I am a native in this world And think in it as a native thinks

Monday, September 28, 2015

Highland farewell

Another view of Rannoch moor, on the left, and the unpronounceable Loch Lubnaig, looking very Nordic on the right.

I think that's it for the Highlands now. I still have pictures from the beginning of the trip in Edinburgh that I haven't gone through and I'll probably post them next weekend.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

The softer side of Skye

There's yet another castle -- Dunvegan -- behind where I was standing on the headland, but we actually stopped here to see the seals on the islands offshore. They were too far away to get decent photos of, even with a big lens, but I also took this picture with my point and shoot and promptly forgot all about it.

Caledonian canal

Scotland in popular culture is so much about the Highlands, tartan and whisky and one doomed cause after another, that it's easy to forget that it's also produced some of the best engineers in the world.

The Caledonian canal, built by Thomas Telford in the early 19th century, connects Inverness on the east coast of Scotland with Fort William in the west. It follows the Great Glen, the long valley that bisects the Highlands, linking the lochs that were already there with a series of canals, locks and aqueducts.

This is Fort Augustus, where the canal meets Loch Ness.

Rannoch moor

Not far from Glen Coe, but an entirely different kind of scenery.

Nothing bloody in its history that I'm aware of, but the land is very marshy, and I went arse over teakettle trying to climb a small hill to get better views. No damage except to my dignity, though I did  get to spend another afternoon in sopping wet jeans.


Three of the mountains called the Five Sisters of Kintail can be seen in the background of the picture on the right. They're some of the many so-called Munros -- Scottish mountains over 3000 feet tall. There are almost 300 full Munros and almost as many so-called subsidiaries, and thousands of people have climbed every single one of them, an accomplishment known as “bagging the Munros.”

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Return to Doune

Last stop on the Highland tour was a visit with yet another celebrity, Doune Castle.

I had been there before on my first trip to Scotland. At that time it was described as the castle from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and several people who'd never seen the movie were at a loss as to why we would bother to stop there.

Since then, its career has really taken off, and Ewan introduced it as the castle that played Winterfell in Game of Thrones and Castle Leoch in Outlander. Oh, and it was also in that Monty Python movie.

Another Glen Coe

The light was like a living thing, growing and shrinking and slithering and winking and changing every minute.

Let's not dwell on the past

Of course something infamous and bloody happened here; something infamous and bloody seems to have occurred in every square mile of this country. For once I'm going to ignore it (Google Glencoe massacre if you're curious.)

I'd rather just look at those fuzzy green Scottish mountains looming over that narrow valley. You can see some hikers down in the glen in the picture on the right, to give you an idea of the scale.

Glen Coe

I was going to write something about how this was the most spectacular of all the places we visited, but this picture makes anything I might say about it unnecessary.

Just click to enlarge and enjoy the majesty.


This monument, of an anonymous Highlander standing on a tower, commemorates the 1745 uprising and all those who died in it. This is where Charles Stuart raised his standard and announced that he was claiming the thrones of England and Scotland in the name of his father.

A few miles north of here is Loch Arkaig, where the gold sent by the Spanish government to support the uprising was hidden -- it didn't arrive until after the battle of Culloden, so some of it was used to help Jacobite leaders flee and the rest may well still be hidden there. There are periodic contests and treasure hunts but nothing has ever been found.

Friday, September 25, 2015

More Eilean Donan

The view from the castle courtyard, and a hill of rock and wildflowers tumbling down to the water. No pictures were allowed inside the rooms, but the exteriors were far more interesting anyway.

Saved by a single arrow

The castle has appeared in numerous movies and television shows, but its actual history is more dramatic than most fictions. In the 16th century it was held by Clan MacKenzie, when Donald Gorm MacDonald was conducting a series of raids on MacKenzie lands. He learned that the castle had only a few men occupying it, and attacked.

Two of the three men inside the castle were killed, and the last one, a young man named Duncan, was down to his last arrow. He shot at Gorm, and hit him in the foot.

When Gorm pulled the arrow out, he tore an artery and bled to death, and the MacDonalds fled.

Eilean Donan

Like most Hollywood stars, the castle on Eilean Donan doesn't take a bad picture -- it's stunning from any direction.

