Monday, June 18, 2018

Celebration Time

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Celebration Time: London To Dublin

Silversea Style

I have wanted to write about the unique conclusion to our last cruise, but since arriving home our life has been tumultuous at best.

We flew home from Dublin Ireland on Tuesday, June 5th, where we were finally able to drop into our own beds about midnight. Attended to the usual jetlag, it always takes us a day or two to reorient ourselves, but then I had to go make it worse. That weekend I walked out of the shower without paying attention to the fact that the bathmat was not down on the floor, and promptly slipped and fell. I landed on my right knee and then fell forward on my right shoulder until finally my head came firmly in contact with the granite floor while I slid forward and banged into the bathroom cabinet. I will make no bones about it, I saw stars for quite a while, and for the better part of two days, I really had difficulty getting my brain to work. Now of course you want to know if I went to the emergency room, but those of you who know me already know the answer. No! I self-diagnosed as a mild concussion. Thank goodness I was wrong as was later confirmed by a physician the following week, but I did injure myself pretty badly.

Just about the same time, Lisa came down with a case of bronchitis which developed over the next few days to an acute case. Not to be undone; about three days later, I followed down the same path. So, we were at a point that both of us were pretty much useless in terms of getting anything done. My condition worsened to the point that I had to see a doctor for chest x-rays, but then that opened up another can of worms. There were images on the bottom of one lung that were causing some concern; it was not until last night that we learned the result of the subsequent CAT scan letting us know that everything was okay. All I can say is that this was one heck of a welcome home!

Let’s go back to our cruise. Lisa and I scheduled ourselves to fly into Dublin and spend several days, and then board our ship that would tour the northern reaches of Great Britain and the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. It was an absolute wonderful journey, and given a few days’ time, I hope to be able to get some of our pictures up. Yes, I did have a little problem with my leg following a fight with a zodiac, but all in all, we got to see a lot of interesting things and thoroughly enjoyed our trip.

However, our journey was to have an unusual and unexpected ending! Just before we departed Kansas City, we received a phone call asking if we would please stay on board the vessel in London and travel back to Dublin on a private cruise sponsored by the company. Everything was a little “hush-hush,” so that in the beginning, we were not exactly sure what this was all about. Well, as it turns out, all the passengers left the ship except us, and they were replaced by a horde of travel writers and reporters, along with senior executives of the company for a celebration cruise. It seems that it was exactly ten years ago that Silversea started into the luxury expedition cruising market. In fact, they started in London by cruising beneath the tower bridge on their outward journey down the Thames River which our celebratory cruise was also going to do.

We spent the next two days being treated like royalty. On our first evening there was a five-course dinner during which we were invited to sit with the chairman of Silversea, his wife, and three other guests. The following evening, we had the pleasure of dining with the owner of the company and his wife. It seems that all this attention came about because Lisa and I were recognized as the number one cruisers on Silversea’s expedition ships. The company, at their expense, had brought around 15 of their most experienced cruisers on board for this event. Some of these individuals had come all the way from Australia.

Obviously, this was an unexpected ending to what had already been a wonderful cruise. We received a plaque and a small gift from the owner of the company himself. Graciously the company sent us a photograph of the presentation, which I hope to paste below for you to see.

I know that many of you have been following our journeys for almost as long as we have been sailing, and I want to thank you for expressing such confidence in our efforts to produce a dialogue and a journal so that you, too can travel in your minds to some of the exotic places that we have had the privilege to visit.

I wish everyone well and stay tuned for our next journey which will begin this July.


P.S. One of my friends made the suggestion that they would very much appreciate it if at the end of each blog, I would include the link to our photographs. This is something that I’m therefore going to start doing, although this is the one time that I don’t have photographs from this trip posted--yet.


A Tale of Three Cities

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A Tale of Three Cities

Aberdeen, York & Canterbury

We have left the far northern reaches of Scotland, and are now headed south along the west coast of England to our final destination of London.

