From the Castle Walls

Sterling Castle is one of the most impressive landmarks in Scotland and one that i’d passed for quite a few years without stopping for a closer look.  Fortunately i managed to get that closer look last weekend and both the castle and the views were fantastic.

Sterling sits in the central Scotland and has played a key role in shaping the country over the years. It’s strategic position, combined with the near impregnability of the castle, has caused invading armies many problems over the years. Often they would bypass it rather than try and take it.

The visibility was fantastic on the Sunday i visited. The cold November air was beautifully clear enabling visitors to see the mountains, located 30 or 40 miles away near Tyndrum, at the edge of Stirlingshire. A sprinkle of snow could be seen on the peaks.

One thing that did surprise me during my castle visit was the number of tourists, though i suppose that the tourism season never really stops now. I’ve always loved the reactions and behaviour of those on holiday. We all do it, but in the social media age we seem to need to prove, more than ever, that we have visited a location. The selfie stick must be the ultimate symbol of that desire. The postcard, at one time a critical part of  communicating holiday news, has been dying over the years due to social media, to the point that Salmon postcards,  who  have been publishing postcards and calendars since 1880, are to close after over 100 years of trading.

Coach tours are my favourite tourism activity to watch though. The large scale and yet fleeting visits they make are popular, seem to only give a tantalising taste of the location.  People seem to love the convenience though, even though there doesn’t appear to be the time to stand and soak in the place. Two coach tours pulled up below the castle and i took the image below. While the castle appears to be the main focus of attention, the field also contained Highland cattle that also got their photo taken. Highland cows do love having their picture though 🙂 Note the photographers who have climbed over a gate to get a clearer view.

The image of the Wallace Monument has to be my favourite from the visit. The tower stands on the Abbey Craig from which William Wallace was said to have watched the gathering of the army of King Edward I of England, just before the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297. The tower also has a great view looking back at Sterling Castle, so the next visit will probably include a climb up the Wallace Monument to see the view.

The Autumnal colours are an added bonus along with the clear visibility. The light in the summer can be wonderful but it can also bring some atmospheric conditions that can hamper the photographer . The colder air, combined with the late autumn light, really helped capture  the magnificent views from the castle walls.

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Last night in Edinburgh

After a week in Edinburgh I head home by train tomorrow. It’s been a great week. The last visit I made to Edinburgh was in 1992 and so a return to the Scottish capital was long overdue.

I haven’t been able to visit everything I wanted to but I have managed to do most of the list. Another visit is planned for 2016 and I’ve noted a few places to visit next year that I just didn’t have time for this year.

Among the places I visited was the National Portrait gallery of Scotland to see work by Document Scotland, a collective of photographers who document Scottish issues. Their exhibition, The Ties That Bind, runs until April 2016. Well worth a visit.

 

A visit highlight was the ghost bus tour which blended theatre and story telling to create a great night of comedy. Was it scary? Well yes but it was more theatrical than horror – I was attacked by a spooky curtain. I intend to do it again next year along with a tour of Edinburgh’s spooky vaults.

My Instagram feed has a selection of images taken over the last week but I have a few exclusive ones for the DS blog that I’ll add over the next week or so. Thanks Edinburgh you’ve been great. See you next year 🙂

Harbouring Doubts?

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This group meeting took place one Sunday morning down by the harbour in Portree, Skye. From what I could gather it was a religious meeting and that was confirmed when they all started singing hymns rather loudly. One person did seem rather distracted though.

Faith seems to be strong within the community on Skye. Chapel services appear to get attendances that other UK chapels would love to receive. Whole families, dressed in Sunday best, can be seen arriving for the Sunday service at chapels and churches all over the island. Back home, my local church has seen a considerable drop in attendance figures over the years to the point that it is now looking at developing new uses for the building alongside that of a place of worship.

Even though Portree is a popular tourist destination, Sunday trading is still limited to a small number of shops aimed at tourists – the rest remain closed.  It reminded me of something the author J.J Bell noted in his 1932 book ‘The Glory of Scotland’ that if you were travelling to Skye, to wire ahead to the ferry but not to expect the transportation service to operate on a Sunday. Bell wrote ‘Skye is still’ ‘particular’ about the sabbath. Some of us write unkindly letters about it to the press; other of us ‘take our hats off’ to Skye.’ That still seems to be the case over eighty years later.

