Another Trip Report – long with lots of pictures – so skip if you are not interested!
Four people. Me, Luther, my sister Cindy and her husband Bill met in the middle. C&B flew from Virginia to Edinburgh and we from Bologna for a rousing road trip around Scotland and it’s isles.
We arrived in Edinburgh airport at 12:15 and met up with C&B with no problem. We headed out to rent our car and off we went to the north, crossing the Firth of Forth. Great suspension bridge. We got off the highway in Dunfermline just because it was near and on the way. We were famished. We had a nice lunch in the guildhall and linen exchange. A historic hotel with a restaurant.
We headed north and arrived in Carrbridge which is in Speyside with no events. We passed some beautiful scenery along the way. Very stark.
We checked into our rooms in the Dalrachney Lodge. Nice little place with a gentle speaking innkeeper. Our rooms were nice with plenty of room and ours had an amazing bathtub with shower stall. Reminded me of a Victorian torture device!
We had reserved for dinner so we met up for wine in the parlor and to choose our food. The food was ok. Not great but passable.
They were funny asking who the driver was and we had to limit our tasting somewhat. Legal limit is .03. We also bought a drivers pack which allowed you to save what you couldn’t or shouldn’t drink. Handy! The scenery on the way was stunning. We went to Aviemore and had lunch at the Bridge Inn. On the Spey river. It was great with excellent pub food. A gastro pub.
We again ate in the hotel. Luther was able to smoke a cigar outside and we finished all the bits of scotch from the tastings.
Afterwards we headed to a coastal road which went through some beautiful scenery. The towns were full of pretty, what looked like, holiday homes. No tacky shops. In fact no shops at all! We stopped in a town called Findochty. We walked into the harbor and by chance found the only place at all doing any sort of business, the Admiral Inn. We decided to try it for lunch. It was goodish. We had Ale, or beer and some tried the neeps and we had chicken with hagis which we liked, surprisingly.
We headed back looking for another distillery and finally stopped at Glen Grant. It was weird. They would only serve you whisky as part of an activity. You could take the tour of the distillery or tour the gardens. We opted for the gardens. The day was quite nice and the gardens were pretty.
We were mildly disappointed that we got a blend that was of indeterminate age but probably only 5 years and the other was 10 years. They were pretty good even that young. We headed home and had a picnic in our room for dinner and sat outside. It had been a nice visit in Speyside Scotland.
Monday June 18
We woke and had an 8 am breakfast. We said goodbye to our innkeeper, his wife and Archibald the spaniel. We all loved Archie. And he loved us. He stationed himself at the bottom of the steps for a tummy rub from anyone descending.
We headed for Westrow Lodge after we debarked. It is a modern house with stunning views of the sea. And a wicked wind had come up gusting to over 50 mph. The house has just the two rooms upstairs and is a B&B. Our innkeeper is Kathy from Michigan(!). She’s lived there 25 years.
We went to find a beer, badly wanted, in Stromness. We found the Ferry Inn just across from the ferry pier. Afterward we went to the small supermarket Coop. We bought ham, smoked salmon, roast sliced chicken breast, Camembert cheese wine and bread for our dinner tomorrow. Then we headed back for showers. Dinner that night was a place I’d found on the web called Foveran Restaurant with Rooms. Excellent place! Very pretty with walls painted shades of ivory and ecru. Minimally decorated letting the stunning views of the Scapa Flow outside the windows be the artwork. View 9:30PM from window.
We are just two days from the Solstice, the longest day of the year. And, since we are so far north the sun sets at about 11:30pm and rises at 3am. Between it is not really dark, more like dusk.
Tuesday June 19.
The winds roared all night, shaking the house. We arose and had breakfast, included in the rate, of your choice of bacon, egg, sausage tomato and mushrooms. Good enough. Then we were off to Scapa Brae, a prehistoric village that had been buried in the sand for thousands of years and was washed free in 1850. It dates to 4,500 years ago. The village was all made of stone with grass covered roofs. The inside of each house had a square hearth in a square depression bordered by flat, straight, thin stones. On the sides of the room were beds constructed much the same way which would have been filled with straw and animal furs. They even had a “dresser” on which to display their treasures proudly. And nooks for clothing and storage. The village was inhabited for 600 years and abandoned – reason unknown. But this is situated in a pristine location on a turquoise bay. The strong winds we endured whipped up amazing white plumes of surf.
