Finally, we make it to Scotland! After three previous arrangements were cancelled due to COVID, our plane arrives in London for the last leg of our journey. Not so fast, Gatwick airport bulges with confused crowds, and all flights out have been cancelled due to weather and air traffic controller illnesses.
What do you do after eleven and one-half hours of flying only to land with nowhere to go? Make the best of it, of course. Lucky to find a hotel room, we head out for beers, and fish and chips with the Brits. We have travel exhaustion but manage to book a flight to Inverness after two nights in London.
With the unfortunate passing of Queen Elizabeth, Marilynn and I witness an incredible outpouring of love from everyone we meet. The most common phrase we hear, “I’m not a loyalist, but have nothing but love for the Queen,” comes from both city dwellers and rural Scotts in the Highlands. We happen to stumble upon a Scottish tribute to her in the town of Wick:
In Inverness, we rent a car and adjust to driving on the left side of the road. After a bit of screaming, by Joe, I am getting a bit of a knack. Our hotel room sits directly above the Wetherspoon bar below. Paid for two nights of not being here due to the non-refundable cancelation policy while we were stuck in London due to flight cancellation.
Time to make the best of it and celebrate with the local scene. We start with haggis bon bons, and later devour a blood pudding pizza along with craft beers, despite warnings to introduce these different foods slowly into our digestive system. Yes, we pay for it later. The gaseous cloud in our hotel room continues to peel the paint off of the walls.
No early night for us, as the bar below our room overflows into the sidewalk. Here we go, time to party yet again and hit every bar within walking distance. These crowds contain the friendliest folks on the planet, and we make new friends.
I have read where the Scotts can be standoffish. That could not be further from the truth once you initiate friendly chatter. Live local music, drinks flowing, dancing and laughter fill our evening until closing time. Yes, we pay for this too the following morning with painful feathers in our heads.
The travel angels accompany us on our Sunday morning drive to John O’Groats near the northernmost point of the British mainland. Passing rugged scenery along twisty narrow roads Marilynn keeps reminding me, “Stay left! Stay left!”
There be neither food nor drink in our luxury self-catering apartment. Our brains were not working well back in Inverness when we passed by a grocery store without stopping for supplies. The only general store way up here closes on Sundays.
Despite starving, the rugged beauty of the North Atlantic crashing the shore, and the smell of fresh ocean air give us a second wind. Then those travel angels appear once again, leading us to the only open restaurant in the area, at the Sea View Hotel a short drive away. Delicious fresh food, and hundreds of options for drink reward a day of travel.
Time to do something besides drive, eat and drink. In the morning we board a ferry that bounces over the choppy North Atlantic to bus tour of the Orkney Islands.
Extreme wind, rain, and more wind and rain creates lush, greenest of green grass covered landscapes. It gets so cold and windy up here that trees do not grow, and pigs grow hair.
This current day infrastructure of the Orkney Islands exists as a result of World Wars throughout the years, due to its strategic location. Including back when Vikings tried to take it.
Our favorite highlights of this very long tour include:
Skara Brae, northern Europe’s best preserved prehistoric village. A super storm in 1850 exposed housing underneath. The dwellers lived here around five thousand years ago, predating Stonehenge and the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt.
St. Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall, the capital of Orkney, dates from the 12th century and overwhelms with architecture as well as a Norwegian Bible on display.
A circle of twenty-one (used to be sixty) upright stones, some over five meters tall, surrounded by moat represent a site of unknown purpose. Excavations continue around the “Barnhouse Neolithic Village” trying to reveal clues of the past. The only bones found thus far belong to cattle.
Nearby, the four “Standing Stones of Stenness” built around 3,300 BC represent the site of another large settlement.
Finally, Italian prisoners of WWII erected “The Italian Chapel” near their cement barracks. It contains the most incredible artwork, especially considering that all they had to work with was cement and barbed wire, paper, and dye. Currently, artists from the Sistine Chapel visit once per year to do restorations. Imagine the standard of quality for that!
This concludes our first post of sharing our adventure in Scotland during the first week. We look forward to about four more weeks of exploring. You are welcome to come along.
Thank you, Abundant Universe!