Our first stop was Aberdeen Scotland which is on the border with England. Aberdeen is a large port city which supports a significant offshore oil petroleum industry. When we docked, our vessel was surrounded by some of the most unusual-looking ships I had ever seen. As we later learned from our guide, each of these vessels had been specifically designed to serve the needs of the petroleum industry and to operate in the harsh environment of the North Sea. Our visit today was not so much the city itself, but rather to take a drive outside of town to visit Crathes Castle and their gardens. This 16th century castle offers painted ceilings and family portraits along with a maze of internal tunnels and a multitude of turrets. Like so many old family castles, this is now owned by the National Trust of Scotland, and is open to the public. The castle was owned by the Burnett family who lived there for over 350 years, and could trace their heritage back to 1323 A.D., when Robert, the Bruce, granted them the land. The castle itself was not exceptionally large, and was relatively easy to visit. Of equal interest were the beautiful gardens; these gardens were completely contained within the perimeter of a brick wall. In other words, there was only one way in, and likewise, one way out. Unfortunately the day we were there, a multitude of gardening and watering activities were going on so that access to the entire garden was somewhat limited. We did get some good pictures, and I do hope you enjoy them. By the time we had finished our visit, it had grown to a long day at which point, Lisa and I were both tired, and called it a day.

The following day the ship was actually scheduled to visit Eyemouth, England; however, as a result of bad weather, we were not able to make our stop there, but instead continued on for our visit the following day in Kingston upon Hull. Hull, as it is commonly known, was a pretty port town that was to serve as our gateway to the city of York and the great York Minster. The city itself actually dates from 79 A.D., when it was founded by the Romans. Over the centuries it has grown, and today it is one of the great walled cities of the world, and home to the huge 13th century gothic cathedral known as York Minster. Now a pesky little problem arose today about whether or not I should actually make this trip. I think I mentioned that when coming aboard the ship from our zodiac at Fair Isle, I almost fell, however, the crew saved me. At the same time however, I took a substantial blow to my foot. I did not think much about it, but as the days passed, my ankle has become swollen, and the heel of my foot feels as if I had a stone bruise. So walking around in old city did not sound very appealing. I tried to learn how close our busses would be able to get to the Cathedral since that was the one thing I was most anxious to see. I got the sense that the walk would not be that long, and I reasoned that if I got to the Cathedral and did nothing more than sit, it would be worth the effort. Boy! Did I get fooled! Our busses had to park a considerable distance from the entrance to the Walled City, and once inside, it was a long and complicated journey to reach York Minster itself. I did the best I could to keep up with the group, and no one was complaining. However, when I reached the Minster, all I really wanted to do was to sit down because the pain was so bad in my ankle. Putting that aside for a minute, the city was one of the most unique and interesting that I had visited. I learned that much of the scenery used in the Harry Potter films were based on drawings that were made of the city. I would love to have taken more photographs to share, but unfortunately since I was having so much trouble keeping up with the group, the last thing I wanted to do was to stop and slow down to take photographs. I would also mention that the city was as jammed as if it was Disney World. It is an extremely popular attraction, and now has houses, shops, and stores of every kind.

As for the Cathedral itself, it is considered to be the largest Cathedral in Northern Europe, and is second in size, and importance only to the Cathedral at Canterbury. The first recorded building of a wooden structure on the site for the purpose of religion was recorded in 627 A.D. Since then, the church has immensely increased in size. Today it is held that the church represents every stage of the Gothic style of architecture from 1230 to 1475. Having worked so hard to get there, I spent much of my time just sitting quietly and trying to take in the enormity of what was before me. I did some walking around, but Lisa and I both left early so that we could begin our slow trek back to the bus. We departed Hull that evening in a dense fog, which then continued all night.

