Gylen Castle

Getting sick while traveling put a kink in our plans. On September 2, about 12 days into our trip I woke up feeling quite ill. We had a COVID test kit with us and I tested positive for COVID. We were able to extend our stay at the Pennygate Lodge in Craignure. After a few days there we moved to an apartment in Oban for a few more nights. This meant we would not be spending time at the Iona Abbey as planned, but it did give us a few more days to explore Oban. Once we were feeling better we decided a trip to the Isle of Kerrera was in order. To get to the island we walked the short distance to the wharf where we hailed a taxi to take us to the Kerrera Ferry.

This is a small ferry that can only carry a dozen or so people, we ended up having to wait for a few crossings, which didn’t amount to much time, since the ride across the channel takes all of 10 minutes. That said, if you do plan to visit the island allow plenty of time in the event that you end up waiting.

Once on the island it’s a two mile walk to Kerrera Tea Room and the castle. It’s a very pretty walk past farms and pastures overlooking the Sound of Kerrera. We passed through a number of gates, being sure to close them after passing through. At the top of a rise just before reaching the tea room we found a gate with a sign “It’s all downhill from here.

It was just after noon when we reached the tea garden. The Smoked Spanish Chickpea Soup and fresh bread was a welcome treat after the walk. After lunch it was a short walk to the castle where we spent some time exploring the ruins.

The castle which overlooks the Firth of Lorn was built in 1582 by the Clan MacDougall but only occupied for a short time. It was burned by the Covenanters in 1647 during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms.

Once we had explored the castle, and peeked through the windows we made our way back to Oban and on to Kilmartin on the the afternoon bus. You can view more photos online. Here’s the track of our walk on the island.

Aruthur’s Seat

Our trip to Scotland started in Edinburgh on August 21. We spent a couple of days here to give ourselves time to adjust to the eight hour time difference. One of the popular things to do in Edinburgh is to hike to Aurthur’s Seat. This is an ancient volcano in the hills in Edinburgh. This mountain was described by Robert Louis Stevenson as “a hill for magnitude, a mountain in virtue of its bold design.” There are a number of car parks that give easy access to the trails on, however, being on foot, we turned it into a healthy day hike. Starting out from our accommodations near The Meadows and making our way across town and up the trail to the top.

While it is only a 1000 foot climb it was a challenge getting to the top. From there we had a panoramic view of the city below.

Our host for the Bed & Breakfast where we were staying suggested we follow the trail down the far side to make our way to the Sheep’s Heid Inn for lunch. The sign over the door says the inn was established in 1360, making it one of Edinburgh’s oldest pubs. We ordered the Pan-fired Wild Scallops ras el hanout, smoked haddock Florentine bonbons, celeriac purée, apple & fennel tartar. A delicious lunch after our walk.

When we returned to our lodgings we discovered that we had walked 8 miles. It was time to take off our hiking boots and put our feet up. You can view more photos online.

Ancient Ruins in Kilmartin

Kilmartin Glen is considered to have one of the most important concentrations of Neolithic and Bronze Age remains in Scotland. That seemed reason enough to spend a few days here. Some of the ruins date back more than 5,000 years. These include a multitude of cairns, standing stones, carved rock, stone circles, forts and castles.

There are a number of walks in the area leading to some of the features. So Saturday, September 10, we donned our hiking boots to go exploring. The most prominent features are a series of stone cairns which served as burial sites. These are oriented in a north-south line through the glen. We started with the Glebe Cairn and followed the trail to Nether Largie North Cairn, Nether Largie Mid Cairn, Nether Largie South Cairn, and Temple Wood.

The Nether Largie North Cairn has been excavated and you can climb down into the burial chamber through a sliding trap door. Once inside you can see the capstone with cup-shaped markings.

What is here today is not necessarily intact. Over the millennia, a number of the stones in the cairns have been taken away to be used as building material. The sites have been excavated for archaeological research and reconstructed to their present day form. Even with all these disturbances it’s remarkable to visit these sites and to imagine what life was like here 5,000 years ago, with a society that had people of prominence worthy of such an elaborate burial. It may be the flow of metals being traded through the glen that gave rise to this society.

The Nether Largie South Cairn is perhaps one of the most interesting. Here you can climb down inside and imagine what sacred ceremonies may have happened here.

In addition to the Cairns there are a number of standing stones throughout the glen and a circle of standing stones at the Temple Grove. Following our exploration of the Neolithic sites, we made our way to the Kilmartin Church to explore some of the gravestones in the graveyard. The church was closed, but it was still quite interesting to see some of the gravestones dating back hundreds of years. The Kilmartin museum was also closed for renovation, which was a bit of a disappointment. It would have been interesting to have additional information to help interpret the history of the glen.

