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Saturday, April 15, 2017

Of Ponies & Puffins: Shetland Island

"I am Shetland McPonyface. Welcome to Shetland Island"

Boo hoo
Spot on the obligatory 7:30 AM check-in time, day packs in tow,  we arrived at the Aberdeen airport desk.

"Auch, you're too late," tsked the reservations harpy clerk.

After pointing out we were on time,  the clerks cleared us for the flight (I mean really!). We soon in a panic, sprinting - um... perhaps it wasn't as much sprinting as winded stumbling along the long corridors to airport security.

As we were in a super hurry, of course security side-lined us for full body pat downs: Ila due to her highly suspect artificial knee and me because...?  Meanwhile my backpack was inspected then deprived of a forgotten and downright dangerous jar of Apple & Ale Chutney. I am in mourning for my chutney - any sympathy cards or replacement jars appreciated.

Post security check, we continued our race along the 20 mile long serpentine route to the final gate (I might have exaggerated the distance a bit). Arriving at the gate, I, for one, was wheezy, winded and red in the face. We climbed steps, boarding the airplane. Contentment again reigned as the little prop engine plane took off, heading north for our vacation within a vacation. Our destination - Shetland island, 100 miles north of the Scottish mainland.
Approaching runway at Sumburgh Airport on Shetland Island
Sarah with some of her handiwork
Arriving at Shetland's Sumburgh airport we were greeted Sarah McBurnie, our guide for the day.

Ila found our guide by doing pre-trip homework of the sort I am generally too disorganized to do. Ila found the Shetland Island touring site on the internet and communicated with Sarah who leads tour groups and personalized tours of Shetland Island. Ila couldn't have found us a better guide.

While still in California, Sarah queried us about our interests on Shetland. We told her we wanted to see the Shetland sights in general. Plus we were both eager to see Fair Isle knitting demonstrated and for me - DUH - birds and wildlife. Sarah promised to hit all of our touring needs.


We loaded into Sarah's van, and were off. We passed a little stone-walled pasture with Shetland ponies. Shetlands were on my 'must see' list. Mind - there were loads of Shetland ponies and Shetland sheep throughout the day. But on the ponies, once upon a time the wee mites were bred for difficult & hard work in British coal mines, but these days they mostly are mostly just chubby little cuties.

Sarah drove us to the top of Sumburgh hill and once there, we got out. We skurried along a little alley in the maze of buildings, headed for the wall.
We headed down this hilltop alley for 'the wall'
There we peered over the low stone wall, and onto a b'jillion seabirds. The ragged cliffs were white washed with guano and covered over with Guillemots (called Common Murres in the States).

A sea rock covered over with Guillemots and guano
But just down about 30 or 40 feet from were we stood were PUFFINS!
A little too early in the morning for some
There were also lots of Northern Fulmars resting on the rocks.
Northern Fulmars
I could have watched the seabirds all day, but there were other sights to see and we clambered back into the van. North on the eastern coast, Sarah pointed out Mousa Island, perhaps a mile off the mainland. She was pointing out the far off structures in the photo below. The one in the foreground is Mousa Broch, an iron age tower dating back to 100 BC.  What the ancient tower was actually used for is still a subject of much argument. Is Mousa Broch a Fort? A stone star/sun position calculator? The world's fanciest barn?
The Mousa Broch Tower 
We also got a hilltop view on the eastern side of the island, down onto the largest town on the island, Scalloway.

A view of Scalloway, the largest town on Shetland Is. 



History has it Scalloway Castle was built by a genuinely evil knob, Patrick Stewart aka 'Black Patie' earl of Shetland and Orkney isles who never captained a star ship. It is said he had his castle built by enslaved Shetland Islanders circa 1599. Guilty or not, the foul man was tried and executed in 1615. That gives one something to think on when viewing the castle ruins below. 

Steward's Evil Castle
Being an island there are loads of cool views on Shetland. My favorite was Dore Holm, an arched rock. Doesn't take much imagination to see it as a sea horsie having a cold nip  of cold & salty water.
The Dore Holm
Sarah is a lady chock full of knowledge about Shetland, her home. I wish I'd taken notes or had a recorder on because I was so awed by being on Shetland and on tour of it, that little of Sarah's fascinating information actually stuck in my noggin. I can't remember and be awed, it's normally one or the other. 

On the North Mavine peninsula we were high up on the western shore, where we saw the Esha Ness Lighthouse. Nicest name of any lighthouse I've ever seen.
The auld Esha Ness Lighthouse





Looking from the lighthouse towards the cliffs
The auld cliffs beyond 





Some rocks around the lighthouse were strangely square.

















