Driving up norh to Orkney

Trip Start Apr 25, 2012
Trip End May 09, 2012

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Flag of United Kingdom  , Scotland,
Saturday, May 5, 2012

   Happy Cinco de Mayo! Not that I did anything to celebrate it or anything...it did save me from writing the wrong date in a visitor's book though since they put the day first then month when writing the date and we're the opposite, haha. Anyway, today was another great day! I got a pretty good night's sleep last night (my alarm actually woke me up instead of me being awake already!), I really liked this hostel :) The sun was shining again this morning too :) The drive today was very scenic. We passed over a few firths (the Moray Firth reaches Inverness, very important for its industry) and drove pretty much alongside the northeastern coast of Scotland the entire way. Because it was sunny, the water looked really pretty and the hills covered in yellow gorse were nice too! We were also able to see oil rigs out in the Firth/sea...not exactly pretty but interesting nonetheless. Along the way our driver told us about the Vikings because they had a heavy influence up here too. In fact, King Alexander II's granddaughter, Margaret, Maid of Norway, was sent for to become his heir and marry Edward II, but she died on the journey. Later, another king of Scotland's daughter was desired by the Norse and they traded Orkney for the daughter...so that's how Scotland got Orkney back from the Vikings. But anyway, the Vikings used to have these guys called Berserkers: really large men they would drug with mushrooms and basically beat up and make angry, then, while delusional, unblindfold him and let him take out his anger on a town or village! Not very nice either!

    Our driver also entertained us along the way talking about the problem of childhood obesity in Scotland and the rest of the world and the Scots' diet. The UK apparently has the third highest rate of obesity in the world...although the US is first! A lot of the Scots' diet was fatty meats and cheese and stuff because a long time ago, many were farmers, worked long hard hours during the day, and probably didn't eat lunch. But nowadays, people don't generally work that hard and yet the diet hasn't changed. He also said there's some peer pressure for guys if they eat out to get a steak, not fish, or alcohol instead of water. Scotland also has very high rates of coronary heart disease, alcoholism, and suicide rates for young men...not good. Hopefully that will change...for us in the States too! As a side note, I was amused that one of the songs on the radio today was the Muppet Show opening song, haha! Hadn't heard that in years!

    Our first stop of the day was at Dunrobin Castle which belonged to the Duke of Sutherland (the area of Scotland we're in). This guy wasn't such a good guy...he was a big supporter of the highland clearances (which I think I mentioned before...) and basically had no sympathy for those driven off the land. And with the money he earned from farming sheep on the land of the displaced farmers, he decided to build this castle. So it is said that the castle was paid for by the blood of Scottish farmers. It is quite nice looking though, and it's on a lovely spot right on the coast of the North Sea, so I got some good pictures. I also took a quick walk in a wooded area near the castle parking lot (thinking it got me to the beach) but it was the wrong way, haha. Nice little walk though past a stream. Before we left we were met by a group of bagpipers playing in the parking lot while people were abseiling down a wall of the castle. It was certainly interesting...busy at the castle this morning!. I also got the chance to talk to Dierdre (the lady from New Zealand) about her work as an OT. She worked with adults and was telling me how the training was so different back when she was in school and such.

    Next up was a short break in Helmsdale at a cafe. What I was more interested in was the geology garden out back, haha! There was a display describing the different rocks in this area and then a rock garden with small boulders of different kinds of rocks and their ages. My favorite was the Lewisian Gneiss, practically the oldest rocks we have on earth at around 2.9 billion years old! I made sure to take a picture of me sitting on it ;) There was also pink pegmatite, serpentine, rocks from the Moine thrust, red sandstones, red granite, fossil coral, and limestones. So I found that stop pretty interesting! Next we stopped at the most northeasterly part of Scotland at Duncansby Head lighthouse.

    At this point the weather had been changing...it was now snowing and drizzling out...while the sun was shining, haha. I guess I finally got a taste of real Scottish weather! Luckily, the sun came out again in time for our ferry ride across the Pentland Firth...usually not an easy ride as two bodies of water converge here, the North Sea and Atlantic Ocean. It reminds me of Cape Reinga in NZ :) You can actually see where the two meet as there are whitecaps where it occurs. Apparently during the ride the captain of the ferry had seen an orca in our path and so we had to turn quite a bit to stay out of its way! I was disappointed I missed that! It would have been awesome to see! I had my lunch on the ferry, lentil soup and Orkney ice cream, haha (toffee swirl, quite good :) ), and chatted with Dierdre a bit. Our ride was really pretty smooth actually, the sun was out and I took a venture up to the deck. Verrryyy windy unless you were behind the front windows, but it provided a nice view. So we were pretty lucky to have such smooth sailing and we were on Orkney by 1:45.

    From here we drove to a cliffside location for a short hike to see some remnants of  WWII lookouts called pill boxes. Apparently Hitler really wanted control of Orkney as it has one of the world's largest natural harbors, Scapa Flow, and would have given him easy access to Britain. He never got it though because Churchill was aware if this...good thing! A U-boat did sink the HMS Royal Oak here though in 1939, and 52 German ships sank here after WWI! So I thought this was a really interesting stop! Even more so because there were great views of the cliffs made of sedimentary rocks, like shale...very cool looking ;) It was awfully cold and windy during this walk though...I definitely needed my gloves, hat, fleece, and windbreaker! The waterproof/windproof pants came in handy too! After this we all warmed up in a cafe and had a very much needed pot of tea!
    Then it was on to the Italian Chapel, a cute little chapel with a VERY interesting history behind it. It was built mostly out of scrap materials by Italian POWs in their camp at the end of WWII. It's just a great, somewhat happy story from the war that showed human decency and respect during a time of war. In fact, after the war had ended and the POWs could go home, the main 'artist' behind the chapel, Chiocchetti, chose to stay behind and finish the font he was in the process of making! The inside is just beautiful too, all painted with a depiction of Mary with Jesus behind the altar and the walls painted to look like stone work! And the people of Orkney now have a committee to preserve the chapel. So yeah, pretty nice story. There was also a statue of St. George out front slaying the dragon which was meant to symbolize the prisoners' triumph over loneliness and depression being in the camp. It was made solely out of barbed wire and cement!
    After this stop we were dropped off at our hotels..this YHA definitely isn't as nice as the others. The receptionist took like 20 minutes before realizing we were waiting to check in...doesn't say much for the security...the halls are a bit maze-like (while eating dinner 2 guys came by twice going the wrong way, haha), no power outlets in the rooms and the only computer with internet is broken, haha. But the kitchen and lounge areas are nice at least! And I'm the only one in my room, so I should sleep well! I did take a walk around the town, Kirkwall, after I had dinner, but it was pretty cold so I didn't stay out long, just enough to see the waterfront, St. Magnus Cathedral, the Earl and Bishop's Palaces (nothing special), and looked in some shop windows. Back at the hostel I called home, and being exhausted, got ready for bed. Well, tomorrow we're exploring a lot of the archaeological sites on Orkney, should be interesting!
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