A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about islandlife

Scottish Islands

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Lockdown Reading

Lockdown Reading

Earlier this month I was looking for books to buy and found Scottish Island Bagging. Click, click, click and it was on its way to me from the publisher (in Sheffield, oddly enough).

Apart from a summer job in an Arran hotel in 1972, for most of my life the Scottish islands were a blank spot on my travel map. I remember a couple of day trips to Stornoway for work, and an overnight business trip to Shetland when we worked for 16 hours out of 24.

I woke up to this a few years ago and started to put things right.

Vatersay/Bhatarsaigh

Vatersay/Bhatarsaigh

In the space of 5-6 years I have visited Gigha, Islay, Tiree, Colonsay, Mull, Iona, Staffa, Ulva, Lismore, Seil, Kerrera, Luing, Easdale, Eigg, Barra, Vatersay, Eriskay, Lewis and Harris.

I have been back to Arran a few times in that period, and to Orkney (which I first visited about 10 years ago).

St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, Orkney

St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, Orkney

From my home in Fife, just across the water from Edinburgh, all these places make for quite a long trip and careful planning is needed. If a ferry is involved, often it means getting to Oban first and that is a 3 hour drive. Mallaig - for Eigg - is a good bit further. Tayinloan or Kennacraig, for Gigha and Islay respectively are also a 3 hour drive.

Usually you have to be at the ferry terminal at least 30 minutes before departure, and with building in a bit of time for toilet stops and contingencies, you have to leave the house at least 4 hours before the ferry time. You will have to make a reservation if you want to take your car on the more popular routes, and well in advance in the summer months. On the smaller ferries you just drive up and get on the next one.

Gigha Ferry

Gigha Ferry

I flew to Barra, Lewis, Tiree and Colonsay. Loganair was the carrier for most of those short hops, but I used Hebridean Air from Oban to get to Colonsay. All those flights are on small planes and lots of fun.

Waiting

Waiting

During the peak season accommodation is at a premium in these small places, so that has to form part of the advance planning. I think I have only once been disappointed by accommodation on the islands, but remember that it is a short season with relatively high demand (in normal times) so what you get may not always seem like value for money if compared with other parts of the country.

Where would be top of my list to return to? Iona. It is special. It has so much of the country’s history as well as being remote and slightly spiritual. I am not “spiritual” but on Iona I got it.

Jura Ferry

Jura Ferry

Where is top of my list to go to for the first time? Well, I will finish my book before I make up my mind, but at the moment Coll, Raasay or Canna.

Coll is a strong possibility because I loved nearby Tiree, and it is on Hebridean Air’s route map as well as Calmac's.

Raasay is easily accessible from Skye, which is a long drive from home but no ferries are involved. My late father had a long involvement with the buyout of the island from its absentee landlord during the 1970s, so I would love to see how it is now.

I loved my time on Eigg, and getting there and back by car, train and ship, so another of the Small Isles beckons. Canna seems right.

My View, Eigg

My View, Eigg

Meantime, I am staying at home and trying to stay safe. A good book helps.

Posted by IainT 23:31 Archived in Scotland Tagged beaches planes boats scotland ferries transport flights lewis airlines orkney barra lismore islay stornoway eigg calmac islandlife colonsay steòrnabhagh leòdhas na_hearadh barraigh vatersay bhatarsaigh eiriosgaigh eriskay Comments (0)

Orkney - Basics

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Stromness Sunday

Stromness Sunday

Time for a summary of the nuts and bolts of my visit to Orkney in July 2019.

I flew from Aberdeen to Kirkwall (and vice versa) with Loganair. Aberdeen is not the closest airport to home (it is Edinburgh) and whilst Loganair does fly between Edinburgh and Kirkwall, the flight times from Aberdeen suited me better.

Loganair's Saab 2000

Loganair's Saab 2000

The flights cost £146 return, and that ticket class includes a checked in bag.

