HIghland Park Distillery Tour Orkney Scotland

Orkney – Highland Park Distillery

HIghland Park Distillery Tour Orkney Scotland

Photo: A dram of Highland Park Whisky at the Distillery, Kirkwall, Orkney, Scotland.  October 2013

During my first few visit to Orkney I somehow managed to always miss making a visit to the Highland Park distillery in Kirkwall; probably because I was a cheap backpacker back in those days 10+ years ago.  But now that I’m getting a bit older, I accept the fact that I should treat myself to some pleasures every once in a while.  Whisky is one of them.

I’m no stranger to Highland Park, and so on a typically grey and misty day after a four year absence from Orkney, I decided the best way to hide from the weather was with a distillery tour.

While I have not been on a high amount of distillery tours, I will say this one was one of my favorites.  Perhaps it is the Orcadian atmosphere and my romanticism of the place (after the Lofoten Islands, Orkney is one of my most favorite places in the world), but the smells of the fermenting barley in the cool island air seemed to be perfectly at place among the dark gray stone building beneath an even darker grey Orcadian sky.

At the end of the tour, I was feeling sufficiently pleased, that couldn’t leave before getting a bottle of 15 year old, which will be joining me this autumn for a road trip through Norway and Scotland.

HIghland Park Distillery Tour Orkney Scotland

Photo: Entrance to Highland Park Distillery in typical Orcadian weather, Kirkwall, Orkney.  October 2013

HIghland Park Distillery Tour Orkney Scotland

Photo: Peat fire for barley malting at Highland Park Distillery, Kirlwall, Orkney.  October 2013

HIghland Park Distillery Tour Orkney Scotland

Photo: Drying barley at Highland Park Distillery, Kirkwall, Orkney.  October 2013

HIghland Park Distillery Tour Orkney Scotland

Photo: Drying barley at Highland Park Distillery, Kirkwall, Orkney.  October 2013

HIghland Park Distillery Tour Orkney Scotland

Photo: Aging Highland Park whisky, Kirkwall, Orkney.  October 2013

HIghland Park Distillery Tour Orkney Scotland

Photo: Highland Park Visitors center, Kirkwall, Orkney.  October 2013

Orkney Brewery, Orkney, Scotland

Orkney Brewery

Orkney Brewery, Orkney, Scotland

Photo: Beer tasting at the Orkney Brewery, Orkney, Scotland.  October 2013  

It was a gray, rainy morning on Orkney when we headed to the Orkney Brewery.  Located in Quoyloo, not too far from where we camped at Yesnaby for the night, we actually had to wait around a bit before the brewery opened for the day.  Though much of this time was spent trying to find a 3G signal to connect with the outside world, something that was a bit elusive during my time on Orkney.

Once at the visitors center, and despite the early hour, we decided we might as well go on the tour and partake in the beer sampling, the price of which is £5.

The tour included a brief history of the brewery as well as a walk around the the brewing facilities.  A bonus was the cheeky commentary from the head brewer as he was busy washing out one of the malt basins.  Despite the hard work, I think he enjoys his job!

The Orkney Brewery is a small operation, and considering I’ve been on a few brewery tours before, it was still nice to see how they do things.  And the interesting artwork provided a nice overview of the brewing process.

Back in the tasting room, we were provided samples of: Dark Island ale, Corncrake ale, Northern Light ale.  The Dark Islands is my favorite, and one I’ve known about for some time.  It is also their most popular beer, understandably.

Not really having had breakfast at this point in the day, we decided to get a piece of the Dragonhead cake, made with their Dragon Head ale.  It was so tasty, we had to get another piece, the last piece they had, to go – which didn’t last too long once we were in the car and hungry as we were.  A few days later we stopped by once again, more or less just to get another few pieces of Dragonhead cake for our journey back to Scotland.

The visitors center also has a full service restaurant.  But unfortunately, the shortened off-season hours never fit in with our eating schedule.  A few things on the menu did look good though.  Maybe next time.

During my first visit to Orkney in 2003, I remember seeing a t-shirt for their Skull Splitter ale in one of the gift shops in Kirkwall.  Unfortunately, I was on something of a budget back then and never bought one.  I was glad to discover that the brewery gift shop had some Skull Splitter t-shirts, as well as t-shirts for all of the other beers they brew.  Along with some stickers, coasters, and a few other things, I left with my wallet feeling a bit lighter.

You can visit the Orkney Brewery website HERE.

