Our first stop is Tesco, Scotland’s Wal-Mart, which offers amazing pastries and drinks for a very affordable rate. We venture on to St. Magnus Cathedral in the heart of Kirkwall.
There’s no other way to say it: it’s cold. It’s raining. Umbrellas are failing against the wind off the coast.
We quickly snap pictures, not even enjoying the fact we’re the only tourists on site. Then we huddle futilely in a small shack which has an impressive 3-D rendering of the site and a very friendly guide. She tells us about the homes which were all built underground with just the thatched roof above ground, uncovered by a storm in 1976.
The site is 5,000 years old and no metal tools of any kind were found. The homes follow a predictable pattern: fire pit in the center, women and their beads on the left, men sleeping on the right, a dressing center straight across from the doorway. Within the small sleeping areas the people would cut out small shelves for their things, and meat or fish was hung from the roof and smoked above the fire.
It’s a beautiful sight and quite a find.
On our way back to the visitor’s center we find the reconstructed hut that has been built to show how it would have looked in 3,000 BC. It’s dark and Melissa and I are using our camera flash for light and I end up (accidentally) taking a few pictures.
After our trip to Skara Brae we go back to Stromness where we catch the ferry back to Scrabster. This has definitely been one of my favorite stops. The islands are just so damn beautiful. I can only imagine how the islands look in the summer without all the rain and wind. Oh the wind!
Another 90 minute trip and we’re back on the mainland and heading to Ullapool. It’s a bit of an adventure as we have exactly 5 hours to make it to Ullapool and the trip is a little over 3 hours.
Wrong turns, sheep in the road, logging trucks and road work conspire against us and we make it to Ullapool with just an hour to spare. At one point we’re told the road is closed for 20-30 minutes and turning back will only make the journey longer. We theorize our horror and despair was apparent because we’re allowed to go after just 5 minutes, the first ones cross the newly laid road.
The sheep in search of grass think it’s greener on the other side of the road and frequently impede our progress.
The scenery is beautiful even if the roads are terrible (mostly one lane with turnouts).
The land here is a national park and mainly uninhabited. We drive down the length of one loch and run across a handful of quaint little towns. Unfortunately, because of the time crunch, we’re unable to stop.
We park the car in Ullapool and hussle down to the ferry, buying our tickets quickly. Since we knew in Kirkwall we’d be leaving the car behind we’ve consolidated luggage to backpacks only so we don’t need to haul much when we’re on foot.
Interesting enough, once we’re out of the Bay you cannot see Lewis to the East. It’s a little like sailing ‘off into the sunset’ and I brave the wind and rain and slippery deck to snap a few pictures.
We dock nearly 3 hours later and depart into Stornoway. A man from the ferry snags us a cab and we’re off to dinner at the Royal Hotel. I really enjoyed my mussel and salmon dish with cidar. It’s not cheap but we’ve had a low budget breakfast and lunch today.
After dinner we venture down the street to the hostel, another nice one. It’s even got a big bathtub in the en suite bathroom and we spend a few hours chatting with our roommate who is spending a semester interning at Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. She’s originally from Oregon by way of California so we find a lot to talk about.
Tomorrow morning our plan is to get out early to see the Callanish standing stones and enjoy a few hours in Stornoway before our ferry departs.