Saturday, June 17, 2017

Scotland Wrap-Up

Photo Stop Map
I have been back from Scotland for two weeks now and have finally finished editing all my photos from the trip.  (You can see all the photos here.) Overall, I took 1,748 photos spread across our two week trip, which included 35 photo stops spread amongst the seven towns we stayed in. (see map). Of those 1,748 photos, I edited 736 photos, which is approximately 42 percent.  Now that number could be slightly higher if I did not take/delete duplicates and if I did not take photos to stich into a panorama photo.  Of the 736 photos, I edited my ISO ranged between 100 – 800 ISO with 40 percent taken at 200 ISO.  My aperture varied between F3.5 and F20 with 36 percent of the photos taken at F9.  My shutter speed varied between 1/6 seconds and 1/2000 at the extremes with 12 percent of the photos taken at 1/320 seconds.  However, my shutter speed stayed mostly between 1/100 seconds to 1/800 seconds. Finally, my focal length varied between 18mm and 200mm with 51 percent of the photos taken at 18mm.

Overall, the trip was good, but there were a few things I would change, if I were to do it again.  I would not do Edinburgh again, I feel as though I have covered it.  I think I would just fly into Glasgow and focus on the west coast and the islands of Scotland.  Personally, I wanted to get rocky coast photos with crashing waves.  I would also spend possibly another day in Orkney so I could go over to some of the other islands.  While Skye is nice, it is definitely reach peak tourist capacity, so I would rather head out to the Hebrides, which are a bit wilder and have significantly fewer tourists.  Finally, the major thing I would change is the time of year; I either need to go in early April or late September or October.  The change in date is because in May sunrise is at 4:30 AM and sunset is at 10:30 PM, which do not fit my normal sleep patterns.  While the long days are great to get things done, midday sun does not usually lend itself to interesting skies for landscape photos. 

Below are a few of my favorite photos:
Old Man of Storre on Skye

Standing Stones of Stennis on Orkney

Castle in a loch on way to Skye

I edited a few shots in black in white to get that moody feel. 

Castle ruins in a lock on way to Skye

Old Man of Storre on Skye

Friday, June 2, 2017

Last Day Full Day

We left the B&B around 9:00 AM to make the hour and half drive to Edinburgh to check into our last hotel before our flight home tomorrow.  Since the drive was only an hour and half, we were able to stop at Stirling Castle and the Kelpie sculpture.  

The Kelpies (cell phone)
Stirling Castle was nice. It was fairly large castle and definitely less crowded than Edinburgh castle. I liked the wood carvings they had and the grounds were nice.  We did not stay for the noon gun firing (large artillery), which was kicking off a D-Day memorial.  From there we headed to one of the things I really wanted to see, the Kelpie sculpture.  The sculpture is of two horse heads coming out of the water.   The horse heads are several stories tall and made of formed silvered metal around an interior scaffolding.  It was easily visible from the M9.  I thought it was an impressive sculpture.  

From there it was on the hotel to drop off our bags, then over to the rental car place to drop off the car. This is the first time I’m glad I paid for the extra insurance on the car, since we did slightly nick the paint backing into a fence on the second day of driving it.  Once, we got back from the rental place we walked over to the TKMaxx (equivalent to TJMaxx) to pick up an extra piece of luggage.  I packed one extra bag with me but we ended up by a few bulky items like a wool blanket from the wool mill co-op and needed an extra carry on size bag to check.  Thankfully British Airways lets you check two bags per person for free.

While the trip was nice, I’m ready to go home tomorrow. I’m ready to sleep in my own bed and see my doggy.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Another Rainy Drive with Edited Photos

Sheep at Standing Stones of Stennis
Today started out rainy and continued to be rainy the rest of the day.  We got a late start out of the last B&B because breakfast wasn’t served till 8:30 AM.  It was the same basic breakfast we have had at all but two B&Bs, I’m getting really tired of the options of eggs, bacon, sausage, black pudding, tomatoes, toast, and porridge.  I would like some variety, like waffles or pancakes, even though I’m not a big fan of pancakes.  But the trip is almost over, so when I get home I’m having toaster strudel for breakfast.  

Originally the tour company wanted us to drive directly from Skye to Edinburgh which is about a six hour drive, we decided against this because the next day we would be spending eight hours on a plane.  So the drive was split up by adding a stop in Trossachs at a B&B along Loch Earn, which was only a 4 hour drive from where we were staying on Skye.  Since it was raining the whole drive there were no major photo stops along the route or in Glencoe because all you  would get is misty fog photos where you end up playing the game is that a hill, rock, or sheep.  However, we did make a few minor photo stops along the route at the Castle Maol overlook, the Loch Garry overlook, and the Well of Seven Heads. We also stopped at a restaurant and had pizza for lunch.  We made it to the hotel around 3:45 PM.

After checking into the hotel Jim, Bill, and Cristina went for a hike behind the hotel. I opted out of the hike because it was still raining. Instead, I used the time to review my photos from the trip and edited a few that caught my eye.   