Sarah stopped to take us for an early lunch at the Braewick Cafe which was stoic on the outside...






... windowed and showy on the inside.



Over lunch we chatted & Sarah showed us archaeological pictures on her laptop
Ila and myself wolfed down our lunches so we could have time to look over some fiber art work on display in a cabinet. I wish I'd stood back and photographed the whole cabinet. Here are snippets of it. There were many of Shetland's world famous Fair Isle knit goods. Fair Isle knitting is beautifuly colorful... more on it later. The natural hand dying work is what tempted me to part with my Scottish currency.
Lots of Shetland's world famous Fair Isle knitthandiworks were on sale and display
Hand Dyed Skeins of wool
Ila skipped off with the frameable art to the left,
I skipped off with the frameable artwork on the right. Score!
Later in the afternoon, Sarah took us to visit a a stop on the the Craft Trail - I mean, how cool!


There were loads of Fair Isle knitting in hats, caps, gloves and the like. The shop lady said no surprise, the young women on the island are less and less inclined to learn the Fair Isle knitting so it is rather an endangered art. I hope at some point a young person breathes new life into the art of Fair Isle knitting in the manner of what Mabel McCay did for California Pomo basket weaving. There was also a lot of yarn and hand dyed fiber. For me, the various spinning wheels, some old some... uh, well some older, were beautiful.



And for even older spinning there were drop spindles collected from around the world. I thought I'd never forget which were Russian, which were African, which were Bulgarian and of course, I forgot it all right quick.




A clay bottomed drop spindle 






















An all wooden drop spindle, nestled on a Fair Isle work-in-progress

The ladies having a lively chat
 Fair Isle knitting belt 
The belt strap warps around the waist so the padded bit with holes centered where a belt buckle sits. Knitting needles go into whichever holes work best... Ack! Why explain when this lovely lady was more than happy to give a demo you can watch below. All yee knitters, be ready to be awed!


Now have I yet mentioned the many Shetland Sheepies we saw in the course of our day? They're the ones supplying all the fair Isle wool







A lovely, albeit goggle-eyed Shetland sheep.







And the birds! I saw so many birds throughout the day. It was wonderful not having to drive, so I could stare out the window and watch for them. And it always seemed as though Sarah could read my mind, suddenly stopping so I could have a go at grabbing some shots photos. 
Whooper Swan looking all Elegant
Whooper Swans
Greyleg Geese were strewn about the island
As were European Oystercatchers, always paired up
My favorite - a solitary Northern Lapwing
Our last stop of the day was a unique spot and outdoor cultural site. There, 7 different cultures over the four thousand years, settled. The site is Jarlshof located on a bit of land that juts out on a bay. There, Bronze Age people built round houses, on top of which Iron age people later built their homes. On the ruins of the previous, Vikings built longhouses. On the ruins of the Viking era, British lords built a grand manor. All choice the site with an eye on the Bay.

Walking long a stone wall to Jarlshof entrance building
Making our way through the information packed visitor center
Below is where the earliest house ruins sit - they are Neolithic roundhouses.





Walking alongside broch ruins, and below manor house ruins






Ila, disappearing after Sarah, into a 'wheel house' doorway that leads down into...
How the round or 'wheel' house looks today
How a wheel house would have looked in use
View of area where Viking Long Houses sat
Cutaway of how Viking Long Houses would have looked 
The visit at Jarlshof was the last event of the day. There are loads more spots we visited that aren't covered in this post but it shows the highlights. Overall the day on Shetland was a fun and informative day. I think I can say for myself and Ila that we feel as though we have a friend on Shetland.

Here I intended to post a short video I took of adorable Puffins. But 'twix then and now I ran across videos by a young lady on Shetland who shares her island life on her YouTube channel.

Here is the girl telling how gossip goes on Shetland. I love this as gives a wee Shetland geography lesson and local names - of the island and the common folk's names - on the side.


Still on for my short vid of puffins then? Go here... Scottish Puffins.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Visiting Nessy


I found the ever elusive Nessy - in a manner of speaking. Today we left Fort Williams and headed north to Fort Augustus, located on the very edge of Loch Ness. Fort Augustus is quite a small town, with little shops located at the edges of the town's main asset - the tail end of the 60 mile long Caladonian Canal.
View of Loch Ness & the Caladonian Canal 
The canal works just like its bigger cousin, the Panama Canal. It has gates with water that runs in or out as it eases small pleasure craft from one

Spent an hour or so lollygagging on the canal itself, crossing from one side to the other on its retractable bridges.

