Scotland: Skye, Oban, and Stirling

Series so Far

  1. Jet lag recovery: Bordeaux, France
  2. Basque Country Tour: Bayonne, France; Pamplona, Spain;  San Sebastián, Spain; Bilbao, Spain
  3. Scotland, pt. 1Edinburgh, St. Andrews,  and Inverness. 
  4. Scotland, pt. 2:. Isle of Skye, Oban, Stirling, and Glasgow. You’re reading this right now!
  5. Reykjavik

October 6th, 2016

Continuing our theme of only experiencing Western Scotland in the bright brilliance of the October sun, we set out from our caravan in search of the rugged Western Coast and scenic hiking.

 

Navigator, aye
Charting the path

Making our way past the best named Loch of them all—Snizort—and some single lane roads, we ended up at Neist Point. In the distance we could spy the outer Hebrides, but our goal was to locate Neist Point Lighthouse, which is supposedly located on a cliff a mile or so beyond the end of the road.

Edge of the World
There’s a lighthouse beyond that outcropping

Except there was no lighthouse to see. Only fields, stairs, and rusting infrastructure that could conceivably be used to resupply a remote lighthouse station. Still, we trusted the trusty guidebook and set forth with snacks in hand.

Winding Path
Stairs back up

Following the old resupply path and rounding the outcropping, Neist Point suddenly made itself known. There was a lighthouse after all!

Clear day
Back up and view a bit

It was converted into some sort of hostel years ago, but was abandoned quite recently. Sadly, many of the outer accommodations were vandalized and unmaintained, but the main portion of the lighthouse seemed to be intact.

Many selfies were taken.

Ugh. Really?

Next stop of the day was the Fairy Pools. These aren’t actually fairy related, but instead just a series of pools in a river coming from the (extinct) volcanic portion of Skye. Hiking across the rocks we spent a lovely afternoon in the waning sun surrounded by eroding peaks, water smoothed rocks, and other curious visitors.

Dorito Break
Taking a brief rest.

 

Flowing
Fairy pool-ish. Note the volcanic peaks in the background.

Fairy Pools explored, it was just about time to head back to the caravan for the night. When all of a sudden, a Hairy Coo appeared! Screeching to a halt on the side of the narrow road (single lane, naturally), Tracey ran out of the car and got some lovely pictures of this particularly hairy cow ambling towards greener pastures.

Oh hello there humans
The hairy coo. And more volcanic peaks.

Coo photographed, we returned to the Caravan for reals and since the WiFi was horrendously unreliable, watched Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. It was just lovely!

Tracey on approach
Tracey is on the hunt!

October 7th, 2016

Today’s plan: driving tour of the Trotternish peninsula on Skye. As geological formations passed us by, signs of a more industrial past were hidden along the coast.

Ruined castles dotted the landscape, but the strategic value of Skye has been important to British security even in the last century: a WWII-era lookout post was constructed on the Northern tip of the island.

Along the route, the Skye Pie Café beckoned with its invitation of filling Scottish pies. They did not disappoint.

Wide for a Skye road
Car glamour shot

We essentially had this scenic part of Skye to ourselves.

Lonely road
Empty roads

October 8th, 2016

 

After saying goodbye to the cozy caravan that had been our home on Skye, we started the next leg of our trip with a drive to Glencoe.

Stormy weather ahead
A moment of rain

Seemingly in the middle of nowhere, a traffic jam suddenly appeared! What could this be?

And then miles down the road, we suddenly found out the cause.

Roadblock
Traffic.

Wind turbine blades were being moved along, and the load was so lengthy they couldn’t pull over for miles to allow overtaking traffic!

It’s about this point in any trip that there’s an overwhelming desire for burritos. Notwithstanding that burritos are nasty shit in Europe, we found a chain bar in Glencoe that claimed to serve these delicious meals. They were not delicious: lesson still not learned.

Our destination was the small seaside town of Oban. A fishing town, it offered many ferry connections to other parts of the Inner Hebrides, but that would come tomorrow. First we had to explore the town!

Walking from the SYHA Hostel, we made it to the top of Oban and a rather out of place monument appearing at the crown of the hill. A local cat was here to greet us in the dying sun.

Oban Greeter
Oban greeting cat

As the sun set behind the Inner Hebrides, it offered some excellent opportunities for photographs.

Pause for light
Sunset in Oban
Derp
Why was this monument built again?

Dinner was fish and chips (what else?) before retiring back to the hostel common room for some soccer.

October 9th, 2016

Here’s the plan for the day: we take a large ferry from downtown Oban to the Isle of Mull, which is the second largest island in the Inner Hebrides. Once on Mull, a bus will meet us there and drive us across the island to Fionnphort. This hamlet has a small port that will take us on a ferry to the Isle of Iona, where we’ll stay for a few hours before taking the reverse journey.

As we waited in the Oban ferry terminal, it seemed like we weren’t the only people with this idea. A few hundred people from a local tour company showed up as well. Lame.

 

The bus across Mull was narrated by the driver, who offered plenty snippets of island life. Pointing out the only Munro (3000m+ peak) on the Isle of Mull—Ben More—he noted that there’s an annual hill race to the top. Speaking of races, there’s also the Mull Rally race every year that winds through the island via roads. They’re a competitive bunch.

