Sunday, July 27, 2003


I hopped on the ferry to Orkney, and started my tour of the island in Kirkwall. St. Magnus' cathedral is gorgeous and the castle is cool, with tons of half ruined turrets. I was in Stromness during Shopping Week, a week long festival. This was made more exciting because a local, Cameron, had made it to the final vote for the Big Brother TV show (he ended up wining). The town is nice and the museum is interesting enough.

My next two days were spent on day trips with Wildabout Orkney tours. Day one included visits to the Earls And Bishops Palaces in Kirkwall (which of course I had already seen), the Standing Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar, Maeshowe tomb/ceremonial temple, Skara Brae Neolithic, Earls Palace, Birsay (home of Robert Stewart, father of Patrick, and very unexciting), theoretically the BROUGH OF BIRSAY tides permitting (the tides did not permit), Kirbister Farm and the Broch Of Gurness. Had I realized that you could do all this by taking a special tourist bus route, I would have skipped the tour. I am going to be honest, the guide annoyed me. I studied archaeology at university, and a lot of what he presented as fact was sketchy, to put it mildly. For non ex-archaeology students, this might not be an issue, and I know that many of the others seemed to enjoy the tour (they were also a lot older than myself as well- that may or may not be pertinent).

Day two included the Italian Chapel, designed by Italian prisoners of war, views of the Churchill Barriers which were created to seal the gaps between the islands and to protect Scapa Flow-a harbour for Allied ships during World Wars 1 and 2, the Neolithic Tomb Of The Eagles, and Mine Howe, which is billed as the mystery of the 29 steps and was one of my favourites. You put on a hardhat, pay a couple of pounds, and off you go, walking down what resembles a well with steps. No one knows what it was, and really there isn'tÂ’t much to see. The whole experience takes about 5 minutes, and yet I loved it. My lack of appreciation for the guide remained, but it did seem to be much more of a time and energy saver to have had a car to be driven to these particular sites.

My last day of the trip (minus the marathon day of travel to get back down to Burntisland in Fife, by ferry, bus, three trains, and a car) was a visit to Hoy. If I had had more time, the one thing I would have done on both Shetland and Orkney was to explore the outlying islands. Both groups of islands are made up of an islandreferredd to as Mainland and then tons of smaller islands. Unfortunately, Hoy was the only one I managed to fit in. I saw the Dwarfie Stane, a prehistoric tomb, chamber, who knows what, and I walked out to the Old Man of Hoy, a rock stack with lots of seabirds nesting along the cliffs. The walk takes you by some crofts, two of which have displays in them, and is an easy day walk, though itÂ’s best to catch the early ferry from Stromness so as not to get left behind if you are a slow walker who wants to return to Stromness again that evening.

Saturday, July 26, 2003

A great idea

From Aunt Corinne:

> Just a thought; You seem to be having a great time
> abroad, Megan loves your
> e-mails and post cards, she is in Sue Ste. Marie for
> july. will be back
> sometime in August,I think after the August civic
> holiday.
> Why don't you ask MOM & DAD for some money for a
> digital camera and send
> pictures!

well, mum and dad??? ;)

Monday, July 21, 2003

Shetland-birds, birds, and more birds

Right, well I'm in a madly expensive cyber cafe in Stromness, Orkney (it consists of one computer!). My journey up to Shetland started off on not the greatest note- it took me ages to get out of the house in Burntisland and when I finally hopped on the train it was standing room only (and not much of that either). I did finally get a seat, with two oil workers who were quite a laugh, but didn't see anything of Aberdeen except the short walk between the train and the ferry.

A night in a reclining chair on the ferry proved to be somewhat long. Can't wait for all those days on the train in Canada come November ;) however, we arrived and Lerwick, the sun was shining the entire time I was there, and it was such a nice town. The hostel was lovely (I highly recommend it) and I was charmed by the main street and the harbor. And every town seems to have a bowling green-not something I had noticed before.

My first day I headed down to the south of Mainland, and saw St Ninian's Isle (connected to Mainland by a beach bridge), Jarlshof, Old Scatness, and Sumburgh Head with tons of puffins. Also visited a croft house museum (for those of you familiar with the Hebrides, it was exactly like a blackhouse). The next day I went off to Mousa Broch, where I achieved an interesting sunburn. Oops. Again, some archaeology, some birds, some seals. However, due to the erratic bus schedules, I got stuck in Sandwick with an Australian girl from the hostel for three and a half
hours. Fifteen minutes would have been enough time to appreciate Sandwick, so it was a long evening. The next day I saw more birds, this time on a boat cruise around Bressay and Noss, where there are tons of seabird colonies. God, do they smell.

My last day on the island, I went to Scalloway, where there isn't much to do really-one castle, one museum, a set of public toilets. In Lerwick itself, the museum was odd, crammed full of old stuff but without much actual order. Up Helly Aa is a winter festival where a Viking boat is burned at the climax, and I went along and saw the boat to be burned next. There was a fort and a town hall. And lots of touristy shops. however, the most enjoyable thing to do was just sit in the sun at the harbour and watch the sail boats launch for the European championship.