View from the middle of the canal, taken from a retractable bridge
A crowd gathered to watch this sailboat work its way down the canal
We had a photo opp: Ila petting baby Nessy as its Mama watches
This is the coolest butcher shop




I was sooo sorry I wasn't staying someplace in Ft. Augustus with an oven so I could give boiling one of these haggis balls a go. They're pretty safe eating these days - as they no longer contain offal, i.e., lungs and such.






I mean... look at these baked beauties, I had to look at but pass on. I'd eaten so much breakfast there wasn't any room left for a Scotch or a steak pie.





And there were antlers for sale... tough to pass up but where is there that much room in the luggage?
Bloody hell. Who am I kidding. I bought a wee one.
Leaving Fort Augustus we continued on our highlands drive, first north along Fort Ness.
NESSY! You out there Lassie?
We stopped briefly at Urquhart Castle overlooking Loch Ness. Beautiful, but we didn't take the time to hike down to the actual castle what with a long day of driving ahead.

Urquhart Castle dates back to the 1200s.  
We hit Inverness up north, some time around noon and went shopping for a bit at two different Tescos. I love foreign food markets. For me it's like entering a museum with edible exhibits. There was lots of interesting eats but here're the ones that left me gap-jawed.


Ila loves chips and she bought some Thai Pepper Chips, or 'crisps' as Brits call 'em. She offered me some when we were on the road and I about Died at the wheel, they were so good.



Here's the thing. When we stopped down the road for a bit, I read the label. My reasoning is when I've read the unpronounceable chemical soup that is the processed food I'm about to eat, I am put off my feed and I do not eat as much, or I don't eat any to begin with. So... I read the label so as to gross myself out. Here's the what's in the Spicy Thai crisps.


Holy crap. The worse thing on that label is the Fructose and if you want to be fussy, the Hydrolyzed soy stuff, whatever that is. Note, the rest of the ingredients are... well, they're pretty much food - real food. I ate my damned chips with about only .0001 gm of  guilt.  I bought the chips below, and may I assure you, they. were. Awesome!
And what do they taste like? Just what the label says. Really. Exactly.
If those chips were available in the states, I'd need a crow bar to get through my garage door. Dear me... was I just rabbiting on about crisps? Uh... let's get my mind out of the food trough and continue. 

Where was I, or rather, where were we? Toodling from Inverness south. I was tickled silly as I could often spot BIRDS in the fields. You know me and the birdies.



These are Ring-necked Pheasant which I can seen near my home but still, these are Scottish Ring-necked Pheasants. They aren't wearing ordinary feathers, those are tartan feathers - or maybe not.








And so that means the Cocks are called Laddies and the Hens are called Lassies. Ok, in my head that's how it goes.















Now, the most exciting birds I saw all day were in Glenvivet, which is famous not for its birds, but is
famous for its single malt whiskey.




Sweet auld hoose 
Nevertheless, we were leaving Glenlivet, driving past old farm fields and I about had a heart atttack. Northern Lapwings! Yay! I blocked the entire road to take as many shots as I could manage of the shorebirds that don't stay at the shore. The flock probably were numbered around a hundred birds, but they were fairly far off .


On the photo below there is actually wire that I 'focused through' to get the bird. You can sort of see a gray band across the center of the photo. Have no clue how I got the bird and the wire. It's MAGIC!

That lovely long crest and iridescent feathers are amazing
I saw a car at the crossroads with a driver politely waiting until I was done getting my shots. No horn honking, no dirty looks, just quite politely waiting for the nutcase to get her photos and leave so he could go have a go on using the road. Whomever it was in that car, I totally adore them.

The next few hours were a peaceful drive with scenery that looked like backdrops for a Disney movie.
 Moors
I think the brown-ish looking  patches are Heathers
Closer look at the Heather
H-e-a-t-h-c-l-i-f-f!
The views considerably lengthened the drive. HAD to stop and stare.




And it kept getting better. We got onto yet another one way road with fun stuff along its way.

Wee Heilan Coos
A darlin' little farmhouse with field full of fun
  European Bunnies! Similar but different from American Cottontails 

Wonder how the farmer feels about them

And fat, red partridges



































And wee triplet lambs



















A little more over hill, over dale and finally...
We arrived at Crawford Grange BnB in Stonehaven


The room we booked was adorable & all you could want in a BnB.

Wish I'd taken a picture of our room key which was 18th century and too me, too freakn' adorable, though Ila wasn't having none of it. I see her point, but I was tickled silly by it.





When we'd made our selves at home, we went right back out again for dinner at a restaurant our hostess Wilma recommended. All is well.

And now yee wee bairns, no good reason, and no great payoff, here's a Hooded Crow feeding its overgrown brat of a chick. Filmed earlier in the day, on the banks of Loch Ness.