Scotland Day Seventeen: Inverness to Orkney

Birds sighted: Razorbill, Guillemot, Black Guillemot, Puffin, Fulmar, Rook, Hood Crow, Brambling, Ringed Plover
Mammals: Common or Harbor Seals

Fulmar with landing gear at the ready

Today we undertook a very long trip to Orkney. There are several ways of getting to Orkney, the most direct, probably the easiest, and least exhausting is The Orkney Bus. But Traveler Two and I wanted to visit some of the sights going up the coast toward John O'Groats so we opted for taking half a day tour with Puffin Express.

One of our first major stops was The Black Rock Gorge.

Looking straight down The Black Gorge

Black Rock Gorge is a deep and narrow defile cut through Old Red Sandstone conglomerate by the flowing waters of the Allt Graad. It is located in Evanton, Easter Ross, Scotland, at the edge of the Evanton Wood in the traditional territory of the Clan Munro.

The gorge is at least 120 feet deep in places and no wider than one meter in others. Shade and water loving plants line the gorge with lush vegetation.

In April, 2004, ten days of filming took place in the area for the movie Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. The Gorge is the setting for one scene.

The gorge also the subject of Gaelic myth. It is believed a local noblewoman, the Lady of Balconie, was lured into the gorge’s depths by a mysterious man (thought to be the Devil). Ever since, her cries can be heard from the top.

Seals and pups

Next, somewhere near Dornach and Embo we stopped to observe some Common, or Harbor, Seals. Some had pups.

After picking up a picnic lunch in Golspie (location of the cathedral in which Madonna and Guy Ritchie were married), we headed up the coast to Latheronwheel. Here we ate lunch, indulged in some Orkney Ice Cream, and climbed around on sea cliffs and investigated abandoned stone houses. There is a spectacular old stone carriage bridge as well. Here I sighted my first Razorbills. Also saw Black Guillemots (locally called Tysties), as well as fulmar and ringed plovers.

A ringed plover showing off how well its camouflage works

From there we headed farther north with stops to look at Highland cattle and to feed a very willing Clydesdale.

Highland cows and calves

Eventually we made our way to the far northeast to the Achavanach Standing Stones.

Achavanach Standing Stones

Achavanach is located near Loch Stemster in Caithness. The tallest of its relatively small stones is 2 m (6 ft 6 in) high. Some stones may have been taller, but weathering has caused them to crack and split.

Achavanich is horseshoe-shaped, rather than circular. Thirty six stones stand in the ring today, although there may have 54 in all. The arrangement of these stones is extremely unusual because the sides of individual stone slabs point into center of the circle. The site is assumed to be dated to the Bronze Age.

The only other site with a similar structure is at Broubster, 23km away, where 9 stones of a 32 stone ring survive, with the open end of the setting in Broubster at the south-south-west. The open end at Achavanich is at the south-east.

Driving through this mostly agricultural area we saw hundreds of Rooks, including the site of a rookery, and many Hooded Crows.

Duncansby Stacks

Our next, and for Traveler Two and I our last, stop on the tour was Duncansby Stacks, a sea cliff complex that forms the north-east tip of Scotland.

Guillemots on the cliffs

Guillemot eggs

Here we wandered the cliffs and observed Guillemots, Razorbills, Puffins, Fulmar, and Kittiwake.

Kittiwake nesting in a row

Guillemots

Guillemots

After Duncansby, we drove a short distance to John O'Groats for the ferry to Orkney. The ferry crossing gave us a taste of the ever changing sky of Orkney as well as provided good views of sea birds.

Guillemots

The "silver" version of the Orkney sky. In five minutes it will be completely different.

We were met at the dock by our host from Orcadian Wildlife, Steve, who drove us to his family's farm in South Ronaldsay, where we were introduced to his wife Sarah and their son Sami. We were also introduced to fellow Travelers, Three and Four. Traveler Two demonstrated her ability to interrupt electrical systems by destroying the light in the bathroom within ten minutes of our arrival. After which we were treated to a wonderful dinner and home-made ice cream (my second helping of ice cream that day proving that you can never have too much ice cream). In my overly-exhausted fugue state I don't recollect much else of the evening other than that the farm and our hosts are wonderful and I couldn't wait to see where we were going the next day.

View from our bedroom window at Gerraquoy Farm.

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