Thursday, May 29, 2008

Don't Panic

We were here.....

otherwise referred to as here.... (note the red arrow, picture taken earlier in the day)

When a 6.1 scale earthquake hit near the town of Selfoss, only about 50 Km away. We certainly felt it up there on the platform!

Afterwards, the nice lady in the visitor centre wouldn't let us go back down the walkway on the continental divide for fear of falling rocks.

Our hotel is at the bottom. One of the Reykjavik Excursions tour buses gave us a lift back down via the roads that don't go through big rocks.

We're a little shaken, but not stirred.


Tuesday, May 27, 2008


We had a visitor yesterday afternoon when we returned to the room.....

This is Ragnarr - his tag tells us his name and address (next door). We opened the door to our room and found Ragnarr walking toward us. We assumed he'd gotten in via an open window (no European place to date seems to believe in screens) and couldn't find his way out so we escorted him out the door.

A few hours later he was back at the window, wanting in. So we let him in and spent an hour or two watching him curl up on a bed and go to sleep. When we wanted to go to sleep we pushed him out into the cool world to find his way home - cruel, I know.

I've been looking for him this evening, but he seems to have abandoned us.


Monday, May 26, 2008

Iceland, with pictures

So.... Iceland, with pictures. My apologies for not getting to it sooner. I think I'm coming down with a cold - I hope not. Neil went out to pick up the rental car this morning and came back with vitamin C.

A few days ago, on Thursday I think it was, we arrived in Iceland. We wandered around a bit, went up to the bell tower of Hallgrimskirkja, had a delightful dinner at a place called the Tivoli and crashed. On friday, we hit some highlights in Reykjavik. The Reykjavik 871±2 exhibit, the National Museum and the Saga Museum at the Perlan.

The Reykjavik 871±2 exhibit is very new. When the Hotel Centrum demolished an old building in the heart of the city to build a new hotel, they discovered the remains of a viking longhouse under it's foundations.

In 2006, the exhibit opened under the hotel. The stone walls of the house are still there, but they are difficult to photograph. The lighting is very low level in the exhibition. This is mostly to accentuate the high tech stuff they use around the foundations.

They have these neat little mini-screens around the walls that are motion activated. When you get near one, it turns on - this one has a ghostly blacksmith pounding on his anvil.

There is an interactive computer screen that takes you through what a longhouse might have looked like and how it was constructed. You create the different sections of construction as you move your finger around the control panel.

There were also computer touch screens with more conventional written texts on genealogy, the evolution of the language, foodstuffs, animals and textiles in the Viking Age. There were some artefacts in display boxes, and also an interactive computer table model of the longhouse.

Overall, decently impressive but unexpectedly high tech for the Viking Age.

The National Museum, on the other hand......

This is the only picture they would allow us to take. Just inside the front door. It's impressive architecture, this new building, but that's where it stops.

No photos allowed, no artefact numbers in the display cases, very little information on any given piece. The museum text was written to provide context, without specific details.

And then we ended the day with a visit to the Saga Museum at the Perlan. No pictures allowed at this place either, but I didn't mind as much. There were no artefacts - it's life-sized figurines in fixed tableaux, mixed with an audio tour. The audio tour was quite decent, but the figurines reminded me of the wrinkly people.

Saturday, we went on the "Golden Circle" tour of Iceland, offered by Reykjavik Excursions.

The first stop was Kerið - a 6 thousand year old extinct volcano crater with a lake in the middle. Some tourist types got caught on film, together even.

Gullfoss is their "Queen" of waterfalls, tumbling down a deep gorge. It's hard to describe or even understand Iceland sometimes - this waterfall is a good example. I took lots of pictures of it - this is the best overall one. But it doesn't let know you the sheer pounding force of it, or that you can almost climb right up to it. Do you see that ledge that the arrow is pointing at? We were walking on it.

