Tuesday, January 10, 2006

28 December (Brock’s Birthday)

We awoke nice and early and complained of the extreme cold. I don’t think our heat worked at all… it was frickin’ cold! After some prep time and shower time for the girls we all went down to breakfast in the hostel’s gi-normous kitchen! It was huge! But it only had tea, some Wheetabix and as much toast as we wanted with interesting jams. You can guess what I went for. I love toast… only one of the toasters worked… and it wasn’t the four-slicer, it was the two… sad. After a nice breakfast overlooking a mountain and the water out the kitchen panoramic windows we left to explore the island. We’d heard from the worker the night before that the HP&GoF dragon scenes were filmed on Skye north of Portree so we were excited to get on the road, but first we wanted to explore the city. We drove around, taking pictures of the really pretty views and the colourful buildings. There was a whole row of inns and businesses in pastels, a fairly famous view of Portree, and a number of little shops, but we only went in a couple of them.

Finally we felt we’d better getting going and I drove Maggie (we’d actually named her that day, not right away) north, out of town. We were enveloped in mountains and fields of the moors (MOOURRHHS!) almost immediately. The road was a one lane-r the barely the width of Maggie (who was quite trim) with ‘passing points’ which were little spaces (like bumps of asphalt) on one side or the other where you were supposed to pull over for the oncoming traffic to pass. Fun! We found a waterfall and stopped to take pictures for about 25 minutes. We drove to the Old Man stones, which is a huge and famous mountain on the moors, and then continued to some cliffs. We stopped often and didn’t really rush because we wanted to really enjoy the views. There were sheep all over, just wandering around... We saw much and it’s not really explicable… I’ll try to capture it with photo’s… we even saw cliffs that were made entirely of pillars of stone. These pillars (I remember from my geology lessons in 9th grade science, thanks Mr. Z!) are naturally forming stone that organize into a molecular structure that is very rigid and geometric, so when they connect together they form regular pillars. They were beautiful and had another waterfall (right side) cascading down into the ocean... sometime in the past it seems that some of the pillars had fallen down too... how cool would that be to experience.

We didn’t see any wildlife… you see the travel books say there might be seals and puffins, but I hadn’t met a Scot that had admitted to seeing a puffin, and the seals were going to be tough either way. We weren’t disappointed though, the scenery was amazing enough. At one point we had to stop and wait because there were highland cows in the road! They were just wandering around and had blocked the road! There was a guy in a truck trying to heard them off, and he waved at me and my little VW to go ahead, I squeezed in between a couple of cows and drove away, we all were laughing.

On the way off of Skye we got a bit confuddled… we drove off the island (which is really big, I just minimize the amount of time driving) over the Skye Bridge and were looking for a road. This was when we discovered that our maps were accurate… but there were more roads then were on our map, and none of the roads anywhere were well marked. And sometimes they weren’t marked at all. There was just nothing around. It was very crazy. We went the wrong way for about 10 miles, past the Eilean Donan castle again (thought it was pretty still) and then after a while we didn’t see our road… it was supposed to be right after the bridge… we stopped at a gas station, I asked for directions… we’d missed it… we headed back toward the bridge… past Eilean Donan again… nice… all the way back to the bridge, we see nothing… Now we are getting flustered, but I’m still positive. I pick a road that might be it, but got discouraged when it turned to dirt… and then started winding along a coast of a loch and had really small passing places. It was kind of a scary road because you couldn’t see around the bends and on one side was water, inches from your tyres, and the other side was a hill or rocks… scary. Needless to say it dead ended at a field and a house. We 180ed and headed back to the main road… back past Eilean Donan again… (does it just sit there?!) and then back toward the bridge… Lets try this road… It was it!! We’d found it! It was already getting dark by this time (so it was like 2:00pm) and we had a 5 hour drive ahead of us to Orkney (or to the port of Scrabster) and then to Orkney.

It had been dark for a while and we’d bought a couple of CDs when we left Skye because the radio pickup sucked (Maggie was missing her antenna). The drive was fairly uneventful except when my headlights spilled out onto a large field and apparently there was a hill by the road going down to this field… because the HUGE PROPELLERS OF A FRICKIN’ WIND POWER GENERATOR were reflecting my headlights out of the foggy darkness and I freaked out! My heart was literally going a mile a minute for a second! I didn’t know what it was but it scared the shit out of me in the ½ second it took me to figure it out. We made it to the Scrabster after driving through a number of cool little towns (they don’t have highways their roads are all like state highways, two lanes; or just the one lane passways). The last ferry was at 740 and it was going to be £48 each… that was a lot more than we’d planned… but we said, “What the hell, we are only here once in a lifetime!” We got on the ferry, parked Maggie and explored the boat. It was a 90 minute ride so we ate some dinner while figuring out what we wanted to do when we got there.

Arriving on Orkney around 9 we drove Mags off the ferry and across the island (about 15 miles) from Stromness to Kirkwall. Many times on the drive it was just black all around us except for the road, I felt that meant that the road was surrounded by water… only inches from both tyres… crazy… I am kind of glad it was dark… In Kirkwall we spent the better part of 30 minutes trying to find a hostel. We saw a number of hotels and eventually asked where the hostel was. To ask I walked into a local ale house; I was greeted by traditional music coming from a band and the place was no bigger than four average bedrooms! It was packed and hot, but it was wonderful… They said the only one they knew was out of town. We drove over, and it was a heap, and closed until April… I was silently relieved.

Finally we settled on a hotel for £23 each for the night including breakfast and it was a really nice place (three stars!) We had a double bed and a single and our own bathroom, it was nice… Orkney is perhaps one of the coolest places I have ever been. If not just for this fact: Every window in Orkney had a plank of wood bolted across it at around stomach level to me, so maybe 4 feet off the ground. I was hypothesising the use of the wood for the entire time we were wandering the streets looking for a hostel and finally I asked the woman at our front desk. Here is a transcript of the tale of these mysterious planks of wood…

“Excuse me I have to ask. What are all of those planks of wood for?!”

“Oh,” a quiet chuckle, “those are for the Ball Game!”

“A ball game?”

“Yea, every year we have a ball game on Christmas Day and New Years Day.”

“What kind of ball game?”

“Well, we split the town into two teams, and divide it in two. There is one ball, and the goal is to get the ball to the other end of town. Other than that there are no rules.”

“Holy wa! That’s amazing!”

She laughs again and nods her head. Kara and Steph are in equal awe.

“I would have never guessed that was the use. They are there to keep the windows protected then?”

“Well, it’s essentially a giant scrum!”

I was very impressed… after settling for a bit we headed back to the Auld Motor Hoose (the place we’d asked for directions) and stayed there till 11pm. I was enjoying it immensely. The band’s name was Shoot the Piper, and they were really good, they even played a couple of songs I knew. The featured a Bodhrán, bass, acoustic, accordion, and a piper. It was rally great. Kara and Steph got bored around 11 and we were all tired so we headed back to the hotel which was around the corner and passed out for the night… what a great and adventurous day.


Rie said...

Here are a few observations/comments on your various updates.

Firstly, Christmas at the Cathedral! I'm so jealous!! Some day I am going to make it to Europe and attend the Christmas midnight service. Some day!

Your pics from Scotland are amazing! The choir I was in in college went on a trip to Scotland the year before I joined. Figures, I would have loved to go. Some day, again

Be safe and don’t forget me :)

trace.dominguez said...

Apparently she didn't say Ball Game, but Ba Game. Still sounds crazy to me... CRAZY FUN!

Want more info on the Orkney Ba Game?