Orkney Brewery, Orkney, Scotland

Photo: Tasting room and restaurant at Orkney Brewery, Orkney, Scotland.  October 2013

Orkney Brewery, Orkney, Scotland

Photo: Beer tasting at Orkney Brewery, Orkney, Scotland.  October 2013

Orkney Brewery, Orkney, Scotland

Photo: Orkney Brewery, Orkney, Scotland.  October 2013

Orkney Brewery, Orkney, Scotland

Photo: Brewery tour at Orkney Brewery, Orkney, Scotland.  October 2013

Orkney Brewery, Orkney, Scotland

Photo: 5000 Years in the Making, Orkney Brewery, Orkney, Scotland.  October 2013

Stormy seas crash against dramatic coastal cliffs at Yesnaby, Orkney, Scotland

Orkney – Islands of the Forever Wind

Stormy seas crash against dramatic coastal cliffs at Yesnaby, Orkney, Scotland

Photo: Sunset at Yesnaby, Orkney, Scotland.  October 2013

Leaving Dublin and arriving in the UK, Manchester to be exact, there was only one direction to go, north.  Originally, there had not really been much of a plan, only two general ideas: west coast and the Isle of Skye, or northeast and Orkney.  As the weather forecast for the following week was on the stormier side, I set my sights on Orkney.

Since my first visit to Orkney in the autumn of 2003, the islands have held a special place in my heart.  Returning to the islands in October 2013, it was now just over 10 years since my first visit.  Where does the time go?  My memory of those days gone by still remains vivid in my mind.  And one place more than any other: Rackwick Bay and the rustic Burnmouth bothy, perilously close to the wild sea.  Lonely and Isolated, Rackwick Bay is everything I love about forgotten places on the edge of the world.  Even in Europe loneliness and solitude still exist, the hustle and bustle of cities seemingly a lifetime away.  Most visitors to Scotland will say they have experienced the country after a few days in Edinburgh.  But they haven’t…

In my previous visits to Orkney I have always traveled via the Scrabster – Stromness ferry.  This time however, schedules worked out a little better to take the Pentland ferry between Gills Bay and St. Margaret’s Hope, which proved both a shorter journey and easier on the wallet.  While the route doesn’t pass the majestic cliffs of Hoy, it does pass the haunting island of Stoma, abandoned since 1962, it’s grassy landscape is littered with the remains of abandoned houses from days now gone.  I really want to find a way out there sometime.

The weather was less than ideal upon our arrival and soon a light, misty rain was falling from the sky.  I know Orkney fairly well, but I’m not as familiar with good car-bivy spots as I am with other parts of Scotland.  The only place I knew off the top of my head that would probably be okay to sleep for the night was Yesnaby.  I have been wanting to photograph the dramatic cliffs out there for some time anyhow, so it worked out well.  After a brief pit stop at the Ring of Brodgar, we pulled the car up to Yesnaby in the gray, fading light of October.  I made some brief attempts at photography, but conditions were conspiring against me.  Not even a proper rain, but that light, swirling mist which seems to get your camera lens even wetter.

Interior of St. Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, Orkney, Scotland

Photo: St. Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, Orkney, Scotland.  October 2013

Morning came slowly as the black of night softened to a dull gray of day.  Mist still fell from the sky.  With little possibilities for photography I decided to spoil myself a bit and enjoy being a tourist and go visit the Orkney Brewery.  The visitor center and tasting room opened in the summer of 2012, and I have been looking to get a ‘Skull Splitter’ t-shirt since I first saw one 10 years ago, but was too cheap to buy one.  I would remedy that mistake finally.  Being the off season, and also rather early in the morning for beer drinking, we where the only ones there as we took a short tour and partook in some beer tasting.  More later…

Leaving the brewery, Kirkwall was the next stop as I wanted to photograph the St. Magnus Cathedral where I could at least get some photos.  There is something magical about this building and the red sandstone gives a surreal mood.  Despite the small size, it is one of my favorite cathedrals in Europe.

After a brief lunch in Kirkwall, it was time for the next tourist stop on this rainy day; the Highland Park distillery.  Perhaps I was a bit enthusiastic about tours after my time in Dublin, as I normally try to avoid paying for anything while traveling, but what the hell, I don’t need my arm twisted too much to taste some single malt, not to mention that Highland Park is one of my favorites.  More on the tour later, but I walked away with a bottle of the 15 year old (sorry, Mr. wallet.).

In late afternoon we returned back to Yesnaby for another night sleeping in the car.  I finally noticed a break in the clouds as evening progressed and so I headed out for another attempt at photographing these wild cliffs and and brooding sea.

Stormy seas crash against dramatic coastal cliffs at Yesnaby, Orkney, Scotland

Photo: Yesnaby, Orkney, Scotland.  October 2013

While the onshore wind was still blowing strongly, I managed to find sheltered pockets here and there where I wouldn’t risk my tripod blowing off the cliffs.  What followed over the next hour was improving conditions until a beautiful glow filled the sky behind an approaching set of dark, stormy clouds.  Absolutely perfect timing and condition.  I got my Yesnaby shot. Yay!

