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Huge and modern Prague Train Station For the second time this trip, we caught a train. This time we headed for Zagreb in Croatia.  W...

Friday, April 14, 2017

Skye is for Skylarking

Looking over the Scotch Broom toward the bridge
from Kyle Lochalsh on the right to the isle of Skye to the left
Today started out as a pretty ordinary vacation day, with no 'adventure' on our horizons. Our plan was driving & sight-seeing from our Fort William BnB to as far north on the Isle of Skye as possible. Off we went, stopping occasionally to take pictures of anything that held still long for a shot.
V. scenic, surprisingly more brown than green
There was snow on distant peaks
The countryside, slopping over with scenic views
Rapidly changing weather at Glen Shiel
Loads of 'designer' stone bridges 
Stopped for a peek at Eilean Donan Castle
After a couple of hours we made our way to the busy town of Kyle Lochalsh, where despite our rental's GPS, I managed to get us all twisted around on the local roads, 'till we had to ask a local, 'how do we get to the bridge?'  We did get back on track, but not before I wound us up a road at a dead end by a water tower. There were little birdies there so I had a quick photo shoot. The 'best' bird was Common Greenfinch. Yay!

Common Greenfinch

Bathing Eurasian Starlings... which are nice to see, where they belong.

Following my bird shoot, we crossed over the Kyle of Lochalsh bridge. We drove along roads so narrow our relatively oversized, diesel burning car spanned the entire width of the road. Barely enough room for us and the pretty Black-faced Sheep that seem to be everywhere.

Old Byre Skye Restaurant

Soon our bellies rummbled with hunger and we bee-lined to the cute & teeny BnB and its restaurant, the Old Byre Skye.

Yes, yes, it's annoying to see pix of other people's food, but sorry, I must. We shared a lunch of bean salad covered over with stunningly tasty legume tendrils, two kinds of smoked venison, smoked chicken, and hearty highland cheese all eaten with a homemade roll for us each.

Sticky cake laiden with candied & grated ginger

You may ask, "So, pray tell Ms. 'look at my food', why did you share the meal if it was so wonderful?" How clever of you to ask. So we could each enjoy our very own slab of sticky ginger cake for dessert, without exploding.
The farthest north we got on Skye was the town of Portree. To stretch our legs and shrink our wallets, we took a walk and stopped in several shops.

This town had lots of cute shops but mostly I just took pictures.

Wee Chocolates

Nattily dressed lads doing the Highland Fling

Were had I seen these these faces before?
But the best thing Portree - for me anyway - was country corvids.

Rooks - that look like grumpy old men
A Western Jackdaw  - gotta love that white-eyed glare
Up to now, our day was as ordinary as if we'd been bopping about the back roads home in Sacramento County. That is if one ignored that the roads were somewhat narrow, largely lacking in  road shoulders. It hurts my pride to admit, I was crap at staying centered on the left-handed roads. I'd have my nose pointed at the road's center, but one second of mind drifting and BOOM! I'd hit the left-hand roadside, mostly edged by rough rocks and/or concrete curbs. Over and over again Ila would leap half out of her seat as I hit the curb on her side. Poor woman! That brings me to the day's erm... mishap.

We were well on our way back south to Fort William, stopping to re-photograph the Eilean Donan Castle at day's end... then continuing on our way.

Eilean Donan Castle near onto Sunset
For the umpteenth time that day, I hit the curb. WHAM! Ila leapt up in her seat. The dashboard screen went flashed a series of destressing messages: TIRE PRESSURE 27.... TIRE PRESSURE 20... TIRE PRESSURE 5!!!!


Miraculously, and I do mean there was a miracle at work, there was a wide shoulder up just ahead. Do you get how MIRACULOUS it is to find a road shoulder in Scotland? Were there some benevolent angels hoovering somewhere overhead or was I, yet again, just one lucky bitch? If not for the 'miracle of the road shoulder' we'd have been stopped in the middle of road and ripe for a fatal accident.

So... safely on relative safety of the shoulder, Ila and I sat mute for a bit. Then Ila asked, "So... could you change a tire?"

"Yes," I replied, while inwardly dying of embarrassment because I was the one who got us into this little predicament."

We both got out of the car, peered into the trunk and came to a startling realization - NO SPARE TIRE.

That's right. No spare.

By now two cars has voluntarily stopped to offer assistance and offer to change our flat. We checked the pamphlets that came with the rental car, and concluded that rental cars in the U.K. don't bother with spare tires. You're expected to phone the rental company for roadside assistance. So, I called. Soon a rescue tow truck was on the way, and we sat, ate crisps and waited.

I must say the only upside was we got to see the 'mountain goats'. Early this morning at breakfast, our BnB host told us there were Mountain Goats we might see on the road to Skye. I had thought, you mean like Rocky Mountain type Mountain Goats?

A nanny and her kid

But what he meant was goats, of the farm yard variety lived in what I see as being more like mole hills than mountains. And just as warned, there were lots of 'mountain goats that browsed nearby as we waited for the tow truck.

Eventually, a v. friendly tow truck driver and his massive tow vehicle arrived, hauled our rental onto his trailer, and drove us, lock, stock and barrel, in the opposite direction of Fort Williams. The drive felt like hours, but was more like 20 minutes. There, both shredded left side tires were changed out and we dutifully paid 250, which was, miraculously precisely the same amount as our rental car insurance deductible fee. Imagine that. OK, that is stupid quibbling, as we were thrilled to have our transportation was returned to full serviceability. Oh, and not to mention, I'd been driving and was relieved that Ila - with not a word on the matter from meself - volunteered to foot half the bill. I mean really, a less sweet co-traveler might have pleaded 'don't look at me, I didn't tear up those tires!". Thank you Ila. I am sure the angels that guarded us the road shoulder and arranged the goats for my entertainment have taken notice.
Ila inspecting our brand new passenger side tires
So that was how we Skylarked in Skye, and survived 'Trial by Claire's crap driving' on the back roads of Scotland. Whew!

