The Last Chapter


Crathes Castle outside of Aberdeen.  It is a classic Scottish tower house and was lived in by the Burnett family for over 350 years.  The had roots in the area since 1323 when Roberts the Bruce granted them nearby land.  This was quite a lovely castle inside.  Some rooms had colourful painted ceilings (very rare) (No pictures though!  Ken!)  But the really incredible thing about this castle is the marvellous gardens!  There had been used as the setting for The Antiques Roadshow” a couple of weeks before we visited.

Some shots of the beautiful flowers.












I believe these are Sea Thistles which can been a deep blue or even purple.


Beautiful Borage!


In the green arbour.


Ken too!


Beautiful huge borders everywhere.


A pano shot of the Golden Garden with the castle in the background.


Craigievar Castle.  This castle was the seat of Clam Sempill and the Forbes family.  It is made from pink granite and the story goes that it provided Walt Disney with the inspiration for the castle in Snow White.  You can only visit the insides with a guided tour. (Which we did).  No photography allowed inside the castle.


This was the view across the surrounding fields.


The other side of the castle.


Having a rest.


This is Castle Fraser (of Outlander Fame).  I am not sure if they actually filmed for the series here, but it is the namesake of “Jamie”.  It is a beautiful castle with lovely grounds on which there were many families picnicking.


The Kelpies!  I had seen a picture of these sculptures before we left Canada and searched them out.  There are at a place called The Helix in Falkirk about an hour outside of Edinburgh.  They are very impressive.  Designed by Andy Scott they are 100 feet high, made of stainless steel and stand next to a new extension of the Forth and Clyde Canal.  Kelpies are mythological transforming beasts possessing the strength of 10 horses and they represent the lineage of the heavy horse of Scottish industry and economy, pulling the wagons, ploughs, barges and coal ships that shaped the geographical layout of the Falkirk area.  For me they evoked the memory or knowledge of what horses do for us humans and how many work and struggle and die.  I think of all those horses who have road into battle and been slaughtered, who we never really hear about.  I think of the beauty of these majestic creatures.

Eimear has been collaborating with some fellow artists to do an animation of the Kelpies!


There was a poem etched into the walkway:

Echo the great beasts that work among us

unbridled in this kingdom between canal and firth

here to harness the river

carry each weary traveller.

Bow down your strong heads to taste the water

Stretch up your long necks to face the sun

– Jim Carruth


On our first day in Edinburgh we walked to the Royal Botanic Gardens and wandered around until we got tired and found this nice bench to rest on.



One of the sections had lots of different grasses.


And more beautiful flowers.


Including these gorgeous hollyhocks.


Cindy tried to pick up this guy, but he wasn’t very responsive!


This fellow was in the forest walk  we took to see Stirling Castle (below).


After the crowds in Edinburgh we decided to escape the tourist crowds and leave the city and go to Stirling castle (pictured here on the hill).  Well, there were tourists here too.  We made it up to the parking lot only to find that it was full so went down the mountain again, found a parking spot a long distance away and walked up the path which was free from people!


We had a final dinner out in Edinburgh at a place that a friend of ours had frequented (albeit at the Mother India cafe in Glasgow) some 30 or more years ago.  It was actually quite nice to have delicious Indian food again.  This was an Indian tapas restaurant which served small plates of food so we managed to sample a number of our favourites.


Edinburgh has quite a network of community gardens or garden plots.  And also a grand network of walking/biking trails which are below street level.


Our last day in Scotland. Walking into the city on one of the trails.


Some plants along the way.


Gorgeous flowers.

So, there you have it.  Almost 7 months away from home…


3 months in wild and colourful India!


And 3 in historic, unruly Scotland (and a smattering of other places in between).


And we still love each other.  Maybe even more than when we departed!

Homeward bound now!  Off to visit some wonderful people in Toronto and Calgary before heading back home.

Some more Old Places! And some Beautiful Faces!

Our first night after leaving Orkney was spent in Lossiemouth, a Victoria seaside town.  We didn’t see a lot of Lossiemouth but the next morning we went to see the Elgin Cathedral, or what was left of it.  Another beautiful ruin.


