Tuesday, 30 April 2013

London Day 2 - 1st Encounter with the London Tube

Caught a 5 hour train from Edinburgh to London (Waverly station to King's Cross). Checked into Fraser Suites at 6pm. Thinking of grabbing some Chinese chow for dinner, we found a Chinese restaurant in the next metro station at Earl's Court.

The closest metro station to the place we stayed is Cloucester Road. As we punched the destination into the metro's ticket machine, it asked me for £7.20 train fare. It's probably charged accordingly to zone like Paris. So it doesn't matter if you want to go 1 or 20 stations . Still, for 3 zones, which covers more than 30 stations, costs €1.70 in Paris. In London, it's £7.20 for 1 zone.

We quickly cancelled the idea of going o Earl's Court, and found some food near the station. After a few mins walk, we decided to do Nando's. We ordered 1/2 chicken, and drinks. It came to £7. It's cheaper than the tube fare.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Rabbie's Tour of Scotland: Day 3

Itinerary for day 3 of Rabbies' Tour of Scotland's Western Highlands
Itinerary for day 3 of Rabbies' Tour of Scotland's Western Highlands


    The driving route.
            The itinerary stops.


  Red Hills
Arrival: 09:40.

We made our 1st stop to view Red Hills (Scottish: Beinn na Caillich) from highway A87. It may not be Red Hills. I do this from distant memory. This is an educated guess.

Red Hills, Isle of Sky, Scotland, UK

  Eilean Donan Castle
Arrival: 10:25.

We actually stopped at  Eilean Donan castle on day 1 of our tour. But we stopped at the opposite side of the loch where the entrance is. We could have visited there on day 1, with fewer stops today, the timing is better.

This 13th century castle is especially picturesque because it's located in the middle of the loch for better defense (rather than for beauty). The loch acts like a moat, just wider with no maintenance cost or concern it would dry out. Architect would say functional architecture is beautiful in itself. What about the gorgeous view of the loch from within the castle for the dwellers?

It's being restored, so we would have to put up with the eyesore of the scaffolding and green tarp.

Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland, UK

Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland, UK

Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland, UK

View of Loch from Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland, UK

View of Loch from Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland, UK

View of Loch from Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland, UK

  Fort Augustus
Arrival: 13:00.

This is a town/village where its loch is far better known. I've never heard of Fort Augustus until this trip (a name, I've no doubt, came from Emperor Augustus). This ancient fort is located southwest of Loch Ness. Eureka! I hear you.

I thought Loch Ness is one of those thousand of lakes in Scotland that's remote and desolate. But then one mustn't forget the alluring power of supernatural forces (real or imagined).

We need imaginary monster as much as we need childhood imaginary friend. Great help for tourism. So far in this 3-day trip of Scot Highland, this place was the busiest I had seen. Far more than its nearby southern neighbour of Fort William (which we visited on day 1). Hallelujah Nessie!

Loch Ness, Scotland, UK
The mysterious, and famous Loch Ness

For a village (pop < 1000), it has an impressive size former St. Benedict Abbey. I guess Abby tend to build in quiet place, and the original population probably grew out of it.

Fort Augustus Abbey, Scotland, UK
St. Benedict Abbey, aka Fort Augustus Abbey

Fort Augustus, Scotland, UK
Nessie pulls in the tourists.
It has the biggest tourist numbers in the 3-day tour (at this time of the year).
Anywhere else in this tour, we were the only tour group.

Former church, Fort Augustus, Scotland, UK
This charming chapel/church is now a souvenir shop. If you're looking for kilts and what not. You're in the right place.

This is a trellis/wire frame for plants to grow on. In milder seasons, I imagine Nessie is much more colourfully inviting. In colder climate, it sheds all its plants and left with a skeletal framework, in a manner speaking.

Sculpture of Nessie, Fort Augustus, Scotland, UK Sculpture of Nessie, Fort Augustus, Scotland, UK

Perhaps the things that I find most interesting (amusing is probably the right word) is that the village centre is occupied by a lock (not a loch. But the lock is used for the loch. So the lock is the key to the loch. Capeesh? You don't understand capeesh?).

Boat at lock, Fort Augustus, Scotland, UK

While I know there's zero chance of spotting Nessie. At least, I've been to Loch Ness and did some Nessie spotting.

  Commando Memorial and Ben Nevis
Arrival: 14:30.

This Commando Memorial occupies a commanding position in the surrounding of Scottish Highland in Spean Bridge village (not far from Fort William that we visited on Day 1). It's dedicated to the memory of British Commando Forces during WW2.

Commando Memorial, Scotland, UK

From here, you could see Ben Nevis - the highest peak in the British Isles.

