Project Scotland [4]

I kept delaying to write and publish this article on my last trip to Scotland, September 2014. It did strengthen my beliefs and my ways of being, but it did leave me with a bitter taste. Boy, it did!  [I wrote an article on these bitter experiences a while back. It’s in Romanian and you can find it here.]
One wish of mine is that this year’s travels take me to places that fail to build sorrow in my heart. To happy travels and a wonderful New Year!  

Day 1
One hour of sleep, one drive to Bucharest, one flight to Copenhagen... and our adventure was on.
Somewhere between colourful Nyhavn, different Christiania, my rhubarb muffin at Lagkagehuset, I realised just how beautiful, inviting, and light Copenhagen actually was and how much I’d love to head back someday. And the metro line [DKK 16/one-way] between the airport and the city centre is one great element.
Another flight later, we were landing in Aberdeen, Scotland. A moment I’d always expect impatiently, like a kid craving to taste his favourite candies once again. Sadly, it started not that well [and I had a feeling that this would happen ever since I agreed to change my travel plans and choose Scotland again]. Issues with the car rental at Enterprise – I wouldn’t like to get into it, it’s just that I wouldn’t advise anyone to use their services, because they suck. And they’ve almost ruined our trip. The day was saved by Europcar, or so we thought. In the end, we reached Thurso that night with my man driving like a hero and managed to get some sleep [Sandras Backpackers; £76/twin room/breakfast included].   

Day 2
As the sun shone on us the following morning, I remembered where I was and started to feel renewed hope as I gazed at the spectacular scenery that Scotland provides and that never ceases to amaze me.
And here’s where the main reason for my 2014 visit to Scotland comes into the spotlight: the Strathnaver Conference. This entire day would be devoted to it and so would be the following: papers and articles discussed, packed lunch for a field trip to the clearance sites of Rossal and Strathy, then pre-dinner pints and finally the conference dinner at Bettyhill Hotel.

Day 3
The last day of the Strathnaver Conference would continue with thought-provoking presentations and then – in-between those and a private session for us MLitt students run by historian Eric Richards – a trip down Farr Beach to see my man riding the waves, a free experience offered by Thurso Surf School that I would have been very eager to try it, as well.
With the conference officially over, we went for some shopping and then headed to Durness and the dramatic NW Highlands, probably my favourite micro-region in the world.
Smoo Cave; Durness, NW Highlands, Scotland
I remembered why I loved it so dearly and I couldn’t help uttering wows all through the following morning. We finally got to see Smoo Cave (well, the part that was allowed for a visit without a guide) and went for a sunset walk on Balnakeil Beach. At this time, I was ecstatic. It felt again like the Scotland I knew and loved and I told Marcel: ‘You know what? The best things in life are free. At times like these, when you’ve got pink sunsets, green seas, and creamy sands… you don’t need anything else. We should only feel grateful.’
We then headed to Sango Sands Campsite, our home for two nights [£28/2 persons]; it did seem better kept and cleaner this time. And the view was still there.

Day 4
Of course, we couldn’t have started the day without breakfast at Cocoa Mountain. Or without the best hot chocolate in the world. ;)
Drumbeg, Scotland
And on we went to Ullapool. At the sight of those rows of white houses, my heart smiled. So, we shopped and walked and then got into the car, set to find the starting point for the trek to Bone Caves, which was a spectacular one, with red deer greeting us on our way back.
A short stop at Ardvreck Castle and Loch Assynt followed; I had been so eager to stand close to this magnificent structure and it was worth it!
The cosy little village of Drumbeg was next, with signs like ‘Beware of pigs, piglets, lamb, and sheep’ making my day. And it somehow reminded me of the lost villages of our Danube Delta.
We soon got lost searching for Sandwood Bay, but we eventually had the last laugh, as destiny guided us to one of the most beautiful beaches of our lives: Oldshoremore.  

Day 5
Dunnet Head, Scotland
We left Durness in a hurry, but stopped for breakfast again at Cocoa Mountain. We could not help it. Our next stop was in Scrabster and then at Dunnet Head, Scottish mainland’s northernmost point. You can see me in the picture, hanging on to that fence... well, it was a bit frightening and high and windy... but the view was... hmm... let’s put it this way – I’ll never forget it!
We arrived to Gills Bay on time, embarked on the Pentland Ferries ride to St. Margaret’s Hope [£15/pp.; £35/car; one-way], and... once on the Orkneys – very green and friendly in scenery, unlike I imagined them to be –, we drove to Kirkwall and hit some new issues when we realised that we had been misinformed and that there was no chance for us to extend our car rental there. In-between trips to the library, airport, and several exhausting phone calls [plus my tears], we barely managed to eat and in the end fell asleep defeated in our tent, @Pickaquoy Caravan and Camping Park [£16.60/2 persons].   