This place is huge and must have been absolutely grand when it was flourishing.  There is tonnes of information about it.  I’ll try and give a brief overview.  Building was begun in 1224 and was a stronghold of the Catholic Church for many years.  The Protestant Reformation saw it loosing its roof, there was also a major fire at some point, and also at some point the central tower fell.


Incredible windows.




This is the inside of the octagonal chapter house which was where the clergy met.  Lovely vaulted ceiling.


The two front towers from the “inside”.


Side view.  A number of Sutherland’s in this graveyard too.


This is Spynie Palace, also known as Spynie Castle.  This is where the Catholic Bishops lived.  It dates back to the 12th century.  One major tower house survives.


Walking down the Oak lined path leaving Spynie Palace.  It is a bit warmer down here!


We continued to drive along the Mornay Coast.  This is Bow Fiddle Rock — called that because I guess it looks like the bow of a fiddle.


Bow Fiddle Rock from a distance.


Our stop after Bow Fiddle Rock was actually in Cullen where we stopped for lunch and Cindy had a delicious bowl of Cullen Skink — a Scottish smoked fish chowder.  Then we carried on to visit Duff House in Banff which is a famous Georgian mansion designed by William Adam.  It is also an art gallery with a number of magnificent paintings.


The security guide insisted in taking our picture.  🙂


Beautiful hearth.


On the way up the spiral staircase.


Back view.


After Duff house we decided to leave the coast and head to our place in Aberdeen.  We spent 5 days there spending some time with Rory and Eimear.  We went on an excursion with them one day.  This is part of the ruins of Dunnottar Castle dramatically perched on a cliff some 160 feet over the North Sea.


Most famously it was at Dunnottar Castle that a small garrison held out against the might of Cromwell’s army for 8 months and saved the Scottish Crown Jewels (now housed in Edinburgh’s castle) from destruction.


Eimear and Rory (and Cindy’s feet!)  Gazing out at the Castle.


Rory wanted to play hide and seek but we were running out of time, he was a little disappointed.


Some of the better preserved buildings on the site.


Cindy peering through the chapel window.


A view from the other side.


And, again.


And the cliffs from the other direction. Beautiful light.

A Poem About Orkney (and the world)

Another attempt at a poem.  🙂


Reminiscence of Solidity

I stand here
On the edge
Peering.  Deeply.

Roiling iceburg incantations
Seeth and heave and
Dashing into coloured shards
Reminiscent of solidity.

I am not the first
To stand on this fierce
Horizontal fortress.

I am not the first.

Others have been captivated.
They fashioned

Into a life.

They gazed, then disappeared

Green lumps in the flat ground
Cliff edges with slightly different form
Rings of earth
Massive stones rising up
In solemn circles
Or, singularly.

Whispers flit across the moment saying
“We were here.”

The stones speak. In layers.
In monument
In villages
In pictoglyphs
In tiny earthen pots
In paddock walls
In tombstones
In crumbling forgotten crofts

They speak, and yet
They shimmer in the ponderance of the moment
Flitting from Neolithic, to Pictish, to Viking, to Iron Age, to Medieval to Victorian, to the Wars, to The Aftermath, to the Now.

Yes, even stones can vanish.
As those lives have vanished.
As this life now, is vanishing.

The sea
The sky
These battered beads
Strung between two worlds.
These islands.
This Orkney.

-Cindy Sutherland
July 2018

Westray Island, Tomb of the Eagles,The Ness of Brodgar Dig, Leaving Orkney

We journeyed to two of Orkney’s northern islands with David, Caroline, Peter, Paul and Liz.  Sanday was featured in a previous block (albeit briefly).  This post will feature Westray.  We woke up quite tired to a very gray morning and almost wished that we weren’t hurrying off to the ferry, but what we would have missed, had we stayed curled up in bed!


A trio of small sailboats (with what we think is a seal in the middle), in the harbour at Pierowall, Westray.


This is Noltland Castle on Westray.  This castle was built for Gilbert Balfour in 1560.  It was built in a Z-plan, popular in Scotland during the 16th century.  It was certainly built for defence as it has quite the array of shot holes.  Something like 60 in total!  (I don’t think that Gilbert was a very nice man!)  It was quite grand inside, except that it had no roof and was inhabited by a number of birds!