We made the decision to head to Hoy for a few days.  While it seems a bit of a waste to take the car, the ferry from Houton to Lyness was not too bad and allowed us to see parts of the island which I hadn’t been to before.

Reading the weather report, a sever gale was approaching.

Old stone wall leads towards Burnmouth Bothy, Rackwick Bay, Hoy, Orkney, Scotland

Photo: Approaching Burnmouth bothy in Rackwick Bay, Hoy, Orkney, Scotland.  October 2013

Old stone walls of Burnmouth Bothy, Rackwick Bay, Hoy, Orkney, Scotland

Burnmouth bothy in Rackwick Bay, Hoy, Orkney, Scotland.  October 2013

Red sandstone boulders on beach at Rackwick Bay, Hoy, Orkney, Scotland

Photo: Worn red sandstone beach at Rackwick bay, Hoy, Orkney, Scotland.  October 2013

Clouds sweep across sky in fading light over beach at Rackwick Bay, Hoy, Orkney, Scotland

Photo: Fading twilight over beach at Rackwick bay, Hoy, Orkney, Scotland.  October 2013

In the parking lot at Rackwick bay we packed our bags and began the short walk to the Burnmouth bothy.  Thankfully, the place was empty when we arrived but soon enough a couple more groups of people arrived.  Ohh well, so much for a quiet night.  But as soon as the group of ‘art’ students from Edinburgh began to make a fire, they immediately smoked the building out, both from fire and their cigaretts.  I tried to instruct them on proper fire methods, but they seemed a bit dense and weren’t interested in listening.  And for some reason they annoyed me.  So, as much as I was looking forward to spending a night again after all these years, we packed our bags and headed out into the sideways rain and back to the car for the night.

Morning came and the gales continued, with passing showers of hale and rain at regular intervals.  We wanted to hike out to the Old Man of Hoy, but decided that this was probably not the day.  Wandering back to the bothy, the winds were so strong it became difficult to walk over the slippery, boggy ground.  The day was mostly spent sitting around though I made a few attempts at photography between showers.  Finally, it was back to the car for another night.

Female hiker looks out window of Burnmouth Bothy, Rackwick Bay, Hoy, Orkney, Scotland

Photo: Watching the rain from Burnmouth bothy, Rackwick bay, Hoy, Orkney, Scotland.  October 2013

View out window of Burnmouth Bothy, Rackwick Bay, Hoy, Orkney, Scotland

Photo: Burnmouth bothy in Rackwick Bay, Hoy, Orkney, Scotland.  October 2013

Morning came.  While the sky still looked threatening, it seemed as if the rain would probably hold off for a while.  Just in case, we dressed in full waterproofs and then set off on the trail towards the Old Man of Hoy.  My first time there, in 2003, it was so windy that I quite literally had to crawl to the edge of the cliff, unable to stand safely.  This time however, the wind was coming from a direction where it seemed to pass over us as it deflected off the cliffs, letting me have a steady enough camera for a few photos.  That was until we were just about to leave and I was taking one last picture.  A wall of wind hit light a train; from calm to nearly knocking me off my feet and blowing my camera off the edge (not that I needed to kill a second camera on this trip).  Trying to stabilize myself and crouch to the ground, I noticed one of our backpacks begin blowing towards the edge of a cliff.  Shit!  I tried to yell to grab the bag, but the wind was too intense and we were both trying to save ourselves that I couldn’t be heard.  The wind nearly blew me over as I ran towards the bag, managing to save it about 2 feet from the cliff.  Phew!

That was enough adventure for the day, and so we headed back towards the car, propelled uphill with the winds at our backs and rain making its approach.  Rounding the corner back to Rackwick bay I stopped for a moment to watch the dancing of light and shadows over the sea.  I remember standing here in 2006 as a passing stranger let me borrow his binoculars to watch a lone basking shark swimming in the crystal blue waters of the bay, the day being slightly nicer.  I quietly whispered my goodbyes to Rackwick before descending back to the car.

Old Man of Hoy sea stack, Hoy, Orkney, Scotland

Photo: Old Man of Hoy, Hoy, Orkney, Scotland.  October 2013

Single lane road through the isolated Rackwick Bay, Hoy, Orkney, Scotland

Photo: Rackwick bay, Hoy, Orkney, Scotland.  October 2013

Back on the Mainland (as the call the main island of Orkney) the sun seemed to be making an appearance finally.  Still wanting a some exterior images of St. Magnus Cathedral we headed back to Kirkwall.  In the lengthening shadows I set off photography.   Years ago, I was struck by the impression of the ravens circling the tower high overhead.  They were still circling this time, chasing each other in an endless game of cat and mouse, their ‘kowws’ and chirps filling the air.  Somehow I managed to myself locked in the cemetery and had to hop a fence to get out again.

