Stefano and I spent a bit more than three weeks in Scotland in August, one of our longest holidays ever. What a fabulous trip…

We landed in Edinburgh on August 4th, the day The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo started. It was spectacular. My photo (left) doesn’t do it justice. Even though I’d watched a few videos of the Tattoo on YouTube before leaving for Scotland, I had no idea it would be so engaging…so exciting, even. We thoroughly enjoyed it, as clearly did the other spectators. Definitely one of the best times of my life!

Ring of Brodgar, a huge ceremonial site dating to the 3rd millennium BC

After that first weekend spent in Edinburgh, a city we both adore, we began our road trip. We drove up to Scrabster, located on the northern coast of Scotland, where, the following morning, we caught the ferry to Orkney.

Orkney…what can I say about Orkney? Its group of Neolithic monuments, which was proclaimed World Heritage Site in 1999 by the Unesco, with the name “Heart of Neolithic Orkney,” were absolutely fascinating: the Standing Stones of Stenness (which my automatic spell checker keeps changing to “Sterness” Stones… 😆 ), the Ring of Brodgar, and Skara Brae (Skara “Bread”??? Hahahaha, must admit that my spell checker does have a  sense of humor).

Skara Brae, the best preserved prehistoric village in Western Europe…older than the pyramids, even…! Check out the stone dresser and beds…quite amazing, eh? 5000 years old!

These three, plus the Maeshowe Chambered Cairn (which we didn’t manage to get tickets for), are among the most important Neolithic sites in Western Europe. How about that?

Another incredibly interesting site, where you can actually see archaeologists at work, is the Ness of Brodgar, a huge complex built 5000 years ago. When I was younger (40 or so years ago!), I wanted to become an archeologist, and I studied archeology (and anthropology) as an undergraduate, so the Ness of Brodgar dig was dear to my heart…

Marwick Head RSPB nature reserve

The day we arrived, the first thing we did was hike up to Marwick Head where, sigh, we didn’t see any puffins (too late in the season), but where we did manage to see young gannets testing their wings. They would fly out from their nests on the cliffs below us, turn around in a semicircle, and head back to the nest. Over and over again. Oh, and the fulmars, too. So much fun to watch. Too bad my photos didn’t turn out…

Yesnaby Castle sea stack, Orkney’s second most spectacular sea stack after the Old Man of Hoy…and what a lovely scenic coastal walk to get there, too.

Oh, and the views of the North Sea. From up there, we could see all the way to the Old Man of Hoy, the tallest sea stack in the UK (note: you get much much much closer views of this sea stack on the ferry from Scrabster to Stromness, but on a clear day you can see a tiny thingy in the distance from Marwick Head, too). Anyway, I could have sat on the Marwick cliffs for days…In fact, I would still love to be there. 😉 So relaxing.

So, yes, Orkney was wonderful, magical, but we did have to leave. After five days of exploring the island, we returned to the mainland and began our very slow descent towards Edinburgh.

As I always do when we are about to go on a trip, I had made a list of things not to be missed–castles, mainly. We prefer ruins, generally speaking, but we did see well-kept castles such as the Castle of Mey (the Castle of “Men,” says my spell checker…hahahaha!), where we got some amusing royal gossip from one of the friendly guides.

Nope, sorry, my lips are sealed. 😉

As interesting as the tour was, my favorite castle on this trip was not Mey. It’s hard to choose one in particular, but I have two very special mentions.

My first mention definitely goes to Castle Sinclair Girnigoe, see photo on right, which actually consists of the ruins of two castles, one from the 15th century, the other from the 17th. It’s located on a rocky promontory and has small sea stacks all around it, as you can see (the ruins are in the back of the photo). Spectacular.

Tolquhon Castle

My second mention has to go to Tolquhon Castle whose tower dates to the 1400s. It is also said to be haunted, like many of the castles we visited, although we didn’t see any ghosts (now, wouldn’t THAT have been fun?). One of the photos I took (these are all from my cellphone, btw) does look like the face of a creature from another world, doesn’t it? Whoooooo! Lots of house martins flying around in the courtyard and rooms…Lovely little birds…

Okay, if you ask me about my favorite castle garden, well, that’s much much easier: the walled garden of 16th century Crathes Castle, no question. Lovely flowers and plants.

A close second for me was Castle Fraser where I was “attacked” by red admiral and peacock butterflies…Obviously, I’m kidding…it was truly a magical experience.

Red Admiral, Castle Fraser
Peacock butterfly, Crathes Castle

I’ve never seen so many butterflies, flying all around and above me, which reminded me a bit of the Hitchcock movie “The Birds,” but in a pleasant, peaceful way. Magic. If I begin posting photos of flowers and butterflies (took a million photos of both!), I’ll never get done… 😉

We also visited several stone circles, both on Orkney and on the mainland: Orkney’s Ring of Brodgar and the Standing Stones of Stenness, of course, but, back on the mainland, also Loanhead, East Aquhorties, and a few others. I find stone circles fascinating in general but I have to admit, my all-time favorite (well, of the ones we’ve seen thus far, and we’ve visited maaaaany) is Avebury in southwest England. Orkney’s Stenness Stones are much much older than Avebury, but they didn’t have the same, almost magical and relaxing effect on me. No idea why that is, but there you go.

Pennan, with its beach of perfectly, or almost, round pebbles…

And then…oh I can’t even remember or begin to list how many lovely coastal towns we visited, with stunning views over the North Sea…Pennan, Cullen, Portsoy, Gardenstown and so many more.

Best name for a castle? Hehe, definitely  Findlater Castle, near Cullen. FindLater…Gotta love it!!! 😎

And the beaches on the North Sea…wow, what can I say? Oh dear, I have to stop reminiscing now. Time for dinner.

I hope everyone is doing well! Take care! See you soon! Ciao!

My Piccolo

Stefano likes to keep a note of anniversaries, birthdays, and other important events, but sometimes I would really prefer not to be reminded of certain dates. This morning, for example, as I was checking my phone calendar, which I share with Stefano, I saw that six years ago today we had Piccolo, our extraordinary and much beloved 14-year-old male cat, put to sleep.

It hit me…tears…grief…

No matter how much time goes by, it is still hard…

But no, I don’t want to remember the period around Piccolo’s death, or, even less, the terrible day he died, one of the worst in my life.  I want to remember him when he was well, happy, with us (almost all his life).

Piccolo…how funny and smart and loving he was (I have written a bunch of posts about him, incidentally). And sometimes I look at what one of our cats is doing and think “Hey, Piccolo used to do that,” and it really makes me smile. There is a bit of Piccolo in all of them, especially Pandora…

My Piccolo

Here is a photo of him…not a great one, but it will have to do…taken in the days before I got a decent cellphone, methinks…

I miss you, my sweet boy…you gave me so much joy…

I’ll focus on that today…amore mio.