Roman and Mediaeval History, Illlustrated Travel Journals, Mediaeval Literature, Geology


28.7.09
  Edinburgh Views

My first afternoon in Edinburgh was a sunny one - the clouds never got in the way but added nicely to a more interesting sky in the pictures.

Firth of Forth, seen from the castle

Ten years ago I visited Edinburgh Castle on a cold, misty morning which lent it a menacing air. But I had the place more or less to myself. This time I visited on a sunny afternoon which makes the castle look more accomodating. The flip side were lots of tourists walking through my photos.

View over the town with Calton Hill to the left

But I had a better distant view this time and took several shots of the surroundings from various angles. The air was so clear that you can see the sea in the distance.

Arthur's Seat, seen from the north cannon platform

This one was just fun. I didn't try to shoot a cannon ball into Arthur's Seat, honestly.

The photo below was taken on a late afternoon two days later, from the keep of Craigmillar Castle outside Edinburgh.

Pentland Hills, seen from Craigmillar Castle

I didn't take many photos of the town itself because there are major earthworks going on in Princess Street, after some politicians decided to leave their personal dog mark and give Edinburgh a tram no one really wants. Right now the prettiest part of the town, aside from the Royal Mile, is just a big, dusty hole.

Royal Mile, view in direction of the castle

Here are two photos of the Royal Mile which was a pretty busy place. No wonder with all those shops lining it - if you don't want to spend money, you better stay in the middle, lol. I took the chance and visited St.Gilles Cathedral which lies halfway on that famous street.

Royal Mile, view downward; St.Gilles to the right

I have more photos of Edinburgh Castle and Craigmillar Castle, of course. But I missed Holyrood Palace again - fate must have decided to close it every time I'm in Edinburgh.
 


22.7.09
  Staffa

The tour from Fionnphort / Mull to Staffa took place during some of the few hours of rain I had on my trip. The other one had been Inchcolm where I bought a rain cape in the gift shop (Historical Scotland knows why they sell those, lol), and it proved useful in the open boat to Staffa as well.

Staffa is a small island (200x600 metres) in the Inner Hebrides, famous for its unusual hexagonal basalt columns. It became a tourist attraction in the late 18th century after Sir Joseph Banks waxed poetic about its natural beauty that rivalled the temples in Greece.

Approaching Staffa

Staffa has severall caves (the photo above shows Boat Cave), the most famous is Fingal's Cave, named after James MacPherson's Ossianic hero Finn mac Cumhail in the 18th century. Its older name was An Uamh Binn - cave of melodies, because of the echos in the cave. Fingal's Cave is a sea cave (formed by the waves of the sea), 10 m wide and 70 m long, the walls consisting of the hexagonal basalt columns for which Staffa is known.

Fingal's Cave

At high tide the access is difficult because the boat has to land on the other end of the island, and the way to the cave is a small path of sleek stones along the cliffs with a rail on the inner side and the roaring waves a few metres below. It admit, I didn't dare to go, with everything wet and slippery, and stuck among a tourist group form Portugal who behaved like they owned the place, just to get some pics of the cave with lots of people getting in the way, and noise instead of echos. Some Swiss tourists came back and said the path was pretty dangerous inside the cave, and if mountain people don't like it, I think I can't be blamed for prefering to take the somewhat easier access to the top of the rocks instead (nor was I the only one).

Am Buchaille

The origins of Staffa are volcanic, with a tuff basement, a layer of tertiary basalt and a top layer of basalt without a crystalline structure. The slow cooling of the second layer resulted in those almost polished looking hexagonal columns. That geographical feature runs under water all the way to Antrim in Ireland and is known as Giant's Causeway.

Staffa is named for those colums; the name goes back to the Norse word stafr - pillar.

View from above

Staffa rises up to 42 metres above sea level and there is a layer of turf and grass on the top, enough to feed some cattle. The island is not inhabited today, but it was in the Middle Ages. The last inhabitants left because of the severe winter storms by the end of the 18th century.

On a clear day you can see to Skye, but the veil of rain only allowed for a glimpse of the Ardnamurchan peninsula.