It was another brief stop at the standing stones of the Ring of Brodgar before heading back out to Yesnaby for our final night not he islands.  Still stormy, the clouds briefly parted for the rising moon as I wandered the cliffs in the final darkness.

Morning arrived with clear weather, but unfortunately we had to head straight to the ferry.  I was a smooth sailing across the Pentland Firth and past Stoma before landing in Scotland once again.  The long drive back to Wales began.

St. Magnus Cathedral and cemetery, Kirkwall, Orkney, Scotland

Photo: St. Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, Orkney, Scotland.  October 2013

Setting sun shines behind standing stone at Ring of Brodgar, Orkney, Scotland

Photo: Ring of Brodgar standing stones, Orkney, Scotland.  October 2013

Winter dawn on Pen Y Fan from Corn Du, Brecon Beacons national park, Wales

Best Photos of 2013

The following are my favorite images of the year.  Overall, 2013 was a year of ups and downs for me and I was often struggling to come up with inspiration.  I seemed to run into more than my usual amount of bad weather, especially starting off the year on Scotland’s Outer Hebrides.  But in turn, I had some of the best right-place-right-time moments of the last few years, where amazing light and scenery appeared before my eyes.  Looking through the images I noticed that I didn’t make any Calfiornia, or US, road trips this year.  I guess I was quite focused on the Lofoten islands, making 4 trips in total this year, one for every season.  That being said, I tried to balance out the collection a bit so that it wasn’t only Lofoten images, as it easily could have been.

Now to the images, in no particular order…

Winter dawn on Pen Y Fan from Corn Du, Brecon Beacons national park, Wales

Photo: Winter dawn over Pen Y Fan, Brecon Beacons national park, Wales.  February 2013

Pre-dawn winter hikes up Pen Y Fan have become something of a common occurrence of mine over the last couple years.  Despite their low elevation, I reallylove the mountains of the Brecon Beacons in south Wales.


Traditional Rorbu cabin reflects in fjord in evening light, Valen, Reine, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway
Photo: Rorbu reflection, near Reine, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  February 2013

Normally I don’t include much architecture or man made structures in my images but as I was killing a bit of time at the end of the day before meeting up with a friend, I parked the car on the edge of the fjord, near these rob – fishermen’s huts.  I was walking in the other direction towards another photo when out of the corner of my eye, I caught the lights of the buildings come on, the occupants returning home for the evening.  This brought out just enough contrast against the heavily clouded sky.  I scaled down the rocky slope to the water’s edge and managed a few images before the rain began to fall.


Aurora Borealis - Northern Lights fill sky over Olstind mountain peak and reflect in fjord, Toppøya, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Northern Lights over Olstind, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  February 2013

Olstind and Northern Lights has been an image I’ve had in my mind for a number of years.  And this evening was my lucky night.


Stormy winter landscape at Haukland beach, Vestvågøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Haukland beach in winter, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  February 2013

I’m not quite sure why I like this image as much as I do.  It was a shitty, stormy day, with temperatures warming and a cold rain beginning to fall and melt away the snow.  I was largely stuck held captive by the weather most of the day, remaining in my car most of the time, but as I was driving towards Utakleiv to camp for the night I noticed rain had stopped as I was passing Haukland beach.  I got my feet wet for this one.


Wild Welsh Mountain Pony near Hay Bluff, Black Mountains, Brecon Beacons national park, Wales

Photo: Welsh mountain ponies, Black Mountains, Brecon Beacons national park, Wales.  June 2013

Perhaps a little brighter than my usual style of recent years, I still like the feeling of this image, taken on one of my after dinner hikes up Twampa for a bit of exercise.  While the ponies in Iceland seem to get all the photographic love these days, there are also some cool ones cruising around the mountains of south Wales.


Female hiker watches sunset over mountains from summit of Glyder Fach, Snowdonia national park, Wales

Photo: Sunset on Glyder Fach, Snowdonia national park, Wales.  June 2013

This was my first hiking trip to Snowdonia since 2006.  Somehow the chosen weekend seemed to coincide with unusually brilliant weather.  After Hiking up Tryfan, we set up camp on the summit of Glyder Fach.  This is what sunset brought to the hight mountains that night.


Rainbow at Sunrise over mountains from Bunes Beach, Moskenesoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Bunes beach rainbow at dawn, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  August 2013

This was a photo I nearly missed; due both to tiredness, and some nice light elsewhere.  But intuition took me out to the cliffs with this view and I nearly dropped my camera when this rainbow came into view.  A near perfect aligning of elements.