The next day when we arrived in Dover, our first view of the famous White Cliffs was almost completely shrouded by the thick fog. Once again, we were to undertake another five hour round-trip excursion, this time to Canterbury City and its famous Cathedral. Before going, however, I consulted with the ship’s physician on what was wrong with my ankle because at this point, it was not only quite swollen, but very painful to walk on my heel. An x-ray revealed that in all likelihood, there was no crack in my heel, but I was advised to limit the amount of walking that I did. So, once again, I tried to determine how much walking was involved from the bus to the Cathedral, with the idea that sadly enough I would sit once again in a pew, and take in the enormity of it all. After being convinced that the walk was minimal, we left on the tour. Well as it turns out, Canterbury was another walled City, and once again, there was a long walk from the bus to the Cathedral itself. I did get to walk around some, but spent most of my time listening and taking in the grand picture.

Departing Dover, our ship turned back northward to enter the mouth of the Thames River. During the evening, we cruised up the River. However, as luck would have it, fog was once again settling in. At one point, it was believed that the ship would have to dock some two miles from the city center, but at the last minute the fog lifted enough that we were able to proceed in the wee hours of the morning, underneath the Tower Bridge, and then to tie up alongside the famous HMS Belfast which is now a permanently anchored museum in the river. When I awoke the next morning, we were able to have breakfast while looking out at the Tower Bridge itself, and just to our left was the famous Tower of London. London is an incredibly beautiful city and incredibly vibrant. I will just comment that our cruise ends here, and most people are going home. We have been asked to stay on for another two nights, and while I have heard snippets of what might happen. For now, we will just wait and see.

For most of you who have followed my writings in the past, I apologize that this is not as exciting an article as I would like it to be; I guess that visiting old churches and cathedrals, and castles and gardens is just not the most exciting thing in the world to me, and when you add to that my injury which made it painful to walk, well, I guess you can see what happened. Lisa and I have missed you all, and we are looking forward to returning home. We are not looking forward to returning home to the heat and the thunderstorms, however! So, perhaps they will be done by the time we arrive.

Lisa and I wish you all well,


The Old Man Who Could, And Did!


The Old Man Who Could, And Did!

After having reached a latitude of 39° north, our little ship finally began its journey back southward towards our final destination of London. In visiting the far northern islands of Great Britain for the first time, I finally understood the unique character of these northern lands. While the ground is fertile and in the summer months lushly covered in grass, it is a windswept land completely devoid of trees. In the blowing winds of winter, it must be quite frightening, but I must say that everyone who we met that lived in these regions was warm and hospitable almost to a fault.

Yesterday our destination was the Scottish Island of Fair Isle. Only 3 mi.² in size, it is home to around 55 people on a year-round basis. It is described as one of Britain’s most remote inhabited islands, and until recently was only rarely visited by outsiders. In the past, most of the visitors to this island came for birdwatching. The island is a vital stopping off point for migrating birds, and more than 350 species have been recorded here--many never before seen. In more recent years, expedition ships have started to make this a port of call, and I learned that during “the season,” as the locals call it, this year they will have around 42 ships visiting. The island is also known for a traditional style of knitting using Shetland wool, an art which they carry on today. Their products are incredibly beautiful, and likewise, very expensive.

We departed the ship in our little zodiac and rode some fairly large swells into the little harbor where we could easily disembark on to a pier. The Islanders had prepared coffee and treats at the community center as well as a display of their Shetland wool goods. The only problem was that the visitor center was 1.2 miles from the point where we landed, and the road was uphill all the way. Fortunately the locals were using their own cars to come down to the pier and to transport any who wished up to the community center. And so it was, that Lisa was able to get the last seat in one of the cars. I told her that I would join her shortly when the next car came along. But that was not to be! Not right away, anyway!

