Saturday, 19 April 2008

08 Easter Break Chornicles - Loch Ness

Date of the trip: 3 April 2008

This will be the last of the series. One of the absolute highlight of this whole Easter Trip is meeting my high school class mate whom I've not been in contact for a while. It is really mind blowing to meet someone halfway across the globe of all places by chance. After our meeting in Aberdeen during the Malaysian Cultural Night on which the play of Puteri Gunung Ledang (a local legend) was performed, we decided to visit Loch Ness together.

To get to Loch Ness, we traveled from Aberdeen to Inverness, a city at the mouth of River Ness. Then from there, we joined the Jacobite Reflection tour, a 3 hour cruise aboard the Jacobite Queen, along the Caledonian Canal into Loch Less all the way until Castle Urquhart before turning back.

Aboard the Jacobite Queen, there are a few families and young people but most of the tourists seems to be older people. Perhaps most of the young and adventurous had opted for different packages, something less 'reflective' unlike this leisure cruise.

The Caledonian Canal is not very wide and at certain points it runs parallel to another river that is lower than it. As the boat started to move, these ripples in the dark waters intrigue me. I wonder if the narrowness of the canal is a prerequisite for this kind of designs.

After navigating through a lock that brought the ship to the same water level as the Loch, we entered the famed Loch Ness. While I have certainly heard of lengendary Nessie since young, my first 'exposure' to the lake is through Tomb Raider 3: the Lost Artifact while the opening level took place in Loch Ness.

It certainly feels awesome to immerse in the view of water, mountain and sky but the wind on the lake can be freezing cold and sent us scurrying back in door every now and then.

On the mountains that flank the shores, it is interesting to note how the brown cuts across the green in this tapestry of trees.

Between the vast stretches of greenery, once in a while we will pass by some towns and settlements including Drumnadorchit that is very close to Castle Urquhart.

The castle itself is in ruins like the one we visited in Stonehaven, though it seemed to me that this is throng by more tourists than that. Being one of the largest stronghold during Medieval Scotland, I can only imagine what it will look like in full splendor.

On our way back, I finally see a puffin! Hurray!

There is one more thing that I discovered on the cruise which I find quite astonishing - how fast can sheep run. Do not be fooled by how carefree these Caprinae seem when they graze lazily under the sun.

After seeing how the whole herd chase after the truck single mindedly with such aggressive speed, I'm fully convinced that stampeding sheep can kill. Yes, don't look down on the bah bah, maybe they may be secretly conspiring to take over the world under their harmless guise!

The white line to the right of the truck are all sheep, running sheep. Seriously, in this number, I wonder why do they even need sheep dogs or shepherd. If a lion or a bear attack, can't they just rampage over it and kill or drive off the beast easily? Think the 2007 movie 'Black Sheep' even though I've not seen it besides its poster.

After the cruise, we spent a few hours in Inverness. Inverness castle stood on a low cliff overlooking the river and cathedral on the opposite bank.

It houses the Sherriff's court nowadays and offered an unobstructed view of charming Inverness

In the distance beyond the cityscapes, snow capped peaks can be seen. I would love to get a closer look of those locales one day.

This is the end of the 08 Easter Break Chornicles. These weeks of traveling had been a really fruitful time, a holiday well and fully used.

Once again, thank you Doulos for being a great travel mate and arranging the travels and lodging in the first place. ~End

08 Easter Break Chornicles - Stonehaven

Date of the trip: 31 March 2008

When someone ask me about my current favorite outdoor attraction, I'll most likely say Cheddar and Stonehaven. Stonehaven is a town by the sea slightly south from Aberdeen. The hustle of London and Glasgow are absent from this humble town. Walking down its peaceful streets and glimpsing the nearby sea cliffs and countrysides, you can feel your 'tension of city living' ebbing with the tide.

Dunnottar Castle was our main reason for visiting Stonehaven. From the town center, we need to travel through a winding lane atop the sea cliffs to reach the castle. Each bend of the road revealed vistas that are increasingly stunning.

As we navigate the narrow way, we often have the cliff and sea on one side and vast empty fields, plowed and ready for the season on the other side.

Along the way, we also came across many dog-walkers, old couples and family with children. I think here is where the Scottish friendliness is very much exemplified. People are warm enough to greet a tourist they met randomly on this muddy road, something I've not experienced elsewhere. The distance of the trail is 3km long and the further we move away from the city and closer to the castle, the more sea birds we saw. As we get closer to the castle, the sheer cliffs are dotted with countless resting and nesting gulls.