The harbour (with another cave)

Among the tourists visiting Staffa in the 19th century were Queen Victoria, Sir Walter Scott, Jules Verne, and in 1829 the German composer and pianist Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809-1847) who - impressed with a very rough crossing as well as the echos in Fingal's Cave - composed the Hebrides Overture. Mendelssohn traveled to Scotland after spending a season in London as celebrated pianist and conductor. His music was banned during the Third Reich because of Mendessohn's Jewish descent.

Tidal currents between Staffa and Am Buchaille

The tidal currents and eddies between Staffa and the rock formation called Am Buchaille are really impressive. Due to the black basalt underground, the water appears black as well, crowned with white foam where the waves break. I stood in the rain and watched for some time, imagining someone trying to land in a small rowing boat and how it must feel to be shipwrecked in such a desolate, rain- and windswept place.

But when the boat returned to pick us up for the trip to Iona, the sun came out, and the rest of the day was sunny and warm. Scottish weather, lol.

The sun comes out

The island had been in diverse private ownerships until 1986 when the last owner, one Jock Elliott from New York, gifted it to the National Trust for Scotland.

Cattle and deer have been removed from the island for the natural vegetation to recover. Today it is a nesting ground for puffins, kittiwakes, gulls and other birds, and in the waters play seals and dolphins. We saw dolphins on the way to Iona, but they were too fast to catch with the camera.

The Colonnade

German author Theodor Fontane, another 19th century Scotland tourist, had more luck with Fingal's Cave than I. He arrived in sunshine and in a boat small enough to be rowed into the cave itself. He desribed Staffa, the cave and the process that formed it in his travel diary Beyond the Tweed (Jenseit des Tweed).

I packed up my rain cape and got the camera ready for a farewell shot of Staffa: the basalt pillars of the Colonnade.
 


13.7.09
  Passing by Some Castles

When traveling around, you not only see lots of landscape (far more than you can ever photograph out of moving vehicles) but also a few interesting buildings. I managed to catch two castles on my journey which I didn't really visit, but of which I got some nice pictures nevertheless.

Dunollie Castle

The one that looks like some Maya ruins in the rainforest is Dunollie Castle near Oban which I caught from the sun deck of the Mull ferry.

Dunollie Castle, closeup

A proof that Scotland can be very green in parts. The west coast climate seems to be ideal for vines; they're really taking over the ruins.

Loch Awe

I saw Loch Awe from the Glasgow / Oban train, and a few days later I got even closer during what I call my Inveraray adventure. I'll tell you more about that in another post; for now let me just say that public transport in Scotland on a Sunday is more or less inexistant.

There's a castle on the photo above, if you take a close look.

Kilchurn Castle

On the way back I managed to get a lot closer. That picturesque beauty is Kilchurn Castle.

Kilchurn Castle; another view

For one I was on the wrong side of Loch Awe, and Kilchurn Castle is only open to public on some days In July and August, but at least I had the chance to take some photos.

Closeup of the castle

The view of the castle with the mountains as background is more or less a classic. It graces more than one travel guidebook (the ones that don't have Eilean Donan Castle, anyway), though in most cases the pictures have been taken in autumn. But it's quite a splendid sight in summer, too.
 


2.7.09
  It's Too Hot

Up to 30°C in the afternoons, and a humidity of 90% - at least if feels that way. That constellation leads to some nasty thunderstorms as well. Fortunately the worst ones have missed my place so far, but there'll be an increased risk of thunderstorms during the weekend. And I so don't like it hot; I want to go back to Scotland where there's usually a cool breeze from the sea.

Oban in the evening sun

It's also no fun to have a cold in weather like this; it sorta feels wrong. Colds belong in winter so you can coddle yourself with hot tea and blankets.
 


Miscellaneous musings of an aspiring Historical Fiction and Fantasy author. Illustrated essays on Roman, Dark Age and Mediaeval history, Mediaeval literature, and Geology. Some poetry translations and writing stuff. And lots of photos of old castles, cathedrals, Roman remains, and beautiful landscapes from Germany, the UK and Scandinavia.

All texts (except comments by guests) and photos (if no other copyright is noted) on this blog are copyright of Gabriele Campbell.

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I'm a writer of Historical Fiction living in Germany. I got a MA in Literature, Scandinavian Studies, Linguistics and History, I'm interested in Archaeology and everything Roman and Mediaeval, an avid reader, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, and photographer.

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