We had basically another full day on Orkney as we were only booked in for the 4.30pm ferry back to the mainland, so our first destination for the day was the Broch of Gurness, an iron age broch (circular tower, normally surrounded by villages on Orkney) built between 500 and 200BC.
Unlike Skara Brae, you can walk around this complex, and into the broch itself. There are also the remains of an iron age house nearby which was originally built partially over the remains of the broch, and was relocated one stone at a time by archaeologists and reconstructed a few metres away so they could continue excavations on the broch. There are other brochs around Orkney but Gurness is the most impressive.
We also spent some time sitting in the van in the carpark watching and photographing grey seals in the bay, before returning back to Skara Brae to have a look at their gift shop, which was closed when we’d finished visiting Skara Brae the day before.
Then we headed back across the island to Kirkwall, stopping along the way when we spied another burial cairn. It was tucked away towards the back of some person’s farm, but had a public access track. It had a long chamber inside, rather than square like Maes Howe, and was much smaller. We then continued on to Kirkwall to get some lunch from Tesco and do another grocery shop before heading back to the ferry, stopping along the way at a little beach to eat our lunch (in the van because it was windy and a bit chilly!).
Once back on the mainland, we drove on for a few more hours as we still had plenty of sunlight left. We stopped by the road to take photos of some highland cows (‘hieland coos’!) and also stopped twice when we spotted some herds of red deer. We passed through a flock of sheep being herded along the road, with the assistance of a very clever sheep dog!
We eventually stopped for the night in Durness, at the western end of the north coast. We parked in a caravan park right on cliffs overlooking the beach, with perfectly calm weather for a change. Although, in typical Scottish fashion, by the time we went to bed a bit of wind had picked up, and by the next morning it was grey, drizzly, windy and cold! We stayed a little longer than usual in the morning in order to do some laundry, and then headed off for another long day of driving, all the way down to the Isle of Skye.
Skye is accessible by a bridge, and not far after the bridge there is a turn-off to visit an animal hide which is known for otter sightings. We decided to give this a shot, but when we arrived at the carpark discovered it was another mile’s walk to the animal hide – and it was still rainy, windy, and cold! We agreed to skip it and try it on our way back off the island. That night we ended up at a caravan park on the shores of Loch Dunvegan, on the west coast of the island.
The next day we headed around the loch to visit Dunvegan Castle, the home of the clan MacLeod. The clan chief, Hugh MacLeod, is actually English (well, his accent is English and his grandmother was born in England) and spends most of his time in London, but does still live in the castle for part of the year. Because it’s private enterprise the Historical Scotland membership does not apply here. The chief preceding Hugh MacLeod, his grandmother, was the one who opened the castle to visitors to help pay for the castle’s maintenance. You can take cruises from the castle for seal viewing, but as we’d already seen seals on our trip we didn’t bother. Instead we headed south to Glen Brittle to see the famous Fairy Pools.
It is a bit of a walk from the carpark to get to the pools themselves, but not a particularly strenuous one (going back is uphill and a bit more exhausting!) We had very good weather considering the weather of the previous day, and although clouds often passed over, we got enough sunlight for some nice photos of the pools.
Then it was up the coast, through Portree where we had a late lunch/early dinner, and up to see the Kilt Rock waterfall – the only waterfall I’ve ever seen right into the ocean.
I was hoping to stay in a caravan park in Staffin, not far from the waterfall, but it was closed so we headed back down to Portree for the night.
The next day had perfect weather again, so as we headed off the island we stopped to try the otter-viewing animal hide again. Well, the walk was shorter than the sign said, but I’m glad we didn’t do it in the windy rain. We shared the hide with 3 or 4 others and sat, and waited. There was a bit of excitement a few times until we realised we had only spotted seals (again), although after half an hour or so we did see a pod of dolphins go racing by. Ten or fifteen minutes later they came back the other way again. After we’d been sitting in the hide for about an hour, Andre finally spotted two otters playing together in the water, shortly joined by a third! This was unusual as the information in the hide said otters were normally solitary animals. We watched them probably for close to half an hour as they swam and hunted, came up on the beach to eat their catch, tumble around a bit, then headed back out into the water to hunt some more. The photos are not great quality because they were a long way away – we had the lens at full zoom with no tripod, and I had to crop the photos some more.
Once we got off the island we headed towards Eilean Donan, possibly Scotland’s most famous castle after Edinburgh Castle, which is not far down the highway from the Skye bridge. It is the home of another Scottish clan, and although nobody lives there now, they still use it for clan functions. It is not as big as many of the other castles we have visited, but has been reconstructed very well as battles had left it in a very bad state of repair.
After Eilean Donan we started heading back across the country through what is known as the Great Glen, towards Fort William and Glen Finnan. We followed the signs for the Glen Finnan Visitors’ Centre, although we assumed it would probably be closed because it was about 7pm by then. Sure enough the visitors’ centre was closed, but there was a carpark next door for the walk to the Glenfinnan Viaduct, which was used for filming shots of the Hogwarts Express train in the Harry Potter movies. The path from the carpark is sealed, and probably a kilometre at most until you get to the viaduct. You can then take an unsealed path up the hill for a view of the viaduct from above. It is steep in some parts, and although it goes up further, you don’t need to go far up the path to get a good view.
On our way back into Fort William from Glen Finnan, we came across a lovely caravan park which had terraced caravan sites right on the river. When we woke up the next morning we were amazed to be met by the warmest weather any of us had encountered in months. Neither Christine nor I got cold toes during the night and I was comfortable walking around with only my thin hoodie over my tshirt! This was Easter Saturday so we all got treats from the Easter bunny (including Mum who’d posted some to Christine before we left!) a day early so we actually got the chance to eat some before leaving Scotland in two days time.
We headed into Fort William to see Neptune’s staircase, a sequence of 8 locks on the Caledonian Canal which connects the seas on either side of Scotland.
We then visited the post office in town to send some parcels and post cards and pick up lunch from Tesco, and we saw a Scottish wedding march accompanied by a Scottish band (complete with bagpipes!) going through the centre of town!
The rest of the day was spent making our way back across the country – we stopped at the Glen Coe visitors centre (Glen Coe was used for some aerial and camping shots during the last two Harry Potter movies) and also stopped at a creek by the side of the road to eat our lunch. It was such nice weather that we sat outside by the creek. Our last night all together was spent near Dunkeld north of Perth – we were slotted into the park’s last remaining caravan pitch! A local family-run company was hosting a wild board bbq on site the evening we were there, so we bought wild boar burgers for tea, and added some cheese from our own food supplies!