Monday, 25 June 2012

As solid as a... mmph?

Sam and I were being step on guides to a tour today, a fine bunch of ladies mostly from the States on a spiritual interest tour run by tour guide Lynn McBrien of Cavan Tours.

We were seeking certain standing stones today in a remote glen. Ahh yes, ancient, permanent, solid stones, made of solid... where is it!?

Y'see the stone wasna where it should be.  Apparently it's a common thing in this glen.
My good lady wife was just telling me the other day about standing stones that are sometimes not where you left them.  And then they... return, sometime later.

So it was today, as I went looking for the Tetherstone of the Fianna, it was not there.  Neither was the stone they used to lift as a test of strength.  Mind you, that one could just have been lost in the long grass.

Aye, well, maybe the stones will have returned by my next visit.

Monday, 11 June 2012

The McRaes - day 9 and 10

Today we do "The Glen".  I'm not going to name it as it is a place that has just the right number of visitors at the moment and doesn't need to become famous and suffer the way some of the world's great sites have done.  It is on a par with them, both with history, wildlife and stunning beauty.
Sally:  We hiked into a Clearance Village - it was powerful.  I felt I could hear the people chatting and the children running and laughing.  The Clearance was obviously so wrong.

I call this "taigh a'chailleach" - the old woman's house.

DAY 10 - the last day
John: We had a really great dinner last night at the B&B, fresh venison, loin of Roe deer. The operator of the B&B was the one who prepared the meal. What an outstanding Chef he proved to be. Where we live, there are a lot of white tail and mule deer, but the the taste of the Roe deer is much different. In fact, it is much better and a lot more wild sage brush taste. Try it sometime, you will love it.

Scot: That will be the last you hear from John and Sally for this trip. Today is our last day together and I take them across Argyll to Glasgow for their flight home. I do have a surprise or two on the way though.

Pic above.  Charles Dixon-Spain, the laird of Dunans Castle, explains to John and Sally what I have just got them into, project wise.  They are now also Lord and Lady McRae of Dunans Castle (no, really), on account of the gift I have just given them - a Scottish Lairdship.  As our friend the Earl of Cromartie said to us once "If someone offers you a castle for free, run away".  And so it is, along with many others, John and Sally own a wee piece of Dunans Castle land, their rights as Lairds are held in perpetuity and their presence will contribute to the restoration of this fine building over the next 10 years, a project that Charles explains with professionalism, enthusiasm and humour.  John is most taken with this "fixer-upper".

Here ends this tour blog for now.  I've had a grand old time with John and Sally on this Western Isles tour.  It's been a very full time for all of us.  I've learned much myself as I have guided them, especially about the comparisons between Scottish and Montana cattle farming.  They are no longer "guests", but friends and I await to hear "news from the prairie".


Friday, 8 June 2012

MacRaes - Day 7 and 8

We sit in Onich this evening.  It is cool and misty on the side of Loch Linne, in a welcome way.  We've had a wee bit of rain as we came through the hills of Morven into the mainland proper.  Oh where did we start this morning?  We spent the morning shopping for bunnets (that's hats for you) in glorious sun in Port Righ. A wee walk up my clan land with amazing views of the harbour before we hit the road south to leave Skye.

Over the Sea to .... Malaig (Bay of Gulls) and on to the Morar Sands, a beautiful estuary beach.  It was busy today.  I've not seen it so busy in Scotland in June.  A guide we met suggested that many were coming north to avoid London during the Queen's Jubilee.  Couple that with a long spell of settled and sunny weather while it rains in England and Wales and I think we have an explanation for the congested roads in June.  Still, I took our guests an alternative route and into a verra remote area, full of Gaidhlig speakers and great beauty.  We nodded to the Seven Men of Moidart as we passed - a row of great sycamores that were planted to commemorate Prince Charles' landing in 1745 on the shores of Moidart with his companions. 