Iceland doesn't yet have (and I hope they never do) North America's sheer paranoia about safety and lawsuits. The "safety" barrier is a rope about six inches off the ground, and Neil and I couldn't decide whether they were trying to say "past this point is unsafe for you" or "don't ruin our waterfall by making these rocks fall in with you".

The Geysir area is a geo-thermal field where hot springs bubble and geysirs burst. Little geysir here mostly just spurts a bit now and then, but you can see the guide rope, it's name and the geysir - "go past this guiderope and you are stupid and deserve whatever you get" seems to be all they need.

We spent some time on this geysir, trying to get just the right shot at it's moment of bursting. There's this strange luminescence in the water just as it bursts. This one is called Strokkur and it bursts pretty much every 5 minutes.

This is Strokkur at it's height.

And last, but not least, Þingvellir National Park. We'll be spending two days up there near the end of the week so expect to hear more about it then. Þingvellir is the place where the Norse gathered every year to hold their Alþing (central meeting where disputes were settled and laws made).

Sunday.....we went on the "Saga Circle" tour - which bored me quite a bit more then I expected. It was a long trip (maybe it's just that two in a row of these trips isn't a good idea), in a cramped bus, with a guide alternating between "Scandinavian" (a mixture of Swedish an Norwegian) and English so seamlessly that I couldn't easily tell when to wake up and start listening again.

I thought the tour would touch on Viking stuff but apparently Saga stuff is something only sort of related. The highlights of this tour were the icelandic poppies at the Snorri Sturlson (an important 13th century saga writer) museum.....

.........and Deildartunguhver, the largest hot spring in the northern hemisphere.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Untitled? Boy, must I have been sleepy!

Nina wrote in the comments...
"That is one very cool castle and info on the website. The mascot is incredibly cute as well. The tapestry is awesome. Any idea how long it is taking to complete them?
Sleeplessness must be atmospheric or something like that. I hope things look brighter in the morning."

Things were definitely brighter in the morning. 'Though I'm still not sleeping as well as I do at home.

The tapestries are indeed awesome. I think I want to try it someday when I get a bigger house and can have more then one loom set up somewhere. :)

It took them 3 years to do one of the panels (can't remember which one). There are 3 finished panels and they're hoping for 7 (I think). They are currently in the middle of the 4th and the weaver's shed is open to the public but it's a little frustrating. There are signs asking the public not to speak to the weavers because the work requires concentration, and we're not allowed to take photos.

Not that anyone other then the rule-oriented Canadians obeyed either request. And I wanted to do both photos and conversation!

Now... Vandy has asked in email why I haven't blogged Iceland yet.

The answer is just that the days have been so long and so full, and the pictures were so heavy today that I haven't had time yet to sort through all the pictures and decide which ones to talk about! Text posts are a whole lot faster to write then photo posts.

In Iceland, there's approximately 1 public pool for every 2,000 citizens. The average citizen uses 1 tonne of hot water every day. Everyone swims or sits in a hot pot almost every day. In Waterloo, that would equate to approximately 50 public pools. There are exactly 3, if you include the pools at the two Universities.

Geothermal energy is violently abundant and _cheap_ here. It costs them to _cool_ the water, not to heat it.

There's one of these pools just around the corner from the guesthouse that we're staying in. It's availability lengthens the day we spent out of the guesthouse and away from the wireless access.

I'll try to get some pictures up tomorrow. I think the pool closes early on Sundays. ;)


Thursday, May 22, 2008

Today is Thursday, May 22 I must be in Iceland. That's what the schedule says so it must be true.

I'm starting to lose track of time. Last night's last night in Scotland was a lovely little place near the Glasgow airport, but for some reason neither of us could sleep well. And we didn't sleep much on tuesday night's ferry trip either.

So we're both a little sleep-deprived.

The guesthouse here is a little .... less then hoped for. I could list my complaints but maybe I'm not being fair, being sleep-deprived and all.

