You may remember that #6 on my 30-before-30 epic ‘to do’ list was Get Out More. I said: “I need to start actually going to all the cool places in the UK that I love — or am curious about — instead of just daydreaming about going…”
Well, this one is by no means “done,” as I hope to have lots more adventures before 10th March 2016, but in order to get this goal properly kick-started, Lovely Boyfriend and I decided to do a truly epic tour of Scotland. Here’s where we “got out” to!
We started ^ here, at the Tay Forest Park, which is quite huge, and amazing. This part of it is at Faskally, and has lots of sedate walks or demanding hikes, depending on what you fancy. LB and did a bit of both… including some straying from the path and ending up crashing through trees, which was quite fun. We also met ducklings!
On the way from Faskally to Inverness, our next stop, we took a break at the Highland Wildlife Park. I’ll be honest, I was not looking forward to this place — I hate zoos and find them really, really depressing. But LB convinced me that this was different. I started out hating it, but after a while I realised that the vast majority of the critters actually had a pretty charmed life… even the polar bears, who I didn’t photograph but who we saw playing and play-fighting and eating tons of steak, which I am guessing they wouldn’t do if they hated living there. The worst thing about it was the terrible array of human behaviour we saw. That sign? Totally ignored by most. LB had to drag me away from the wolves as I was about to throw someone’s child to them!
I didn’t take many photos of Inverness, but I really liked it. I spent rather a lot of time in the many excellent charity shops there! It’s a weird place — they have poems in their pavements and tractors in their carparks, and it’s a funny mix of cosmopolitan (loads of tourists) and parochial. Inverness also has a massive second hand bookstore inside a converted church, but that was so good that it’s getting its own post… watch this space!
From Inverness, we drove for what seemed like ages to get to our little cabin in Caithness — seemingly in the middle of nowhere, but between Wick and Castletown if you want some idea. I loved Caithness very much — amazing bleak landscapes, huge skies and barely any tourists at all. Our little cabin was basic but cozy and had everything… including a little secluded ‘garden’ at the back where I got my first taste for outdoor yoga. The third photo there is the view from the cabin, and we saw three amazing sunsets while we were there… which LB greatly enjoyed, as you can see!
Caithness is all about the cool geological stuff. This is Duncansby, which is a famous site for nesting birds. Although you can’t see in the photos, that scar is an inlet that was packed with terns, shags, puffins and several types of gull, all feeding their chicks and making a truly amazing noise! The pointy witch-hat-like things are the Stacks of Duncansby, which are apparently super famous, and very spectacular IRL.
Caithness is also all about amazingly clean sandy beaches — and this one, which runs between Castletown and Dunnet, was really near to our cabin. We had it pretty much to ourselves and I got some very successful beach-combing done, finding huge shells, a whole sea urchin shell, and an amazingly delicate gull’s skull… morbid but cool!
On one of our Caithness days, we hiked along and around Dunnet Head, which is the northernmost point on the UK mainland. It was bleak, but incredible — as well as cool views there are also lots of creepy ruins there, and a Stevenson lighthouse (I met a few of the Stevenson lighthouses on this trip… and photographed not a one. Oops).
Just outside Wick is Castle Sinclair Girnigoe, this cool ruin that’s basically sticking out into the sea. Although (as you can see) it was a stunning day, there was no one else there with us so we were able to stomp around pretending to be seeing off the Vikings to our heart’s content. This was something I loved about Caithness: all the ‘tourist attractions’ were unmanned and free to enter, most of them down random dirt tracks with no visitor centre, no real car park to speak of… very cool.
Next stop, Orkney! The first Scottish island I have ever been to, though I have lived in Scotland 20 years next year. This is a weird selection of photos, but I was very, very preoccupied by Kirkwall’s incredible thrift shops. What can I say? I love a bargain more than just about anything else, and you’d be hard pressed to find anything in any of the charity shops of Kirkwall that’s more than a pound. Not kidding: I bought a ton of jewellery because everything was 20p! But I did have to stop and photograph that labrador. I got to scratch his ears, too!
Back to the mainland, and next stop Smoo! (Real actual name.) The Smoo Cave is a cave the Vikings discovered, and it’s so big that they were able to hide, store and repair their longships inside. It was pretty incredible, and like the Caithness tourist attractions, surprisingly un-busy!
After hours and hours of driving on tiny single-track, passing-place roads (and lots of playing dodge-the-outsize-camper-van!), we arrived in the West, at Tongue and then Gairloch. That third photo was the real-life, honest-to-god view from our Gairloch hostel window. This felt like proper shortbread-tin Scotland… and it had the tourists to match. Very quaint and cool, but personally, I preferred Caithness!
…and last but not least, a very local East Lothian spot. We got a scorching sunny day at one end of our trip so we decided to get on the train and go to North Berwick for paddling, yet more thrift stores (not Kirkwall standard, but still pretty good!) and the compulsory seaside poke-y-chips. Thanks, Summer 2014! You were awesome.
Where should I go next…?
Like shiny things? Check out Edinburgh Vintage, a totally unrelated ’sister site’ full of jewels, treasures and trinkets. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!