Day 6
Yesnaby Coastal Trek was a great start to our day. Even though Skara Brae Prehistoric Village, Brough of Birsay, and Broch of Gurness soon followed [an Orkney Explorer Pass is value for money, so do buy one!], I didn’t feel the way I hoped. I wasn’t overwhelmed by these places that I had been dying to see ever since I was a child...
The only nice feeling I got was not even at the sight of the Ring of Brodgar, but at that of the Standing Stones of Stenness and the two lazy seals lying in the sun nearby.
Not even our evening picnic went well. Yet, in the end, we did embark on the ferry to Lerwick [£40.40/pp./return]. It was extremely cold, we had to purchase blankets, but...

Day 7
...we did make it to the Shetlands.
We found another world there, thanks to our new friends, who pampered us all the way through breakfast and the visit to Clickimin Broch [the Mousa Boat wasn’t running although I had e-mailed them beforehand just to make sure!], the amazing boat trip to Noss, and the delicious lunch and stroll through the narrow streets of the town centre and the beautiful local museum.
We arrived safe and sound back to Kirkwall and camped again at the Pickaquoy Caravan and Camping Park.  

Day 8
Soon after breakfast, we were ready to explore the exquisite St. Magnus Cathedral, Bishop’s & Earl's Palaces, and to feed on our curiosity with the rules of lawn bowls. Hmmm... A trip later to Waulkmill Bay and to Orkneyinga Saga Centre on one of the hottest afternoons I’ve experienced in Scotland, I was indeed ready for more. And I fell in love with Stromness, because it is wonderful! I still go back to my steps through the centre and to the joyful and enthusiastic thought of trying a dip in the coldish water. I still did it, at sunset and at Ness Point, our camping place [£12/2 persons].
I fell asleep to the murmur of the sea while indulging myself with my favourite thing to do those evenings – flipping through ‘Carve’.

Day 9
Morning walk on Hoy, Scotland
Our last day on Orkneys would again be crazy. We took the ferry and went to Hoy [£16.70/pp./return]. Finally, wilderness in the Orkney archipelago! I loved it and pushed my limits to be able to see the Old Man of Hoy by foot and return in time to catch the ferry back to Stromness. We then had a booking at the impressive Maeshowe Chambered Cairn [call 01856 761606 to book]. And then we had the ferry taking us back to the mainland. Pretty tight schedule, huh? Well, following that boggy trek, the fact that we had been again misinformed by the ladies at the ‘Visit Scotland’ Centre in Kirkwall, who did not warn us that the trek to the Old Man of Hoy and back would take 3 hours from Rackwick Bay and not from the ferry terminal, I was wet and cold and furious. I will always remember the disappointed look on Marcel’s face and… well, the only good thing on that day’s list, apart from the gigantic ice cream that I had in John o' Groats, was seeing the Stacks of Duncansby covered in mist, an image that would become my favourite of this trip. Needless to say that Wick was also covered in mist, so we ended up just driving until we reached Dornoch Caravan Park [and paid £10 for the night and for us 2].

Day 10
We left Dornoch quite early, stopped in Inverness and planned to continue to Edinburgh to meet my friends and former fellow students. I don’t like to remember this day, as it was one of the worst of 2014... the rude parking employee, the trips to the library to manage to find a computer, again the tears... In the end, it was a drive straight to Aberdeen, which we found foggy and grey and unwelcoming, possibly the only city in Scotland – up to this point – that I didn’t enjoy. We tried to have a good time in spite of the circumstances and in the end even drove to Dunnottar Castle, amazingly beautiful but soon to be covered in fog. Our search for Balmedie Beach and our last-minute shopping trip left us literally in the dark with our plans to camp. Our attempts to do that were unsuccessful. How could such a ‘perfect’ day end than under the stars? Forget the romantic meaning. With tears under the stars, after being kicked out of the campsite and soon to be visited by the police wondering on our reasons for sleeping in the car. I wouldn’t want to tell you how pissed off I actually was.  

Day 11
We packed and sorted things out, left the car and got to the airport. Our flight to Belfast was smooth and fast. We took the bus [£2.40/pp.] to the bus station in the city centre.
Our friends were there, waiting to take us on an extended private tour of Northern Ireland’s capital: the City Hall, Victoria Square Shopping Centre to take in the view, Titanic’s Dock, plus a cider as a reward for all the walking. On a splendid afternoon, filled with joy, laughter, and high spirits.
We took the bus [£13/pp.] directly to Dublin airport [due to some luggage issues] and waited to board.

Day 12
Following a quite long and sleepless flight and a ride back to Braşov on a glorious morning, I returned to the hundreds of e-mails in my Inbox, to my daily chores, and to what was to become a beautiful autumn.

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