1. I'm sorry but Scots have no concept of what salad dressing is. Forget ranch, forget Caesar, forget Parmesan peppercorn. You will be lucky to get oil and vinegar or mayonnaise. I already knew they had a salad dressing deficiency, but one night at dinner in a hotel they served a great salad and nothing to put on it except salt. Hmm...
Me: Do you have salad dressing, salad cream, mayonnaise...anything to put on the salad?
Waitresses: [Blank look. Blink, blink.] Oh, just a moment.
A short time later, a bowl of mayonnaise showed up on the condiments table.
2. There is no such thing as iced tea in Scotland. (Excuse me, I'm Southern. I can't help it.) On the rare occasions when you do find iced tea, it comes out of a bottle.
3. Ice in drinks is rare in Scotland. If you have it, cherish it.
4. Sink faucets in restrooms everywhere, hotel rooms, restaurants, tourist attractions... The hot and cold water come out of two separate and very wide apart faucets, so warm water is only available for like ten seconds at most. Anytime I wanted to wash my face (which is morning and night) I had to get into the shower. My friend thought I was insane. Maybe I am. heehee
5. Though it has nothing to do with Scotland, since I'm on the subject of irritating things, I have to say how much I loathe airplane seats in coach. They are torture devices. My tailbone was sore for days.
6. I hate pheasant pate. (Yes, I tried it. Ugh.)
Things I didn't hate but found interesting:
1. Chicken salad is called chicken mayonnaise. (And it's very good.)
2. The only hamburger I ate while there tasted like a veggie burger. (Maybe it was.)
3. I LOVE shortbread cookies.
4. Their pot lids are so freaking heavy I couldn't pick one up. We were having breakfast in this hotel on Skye, and sitting with our guide. The scrambled eggs were in a pot on the buffet. And I kid you not, I could not lift the lid to dip some. Trust me, I'm not a weakling, but the only muscles one could use to lift it were the muscles of one hand and forearm because it was under a hood. It must have weighed 15 or 20 lbs. Solid iron. Anyway when I admitted my embarrassing shortcoming to my friend and our guide, they both raised brows and snickered. My friend will never let me live it down. But she didn't try lifting it!
5. Scottish bacon is like ham, and very good.
6. Scottish sausage links are as huge as salami (almost.) No, I didn't try one. They looked too much like... well... I can't say that here.
7. Each and every shower we encountered was a mystery and a puzzle. What fun figuring out how each one worked. Not! My friend alternately scalded or froze her feet. Once I got in there, I walked out of the bathroom carrying the knob from the tub faucet. Then we discovered it was unnecessary decoration.
8. The restroom is not called the restroom in Scotland. Nor is it called a bathroom. It's a toilet, pure and simple. Each toilet (commode) is also freakishly different from the one before but the flush lever is on the right side. One stainless steal one didn't even have a seat, nor was it supposed to.
9. I found the currency surprisingly easy to learn. You have your pound, which is roughly equal to slightly over 2 US dollars. This comes in a one pound coin, which is about the size of a quarter but thicker and pale goldish in color. There's also the 2 pound coin, which is slightly larger and has both bronze and silver on it. They don't use the word cents. It's pence. The coins are: one penny (very similar at first glance to our penny), two pence (larger and copper also), 5 pence (very similar in size and color to our dime), 10 pence (very similar in size and color to our quarter), 20 pence (a wee bit smaller than our quarter, and thinner, but with 7 sides. See, I almost said hexagonal.) Is there a 50 pence coin? I can't remember. Anyway, a hundred pence equals a pound. And the queen's head in profile is on almost every coin and every note except those issued in Scotland. As for notes, you have your five pound note (or bill? not sure the correct term here.) Then there's 10 pounds, 20 pounds, 50 pounds, and probably more but I don't have intimate experience with those large bills. So you see, it's very easy to figure out how to use the money of the UK.
10. A hamburger bun is called a bap.
11. Scots hate midges (tiny little gnats that bite) so much they write songs about them and refuse to wear kilts in their presence. Yes, we did encounter some midges in Ullapool. But from what I could tell, the midges are not nearly as bad as the gnats and mosquitoes of NC. For one thing, they're slower and a little bigger than your normal gnat, so you can feel them on your skin and swat them away before they bite. But maybe we weren't visiting during the swarm season.