This observance of the Sunday is still visible on Skye (though the ferries do run on Sunday now) and is certainly a refreshing change in a world that has increasingly gone 24/7. I certainly take my hat off to Skye.

The Path to the Old Man of Storr

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This was one of my favourite images from last year’s trip to Skye and the great day I had climbing up to the Old Man of Storr – even though I did carry my camera kit up too!

The path in the photo winds its way up to the real start of the climb not that far past the gate, the place where people usually make the decision to continue or turn back. A series of daunting looking steps starts the climb after that point. It’s well worth the effort but you have to be properly prepared for the steep climb.

One thing you can’t fail to miss as you walk up is the apocalyptic landscape around you where the trees have been harvested. Hopefully when I return later this year, a new set of trees will have been planted that can be harvested again in around 20 or 30 years.

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When i was looking at the photo on screen I noticed that the man in the centre of the photo is turning around and looking back. Did he sense someone was taking the photo? It’s probably more likely that he is just taking one last look at the Storr before heading back to the car.

Seeing the Point

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Or not seeing the point. Sitting on a rock near the top of Neist Point you got to see the way people visited the popular Skye location. Neist Point, it has to be said, is not for the timid. It has a very steep descent and climb, plus the walk to the lighthouse is not for everyone. Indeed many took a look from the top and promptly hopped back into the car.

After nearly snapping my ankles on the Quiraing the day before, i was reduced to a spectator on my visit to the point. As much as i wanted to walk down, i just physically couldn’t due to swollen, painful and badly bruised feet. It was immensely frustrating, but it did have a plus in that i ended up doing something i normally wouldn’t do – i stayed at the top and watched. Perched on my little rock I got to see the vast amount of ways people took in, or didn’t take in, embraced or rejected the location.

Many were enthusiastic, enjoying the view and then starting immediately for the lighthouse, whereas a surprising number had a far more restrained attitude.  A glance and off.  A bus arrived with a group of Japanese tourists who started to walk along the cliff top with the guide, however the two girls in the photo broke off and started taking photographs of each other, seemingly oblivious to the grandeur of their surroundings. The girls did start down the path only to be called back to the main group. I assumed that there wasn’t the time and that a view from the cliff was all they were going to get. Neist Point… done! Where next?

The Highlands has lots of coach trips speeding through it, but i just wonder whether people are able to take in the scenery, the culture and the sights. I seems to me that these trips get to see but don’t get to SEE the place they’re visiting.  I call them Highland dashes. The cameras snaps away acting as witness to the event, as though it would be required as evidence at a later date. Did we visit there? Oh yes, here is the photo! From various timings i made at different locations, the average time for a coach trip stop lasted just 15 minutes.

The lines of the great poem ‘Leisure’ by W.H Davies say it all really :-

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

Ship to Shore

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French passengers waiting to return to the cruise ship ‘Club Med 2’  – Portree Harbour, Skye

One surprise this year on my visit to Skye were the cruise ship invasions in Portree.

Three ships, of various sizes, docked near to the small Skye town and delivered an army of tourists that quite literally swamped the shops and streets. One shop assistant i overheard remarked to a customer that some of the bigger ships could land over a thousand people!

The ships would arrive early morning, stay the day and then depart in the evening. The first week i was in Skye i saw three ships arrive – French. German and American. By the second week, there were none – the cruise ship season had come to an end. Just by coming to Skye a week earlier than usual, i’d manage to see yet another aspect to Portree life.

The cruise visits aren’t new though. They are a continuation of the steam ship tourists that started in the 1870’s. The steam ship revolutionised travel in the highlands and islands, opening up areas as far away as St Kilda.

For a £9 fare you got cabin-class comfort and full board for ten days on board the Dunara Castle, a 240 tonne steamship that would take you on ‘a romantic western Isles and St Kilda’ voyage. The first voyage in June 1877 took thirty passengers from Glasgow to St Kilda, via Oban, Dunvegan as well as a few other locations.

Regular steam ship cruises would continue until 1939.