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    Scotland - Outer Hebrides, Summer 2015

    Our explorations of the west of Scotland often begin in the port and ferry terminal city of Oban.  It is a beautiful old town . . . and also has the best oysters in Scotland.

     

    I love the old fishing trawlers at the quay in Oban, mostly because I am rust obsessed.

     

    Working boats . . . working for our seafood.

     

    We took the ferry from Oban to the Outer Hebrides, a four hour trip.

     

    The ferry left Oban though the Sound of Mull.  The view of the Isle of Mull was spectacular.

     

    We arrived on the Outer Hebrides on Barra island, in the town of Castlebay, named after the 16th century Kisimul Castle in the bay.

     

    Most of the Hebrides were depopulated in the 1950s.  There were plenty of old abandoned buildings to photograph.

     

    The Outer Hebrides are very remote, one of the most remote places in Europe.  We were here at the very beginning of the tourist season and not everything wad open yet . . . some for unforeseen circumstances.

     

    We drove north up the A888, a mostly one-lane road with passing pull-outs every now and then.  The otherworldly rocky landscape was fascinating.

     

    A Barra beach.

     

    The chain of Islands are connected by a few bridges and several ferries.  We left Barra for Eriskay (old Norse of "Eric's Island") and South Uist islands. In the 2011 census South Uist had a usually resident population of 1,754.

     

    Getting to the ferries early allows time for photography . . . and a cup of coffee in the tiny terminal.

     

    The ferry passage between islands under the leaden skies and misty sounds created a fine dark mood.

     

    South Uist island is home of the Askernish Golf Course, designed by Old Tom Morris (in 1891), the same course designer of the Old Course at St. Andrews.  The Askernish Golf course was 'lost' for over 80 years until re-discovered and reopened in 2008.

     

    The fields of South Uist we all abloom in yellow flowers.

     

    From South Uist we passed over a causeway to Benbecula island and then across another causeway to North Uist Island.  We followed this road to Lochmaddy, where the ferry to the Isle of Skye terminates.

     

    We had a fine lunch at the port of Lochmaddy and afterward I walked along the fishing pier at low tide to capture some still life photos.

     

    Grey rope and grey stone.

     

    I found a wad of bright orange kelp and took many photos.  I use this (in full resolution) as a desktop photo.  Fascinating.

     

    Although we had very little clear skies, we also had very little rain.  A threatening storm approaches . . . then fizzled.

     

    To say that the Outer Hebrides is a wet and cloudy place is an understatement.

     

    Always wet, always damp, always rocky, always peaty.

     

    The Outer Hebrides is such a completely different environment from any I have ever seen.

     

    There is some agriculture and husbandry out on the Outer Hebrides.  These are Highland cows.

     

    We made another small ferry passage from North Uist to the Isle of Harris, the home of the famous Harris Tweed.

     

    We made a beautiful landing on Harris.

     

    More beautiful fishing boats on Harris.

     

    Nothing like the beach on a beautiful summer day in the tropics . . . but wait!  This is the Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides, an island chain a hundred miles off the far northwest shores of Scotland!

     

    Being Scotland in the summer, we were just happy that it wasn't actually raining.  The clouds are no problem.  In fact, during the 10 days we spent on this trip to the Outer Hebrides from Aberdeen, we saw actual rain only once.

     

    Most of the roads we drove on the Hebridean Isles were one-lane.  It seemed we were never more than a few hundred yards from the sea . . . and views of coves, beaches, and cliffs.

     

    Oh!  The views!

     

    Brooks and streams pouring into the sea from every hill and mountain.

     

    The Isle of Harris and the Isle of Lewis are conjoined.  Crossing them several times, we were taken with the grand views of this dramatic landscape.  The stripes are the remnants of peat cutting, or harvesting.

     

    Peat (turf) is an accumulation of partially decayed vegetation or organic matter that is unique to natural areas called peatlands, bogs, or mires.  The peat is cut off from banks and left to dry, or drain.  Peat, when dry, is slow burning (and smelly!), and has been used to heat homes in remote Scotland for centuries.

     

    We saw many seals basking on the rocks from our several ferry trips, and abundant birds everywhere, but this rabbit was the only land mammal we saw.