Day 8:
Sally: Today we are walking over the mountain at Glencoe - the same journey taken by the women and children at the time of the Glencoe massacre.  Then it was winter, with snow on the ground, and they were mostly barefoot and in their nightclothes.  It was a struggle for us - very hard to believe what they went through.  It was mostly drizzly and damp when we started - lots of mist on the mountains.  By the end of the walk (7 miles), the sun was starting to come out and the day became warm. 
Sally puts her addition to the cairn near the top of the Devil's Staircase

The MacRaes - day 5 and 6

DAY 5 The Saga of the Jacket. Sally: We spent most of the day going from store to store looking for Harris tweeds. John had insisted when we were planning this trip that he was going to come home with a Harris tweed jacket but we were having difficulty finding a jacket that the color was right and it fit. Finally, at Grosbay [Pic above of Grosebay] we found some excellent jackets and some choices in fit. It ended up trying on 5-6 jackets and deciding FINALLY on the first jacket - it is absolutely great. It is a Donald John MacKay tweed. We ended up going to his home/shop and taking a picture with him and John in his jacket.

Scot:  Donald John was very generous with his time - he's a busy man. You'll know his work.  He's the one who Nike commissioned 16000 meters of tweed from a few years back for their shoes.  On a good day, he can make 4 meters.  His tweed is preferred by many tailors, as he has a good eye for colour and his weave is tight, thus good quality. 
Also featured in the day:  the Harris hills that we drove through.  Bleak, stunning, scary, TALL.  The weather has been warm and blue sky sun, so we've seen the fractured coastline, the islands and the beaches at their most vibrant.

DAY 6 - Leaving Loch of the Dogs.
Just for the noise of it we're taking two ferries today and adding 3 islands to the tick-list.  We could have gone by a more direct route to Skye from Harris, but I thought this would be of more interest.  There is a perceptible difference in the feel to Ubhist a Tuath (North Uist) from the islands we have been on up until now.  The low, grassy islets that make up the place are riddled with inlets of the sea, fresh and brackish water.  Hard to describe and to photograph.  You'll just have to come and experience this magical place for yourself.

Sally:  The ferries are fascinating - it is an art form to watch them load & unload vehicles - quickly.  We are on our way to Skye and the sun is breaking out and the weather is warming up.  We have had great weather so far - just some cold north winds on the first days but now is very pleasant.

Scot: It's a story in itself taking the ferries through the islands, each rock and islet we pass has a name on it that hints at a scarce remembered Tale: sgeir a' chapuill - the horse skerry, Caisteal an Fhithich - the Raven castle.  We have just past the Ascrib Islands, mere grass topped rocks off the shore of Skye. The name intrigues me as it doesn't look Gaidhlig. It may be Norse, or perhaps it is "a'sgriob" meaning "writing" in Gaidhlig.  The Writing Islands.  One wonders how a few acres of barren rocky grass could have such a name.
John: Went out to a point of land, do not know its name, but it was very spectacular, huge cliffs into the ocean, lots of rocks, and a light house at the end of the point. I know, I know, this is not so descriptive, but it was all so overwhelming the words fail me. What a sight!!!
Scot: a warm breeze rising up the cliffs; the sea so bright in the sun that it blinds to look at it; gulls far below nesting in the cliffs, echoing arguing about which chick gets this gullet of fish.  The point is Nu-Eist, in the north west of Skye, a new stop for this Journey to the Western Isles tour.

We also, speaking of said tour title, stopped in on Dunbheagan castle and saw a portrait of Dr Johnson, that undereducated, over opinionated sour-faced commentator who visited Scotland in 1774 and upon whom I have loesely based and named this tour.  His portrait showed a man who looked like he was in the process of chewing on a wasp.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

The MacRaes - Day 4

We took it easy today, only travelling a few miles from the B&B as there was quite a bit to see locally. There is much of interest on the west coast of Lewis.  We were treated to a piggy chorus..... verra cunning.

John here: Tweed, Tweed, Tweed...we went to see a weaver, had a great weaving demo, beautiful material, saw one in red that I really liked but could not figure out how I would use it. Oh well!