Greeting us on the dock were locals who offered to lead the way to some spectacular views of the islands, and in particular, to a location where we could easily photograph the cute little Puffins. So, as I stood on the road waiting for another vehicle, I realized that most of our guest were headed up the hill to see the Puffins. As I stood there, some of the early arrivals were returning from there hilltop journey exclaiming that the entire hillside was full of the little birds, and in the bright morning sunlight they made a spectacular photograph combined with the scenery from across the island. So little by little, I became terribly torn about whether to take the next car to the community center, or to try on my own to climb the little hill. Now, in truth, the hill was not “so little.” I later learned that it was the highest hill on the island, reaching 715 feet. Those who were climbing soon disappeared amongst the rolling landscape, and so I became convinced that I, “too,” could make the climb, not realizing just how high they were climbing. Now given the fact that I have no balance anymore, climbing up that hill, unaccompanied, was surely one of the dumbest things that I could do, but I was driven to get a photograph of the many puffins lining the hillside. I climbed slowly and as carefully as I could, until I could go no more. I looked back at where I had started, and it seemed as if I had just begun. “Surely,” I said to myself, “if I have come this far? I could go just a little further!” And, so I trekked on over the crest of the hill in front of me, only to realize that there was far more of a climb in front of me than there was behind me. I should have stopped! I should have just turned around, and used my good God-given common sense to go back where I belonged. But no, something inside me said, “Surely I can go just a little further, and see the Puffins!” Well, this conversation in my head went on for over an hour. I became drenched in sweat, and almost driven to reach the top. By this point, almost everyone was coming down, but I could still see a line of people sitting on the grass taking pictures, and I knew that I must be close. . .

Finally, huffing and puffing, I reached the line of people, and looked to see what it was they were photographing--it cannot be! They are all photographing just one Puffin! JUST ONE PUFFIN!!! Apparently, the huge line of cute little birds that was there in the beginning had decided that there were too many people, and so they had gone into their holes in the side of the cliffs. What was left was-just-one-bird! Occasionally another puffin would stick his head up, see all the people, and immediately go back into its nest. And thus, for all of my efforts in climbing all 712 feet, my reward was to get a picture of a puffin, just one little puffin.

It was then that I realized that I now have to get safely down this huge hillside, and I became really concerned that having lost touch with me for so long, Lisa would be in a panic. I grabbed any member of our expedition team that I could find who had a radio and asked if they would call to see if anyone could find Lisa and let her know that I was safe. But, with all the radios that were on the island that day, I was never, ever able to make contact until we got back together on the ship.

However, I remained in a panic until I got back to the ship and found Lisa. People kept teasing me all the time telling me that they had seen her at the community center spending all the money she had with her on Shetland wool. I managed to get down to the bottom, and hitched a ride back up to the community center. I ran inside hoping to stop Lisa before she spent us into poverty – but she was nowhere to be found. At this point, I was soaking wet from sweat, and so I simply took off my jacket sat down in the chair, and tried to dry off and calm down.

After quite a while, I decided it was time to return to the ship. When I went outside, there was a car departing, but it was already full. I waited, and I waited, and I waited some more until a car arrived with someone already inside. The driver rolled down the window and said that if I would like a ride back to my ship to jump in that he had only a short ride to take this person to their vessel before he could turn around and take me back. Well, that was curious. As far as we were concerned, we were the only vessel to be in the little harbor this morning, and to be visiting the island. As it turns out there was another, smaller expedition ship on exactly the opposite side of the island. They had offloaded its people shortly after we arrived. So as unlikely as it was, two ships were visiting the island on the same day.

It turned out that on this drive I got to see the entire island from one side to the other. Not only that, I got to see both of the huge lighthouses which are another attraction for which this island is known. My driver was very talkative, and in our half hour together, I learned so much about the island that it would be difficult for me to repeat it all. A few facts of interest: I was amazed that they have not only one cellular carrier, but two from which to choose. Also, he told me that a third carrier is installing a tower later this summer. I did not think to ask why in the world three cell phone companies would be competing for business on an island with 55 people. At this point, all they have is voice communication. They do not yet have cellular data. The island has four windmills which are enough to provide power for about 80% of the day. Therefore, there is a schedule by which the power is turned off in a rolling pattern across the island during the day. They hope to have a fourth and fifth wind turbine installed before the end of the year. When this happens they will be energy independent, in so far as electricity is concerned. As is the case with so many of these desolate islands in northern Scotland, there are more sheep on the island than there are people. They also have a unique breed of cattle. The cattle are allowed to spend the summers outside, but for eight months of the year, they have to be kept inside for their own protection from the weather. And finally, I got to see that the island has a small runway, which is sufficient for an eight seat turboprop to provide service when the weather allows. So, as we bounced along on the road, I learned about who lived here, and who live there. All in all, it was a fascinating and informative ride.