Ken got these pics a little out of order.  This is the next day, back on Mainland Orkney when we visited the Tomb of the Eagles in the far south of South Ronaldsay which is connected to mainland Orkney by a series of causeways which were built during one of the wars (we think it was WWI).  This tomb was discovered by Ronnie Smith (a local farmer) in the 1950’s.  It revealed an amazing array of 5,000 year old bones and artefacts including the talons and bones of an estimated 14 white-tailed or sea eagles which must have been collected over many years.  Here is Ken going into the tomb on a wheeled trolley.  There was a rope on the roof that allowed you to pull yourself along.  You could also crawl in if you preferred.


We all made it inside!  Not too much there anymore and the roof has been reconstructed out of cement, but still, an amazing 5000 year old structure.


Back on Westray!  Our first stop was to a cliff top where we hoped to see some puffins.  And see them we did!  There were hundreds of them.  Many were so close you could have reached out and touched them (but of course we didn’t!)  How cute can you get!?


A group of Puffins is called “a Circus”.  Looks like a bit of a circus going on here!  Or at least a conference.






So beautiful!



This is the big excitement around Orkney these days.  Indeed through all of the Neolithic Anthropological community.  This is the dig (or part of it) at The Ness of Brodgar.  Excavations began in 2003 and they have uncovered maybe 10% of what is there to date.  As well as evidence of stone dwellings, they have discovered an enormous wall (20 feet thick!) which encloses all of the structures as well as a vast temple like structure the likes of which have never been unearthed before.  The temple site seems to have been closed down, partially dismantled and filled in about 2,200 BC and it seems that at this time there must have been a huge feast as the thigh bones of 400 head of cattle were found, which have been deemed to all have been slaughtered at the same time!

The site is also very significant in that it predates sites like StoneHenge (500 miles to the south) by about 500 years! and so may have been the centre of Neolithic Britain!  It is part of the area protected by UNESCO called “Neolithic Orkney” with the Standing Stones of Stenness on one side of it and the Ring of Brodgar on the other.  This area was in use for over 1,000 years!  For more info and to follow the dig, check out the website below.


Having never been to an archeological dig before, I was impressed by the painstaking work being carried out.  The “diggers” carefully removed the dirt, layer by layer, recording anything of significance.  There were artists drawing what was going on, photographers, and someone sitting and watching and recording all the diggers movements.


The tires were used to hold things down to cover areas that needed protection.  All of the hearths were covered at this time awaiting experts who were going to come and carefully sift through the remains.  Hearths have a lot of stories to tell.  I think the blue plastic were bags filled with dirt which were used to brace stones in situ.  Note the beautiful construction of the walls.


Hard, hard work.




Survey work also carried out.  The large pile of tires in the background would be used to hold down the plastic sheets which cover up the site during the off season (which is about 10 months long).  Due to weather, and financial constraints, the dig only occurs for about 8 weeks during the summer months.


Listening intently to our guide!


Site “T”.  They aren’t quite sure what this is yet!  The curves represent pits which were dug and them seem to have been filled back up with what was dug out of them.




A pit closed down for the season.  This one was not going to worked on this summer.  But you can see how the tires work.


They have been searching for the outer perimeter of the giant wall.  One side is probably under the road that has been built (in the ’50’s) but they think they found the other side near the lake shore.


If you get a chance to watch the BBC series, “Britain’s Ancient Capital:  Secrets of Orkney (and you should, it is great!) you will meet this fellow.  I can’t quite remember his name but he holds a Doctorate of Anthropology and is one of the top people at the dig.




This fellow found quite a large bovine molar as we were watching.


Well that’s it for Orkney.  We left Orkney (and Liz, Paul, David and Caroline) with more than a touch of bittersweetness.  Bitter because, after our lovely time together, who knows when we will see them all again, and return to these shores, and sweet because we are getting ready to be home, and we are one step closer.  Bundled up once more!

