Europe

Scotland’s Northern Coast

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Posted on / by Alex Berger

Scottish Clouds and Rain

After our brief photo and bathroom stop it was back into the bus. Energized by the damp crispness in the air we wound through stunning countryside cloaked in rolling wisp like clouds and decorated by the rich, green layered mixture of plants and grasses that give peat its dense nature.

Valley Vista During Lunch in Scotland

A relatively short drive up the road we stopped at a small overlook. There, after choosing choice seats with stunning views of the valley as it stretched out below us, we settled in and ate our picnic lunches which we’d purchased at the Tesco earlier in the day. For Nate and I it was a delicious, albeit terribly messy, rotisserie chicken, bag of fresh raw peas, baby corn and macaroni salad. Somehow we’d managed to forget to purchase a fork, leaving fingers, fingers, and more fingers. Needless to say, with spaghetti sauce stained fingers and chicken juice running down our chins we were in heaven.

Traveling Dance Lift

Full, we took in the sites and as I recorded a bit of video Nate hoisted Elena – the Russian member of our tour – up onto his shoulder for a quick ballroom inspired lift/photo opportunity.

Smoo Cave in Scotland

Recharged and energized we struck off along the coast and eventually arrived at Smoo Cave. An odd formation, which seems to have been formed by a combination of oceanic erosion, wind and river erosion from the small stream that carved its way underground.

Smoo Cave Looking Out in Scotland

The cave’s mouth was massive. A large gaping entrance into a cavernous entrance area.

Smoo Cave hole in Ceiling

With a lone hole in the cave’s ceiling, small raindrops and light streaming through from above and green, moss covered walls – the entire place was spectacular.

Smoo Cave walls and water

As water streamed out through a small opening deep within the cave we paused and watched as damp tourists made their way over the small bridge and across the small stream – which was seemingly flowing out of the side of the cave wall.

Smoo Cave

Only to return – drenched – mere seconds later. Eager to partake, I zipped up my rain jacket, pulled my hood down tightly over my head and set into the breach in the cave wall. The sound and vibration of crashing water was deafening. The wooden platform which stretched into the small side channel of the cave quickly ended in a railing, leaving me standing face to face with a giant waterfall as it thundered into the cave from above. A raging, swollen torrent made fierce by the afternoon’s steady rainfall.

Smoo Cave Entrance Scotland

After filming a quick video, pausing to take in the downpour and reflecting on what I was seeing and experiencing I bowed my head, turned my back and carefully made my way down the slick wooden walkway and back out into the main cavern. I was drenched. It was worth it.

Cliff Tops Outside Smoo Cave

Eager to explore further we wound up steep steps to the top of the near bye cliffs and made our way along the cliff top out towards the open ocean. With a thick grass/peat layer covering the tops of the coastal hills and sharp, jagged, rugged rocks fending off the beating waves below – we meandered along the coast enjoying its incredible natural beauty and majesty.

Northern Scottish Coast

Though I could have easily paused and read for a while, time was of the essence and a light rain had begun to fall. Legs pumping I sprinted back towards the Bus and hoped I wasn’t the last to return.

Smoo Cave Waterfall

To my relief we still had a short while before moving on to the next location – which gave me time to explore the top of the waterfall I’d seen in the cave. It had carved two holes in the cave’s roof. The higher of which was where the water currently fed into the cave. Which turned the lower of the two (pictured above) as a window of sorts. Offering a view of the top of the waterfall as it dove down into Smoo Cave below.

Scottish Highlands

From Smoo Cave it was back inland and up between majestic bald mountains crowed with sharp crumbling rocks and steep cliff faces. As we wound along pristine roads through fog, light rain and dry patches we could not help but marvel.

Highland Road Winding into Scotland

At one point we spotted a mound of cut peat a ways back from the main road. We paused along the side of the road as our guide sprinted to the cut and piled peat for a small piece to show us. As he sprinted across the grasslands, I paused and enjoyed the above shot as the road wound through the grasslands and vanished into the fog. Truly a magical place – one that brought fairy-tales to life – seemingly as careless accidents.

Rusted Dumptruck

With 7:00 quickly approaching, we raced across the 2nd to last leg of our day’s voyage – the ferry to the Orkney Isles.

View Larger Map

We arrived at the ferry landing with ample time to get out, stretch our legs and take in our surroundings. A small, industrial dock the area was anything but attractive. With an old, rusted out dump truck playing the role of flowerpot, we stretched our legs before watching Martin back the 16 person min-bus onto the ferry. More than a little impressed we carefully slithered out of the Bus and wound our way through the tightly packed cars, vans, campers and trucks that were sardine’d into the parking level. A smaller open air ferry we wound up to the top deck and enjoyed the crisp ocean air.

Ferry Trip to the Orkney Islands

Though slightly cool, the air was incredible. With our hair being tussled by the ocean’s breeze we strained our eyes watching for seals, dolphins or other sea life. All the while enjoying the lazy northerly sunset (if you can call it that), as the sun slowly made its way towards the horizon.

Lighthouse Orkney Islands

The trip took about an hour and wound between several smaller islands. Some were decorated by beautiful, picturesque farm homes, while others were barren except for the occasional light house, or left over pillbox and military fortifications from the 2nd world war.

St. Margarets Hope in the Orkney Islands

Eventually we rounded the northern tip of one of the Islands and were greeted be a beautiful, quaint island town. Picturesque and framed beautifully by the setting sun the ferry drifted up to the quay. Eager to begin preparing dinner, we made the quick 3 minute drive into town and the hostel we’d be spending the following two evenings at.

St Margarets Hope at Night

We quickly set to cooking a delicious seafood dinner before migrating next door to a small pub for a few games of pool, several pints and round after round of delightful stories. Tired, but not ready for bed I wandered outside to explore the town briefly before finding my way back to the hostel common area where I settled in with Paul the Irishman, Martin our guide and my brother for a few more beers and a batch of hilarious stories that left us laughing until our cheeks hurt.

St Margarets Hope Orkney Islands

On that note, I’ll leave you until tomorrow. Any questions or comments? Just enjoyed reading the post? Please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below. I love your feedback!

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Alex Berger

I am a travel blogger and photographer. I also am involved in academic research into the study abroad and backpacker communities.

6 Comments

  • Shannon Conley
    August 27, 2009

    yay, what an exciting adventure! sounds like you had so much fun!!!!!!!!

    Reply
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    August 27, 2009

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  • AlexBerger
    August 27, 2009

    Guillermo, while I appreciate your invitation and reading my post – you burned a lot of good will with me by posting this advertisement in comment form and risk getting it flagged as spam across the DISQUS network. My e-mail and twitter are readily available throughout the site. Please consider using better judgment in the future when reaching out.

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  • AlexBerger
    August 27, 2009

    Thanks Shannon! It really was incredible!

    Reply
  • Name
    August 28, 2009

    Your photos are terrific and really capture the richness of your experience and the beauty of this part of Scotland. Makes me definitely want to visit and breathe in the mist. Your narrative leaves me eager to pack up and dash out the door where new adventures arise at every turn. Loved it!

    Reply
  • Name
    August 29, 2009

    Your photos are terrific and really capture the richness of your experience and the beauty of this part of Scotland. Makes me definitely want to visit and breathe in the mist. Your narrative leaves me eager to pack up and dash out the door where new adventures arise at every turn. Loved it!

    Reply

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