Monday, 26 September 2011

Scotland - Isles to Mainland, then on to Northern Ireland

Again apologies, for a slow blog. If you, like this author, love to view the pictures as much as the text, please revisit these pages. Photographs will be uploaded as soon as possible.

A day on the Isle of Lewis, the largest of the Western Isles, brought us alternate bright sun and rain, with a magnificent rainbow over Stornoway as we departed.

Lews Castle was a feature of the view from Fram's mooring. Set back from the harbour front, the layout and planting of the massive grounds in the 19th century cost more than the construction of the building itself. Quantities of soil were important to enable the planting of trees, and those now magnificent specimens and their successors are to this day the only trees on the island.

Excursions explored the moorlands, peat bogs and lochs as well as crossing the 'border' to the Isle of Harris. Hand weaving of Harris Tweed was demonstrated, and there were visits to the Standing Stones at Callanish, the Black House Museum and the 2,000 year old dry stone fortified tower called Carloway Broch.

Nicknamed 'Gateway to the Isles' our next port was Oban, a sheltered harbour on the mainland offering many ferry services. Autumn colours were on show on scenic drives that were admittedly hampered by constant rain, but there were plenty of indoor sights to enjoy - the Duke of Argyll's residence at Inveraray, local pubs and continuing the whisky theme of this voyage - the Oban Distillery, one of the smallest producers.

Post dinner whisky tastings continued with three different samples from the same Glenfarclas Distillery. Established in 1836 and still family owned and run Bernie used their productions to demonstrate the differences in taste caused by ageing and alcohol content.

Moving south and with a piper's welcome, Belfast today brought us to the contrast of a bustling major city. Old blends with new architecture, shops, cafes, museums, and promenades. However, just minutes along the road the Antrim coastal scenery and Dunluce Castle beckoned. Walking, hopping, jumping along the UNESCO world heritage site of Giant's Causeway was the goal for many. This 6km stretch of extraordinary geological formations represents volcanic activity from 50-60 million years ago. 40,000 or so polygonal columns of basalt in perfect horizontal sections form a pavement out to sea. Thus rise the legends of giants striding their way to Scotland.