Monday, June 18, 2018

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!



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