Ben Nevis, view from Commando Memorial, Scotland, UK

Ben Nevis, view from Commando Memorial, Scotland, UK

Ben Nevis, view from Commando Memorial, Scotland, UK

It doesn't take a geologist or an active imagination to see that the top part of Scotland is separated from the rest of UK. The faultline is so straight, you can draw a straight line across it and it matches perfectly.

Another thing that's irresistible to conclude is that point A on the map below was once upon a time (measured in millions of years), coincided with point B because the shoreline discontinuity seems a wee bit abrupt. I'm saying that this top part of Scotland is grinding on the bottom half of Scotland as it moves in the northeast direction, buckling these 2 halves of contacts of Scotlands into Highlands with rugged peaks.

If you can grab the top of Scotland above the straight line and slide it down slowly and gingerly such that point A will align with point B, the map of Scotland will look "normal" again (any move other than gingerly will cause the landmass to produce an earthquake with a Richter Scale of 10).

Anyway, that's my theory.

map of Scotland

  Laggan Dam
Arrival: 15:40.

This Laggan Dam was built in 1934. It's 210m long, and 48m high.

I can imagine what a sight it would be when the dam let its spillways open. This happens when the dam is overflowing. I don't imagine this occurs too frequent. The dam looks nearly full to me (I'm the half dam full rather than half dam empty kinda guy. Yes, I said "dam full!").

Laggan Dam, Scotland, UK

  Strathmashie Forest
Arrival: 16:00.

This forest locates right at the western edge of the large Cairngorms National Park. The highway A86 only penetrated a few kms of the national park before turning south to merge into highway A9, which skirts the western edge of the national park (see map up the top).

Before turning south into A9, I think we stopped here because Pattack Falls is right next to highway A86 (remember Brides Veil Falls is also located right next to highway A855 when we stopped there on day 2?).

Pattack Falls, Strathmashie Forest, Cairngorms National Park, Scotland, UK

Pattack Falls, Strathmashie Forest, Cairngorms National Park, Scotland, UK
Pattack Falls, Strathmashie Forest, Cairngorms National Park, Scotland, UK
You can see our ride from the waterfall

Strathmashie Forest, Cairngorms National Park, Scotland, UK

Pattack Falls, Strathmashie Forest, Cairngorms National Park, Scotland, UK
The falls carve out a wee bit gorge

Strathmashie Forest, Cairngorms National Park, Scotland, UK

This is the last stop for the Rabbies' 3-day Isle of Sky and Western Highlands tour. After this, we headed for Rabbie's Edinburgh office.

Despite the very unsettled weather - which should be at this time of year - the whole trip was memorable (perhaps not despite of, but because of the weather). Of course, the best thing about the low season is that there's no crowd. Everywhere we went - except for one - we were the only group.

Highlights of the 3-day tour? Quiraing, Glencoe, Ben Nevis, Eilean Donan Castle, Loch Ness, and best of all, making a wee bit use the phrase "wee bit".

Friday, 26 April 2013

Rabbie's Tour of Scotland: Day 2

Itinerary for Rabbie's Tour of Isle of Skye, Scotland - Day 2
Rabbie's Tour of Isle of Skye, Scotland
(Click to enlarge)


    The driving route (map doesn't show route between Dun Beag Broch and The Bosville Hotel).
            The itinerary stops.


  Brides Veil Waterfalls
Arrival: 09:30.

This is our 1st stop, which is a short drive from the Bosville Hotel where we stayed on our 1st night.

This isn't a well known site/sight and you won't see it mentioned in the itinerary or any brochure. In fact, it isn't even marked on or recognised by google maps (at the moment).

I think we stopped here because this site is right besides the road (highway A855) of our route, and is an easy scramble up to the top to gain a nice perspectives of the view of Lock Leathan, and Sound of Raasay further eastwards as well as a glimpse of the Storr in the north.

This place shows a nice example of a Scottish moor and its boggy ground. Much of this landscape appeared in Skyfall (2012).

Brides Veil waterfalls, Isle of Skye, Scotland, UK

Sound of Raasay, Isle of Skye, Scotland, UK
Looking across the Sound of Raasay

Sound of Raasay, Isle of Skye, Scotland, UK
One minute clear sky, heavy downpour the next.

  The Old Man of Storr
Arrival: 09:40.

This is just a few km north of our last destination. We only viewed it from the highway. Looking at it up close and personal would require climbing and fitness that I wouldn't have. It would also be a day trip. This wasn't what this tour was about. Our tour is a grand tour of notable sights in Isle of Skye.

