Day 15: March 27, 2018
We slept until 6:00 am then got up and ate a quick breakfast. I’ve been having some weird dreams recently. Last night we were driving across rivers and then we had to go in a spiral through all these rivers. It was all very odd, but was likely a reflection of the ford experience in Wales.
We booked the ferry the day before to Orkney Islands. It was quite expensive for us to get there with a car so we hoped it would be worth it. We arrived early and checked in the car then waited for about an hour and a half to be loaded onto the ferry from Scrabster to Stromness. We went to the upper deck and sat in some comfy chairs. It was not very busy and the ferry was quite fancy by our standards. We explored the restaurant and gift shop. We ate some snacks and then we arrived in Stromness. We drove straight off the ferry to Skara Brae. In 1850 a severe storm uncovered a stone-built Neolithic or New Stone Age settlement at Skara Brae dated between 3100-2500 BC. We got out and were almost blown over by the wind. We went to the visitor center and watched a short film. Then we walked through an exhibition explaining what they had found at the site.
Outside into the rain we went! We started in a replica of one of the homes found at Skara Brae. It was very interesting to walk through. There was a dresser at the back wall made of stone, beds set up with stone partitions, a hearth in the middle, shelves built into the stone wall and holes in the ground for food storage.
From there we walked out to the actual houses. They had little stones along the walk with the years of historic events. We passed Stonehenge, and the Egyptian pyramids back until 3100 BC with the houses at Skara Brae. We were able to walk around above and look in.
The houses were interconnected through hallways that were covered. There were no roofs on them except for hut 7 which had a glass roof placed on to protect it in the 1970s, but it actually created an environment that was destroying the stones. In 2005, it was decided to cover the glass roof with grass. The conditions in that location were quite harsh as we were experiencing.
There was a small shed there showing pictures of how the settlement may have looked. A very knowledgeable guide gave us some interesting facts. The roofs were likely covered with the previous year’s crops rather than being stone. The walls were not thick enough to support a stone roof. It is unknown how many people would have lived in this settlement.
Many of the houses had small rooms behind the dresser which you could only enter from the left. There is believed to be some significance as all the homes had this, but it is unknown the purpose.
From there, we drove to the Ring of Brodgar which was a bit of a walk from the car. It probably wasn’t too far, but it seemed to be a very long walk because it was so rainy and windy. The Ring of Brodgar is believed to have been a ceremonial meeting place 4,000-4,500 years ago. There was a fence around it for reconstruction so the view wasn’t that great and it was very muddy.
We went back to the car and had cheese, sausage and crackers for lunch. Then on to the Standing Rocks of Stenness which is a stone circle raised about 5,000 years ago. It is assumed to be for ceremony and ritual. We were able to walk right up to them. They were sitting in a field with some sheep.
From there we went to Maeshowe which can only be visited with a guided tour. We booked a tour in the visitor centre, but had to wait 45 minutes for the next one. We dried off and had a tea. We were the only ones on the 2:00 tour. There was a short bus ride to the site and then about a five minute walk to Maeshowe.
Maeshowe is a chambered tomb built approximately 5,000 years ago. From the outside it looks like a hilly, grass-covered mound. Inside it was much warmer and drier. Sadly we were unable to take any pictures inside. The walls were 10 feet wide which meant that cement was not needed to hold the structure up. The stones used were also the full length of the tomb which made them very stable. Some people believe the stones were moved using rolling logs, however, there are not many trees on Orkney. Another theory is the use of a bed of seaweed the rock could be slid on. Stone masons still use this technique today. The soil surrounding would have aided with the construction. They would have built the slope as they put on each stone allowing the stones to be slid up the slope and into place.
The tomb was built to store bones only. Bodies would have been left to have the flesh removed. The middle of the tomb is an open space so it is believed it was used for funerals and visiting ancestors. There were three chambers for bones and then the passage we walked through to get inside. As people started burying bodies, the cairn was no longer used. It was sealed for 3,000 years until 1150 when some Vikings looking for shelter from a storm bashed in the roof to get inside. They threw out the bones so nothing was found inside. They did leave runes etched into the walls in various places. Our guide translated some and they were exactly what you would imagine a Viking would say and also simple things similar to “Merai wuz here”. One had written up the stone and you could tell he was quite tall based on where the writing ends.
Click here for more information: Maeshowe
The tombs were covered again until the 1870s when archaeologists brought tourists and covered the roof. The walk back to the bus was the worst. You couldn’t look up or the rain would stab your eyes. We had some extra time so we drove out to Yesnaby. We didn’t find the rock from the pictures, but did find a nice coastline. It was still killer windy though.
