Day 161 of the Nowhere To Be Project places us eleven days into our two week British Isles Explorer voyage aboard the Viking Sky. We docked in Invergorden and joined an optional tour to visit the battlefield of Culloden. The drive through the lush heather-covered rolling hills of the Scottish Highlands was so peaceful that the horror of what happened at Culloden on 16 April 1746 nearly escaped us. That is, until we stepped foot on it. Tombstones etched with clan names dot the grounds to mark the mass burial sites. We were told that after the battle, wives and mothers came to identify and bury their kinfolk only to be raped by the loyalists who had defeated the Jacobites so fiercely. Sadly, the humiliation didn’t end there. Following the battle, clans were no longer allowed to dress in their tartans and were not permitted to speak in their native tongue, Scots Gaelic. So many men died which wiped out many Highlanders clans. The Fraser clan was so depleted that men from outside the clan were offered twenty pounds to change their names to Fraser! Today’s visit was so moving, rivaling the time I spent on Omaha Beach in Normandy. Both are tricks of the mind…so much natural beauty, yet so incredibly tainted by the ignorance of war.
On Day 160 of the Nowhere To Be Project we did something we’ve never done before…hired a local for a private tour. After ten days of large group tours we needed a break and found a website (ToursByLocals.com) that matches local expert guides with travelers for custom day trips. For just over $600 we became the sole focus of our wonderful guide, Felicitas. At the outset we explained that St. Andrews was the primary goal for my husband. I asked that any extra time be focused on satisfying my Outlander curiosity (a.k.a obsession). We were met at the port and immediately whisked away for nine hours to fulfill our wishes through the eyes of a local.
We began in Falkland, Scotland. It is a tiny picturesque village filled with 17th and 18th century structures. Outlander used this location for the filming of Frank and Claire’s second honeymoon. Must sees include Bruce Fountain, Campbell’s Coffee House and The Covenanter Hotel.
We were then on to St. Andrews and the old course. This is a very busy area (mostly American tourists)! It is also a lovely seaside university town filled with lots of options for shopping, drinking and dining. My husband was thrilled to recreate a famous photograph of golf legend Jack Nicklaus on the Swilken bridge of the 18th hole.
The grand finale of our local’s tour took place in Culross, an adorable 17th century time warp of a town. Culross Castle is a must even if you’re not interested in the fact that it was used for Outlander filming (the outdoor stairs, the kitchen and the garden). While visiting, be sure to venture up the hill to view the abbey! It is remarkable!
I loved the experience of roaming with a local and would highly recommend it!❤️
As a huge fan of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series (and the corresponding television show), I was so excited to awake on Day 159 of the Nowhere To Be Project in the Orkney Islands of Scotland. While this particular place isn’t directly featured in the series, it is rumored that the author was very inspired by her visit to the Ring of Brodgar.
We spent the morning in Kirkwall and the afternoon in the countryside at the Ring of Brodgar, a Neolithic circle of standing stones.
Two remarkable things happened today. Firstly, I fell absolutely, completely and hopelessly in love with this tranquil corner of the world. There is literally water everywhere you look. There are very few people and countless rolling hills. Traffic isn’t a thing at all. Animals roam freely and with a year-round temperature of about 55 degrees it seems like utopia.
The second stellar thing that occurred today was our visit to the stones. To witness their perfect placement amidst the coast and land was breathtaking, especially when taking into account that they are 5000 years old! I begged my husband to push me through the stones so that I could go back in time to find my own Jamie Fraser, but sadly they were cordoned off. Oh well, heading for Lallybroch tomorrow. He’ll probably be waiting for me there, haha.
We were preparing to spend the day hiking at Knockan Crag in the Scottish Highlands when the captain announced that high winds would make tendering to Ullapool too dangerous. Therefore, Day 158 of the Nowhere To Be Project was spent entirely on board the Viking Sky. The cruise director followed the captain’s announcement with one of her own promising lobster macaroni and cheese by the pool as a way to fill the day. Many people took her up on the offer, but we used the time to wander the ship.
The Viking Sky is a lovely vessel. It is streamlined and comfortable. The common areas rarely seem crowded, probably due to the cozy nooks and crannies peppered throughout the ship. The decor is somehow muted and warm at the same time. No matter one’s mood, there is always an appropriate place on board to satisfy. Rest and relaxation can be found by either of the two pools, in the spa, at Wintergarden or the Explorer’s Lounge, and in the library. Entertainment looms in the ship’s two theaters, the atrium, the shops, the sports deck and in the game room. Dining options are located in the Restaurant, Manfredi’s, The Chef’s Table, World Café, the Pool Grill, Mamsen’s and via 24 hour room service. Conversation, drinks and dancing are also easy to access in the Aquavit Bar, the Explorer’s Lounge, the Pool Bar, the Viking Bar and at Torshavn, the ship’s version of a nightclub. With that brief rundown, I’m guessing that it’s fairly obvious to see that we had absolutely no trouble filling today’s unexpected hours at sea.