12. While we're on the subject of insects... omigosh... I found a tick stuck on my leg, also in Ullapool. It was so tiny it was the size of a pen dot, or a pin head, take your pick. Never saw one that small before. I'm lucky I saw it at all. After getting it off I needed to know if it transmitted any deadly disease like Rocky Mountain spotted fever or lime disease so I tried to call our guide. Couldn't get him so I called the front desk. The man working there said "Oh, it will probably fall off during the night." Huh?? As if I'm going to wait for it to engorge itself and fall off?? No that's not what I said to him. But when I informed him I had already removed it, he said, "nothing to worry about then." I didn't come down with anything. Huge sigh. This should technically go up with the "things I disliked" section but my friend likes to tell it with the pot lid story.
If I think of any other must-have knowledge I'll let you know.
I don't know why this little spot grabbed me and wouldn't let go. Hardly anyone else from our tour even saw it, much less walked on it. The rocks jutting up out of the sand and sea here are spectacular. Some are black and some are pink (granite or sandstone?) It was too cold here to swim or lie in the sun or any of the various other beach activities. And of course it was cloudy. This beach faces north, or slightly north east because it's on the north coast of Scotland. The ocean is the Atlantic. If I'd had time, I would've sat out here on one of these rocks all day.
I created a "movie" with music and also uploaded a series of photos so you can see them large if you want. Click below for your preference. In the movie, you'll see a house upon the cliff. That's where I want to move!
Click for just the big photos in a slideshow.
The photos speak for themselves. The area is hauntingly beautiful--moors, mountains, lochs, streams, the ocean and more mountains and moors. The land appears almost untouched by human hands, but I am always aware that two or three hundred years ago, the area was far more populated. The Highland Clearances left it deserted. The people lost their homes and were forced to sail to strange lands. As we were driving through, I could almost see into the past to a time when crofters and clans walked across the landscape, herding their cattle, growing oats or digging turf from the bogs. It’s sad they had to leave a land as gorgeous as this. I noticed something interesting about Scotland--the sky is very much a part of the landscape. The clouds hover then come down and touch the earth. For me, this only added to the beauty and mystical atmosphere.
I thought I'd try something different with the photos this time so you can see more of them and in larger sizes... a slideshow on another site. Please let me know if you have a problem viewing them.
Click to view slideshow
This Cathedral is unique in that it actually belongs to the City and Royal Burgh of Kirkwall. It is not, and has never been, the property of the Church. It has housed Catholics, Episcopalians and Presbyterians, complying with whatever the "official" religion of the time.
St Magnus Cathedral is the only cathedral in Britain to have its own dungeon, "Marwick's Hole." (above) Criminals and witches were imprisoned here beginning in the 1500s.
Most everything you see, tiles, plaster and intricately carved wood is actually Trompe L’oeil, a brilliant painting technique which tricks the eye.
After this, we boarded the ferry and cruised for Scrabster and our hotel in Thurso. We had a very enjoyable conversation with one of the crewmen on the way back as we stood on deck and again observed the cliffs on Hoy and he told us about the local wildlife, especially the abundant bird population. We were hoping to see some seals or orcas but didn’t. The man, who had a wonderful Scottish accent, told us that about a week or two before, a pod of orcas had been seen there. While on board, as part of the tour, we had tea or coffee and scones. They were delicious.
The Ring o' Brodgar (the "d" is almost silent when the word is pronounced) is thought to date back to around 2500 BC to 2000 BC. It is a true circle with a diameter of 340 feet and originally contained 60 megaliths. Only 27 of these remain standing today. They vary in height from 7 feet to just over 15 feet. Experts believe the Ring o' Brodgar was part of an enormous prehistoric ritual complex that incorporated several other stone circles and solitary standing stones, some a mile or more away. This area has a large amount of archaeological remains including early burial sites and mounds. They are believed to have been important in the people's religion, ceremonies and relate to astrological alignments, like the setting sun at Winter Solstice, much like Stonehenge.
We saw Viking runes "graffiti" carved on one of the stones and dates to around 1100 or 1200 AD. It is believed to be the name Bjorn. As in... Bjorn was here.
We drove past the Standing Stones of Stenness (photo above) a mile away. These stones are taller than those at Brodgar, some standing up to 19 feet high. Only 4 of the original 12 stones remain standing. This site is believed to date from 3100 BC. The stones were almost destroyed by a farmer in 1814 who was fed up with all the tourists treading over his land and tired of plowing around the massive stones. He turned them over and began breaking them up. Odin's Stone was one of the more important ones, which was finally smashed to dust. After a public outcry and involvement of the authorities, the farmer was forced to stop his destruction and these few stones have been preserved.
I had always wanted to visit a standing stone circle, so I was thrilled to get my wish!
Click here to read more about Ring o' Brodgar
Click here to read more about the Standing Stones of Stenness
Every view out here was lovely and I took lots of photos.
