Five Go on an Island Adventure

We arrived in the dark. On a boat. It missed the pier and had to spin round and go back out to sea before trying again. It was all very exciting.

Port Askaig, Islay:

ferry arrival

So, the five of us – four humans, 1 canine – went to bed in a lovely old house and awoke to sunshine and a eucalyptus tree.

window view

We ate breakfast. We unpacked. We ran about on golden beaches…

Kilchoman

and had our cares blasted away by the wind on rocky shores.

Salago

There was much fireside sitting and eating and laughing and talk.

jam tarts

History was explored. The Kildalton High Cross and church:

Kildalton Cross snowdrops

The Seat of the Lordship of the Isles at Finlaggan in the soft island rain:

standing stone at Finlaggan

grave 16595908336_d7f677c656_z

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Then, refreshed and de-stressed, it was back on the ferry to the mainland, though the view there is of Jura:view of Islay

We passed Kilchurn Castle on Loch Awe:

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And walked between weather-battered oak trees on our way home.

Strone Hill

There’s more (oh, so many more!) photos on Twitter and Instagram.

drained

snow and ice on the loch

Beautiful isn’t it? Yet, I felt panicked when I saw the loch was being drained. I stood like an angry lorax at the side, pointing at trees that had been felled to carve an ugly canal in the bank, asking irate questions: Why? When will it be fixed? Why?

It didn’t look quite like that then.

mud banks

The freshness of the change was jarring. A conversation made things better. It wasn’t mindless destruction. There was talk of a loch-improving grant. There will be an island to encourage wildlife. There are to be oxidising plants to improve the water quality.

Swans started spending the night in the new shallows of the loch:

whooper swans over the loch

They left a feathery tide:

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Sunrise still happens.

sunrise on the shore of the loch

Clouds still gather in dramatic formations.

clouds

I walk out onto the frozen floor of the loch and examine long-hidden tree branches, pine cones, old boat jetties and numerous wine bottles (who?). I like getting to know the space in this new way, looking back at the shore, seeing it from a different angle. Nature doesn’t take long to smooth over the tracks of human intervention. There’s been mist, there’s been ice and now there’s snow.

What will Spring look like? I’m not sure, but there’s going to be beauty. There always is.

snow on the loch at sunrsie

Culloden and Clava

Macduff, anchor and church

A bright blue sky day. Good for a journey up the coast and into the past. Above: I stopped to take a picture of the anchor on the hill in Macduff.

A couple of hours and many miles later, the skies had clouded. Culloden Moor:

Culloden Battlefield

The visitor centre at Culloden is high-tech, swish, clean and pristine, all the things the bloody battle of the past was not. The contrast always gets me. I sit on a soft red sofa looking out at the battlefield, eating my delicious lentil soup and enjoying decadent chocolate cake in comfort and warmth. Compare that to being one of the Jacobite clansmen, having marched across boggy rough terrain in the dark all night, exhausted, starving, about to be slaughtered in a fight so unfairly matched that it was all over in one hour. What would he think of Culloden Moor today and the nice day out it provides for families and tourists?

Out on the battlefield, things feel more authentic, more memorial. Red flags mark the government line:

flag

Stones are placed over mass graves:

clans stone field of the English

Old Leanach Cottage is dated about 1760, several years after the battle, but is said to stand on the site of an earlier cottage that was used as a field hospital for government troops:

cottage

People leave offerings:

tartan offering

After a little look at the peaceful, cud-chewing, Highland cattle, it’s off to the nearby Clava Cairns:

Victorian Grove

Here ancient burial cairns (estimated at about 4000 years old) are surrounded by circles of stone and trees. It’s the perfect peaceful place to visit after Culloden.

Clava Cairns

You can walk right into two of the three cairns, though the entrance tunnel would have been covered in the past: you would have had to crawl.

into the cairn

Some of the standing stones are high and shaped, rather like enormous graves:

standing stone rectangular

Let’s finish with one of the aforementioned Highland Coos. There’s four of them in a field next to Culloden.

Highland Cow

dancing in the rain

Chanonry

I skirted round the edges of Aberdeen on a rainy day in search of bright spots and green corners. Above is The Chanonry, a cobbled street in Old Aberdeen. Cobbles are called ‘cassies’ up here, a word I had long forgotten until I was reminded of it on Twitter.

I ran the grass maze in the Cruickshank botanic garden:

grass maze

…then caught sight of the Duncan Rice library – ooh, research! – where I found a dolphin (others previously blogged here):

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He’s a Doric dolphin that one, Doric being the dialect spoken in these parts. We do have some great words and phrases:

Quine ~ girl. Loon ~ boy.Doric dolphin

Flycup ~ a quick cup of tea, often served with a ‘piece’ (biscuit) or if you’re very lucky, a ‘funcy piece’ which might involve chocolate, cream or jam.

Fit like? ~ How are you doing? The accepted answer is ‘Nae bad, fit like yersel?’

 

The Winter Gardens at Duthie Park are an excellent place to visit when the weather is damp. I remember going there as a child with my Grandmother. She would have loved these colours:

archway

14829367500_63b880f5ff_z  the Victorian corridor

A group of people huddled in the entrance hall, clinging to a vain hope that the rain might go off. I ran across the grass to the bandstand and was immediately reminded of a scene in The Sound of Music (16 going on 17) and indulged in some similar dancing. I am fortunate to have such open, non-judgemental people in my life. They joined in. We had all forgotten about the audience at the door who had quite a good view of the bandstand:

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Having provided enough entertainment for one day, we headed home for a chocolate based fly cup and funcy piece.

Bennachie

Bennachie in the distance

Bennachie is a large hill that can be seen for miles in Aberdeenshire. Its craggy peaks seem to loom out of nowhere as you drive round twisty corners of country roads. I once climbed it three times in one day for charity; complainers of sore legs were reminded of that fact yesterday. The top of Harthill Castle, which was owned and restored by the late American writer Ann Savage, is just visible over the trees.

The start of any Bennachie climb – we took the easiest ‘Rowan Tree’ route – starts with a misleading forest stroll:

woodland walk

Then you’re out into the baking sun (sometimes; you are equally as likely to emerge into a dense Stephen King-esque mist) and views expand.

rock

Parts of the path are pure exposed rock, it feels like standing on the bare face of the planet. I like to kneel and kiss the stone; you do see some strange people on Bennachie…

steeper

The ascent gradually gets steeper, the sun gets hotter, but the Mither Tap nears. Big cairn, little cairn:

cairns

There’s a Pictish hillfort on the top, you pass between its walls…

hillfort

and then cling, terrified, to the side of the uppermost rocks as the wind buffets you. That bit is over quickly. The landscape soon owns your attention.

views

The Maiden Stone stands near the foot of the hill, a ninth century Pictish stone displaying a good example of the mysterious, much debated, ‘Pictish beast’. Swimming elephant? Dolphin? Kelpie?

The Maiden Stone

A few miles further on is Loanhead of Daviot Stone Circle, the first recumbent circle I ever visited, beautifully cared for by Historic Scotland.

Daviot

uprights at Daviot

between the recumbents

Will I stop now? No, one more, then we can put our feet up.

circle

nature abounds

window

The view turns green.

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Fairies dance and laugh in the woods.

canopy

The canopy returns.

rowan

Trees froth and flower, filling the air with their sweetness.

blue loch

There’s blue above and blue below. The return of summer.