We drove back to the ferry and had a calm ride back. We stopped for supper in Thurso at Y Not. We had a fancy haggis which kind of tasted like mushy meatloaf, pork belly and tenderloin with apple gravy, a potato and apple mix and blood pudding with mango. It was all very different, but delicious. Back to our place to do laundry and rest.
Day 16: March 28, 2018
Sleep in! We had a nice breakfast and Danny researched train tickets to get to Beaumont Hamel, a monument where his great uncle’s names are inscribed. The cost of the tickets ended up being super expensive. We think it is likely because he would have been travelling on Good Friday.
We drove to Wick for a tour of the Old Pulteney Distillery. It was a rather small distillery. They produce around 2,000 casks a year. They had two stills used like distillation towers to boil the alcohol out.
Then the alcohol moves to a condenser: copper pipes with a stream of water cooling them outside. The casks used to store the alcohol were made of oak and were mostly old bourbon casks from the USA. They also had some sherry casks from Spain. We were able to see the warehousing as well. To be a true Scottish whiskey, it must be aged a minimum of three years. We were then able to taste two of their whiskeys. The first one burned, but the second one tasted watery.
We left there and got some ice cream. Our first of the trip! We drove back to our place and had smoked cod, potatoes and cabbage for supper. We re-watched Nailed It on Netflix. If you haven’t watched it yet you should. Danny was almost in tears from laughing a couple of times.
Day 17: March 29, 2018
Up at 6 am for a quick breakfast. We had to throw out some of the spare food we had because we wouldn’t be able to take it on the plane. It feels awful throwing food out. We drove down through Inverness to Loch Ness. We went through the visitor centre where they gave the background on the Loch Ness monster. They showed how the sightings could be mistaken for different things like birds, waves or sticks. I thought it was interesting.
We drove a bit further along the lake to Urquhart Castle. We ate leftovers for lunch in the car and then went inside. There was a film explaining the history of the castle. The first defences could date from around AD 580 and the first castle was built in the 1220s.
In the 1300s, the castle became a strategic fortress in the Wars of Independence. During the 1400s, many of the buildings were destroyed during the 150 years of battle between the MacDonald Lords and the Crown. The Crown finally destroyed most of the castle to prevent the MacDonalds from using it. It definitely was not as impressive as the Welsh castles as it was mostly destroyed.
We headed back to Inverness airport where we had to wait for a bit to drop our bags. For supper we had nachos and haggis. Not together. I’ve decided I quite like haggis.
We arrived in London and found a bus to the hotel, but we had to go back to the terminal to get some cash for the bus. The hotel was quite basic. Your typical cheaper hotel.
Day 18: March 30, 2018
Danny and I had a full English breakfast in the hotel for a full $45 CAD. We ate as much as we could to try to tide us over until lunch time, but then both felt awful. Danny went for a run and I went to the lobby and typed for this blog. The power in the hotel went out eventually so I gave up and went back to the room. When it was back on we watched an Africa special of Top Gear. Finally we went to the Travelodge next door for supper. We had planned on venturing further, but it was raining quite hard all day. The day was quite boring and I was feeling very annoyed by the end. We had wanted a rest day, but I just felt impatient. Maybe because the hotel wasn’t as homey?
Day 19: March 31, 2018
We went to the Travelodge for breakfast as we found out it was cheaper there. They had croissants and Nutella which we put together and was AMAZING. We started our walk to the airport, which was much easier than Google Maps made it look. Air Baltic check in wasn’t open yet so we sat in the main area. I walked around while Danny played Risk. We played a round of rummy and sat around. A friend FaceTimed me and we chatted for a bit until it was time for Danny and I to go check in. We dropped our bags and went through security. Danny had to put his liquids in a smaller bag and my bag got pulled aside for me not bringing the iPad out of my carry on. Every airport is different so it’s really hard to know what to do.
We went to Nando’s for supper. You had to order at the bar and get your own utensils and beverages. Ir reminded me of Australia with the lack of service. I always find it odd, but it’s just a different way of doing things. We sat in the main area waiting for our gate to show on the board. I was getting really bored. A couple of days of not doing anything and then just sitting in the airport all day was not fun. Our gate finally showed up and we walked to the gate. I slept a bit on the flight to Riga. We hadn’t originally planned to stop in Riga, but the cheapest flight had a 19 hour layover there so we thought: “Why not?”. We went through customs in Riga and then looked for a spot to lay down. Part of the plan with the layover was to get out of paying for a hotel by sleeping in the airport. Good idea, bad in practice. All the comfy benches were taken so we went to metal benches behind the stairs and laid down for the night.
A night and day in Riga, Latvia then on to Kiev, Ukraine.