June, 2013 Archives

Just got back from 11 nights in Scotland, Edinburgh and the Isle of Skye, hillwalking and history with my wife and two teenage sons.  Weather was good – only two days of rain and the midges chased us off the path only once.  Almost 18 hours of sunlight each day while on the Inner Hebrides, not including twilight – not sure it ever really got dark.  Rented a flat in Edinburgh with views of the Museum on the Mound, Forth of Firth and distant hills of Fife.  The flat was in the Blackie House, a six-story tenement house from 1690, which retained much of its original character (in a good way).  Rented another flat on the Isle of Skye in Portree directly overlooking a working harbor, comparatively new construction… from the 1830’s.  Did the usual touristy things, Edinburgh Castle, Arthur’s Seat, galleries & museums, Scottish Parliament Building, Royal Botanic Garden, Loch Ness, Glencoe, Eilean Donan Castle, Trotternish Peninsula, Talisker Distillery and much, much more.  Became enamored of McVities Digestives Caramels, Marks and Spencer groceries and a wee dram of the uisge beatha (water of life) every so often (emphasis on often).

Greyfriars Kirkyard, Edinburgh. Gravestones lean against the east wall and the surrounding 18th & 19th century buildings, now apartments. This is the graveyard home to Greyfriars Bobby, the Skye Terrier, who is said to have guarded his master’s grave for 14 years – until he too died, in 1871. Not only is this cemetery old (16th century), it is haunted (of course) and during the early days of photography the Kirkyard was used by David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson as a setting for portraits and tableaux such as The Artist and The Gravedigger.

The Camera Obscura & World of Illusions in Edinburgh. Visited here in 1990, before the three lower floors of kid-friendly “science” and “illusions.” The “Outlook Tower” dates to the 1850’s and was known as "Short's Observatory, Museum of Science and Art” in the 19th century. Yup, there’s a camera obscura at the top, which uses mirrors to project 360 degree views of Edinburgh. Here’s a view of rooftops from the tower.

My boys at the Camera Obscura & World of Illusions. On one of the lower floors you find the Ames Room, named after Adelbert Ames who originally created it in 1930. It has slanted floors, walls and ceilings and is painted so as to make the person on the left look small and the person on the right look tall. No photoshop here!

I saw numerous hotel doormen wearing kilts. The curbside busker bagpipers wore kilts. I saw an airport employee in a kilt and a Day-Glo vest. I saw this kilted fellow climbing Calton Hill in Edinburgh carrying a white parasol and high heels. At first I wondered if this was how the metrosexual Scots accessorizes tartan in the 21st century. Turned out he was in his formal wear getting his picture took. The parasol and heels belonged to a woman – just out of sight – wearing a wedding dress.

Skye is the largest and most northerly island in the Inner Hebrides off the western coast of Scotland. It is about 25 miles wide and 50 miles long and has a jagged 400-mile coastline. The major industries are tourism (mainly backpacking and hiking), fishing, whisky distilling and “crofting” – tenant farming. Much of the road around the Trotternish Peninsula is “one track” and at first we pulled to the side as soon as we saw an oncoming vehicle. Later, as one gets used to one lane roads… well, have you ever played chicken?

The footpath on Quiraing (a hill?), on the Isle of Skye’s Trotternish Peninsula. A breathtaking hillwalk that’s for sure, 1,781 feet high – about 3+ hours for the loop – spectacular views of the Cuillin Range and distant ocean.

Haggis, black pudding and sheep everywhere. Not just on the menu. Many a trail wove betwixt the sheep. The sheep grazed on the very edge of mountain crags and dozed atop rock pinnacles. It’s hard to believe they don’t regularly get blown off. And as a hiker, you had to be extra careful maneuvering the trail. One had to step around the haggis to avoid slipping off the side of the mountain.

Drizzle and mist and midges today on the Isle of Skye. On average, the island gets annually approximately 53 inches of rain. Which may explain why no one lives here. It is indeed sparsely populated: resident numbers declined from over 20,000 in the early 19th century to just under 9,000 by the closing decade of the 20th century.

Duntulm Castle (what’s left of it) at the tip of the Trotternish Peninsula (Isle of Skye). The castle was built in the 14th and 15th centuries and occupied by the clan MacDonald until about 1732. According to local legend, “the castle was abandoned after the infant son of the chieftain who dwelt there at the time, in the charge of a nursemaid, fell from a window and was dashed on the rocks below. As a punishment, the nursemaid was set adrift on the North Atlantic in a small boat.“