This is the castle ruins as viewed from the opposite cliff. As the ruins were surrounded by steep cliffs on every side. We have to descend into the shadowy beach to reach the castle's gatehouse. The strategically located ancient Dunnottar had seen its fair share of war and conflicts and played important parts in the history of Scotland.

Not much of the fortress' old splendor survived. Only the ancient stones were left now, overgrown and blending seamlessly into the natural landscape. Forsaken but not forgotten, despite the tourists, seabirds and pigeons has taken up residence in the man made shelter. As we explore this historical site, we are clearly reminded that we are now the intruder. One must take care not to spook the colonies least you bring a flurry of agitated feathered bomber overhead.

There were just so many of these that you will get them in the frame even if you simply clicked away. When I was still in junior school, after watching National Geographic and Survivors (the documentaries on animals, not the reality TV) I'd consider if becoming a naturalist, biologist, or crazy people who come out here to study and record these wonderful creatures can be a viable career.

In a way, I think walking here really gave me a taste of what it feels like to be a biologist or wildlife photographer. I don't feel too comfortable here, knowing nature's unpredictability and being very much at the mercy of something that is way beyond your control. The tranquility of the scenery can be quite deceptive. Under the picturesque scene, there looms the reality of mortality. Least we forget, the story that is playing out in front of us is one about survival. Yes, there are such an abundance of life here. But life can only be sustained by death (and we did saw something grisly in the middle of a green field among the ruins.) Observing such intense display of the Circle of Life can be both terrifying and exhilarating.

Despite the birds and the strong chilly wind of the North Sea, visitors to the castle are rewarded with splendid views of sea and land. After our tour among the fortress, we descended once more onto the shoreline and walked along the coast.

Between the gravels and rocks are surf pools, where I half expected to find star fish or sea urchin. Alas, I neither saw those nor puffins which should be common in the area. I did suspected that the holes and burrows on the cliff sides might be puffin holes.

Gulls, gulls, and more gulls. They seem to be dominating everywhere, soaring in the air, nesting on the vertical cliff faces, resting on the rough sandy beach and even floating on the azure waves.

And finally, when I thought that I've seen as many congregating gulls as there can be in one place, this is what greeted me on the beach back in Stonehaven town.

Stonehaven, a beautiful sanctuary you are. If I may, I'd like to visit your wonderful shores and walk once more upon your stony beaches, contemplating the glorious creation.

Friday, 18 April 2008

08 Easter Break Chornicles - Aberdeen

Date of the trip: 28 March - 4 April 2008

Aberdeen, the 3rd largest city in Scotland after Glasgow seems to carry a very different atmosphere. It is called the Granite City or more poetically, the Silver City with the Golden Sands to which I heartily concur.

The city looks silvery gray on a fine day, but I think it is right after a heavy late afternoon shower that it is the most spectacular. Mica deposits in the wet granite sparkled like silver stars. The city has a wealth of Gothic (or fairytale castle) looking buildings throughout the area. Buildings with a 'pointy top' like this is fairly common.

Besides the many gorgeous buildings, there are also a lot of wonderful sculptures throughout the city center. The War Memorial Lion near the art gallery certainly ranks as my personal favorite.

Yes, indeed I love this stylized lion more than the more realistic looking ones in London's Trafalgar Square, although they are equally majestic.

Now, I shall try to share some pictures of the long sandy beaches that earned the 'Golden Sand' nickname for the city. It has been a while since I hear the sound of crashing waves and gaze upon the open sea. The promenade and green field that lined the sandy coastline also enhance the charm of the scenery and act as an ideal place for people to hang out.

Standing by the surf, allowing the wind to caress your face and watching the ominous distant storm picking up is such a liberating experience. Here I stand on the fine beige sands, between the wild North Sea, a coming storm, a brilliant rainbow at the horizon, an amusement park and a modern city at my back- it feels great!

Much like Bristol, I think Aberdeen would make a good place to live. Here, you can indulge in the comforts of modern life, enjoy the distinctive architectures glimmering in the sun and equally step outside and wander near untamed nature.

I would like to thank Adeline and her flat mates for hosting us for the week. It is great to meet all of you and thanks for sharing so many things, even your birthday and gatherings. Thanks for enabling us to have such a marvelous time!

Saturday, 12 April 2008

08 Easter Break Chornicles - Busketch

These pictures are taken on the bus on the way from Glasgow to Aberdeen. (About 3 hours trip)

This building is in Dundee, a city situated between Aberdeen and Glasgow.

Scottish landscapes with the endless loch, meadows and snowcapped mountain ranges are absolutely gorgeous.