We arrived in Belfast, Ireland on day 157 of the Nowhere To Be Project. Our ship, the Viking Sky, was docked about 15 minutes by shuttle bus from the center of town. We jumped out at the beautiful City Hall ready to roam. The city was just coming to life on this cloudy Saturday morning so we made good use of the quiet time to visit St. Anne’s Cathedral and St. Patrick’s Church, both of which offer stunning architecture and a glimpse into the history of Belfast.
Our time at the churches gave us a free pass for some pub time, right? We assumed so and headed to Crown Liquor Saloon, a well-preserved Victorian tavern. Refreshed and ready for action, we headed back out and right into a massive political march. The marchers are asking for freedom from British interment which means detention without trial. There were British loyalists present at the march as well and a nasty banter was rising between the two groups. The good news is that the police (in tactical gear) kept everything under control. Belfast is known as a city with strong political convictions and today gave us a small taste of that spirit.
A visit to St. George’s Market closed out our day in Belfast where I met two Dublin-based sisters who are the proprietors of the Melting Pot Fudge Company. Their vegan fudge is so tasty that I left with three flavors! Every day that ends in fudge is a good one in my book.
Day 156 of the Nowhere To Be Project began in Greenock, Scotland where the Viking Sky berthed for the day. Greenock is a sleepy town that once boasted a very prominent shipyard where 2/3 of the world’s ships originated. We meandered up from the water to the storied Greenock Cemetery and Crematorium because as any frequent traveler knows, headstones can usually spell out the history of a place. It is the most beautiful spot for eternal rest that I’ve ever seen and the maritime influence is evident on a large percentage of the ornamental moss-covered stones.
We headed to Glasgow, a 45 minute drive from Greenock, for the afternoon and set our sights on its medieval cathedral. Glasgow Cathedral is a breathtaking feat of early architecture. It was built by the Catholics, but now serves the largely Presbyterian population of Scotland. Like most old things, it has had several incarnations and the stained glass windows of the lower church quite literally tell the stories.
We managed to squeeze a lot into ten hours today, but these two stops spoke to us. Each shares the history of the people who gave a dot on the map meaning.
Day 155 of the Nowhere To Be Project took place in Wales. We began in Holyhead, a scenic seaside port town, as that is where the Viking Sky docked (we’re nearly a week through their British Isles Explorer voyage). The center of town has a stunning medieval church (St. Cybi) and is full of the most wonderful people. The residents love to chat about their Welsh pride and are so very helpful! We felt as if we left with a whole new squad of BFFs after spending just one morning in Holyhead.
Our afternoon placed us in another scenic coastal area, Beaumaris. The charming unfinished castle may be the main draw here, but the ocean breeze and lively historic streets should be the primary focus. We walked along the pier, enjoyed a pint at Bulkeley Hotel’s bar and found some interesting items in the boutiques. Wales is a treasure not to be missed and we will definitely return!
Day 154 of the Nowhere To Be Project was whiskey-centric. Or, is it whisky-centric? Well, the answer apparently lies in the region in which the spirit was produced. We’re in Dublin (day 5 of the Viking British Isles Explorer voyage), so the “e” is absolutely essential. We learned all about the profound importance of whiskey (and Guinness) in Dublin’s culture. I would describe it as a religion. Maybe that’s why our bus driver had to dodge wobbly pedestrians three times in fifteen minutes?!?
While learning about the triple distilling process of Jameson Whiskey was fun, the highlight of Dublin for a bibliophile (turbo geek) like me was witnessing Oscar Wilde’s fingerprints on the city. Anyone who’s read his work knows that he was a trailblazer in more ways than one and it was so nice to feel somewhat connected to his spirit here in Dublin. His childhood home is currently used as a lecture hall for creative writing students. How inspiring is that?
Day 153 of the Nowhere To Be Project marked my 47th year of life and the fourth day of our British Isles Explorer voyage onboard the Viking Sky. The morning was spent at the spa as we cruised the English Channel. A deep-tissue massage followed by a few minutes in the hydrotherapy pool gave me a lot of time for reflection. I am so grateful for the life I’ve had, especially for the many low points. It is easy to wish away bad days, but without those I probably wouldn’t be as profoundly appreciative of the good ones. Speaking of good days, my husband and I raised a glass to at least 47 more years as we floated in the infinity pool and watched the world go by. Can life possibly get any better?
We spent day 152 of the Nowhere To Be Project in the charming seaside town of Dover, England. Our first stop upon arrival was to Dover Castle which was rebuilt by my 20th Great Grandfather, King Henry II, during his reign. Henry is widely regarded as one of the most successful rulers in England’s history and the sprawling castle is surely evidence of this. Walking in the actual footsteps of my ancestors is one of the reasons why travel is so important to me. The view I enjoyed from a window in the tower of the castle today probably wasn’t all that different from the one my grandparents, Henry and his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, had in the 12th century (well, except for the fact that mine included my current home away from home, the Viking Sky). It just proves that we all leave a legacy for those who follow us whether we intend to or not. I’d like mine to include the importance of wanderlust.