Oh, and Iceland is an hour earlier then the UK, so it's really an hour later by the body clock then the alarm clock wants me to believe. So.... maybe in the morning...

Bought a large package of Orkney fudge on the ferry to last as long as possible. Tried the Shetland fudge and didn't like it. Weird flavours, and even grittier a texture.

Went to see Stirling Castle on the way from Aberdeen to Glasgow. Was it only yesterday?

Anyway, they are putting a lot of effort into reconstruction at this castle. They've rebuilt the great hall (and boy, would I ever love to have an SCA event there). And they have full-time weavers recreating several tapestries that used to hang in the great hall.

Totally not Viking Era stuff, but the tapestries were wonderful. They've built a small tapestry weaving studio inside the castle and are employing full time weavers to get it done. 3 of the (I think) 7 tapestries have been completed.

Here's one of them ...

I'm going to bed now. I'm a pumpkin.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Getting caught up

This is going to be a very very long post. It's been a few days since I travelogued and I need to catch up. Bear with me folks.


Now, as previously noted in the comments - for those who use them *cough* *hint* - Orkney fudge wins with two thumbs up.

And it can be bought here:


I found a drop spindle yesterday! I had found some North Ronaldsay rovings in Orkney several days ago and I've been regretting leaving my drop spindle at home.

Apparently they take their sheep quite seriously in North Ronaldsay - they are fenced _away_ from the grass on the land and eat seaweed on the beaches instead. Those with experience and discerning palates convey the idea that this significantly changes the taste of the meat. I've tried it, and I didn't notice the difference. Mind you, I don't have a great deal of experience with eating sheep.

The North Ronaldsay people also seem to be the only ones who understand that hand spinners still exist. I've found very little in the way of wool available for spinning. While there's a huge knitwear industry here in Shetland, it seems that it goes straight to commercial mills for industrial spinning, with a little made available for felting crafts. What's made available to crafters for felting isn't usually suitable for spinning - it's already semi-felted.


Anyway, I'm digressing, and you want pictures of all these days since I left off in Orkney.

We visited the Italian Chapel. It's not really our thing, but it's story is interesting, and it was pretty enough.

On our way to the next stop, we came across this Blacksmith's museum in St.Margaret's Hope. I have blacksmiths in the family, and one of our closest friends is still a blacksmith. He doesn't use this kind of bellows anymore. :)

Tomb of the Eagles
was notable in that it's entrance is only 1 metre high. They provide a trolly and a rope for you to lie down on and pull yourself through the doorway. This is another site with a warning to people who suffer from claustrophobia!

Unfortunately, it was also our biggest disappointment. It's a privately held site, and is not run by Historic Scotland or any other professional historical society, and it shows. The short version is that we had some difficulty with the interpretation of finds and handling of artefacts.

We finished up that day with a visit to the Orkney Marine Life Aquarium. We expected to find very little, but it was actually a very interesting place! Tons of information, and staffed by the owner who is obviously knowledgeable and cares about her aquatic friends. Some of the marine life is actually rotated through the exhibits on a catch, display, and release cycle.

It was a pleasant end to a day that was otherwise somewhat disappointing.

Started off the next day at the Broch of Gurness, which I quite enjoyed. Neil had a "shrug" moment. I think I heard him muttering something about "more rocks". It was, not surprisingly, windy. I quite enjoyed hiding in the remains of the wheelhouses where the wind was completely absent and it was really easy to imagine how the people of the day lived.

More stone = more remains. In this picture, we can see the firepit, an oven (hot rocks from the fireplace boiled the water and meat = most meals), and part of a quernstone, used to grind the grain to make bread. Quernstones of some sort follow us into the Viking Age and I've quite enjoyed playing with them whenever a historical site has one set up for demonstration.

The Broch of Gurness is also the site of one Viking Era burial, near the edge of the entrance to the broch from the sea. It's unclear whether the Norse used the site for a bit, or just pulled up and buried this woman and then took off again.