I've been on Orkney for two days now, hanging around Kirkwall. St Magnus' Cathedral is gorgeous and the castle is cool, with tons of half ruined turrets. Today I am exploring Stromness after I finish up here at the cafe. Tomorrow the touristyness starts in earnest, as I have booked two day trips to do all the sites on Mainland-having a car up here would make life a lot easier! After I will hopefully manage a trip to Hoy, if the weather stays ok.

Off to be a tourist, possibly one in a raincoat the way the sky looks just now!

Monday, July 14, 2003

T in the Park

We had a good time at T in the Park-great music, nice weather (I have an odd sunburn on the back of my arms where I missed with the sunblock!), and a fairly good atmosphere. Nasty loos, lots of garbage everywhere-the requests to not litter were not exactly requested, and some rather drunken people...

We didn't get to see all the bands we wanted, however we did see: the Proclaimers (a very interesting experience in Scotland), Idlewild, Flaming Lips, REM (definitely the best), the coral, Ron Sexsmith (the only Canadian, so we had to drop in), Mull Historical Society, Teenage Fanclub, heard the Charlatans but couldn't be bothered to stand up to watch it, and Coldplay. I was disappointed to miss Super Furry Animals and the Polyphonic Spree, but we wanted to be near the stage for REM-and they played it's the end of the world... Brilliant.

Alan didn't think much of the camping, and I must say it was somewhat unpleasant. The weirdest thing was how people kept throwing cups of beer into the air, after queuing for ages to get them-so I appreciated my shower this morning.

I'm off to Shetland today :)

Thursday, July 10, 2003

Fun in Fife

We drove down to Anstruther, a fishing village, to have Britain's best fish and chips, and then to Pittenweem and Crail, also fishing villages. Lots of harbours and lobster traps, and very nice sunny weather.

Yesterday we went to Inchcolm Abbey, which is on an island in the Firth of Forth. More exciting than the abbey are the nesting seagulls, which dive bomb you to protect their chicks. One actually came so close it touched Alan's head. I had never been very fond of birds, but it was amazing. We got within feet of one chick that just stood there looking at us. Almost got pooed on, but were ok. And I got to see two puffins, at a distance. They have stopped nesting now, so they aren't as common. And they are VERY small birds-somehow the pictures on the postcards had me thinking they were fairly large birds, but nope. I suspect my picture of them in the water will be pretty unexciting.

Off to T in the Park on the weekend and Shetland on Monday.

And Alan graduated from the University of Edinburgh!

Sunday, July 06, 2003

The Hebrides

I am just back from my 6 day tour of the Hebrides, and I am certainly tired...

The trip started off well, and the people were really nice and quite a nice mix of nationalities. We had an Australian couple, two Polish guys, a Swiss girl, a girl from South Korea, two Edinburgh uni graduates from England and northern Ireland, a South African, an American, a Mexican, another Canadian, and myself. The war came up many times, and I felt bad for the American girl- I was surprised that she hadn't realized that it would be a topic of conversation, but I think she felt a bit outnumbered.

On the first day we drove up to Skye, so I had seen most of the scenery many times, though we did stop at Bannockburn where I have not been, however it is very unexciting.

On Skye we went on a tiny fishing boat to see the seals, saw tons including pups, which was cool. We also ate freshly caught scallops (raw and cooked, hard to say which is nicer). We went on a very long, tiring walk in the Quirang (spelling there is definitely wrong) and the sun shone... Should have some lovely pictures. We also went walking along a coral beach, did some paddling but it was very cold.

Then we took the ferry to Harris and it was lovely. The land itself isn't especially beautiful, most of it being rocky interspersed with green and peat. The houses on the island are now mostly ugly council houses too. However, the beaches and water make up for it completely. Totally beautiful. Bit windy, granted. We saw an iron age house, a broch, blackhouses (they were used up until the 1970s, I hadn't realized that, and were actually quite comfy looking-one is now a youth hostel!), the Stromness standing stones, and Callum, who hand weaves Harris tweed in the tiniest cottage workshop imaginable. I even got to try the loom. We all bought tweed scarves (how posh I will look this coming winter!) from him and it was possibly the highlight of the trip for me.

Lewis was fun as well, though the most notable thing was the incident at our hostel. There was a group of Glaswegians staying upstairs for a wedding, about 10 of them in the family. They got annoyed that we were being loud, and one of them went mad. The 19 year old boy went completely insane and threatened to kill us all, tried to attack our tour guide, and got kicked out of the hostel. The police even came. However, our group had been drinking, and we actually found it all quite entertaining, in a dramatic sort of way. I must say, after hearing about the crazy stuff that goes on in Glasgow on a Friday night at the pub, I wasn't too surprised by the whole thing. And in pure touristy mode, Trent got a picture!!!

We took the ferry again, out to Ullapool, and drove down to Drumnadrochit (near Loch Ness), did some hiking, played Frisbee in the sun. Drank a bit more that night-we didn't get to bed until 4.30am that night and consequently the last day on the bus driving back towards Edinburgh we were all quite subdued. The Australian couple had a huge argument, which was odd as they kept arguing in front of us making the rest of us rather uncomfortable. However, it was a fun evening and I highly recommend rum with vanilla coke (I assume we get that in Canada???).