[UPDATE: I continued to do 100% of our driving in both Scotland and Iceland. That may seem unfair at cursory glance, but I was down with it. After all, it was far easier for me to drive, so I could whip off road as needed so I could photography birds and wildlife. On numerous former travels with Ila I was always shouting 'STOP THE CAR' and would become frustrated if Ila didn't immediately know where & why the hell her crazy passenger (i.e., me) was screaming at the top of her lungs. With me doing all the driving, Ila's ear drums were spared and there were no missed photo opts for the unique little snowflake that is me. 

Oh! And I am proud to announce, there were no more flat tires on the trip. In fact, for the remainder of our time in Scotland, there were no more than 3 - you read right - no more than 3 additional tire curb slammings, I mean 4 at most, 5 tops, for the remainder of our driving in Scotland. You see, Ila and I had agreed, her job was to speak up if I started drifting left. She did so, and by golly our four tires were not ground into Scottish shredded biscuits.] 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Meanderings by the Loch

Loch Morar
It was a long first day, traveling north of Fort Williams. There were lovely lochs to enjoy and only a few miles north of Fort Williams we were passing though the village of Corpach where I spotted signs. ROCKS, MINERALS - so I had to stop. The signs led to a yellow building. Near the building's entrance was miner's coal trolley up on an elevated bridge. We'd accidently arrived at the Treasures of the Earth, a local museum of sorts.
The Treasures of the Earth
After paying a somewhat substantial fee we toured the exhibits. There were many fabulous and massive minerals and fossils on display, from around the world.

A pillar sized Selenite crystal
The Devil's Toenails in want of a manipedi
There was main room, a sort of salute to Jurassic Park, with many fossils and  dino-replicas.
The room echoed with broadcast jungle sounds 
The Treasures of the Earth was interesting, and mostly miraculous because uncharacteristically I bought neither rocks nor minerals specimens as my luggage contains far too much ballast as it is.

As the day progressed there were many other diversions too. In the loch-side town of Arisaig. We found another even tinier museum.
Photo from Arisaig Museum website

This was the  Arisaig Museum of Sea and Islands which had a lot of interesting curios to view and even touch. Lots of spinning and knitting things for fiber fanatics.

There were several vintage spinning wheels
Kiddie dyed homespun yarns
There were even things you could walk off with if you liked.
The museum itself was built upon a one-time smithy, and there was a nice exhibit explaining so.
Olde Village Smithy things

There were also natural history objects to examine.
A curious thrush's nest
Museum's View of Arisaig
Ila asked the visitor centre lady if there was a place we could shop for yarns. The lady got out a map, and pointed out our best bet, a crafts shop above a loch to Inverness Shire. With a sample of the local sweets in hand, we headed off for the crafts shop.  There was loads to see along the drive....

a roadside Hooded Crow
We used the rental car's GPS and it took us away from the so-called highway, to cross under a tiny viaduct beyond which there was a man-made waterfall we didn't manage any photos of.

The detour to the back roads of Inverness
There were friendly locals along the way
Much of the roads had but a single lane. Every once in a bit a car would face us in a face off and one of us would back up to a passing spot.
Much of the road was one lane
Picturesque inlet on Loch Morar
We were dead certain that the GPS misunderstood our input and that we were on a beautiful, but nonetheless wild goose chase. We warily followed the GPS instructions uphill.
On our way uphill, over dale
When the GPS announced we had arrived, Ila and I were dead certain we were dead lost. But behold! We read a sign by the gate that confirmed the score: GPS, one. Ila and Claire, zero.

Notice how the weather in the day's photos changed on a dime
We walked up to the tidy little building that was the Crafts shop. No one was home, but we found the shop's mistress in the beautiful house right next door.

Loads of clean fleece 
We'd been hoping for yarns, but the shop's true specialty was fleeces and other raw materials. The shop's mistress was an artisan and she had on hand many collected bits of flora - lichens, mushrooms and the lot - used for natural dyes.
Awesome assortment of wild picked fungi and galls
Naturally dyed fleece samples
There were samples of the fiber arts everywhere in the shop.

This shot of a window view from the shop, is just for pretty's sake 
After the delightful shop visit during which the shop owner answered any and all queries, we departed, headed back down the hill. We were on our way back Fort Williams. I stopped to photograph a pair of Red-breasted Merganser, which are also found in the States.

Fun seeing 'my' local waterfowl also enjoy a trip to Scotland
Then, just after leaving the Mergansers, I looked over and OMG! I flipped. Totally lost my $h*t, And what did I see browsing peacefully nearby? SCOTTISH DEER!

Their ears are totally dinky in comparison to California's Mule Deer

I took the does for native Scottish Red Deer, but further investigation revealed these were the other native Scottish Deer species, Roe Deer.  I won't go into the differences between the two here (lucky you, eh?). However, happy to report we did see some impressive and gorgeous Red Deer stags on our way back to the BnB. I drove us onto a rare-to-find driveway, but by by the time I got out of the car, the stags had fled. Still - today I saw Red and Roe Deer. *sooooo happy*

We got back to Fort Williams around dusk. We went to a little restaurant recommended to us, and there enjoyed fish and chips and other local fare. T'was a long, l-o-n-g day we had.

Here is a wee bit of the visit at the craft shop mentioned earlier in this post. Owner Deirdre and Ila conversed on their mutual fondness for Ikea, I bought the hand made wall hanging woven by Deirdre herself.