Open air mountain bivy on rocky summit of Hermannsdalstinden, Moskenesoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Bivy on the summit of Hermannsdalstinden, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  August 2013

This is probably my favorite image of the year, though more for the moment than the photo itself.  Alone on the highest mountain in western Lofoten on a late summer’s evening, I took a few images as I was getting ready for bed.  To me, this photo is what the Lofoten islands are all about.


Evening twilight over Reine from summit of Reinebringen, Moskenesoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Evening arrives over Reine from the summit of Reinebringen, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  September 2013

I had journeyed up Reinebringen on this day with hopes of Northern Lights appearing in the night.  They never really did, but I walked away with this image.  It was worth the effort and the cold.


Stormy seas crash against dramatic coastal cliffs at Yesnaby, Orkney, Scotland

Photo: Yesnaby, Orkney, Scotland.  October 2013

I had a few false starts (read: bad weather) during my week on Orkney, but on this evening everything seemed to come together.  The cliffs are wild and rugged, the sea stormy.  Just how I like it!

Hermannsdalstinden Lofoten Islands Norway

Travel Updates

Hermannsdalstinden Lofoten Islands Norway


Photo: Moonlight bivy on the summit of Hermannsdalstinden, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  August 2013


Well, it’s been a while since my last post.  Mostly this is due to my working in the chronological order of my travels during the last few months, and as my trip began with two+ weeks on Lofoten, I’ve mainly been adding content over at 68North.com as I get through the images and write a few mountain hiking guides.

There were also some major setbacks to my travel plans in which I’ve been waiting to write about.  The most affected was my planned hike along the Kungsleden trail and into Sarek national park, Sweden.  I only managed one day – 20 km of hiking before disaster stuck, and I was forced/reluctantly chose, to cancel that part of the trip and return to Lofoten.  And it was such fantastic weather! There was more sun in those two days than my previous two trips combined.  I’ll write more on this later.

Anyhow, here is a short overview of the last few months.  More extensive write-ups will come soon as I get ready to head home to California next week where I’ll hopefully be a bit more productive.

Lofoten – Part 1:  I sometimes wonder why I don’t run into many fellow Americans on Lofoten.  That is until I walkout the door in California and don’t see a stop in motion for the next 40, where I can finally setup my tent and close my eyes in someplace more comfortable than an airport, airplane, ferry station, or bus stop.

With an overall trend of rain lasting from Monday to Friday, I did manage to photograph what will probably be my best single set of images from Lofoten to date.  And then, after two weeks on the islands, with one more still to go, I decided to sprain my ankle while coming down from Ryten in the evening while camping at Kvalvika, which effectively took me out of business for the next days.

Germany – Festival Mediaval in Selb: Like last year, I headed down to Germany for a weekend of music and food.  And fortunately, I managed to keep onto my wallet, unlike last year.  And even more fortunately, I got to see one of my favourite bands, Garmarna, play live, which they haven’t done in around a decade or so.  A night in Berlin and then I was on my back back north of the Arctic Circle in Sweden.

Sweden – Kungsleden:  After sitting around all afternoon in Stockholm’s Arlanda airport, I caught the night train north to Gällivare where I then caught a bus to the beginning of my hike at the Saltoluokta hut.  Arriving in the late morning as the rain cleared to a brilliant blue sky I bought a few supplies and then was on my way for the 20km hike south to the next hut on the shores of Lake Sitojaure.

I was a bit worried about my ankle, but was happy see that it managed the trail with only a little pain towards the end, though still quite sensitive of any ‘wrong’ steps.  I inquired about taking the water taxi across the lake in the morning, but learned the boat driver would be away reindeer hunting for the day so I would have to row across the lake myself.  No problem I though as I headed to bed, at least two boats are on my side, so I won’t have to row the lake three times!

Getting into the boat the following morning, my camera decided to go for a swim.  It died.

I sat around for another hour of so, doing my best to dry it out and see if I could salvage anything, but it was gone for good.  And so, I emptied out a bit of the heavier food and the hut and made my way the 20km back north from where I had come the day before.

Lofoten – Part 2:  It took me two days of travel before I was back in Stamsund, where I quickly put a new camera on order and began the wait.  Days of brilliant weather and nights of Northern Lights passed, yet I remained camera-less.  Finally, after 12 days, I got the news that it had been delivered around the corner and was waiting for me at the post office inside the Joker market.

with six full days now left on the islands combined with the thankful cooperation of the weather I hit the hills with a furious pace.  Day after day I found myself high in the mountains under a bright shining sun until finally the rain returned on the 5th day.