Eilean is the Gaelic word for island (rhymes with feelin'), and this particular eilean is just down the coast from Plockton, at a point where Loch Alsh converges with two other lochs. It's named after a 7th century Irish saint, who reportedly asked a band of marauders that arrived while he was in the middle of saying Mass if they would mind waiting until he had finished before beheading him. Which, proving that even pirates have manners, they did.

There's no trace of the church St. Donan is supposed to have built here before heading off to the Hebrides and martyrdom; the castle is 13th century, and the bridge connecting the island to the mainland is only a hundred years old.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

We interrupt our regularly scheduled scenery for this announcement

This is post number 2000 on this blog. I've always written it mostly for myself and and as an easy way to share pictures and stories with the people I know, though this being the internet, I've picked up other readers along the way. I hope you've enjoyed reading it.

Here's an appropriate what the hell piece of urban poetry to mark the occasion -- a police car in Inverness. I was drinking a coffee and enjoying the sun on the high street, listening to a credible if unexpected version of Folsom Prison Blues from a street musician, when this object cruised into view. I saw similar police cars in London, so it's not just a scheme to shock visitors to the Highlands out of the dreamy lethargy induced by too much natural beauty; these are called Battenburg markings and are designed for maximum visibility.

They certainly are hard to miss. And I suppose you would get used to the idea that the passengers in these vehicles are sober, serious civil servants and not circus clowns on LSD.


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Old Man's backside

The Old Man of Storr from the opposite side.

Gateway to the sky

I love how the loch reflects the sky so perfectly it looks as though the ground has opened up a new portal to the sky.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Two views of the Cuillin hills

Local legend has it that the name Cuillin comes from Cuchulain, the legendary Irish hero, about whom Yeats wrote many of his less interesting poems.
Cuchulain stirred,
on the horses of the sea, and heard
The cars of battle and his own name cried;
And fought with the invulnerable tide.
Ireland sent saints and heroes to Scotland, along with her thick and thorny language, which the Scots, God bless them, have made even more incomprehensible.

I think you can tell the morning photo from the one taken in the afternoon without my having to spell it out.

And yet another bridge

I believe -- believe -- this is a bridge over the same stream as the previous post, taken in the afternoon light when we'd circled back around to the Cuillin hills overlook.

Not that it really matters -- Isle of Skye. Scotland. Pretty.

A slightly older bridge on Skye

I don't know the name or history of this little bridge -- it was near an overlook of the Cuillin hills and Glen Sligachan where we stopped in the morning when the peaks were still covered with mist, and again in the afternoon when it was clearer.


Another picture of the harbor at Kyleakin, on the Skye side of the bridge. Kyle is from the Gaelic word for strait (Kyle of Lochalsh is a romantic-sounding way of saying “the strait by Loch Alsh") and  Kyleakin means the Strait of Haakon, referring to the Norwegian king Haakon IV -- the Norwegians ruled Skye for several centuries a millennium or so ago.

The ruined castle -- because of course you've got to have a ruined castle -- is called Caisteal Maol, and dates from the 15th century, though there may have been much older structures there.

Skye bridge

The design of the bridge was supposedly meant to suggest a seagull in flight, but the history wasn't nearly so poetic.

Until the bridge was built in 1995, ferries were the only transport to and from the island. When the bridge opened, the closest ferry, between Kyleakin on Skye and Kyle of Lochalsh on the mainland, was discontinued, so residents had no choice but to use the bridge. And pay the tolls.

The company that built it had funded the construction themselves, with the agreement that they would also operate the bridge and charge tolls to recoup their costs. But the fare, more than five pounds each way, made it (or so the protesters claimed) the most expensive road in Europe. After years of controversy and protest, the Scottish government bought the bridge in 2004, and there are no more tolls.

Back with the fairies

Remembering the perfect days in the Highlands and on Skye. Here are a few more pictures from the Fairy Glen.

I wonder if any of the fairies are willing to consider a long-term sublet.

Row houses in the UK

The variety in (clockwise from top left) Portree, Southend, Inverness and London.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Sunday bird blogging

A European robin, as stunned by the morning sun as the rest of us were, in Plockton.

Sitting at Heathrow, on my way home. I hope to start catching up on the Scotland pictures tomorrow.

Saturday, September 19, 2015


An old ironwork ceiling in Liverpool Street station in London yesterday.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Urban micro-poetry

I don't do a lot of macro photography because the things I'm interested in tend to be large enough to capture with ordinary lenses. But I couldn't resist these bees in Hyde Park this afternoon.