Minehowe has no pictures. I couldn't get the picture that someone else did on the Undiscovered Scotland site. It's just 29 steps down into the earth - yet another site that is not for the claustrophobic. They give you hard hats when you go out to climb down the steps. At the bottom of the steps, there is enough room for two people and that's it.

Neil enjoyed talking to the staff here - it's apparent that archaeology on the site is still in it's early stages.

St.Magnus Cathedral was interesting in that it's architecture is _very_ similar to the Dunfermline Abbey but the entire cathedral is still in use. The modern lighting that has been added made it very difficult to take a good picture of the interior. It is NOT Viking era as you may continually read in many promotional literature, but it may have been influenced by later period Norse earls in Orkney.

The Orkney Museum had a few interesting things from the many different archaeological sites on the islands although I'm not sure that I liked their presentation of the use of drop spindles. It is more then amply possible to spin consistent fine yarn on these things - I've done it. This is just incredibly poor taste.

And in this picture.... both of the stones with holes in the middle are listed as loom weights. Somehow, I doubt it. The one on the right is simply far too large and heavy. I'd be more prone to believing that it's a small quernstone.

So..... on to Shetland. As previously noted in another post, there was some travel and some delays. We went to the Shetland Museum and Archives while waiting to achieve keys to our next place of stay.

This is a great new museum with some really interesting stuff. Like these beads, from a find at Northmavine, Shetland. And unlike both the National Museum of Scotland and the Orkney Museum, this place had artefact numbers easily available!

This gold ring is what Neil used as his guide when he went to a jeweller to say "make something like this with diamonds in it so I can propose to my chick". It's from a find at Marrister on Whalsay in Shetland.

Lerwick also has this lovely garden in the middle of town. I read the dedication sign so I know why it's there, but I can't remember it at the moment. I just like pretty flowers.

This is the outfit used in January 2008 by Up Helly Aa's Guizer Jarl (parade chief), Roy Leask. He was representing a later era saga figure Kol Kolison. We actually met Roy when we toured the Up Helly Aa exhibition shed - he's an interesting guy. Reminds me a lot of the chief librarian at my library.

The short version of describing Up Helly Aa is that it is.... a world apart from actual Viking Era history. It grew out of the Victorian Era, which has done many strange things to Viking history. If you think of the festival as Living History, you need to think of it as living _Victorian_ history.

In Shetland, the biggest site of Viking Era findings is at Jarlshof . Jarlshof is a multi-use site, meaning that it was continuously occupied over thousands of years and several different cultures from the Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Pictish, Norse and Medieval eras, right the way through to the 1600s. Again, I find myself more drawn to the wheelhouses and brochs of two thousand years ago then the Viking Era Norse houses that remain here.

Neil, of course, remains attracted to the Viking Era side of things. He's standing in the middle of the longest of the longhouses found here. Perhaps it was the community hall, or just the home of the wealthiest farmer in the area.

I keep finding sheep that want to have their picture taken. This youngster was quietly semi-sleeping, having finally filled his belly. I think that's all the sheep do - eat grass and sleep. I know it's a bit of a filler really, in a post already heavy with pictures, but I thought it was a pretty picture. Don't you just want to take her home and .... shave her repeatedly over several years for the wool?

This lamb has a different story. She's just a couple weeks old and was found wandering by the fellow who was staffing the Shetland Crofthouse Museum. He's been hand-raising her, and needs to feed her four times a day. She follows him around everywhere so he takes her to work too, where we found her warming herself by the peat fire inside the Crofthouse.

Neil says the crofthouse reminded him a lot of the sod houses in the early Canadian west.

Imagine sailing around the Shetland Islands in the later centuries BC, and coming across this imposing feature. It says "powerful people live here". And it's still standing today, sufficiently intact that you can take the interior steps all the way to the top, where you can see the landscape for miles all around.

