special place. It is amazing how much local produce there is from lamb to beef to fish and seafood. And of course, there is a local distillery (Highland Park) and local beer. As in much of Scotland, houses are built of stone and in Stromness, even the streets in the centre of town are paved with flagstones.

The history from the prehistoric sites to the Orkney connection with the Hudson's Bay Company was fascinating. The landscape is both pastoral and wild. There is a haunting feel about the Orkneys with the standing stones bearing witness to thousands of years of human habitation there. And what has changed? People still farm and fish and find ways to enjoy the long winter darkness and the summer light.

The Orkneys are full of stories and storytellers, crafts people and other creative folk. I may be drawn back there again some day.

More photos: click here

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Looking Down on the Brough

Looking Down on the Brough by susanvg
Looking Down on the Brough, a photo by susanvg on Flickr.
We travelled many centuries in one day. Our morning stop was at the Brough of Birsay, an old Viking settlement built on top of a Pictish settlement. It was occupied by the Norse people from about the 9th to 12th centuries. The island is only accessible at low tide.

Brough of Birsay

This is what is left of the cathedral. When the site was excavated by archeologists, they felt that the site had been of importance to first the Picts and then the Norsemen. They found artifacts that had been imported from Scandinavia, from Ireland and from Anglo-Saxon England.

Brough of Birsay

The only way to reach the brough is to follow the path at low tide. This made the island a perfect place for people as it was easy to guard and protect. After exploring the island, we walked back across and drove off past the ruins of a 16th century palace. Then on a neolithic site: Skara Brae.

Skara Brae

This neolithic settlement was occupied from around 3200 BCE to 2200 BCE by stone age people. It was discovered after a major storm in 1850. The dwellings are connected by covered passageways. It is fascinating to see the stone bureaus, built for storage, the areas sectioned off as sleeping quarters, the many passageways... It is even believed they had a drainage system which may have supported some kind of indoor toilet facilities.

Skara Brae

Again - that feeling of touching history. Unlike visiting the castles of Edinburgh and Stirling - here in the Orkneys we got glimpses into the lives of normal people, not the elite.

These posts only touch on some of what we saw. The Orkneys are quite amazing in what they have to offer those interested in history.

More photographs can be found here.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Arches by susanvg
Arches, a photo by susanvg on Flickr.
Photos: August 7 and 8, 2011
We visited two churches - each interesting in its own way. St. Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall, dates from the twelfth century. At the time, the Orkneys were occupied by Vikings who settled there. The old grave markers from the 1600s leaning against the walls were fascinating, with ghoulish images of skulls and crossbones.

We also visited the Italian Chapel, created inside a Nissan hut by Italian POWs during World War II. It is amazing what they created using little more than paint and some plasterboard.

Italian Chapel Interior

For more photos, click here.

Standing Stones of Stenness

Standing Stones of Stenness by susanvg
Standing Stones of Stenness, a photo by susanvg on Flickr.
Photos: August 7, 2011
It is astonishing to see the many pre-historic sites in the Orkneys. The Standing Stones of Stenness is just one example. They are over 5000 years old. At that time there were settlements of stone age people who farmed. Remnants of one of the villages can be found nearby: Barnhouse Settlement.

Barnhouse Village

You can walk through what was once the doorway and stand where people once lived over 5000 years ago. It is hard to imagine what their lives were like and why they felt the need to erect these large stones. What kinds of rituals took place there?

Down the road is the Ring of Brodgar - a huge stone circle that dates from about 2500 - 2000 BCE. It is quite a mystical experience to walk around the circle, to touch the stones and to hear the sounds of nature. You truly feel connected to history and to the people who have come before.

Ring of Brodgar

If the stones could speak, what would they be saying? What stories would they tell.

Ring of Brodgar

More photos can be found here.

Monday, August 22, 2011

H.M. Hamnavoe

H.M. Hamnavoe by susanvg
H.M. Hamnavoe, a photo by susanvg on Flickr.
Photos: August 6, 2011

We boarded the ferry to go to the Orkney Islands. Luck was with us as we had an easy trip. The day before the wind had been blowing hard and this area is known for cross currents.

Palm Trees in Scrabster

The gulf stream works its magic in this part of the world. In Scrabster at the north end of Scotland, there were palm trees in someone's small yard. We were to see them in several places along the west coast of Scotland.

Old Man of Hoy

The crossing takes about an hour and a half and goes past the island of Hoy with the Old Man of Hoy, a tall sea stack. Tiny birds flew near the ship - perhaps baby seagulls. We pulled in to harbour at Stromness.

More photos: click here

Sunset at Dunnet Beach

Sunset at Dunnet Beach by susanvg
Sunset at Dunnet Beach, a photo by susanvg on Flickr.
Photos: August 5, 2011
We reached the north of mainland Scotland. Our B&B was a restored manse house in the middle of an agricultural area in Brabsterdorran (a collection of just a few homes). We could hear the sheep in the field behind our room.

Old Free Church Manse B&B

The house has quite a history. J.M. Barrie visited frequently and his sister was engaged to marry the minister. Unfortunately he had an accident; he was thrown off a horse and landed in a stream and died. Barrie came up for the funeral. We went to a nearby town for dinner and enjoyed a walk on the beach afterwards.

Dunnet Beach

With the tide out there was a huge expanse of sand. The setting sun painted the sand dunes gold.

For more photos, click here

Sunday, August 21, 2011


Edderton by susanvg
Edderton, a photo by susanvg on Flickr.
Photos: August 5, 2011
It is wonderful to wake up to sunshine, even if it doesn't last the whole day. It was a beautiful morning for a walk in this rural area. Sheep and cows were plentiful.

Sheep in Edderton

The countryside soundscape is full of baas and moos. From a distance we could see some highland cattle - but we hoped to see some close up.

Back in the car to head closer to Thurso where we would get the ferry for the Orkneys. We stopped in Golspie to admire the beach and wander through the town.

Beach at Golspie

The beauty of the countryside is only exceded by the beauty of the people - friendly, helpful and welcoming. As we were driving northward I spotted a herd of Highland Cattle and luck was with us - there was a parking area near enough for us to stop and gawk.

Highland Cattle

I'm not sure how they see; their hair droops over their faces. After admiring them for a while we continued our drive, taking a small road to see some standing stones.

Standing Stones at Achavanich

These stones at Achavanich have been standing here for about 4000 years. They are unusual in that unlike most stone circles, the sides of the stones, rather than the flat surfaces,  face the centre of the circle. These stones were in a remote field, reached by a one track road. Fortunately with the treeless landscape it was easy to see if someone was coming and you could pull into one of the passing places.

For more photos, click here

Heather in the Scottish Mist

Heather in the Scottish Mist by susanvg
Heather in the Scottish Mist, a photo by susanvg on Flickr.
Photos: August 4, 2011

Scotland - mist, rain, heather and sheep. That is what we often encountered. The heather was just starting to open, but the mist and rain were in their glory!

Driving from Dromnadrochit to Beauly we passed by lochs and hills. A side trip took us to Portmahomack.


Shortly after we arrived a truck pulled up - the Highland Libraries - with books in English and Gaelic. It was nice to see children arriving with books tucked under their arms, ready to exchange them for a new stack.

We headed for Edderton, our destination for the night. Fields of sheep greeted us.


Now what is the best antidote to the damp weather in Scotland? Whisky, of course. Just down the road from our hotel was the Balblair Distillery, so in their honour we had a "wee dram" of whisky to warm up.

For more photos, click here