Kirkwall Airport Terminal

Kirkwall Airport Terminal

It is possible to drive to Orkney obviously, with several ferry options from the north coast. However, it is a journey of close to 7 hours each way and for a short weekend break, that makes no sense.

I stayed overnight at Aberdeen Airport on the outward trip, at the Moxy Hotel. It cost £51, with breakfast (£12) and parking (£5) extra.

Moxy Decor

Moxy Decor

I arranged parking at Aberdeen Airport with Park and Depart whilst I was in Orkney. It cost £20 from first thing Friday until Sunday evening.

Moxy Lounge

Moxy Lounge

In Kirkwall I stayed two nights at the Storehouse, which I did a stand alone review of.

Location, Location, Location

Location, Location, Location

I took the public bus between the airport and the town centre. It runs every 30 minutes most of the time - less on Sunday. The journey takes less than 15 minutes.

Kirkwall Airport

Kirkwall Airport

I also used the public bus to visit Stromness - a 30 minute trip each way. I am the proud owner of a Scottish Government bus pass (free to all over 60s), so I paid nothing.

I had booked flights to and from North Ronaldsay for the Saturday. It is the most northerly of the islands, with Loganair’s Inter Island service being the alternative to the twice weekly ferry. It cost £18 each way. Sadly, they could not fly that day due to mist and low cloud on North Ronaldsay.

Posted by IainT 02:25 Archived in Scotland Tagged planes food scotland restaurants flights aberdeen airlines orkney kirkwall islandlife Comments (0)

Kirkwall

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The Storehouse

The Storehouse

Careful observers will be aware I spend a lot of my trips in airport hotels, Airbnb places and chain hotels.

It makes little sense to write reviews of those types of place.

I will not bore everyone with the reasons, but it is unusual for me to stay in routine hotels these days. If I am in Scotland, I am always seeking out a classy guest house or bed and breakfast. It has worked for me recently in Stornoway and on Tiree, Islay, Gigha and Seil.

When it came to planning my visit to Orkney in July ’19 I latched onto a relatively new place in Kirkwall - The Storehouse. The owners describe it as a restaurant with rooms. I suppose that intrigued me.

I chose well.

As the name suggests it is a converted warehouse, right in the centre of Kirkwall. My room was a delight, in terms of comfort, amenities and style. To be honest I did not switch on the TV, but I do not watch at home and have lost the habit.

Many years ago I stayed in a hotel in Copenhagen which had retained the old beams and pillars, and avoiding the pillar on the way to the toilet in the middle of the night was a bit of a challenge. I did better at The Storehouse. No black eye to explain away.

Bedroom

Bedroom

I had dinner in the restaurant on my first night, and it was one of the best meals I have had for a long time. I had a crab cake as starter, followed by scallops with monkfish. The service was excellent too.

Restaurant

Restaurant

My room rate included breakfast, and being used to just a smoothie and maybe a crispbread at that time of the day, I enjoyed letting myself live a little. The end result was a shortage of appetite for the rest of the day, but you cannot have it both ways.

The Storehouse is convenient for the bus station (to get to and from the airport, or further afield) and those inter island ferries which leave from Kirkwall. The airport is a 5 minute taxi ride away.

Shower Room

Shower Room

My room was £150 per night, inclusive of breakfast. Comparing like with like - although I do not remember staying in a “restaurant with rooms” before - I paid that much on Barra last year for a hotel which was 3rd rate. The Storehouse is top class.

Bedroom

Bedroom

My dinner cost £41, including a large glass of white wine. Like the room, it was not in the budget category but top class.

If you are heading for Kirkwall, I recommend it.

Posted by IainT 23:20 Archived in Scotland Tagged scotland restaurants orkney kirkwall islandlife Comments (0)

Orkney

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Heritage

Heritage


I’m back!

10 years ago I visited Orkney for the first time. I drove, taking the ferry from John O’Groats. It took close to 7 hours, excluding comfort stops.