It's BIG. It's the only remains of it's kind in this good a condition, largely because of it's remote location. The island of Mousa is currently unoccupied, except by the inevitable sheep and many other wildlife.

This is Mousa Broch. It stands an imposing 13 metres high on the landscape. It has two walls - both quite thick in themselves, with an interior staircase running between them for stability and access to the top. At it's base, the outside width is 15m across, but it's interior width is only 6m.

It's thought that there were wooden floors at different heights, somewhat like balconies, to increase the living space, but nothing of wood remains. If there was a community of smaller houses around the site, they have not yet been uncovered. Strangely enough, no one has undertaken an archaeological dig here.

The island of Mousa is also a nature preserve. We did the entire circular walk (about a mile and a half), and spent some time trying to capture the various wildlife we could see. These are the two shots I'm happiest with - I need a larger lens for the camera!

We saw seals, and tons of different kinds of birds. I'm not a birder, by any means, but I did spend some time trying to catch the birds in flight. *sigh* This is my best shot of them. I'm going to add "tripod" and experience to the list if the next vacation includes wildlife.

And finally, we conclude with Old Scatness Broch. Neil calls this our most surprisingly find. Yet another Broch, yes? Well....yes. But it's still being dug, and pieced together for the tourists to visit, and staffed with a very strong interpretive program. Very enthusiastic people who really know their stuff, some of whom double as students in the archaeological program at the University of Bradford, which conducts the digs.

Unfortunately for me, the weaver had the day off, but I looked through her stuff. I'm quite impressed by the work she's done on the loom. The dress to the right of the loom was made on her loom.

*Whew* and now that I've finally caught up... we get on a ferry tonight at 7pm to leave Shetland. See you at the next stop!

Oh and btw, this post took a long time to write and I wouldn't be surprised if I missed something here or there, so feel free to ask me questions! Hit the word "comment" underneath the post, it's a link - follow the steps. :)


Sunday, May 18, 2008

Which is Better?

Orkney, or Historic Scotland fudge?

If just one person posts a comment, I'll consider telling you. :)


Friday, May 16, 2008

The Grumpy Traveller

I'll get to the last of the Orkney pictures in a bit. That is, I'll organize and plan tonight and post tomorrow. This post is all text. I'm having a vent.

Who makes a tourist office without public washrooms? And then points you to the nearest really groody public washrooms two streets away that should be condemned? Do they want me to ever visit again?

(Lerwick's tourism industry, apparently. We're now in Shetland, btw.)

That made me really grumpy.

But I admit, I was primed and ready to find something to get upset about. It had been a long time getting to Shetland. Maybe I just don't travel well. I'm good once we get where we're going.

Yesterday, we had to be out of the Avalon House by 10am. I suppose we could have asked for longer (they were really nice) but we didn't. We had to turn the car in by 11:30 am. We had luggage. And the ferry terminal not only doesn't store luggage earlier in the day, they don't even open until 9pm.

The ferry leaves at 23:45pm. Yes, that's a quarter of midnight.

So what did we do with ourselves? And our luggage?

Well apparently, Bob's Taxi will take luggage for storage. They call it "left luggage". That was great, and we used them to get to the ferry terminal at night.

Then we just had to entertain ourselves in Kirkwall for.... oh... 10 hours or so.

There was an hour in the post office shipping back two weeks worth of finding new books in Scotland. We shall not mention that episode again. There was lunch to be had, and some history to explore. Shopping happened, some gifts might have been bought. This is a lot of walking around. And still.... we had more time to kill.

Discovered that the public library had internet access and while I didn't really feel a need to connect, it was at least a way to pass the time.

Then there was dinner, and still....

Then there was a pub, and it was only Thursday so not a big party scene... we listened to the locals play bingo. Perhaps we should have joined in.

And then finally, there was the ferry. Straight into the room, which was _small_ with twin beds. It was a surprisingly sound sleep, given the ridiculously hard bed and no husband to fight over the bed covers with, but still, too short. The captain work us all up at 6:30am to prepare to arrive in Lerwick.