Cliff Face on Orkney
Fairy Pools on Skye

Standing Stones of Stennis

Ardvreck Castle

Old Man of Storr

View from Old Man of Storr Trail

Tomorrow we will continue our drive to Edinburgh where we will pick up an extra piece of luggage, and drop off the car.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Up Early to End Early

Today we got a packed breakfast to go from the B&B so we could be out the door by 7:00 AM headed towards the “Fairy Pools.” The B&B does breakfast at 8:30 AM to 9:30 AM which would have been too late for us to get to the Fairy Pools and manage to get a parking spot.  Thus we asked the hotel to pack a to-go breakfast, I was surprised it didn’t come with a thermos of hot tea, instead we got juice boxes. The breakfast also included for each person a ham sandwich, a smoked salmon sandwich, yogurt, a piece of fruit, and candy.  It was a decent to-go breakfast.

Near End of  Fairy Pool Path (cell phone)

On to the fairy pools; we got to the fairy pools around 7:30 AM and hiked to and from the pools before eating our packed breakfast.  The hike is a out and back trail along a mountain highland stream that has several small waterfalls and pools. Once you hit the end of the trail there is a sign that says this is the end of the fairy pool trail, beyond this point is dangerous back-country. I would say we took about two hours to walk the path to the end and back which includes stopping and taking photos along the way.  Honestly I was expecting something a little more spectacular based on everyone saying you have to see it, but is really just a long babbling brook coming down from the mountain.  Now it might have been better if the sky did not have heavy dark cloud cover causing the sunlight to be dispersed causing the day to appear dreary.  It was a good thing we arrived early, because by the time we got back from the hike the parking lot was full and people were waiting for parking spots.  We decided to pull out of the parking lot and go down the road to another parking pull off to eat our breakfast before continuing on to our next destination.

Near beginning of pool path (cell phone)
Along pool path (cell phone)
Entrance to Dunvegan Castle
Our next major stop was Dunvegan Castle, with a quick stop at the Talisker Distillery visitor  along the way. Dunvegan Castle was nice, however you could not take pictures inside.  They also provided seal tours because they have 300+ seals living in the loch that castle sits on. Sadly we did not go on a seal tour because they were all booked up.  From there we had lunch at an art gallery/cafe. The cafe had a lovely view of the loch and decent food.  From there it was up to Uig to see the “Fairy Glen.”

The Fair Glen is lush green hilly pasture land, whose mounds look like broughs that the fey used to live in.  The glen is also covered with grazing sheep.  That was basically the last planned thing, so we headed back to the B&B.  

Panoramic view of Fairy Glen from one of the mounds. (cell phone)

After spending a little bit at the B&B we walked down to Portree so I could get the traditional post card picture you see of the town. The whole town does not look like the postcard, it is just one row of buildings along the bay.  Sadly my picture did not turn out how I wanted since the light was coming from the wrong direction and not illuminating the buildings.  That basically ended the day.  We are eating at the hotel today because, we determined if you want to eat in town you need a reservation and we still cannot find the Chinese place.

Post card view of Portree (cell phone)
Tomorrow head to Trossachs National Forest.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

A Rainy Drive to Skye

Today we left Ullapool after a late breakfast, usually we have breakfast earlier than 8:00AM but that was when they started serving breakfast.  That meant I got to sleep in till 7:00AM.  After breakfast we loaded up the car for the three hour drive down to Portree in Skye making a couple photo stops along the way.

View of Castle Strome (Cell Phone)
We took the more direct route down to Skye, rather than the scenic route so the drive only took about 2 hours. Our first photo stop was along A890 at an overlook that had a view of Castle Strome over Loch Carron.  Our second photo stop was at Eilean Donan castle, where it was raining.  I was glad I had a raincoat and water resistant pants. That castle required tickets to go into but had a visitor center and gift shop that did not require tickets.  We took some photos from the outside and got some items at the gift shop.  I got a large bead charm made from heather (the flower).  From there we crossed over the bridge to Skye.  There are some lovely views from the ends of the bridge, but we did not stop due to the rain, just continued on our way to the hotel. After checking in, we got lunch.  In hindsight we should have gotten lunch before entering Portree because there are very few locations to park, the road through the center of town in horribly congested due to people parking wherever they want,  and the food selection is limited.  There are times I just wish there was a McDonald's around to grab something quick.

Eilean Donan castle (Cell Phone)
Kilt Rock and water fall (cell phone)
After managing to grab a late lunch we drove up east side of Skye to Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls.  Kilt Rock was not what I was expecting, I thought it would be a rock in the center of the water, it is only a cliff face.  The waterfall is hard to see from the viewing area because it is on the side of the cliff face and you almost need to hang over the protective railing to get a good view of the falls.  From there we traveled back down the road to Leat Falls.  When you pull off you don’t see the waterfall at first, what you see is a path out to the cliff edge.  If you walk the path it takes you to a viewing area where you can look at cliffs and a beach.  On the way back you see the falls because it nestled into bend in the cliff face you don’t see walking out.  It was a nice waterfall.  From there we traveled a bit further down the road to see the Old Man of Storr rock formation.  