Dublin – TBEX conference: Leaving Norway on the 1st of October I next traveled to Dublin (my first visit to Ireland!) where I would attend the TBEX – Travel Blogger Exchange conference over the following days.  I had a really good time, learned so useful info and met some nice people.  I will definitely do my best to attend the next one as well.  Although I did feel out of place at times and sometimes received something of a blank look when I said I was a photographer and that my website is codyduncan.com and not some fancy-sounding-world-traveler-wandering-adventure-blog.com.  Something to work on for next time I guess.  And it was nice to learn that I looked as if I had ‘just come from the mountains,’ being slightly under dressed to the more upscale looking and successful attendees of the conference.  Though in my defence, I had just come from the mountains…

Scotland – Orkney:  I made the somewhat unwise decision of leaving Dublin at 6:00am on a Saturday.  But I had places to go, namely, Scotland!  Even as we were heading north from Manchester airport, the exact destination for the next week was still unknown.  Scotland, yes, but where in Scotland had yet to be decided.  The weather forecast was somewhat bleak, so instead of heading somewhere to the mountains, it was decided Orkney would be the destination; it was the top of the list anyhow, so not a hard choice.

As I won’t be around for the New Year this year, I was provided with my mandatory dose of gale force winds to hold me over for the next few months.  Nearly lost a second camera over the cliffs at the Old Man of Hoy as a sudden, severe gust of wind nearly took my whole backpack over the edge!  But over all, I was glad to be back in Orkney again after 4 years and the week passed all too quickly.

Wales: I’m now counting down my last days here in Wales.  The weather has been somewhat dismal and I haven’t even made it out to the hills at all, but that’s how it goes.

Inspired by TBEX in Dublin, I’m heading to London on Wednesday for the World Travel Market.  Followed by a concert up north on Saturday for my final weekend here before flying home next week.

Until next time…


Ryten Hiking Lofoten Islands Norway

Photo: Enjoying the view of Kvalvika beach from Ryten, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  August 2013


Northern Lights Kvalvika beach Lofoten Islands

Photo: Northern Lights over camp at Kvalvika beach, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  August 2013

Person stands under rainbow near summit of Ryten, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Europe Travel Plans

Person stands under rainbow near summit of Ryten, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Rainbow watching on Ryten, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  August 2012

Only 1 week left for me in California.  Still a few tickets to buy and details to workout, but here’s the rough schedule of my travels for the next few months.  As much as was interested in going to some new/warmer places, it looks like I’ll be sticking with my favorite areas.  I can’t avoid being pulled north.

Norway – Lofoten Islands

Next week I’m making the long journey back to Lofoten.  I leave California on Tuesday morning and reach the islands Thursday morning.  Hopefully I find some time for a bit of sleep, but like normal, that will probably have to wait for the 3 hour ferry crossing at 01:00 am Thursday.

Like normal, if the weather is good I’ll most likely head out to Bunes beach.  If the weather is crap, I’ll probably head to Stamsund and wait things out for a few days.  I have somewhat ambitious plans for this trip, so wish me luck that the weather cooperates!

Originally I planned to be on the islands about two weeks, and then head down to Jotunheimen national park for a few days before continuing on to Germany.  But this proved to eat up too much time just getting between locations, so I’ve decided to stay the whole time on Lofeten.  So I’ll be on the islands until September 4th.

If any of you are around the islands, look for someone in an bright blue jacket and probably a tripod.  Come say hello!

Germany – Festival Mediaval

Like last year, I’m heading down to Selb, Germany for the Festival Mediaval.  Hopefully I don’t get my wallet stolen this time!  I’m bringing a small padlock for my tent.  One of my favorite bands of the last 10+ years, the Swedish group Garmarna, is playing their first show in years, so I’m super excited to see them finally.  And then of course there’s the food and beer to enjoy after a puritan three weeks in Norway.

Sweden – Sarek National Park

I really had it in mind to maybe head down to the Alps for a week or so and then maybe to Croatia, where I’ve been wanting to go.  But logistically, Packing for both Norway and Croatia would have been a bit difficult.  So I’ve decided to stick with the cold conditions and head back north to Sweden, the area around Sarek national park to be exact.

I don’t have exact plans at the moment, but it will be a long journey from Berlin any way I go about it and most likely involve a night train and a bus or two.  It looks like it will be best to enter from the north at Saltoluokta and hike south over the next week, ending in Kvikkjokk.  I’ll probably spend a few days in the area of the beautiful Rapadalen, and with luck, have some decent light and good timing with the Autumn color.  And I wouldn’t complain about a light dusting of snow on the surrounding mountain peaks.  But it is the Arctic in September, so anything can happen, err, anything having to do with cold and bad weather can happen.

Norway – Lofoten Islands Part 2

Following Sarek, I’ll be heading back to Lofoten for another week to 10 days.  If the weather stays like last year, this should mean I’ll be finding myself up a few more mountains.  But I’m sure I’ll spend most my time sitting around the warm fire in Stamsund watching the rain fall against the windows.