Out and about on Orkney

We took many walks and visited many historical sites on Orkney.  Here is a sampling both before the clan came to meet us and after they arrived.


Summer Solstice about 10:30 pm.  Walking down from a visit to one of the cairns (covered neolithic burial mounds).


A quiet bay of either the North Sea or the Atlantic Ocean (or both) on Mainland Orkney.  Orkney is where these two bodies of water converge!  It can be quite rough.  But not tonight.   Here is some history:  “A form of the name (Orkney) dates to the pre-Roman era and the islands have been inhabited for at least 8500 years, originally occupied by Mesolithic and Neolithic tribes and then by the Picts. Orkney was invaded and forcibly annexed by Norway in 875 and settled by the Norse. The Scottish Parliament then re-annexed the earldom to the Scottish Crown in 1472, following the failed payment of a dowry for James III‘s bride Margaret of Denmark.[8]”


A different view.


Many shades of green patchwork fields.


Farms and lochs.  That is our rental car down there in the bottom centre.


A beautiful farm.  Hopefully this way of life will keep going for years to come.


A sunset view of the island of Hoy to the south of Stromness.


The Isle of Birsay with the tide in.  You can walk across to the island when the tide is out. But not right now.


One of the many “geos” — thin spits of land/rock that project into the ocean.  The birds love them for nesting.  A sweet little beach too.


Having some water outside an ancient chapel near the Head of Mull (furthest North east of Mainland Orkney).


Cliffs on a calm day.


Geos and wildflowers.


Yesnaby, on a very calm summer’s day.  You can’t see any people, but they would have been wearing shorts and t-shirts today.  It got up to an unprecedented 23 or so degrees for a couple of days!


Many headed Scottish thistle.


Walk to Mull Head.  Note the absence of down vest, scarf and gloves!


Paul walking in the sunlight.


Cliffs and more cliffs.


Oh, a kissing gate!


One of the grand sea stacks (castles) on the Yesnaby walk.


Some houses/farm in the Bay of Birsay.


The Kitchener memorial.  During WW I a British boat hit a German mine killing over 700 people including Kitchener, the poster boy for the recruitment posters.  12 men managed to escape.


One of the recruitment posters with Kitchener’s image.  Quite the moustache!


Late night in Stromness.  Walking back to our place after having a lovely dinner and evening at the place Liz and co. rented on the shores of Stromness.


This well was just across from the Stromness rental.  Many connections between Orkney and Canada. Amazing!


Another sea cliff on a calm day.


A cliff whitewashed by whole colonies of seabirds!  A living Jackson Pollock!


Heading back to the cars at the end of a gorgeous walk — Mull Head.


Lots of bog cotton.


An exquisite bay on Sanday Island.


Walking on Sanday.


Walking towards the Bay of Birsay Tearooms.


Looking down at the birds and the sea.

Kith and Kin on Orkney

(Here is a rather quickly written poem… but what the heck!)


Where would we be
The ties of blood?
The brothers, sisters, sons and daughters
Mothers, fathers, aunts and uncles and


We would survive,
I suppose
as many do who have lost
But we would be smaller for it.

For this blood is traced in
Lines of face
In point of toes
In grace of nose
In start of smile
Eyes that beguile
In searing wit
Imagine it…

A life without that sense
of continuity
Without the story of
Remember when?
Without the not so hidden
Secrets, and the hidden ones.

I did not know
It hurt her so
To be erased
From hearth and place
To journey here
And those so dear
Left back behind
Sight out of mind
Yet in the heart
The longings start
To see again
Both kith and kin
And feel embraced
‘Tis not replaced
By anything.

And it is a wonder when
After many, many years
We meet again, or, for the first time
Those bound to us through blood.
It is a wonder when we trace the lines
From here to there. The miles crossed.

Marston Magna to
English Harbour to
Bell Island to
New Harbour to
To western shores and
For some,
Back, closer to the

And here we meet
On these fair Isles
To drink and talk
And walk awhile
And tell the stories
Once again
Of how we all are
Kith and kin.