Even though it was an easy walk through the glen we managed to log six miles.

Carnassarie Castle

Today, September 11, marks our 22nd day of travel in Scotland. We’ve had many adventures over the past three weeks. Some of those adventures will eventually make their way into this blog, but for today, I’ll share today’s walk to Carnassarie Castle. And, of course, at the top of the news is the passing of Queen Elizabeth II. That caused us to revise our plans to return to the Edinburgh airport for our return flight. Nevertheless, it didn’t stop us from lacing up our hiking boots this morning and going on a walk after a hearty Scottish Breakfast at our B&B here in Kilmartin, Old Manse.

Our track led us along several country paths, up into the hills, through woods and past babbling streams. Then we climbed a hill to the castle where we spent quite some time going up and down many flights of narrow circular stairs to admire the view. The castle was built between 1565 and 1572 by John Carswell who had been granted the land by the Earl of Argyll. Carswell would become the Bishop of the Isles and was instrumental in translating the Book of Common Order into Gaelic, which became the earliest book to be translated into Scots Gaelic.

The overcast sky with threat of rain provided some nice soft lighting to set the castle in a surrounding landscape of green rolling hills and woods.

After climbing all the stairs and poking into rooms and windows, we found a spot to break out our lunch of cheese and crackers.

We returned to the town of Kilmartin by retracing our steps, walking by an apparently abandoned caravan which seems to have a picturesque spot along the track. Back in town we stopped at the museum café for a bowl of hot lentil soup, muffins and coffee. The museum is closed at the moment for renovation, but that didn’t deter us from enjoying a cool pleasant day in the area of Scotland which is known for it’s archeological significance, with ruins going back over 5000 years.

Kayak Around Iona

August 31. Our Wilderness Scotland paddling adventures included several day paddles exploring parts of the Isles of Mull and Iona. The day’s adventures usually started with a briefing by one of the guides. Here’s Howard explaining the route around Iona. Our land base for these outings was Achaban Houses which was a mile from Fionnphort, our launch point for the paddle around Iona. You can see the van with the kayak trailer in the photo.

It was a promising day as we schlepped boats and gear down to the waters edge. Without much delay we were on the water but since we had the tail end of the ebb against us we stayed close to shore looking for eddies and paddling inside the rocks that separate the Sound of Iona. Once we were around the rocks and on the sound we picked up the pace a bit to make the short crossing to Iona where we paddled around the point and into a white sand beach for coffee and tea.

For the rest of the trip we had the current with us. We poked our noses into caves, paddling in and out of rocks admiring the clear and colorful water. Coming back into Fionnphort we had to hold up a few minutes for the ferry. And then it was off to the pub to celebrate.

More photos are available in an online gallery and you can view a video as well.

We logged 11 miles on calm water. An excellent days paddle.

Back to Oban

Day 16 of our Scotland Trip. Our plan was to spend the better part of this week at the Iona Abbey as part of the Iona Community. Circumstances have forced us to change our plans. Joann and I both tested positive for COVID-19 a few days ago. At the time we had booked two nights at the Pennygate Lodge in Craignure. We were able to extend our stay to four nights which was fortunate. The hotel has a excellent restaurant, and we were able to hold up in our room with excellent food delivered. Despite our current situation we have had some amazing adventures in the past two weeks. The highlight was kayaking around Iona with Wilderness Scotland. That adventure warrants a blog posting of its own.

So today we left the Pennygate and took the ferry back to Oban. We’ve booked an apartment for several nights. I’m looking forward to using some of the down time to work through some of the photos and videos and to post more about the trip. While at Pennygate I was sick in bed with no energy to do anything more that sleep and read. The Seabreeze Apartment where we are now feels almost liberating with two bedrooms, living room, and kitchen. Plenty of room for two people to roam around while we rest and recover.

On our previous stay in Oban we celebrated our 49th wedding anniversary. I also spent one evening wandering around town looking for nighttime photo opportunities. And here’s a selfie of the two of us at Arthur’s Seat from the beginning of our trip.

Stay tuned. I have more stories to share.

Golden Rose Ranch

On July 18 we found our way to Golden Rose Ranch where we spent the night in some beautiful red rock country. This was another camping find we discovered through Hipcamp. Definitely off the beaten track. Dry camping with no facilities which suits us just fine.

