Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Inverness Cathedral, a Highland Games and Glorious Glen Shiel ~ On the Road to Skye

The Mountains are calling 
and I must go.
~ John Muir
Scottish American Naturalist

I was so excited to be heading across the Highlands to the Isle of Skye but leaving Inverness was not easy. I vowed that I would go back someday and spend more time but I did have one thing left to do!

And please press play for music to go with the post! 

I walked out of our cute little lane, umbrella in hand ...

and out of the neighborhood block ...

To catch a glimpse (and a photo or two) of Inverness Cathedral. I think the facade of the church is quite lovely!

Inverness Cathedral
Scottish Episcopal 

From the Website:
"The foundation stone of this, the first new Cathedral to be completed in Great Britain since the Reformation, was laid in 1866 by the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Cathedral was opened for public worship in 1869.
The Cathedral is built of Red Tarradale Stone, with a Nave of five bays divided by columns of Peterhead granite. The High Altar and Reredos are of Caen stone. ... The Pulpit is of Caen stone and green marble and rests on short columns of Abriachan granite.

The white marble Angel Font is a copy of the Kneeling Angel Font by the Danish sculptor Thorvaldsen in Copenhagen, although the face is that of Mrs Learmouth, wife of General Learmouth who gave it."

I loved the angel!

Looking from the Cathedral grounds in the rain and out across the River Ness ...

And then we were off! We only drove about 20 minutes Southwest, past the northern tip of Loch Ness to Glen Urquhart High School in Drumnadochit. Ahead of the trip I had Googled a list of Highland Games for the summer of 2017.  I wanted to see if any dates coincided with our road trip. Bingo! I found one right on our way out of Inverness on the exact day we were heading off to Skye!

One touch of Nature
makes the whole world Kin.
~ John Muir

Maybe the prettiest parking lot ever? And notice the change of weather!

Glen Urquhart 
Highland Gathering and Games
Drumnadrochit, Scotland

How fun! A local Highland Games!

My travel journal ...

Along with all the various sporting events, bagpipe, and dance competitions there were a few vendors, as well. This gentleman, below, carved and cast all kinds of Celtic and Pictish jewelry and little replica Pictish stones. He was super groovy and though in a t-shirt seemed that he could have played a character in Lord of the Rings. 

He carved this in plaster first and made a mold before casting these miniature versions of stones found in Scotland. I went with pewter pins for my sister and I, and birthday earrings for the lady I work for.

He started describing to me what the various ancient symbols meant and I realized that he was more than just interested in the history. Perhaps he was living it all in real time?  I wondered if he went out and performed rituals by the stones in the light of a full moon but decided that might be too personal to ask. I also might have a bit of a vivid imagination!

Oh, and I had a nice long chat with a Scottish gentleman who was Glaswegian. He was selling lovely handmade soaps but was telling me all about how Scotland is really its own country and that they should part ways with England and on and on. He also went into the the whole Brexit situation as I stood there smelling all the various herbal and floral scents of his vast soap collection. He was quite passionate about it all but I just enjoyed his rather animated Scottish brogue!

At some point my dad came looking for me as I was purchasing the soap which was the color of burnt sienna.  I was told it was made with a plant that is supposed to keep the midges away.  Even though I'd gotten the midge repellent I thought it couldn't hurt and I was a wee bit concerned about getting eaten alive on my big upcoming hike!

It was fun to watch the kids' foot races.

My dad, below, enjoying the games!

I don't remember what this thing is called that was being thrown into the air (below) but I think it's pretty dang heavy. Not as heavy as the big telephone pole they toss however! I believe that is the caber toss which sounds nicer but it is basically what they are doing.

Love the dancing. It's pretty similar (to someone like me who knows nothing about it) to Irish dancing but they do use their arms in Scotland!

Bagpipe competitions!

After we had some meat pies and were on our way!

 The drive from Loch Ness west toward Skye was glorious!

My dad and I were listening to my Scottish fairy tales audiobook (told by the Scottish actor who plays Ian, Jenny's Husband, in Outlander) as we drove through the incredible Highland Landscape. My mom had fallen asleep in the back at some point but now we had to wake her up!

Loch Cluanie

We pulled off the road. "LOOK AT THIS!!!"

And as we drove into Glen Shiel it became more and more wondrous!

At this point my mom and I were both shouting "Pull over! Pull over!" My dad found a spot ...

Glen Shiel

If you'd have said to me that this is what heaven looks like, I would believe you.

Oh, these vast, calm, 
measureless mountain days, 
days in whose light
everything seems equally divine,
opening a thousand windows 
to show us God.
~John Muir

Can you imagine living right here??!

Loch Duich

It really may look a lot like heaven.


Everybody needs beauty as well as bread,
places to play in, 
where nature may heal 
and give strength to body and soul.
~John Muir

Blessings and light!

Friday, July 20, 2018

The Lantern of the North ~ Elgin Cathedral

The ornament of the realm, the glory of the kingdom,
the delight of foreigners and stranger guests,
an object of praise in foreign lands.

