Three Minutes In Nairn

We spent a few hours in this small town a few Saturdays back, just walking through the streets - absorbing the quiet early morning, exploring random shops, peering hopefully into the windows of a closed print studio, people watching and listening. A lot of listening. I've compiled a brief map of our walk aimed at your ears:

(beginning) Two seagulls were engaged in a serious conversation. We only captured the very end of it, but by that time I had started to appreciate the pharmacy door in the background more than the birds.

(middle) A fish and chips shop employee had the side door open while mopping inside. Something that looked like a bean bag made for a dog was next to the open door on the sidewalk. The radio kept this person company while going through the motions of opening for business.

(end) Sitting on the bench in the playground. It is right next to the sea and a steep slide is built into the hill that blocks the view of the water. Saturday morning brought some small ones and a big thundercloud in the distance.

Location:Nairn, Scotland

The Isle Of Skye

This map is far out of proportion if one refers to current cartographic output of the Isle of Skye, but it is one of my favorites so far - winding around the lochs on the central part of the isle really does feel that wiggly. However, since we have the modern pleasure of google maps at our fingertips, we were still able to find our way to and around the island without much trouble. Not that it would have been too easy to get lost - the road from Inverness to Skye is clearly marked and once you're on the island itself, there aren't too many roads period. Most loop around or come to a dead stop, literally at the mouth of the sea and you simply have to turn around and head back to whatever turn you last made. It is really satisfying, in a way.

Thus, our weekend adventure to Skye on the 27th through the 29th of May was concise but brimming with Scottish goodness. It began with our sweet mini ride, rented from the Inverness airport:

That is Eli, boldly driving manual on the right side of the car and wrong (I mean left) side of the road. It was strange even being a passenger at first, and all of the traffic circles that this country loves were a little dicey. Once we were out of the little city though, it was fairly smooth sailing. Though, our wee steed had positively zero ability to climb hills, so locals were flying past us any chance they got.

En route to Skye we stopped for a picnic-in-the-car lunch across from the Eilean Donan (pronounced ail-en don-en) castle. It is a picturesque little (ha) place that was originally built in the 13th century, destroyed a few times - most recently in the 18th century during the Jacobite rebellion - and finalized as its current version in the 1930s. A bit of old/new but still rather classic and lovely to look at during the constant misty rain:

We stayed our first night in Portree, the main town and base of the north loop - a fairly popular place for tourists, but also the only place to really find groceries for the hostel dinner and shelter from the sideways rain. Did we mention that Skye is an amalgam of Norse, Gaelic and English in meaning - and two of the leading etymologies are 'mist' and 'clouds'? There is good reason that it would've been named either. Portree is also where we had the fortune of stumbling upon the pub experience we shared in the last post. Oh YEAH! Old (and one young) Scottish dudes freestyle on the accordion really made our night complete.

The next morning the weather had eased up a bit and we decided to head towards the Talisker Distillery in the central part of the island, abandoning the north loop and it's attractions partly because of the ominous clouds in that direction and mostly because there was a cycling event planned for that road during the day. It was a great decision. Our 10am scotch tour smelled of peaty deliciousness and the post tour dram was super tasty. Talisker is the only distillery on Skye and will actually stop production entirely if the spring-fed water source goes away. It is right on the water, simple and classy. Also, it is pretty much all that is happening in the "town" of Carbost, aside from the Old Inn pub:

After getting a tip about a good campsite from the hostel owner up over the hill in the picture above, we headed to Glenbrittle - slightly southwest of this town and right on the edge of a loch at the base of the Cuillen (pronounced cue-lin) Mountains. The campsite was right on the water and our tent (loaned to us by our amazing co-wwoofers at the farm) was instantly enveloped in wind and rain, but it held steady. During a break in the clouds, the sun eeked and peeked and strained to show up and we took advantage of the few hours to hike a trail a few miles from camp called Fairy Pools. Strange enough, the landscape we were in seemed a mix of Colorado, Iceland, and Wyoming to us and the mention of fairies immediately brought me back to Þorsmörk romping. Here there were roaming sheep that left their mark (wool) on the trails, a network of waterfalls leading up to the base of the range, and - for good measure - a brisk and windy rain on our hike back out.

As we walked up to where the car was parked, we ran into a couple we had met on our Talisker tour and another shrinking world experience entered our trip. We may even meet up with them in Edinburgh in a few weeks.

At the same time, the world is growing and expanding and becoming more colorfully complex than ever. There is always more to see, other roads to take, different tips to listen to (or not) ... the realization that we cannot possibly do or be a part of everything we plan on or hope to be involved with while traveling is fresh in our minds. It is paired with the fact that each choice we make, each movement our inertia urges us towards, brings only exactly what we need. Having the weekend away from weeding and eggs and compost gave us that...and some magnificent views, so much green, misty glasses for eli, warm pubs and lots of oatcakes.