Old Man of Storr, Isle of Skye, Scotland, UK
The odd-looking Old Man of Storr pinnacle

Old Man of Storr, Isle of Skye, Scotland, UK
Try B&W for more drama

The Storr, Isle of Skye, Scotland, UK
Backward view of the Storr as we rode northward, the odd looking bowl shape mountain top was revealed to us.
The tip of the "Old Man" peeped up from behind the mountain (about 1/3 from the left and top)

The Storr covers in mist, Isle of Skye, Scotland, UK
This and the above photos were taken literally only a minute apart, the mist had already descended and devoured the mountain.
Once again, the weather can change from moment to moment in front of your very eyes.
It's like watching the time lapse video or the computer simulation of weather forecasts.

  Lealt Gorge and Waterfalls
Arrival: 10:03.

From one natural drama to the next. For those who suffered from vertigo like myself, it's nerve-wrecking to look down. Like children watching horror flicks, or adult watching car-wrecks, it's terrifying, but I couldn't take our eyes off as I inched towards the edge of the gorge. Breathtaking.

Lealt Gorge, Isle of Skye, Scotland, UK
Lealt Gorge

River Abhainn an Lethuillt, Isle of Skye, Scotland, UK
Abhainn an Lethuillt, the river that carves out the gorge

Lealt Waterfall, Isle of Skye, Scotland, UK
Lealt Waterfall, the source of the river

Lealt Gorge, Isle of Skye, Scotland, UK
Yes, it's din din. Guys...Fatten yourselves up. Looking at you making me hungry...like a wolf...
Hope to see you soon in a restaurant near here...

  Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls
Arrival: 10:22.

These 2 sights are located at the same place. The columns of basalt looks like pleats of kilts, hence the name. The basalt columns sit on top of sandstone base/bottom. From the sides, they look like kilt. From above, the basalt columns are hexagonal (in principles. But some can have 5 and other 7 sides), they look like the honeycomb of bee hive.

Kilt Rock lookout, Isle of Skye, Scotland, UK
Look out at Kilt Rock.
Geoff, our tour guide cum driver, is 2nd person from the right. Good guide/guy.

Kilt Rock, Isle of Skye, Scotland, UK
Showing mountain range with vertical columnar basalt at the top and more normal slanting mountain near the bottom.

Mealt Falls, Isle of Skye, Scotland, UK
Mealt Falls

Loch Mealt, Isle of Skye, Scotland, UK
The small Loch Mealt is the source of Mealt Falls

Elishader, Isle of Skye, Scotland, UK
Local and not so wildlife

  Staffin & Quiraing
Arrival: 10:45.

We stopped at a cafe in Staffin township for a toilet and drinking break before heading for Quiraing.

Staffin House, Isle of Skye, Scotland, UK
Staffin House. This residential apartment that builds in the gingerbread house style locates opposite our cafe.
So I had my coffee with gingerbread.

They say that Quiraing is still moving. The part of the road down at Flodigarry just north of this required frequent repairs due to this earth movement.

As usual, I stood at close to the edge as possible to get the thrill (probably panic) of vertigo. It's ok to throw up. Nobody was down there. Good time.

Quiraing, Isle of Skye, Scotland, UK

Quiraing, Isle of Skye, Scotland, UK
Apparently, the goat too enjoyed the view...bah...humbug !
The kid was thinking: it looks a wee bit like ocean waves in rock.

I've seen many photo of this place covered in green. I supposed the autumn season turned the grass into autumn colours of brown, and gold.

Quiraing, Isle of Skye, Scotland, UK

The cattle here have gotten used to the tourists, and aren't easily frightened. So shoot away.

Cattle, Isle of Skye, Scotland, UK Cattle, Isle of Skye, Scotland, UK
Cattle, Isle of Skye, Scotland, UK Cattle, Isle of Skye, Scotland, UK

Arrival: 13:00.

We actually stopped at Skye Museum of Island Life before Uig  to see the traditional scottish Blackhouse. But it was closed. So we looked for another similar museum.

Scottish blackhouse, Isle of Skye, Scotland, UK
Blackhouse at the Skye Museum of Island Life

Scottish Blackhouse, Isle of Skye, Scotland, UK
Another blackhouse at the museum

We made a quick stop here for the terrific aerial view of the Uig bay. It doesn't look Uig at all, it actually looks quite nice.

the bay of Uig, Isle of Skye, Scotland, UK
The bay of Uig

Pier, Uig, Isle of Skye, Scotland, UK
The pier and Isle of Skye Brewing by the pier

Arrival: 14:25.

We stopped here for Macleod Table Cafe, not the well known Dunvegan Castle. I guess there weren't too many restaurants along this nick of the woods in our route.

Macleod Table Cafe, Dunvegan, Isle of Skye, Scotland, UK

As we drove away after lunch, I snapped Dunvegan Castle from the distant. This is the ancestral home of the Macleod Clan. Too bad it wasn't in our itinerary.