Once on Orkney Mainland, we boarded the bus again, this time with a local guide who knew all about Orkney history. Though I believe the man was English, he now lives in Orkney. Our first visit was to the amazing Skara Brae, the 5000 year old Neolithic village which was unearthed in 1850 during a storm. Experts believe the underground village was inhabited between 3200 and 2200 BC. It is a series of eight dwellings, linked by alleys. Because of the sand which had covered the dwellings for thousands of years, they were well-preserved.
Each home has a central fireplace (shown by the reddish dirt) which is just a ring or square of stones in the middle of the floor, a sort of box bed made of stone on either side and set of stone shelves or dresser on the wall opposite the entrance.
Though Skara Brae now stands right on the edge of the ocean, when people lived in it, the village would've been some distance from the sea. They believe people lived here for about 600 years. It's completely underground now, but back then it would've appeared to be mounds of earth and rubbish with roofs on top. The homes would've likely been warm and comfortable to them in such a harsh environment. The stone box beds would've had mattresses made of straw or heather and blankets of sheepskin or deerskin. Each home also had a drainage system, which may have been an early form of toilet plumbing. They speculate the hearth was the center of the room for several reasons. Fire was extremely important to these early peoples for heat, light, to cook their food. It was likely the center of their domestic life. They had very long dark winters here and the central position of the fire would allow more people to gather around it to stay warm. The roofs of these dwellings likely had a hole in the center to let the smoke out. They suspect these dwellings were not immediately abandoned because of a tragic event, but that they were gradually, over time abandoned as the younger people moved away into more modern housing for the time and merged with larger communities with perhaps more powerful leaders.
I found this whole site fascinating because I love learning about prehistory.
Here is an incredible Orkney site http://www.orkneyjar.com/index.html
Here you will learn lots more about Skara Brae http://www.orkneyjar.com/history/skarabrae/index.html
Knowing how cruel the past owners and builders of the castle had been did put a damper on the visit. It is beautiful, fairy tale like setting. The castle reminded me a great deal of the Biltmore House in Asheville, which I've visited several times. The styles of both are mostly French. But Dunrobin has an interior section which is medieval, and some parts date back to the 13th century. The interiors of the rooms are incredibly rich with artwork and priceless furniture. No photos were allowed inside. You can see some interior photos here:
Here is the official site for falconry at Dunrobin. http://www.castle-falconry.co.uk/index.htm
The gardens were incredibly beautiful. As a gardener, I was keen to look at as many of the plants as possible. I noticed everything grows really well in much of Scotland. Due, I'm sure, to the large amount of rain and the peaty soil. The gardens lie between the castle and the ocean. Almost anywhere you stand here and take a photo, it looks like a postcard.
Culloden was the last battle fought (basically) between Scots and English, the last on British soil, and the most historically significant for Scots. (I say basically because some Scots fought on the side of the English.) Scotland would never be the same again afterward. The Highland Clearances followed, the clan system was destroyed and the clans disbursed. The English Hanoverians tried to stamp out and destroy Scottish Highland culture so there would be no more rebellions. During this time, in the late 18th century and 19th century, thousands and thousands of Scots immigrated to America, Canada, Australia, etc.
I won't go into detail about the battle. Entire books have been written on the subject. In a nutshell, Bonnie Prince Charlie was the descendent of the Stewart (Stuart) kings (originally Scottish), like King James VI & I. Their line had been dethroned years earlier but Charlie wanted the British throne. He had been raised in Europe, but he came back to the Highlands to find his Jacobite (relates to the Latin for James) supporters and to raise an army. He did and they stormed south, taking a few English cities but they stopped before reaching London. They headed back north, into Scotland before the final battle. The English or Hanoverian army had far better and more advanced weapons like musket rifles and canons. The Highlander Jacobites fought mostly with swords and daggers as they had for centuries. Thousands of Scots were killed. The wounded were murdered. The English suffered fewer casualties. Those who died were buried here in mass graves. Some in clan graves, some in mixed clan graves. These are marked with stones. A monument stands nearby.
A red flag marks the Jacobite line and a yellow flag marks the English line where the soldiers stood before charging. Culloden battlefield, also known as Drummossie Moor, is a wide flat bog land. It's wet and squishy with peat and water stands in places. Mountains lie in the blue, misty distance. Heather, thistles and other short scrubby plants grow here. Many of them were in bloom. I tried to imagine how difficult hand to hand combat would be in such a place if it was the same in the mid 1700s. Tripping over the foot tall scrubby bushes and plants would have been easy. The wind seemed to be blowing constantly while we were here and it seems a sad lonely place. But very beautiful.
My friend and I wanted to walk to the Jacobite line but unfortunately we noticed the time. Needless to say I was late to the bus again. I was not very popular with the driver at this point. Eeek.