Location:Isle of Skye, Scotland

The Road To Inverness

The ride from Glasgow to Oban is, along with the bit of Utah where I-15 splits and heads south from I-70, one of the more powerful and beautiful bits of scenery I've ever been through. Given that our bus on Sunday morning left at 8:30 am, we were both still half asleep, and the sky was pretty overcast, I really wasn't too well prepared for what awaited us along the way, and I found myself wishing wishing sleep wasn't calling so loudly. In all of my Scotland daydreams in middle school, high school and since (There were many. Thanks, Travis.), I always sort of pictured the cities as being in sort of ho-hum flat spaces, and it wasn't until the highlands that things got hilly and green and picturesque. To be honest, I'm not sure what exactly counts as the highlands so perhaps the whole Sunday morning bus ride was part of it. Mountain after mountain shrouded in a dreamy, low hanging fog, waterfalls spilling out of nowhere headed toward the nearest loch (lake) and the road winding up and over and through it all. I wish I could've asked the bus driver to pause so I could take a few photos. When we arrived in Oban (pronounced: oh-bin, with the latter almost just "bn"), we weren't really sure what we'd find there except, sadly, that the distillery is closed on Sundays. I say sadly because we would've loved to have poked around and taken the tour but what we found instead was far better (especially given the amount of distilleries near where we are now). We checked into the hostel in town and one of the more friendly and helpful people we've met on the trip so far happened to be working the desk. She informed us that not only is there a small island called Kerrera just off the shore of Oban, but there's a free hourly shuttle boat (ten minute ride) that'll dump you off at the marina on the other side where you're immediately free to wander the entire island. There was a small sign pointing the way to the "foot path" but that's pretty much the only guidance. This map might help illustrate the size of the island, which takes four hours to hike all the way around (and includes a bunch of sheep, 35 residents, one restaurant, one castle and one monument), though not the views from it.

Off the other side of it is a seal colony (we didn't see any) and the isle of Mull, which we were advised is more of a full day trip. Despite the misting rain, we managed to have a picnic at the top and then get our shoes completely soaked on the walk back before retiring to what turned out to be a really great hostel overall for the night.

Monday morning brought our bus from Oban, through Fort William, past Loch Ness (Huge lake! No monster, but I won't lie: a little part of both of us kept looking, just in case...) and on into Inverness, the "capital of the north". Since we had a little time to kill before catching the bus that would take us out to the farm where we will be for the next month, we decided to wander around the downtown area and try to find a cafe or pub. In hindsight, some things seem like such great decisions even though in the moment they can feel so unimportant. Getting a coffee at Bar One turned out to be one of these as we ended up talking to an inspiring couple in their 60s from Lancashire, England who were waiting to catch their own train home after hiking for a month from Glasgow to the top of Scotland. For the better part of an hour they couldn't have been friendlier or more interesting, handing off stories of other hikes they'd done and what they'd seen.

Next stop: Ardersier, where we'll be working on an organic farm through most of June, temporarily trading in our wandering shoes for our work boots.

Highlights: - The black Guillemots that reside in Oban. They fly and walk as awkward as a penguin on duck feet, but can dive underwater to 150 meters because their bodies are built to be able to withstand the pressure. Funny AND awesome.

- The Oban Backpackers hostel, which was not only helpful but also had Nutella in the complimentary breakfast. Win!

- The British captain and owner of the 10 Contesto, a 36-foot Shetland style sailboat that we were originally just admiring for its uniqueness. While we were standing on the pier looking at it, he came out and chatted away, eventually getting to the part in his story of where he learned to sail: Cape Cod, MA. It is a small world.

Location:Inverness,United Kingdom

Highlights: Iceland

Some highlights, for our memories and for anyone who might be planning a visit (We're hoping to do this for each country):

The Reykjavík Grapevine: the English language weekly paper

Kaffismiðja: that one I keep going on about

The Photography Museum of Reykjavík

Vík Prjónsdóttir: crazy cool knit stuff

Noodle Station: Thai noodle soup, cheap and delicious

Hallgrímskirkja: a the big church that serves as a good navigation point and stands out in my mind for its grand simplicity

C is for Cookie: another wonderful coffee shop hang

Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur: a hot dog stand, voted best restaurant in Europe a couple years back.

The Icelandic Handknitters Association: for delightful wool as straight from the source as we found it in Reykjavik, with some helpful staff when it comes to the conversions between American and Iceland knitting terms

The Seabaron: small seafood place by the harbor that even the locals recommend, with the best lobster soup you'll ever have...and the most lovely and smiling owner.

Skyr: the BEST. That is all.

Location:Jamaica St,Glasgow,United Kingdom