     

    Only a few traditional old thatched houses remain on the Outer Hebrides.

     

    Old shepherd's sheds dotted the high bogs of Lewis.

     

    The Callinish Stones as we first saw them.  There are many prehistoric sites all about the Outer Hebrides, but the Isles of Harris and Lewis have the most.  Magnificent.

     

    Although this Neolithic site dates from before 3000 BC, the standing stones date from 2900-2600 BC.  The Standing Stones of Callinish are a complex of neolithic structures, including a burial chamber (closed the day we were here).

     

    The light came and went all afternoon, creating a drama of different moods across the stone circle.

     

    The view from the mound of standing stones was inspirational.

     

    MORE TO COME: STILL CONSTRUCTING THIS ENTRY.

     

     

    The Hebridean landscape lends itself to fancy photographic effects . . . .

     

     

    Scotland - The First Nice Day of Spring

    Looking out the back window at our garden one day in late April, I happen to notice the flowering bushes were flowering.  I also noticed it was a nice day . . . the first nice day of Spring.

     

    So, I grabbed my trusty Fuji X-T1 camera and headed outside.  Yummie light and color.

     

    Such happy blooms . . . after such a long, cold, and dark winter in Aberdeen.

     

    There was so much new growth to notice, and capture, around the house.

     

    Buds and new growth.

     

    I love the colors of rose bush newly sprouting leaves.

     

    The daffodils had just popped in the yard . . . and all over town too.  Aberdeen is famous for its billions of daffodils.  It was just too nice outside to spend the day inside . . . .

     

    . . . so I stuck my head inside and yelled up the stairs, "Honey, we're going for a walk today!"  "Great," came the reply.  Our choice was to walk the nature trails around Crathes Castle, 20 minutes for our home.  We parked near the castle gate house and headed up the trail (yellow).

     

    The trees were still bare of any foliage.

     

    Although it was April 24th, Spring comes very late at these far northern latitudes (57.1526°N 2.1100°W).

     

    The beauty of the day reflected in an abandoned stone pit.

     

    There were wisps of budding leaves on some species . . . signs of the beauty to come.

     

    We headed deeper into the castle grounds, and the Scottish pine forest.

     

    The pine cones had a wonderful in the heat of the first Spring warmth.

     

    In fact, the whole forest smelled of freshness and the prospect of Spring.

     

    The trail followed a burn through some lovely scenery and quaint arrangements.

     

    Boughs reflected in the pond.

     

    "Crathes sits on land given as a gift to the Burnett of Leys family by King Robert the Bruce in 1323."  As such, a castle of this period had to supply and manufacture everything for its own needs.  This is the Crathes Castle Mill Pond.

     

    The National Trust For Scotland has done an excellent job of marking the trails and, where necessary, protecting any fragile land.

     

    The elevated walkway followed a delightful stream.

     

    The peaceful, slow movement of an amber stream passing through the naked forest . . .

     

    It was fun walking along these elevated paths through the early Spring of a Scottish forest.

     

    We took a lot of iPhotos of ourselves at every opportunity . . . and there were many.

     

    The wide path eventually opened up into some open fields.  We passed 10-15 other walkers on the day, but could see the popularity of these woods for walking by the size of the paths.  Crathes Castle is on the "Castle Trail" for tourists, and is packed in the summer.

     

    Under a bright Spring sky.

     

    From the meadow back into the trees.  The castle grounds offer a wonderful array of beautiful natural scenes.

     

    This Victorian gate post reminded me of the political and economic power the lairds had in old Scotland.  If you were to come across this gate post in a forest, you would steer clear of the castle.  The gate post was a symbol of the power of whom lived within.

    Scotland - Drum Castle and Gardens

    A nice day in northeast Scotland . . .

    The grounds and permission to build Drum Castle was granted in 1325.  It is the ancestral home of Clan Irvine.  It is about 15 minutes from our home in Aberdeen.

     

    Drum Castle is a part of the Scottish National Trust properties. It sees a fair number of tourists during the summer months, but today there were only a few people wandering about.

     

    Yes, Scottish castles are wonderful, but many of them still maintain their gardens and grounds in spectacular fashion.