In Lerwick, where the place we were to pick up the keys for the next accommodations didn't open until noon. At least we got the rental car in reasonable order and had a place to put the luggage.

So we wandered around Lerwick, entertaining ourselves, and encountered the tourist office. I think I needed a nap at that point.

Now the bright side is, the place where we're staying turned out a whole lot nicer then imagined and we have a kitchen. I promptly went grocery shopping and we've just now finished a box of Kraft dinner.

Comfort food.


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Orkney - the first two days

Getting to Orkney involved: dropping off a car rental in Inverness, taking a cab to the train station because (of course) they aren't conveniently located, a train from Inverness to Thurso, a cab to Scrabster (where we sat in a pub for a few hours), got on a ferry, had a problem with the car rental agency so we got on a bus to Kirkwall, and took a cab to the guest house.

Basically, every form of current land travel known to man except farm equipment and rickshaw.

We figured out the car rental problem the next day.

Internet access is in high demand here, and the connection is slow so I may get a bit behind in blogging.

These first two days (sunday and monday) have been jam packed with activities.

Spent several hours wandering around downtown Kirkwall, and had lunch at a lovely little bistro.

Then we did some driving around the countryside - the Orkneyinga Saga Centre (which we didn't know existed until we got here), and Earl's Bu and the Orphir Church (which were right beside it). Link to all three here.

We also visited the Ring of Brogar, and the Stones of Stenness. It might be hard to reach the mind set of the people who built these things - it was nearly 4000 - 5000 years ago - but if you're at all sensitive to .... let's call it "power" shifts in the's abundantly clear at the centre of the rings, even as broken down as they are today.

Monday, we got up bright and early and went off to the Brough of Birsay. The Brough is on a tidal island so seeing it is dependant on low tide. And it was fantastic! Lots of the remainders of a Norse settlement - which I could almost reach to, but Neil totally could imagine a Norse village and their lives.

We also saw a dead dolphin and a dead fish washed up in a cliff's cleft at low tide. Kind of icky, but part of life.

I swear the wind was trying to kill me today and my brain starting functioning on half mast after the Brough, but we kept going. Earl's Palace (15th century, not as interesting for us), Skara Brae and Skail House, and then Maeshowe. Neil's been finding new kids' Viking books all over this trip - the gift shop at Skara Brae was no exception.

The gift shop there also had a few other things, which I haven't bought so you'll have to be content with a photo. That's right - Viking bath oil, herbs, shampoo.... too funny.

Unlike the picture in the link to Skara Brae, the public is no longer permitted to go into the structures - we must stay on a path around the perimeter. They are starting to become more concerned about preservation of the site. However, they have built a replica of the most detailed house near the visitor's centre and it is quite impressive in itself.

The guide at Maeshowe was absolutely delightful and really brought the place to life. No pictures were allowed inside the tomb but the Viking graffiti was right there, right in front of me. I could have touched them - I don't know why I didn't! But it's okay, there's a book that we bought that has great photographic plates of every last one of the 41 runic inscriptions found.

Neil thought the guide's pronunciation of the english translation of the runes in a Yorkshire accent was pretty funny. I was just grateful I could understand him easier then the Orcadians.

Don't go here if you're claustrophobiac - the entrance walkway is 10m (30 feet) long and only 1m (3 feet) high. The chamber itself is tiny, and deeply inside a hill.

Do go here if you love really _feeling_ history!


Saturday, May 10, 2008

It's a long one, and we're in Orkney now

Well, we're stuck in a bar in Scrabster, waiting for the ferry. Two hours before the restaurant next door opens, and three hours before the ferry starts boarding. Four hours before it actually leaves. It's an hour and a half crossing - we could go there and come back in the time it'll take us to wait for it. I'm composing this in a text file because there is no internet connection in the bar.