I took the train back to London from Southend this afternoon, and I'm ensconced -- that seems the appropriate verb -- at the Grosvenor Hotel at Victoria, a very traditional style London hotel with a grand lobby, ornate staircases, and old oil portraits on the walls, all of it a nice contrast with my grubby post-Scotland wardrobe. Fortunately, everyone is far too well bred to notice.

I walked over to Hyde Park during the brief lapse of sunshine this afternoon; it's probably been decades since I was there, and it was reassuringly exactly the same -- ridiculously, beautifully English. There were robins (European robins, of course, not the vulgar American version) singing in the trees, a squirrel in the shrubbery thoughtfully munching on the greenery, and bees making their final rounds of the day. Plus a woman in a tweed coat with thick ankles and sensible shoes dozing on a bench.

On the way to the park, I kept hearing a flute, and it was playing, of all things, the Skye Boat Song. For a moment I thought my Scottish ghost had followed me south, but I could actually see this musician when I turned around -- an older gentleman with long stringy gray hair. Like the Culloden ghost though he did follow me, all the way to Hyde Park, where he turned down a different path and the sound of his flute was soon lost under the noise of the early rush hour traffic.


The pier in Southend-on-Sea, a seaside town in Essex where I'm staying for a few days to see family.

That is advertised as the longest recreational pier in the world and I'm willing to take them at their word. My cousin Bridget and I walked out to the end, and though it was a lovely day, the wind became more enthusiastic the farther we went, and it is most definitely a very, very long pier.

There's a cafe at the end and we had a restorative cup of tea, but it didn't inspire us to do the return journey -- we took the train.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

As evidence of your good faith, please send me money

After so many years of spam emails, it's impossible to see an ad about how easy it is to send money to Nigeria without laughing.

This was London, where I basically got off a train, slept, and got on another train.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Will you go, lassie, go?

I've heard this song many times over the past ten days, usually the version by the Corries, but here's an old pretty cover by the Byrds.

As this lassie, sadly, goes.

Going downtown to do some fly fishing

Inverness is really more of a big town than a city, but I think I have to call this one urban poetry anyway: fishing in the River Ness just downstream from the center of town. It doesn't get much more Scottish than that.

Yesterday the forecast was rain again, and again it was a beautiful day -- cloudier than it had been but still warmer and sunnier than I had any reason to expect. I took the Hop-on Hop-off bus because I hadn't done that yet and it was very funny. There really isn't very much in Inverness, and the bus basically criss-crossed the city, stopping four times within a few blocks of where we started. 

But it was clearly a day to be spent by the river, so I got off at the Ness Islands, a place where the river divides and a series of small islands are joined together with bridges and footpaths, making a very pretty park, and walked back to the center of town.

It's very hard to leave Scotland. I know I got lucky -- beyond lucky -- with the weather, but I love everything about this country. I'm already trying to figure out when I can come back.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Sometimes scenery is practically a drug

One more view

There's unfortunately no sense of proportion in these photos, but that big standing stone was much taller than I am.

Inside the cairn

View looking over the top of the main cairn, and from inside. The stones are much taller than they appear in this picture; they were over my head.

Clava cairns

There are about 50 of these cairns around Inverness, with these three at Balnuaran of Clava the most famous, so they're all called Clava cairns.

They were used for burial, with the entrance to the cairn oriented to the setting sun in midwinter, and each only held one or two bodies. They're about 4000 years old so the bodies are long gone; what's left are three enormous circles of rock, each surrounded by a ring of standing stones.

Especially on a sunny day, it just seems so incongruous. It's a quiet park at the end of a peaceful country road, with lawns and trees -- a place where you might bring the kids for a picnic. Well, except for those Bronze Age tombs.

Castle Stuart

Because I suppose you really can't have enough castles.

This one is privately owned, so we admired it from the outside.

A Scottish country garden

I enjoyed the interiors of the castle, though I get tired of old furniture and tapestries fairly quickly, but the garden was wonderful, full of tits and chaffinches and birds I couldn't identify. Oh, and flowers, in a riot of different colors and textures, not overly manicured, like something a witch in a fairy tale might use to lure children old enough not to fall for candy.

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