Tuesday, January 24, 2017

British Isles # 21: Around the Cairngorms, Scotland

Not far inland from the Cliffside Dunnottar Castle you will enter the Cairngorms National Park. An amazing, but short and easy hike can be taken at Burn O Vat (burn means stream in Scots Gaelic) near Dinnet. Park at the trailhead (where there is a restroom) and take an easy wooded hike to a what looks like a dead end. The rocks create a little portal through which you enter the vat - a giant bowl shaped rock hollow created by years of stream erosion. From here you can scramble up past a small waterfall along the stream and moss and ivy covered boulders - slippery but worth the effort. Directions and more trail info HERE.  

From Burn O Vat we drove through the Cairngorms to The Glenlivet Whisky Distillery for an afternoon pick me up. Then we were on to Grantown-on-Spey where we stayed at the Craiglynne Hotel

The next morning we took shelter from the rain in the Glenfiddich Distillery, peeked into Balvenie Castle ruins across the road and then headed a bit south through the Cairngorms to Auchindoun Castle, a desolate ruin. We visited Auchindoun on a cold, cloudy April day. Sitiated atop a high hill on the edge of Cairngorms above the deep valley of the River Fiddich (as in "Glenfiddich" Whisky), this is perhaps the windiest place I've ever been. The hike seemed harsh against the wind as we walked up a lane and through a farmstead but was really perhaps a half mile. We parked our car near the main road as the lane said not suitable for vehicles but knowing what was ahead we would have driven up that road at least a bit (unless it was muddy, mind you). Auchindoun was incredible - so stark and lonely, a gothic ruin if ever I saw one. I especially loved how the field around the castle was planted with rows of crop (turnips, I think) and the dozens of sheep grazed and dotted the field. Worth a visit if you have the time. You'll likely find yourself alone here a the top of the world, or so it feels.

Auchindoun Castle, Scotland

Late Winter Cairngorms
Late Winter Caringorms
Onward north we stopped in Elgin to see the cathedral ruins and ancient Pictish Stones as well as Spynie Palace and Duffus Castle. Then we ended in Inverness for the night, arriving too late to stop into Leakey's Bookshop which could have busied me for hours days. Alas, I don't travel just to shop for books so we sadly missed out on this gem There is always next time...

Elgin Cathedral

Stone with Christian Carving on one side and Pictish Carving on the reverse

Spynie Palace Ruins above and below

Duffus Castle - just a few scattered ruins here atop a motte and bailey earthwork and remnants of a wall enclosure. Still fun to scramble around the tilted ruins.
Leakey's Bookshop, Inverness. Still dreaming of this bibliophile heaven...

Monday, January 16, 2017

British Isles #20: Dunnottar Caslte

As you walk up to Dunnottar Castle you notice first that this fortress is staggering, strategic, built atop ancient craggy cliffs that drop off into the North Sea on the east coast of Scotland. In fact, Dunnottar means "fort on the shelving slope". The oldest parts of the castle were built during the 14th century though there is evidence of Pictish (a Scottish Tribe) presence from the 3rd century. There is a really interesting timeline HERE if you you'd like to know more castle history.  Most of the ruins remaining date from the 15th & 16th century. On a clear day the views out to the North Sea must be spectacular! But even on the foggy, misty and cold day that we visited this place is still amazing, atmospheric and little haunting. We took a steep but easy walk down to the pebble beach to the left of the castle after our visit. I love beach combing for pebbles and shells. Here we found a small cave and many different types of seaweed and mollusks. This is a must visit if you find yourself in Scotland anywhere near Aberdeenshire

Thursday, January 12, 2017

La Lune

New Telescope + Full Moon + Smartphone + Steady Hand = Moon Magic