Dunvegan Castle, Isle of Skye, Scotland, UK
Dunvegan Castle nested in the woods

  Neist Point
Arrival: 15:40.

Neist point is the Westernmost point of the island, hence the need for putting a lighthouse there.

Staircase, Neist Point, Isle of Skye, Scotland, UK
A long climb down to the bottom

The Neist Point is a stunning rock formation that looks like an eagle.

Neist Point, Isle of Skye, Scotland, UK

Beyond the vanishing walking path, another drop from view, is the lighthouse. After making the long descent, and more important the inclement weather, I was at the end of my tether. The wind was howling with rain hitting my face.

I stood there in my rain coat, started my inner dialogue,

My Brain:  I have tavelled 16,300km from Singapore, I should walk another 1.5 km (one way) to get to the lighthouse. If I didn't, I would regret later.
My Legs:  Easy for you to say. That 1.5km feels like 150km.
My Brain:  You win. As usual.
My Legs:  All is not lost. You'll get to whinge to your hearts content while we wait. And I have to listen to it!

I asked Ada to go ahead while I waited for her between the rock and a hard place.

There was a silver lining in all these dark cloud (and rain and hailstones briefly) to tour around this unsettled season, you won't get crowd. Just about everywhere we went, we were the only tour group (and quite a small group as that). We didn't get that "people mountain, people sea" scenery. Just mountain and sea.

Still, the view from here in the rain was quite stunning.

Neist Point, Isle of Skye, Scotland, UK

Neist Point, Isle of Skye, Scotland, UK

As I climbed back up the stairs, my legs were having a conversation with my brain, again.

"Wasn't a great idea that we didn't go to the lighthouse?", my legs shouted in delight.
"How so?" my brain puzzled.
"If I walked all that way, I may not have the strength to climb these bloody stairs by now", my legs said.
"You make it sound like I have any bloody thing to say about it. You have a mind of your own, you know?" my brain said.
"You can bet your boots on it, matey!" My legs jumped for joy.
"Glad you still have energy to jump!" My brain said.
"Only for victory dance, mate", my legs said. "What are you complaining anyway? I carry your dead weight all day long."

After we got back to the carpark (with frequent stops on the stairs to catch my breath and listened to my legs whined), we saw a man yelling at someone. He yelled and he yelled. Did he lose his kids? Poor man.

And then his kids heard him, and started to gather and cross the road. It's time for the kids to go home.

These kids were well-trained.

cattle, Isle of Skye, Scotland, UK
"Kids, let's cross the road in an orderly fashion by keeping in a single file. No pushing, no running."

Kids, let's walk only on the shoulders of the road for safety. Look left, then right. Don't run! If kids can do it, so cam we adults!

  Skye Black House Museum
Arrival: 17:10.

Since the bigger Skye Museum of Island Life was closed, the tour guide had found this smaller substitute to show us the blackhouse, which is indigenous to this island and Scotland in general.

As usual, the traditional style that evolved overtime made use of available local materials and provides a perfect practical solution for the local condition: cool in summer and warm in winter. The thatched roof were held down with metal meshing.

  Dun Beag Broch
Arrival: 17:25.

This is our day's final brief stop. We didn't get to see the Dun Beag Broch up close. Maybe it wasn't possible. We looked at it from the road.

It had been rained on and off the whole day. It had been raining non-stop since our last stop. A rainbow came out just as we headed home. Is this a sign?

Yet another silver lining to the dark cloud is that we should start to appreciate the weather we have. I remember some Aussies complained that there're 4 seasons in one day in Sydney (which has the best climate in the world). Today, we had 3 seasons (no summer) in 5 minute, literally.

The tour guide joked that as soon as we got back into our car, the rain would stop and the sun would come out, and the rain would start the minute we got off. It became much less funny when his prediction came true 5 or 6 times in a row. That must be a sign!

Scottish Highlands are known for its unsettle and temperamental weather, but today, according to our tour guide, it's exceptional. Well, we even had a brief shower of hailstones up in Quiraing.

But for the tough Scots (who are so tough they wear kilts in this sub zero temperature), they used to this wintry weather. Not for somebody who lived in the tropic for the last 5 years with bad circulation. All I could say is, "Man! This is so NOT in the brochure!".

I guess I'm too frail and old to tour this place at this time of the year. I failed the physical tests miserably. Any regret? Nope! Except for the lighthouse. And I put my foot in my mouth (and my legs and brain had a bitter argument that took some serious selective memory loss to get over it).

Dun Beag Broch, Isle of Skye, Scotland, UK
Dun Beag Broch

Are we home yet?

To read about Rabbie's Tour of Scotland: Day 3