Crannogs also appear on the island. These prehistoric structures are small artificial islands that hosted small fortified houses. Since they’re in the middle of lakes, they’re easily defensible. The structures are long gone, but the rough pile of stones remain and are strewn through the Mull lakes.

Scrambling on the second (much smaller) ferry, we make the short hop to the Isle of Iona. This small practically car-free island is the regional center of Christianity in this part of Scotland, and hosts the Iona Abbey.

Iona Ferry
Iona ferry poses
Fionnphort Harbor
Fionnphort Harbor
Arriving at "The Village" on Iona
Fionnphort – Iona ferry

Tracey and I toured the Abbey while Brian and Amber went to have what they reported to be a very tasty lunch.

Iona Abbey
Iona Abbey

Along the way we found a pair of Hairy Coos, which Tracey named Fred and George. Unfortunately for us, they were extremely disinterested in posing for pictures.

Fred the Hairy Coo
Fred the hairy coo

Piling back in the small ferry, we explored Fionnphort for half an hour. Although hardly even a village, it did have some local characteristics: cows on the beach! It seems that free range Hairy Coos would wander around in the port. After watching them for a bit, the bus returned to port us back to the Mull port and we soon were back in Oban for the evening.

October 10th, 2016

Our second day in Oban was always planned rather loosely in our pre-trip itinerary, and we decided to spend the day and see what local sights we could find. But first, it was time for breakfast.

 

Oban waffles
Chocolate and waffles

The Oban Chocolate Factory was just what the doctor ordered. Delicious waffles and coffee awaited us and provided fuel for the day!

There’s not too much to do in Oban proper, but the Dunollie Museum and Castle was plenty close. Although the castle is not much to look at (it’s more of a tower), it offered great views of the bay, and the museum was an interesting look at the life of the local lords who still lived in parts of the house.

Tagging
Leaving tags behind
It's always Sunny in Scotland
The locals really are proud of this castle. Er, tower.

Dinner was, quite naturally, fish and chips. It’s basically legally required in Oban.

October 11th, 2016

It was time to leave Oban, but not without first stopping by Oban Chocolate Company for yet more waffles and coffee. Today we were off to the town of Stirling, which features the aptly named Stirling Castle.

The weather had turned unusually misty for our day in Stirling, so we were happy to be indoors at the castle, even of the interiors were rather lackluster.

32813900235_2c289d3af8_k
Stirling castle

It was pretty clear why they decided on a castle here: the hill it was on featured commanding views of the surrounding countryside.

Castle landscape
Stirling castle’s view

Our hotel for the night was Inglewood House. This is where Brian and Amber decided to stay in a fancy place on their honeymoon, and it looked like as good a place as any to luxe it up. Driving up to the manor house, it seemed like we were the only guests for the night.

Living it up

Actually, we think we were the only guests for the night, and it suddenly got slightly creepy. Not so much scary, but the sense that one may get when they realize that they’re living a story that could be very much the start of a horror movie. You know the troupe: tourists from out of the country in an old house, and they’re all alone.

Abandoned Dining
Will we survive the night?

 

October 12th, 2016

Nothing happened to us, and after the other members of the party had a nice stay in the spa the following morning, we rolled out.

First stop of the day was at the Helix park, and as we walked along the paths, we came across a series of locks that were remnants of the industrial past that put Falkirk on the map.

 

One of Falkirk's Locks
Just a regular lock, right?

However, there was something particular about these locks. They were human powered!

Human powered lock
Nope! It’s human-powered.

The claim to fame for the Helix park is the Kelpies, which are giant horse sculptures that honor the contribution that these creatures made towards hauling ore and materials along the local canals.

Group shot
The Stirling Kelpies

We had a jolly good time walking around the Kelpies.

Kelp squatting
Pop a squat

Close by is the Falkirk Wheel. Part of the aforementioned canal system, the wheel approaches the question of differing water levels in a fundamentally different approach than the locks. Whereas the locks used a series of rises and drops to facilitate interconnectivity, the wheel navigates the difference in one fell swoop.

Before our eyes, a small canal boat putted up into the bottom of the wheel. It suddenly groaned to life, and slowly rotated a full 180 degrees until the boat at the bottom was suddenly at the top!

Turn turn turn
Falkirk wheel

Engineering marvels seen, we pressed on to the city of Glasgow. Navigating the confusing streets of the city, we ended up at our stop for the night.

We started the day in a manor house with crystal chandeliers, and ended it at a disgusting hellhole of a hostel. I’d probably describe it as “urine strewn,” and we all thought we were bound to get bedbugs.

Worst. Hostel. Ever.
Gross gross gross

It was such a dirty place, we went on a quest to find sanitizer wipes just to get things clean enough to tolerate.

Required for hostel
Didn’t fix the grossness

 

October 13th, 2016

Spoiler alert: we didn’t get bedbugs, but we were thrilled to be leaving.

Glad to be leaving

After a quick jaunt to the Glasgow Airport, we flew together to Reykjavík before parting ways with Brain and Amber. While they were going back to Seattle, Tracey and I were going to spend a few nights in the city. This will be the subject of a new blog post which is tentatively scheduled for 2019.

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