Monday, May 19, 2014

I went to Scotland!

The following is an article I wrote after my trip to Scotland this May with a group of really wonderful friends and Gail Speckman our group leader. We spent 11 days traveling a circle route in the northern half of Scotland. What a wonderful experience.

Staffa Day Trip

The day starts early and ends late but what a day. Four of us shared a taxi down to the wharf where we waited for the ferry to take us to Mull. Mary and Gail walk the mile or so to the wharf - such energetic women. 
Ferry to Mull

The huge ferry was being loaded with box trucks taking produce and products to the islands. The prow of the ferry splits and raises up, opening the ship so the ramps can lower for the trucks and cars driving into the ferry. I think about how my husband would like to see the process. While we crossed to Mull, the clouds begin lifting. Breaks in the fog give views of small islands with light houses, beacons and ruins.

On Mull we rush to the waiting bus which will take us to the other side of the island for another ferry ride. The early morning brings day workers to the island and tourists eager to start sight seeing before the crowds spoil views.

Typical scenery in Scotland

The ride across the island of Mull takes an hour over the typical highland narrow, twisting and turning roads. Water falls are crashing down the mountains and streams that flow into lochs are abundant.

Another ferry ride, much shorter this time, takes us to the island of Iona for a short stop. Our ride to the island Staffa is waiting for us. It is a 40 foot cruiser with outside seating and an enclosed area for rainy days. 

Staffa boat taxi

The sky is clearing and the ride to Staffa takes about a half hour. Our captain really knows his boat and the ride is smooth, even with 3 and 4 foot swells coming in off the Atlantic. We can see Staffa coming into view. On maps it is a tiny pin prick of an island but as we get closer it raises up, towering over us. The captain pulls up to a concrete pier, where we jump down from the boat and begin exploring the island. We have two hours to see what ever we wish.
Approaching the Island of Staffa with Fingal's cave

Staffa is a volcanic island and from far off looks to me like a cupcake. The sides of the island are the pleated cup cake paper and the top the island is puffed up and over the paper cup. It is formed entirely from hexagonally jointed columns within a lava flow. Cooling on the upper and lower surfaces of the solidified lava resulted in contraction and fracturing, starting in a blocky tetragonal pattern and transitioning to a regular hexagonal fracture pattern with fractures perpendicular to the cooling surfaces. As cooling continued these cracks gradually extended toward the center of the flow, forming the long hexagonal columns seen in the wave-eroded cross-section today. The cave's size and naturally arched roof, and the eerie sounds produced by the echoesof waves, give it the atmosphere of a natural cathedral. The cave's Gaelic name,An Uaimh Bhinn, means "the melodious cave."

Kathy and I decide to experience the cave. Just below the cliffs above the high tide mark, an easy path has been set for tourists, The hexagons are covered with grit to keep them from becoming slippery in wet conditions and there is a railing to hold onto to keep us steady.

The hexagon shape of the black rock is fascinating both the up right shapes that raise above us and the hex shapes that we follow to the cave. It is a short walk to the end of the island where Fingal's cave opens up to the Atlantic. The waves are crashing in and echoing in the huge cave.

The cave raises above us, hexagon after hexagon forming the tall narrow cave. Kathy and I walked in to the end of the walkway inside the cave. The crashing and echoing sounds create an exciting atmosphere. You can feel the energy surging all around you. There is mist in the air from the crashing waves and an island of foam on the water --- like my Guinness the night before.

After the trip to the cave I decide to explore the top of the island. I know that Gail and Mary went to find the puffin's roosting place at the other end of the island. As I climb the steps to the top, I stop to see the wild flowers growing out of the rock – life taking hold where ever it can. 

Sea Thrift

Oddly some the little wild flowers are the same I have nursed along in my garden at home. They look happier here in this wet island atmosphere than they do in my Minnesota garden.

At the top of the island, I find a huge rolling pasture of lush grass dotted with little yellow and white daises. Paths lead out from the steps in every direction.

Where to turn? Walk right to the puffin roost, ahead to the middle of the island or left? The view from the top is spectacular with islands dotting the horizon. I peer over the edge of the green grass to the hexagons many feet below me. There are no sturdy railings to keep people safe from their own carelessness. I do the crazy thing and lean over to photograph the tourists walking the path I was just on, so far below. I see the hexagons from high above and can see their interlocking patterns.

“What would the view be like if I walked up to the top of the cave?” I wander up the slope hoping that I will end up in the right place. There were no signs pointing to the over look above Fingal's cave. It is a fairly small island and the Scottish tend not need signs to tell them where to go. The path I took led me directly to the top of the cliff above the cave. I suppose there were many people who had the same idea as I. Peering over the edge I could see the point of hex shaped rocks that mark the opening of the cave. To get a better view, I lie down on my stomach to point my camera downward. I ask myself, “What is a 60-something grandma pulling a trick like this?” 

There is Gail and there is Mary, taking their photos of the cave below unaware that I am far above them taking a photo of them taking a photo.

Our time on Staff is limited and we are back on the boat. The next stop is the Island of Iona a civilized island with shops, a nunnery in ruins, a rebuilt Abby, standing crosses, and a Saint.

 Highland Impression

Clouds and fog play hide and seek with mountains,
Shedding their loads of rain and mist over bracken,
Unnamed streams fill, crash, twisting and turning, falling down mountain sides,
Carving gullies, streams, river basins, filling lochs
Lochs reflecting cloudscapes on their mirror surfaces

Clouds, fog, mists, sprinkles, streams, rivers, lochs --- Scotland

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