Having gone from one side of the island to the other, I now found myself back at the pier and ready to return to the ship. Luckily, there was a zodiac waiting, and so I crawled right in for the ride back. The swells were rather high, but the ride itself was pretty good. However, when we arrived beside our ship, things turned a little different. The swells were causing the zodiac to go up and down against the side of the landing platform at a considerable rate, and also were causing us to be thrown against the side of the platform with a jarring force. I will tell you that the people who help in getting us on and off safely did an absolutely fantastic job. But, sometimes, things happen. When it was my turn, it was at that moment that the zodiac decided to drop out from under me, and we pounded against the ship rather hard. I momentarily lost my balance, and I could feel that I was suspended at that moment in time between being in control or completely out of control. Dreading that I was about to fall, someone came out of nowhere and pushed me forward so that I could walk onto the platform and back to the ship. However, in the process, I wrenched my leg and twisted both my ankle and knee, and I had some kind of a whiplash to my head since it hurt all night long. The good news is that I have awakened this morning bright eyed and bushytailed and ready to go out again.

So, like the little engine that could, this old man could and did eventually make the hillside top, even if in the end, admit all I got was a photograph of one little Puffin. Right now, we are anchored in the Scottish city of Aberdeen. We will be going ashore in about two hours for our tour, and since the weather outside is absolutely beautiful, I expect things to go wonderfully.

So, from the old man who could, I say, “keep on buggering on.”


A Tipple or Two

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A Tipple or Two

Yesterday our ship visited the Orkney Islands which is an archipelago in the northern isles of Scotland. Altogether the Orkneys are composed of approximately 70 islands of which 20 are inhabited. Our visit was to the largest island which is called “the mainland.” We put in to the administrative center which is Kirkwall. I might mention that there is a distillery on this island. Ah, well yes, moving on, I think it is particularly interesting to note that the islands have been inhabited for at least 8500 years. There are numerous ruins on them including the famous “Ring of Brodgar” which rivals “Stonehenge” in its majesty.

Having visited here on several occasions, most of the excursion opportunities that were offered did not seem to be of much interest. In particular, all of them required a significant amount of physical activity with the exception of one tour which mentioned that at the end it would visit a distillery. Obviously that was not the reason that I selected that particular excursion; however, getting to visit a distillery did not seem like such a bad idea at the end of a long day!

In the process of our morning tour, I learned some interesting bits of history. It is here in the Orkneys that the large body of water known as “Scappa Flow” is situated. These sheltered waters have been used by ships since prehistory, and played a critical role in both World War I and World War II. During the First World War, Great Britain sank a large number of ships in order to block all but the major channels into the bay. When the Second World War started, Great Britain was using Scappa Flow as a major naval facility, and they were operating on the assumption that no submarine could enter but through the main channel which they had protected. However, they were wrong. As it turns out, a U-boat was able to successfully navigate into the harbor, and there found that most of the fleet was not at anchor. There was one “World War I” battleship anchored in the harbor as the U-boats’ main target. That ship, however, was not really in active service. On it were 1800 young men who were being trained; the ship was sunk by the U-boat with the loss of over 800 young men.