Next we went to Stromness, the second largest town. It is a fishing town and ferries come in and out regularly. They have one shopping street which we explored. I bought some yarn from the famous Ronaldsay sheep of Orkney. I chose natural colors, undyed. We went back to the Ferry Inn. Nice lunch. I chose the lobster salad, consisting of half a lobster, served cold, nice composed salad and new potatoes. Perfect.
Next we went to the Ring of Brodgar. Standing stones. It’s age is uncertain but probably dates from 4,500 years ago. Older than Stonehenge! 35 of the original 60 stones are still there. We couldn’t walk among them like we had done on our last visit. They do have free guided tours where you can go inside. It is hard to convey the scale in photos.
We drove a short way down the road to the Stones of Stenness. We were pleased to see we could walk amongst them. They are awesome in their size. The Stones of Stenness today consist of four upright stones up to 6m in height in a circle that originally held 12 stones. The focus of the interior was a large hearth. The stones were encircled by a large ditch and bank, no longer there. The stone circle may be the oldest in Britain dating to over 5,000 years ago. They are thought to have been a major center or worship. There are also six burial mounds in the vicinity and the two rings (Brodgar and Stenness) are thought to have been once connected.
All of these places we visited are on vast plains or seashore so there is nothing to break the wind. The gusts made it hard to walk or even stand still to take pictures.
That evening we had a picnic in our room. Which was fun.
Wednesday June 20
We woke to sun, clouds, less wind and patchy rain. After another breakfast we headed toward Kirkwall, the largest town. But we saved it for later and passed through on the way to the Italian Chapel. This Chapel was built by Italian POWs during WWII. 200 were based at Camp 60 on Lamb Holm, brought to build the Churchill barriers between the islands. In 1943 Camp 60’s new commandant, and Father Gioacchino Giacobazzi, the camp’s Catholic priest, agreed that a place of worship was required.
The chapel was constructed from limited materials by the prisoners. Two Quonset huts were joined end-to-end. The corrugated interior was then covered with plasterboard and the altar and altar rail were constructed from left over concrete . Most of the interior decoration was done by Domenico Chiocchetti, a prisoner from Moena. He painted the sanctuary end of the chapel and fellow-prisoners decorated the entire interior. They created a facade out of concrete, concealing the shape of the hut and making the building look like a church. The light holders were made out of corned beef tins. The baptismal font was made from the inside of a car exhaust covered in a layer of concrete.
When his fellow prisoners were released shortly before the end of the war, Chiocchetti remained on the island to finish decorating the newly consecrated chapel.
It is a touching memento from a difficult era.
We returned to visit the famous Highland Park Distillery. Famous the world over. They only let you taste if you tour but the next one was over an hour later. The nice guy let us taste a wee bit of the two we were interested in. Luther bought a bottle.
Next we headed to Kirkwall, biggest town on the Orkneys. We walked it’s streets and did some shopping.
Next we headed to Scapa Distillery. We decided to take the tour which was quite good. At the end we tasted some of the Cask whisky straight from the barrel which was surprisingly smooth. And we headed back to the main building for three more tastes. The first was really just alcohol…what we’d call white lightening. Ugh. Next we tried one that was smooth and not made with peat. The last had been aged in barrels that had previously been used for whisky made with peat so it had a residual smokey taste.
A fun day. Headed to the B&B to rest and shower. Later we dined again at the Foveran restaurant. It is a very good place.
Thursday, June 21
Arose and breakfasted with Kathy, our innkeeper. Then we packed and got on the road to catch the 11am ferry. This was the hitch in a day of long driving. If we hadn’t had to catch a ferry we could have gotten an earlier start. As it was, we didn’t get on the road until one. The ferry trip was rough as the winds had, again, picked up.
We drove south the way we had come. We stopped at the Bay Owl Inn for lunch. Didn’t look like much from outside but it had gorgeous views from inside of the sea and a small bay. Lunch was good and we got going again.
The scenery was gorgeous the whole way. Scotland is beautiful. Indulge me here. I simply could not chose from these!
The GPS sent us down a road that turned into one lane with passing places. Lots of potholes. We finally arrived at the Edinbane Inn, a lively pub with rooms at about the worst possible time for them 7:15pm, slammed at the dinner hour. We finally got to our nice, but VERY small room, and then headed down to dine. It was starting to slow a little by then. The food was quite good. I was not very hungry. We retired to the outside picnic tables to finish our drinks and Luther to smoke his cigar. We were inundated with the notorious Scottish midges, or wee bastards as the Scots call them. Then to bed.
Friday June 22
Today we explored the north part of the island. But first we had an excellent breakfast at our Inn/pub. Scrambled eggs over toast topped with smoked salmon. Very yum. We headed out and up the west coast. The road was one-lane-with-passing-places and many, many very large and deep potholes. Also sheep. In the road.
