Saturday, August 8, 2009

Voyage of the Vikings, Day 15 - Invergordon, Scotland

5am in the Crow's Nest, fresh coffee in hand. I must say the coffee is pretty good. Vessel in the North Sea, entering Moray Firth. Wind north 12, seas calm, heading 216 at 16 knots. I heard the captain announce last night thay we are to meet the pilot boat at 5am, but I see no sign of it. Lights visible ashore. Donuts at 6.

Went outside a couple of minutes ago and took some pix. Glad I did; it's 5:11am, and we just entered a fog bank. Pix dull, not worth showing.

Today begins a round of visits to various ports in the British Isles, and the Netherlands. Our course to these vrious ports is sown below.

Our Tour of the British Isles

Today's activity is a tour of Loch Ness. Kathy is excited, and Keith is interested. Keith only gets excited over stuff like the mid-Atlantic rift, and the Firth of Forth bridge, which I think we are supposed to see tomorrow.

5:30 and still foggy. Keith's GPS says we are well inside the entrance to the Moray Firth. We hope the captain's GPS is working. He is blowing the foghorn. Donuts at 6.

6:10am, donuts in hand. The fog lifted for a few minutes, long enough to snap pixs of a couple of freighters anchored in the firth near the harbor entrance, which is totally obscured. As we enter the harbor, visibility has dropped to near zero.

7am and we are docking in Invergordon. Visibility opened up to about a quarter of a mile as we approached the dock, but it is closing down again as we dock. I hope it improves for our tour.

We just finished breakfast and have an hour before our tour leaves. We decided to go out on deck and listen to the bagpiper welcoming us to Invergordon. Kathy love bagpipes while Keith tolerates them. The pier is a hub of activity as we watch a diver suit up to do an inspection dive of the pier, or the bottom of the boat perhaps. Could this have anything to do with the rumor that we bumped a piece of ice in Nanortalik?


Welcoming Committee


Divers on the Pier

We passed an oil rig on our way to port this am. They are brought here from the North Sea periodically for repairs and rebuilding.


North Sea Oil Platform

9:30 and we are under way, on a tour bus, headed for Nessie. The busses were a long walk to the end of the pier, but we made it.

We are told that Invergordon was a major naval port in the two world wars. With the demise of the Navy, the forth has been taken over by oil rigs.

We passed through the village of Allness, which has won the all-UK prize many times for it's public display of beautiful flowers, all privately grown (no town sponsorship). The flowers really are pretty.


Allness Flower Display

Lots of talk about local distillerys.

We are driving on the wrong side of the road!


The Architecture Of The Homes Looks Very British

We are passing by Cromarty Firth, the second largest in the British Isles. The largest is Scapa Flow.

We now are passing through the town of Dingwall, where 10th century Viking raiders wintered.

The landscape around the east coast is sort of pastoral, with numerous farms, punctuated with patches of trees. As we proceed inland, the terrain becomes more rugged. Farms disappear in favor of steep hillsides, many covered with a scrubby, dark, slightly purplish plant called Heather. The narrow, winding roads remind Keith of West Virginia. Along the way we spot numerous sheep. We are tld there are more sheep than people in Scotland.


Scottish Heather


Sheep Dot the Scottish Landscape


Barley, an Ingredient in Scotch Whiskey

Scottish forests are being threatened by two plants. Bracken (fern) is overgrowing the base of the trees as a ground cover, while Rhodendron are crowding out the canopy growth.

Urquhart castle is located on Lake Ness. It is very old, very scenic, and very dilapated, and we are stuck here for 90 minutes. An ambitious young person could walk about the ruins, but this decrepit old fart will sit in the café overlooking the ruins, with a cup of Scottish breakfast tea. Kathy is, of course, in the gift shop, then the theater.


Urquhart Castle Tourist


Urquhart Castle Ruins, With Loch Ness in Background
Where is Nessie?


Our Scottish Tourguide Won't Tell Us Where to Find Nessie

Loch Ness is very scenic, but not by any means unique. Except for the ruins, we could be on the Hudson River, or one of the Finger lakes.

In the lake I see a couple of swans, which could very easily be mistaken for a monster.

Loch Ness lies in a spreading fault called the Great Glen, which runs from northeast Scotland to southwest Scotland. We are told that the hills on the two sides of the Loch are moving apart at about the same rate your fingernails grow.

The loch is 750 feet deep, with a virtually sheer drop-off on the north side. It is claimed to contain more water than all the lakes in all the rest of the UK. The Caledonian Canal, that travels from the North Sea to the Irish Sea, travels through Loch Ness.

Lunch was at a Hotel in Inverness. Filling, but unmemorable.




Inverness Castle


The River Ness in Inverness

It's 2:30 and we are on a motortour of Inverness after lunch, which eas at a local riverfront hotel. Game pate appetizer, baked chicken & gravy, and mixed vegetables, with vanilla ice cream & blackberries for dessert. 3-1/4 Cows.

Kathy is very disappointed that she mistakenly booked the wrong tour. She thought she was booking a tour of Loch Ness including the Nessie center and all that schtick. Instead she booked a tour of Inverness & environs, including a stop at Urquart castle on the Loch, but no Nessie stuff. She says we've got to come back.

One of Kathy's Nessie goals was a Nessie hat for our grandson. She didn't get one at the Nessie center, because we didn't stop there. She did find one, however, on a post priandal shopping tour of Inverness. Keith modeled the hat on the street in Inverness.


Nessie, Spotted on an Inverness Street


Inverness Retail Therapy District


A Twin Spire Church in Inverness

Next stop Culloden battlefield. Significant because it was the last battle fought on English soil, between English peoples. Battle date 1746.

Last stop Cawdor Castle. Dunundestan the significance of Cawdor Castle, don't care. Nap time!

90 minutes sitting in the bus, and under a tree in the sprinkles. Kathy back to join me after 30 minutes. Whatta waste! We are not entirely satisfied with today's tour.

Back to the boat, finally, at 5:30, 15 minutes in line to board because everyone was negotiating the extremely steep gangway with extra caution, then 15 minutes to regroup and make it to the Crow's Nest foe sailaway, and for Kathy's mohito.

There are two oil platforms in port for repair, plus a third incomplete tower in the middle of the channel. We'll soon be back of the North Sea, on our way to Queensferry/Edinburg. Finally, after two weeks, we have a partly sunny day for our touring, and for our sailaway. We hope the nice weather holds for tomorrow!


A Pretty Scottish Lighthouse, Photographed on Sail-away

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