Thursday, June 9, 2016

Days 13-18

Tuesday night after dinner we went to the Irish/Scottish sing along and local dances.  Ted even danced with our director Ali in what I can only describe as the forerunner to the Virginia Reel.  You can certainly see where the music and dance of our Appalachians was brought by the Scots/Irish to that area.  The Irish jig and clogging are equally close.  It was a fun evening.

Wednesday morning dawned so foggy you couldn't see anything!  We were scheduled to travel from our anchored ship by Zodiac rafts to the island of Iona in the Inner Hebrides.  Everything went as scheduled but we left later than planned once the fog lifted.  Only 10 passengers at a time were transported in a zodiac so it took a few trips for our whole group to make it to shore.

We were met by a local guide and walked through the village to the Iona Abbey, founded by St Columba in 563.  "The Columban community survived several Viking attacks but around 1200 a community of Benedictine monks was founded on the site by Reginald, son of Somerled, the self-styled ‘king of the Isles’. The abbey remained an important place of worship and pilgrimage until the Reformation in 1560, after which monastic life came to an end and it largely fell into disuse. The abbey experienced a short-lived resurgence when Charles I reintroduced bishops to the Scottish Church and made Iona the seat of the Bishop of the Isles. However, by the end of the 17th century bishops had once again been abolished and the abbey continued to decline once more. New life was given to the abbey buildings when the process of restoration was begun in the early 20th century under the Iona Cathedral Trust. This was continued from 1938 by the Iona Community, an ecumenical order who continue the tradition of Iona Abbey as a place of worship. The abbey is now cared for by Historic Scotland and can be visited all year."

The restoration and preservation are so very well done that the Abbey is an ecumenical community still using the facility for worship.  Many gravestones have been salvaged but some were worn so smooth while in the ground it is impossible to read what was written; however, many more can be deciphered.  It turned into such a pleasant day that we shed our parkas and enjoyed strolling back into town for lunch.  When we finished, we went back to the silver jewelry maker and I bought a Tree of Life necklace.

The fog started rolling in mid afternoon so we caught the second zodiac back to be sure we could get to the ship.  We made it fine and took advantage of the down time to rest up.  At 4:00 o'clock we had High Tea followed by a discussion by our four Program Directors on BREXIT, the United Kingdom's vote about whether to stay in the EU.  It was interesting and I could tell we have a boatload of liberals sailing with us.  I have no horse in the race and simply listened.  We all voted and learned at our Port Talk the vote was 28 In and 25 Out.

After dinner we went to the lounge to play Liars Club.  We arrived late so didn't choose a team but stayed to join in the laughter of the answers.

The next morning we docked at Barra, Scotland, an island in the Outer Hebrides.  The weather was beautiful and we were anxious to take a circle bus tour of the island.   We stopped at the tiny airport where the landing strip is the beach!  The scenery is spectacular.

By the time we finished the full circle it was time for lunch back at the ship.  A buffet was set up on Deck 5 Aft in the beautiful sunshine.  Apparently we are experiencing unusually warm weather not seen here but a few days a year!

After lunch we walked to the town hall where we were entertained by the bagpipes and folk dancing, with some fellow passengers being chosen as partners.  Ted was relieved we were in the second row and inaccessible.  We took a short walk along the shoreline before returning to the ship to rest up.  All the fresh air and walking catches up with us.

Friday was a very full day in Stornoway in the Outer Hebrides Islands.  We left at 8:15 and explored the countryside on our way to a Harris Tweed Weaver.  To be Harris Tweed it must be hand entered on the loom and the weft is powered by pedaling like you are riding a bike!  I have photos for later.  Next we went to a whiskey distillery.  After explaining the distilling process we were offered a sample.  And just like in Bardstown KY, I abstained.  It is a relatively new distillery so only Spirits under three years old and whiskey over three years and a day are being sold.  It will be two more years until their scotch can be sold.  

We enjoyed lunch at a campsite where a tent was erected.  There were box lunches and drinks for all.  Our next stop was Blackhouse Village that has been turned into an historical site.  The stone houses have thatch roofs and derive their name from the blackness caused by the burning of peat.  Next up was the Callanish Stones, the very thing I was waiting to see due to my interest in the Outlander series of books and TV series now being shown on Starz.  As a little extra, we were driven past the early home of Mary McCloud, mother of Donald Trump!  

It was 4:00 by the time we returned and we had a bit of time before heading to the lounge to see the local dance company perform accompanied by bagpipes.

Saturday was another early day!  I am looking forward to getting home so I can sleep in.  It was a blustery day and we walked to the Heritage Museum in Stromness on the Isle of Lewis in the Orkney Islands.  This city is located on the Scapa Flow which played an important part in WWI and WWII.  It was a protected port but was breached by the Germans who snuck a submarine in and sunk the HMS Royal Oak causing over 800 men to lose their lives.  Four barriers were built after that to protect the port and they now serve as causeways connecting the islands.