~Bishop Alexander Bur (1362-97) on Elgin Cathedral

Elgin Cathedral 
"The Lantern of the North"
Established 1224

After having spent the morning at Culloden Battlefield and Clava Cairns, we headed east near the coast for town of Elgin, in Moray Scotland. Because we had run out of time to see the ruins of the Border Cathedrals, I was not about to miss Elgin!

It's only 34 miles on the A96 and should have taken less than an hour from Culloden Moor. I'm not sure why but we hit some traffic and it took longer than we'd planned. 
My Travel Journal

Anyway, when we arrived the nice man at the cathedral directed us to a place to park and eat. He did this while standing in the rain. I noticed this happened a lot in Scotland. You would go inside and ask for directions and they'd follow you out and stand there in the rain giving you directions. It cracked me up! Why not stand in the doorway? I'm guessing they are used to it but it was still amusing.

Anyway, he directed us into the park next to the Cathedral for tea and snacks and then we walked back over. I've mentioned in previous posts the Historic Scotland Explorer Pass. This is another landmark in which that pass gives you entry. It was definitely worth it!

A beautiful Gaelic lament for the post. Please press play.

Elgin Cathedral was dedicated to the Holy Trinity and was the principal church of the bishops of Moray.  The Land was granted by King Alexander II (King of Scots from 1214-1249) close to the River Lossie. 

It was expanded and rebuilt after fires in the late 13th and 14th centuries but it was abandoned after the Scottish Reformation of 1560. The lead that waterproofed the roof was removed 7 years later and then it began to fall into a state of ruin. 

Even in its present state of ruin you can see it is one of Scotland's most beautiful medieval architectural works. Somehow the weather during our visit made it feel even more lovely and poetic.

From Historic Environment Scotland:
"The monumentally impressive building dominated the flat and fertile Laich of Moray from the time it was built. It continued to do so even after its demise at the Protestant Reformation of 1560.
Work began on the cathedral in the first half of the 1200s, but it is the product of three main building phases. Even as a ruin, the cathedral still boasts plenty of detail that tells of its development and embellishment.


The cathedral was once richly carved and adorned with stained glass and painted decoration. A fine collection of architectural fragments hints at the building’s lost beauty, while documentary evidence sheds light on religious life at Elgin. The cathedral was the spiritual heart of the diocese of Moray."
When you enter into the cathedral there is an exhibition of old stonework and this guy below, if you craned your neck, had all his anatomical parts. It was too dimly lit for a photo so you'll have to use your imagination! (Besides, wouldn't that be unseemly?)

An old Pictish stone from the 800s found nearby!

Face A bears a cross on a broad rectangular plinth, which effectively divides the face into two panels. The cross is outlined by roll mouldings, including its central disc, and the small circular armpits are sunken. The cross is filled with interlinking panels of zoomorphic interlace, but the basal plinth appears to have been plain. In the background are four evangelists with their symbols. Below the cross is a single panel filled with four intertwined and biting quadrupeds.

The view from the other side. It's hard to see the carvings here so I included a link at the bottom of this post with illustrations of the symbols on the stone.

At the top of the single panel on face C is a square containing back-to-back pairs of double spirals, flanked by serpentine motifs, above two ornate Pictish symbols: double disc and Z-road above crescent and V-rod. Below them is a hunting scene, facing left, with at least four horsemen, one of them armed, with the pre-eminent rider at the top with a bird of prey behind him on his out-stretched left arm. A large bird, perhaps the prey, stands in front of the rider’s horse. There is also a stag being harried by a hound, and at least two other hounds."

Apparently, you can walk up stairs into that front part of the church (above) for a view of the ruins and of the town but we were content to wander in the ruins until they closed up for the day.

There were only a few visitors that day and it was nice to be there when it was so quiet. It felt like a sacred space.

The Chapter House

There was medieval music playing inside. It felt very mystical!

My mom and I stood by the center column, closed our eyes and sang an "om" into the rafters ...

She took this photo of me (below). In fact, some of these photos were hers. I'd ended up using my iPhone quite a bit and she would take the big Digital SLR camera to shoot with.

And then we were off again, through the park ...

The park was lush and wet with pretty blooms ...

Elgin looked like a cute town to explore and just south are the Scotch distilleries of Speyside. In fact, there are busses you can take down to some of the distilleries so if you are staying in Elgin that would be safe way to go. The drinking and driving laws in Scotland are very strict!

We headed back to Inverness in the rain. It was our last night in the area before heading west to the Isle of Skye so it was a perfect evening for an incredible dinner at Rocpool. Quite possibly our best meal of the trip! (Don't forget to call ahead for a reservation!)

As I mentioned in my first post of the Highlands, I felt I could live there for a while, in Inverness. I hope that I can go back one day.

Elgin Cathedral- Historic Environment Scotland
Pictish Slab -
Explorer Pass - Historic Scotland

Sorry for the absence, by the way! I got very sidetracked! My next post will be leaving Inverness, an authentic Highland Games and the glorious drive through Glen Shiel!

Blessings and light!