At the time, Winston Churchill was First Lord of the British Admiralty. He flew to the islands immediately in order to assess the problem, whereupon, he ordered that all entrances into the bay be filled with junk and old ships as quickly as possible. Unfortunately there was not enough junk and material on the island to complete the task, and so Churchill ordered that concrete blocks weighing anywhere from 5 to 10 tons, be created and then dropped in the channels. When work was not going fast enough to suit him, he transferred 1200 Italian “prisoners of war” to the island in order that they could assist with the construction. Their arrival required that a facility be constructed to contain the “prisoners of war.” One of the demands made by the prisoners was that they be allowed to build their own chapel. It took some time before their demand was met, but what they were able to complete was truly a miracle! I really did not expect to see very much because from the outside the little structure looked like a Quonset hut. On the inside, however, every square inch had been meticulously prepared and painted such that the little chapel seemed like a large Cathedral. Truly, among their prisoners, they had some extremely talented artists.

The task of filling in the channels was completed successfully, and when the work was completed, a causeway was built between the islands. They are today called Churchill’s Causeway, and in our drive to the chapel, we crossed two of them in order to reach the little island where it was located. After our visit, we journeyed back into town this time to visit St. Magnus Cathedral. The Cathedral towers over the nearby distillery – ah I meant to say, the nearby town. It has a magnificent and stunning structure. Construction was begun in 1137, and took 300 years to complete. It was built primarily of sandstone, but a significant portion was also completed using brick. While everyone was viewing the church, I had an opportunity to walk around the little picturesque town of Kirkwall, and it was an absolutely charming place.

Finally, we got back into our bus and headed off to the world famous Highland Park Distillery. Over the years, I have visited a number of distilleries most of them in the United States, but never have I visited one like this! This distillery has been in continuous operation for over 125 years. Much of its original equipment is still in operation, and while it has grown somewhat over the years, it is still very much a small operation where the emphasis is on quality and not quantity.

Upon first arrival, everyone was given a dram of Highland Park 10 year old whiskey. After having a sip, we were told that by the end of the tour, we would be able to differentiate many of the things that we were tasting and smelling, and to be able to evaluate the differences in whiskey that had been aged longer. I will not go into great detail about the tour except to say that it took over two hours, and I was amazed at the small scale of the operation, and the repeated emphasis on their adherence to historical procedures.

So at the end, everyone was allowed to have a tipple, or two, or three which means that we were presented with a dram each of their 12-year-old whiskey, 15, and then 25-year-old. Now I will tell you that a dram seemed to be a very small amount in each class, but by the end of the tasting session, and on our bus ride back to the ship, I believe everyone on the bus was feeling the effects of our visit.

So all in all, I would say,

“I had a wonderful day in the Orkneys!”


Northern Europe And British Isles Expedition

Northern Europe And

British Isles Expedition


Surprise! We actually managed to slip out of town without a lot of fanfare, but I do know that it is unfair of me not to write some about our experiences because I know that many of you enjoy sharing our travels. I only hope you will accept my apology, but in truth, I was so exhausted when I left town that for the first many days of this trip, I simply slept. Today I am taking a “day off” which will provide me an opportunity to bring everyone up to speed on what we have been doing and where we are.

Simply put, Lisa and I traveled to Dublin, Ireland where we spent several days, mostly in our hotel room sleeping. We did venture out on our last afternoon to visit the National Gallery of Art. Not only was the building itself extremely impressive, but the collection was outstanding and overwhelming. If I had it to do over again, I would allow more time; and if it seems as if I am shorting Dublin, it is only because we were so tired that we took advantage of the fact that we had been there multiple times to allow ourselves the opportunity to simply catch up on our rest. Our hotel was located right in the middle of the downtown area so we were able to walk enough to see most of the major sites. I might mention just in passing that most people tend to forget that Ireland is a country that is totally separate and apart from Great Britain. The six counties that compose Northern Ireland, however, still remain under British rule. Sadly, Dublin was to be our only stop in this beautiful country, and even though we boarded our ship here, The Silver Cloud, we departed for an overnight sail to the Isle of Man.