The Old Man of Storr is a pointy rock separated from the cliff face.  There is an uphill path with several switchbacks that gets you fairly close to it, and if you want to get closer there is very steep muddy path, that you might need to be a mountain goat to use,  that leads you further up a large hill for closer views.  I stopped at the bottom of the muddy path; my husband, who I believe is part mountain goat, went up the steep muddy path.  The photography video we watched before the trip, stated it took about 30 minutes to go up the path to see the Old Man of Storr, I think he lied.  It took us 30 - 45 minutes just to get to the muddy path.  I do believe I got some good pictures of the Old Man of Storr even if the light was playing peek-a-boo with the clouds after the rain finished pushing through.  That basically ended our day.   

Tomorrow we should be heading out the fairy pools and some standing stones.

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Scenic Route

View at stop along route (cell phone)
Today we left Thurso after a standard breakfast of eggs, bacon (more like ham), baked beans, toast, and tea to head down to Ullapool for the night.  The route takes three hours to drive without stops, we only made a three major stops and a did a few quick pull off for pictures.  The drive was very scenic, however much of it was on a one lane major road with passing pull offs,  not the type of place you want to stop.  

Our first major stop was Caisteal Bharraich (Castle Varrich) in the town of Tongue.  The hike up to the castle and back takes a little over an hour.  The trail crosses over a stream and then climbs up a large hill to the remains of the castle tower.  Once you reach the castle tower you can climb the metal spiral staircase erected in the tower center to get a 360 view of the valley below and surrounding mountains and the Kyle of Tongue.  

Caisteal Bharraich (cell phone)

The scenery was beautiful even if the sky was cloudy and thinking about threatening rain.  From there we traveled on to Durness where Smoo Cave and our lunch stop were located.  We might have stopped at the Smoo Cave but the visitor center and overflow parking was full.  Also, we weren’t sure how long that would take, since some estimates said it was going to be a couple hour hike while some said it was shorter. Plus you can only enter the cave at low tide.  Thus, the decision was made to skip Smoo Cave.  We also contemplated taking the long way to Ullapool using a “B” road to see the Old Man of Stoer rock formation, however that was also one lane with several 14% or more grades.  But just decided to skip that with four passengers and luggage in the car.  Thus, we just continued on the main “A” road that eventually turned into a two lane road.

As we continued down the scenic mountain route to Ullapool we stopped at Ardvreck Castle which had three parking areas.  One gave you a nice view of the castle sitting in the loch, one at nearby Ardvreck House, and the other was parking so you could walk across the road and up the castle ruins.  There was a bonus with parking in the second parking area, a two-level waterfall.   The waterfall was not very high but had a strong flow of water over the levels.  The castle was across the road from the waterfall and parking. It was quick 5 minute walk to the castle ruins, which consisted of the remains of the tower and some lower level possibly dungeon.   There were sheep droppings everywhere but no sheep. I think a few sheep bouncing around would have made an interesting picture.  From there we continued down to Ullapool.

Ardvreck Castle (cell phone)

Today was the first day we checked into a hotel before 6:00PM, we got to the hotel a little after 3:00 PM.  This allowed us time to go over to the grocery store to pick up some water, walk around a little bit before the rain, and just relax before dinner.  Tomorrow, we will be getting a late start down to Portree in Skye, since breakfast doesn’t start till 8:00AM. So I get to sleep in a little bit.  I am looking forward to Skye.

Killing Time

Jim on hill near a loch, he is the orange dot. (cell phone)

Today started with the same unexciting buffet breakfast, then packing up to leave Orkney.  The weather this morning decided it was going to be traditional Scottish weather (cloudy, dreary, windy and rainy) this morning so I needed my raincoat and glove liners. Our original goal was to go see the Mayshow chambered cairn, but it by tour only and the only tours available were the 12:00, 15:00 and 16:00 which would not work out with the ferry schedule.  So we drove around Orkney to the Orphir Circle Church ruin, which was smaller than I expected.  It was quarter of a domed structure.  From there we headed to the Tomb of the Eagles which is has a bronze age and mesolithic site at the southern tip of the main Orkney Island.  Once you arrive at the parking area for the site you walk along a mile loop trail along the cliff edge.  The bronze age site was first, it was small compared to the other we have seen. They speculated that the site was used for making hot water.  The second site was the mesolithic tomb where they found several artifacts and eagle talons.  To get into the tomb you had to pull your self in using a creeper and rope system. So you would lay down on the creeper and pull yourself in with the rope then stand up in the tomb pushing the creeper out to the next person to use.  You reversed the process exit the tomb.  After that it was off to lunch.

We had lunch at a cafe located about a quarter mile up the road from the tomb site.  The cafe was situated on the cliff edge overlooking the Pentland Firth.  It was also the location of the Tomb of the Otters, which we did not see.  From there we traveled back into Kirkwall so Bill and Jim could stop at the Scapa distillery.  Apparently, Scapa Scotch cannot be found in the US.  From there it was over the St. Margaret's Hope ferry terminal to wait for our ferry to take us back to mainland Scotland.

The ferry crossing was unexciting. We did not see any sea life, except birds. Our B&B is nice, with very large rooms.  Tomorrow we head along the coast to Ullapool.