Scot:  I bought the red - I'll use it for Handfasting wedding banns; a nice celebration colour.

Sally:   Today was the black house village and an original black house.  Hard to believe people lived in those dark places, especially in the winter.  The peat fire was just lit and filled the house with smoke - it smelled so special.  We also looked at an original Norse mill where they would grind flour.  Scot has been so knowledgeable, which is great.   

Scot:  I do like visiting the taigh tughadh, the thatched houses.  I seem to spend most of my time tutting at what the previous thatcher has called a "good job". I dare say the same happens to other thatchers when they see my work.  Cò-dhùi, the sun is shining, the wind is blowing (when is it not?) and after lunch we're off to see Dùn Charlobhaigh (the Carloway broch), that being a defensive tower 1600 years old.  It's ruined now and I'll tell the story of the man that broke it.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

The MacRaes - Day 3

From The Old ~ To The Antiquated ~ To The Ancient

Today we continued on our path back in time, passing houses long ago abandoned, to old Norse sites to the standing stones, dating back to around 5000 years ago......

John: The STONES! They are so awesome...they reach down into your soul and bring forth renewal. And to think that we are all possible descendants of such people is overwhelming.

Macraes 2012 Day 2

Over the sea to... Leodhas.
Another fine day, with only a wee bit drizzle.  May is normally the season to visit Scotland, but our two visitors have brought the sun and blue sky with them into our June adventure.
We blog from on the ferry, Ullapul to Steornabhagh.
We have cleared the headland and are into The Minch

We have
              a slight                       swell.
                           northerly ....

Sally here - yesterday was a very long day - after being in airports and planes for 22 hours we finally got to Glasgow.  There were problems getting to our first stay due to closing the major highway from a big accident - we tried some other routes and saw some major beautiful back country but ended up being 11 hours on the road all total.  We were absolutely exhausted, but slept well, had a fantastic breakfast, and are now on the ferry en-route, with a good swell - glad this is a large ship.    Sally

Sam here - This is why we call Scotland the largest small country you'll visit.  All the roads but one are small in the Highlands.  We always have a small laugh when others ask us to go to places like Loch Ness in one day or Skye in two or three.  It truly is life in the slow lane!  Thanks to Sally & John for hanging in there.  Nothing like a good night's sleep and a robust Scottish breakfast to start your adventure.
Looking happy now that we're going ferry-wise 

Eoropie Beach

The School Sabbath outing at the playpark, Eoropie.
You'd think that John was the silent type, given that he hasn't blogged yet, but no.  He and I talked way into the night on Scottish Politics, US politics and Ale.  Perhaps we'll get a written word out of him tomorrow. 

Friday, 1 June 2012

Western Isles tour - MacRaes day 1

Feasgar math dha-riribh dhaibh, an excellent good evening to you, blog followers and friends of the MacRaes (my private tour couple).

This evening I (Scot) blog from a fine stable courtyard B&B near Ullapool high on the west coast.  Braemore it is called.

I am guiding a custom designed, private tour based on our Journey To The Western Isles, with some old friends / previous tour guests John and Sally.  They've asked for this once-in-a-retirement tour, so I'll be tweaking the usual itinerary to suit them. 
I can't introduce you to them yet in pic as they are asleep after 23 hours awake and travelling to Scotland, plus far too long on the road today - we had a major road closure in the Highlands today causing a 4+ hour detour.  So I took no photos till we arrived at our B&B.
I chose this place to stay because it is a place people have felt at home in for at least 1000 years.  Wendy and Ed, keepers, have a Celto-Norse settlement in their field not far from the current house. 
There's little to see in the grass but there is a wonderful feel to the place, perhaps as much because of the old birch trees and bluebells that now cover the site.
Tomorrow we take to the raging main and go "over the sea to Skye", isle of Leodhais actually.  It's a long journey but a stunning island when the pilgrim makes it there.  You'll come along for the blog, aye?