This island, which measures just 30 miles x 13 miles, lies in the middle of the Irish Sea between Ireland and the United Kingdom. It might surprise you that the island has maintained its own form of government since independence from Scotland in the 1300s. It has what is known as a “nonpartisan democracy,” also known as a “no – party democracy.” This is a system of representative government such that universal and periodic elections take place without reference to political parties, and there is an annual event at which all people of the island meet at a specific location to pass on the laws that have been put forth by its legislature during the year. Even though the island is self-governing, it maintains close ties with the British Crown and has indeed a dependency of the Crown. They pay annual fees to the British government so that Great Britain handles all of their defense and diplomatic relationships.

Our visit ashore today offered us the opportunity to ride the historic narrow gauge railroad. The engine is an old Jacobite steam engine which is highly polished as if it were a fine piece of brass. The cars are from the late 1800s, and while not particularly roomy, they did offer a unique perspective of the magnificent scenery as we sped along the rural countryside. We had been scheduled to pay a visit to a historic castle, but unfortunately it is still undergoing restoration. In its place we were taken to visit the Village of Cregneash. The small village is a community that offers a look back in time. The homes are built of stones from the nearby fields and painted to a brilliant white on the outside; all of the roofs are thatched. This historical treasure was the location for the film of one of our favorite films, Waking Ned Devine. We finally returned to the capital City of Douglas from which we could return to our ship.

Another day, and another location! This time we had moved to the Island of Iona. This island is famous because Saint Columba came here from Ireland in 563 A.D., and with that, early Christianity spread through northern Britain from this remote island community. Forty-eight kings of Scotland are buried here. The biggest attraction in Iona is the Abby which was restored during the early 20th century. It is in constant use today by the local community. Unfortunately, when we arrived it was pouring down rain that was being driven by a strong cold wind. Having visited this island community once before, neither Lisa nor I really had any interest in getting soaking wet, much less in getting our cameras wet, so I will admit that we took the day at leisure, and stayed on board the ship, as did many of the other passengers.

Next we visited the Highlands of Scotland where we saw some truly magnificent scenery in an all-day outing from our ship. We first went ashore at the small picturesque port city of Oban, (ever heard of the single malt scotch Oban? Hint-Hint!). We then drove until lunch time through some of the most magnificent scenery that Scotland has to offer. We went to a lovely town called Fort William where we had lunch at a local hotel. After lunch, came one of the highlights of our trip so far, a journey on the famous train that appeared in the Harry Potter movie. I was hoping that at the other end we would reach Hogwarts, but alas, I was disappointed. We instead ended our journey at another picturesque seaside town called Mallaig. In between, we experienced “one of the great railway journeys of the world.” At times we crawled, and at times we sped across the countryside as if we were on a mission. Our locomotive dated back to the 1930s, while the coaches were 1960 British Railway Mark 1’s.

Once again, sailing northward during the night, we reached the Isle of Skye and the small City of Portree. Here we boarded our busses for our 90 minute drive to visit Dunvegan Castle. This beautiful old castle had been owned and used by the same family for over 800 years. It is the seat of the Clan MacLeod chiefs since the 13th Century. The castle itself was small but in an excellent state. Not only was it well worth a visit, but the surrounding gardens were magnificent. Our drive back into town had us arriving with just enough time to do a quick tour before it was again time to return to our ship.

Today we find ourselves anchored off of the very small northern Island St Kilda. This remarkable uninhabited archipelago lies some 40 miles beyond the Hebrides. It is one of the few places in the world to have received dual world heritage status from UNESCO. At one point, the small island supported a population of just over 200 persons, but the last islanders were forced to abandon the island in 1930, when it became impossible to eke out even a subsistence living. Unable to take their sheep with them, they left them on the island. Without any natural predators, the sheep have proliferated to the point that it is impossible to walk on the land without coming away with “dirty shoes.” The ruins themselves stretch along a steep hillside. Having visited here before, and with our limited mobility these days, Lisa and I decided to remain on the ship which is providing me this opportunity to finally get caught up in my writing.

Going forward I will try to do a better job. Right now we are headed to the Orkney Islands. So, quick and go look that up in your Google search!