Here is the clan of us who could manage to make it to Orkney.  From left to right, for those of you who don’t know us all:  Ken, Cindy, Liz (Ken’s cousin), David (Ken’s cousin), Caroline (David’s wife), Paul (Liz’s husband), Peter (Ken’s brother), Rory (Ken’s son).    We (Cindy and Ken) started it all by choosing Orkney as the place to spend a month on our travels and inviting others to join us.  Peter was first to say YES, and then Liz and Paul and David and Caroline got on board.  So Peter flew to London and met up with Liz and Paul at their home in Devon and drove up with then.  Caroline and David drove up from their home in Stroud.  Kathy decided to meet up with us, and Rory had so much fun with us on Skye, he decided to join us too.  We had two glorious weeks together (except for Kathy and Rory who joined us for 3 days a piece). It is a warm, beautiful July day on Orkney!


Paul combining two of his favourite pastimes, walking and birdwatching.  He is an amazing storehouse of information about the birds we were seeing.


Peter, Ken and Rory in front of some of the stones of The Ring of Brodgar.  (Photo by Cindy!)


David (who has a doctorate in archeology), explaining a salient point of one of the sites.


Cindy, bundled up.


Liz taking in one of the amazing sites.


Rory, relaxed on the beach.  He took the long ferry from Aberdeen to spend 3 days with us!


Caroline (and Liz) enjoying themselves. Aren’t they cute!




Here is a shot of Liz and David (Ken’s cousins) in 1957.  Ken only met Liz last September and David on Orkney this summer.  They grew up in England.


Peter, enjoying himself in an Orkney chair.


Kathy, Liz’s daughter (she wasn’t in the group shot above).  She joined us for 3 days also, flying from Inverness.


Rory, Ken and Peter in front of Saint Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall.


Rory, Cindy and Peter, also in front of Saint Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall.


Paul and Kathy…. you guessed the location! (Photo by Liz)


Liz and Rory.


Paul helping Cindy through the barbed wire fence.


Caroline, Liz and David looking out to where a family was attempting to swim in the freezing water!  Sanday Island.


A group shot (Peter, Ken, Cindy, David and Caroline) with Stromness in the background.  The place they rented was just between David and Caroline’s heads!  Beautiful calm evening.


Rory, looking down at a steep narrow rift on the Isle of Birsay.


Rory and Cindy.


At an Iron age settlement near the Tomb of the Eagles in South Ronsay. The rusty green “trailer” behind was at one point a German WW2 Ambulance.  It then was refurbished and went across the Sahara desert. (Paul, Caroline, Cindy, Liz, David, Peter, Rory.)

Exploring Orkney



Orkney is literally littered with archeological sites.  As one guide said “if you scratch the surface of Orkney, it bleeds archeology.”  Skara Brae is a 5000 (or so) year old neolithic settlement.  Consisting of eight clustered houses, it was occupied from roughly 3180 BC to about 2500 BC. Europe’s most complete Neolithic village, Skara Brae gained UNESCO World Heritage Site status as one of four sites making up “The Heart of Neolithic Orkney“.aOlder than Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids, it has been called the “Scottish Pompeii” because of its excellent preservation.[1]

In the winter of 1850, a severe storm hit Scotland, causing widespread damage and over 200 deaths.[2] In the Bay of Skaill, the storm stripped the earth from a large irregular knoll known as “Skerrabra”. When the storm cleared, local villagers found the outline of a village, consisting of a number of small houses without roofs.[2][3] William Watt of Skaill, the local laird, began an amateur excavation of the site, but after four houses were uncovered, the work was abandoned in 1868.[3] The site remained undisturbed until 1913, when during a single weekend the site was plundered by a party with shovels who took away an unknown quantity of artefacts.[2] In 1924, another storm swept away part of one of the houses and it was determined the site should be made secure and more seriously investigated.[2] The job was given to University of Edinburgh‘s Professor V. Gordon Childe who travelled to Skara Brae for the first time in mid-1927.[2]


It is truly a place which takes you way back in time.  A reconstruction has been made of one of the dwellings and as you enter you get a good sense of what it might have been like to live here.  It is quiet cosy inside.  Across from the door there is a sort of shelf or dresser which could hold important household objects such as pottery bowls or other utensils or tools.  There is a room which could have been for storage or could even possibly have been used as a toilet in really bad weather.  In the centre of the room is a hearth where a fire for warmth and cooking would have burned.  Around the edges were stone box beds which would have been filled with soft grains and furs for sleeping. There were also a couple of water tight stone boxes set into the floor.  These would have held water and also possibly live seafood.