Later we traveled through the most gorgeous countryside I have ever seen on the Isles of Lewis and Harris.  It was just beautiful.  We viewed ships that had been sunk called the Churchill Barriers to help block access to the inner harbors of these many islands.  

A beautiful chapel was built by Italian WWII POWs on a bluff.  It is beautifully painted inside and reminded me of the Texas Painted Churches.  The front wall featured a portrait of Mary and Child.  Our guide said the chapel was built as a message of peace as indicated by the olive branch the child Jesus is holding.  However, when I pointed out that the Latin banner translated read "Queen of Peace, pray for us" he refused to respond.  He also refused to acknowledge St. Magnus Cathedral was a Catholic Church when originally built.  I detected a bit of bigotry I believe!  There was an artistic display called The Weeping Window at the cathedral.  Ceramic poppies flowed from a front window, each one in remembrance of someone who lost their life in the war.  They were individually handcrafted. The funny thing was he kept talking about "seeing the puppies" and we were all confused!

We returned back to the ship for lunch and then headed to Skara Brae, a 5000 year old archaeological village uncovered on the coast of Orkney Island.  Their use of rocks to build housing, passageways to connect them and to make furniture is amazing.  We stopped at two more areas of "stones" but it was so windy and cold I only got out to view one set.

It is thought these stones were set to measure time using the sun, moon and stars.  At equinoxes you can see how the sun or moon are in a direct line with another stone.  Hearths or rock piles in the center indicate rituals or celebrations, even burials, occurred there.  Since it is thought early men worshiped the sun and moon, it makes sense.  However, it is all speculation.  I had been discussing the Outlander series with Ali our director and we both hugged the stones but didn't get transported back in time.  

We had two terrific couples join us and Tom & Jeanne for dinner and had an exceptionally nice conversation over our meal.  Later the crew presented some silly skits for our enjoyment.  

Morning found us docked in Aberdeen where it appeared we would have rain but when we departed for our tours, it had stopped.  First we visited Fittie, old fisherman homes built close to the docks. They  are now very expensive homes that don't appear to give you much for your money and from there we visited the Burnett home, Castle Crathes.

This late 16th century castle, with connections to King Robert the Bruce, provides a memorable experience with its towers, turrets and stories of its resident ghosts. King Robert the Bruce granted the lands of Leys to the Burnett family in 1323: the ancient Horn of Leys, which can be seen today in the Great Hall, marks his gift.

The castle, built in the second half of the 16th century, is a superb example of a tower house of the period.  Some of the rooms still retain their original painted ceilings and collections of family portraits and furniture.

A visit is enhanced by the 1.5 hectares of walled garden, which incorporates herbaceous borders and many unusual plants, providing a wonderful display at all times of the year. The great yew hedges, fascinating examples of the art of topiary, date from as early as 1702

 I really enjoyed this visit because so much is original and photos from long ago up to present time are displayed.  The Burnett Clan is still very active today and meet as family.  I have lots of photos to share soon.

Not to be outdone, in the afternoon we drove to Balmoral Castle with a lunch stop along the way.  It was a lovely ride and we toured the Exhibits, the gardens and the ballroom where large public affairs are held.  We have visited Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, Hampton Court, Balmoral and Edinburgh Castle and the Queen has not been home anywhere we have been!

Monday was disembarkment day in Edinburgh.  We took a panoramic tour of the city by bus and eventually were taken to The George Hotel where we would spend the night.  We were on our own for lunch and chose a pub on Rose Street.  I had a big, old burger and it tasted great!  

Our last evening began with cocktails followed by dinner in a ballroom set up in a very elegant fashion. A bagpiper led us in, sang a little and recited some poetry.  Then there was the presentation of the haggis!  It looks like a huge, gray slug!  Our hot appetizer was a thin layer of haggis, covered in mashed potatoes with whiskey sauce. Ted and I passed!  It was a great end to a great vacation.

We were up early to dress, pack, put our luggage out, go down for breakfast and be in the car by 7:15.  We kept running into others from the trip at the airport in Edinburgh but I think we, Tom and Jeanne were the only ones scheduled into Heathrow.  For some reason we were in Business Class which was a nice surprise.  I still don't know how that happened.  We said our goodbyes to Tom and Jeanne who needed to make their way to Terminal 3 while we remained in Terminal 5.  

We had lunch then made our way to B Concourse of Terminal 5 which was a l-o-n-g way!  Even the ramp to the airplane was about 10 times longer than normal.  I thought we had to be back in Ireland considering the distance!

We settled in for the 9.5 hour flight, grateful for the opportunity to visit the United Kingdom so extensively but even more grateful to be heading home.  We arrived after a 9.5 hour flight and were greeted by Terry who again was our driver.  Having been awake 22 hours, we went to be almost immediately and got a good night's sleep.

Photo blog to follow as soon as I download and sort my photos.  Thanks for accompanying us on our visit to the Maritime Jewels of the United Kingdom.  

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