Ireland – Dublin

In a change from my normal hermitude (I don’t thinks that’s a word, but it is now), I’m going to try and change things up a bit and attend the TBEX travel blogger conference on October 3-4.  I’ve never really thought of myself as a travel blogger, but seeing as I’ve now had this blog going since 2005, maybe it’s time for a little change in mindset and perhaps I can open a few new doors.  I have to admit that I’m a little jealous of all these 22 year old blond chicks that seem to get all these free ‘press’ trips all over the place 6 months after getting the first stamp in their passport.  Maybe there’s one more spot for an unshaven, probably slightly smelly, with sink washed clothes, dude with too much camera gear.

Ring of Brodgar standing stones, Orkney, Scotland

Photo: Ring of Brodgar Standing Stones, Orkney, Scotland.  December 2009

Scotland – Orkney

I have this weird relationship with Scotland in that I think every visit will be my last.  Yet alas, another year comes around and I seem to find myself doing my best to avoid hitting sheep standing in the middle of some small winding road in the middle of nowhere.  And after my last two New Years on the Outer Hebrides, which were pretty grim weather wise, to put it nicely, I think I’m finally due for something a little better.

It’s too far off to make plans at this point, but as I pretty much have near every road in the Highlands memorized, there doesn’t need to be one.  My inclination is to go to Orkney, but that will be a little expensive with the car, and that is if I even have any money left after more than a month in Norway and Sweden, so it might be to the familiar glens and Bens of the Isle of Skye for a week cruising around the Cuillins.


For the remainder of my time in the UK, it’s back in Wales until I fly home to California in mid November, for my first holiday season in the US since 2007.  I’ll admit that I purposely try and be away during the holidays for the sole reason of avoiding Christmas shopping.


I have yet to start packing, but within the next week I’ll be posting up my gear list for both my hiking and camera equipment.  But for the most part, as these travels are pretty similar to last year, my gear list should be looking pretty similar to 2012.

Outer Hebrides Scotland Photo Gallery Update

Berneray beach, Outer Hebrides, Scotland

Photo: Chasing rainbows on Berneray’s west beach, Outer Hebrides, Scotland.  Jan 2013

I’ve added about 50 images from my New Year’s trip to the islands of Scotland’s Outer Hebrides – Western Isles.

-CLICK HERE- to view the gallery.

To read a more extensive writeup about the trip: part 1 HERE, part 2 HERE, part 3 HERE.

North Uist beach, Outer Hebrides, Scotland

Photo: Afternoon light on New Year’s day, North Uist, Outer Hebrides, Scotland.  Jan 2013

Hebridean New Year – Part 3 – Misty Days on Harris and Lewis

Luskentyre beach, Isle of Harris, Scotland

Photo: Misty January sky over Luskentyre beach, Isle of Harris, Scotland.  Jan 2013

[For part I – Howmore – CLICK HERE.  For part II – Berneray – CLICK HERE.]

The mist was heavy as the ferry sailed slowly towards Leverburgh on south Harris.  One of those mornings when you cannot actually tell when when the day begins, and somehow perfectly fitting to the rocky, moon like landscape of the Isle of Harris.  One of those landscape where a person could disappear into the mist, never to be seen again.

On trips to the islands, I like to try and spend a majority of my time on Harris, as It’s the most scenic and diverse of the islands, not to mention the beaches.  But the way the New Year fell, combined with ferry schedules, meant we only had 3 nights to explore both Harris and Lewis.  So, knowing that I wouldn’t get any decent photos on the south, we headed all the way north to the furthest tip of Lewis, the Butt of Lewis.  Last year I got some cool photos of monstrous waves crashing into the cliffs, so I was hoping for a bit of a repeat.  Unfortunately, the sea was too calm and the wind from the wrong direction for much of a show this time.  And so it was back to the road to look for a place to camp for the night, finally ending up by some beach near Uig.

Another day of mist came and went.

For our final night on the islands we stayed at the oldest of the Gatliff hostels in Rhenigidale, a small, isolated village on the rugged east side of Harris that wasn’t even connected by road to the outside world until 1990. Warmed by the fire, our final, rainy night on the islands passed.

We were on the road in the early morning hours, me hoping for one last chance for a sunrise.  But again, nothing, leaving me at 0 for 8 sunrises so far this trip.  Not too good!  Another stormy ferry ride put us back on Skye with a heavy rain falling.

The plan had been to stay the night on Skye, but this was nixed and we headed back south to Glencoe, and it was lucky I did so.  For the following morning on Rannoch Moor, I saw one of the best sunrises I’ve yet to see in Scotland.  We spent the afternoon climbing at the Ice Factor, then our usual tradition of dinner at the Clachaig.  Monday was a rainy 8 hours back to Wales and the end of another Hebridean New Year.