While the walls and the furniture was built out of stone, the rooves of the homes would have been fashioned from something else, probably wooden posts with skins stretched over them or some sort of thatch from the grasses or possibly peat tiles although these would have been quite heavy when they were wet.  All of these materials have disintegrated over the years and so what they were built with is still unknown.


The homes were connected with a series of covered walkways.


This structure (I think) was the one without beds.  It was probably used as a place to make tools as bits of flint and axes were found.


Quite an amazing site, too bad it was plundered in 1913 as we may have learned more.






This shows the inside of one of the structures with the “dresser” on the right, hearth in the middle, grinding stone beside the dresser with the box for water sort of beside it and the beds on the sides.  Note how absolutely in alinement the walls are.  These have not been reconstructed but are pretty much as they were 5000 plus years ago.


One of the passageways.  Skaill House, a stately 17th century manor house stands in the background.


The Bay of Skaill in the background would not have been so close to the settlement 5000 years ago.  Probably that area would have been farm land.


Lots to wonder about.


A closeup of Skaill house.


Some of the local cows, coming to have a look at these strange humans!  Orkney has over 30,000 cows (and about 20,000 people).



Broch’s are Iron Age Villages which are scattered all over northern Scotland.  The consisted of a central stone tower or broth.  In this case about 10 meters in height. The tower features two skins of drystone walls, with stone-floored galleries in between. These are accessed by steps. Stone ledges suggest that there was once an upper storey with a timber floor. The roof would have been thatched, surrounded by a wall walk linked by stairs to the ground floor. The broch features two hearths and a subterranean stone cistern with steps leading down into it. It is thought to have some religious significance, relating to an Iron Age cult of the underground.

This Broch was built about 200 to 500 AD.


Around the central tower is surrounded by 3 ditches.  Smaller stone dwellings would have been built in these ditches with earthen covered roofs.  This is a very well preserved settlement.


Walls of houses surrounding the central Broch.






The standing stones you see would have lined the stone walls sort of like gyproc today.


The Broch would have had a very grand entrance, with a long walkway.  Nearer the actual broth there were some low rooms which it is believe guard dogs would have been kept.


Oh… someone is peeking through the window.



As you enter Kirkwall, the large cathedral dominates the skyline.  Saint Magnus is the most northerly cathedral in Scotland.  Construction of the cathedral was begun in 1137 and was added to over the next 300 years.  There is lots of history which surrounds this Cathedral.  Too much realistically to relate here.  The Cathedral was dedicated to Magnus Erlendsson, Earl of Orkney. He shared the earldom with his cousin, Haakon Paulsson, but jealousy and greed culminated in Magnus being martyred on the island of Egilsay.


It is a beautiful building built of red and yellow sandstone.


John Rae, (he is buried right here in the Cathedral)  was a Scottish surgeon who explored parts of Northern Canada and found the final portion of the Northwest Passage — Rae Strait.  He also reported the fate of Franklin’s lost expedition.  He was noted for physical stamina, skill at hunting and boat handling, use of native methods and the ability to travel long distances with little equipment while living off the land.


View from the back.


Ken took this photo to provide inspiration for his new tattoo.  I can’t wait!  I wonder where he will put it.



As part of the Saint Magnus Festival which took place on Orkney, a tall ship from Norway sailed into the harbour.  Some of the events of the festival took place on the boat.  We went to the harbour to see it depart one morning.  It was first launched in 1914 and is 85 metres in length with a 13 meter beam.  It was skippered in part by volunteers.  We know this because we met two of them at a concert we attended at Saint Magnus Cathedral.


A piper came to pipe the boat away.  It was strangely moving.


Quite a beauty.  Unfortunately we didn’t get to see it under sail.


But even without the sails, it was quite spectacular.