We stopped frequently for pictures. We wished over and over for the sun to break through. But no go. We paid a visit to Kilt rock with its waterfall and farther along mount Skorr an ancient volcano which has eroded into interesting formations. Cindy, Bill and Luther hiked up toward the famous rock formations while I remained in the car.
The road came around to the east and down the other side ending at Portree, the largest city on the island. It was pretty mobbed with people. We found a very subpar place for lunch and headed back to our pub.
After a nap and a shower we went to the Ullinish country lodge or dinner. Got great write ups but I have to say it was not worth it. We had a hard time finding it as it was way down a long one-lane-with-passing-places road. The scenery was stunning. The place was quite formal and pretentious. It was a price fixed 4 course meal with only two choices of appetizer, two entree, cheese, and two desserts. We got French wines which were good. Too expensive and not my style anymore.
We returned to our Inn and enjoyed the wonderful Scottish music that was on this night. All local people who just show up to play together. The musicians were seated around a table and rotated in and out. Fiddle, bagpipes, guitar, mandolin, bass, several voices. Really quite wonderful.
Saturday June 23
Another gray day. After breakfast we headed out to visit the Talisker Distillery. It’s been around a long time and is way down a narrow, one-lane-with-passing-places road. It was mobbed. We found you’d again need to take a tour and then you could taste one whisky. Not worth it. We bought a small bottle. Cindy and Bill bought 3 miniatures.
Back on the road in search of Scotland’s oldest Inn, the Stein Inn in the little town of Waternish. It was a perfect pub! Low ceilings and stone walls. Fireplace and pretty bar. We got our beers and decided on lunch. Mine turned out to be sub par. It was pretty basic. But we had fun.
We next went to Dunvegan to see Dunvegan Castle. Ancestral home of the McLeods. The oldest part was the castle keep built in 1320. Then thee or four other parts were added, including the Fairy Tower, which I loved. We toured the gardens which were large and diverse but we were attacked by the wee bastards! Horrible things. Got lots of pictures though.
Then back to Edinbane Inn for our afternoon pint and then for a nap.
We had dinner in the pub that night. The food was pretty good, not great.
Sunday June 24
We had breakfast and checked out of the inn. We had all come to like it, even if the rooms were very tiny. We had a long drive ahead of us to Edinburgh. As we left Skye the clouds cleared and we stopped a few times for photo ops. We had been sad to have no sun to get good pictures the whole time on Skye.
We stopped for lunch in Pitlochry, a bustling little town. Lots of tourists. We ate at the Old Smiddy Pub. We had a decent lunch and headed out again. We found our hotel, the Norton Country Lodge, with no problem and checked in. Nice place. Big comfortable room. Very close to the airport but quite bucolic all the same. We had decided to get a picnic for dinner that evening. We went out to shop and get gas.
After freshening up and napping we all got together for our last super. It had been a great trip overall. I think everyone had fun.
Monday June 25
Up at the crack of screech as my old friend used to stay for our 6:50am flight. By 5:15 we had checked out. Cindy and Bill slumbered on as they had a flight at a decent time. Things went downhill from there. The rental drop place had no drop box. Luther decided to wait the 10 minutes until they opened. I went ahead to check in. I went to the baggage tag place and our boarding passes would not scan. I had to go to the end of the terminal to get new boarding passes and a Visa check. Then back to the luggage place. Thank god Luther found me on my way back. We jumped the line as instructed. And then went to security. By now it was only 20 to departure and our plane had been boarding. Even the family line, which we used because I had my crutch, was packed. It took a while to get through. I sent Luther on ahead to tell them I was coming. I walked as fast as I could and got there where Luther had persuaded them to wait for me. The gate was closed and we were last to board! Just too much strurm and drang for me.
Let’s see, best and worst…
Best breakfast, Edinbain Inn scrambled eggs with salmon.
Best lunch, Aviemore in the Bridge Inn
Worst lunch food (for me) Stein Inn.
Best dinner, Foveran restaurant Skye
Worst dinner Ullinish country lodge. Too pretentious. Too pricy.
Best place to stay, we liked them all for different reasons. The most comfy was Dalrachney Hall. Westrow Lodge in Orkneys was comfortable if you don’t mind being in earshot of the owner and family. Edinbane Inn was one of a kind. How many times can you sleep in a pub? The last nights hotel was lovely but we had such little time there.
Best sights, the Orkney Islands.
Best scenery, the islands of Orkney and Skye
Best whisky tasting Benromach Distillery