Tuesday, June 2, 2009

It's Smoo-licious!

[Wow! Two posts in two days! We're at the community centre in Port Charlotte again. Another sunny day, but a cool front is making its way down from the north, so we have some high cloud and slightly lower temperatures than yesterday. And some mist on the ocean. Can't see Ireland as clearly from our outside table today. Just back from an interesting tour at Kilchoman (kil-HOME-an) Distillery; more on that later. Belly (and head) still a bit warm from the dram... The post is from 27 May.]

Road fatigue. Starting to get tired. Especially after a pint with dinner at the pub, I'm feeling particularly tired.

We started the day at Urquhart Castle; first thing. We got there before all the coaches started arriving with their loads of foreign tourists. Rainy! We watched the clouds roll through the loch (Urquhart Castle is on Loch Ness and gets a lot of its tourism from the fact that some sort of monster was allegedly once seen in the vicinity). The setting is very peaceful and soothing, but we got well-soaked and a bit of a chill from all the rain. I didn't put on my rain trousers for the visit which I should've done. I didn't get as wet as I did during the hail storm yesterday, but we were out in it for a longer time. The castle, though, was lovely as ever (this was my third visit):

There was a guy wandering around the castle grounds in period attire (I'm not sure what period; Robert the Bruce period? Mel Gibson and Braveheart?). I gave him a perplexed "Hello" hoping he would tell me what he was up to, but no dice. Too early in the day for me to be amusing and take it any further, so I walked on. Robin couldn't think of an opener either. Another missed opportunity to show off our clever wits.

Hardly anyone was speaking English in the visitor's centre (lots of German, also Japanese). For some reason I really wanted some tacky Nessie souvenirs, particularly the ceramic thing I'd seen years ago -- Nessie in the water (how to describe this?) -- it's four ceramic pieces that when laid out on a flat surface look like a serpent half in/half out of the water (maybe a picture would do better here --- ha! got one:)

Everything at the Urquhart Castle shop is so posh now, so no fun for us (at least not in the mood I was in today). I did get Olivia a plastic knight's mask and sword. Every girl should have these things. I figured since she's worked that walking around with a blanket over your head is a giggle, she should enjoy tormenting her doggies with a plastic sword (sorry Jess!)

Thankfully we found some cheesy souvenirs in a shop in a nearby village. Now I'm all set for tacky Nessie stuff.

Next stop was Corrimony Chambered Cairn. Lots of cows with their calves in the field next door. Lots of mooing. This made Robin (aka 'City Boy') nervous even though there was a fence. Cows can't jump fences Robin. He settled in soon enough and enjoyed playing with his camera. I took pictures of cows, but after a little while decided that photographing livestock isn't very satisfying.

Here are a couple of my pictures of the cairn:

Livestock photography:

Lots of slow roads today. Single tracks with passing places. After the cairn we started to make our way north, on our way to Durness by way of Dun Dornaigil Broch. This is a remote site that I never made it to before: a long sought-after Historic Scotland site for me.

On the way a sign for a falls caught my eye, so I cajoled my navigator into taking a detour. It was not a long detour, and it was over narrow roads with hardly any traffic. I figured this would be a quaint stop-off with few or no other people around. Imagine our surprise when we arrived to find a sprawling complex that included mini golf, bbq pits, a cafe and an extensive shop that included a surfeit of Harrod's merchandise (Harrod's???). The falls were surprisingly small, nowhere near large enough to warrant their adjacent activity farm. Take a look for yourself:

Who are we to judge? We used their well-appointed toilets for a wee break, and I bought a sock for my phone in the shop (yeah, you have to see this. I think it's a Japanese thing. And it has my name on it! Hey! I'm on vacation!)

The road to Dun Dornaigil was slow, but it had some of the most spectacular scenery I have ever seen in my life. Hills and vistas and clouds and light and NO OTHER PEOPLE to crowd us or spoil the view. This is why I come here. My only regret is
that we haven't been out more exploring on foot. As usual I have bitten off more than I can chew in terms of distances to travel (yes Mahinda, you were right, I've tried to pack in too many miles into too short a time). My hope is that we will have more time for walking next week on Islay. I'm already planning our next trip here: walking the Western Higland Way, and climbing Ben Hope are two items on the list.

At Dun Dornaigil the entrance was blocked up, but my inner imp emerged and I managed to scale the wall to find that the interior was filled with earth and grass was growing on top (so we weren't shut out for safety reasons or other nonsense). Brochs are interesting to visit because they have a double wall structure. I was hoping to find this, and show it to Robin. While it was fun to climb the wall and imagine myself queen of all I surveyed, I didn't think through how I was going to get down. Thankfully my gallant companion again rose to the occasion and guided my feet a few steps until it was safer to jump down. He helped to break my fall and prevented me from falling into the ditch alongside the broch.

The broch from the outside:

Me, in repose, after satisfying my curiosity:

Robin took this picture of Loch Eriboll while we were in transit:

We finally arrived at our B&B a little after 6pm. Tired and hungry we went to the Smoo Cave Hotel for dinner. I had a sustaining meal of steak pie and chips (yummm) and a nice hearty pint of McEwan's 80/-, our new favourite ale. Feeling much better, but a little tipsy, we went to Smoo Cave. Making every bit of word-play on the name that we could think of (it works like "Smurf" did), the cave stunned us. It was unexpectedly vast and beautiful, with a falls hidden inside. Here are some views from in and around the cave:

Wondering where the hell that water was coming from, had to scale back up to find the source. A stream flowing down from the hills feeds the falls:

Thankfully the large hole in the cave that the falls, um, fall into is safely fenced off, though we are advised to not throw rocks down the hole, to avoid clocking visitors below on the head:

At 11:15 pm it was still twilight and didn't seem like it was going to get much darker. Ever.

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