     

    Plant species from around the world were often brought back to the family estate by adventurous colonialists during and before the Victorian era.

     

    There are always so many fascinating flowers to look at in the gardens and grounds.

     

    The walk to the formal, walled gardens took us past a delightful nature pond.

     

    Although it is May 21st, Spring has not fully arrived here in these far northern latitudes.  I was hoping for more flowering  . . . .

     

    The walls that surrounded the gardens were covered with magnificent espalier.

     

    Climbing vines on the interior, shady side, of the castle garden were only just beginning to show signs of budding . . . in LATE MAY!

     

    The gardens themselves were lovely, hedge-lined masterpieces of architecture.

     

    There are many such lovely scenes through the gardens.  As you might imagine, there are weddings, and wedding photography taking place here almost every day.

     

    So inviting on a sunny day . . .

     

    In late summer these arches are covered in fragrant honeysuckle vine . . . perfect for a bride and groom!

     

    The beds are still being planted (and transplanted).

     

    The plantings await some sunny days to bring out their full beauty. 

     

    There were still a couple of cabana tents left here and there: evidence of recent weddings. Ever-changing lighting conditions made the photography challenging.

     

    There were some novel tulips still in bloom.

     

    A purple flowing espalier.  Beautiful.

     

    We walked out past the castle and wondered at its magnificence.

     

    Drum Castle.

     

    The road that leads out of Drum Castle passes through a wonderful wood in early foliage.

     

    I wanted to say in this forest for the rest of the day . . .

     

    Instead we went home . . . . somehow my back garden does not seem so impressive to me anymore!

    Scotland - Fraserburgh 

    It's nice when my wife has a golf tournament out of town . . . I get to drive here there and then explore the area around Fraserburgh.

    The Waters of Philorth.

     

    Fraserburgh Golf Club is the 7th oldest golf course in the world, having been founded in 1777.  It sits among the dunes on the Scottish Aberdeenshire Coast.

     

    The sea breeze was strong along the tops of the dunes, but calm down in the deep sandy hollows.

     

    Walking the dune trails had a mystical quality to me . . .

     

    I crested a dune to find the North Sea . . . and miles of beach.

     

    I looked left to the town of Fraserburgh, trying to decide which way to go . . .

     

    Although walking east toward Fraserburgh looked inviting . . .

     

    I decided to walk west toward the next village, Inverallochy, and what looked like a ship wreck.  I wandered around in the web of sandy trails looking for a way down the embankments to the broad beach.

     

    There were beachcombers on the broad Fraserburgh beach.

     

    Fascinating patterns in the sand to look at.

     

    As sea level rises, the beach dunes are eroded.

     

    Beach, sea, sky . . . looking like a tropical paradise, but at 5c, not exactly tropical.

     

    I wasn't the o nly person out on such a fine and windy day . . . these brave wind surfers were preparing for their brand of fun.  I must add; the wind was very cold.

     

    Jellyfish and feather.

     

    A beach combing find from somewhere far off in the North Sea.

     

    Such a broad beach creates wonderful patterns as the tide recedes.

     

    Where the beach met a fast moving burn, a set of contrasting shapes, textures, and colors met in a happy collision.

     

    I walked all the way to the end of the beach . . .

     

    I arrived at the estuary of the Waters of Philorth, but could not find a way across the swift and deep waters without getting my feet wet.

     

    The last big wave drained into the burn this way.

     

    I didn't want to go back the way I came, so I walked inland along the stream knowing I would eventually run into the road.

     

    I could not find a way across the burn, The Waters of Philorth, so I followed it inland, stopping here and there to study scenes of beauty.

     

    The Waters of Philorth eventually came to the highway and this old disassembled rail bridge.

     

    This inviting road stood in front of me, so I walked in until . . .

     

    I walked up the road, which turned out to be the driveway of Castle Cairnbulg . . . and a 'Private Property' sign.  Yes, this is not only a real castle, but it has been continuously occupied by the original Fraser family since 1308.  Currently.  Katharine Fraser, Mistress of Salton, resides within the 700 year old walls.

     

    I considered jumping the estate gates and exploring the park-like grounds of the castle . . .  but didn't.

     

    I took a shortcut though a small wood and found this striking stump.