Kirkjuvarg Gin Distillery

Kirkjuvarg Gin Distillery

This time I flew, with Loganair from Aberdeen (they fly from Edinburgh too, but the Aberdeen flight times suited me better).

Loganair Saab 2000

Loganair Saab 2000

On my last visit I stayed for close to a week, but this time I am just here over the weekend.

St Magnus Cathedral

St Magnus Cathedral

So far, so good. The Loganair Experience was excellent, as usual. Kirkwall Airport is small and perfectly formed, like other island airports. Stagecoach operates a bus service into town every 30 minutes during the day. It takes less than 15 minutes. Ideal.

Kirkwall Airport

Kirkwall Airport

I am staying at the Storehouse in Kirkwall town centre. It is expensive, but lovely. I ate there on my first night and it was the best food I have eaten for a long time. Crabcake as a starter, followed by monkfish with scallops. Again it was not cheap, but it was worth it.

The Storehouse

The Storehouse

Island life seems to appeal to me.

Posted by IainT 08:06 Archived in Scotland Tagged scotland restaurants transport flights airlines orkney kirkwall islandlife Comments (0)

Iceland - Part 2

all seasons in one day 12 °C
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Gullfoss

Gullfoss

Exploring Iceland beyond Reykjavík presented me with several options.

I thought of taking an internal flight, perhaps to Akureyri in the north or Ísafjörður in the Westfjords, but when I looked into it the area close to the capital seemed to offer plenty of opportunities for the time I had available.

Then it was a question of how best to grasp them.

Excursions by coach or minibus were on offer from every website I looked at, but I am not very good at fitting into the regimented nature of those. They also seemed to be expensive.

Car hire has a reputation for being very expensive in Iceland, but someone who visited recently recommended it as being cost effective as compared with excursions, as well as much more flexible.

A rented car is what I opted for - not for the whole of my 6 night/5 day visit, but for 3 days.

My first outing took me east from Reykjavík along the south coast, just past Vík í Mýrdal to the Mýrdalssandur glacial outwash plain.

Vík lies directly south of the Mýrdalsjökull glacier, which itself is on top of the Katla volcano. Katla has not erupted since 1918, and this long dormant period taken with the volcano’s past history has led to expectation that an eruption is overdue.

Reynisdrangur at Vík

Reynisdrangur at Vík


Mýrdalssandur is like a desert of black sand, and remarkable to see. So is the black sand beach at Vík í Mýrdal, with the sea stacks of Reynisdrangar in the background.

Mýrdalssandur

Mýrdalssandur

Vík í Mýrdal is 187 km (116 miles) from Reykjavík. Much of that distance is on a 2 lane road, with a speed limit which never goes above 90 kph, so you have to be ready to take your time.

The glacier at Sólheimajökull was the highlight of that day. It is really impressive, and being able to get very close quite easily was great.

Sólheimajökull

Sólheimajökull

The other notable sight I took in as part of that day out is the Skógafoss waterfall. It is very impressive, although by the time I reached it the weather had turned wet which made the visit a little damp.

Skógafoss

Skógafoss

My other day trip took me inland, again to the east of the city, as far as Gullfoss. It is 125km away (78 miles), again on 2 lane roads most of the way.

The waterfall there was the main attraction - just amazing.

Nearby is Geysir, which gives its name to geysers. Geysir itself is dormant, but Strokkur a few metres away erupts joyfully every 5-10 minutes. The whole site is bubbling with hot water at 80-100⁰c.

Strokkur at Geysir

Strokkur at Geysir

That day was also cut short by wet weather.

Strokkur Erupts

Strokkur Erupts

What little I saw of Iceland on those days trips really gave me a flavour of how unique it is, and a desire to return to see more. The weather is a downside of course, as are the eye watering prices. Going there in the last week in June was an inspired decision, with 24 hour daylight to enjoy and midnight sun (if it was visible).

Posted by IainT 13:15 Archived in Iceland Tagged waterfalls beaches island iceland islandlife Comments (0)

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