There are three campsites on the ranch but we had the place to ourselves. In the evening the cliffs catch the late afternoon light which was cause to bring out my big camera (the Nikon D850) and tripod to capture some long exposures. In the morning we broke camp and spent some time exploring the petroglyphs and wildflowers. Golden Rose Ranch was a delightful overnight stop on our return from New Mexico,

The Turquoise Trail

On July 17 our route took us through Taos, where we stopped at Ranchos de Taos to see the San Francisco de Asis Catholic Mission Church; always a notable stop with the abode buttresses and surrounding architecture providing plenty of photo opportunities in both color and black and white.

Then we passed through Santa Fe, making a brief stop for ice cream. On consulting the map we notice an alternate route, so rather than blasting through on I25 we headed for Highway 14, also known as the Turquoise Trail. The drive took us through several small towns. We stopped Los Cerrillos, where we explored the grounds of the church and some of the colorful buildings around town. The town was very quiet during our visit, but it was clear that a number of art galleries and artists would make this a busy spot when tourists are out.

We had to to a double take as we passed a herd of colorful origami horses. Having driven past we had to do a U-turn to take a closer look; something that’s not uncommon, and one of the reasons we like the less travelled routes. I wouldn’t even think about doubling back if we were on a four lane divided highway. The Outside the Box Studio was closed, but we had a clear view to look over the barbed wire fence.

Continuing on we were struck by a small church near Golden, and again stopped to take a few photos.

Then it was back on the main highway, I25 to make our way through Albuquerque and on to our camp site for at The Golden Rose Ranch near Prewitt New Mexico.

On to Angel Fire

On the afternoon of July 13 we arrived in Mancos, where we spent the night camping in Kayla’s driveway. We stopped at a liquor store in Mancos to get a bottle of wine to share with dinner. I had to capture a photo of this mural on the side of the liquor store. Kaya is a professional cook and dinner was scrumptious. Here’s a photo of Kayla harvesting some greens for dinner. You can see our camper in the background. Then it was on to Angel Fire. Our drive took us through Durango, Pagosa Springs and Chama and on to Angel Fire. Check out the Stick Library for dog lovers in Pagosa Springs.

In Angel Fire we spent three nights at the Enchanted Circle Campground. The campsite was on a secluded knoll on a private ranch. Joann found this camp through Hipcamp. Given the wide open space I decided to put the drone in the air to capture a view of our camp site. This site was perfect for our needs, quiet, secluded and with wide open skies. One evening a few of the ranch horses decided to check out what was cooking.

Of course our reason for being in Angel Fire was to attend the Sundt Family Reunion. Reunion activities included a picnic dinner on the C & S Cattle Company Ranch, a 130,000 acre spread, and browsing through family scrap books. The family is divided up into 12 “tribes” with each tribe having it’s own scrapbook. The tribes represent the children of MM Sundt. We had 110 people including a family member from Norway. As you can see the scrapbooks are huge and chock full of photos and memorabilia. So much fun to browse through.

Many of the family members are ranchers, and being cowboys they know how to spin a yarn. The family dinner was not shy for story tellers, with various brothers, uncles and nephews correcting each other and embellishing the stories. There’s even a bear story where it took 40 years for the campers that were spooked by a bear to learn that it wasn’t a real bear. You can see more photos in an online gallery.

Ruby Mountains

Continuing on our road trip to New Mexico, on the afternoon of July 10 we left Highway 80 near Elko Nevada and drove 35 miles up into the Ruby Mountains. Our campsite at Thomas Canyon Campground was situated at an elevation of 7600 feet. While most of the drive across Nevada is arid desert, Thomas Canyon is in a lush grove of Aspen surrounded by wildflowers. We spent two nights here, giving us one day to take a delightful hike up the canyon.

We were happy to find that fires were permitted and we bought firewood from the camp host. These days one isn’t guaranteed a campfire, given dry conditions with high fire risk. The next morning we fired up the Dutch oven for a breakfast of hash brown crusted quiche. A delicious breakfast before we set off on our hike. The hike goes 2.25 miles up the canyon, so up and back we logged 4.5 miles.

The hike climbs from about 7600 feet to 8900 feet, hiking through aspen groves and through meadows of wildflowers following Thomas Creek for much of the way. Here’s the track of our hike.

In the evening I took my big camera out and grabbed my tripod to see what I could find in the late afternoon light. Lo and behold I found a sunlit grove of trees that looked like fall color in the last rays of light. Some of these image will be in my art store shortly. You can view more photos in an online gallery.

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