This is one of the more annoying points in the travel. 'Though I think the worst of it is the travel that we found out (long before we left) that we couldn't do. Our plan is actually to get up to Shetland, and we had wanted to take the ferry from Shetland to the Faroes Island and then to Iceland, but they canceled the Shetland to Faroes link. No crossing of the Atlantic in the footprints of the Vikings.

Instead we'll need to take a ferry from Shetland down to Abeerden and drive back to Glasgow to pick up a plane at the International Airport.

So.... to continue the chronology then, since I haven't blogged in a few days, we woke up a few mornings ago, and started off bright and early at the Scottish Crannog Centre.

Crannogs are these things that were set out on the water in lochs all over Scotland in the Iron Age. People lived in them and used the waterways for transportation. It's not really our time period of interest, so I can't give you many details.

There is some carry over into the Viking Age however. This is a warp-weighted loom.

The guide was careful to say that we don't actually know what kind of loom they used, since we've made no actual discoveries of intact looms, but the same problem exists in the Viking Era as well. Things that might be loom weights have been discovered, and there's a sketch on a Roman vase that looks like a warp-weighted loom (link). This particular loom hasn't been used since they set up the Crannog centre, some 10 years ago. Pity they don't have a weaver on staff.

And honestly, that's my only criticism. This was a fantastic place, with great hands-on interpretors/guides and things that we could try out for ourselves. Like this bow-drill...

Our next stop was the Edradour Distillery, one of three distilleries that we've visited so far, and the smallest in all of Scotland. Neil picked up a bottle, of course. I must admit that I fail completely to understand why he wants to lug bottles of whiskey around for the rest of the trip, but I suppose that's one of those things that one just ... accommodates in a marriage.

He finds my attachment to things that grow amusing. If I thought I could take plants home successfully, I probably would.

This beautiful burst of colour is growing all over the highlands.

Here's a closeup - it's called Gorse. I'm going to try to buy some back home and install it in the garden. It's very pretty. (edited later: Hmmmm.... just got to an internet connection and looked it up - invasive by seed dispersal. I'll have to think on it.)

We drove some windy narrow roads at decent speeds that often weren't fast enough for the other drivers, and eventually arrived in Inverness at this delightful guest house called the Trafford Bank Guest House Lovely rooms and genteel breakfasts in the sunroom, a very helpful hostess, and many modern amenities like Sky TV and ipod docking stations in the rooms. My only wish might have been for a softer mattress.

We spent two nights in Inverness, and the intervening day driving around the countryside. We had many plans but weren't able to achieve nearly all of it. Everything closes up shop at 5:30pm so it's often difficult to fit everything in.

We did get to Urquhart Castle which has a great visitor centre and brief history of the castle, before letting you out to see what's left of it for yourselves. As a centre of power, Urquhart is dated back to Columba visiting Picts to convert them to Christianity somewhere in the range of 560 AD. It is not known exactly when the castle itself was built but apparently some records refer to it in the early 1200s, and it finally blown up in 1692 to prevent it from being used as a base for the Jacobites.

It's on a promatory in the middle of Loch Ness, but monster sighting. :)

I found this fellow (Neil) leaning over one of the window sills...

And later in the day, waving up at us from Corrimony Cairn. Corrimony Cairn is a short distance away from Urqhart Castle.

Corrimony Cairn is dated back some 4000 years ago, and is a passage grave in which the bones of just one occupant (probably a woman) were found. There's a circle of small standing stones around it. It's probably the strangest of our historical visits so far - it's just off by itself surrounded by sheep, almost in the middle of nowhere, with no visitor center or staff - just a single information sign.

These people - the sheep - are everywhere in Scotland! On hills so steep it's a wonder they don't fall off of them, in little runs just barely on the outskirts of any given town. Everywhere - it's amazing.

Today was a long day and is ending with us safely ensconed in Orkney. More on that trip later....