     

    The gorse (ulex europaeus) was in full bloom.

     

    Boggy land draining.

     

    Of course, this trip was about my wife playing in a golf tournament.  I walked back through the historic golf course to the Fraserburgh Golf Club, the 7th oldest golf course in the world.  Although the golf club was officially established in 1777, golf has been recorded being played here since 1618 . . . 398 years!

     

    It is a beautiful course in a beautiful setting.  It had been a fine day . . . with a five-mile walk.

    Scotland - A Forest Walk: Barkscapes

    With my wonderful wife playing a round of golf at a nearby course, I was free to ramble in the forest.

     

    There were different kinds of woods.

     

    The trail was good, and well-maintained. But each kind of forest had one thing in common . . . incredibly interesting and beautiful bark!  Barkscapes.

     

    I spent Saturday morning walking in the Haughton County Park outside of Alford, Scotland.  There was much to see.

     

    Haughton County Park encompasses a variety of landscapes, including a motorhome park, a stately mansion, and some wild forest land.

     

    I wasn't the first person to visit these woods.  In fact, in the summer, when the campground and RV park fills up, I bet these woods are crawling with visitors . . . I don't mind.  I'm glad with the thought  people are out of their homes . . . and not in front of their television sets.

     

    There are often very strong storms in Scotland with fierce winds.  There is a history of these storms in the blown down trees that litter the forest floor.

     

    Some of the fallen trees have been down for a long time and show the action of time and weather.

     

    The great winds have literally ripped some of the trees apart.

     

    Broken, ripped, dried, and weathered.

     

    Otherworldly landscapes in old wood.

     

    Dreams in wood and bark.

     

    A few of the fallen trees had been cut, revealing rings, patterns of color, and clefts.

     

    Grounded stumps.

     

    A history of slow healing.

     

    Torn and cut.

     

    Nature's Art.

     

    Some trees had been on the forest floor for a very long time and were in a state of advanced decomposition.

     

    The old and dead nurturing the new and living.

     

    The living trees in this wood had their own strange beauty.

     

    As is often the case, family members of the old estates traveled throughout the British Empire and brought back exotic trees and seeds.

     

    Exposed to the sun over the winter months, the trees take on a green-tinged coating of light moss.

     

    I had to remember that these trees were alive, in several senses of the word.  They were forming: changing, developing, and reacting.

     

    A story left behind in scars . . . like people.

     

    There was a mix of pines.

     

    Pine bark, with its shattered, ever-expanding surfaces.

     

    Another kind of pine/evergreen with a dusting of lichen.

     

    Deep within the deep and dark forest . . . .

     

    Late Winter, early Spring growth pushing the old bark away.

     

    The work of woodsmen here and there.

     

    Swirling, ripped, and torn beauty.

     

    A Winter forest just waking up to Spring.

     

    There have only been a few days of sunshine and "warm" weather since October, but the ferns were beginning to unfurl.

     

    I was surprised, and mystified upon discovering this structure in the deep forest.

     

    For the life of me I couldn't figure out what in the world it could be!

     

    This open area in the forest was on the other side of the wooden structure . . .

     

    Ah!  The Vale of Alford Curling Club forest curling pond . . . . now empty after the winter season.  What a surprise to see!

     

    There were strategically placed benches in the wood.  I sat next to this interesting stone, the only stone I saw in the forest.  Little did I know just how interesting it was.  It was a named stone:  The Gordon Stane.

     

    George Gordon, Lord of the Gordon Clan was laid out here after perishing is the Battle of Alford on July 2, 1645.  It seems the forest I was walking through had been a battlefield 371 years ago.

     

    I walked through the boggy forest for many hours.

     

    Such a beautiful place

     

    I walked out of the forest and into the parkland that surrounds the mansion.

     

    A line of exotic evergreens marked the drive to the mansion.

     

    Haughton House mansion, a listed property,not part of the county park, and the offices of a very large RV and camping facility.

     

    The daffodils were everywhere.

     

    It felt like Spring  . . . at last!

     

    Thank you Aberdeenshire for keeping such a wonderful park in such good shape.

     

    I walked the mile back into the village of Alford and into the Grampian Transport Museum, where I work as a volunteer.  It was another great day in Scotland.