Luskentyre beach, Isle of Harris, Scotland

Photo: Luskentyre beach, Isle of Harris, Scotland.  Jan 2013


Dalmore beach, Isle of Lewis, Scotland

Photo: Dalmore beach, Isle of Lewis, Scotland.  Jan 2013


peat cutting, isle of harris, Scotland

Photo: Peat cuttings, Isle of Harris, Scotland.  Jan 2013


Rhenigidale hostel

Photo: Rhenigidale hostel, Isle of Harris, Scotland.  Jan 2013

Hebridean New Year – Part 2 – New Year on Berneray

Berneray hostel scotland

Photo: Night comes to Berneray youth hostel, Berneray, Scotland.  Jan 2013

[For part 1 of the story – Howmore – CLICK HERE. For part 3 – Harris and Lewis – CLICK HERE]

Monday morning, New Year’s Eve, we said our goodbyes to Howmore and headed north to Berneray.  The hostel at Berneray, also part of the Gatliff trust, is perhaps my favourite hostel in all of Scotland.  And for the third year in a row, despite the weather, I’ve journeyed here to welcome in the new year.  Only feet from the crashing waves of the sea, and surrounded by the ruins of days gone by, the hostel at Berneray sits alone on the edge of the small island who’s population comes in at an uncrowded 136 people.  As the clock struck midnight, there were 7 of us sitting around the table in the dimly lit room, rain battering the windows and wind creaking the roof.

New Year’s day brought a slight improvement to the weather and so we headed out to walk along Berneray’s West beach, perhaps one of the nicest beaches in Scotland – if you don’t mind the temperature!  Covering nearly the whole western side of the islend, the beach is some 3 miles of white sand backed by grassy dunes and machair.

As afternoon arrived, it was off to another beach on North Uist to see if the sunset might bring some nice light. It didn’t.  And little did I know, this would be the last time I would see the sun on this trip.  In the morning, an early ferry would bring us to my favourite Hebridean island, the Isle of Harris.

west beach berneray scotland

Photo: Chasing rainbows on west beach, Berneray, Scotland.  Jan 2013

west beach berneray scotland

Photo: Walking along the grassy dunes above west beach, Berneray, Scotland.  Jan 2013

west beach berneray scotland

Photo: west beach, Berneray, Scotland.  Jan 2013

west beach berneray scotland

Photo: Can you find the sheep? west beach, Berneray, Scotland.  Jan 2013

Berneray hostel scotland

Photo: Catching a brief moment of sun outside the hostel, Berneray, Scotland.  Dec 2012

Abandoned building, Berneray, Scotland

Photo: Old wall, Berneray, Scotland.  Dec 2012

Abandoned building, Berneray, Scotland

Photo: Alone and empty, Berneray, Scotland.  Dec 2012

Hebridean New Year – Part 1 – Stormy ride to Howmore

Stormy sea scotland minch

Photo: Gale force winds and rough seas while crossing to the Outer Hebrides, Scotland.  Dec 2012

[For part 2 – Berneray – CLICK HERE.  For part 3 – Harris and Lewis – CLICK HERE]

A deer jumped into the headlights 20 meters ahead of me in the 2am darkness of Rannoch Moor.  I locked up the front tires, missing it be mere feet as it sprung across the road.  After 8 hours of driving from Wales, it was finally time to find a place to camp for the night.  In the morning, the journey would continue onwards to the Isle of Skye, and finally the ferry to North Uist to once again celebrate the coming year on Scotland’s Outer Hebrides.

Arriving in Uig, I learned of the chaos the gale and storm force winds had been causing.  Friday’s sailing to the islands had been canceled, resulting in a huge backup on the Saturday afternoon ferry that we were hoping to get on.  We ended up in the standby line, and sat around to wait.  There was word that there would also be an extra sailing later that night ahead of Sunday’s expected weather cancelations, but as luck would have it, we made it on the boat as the 2nd to last car.  I later learned there was no second sailing that night, and the weather held off the ferry until late Sunday afternoon.

The Little Minch, the 20 mile stretch of water separating Skye from the Outer Hebrides, was full of fury as the boat traveled west into the afternoon darkness of winter in the north.  Dishes crashed and barf bags were filled.  Huge waves crashed over the ferry as the boat continued westwards, and people needed to go out to get some ‘fresh air’ at a more regular interval.  But soon enough, it was over, and I was back in the drivers seat heading south on the single lane roads to Howmore.

At Howmore, South Uist, is one of 3 hostels run by the Gatliff Trust.  The hostels are simple places in restored, thatched roof black houses; as the traditional, single room stone houses northern Scotland are called.  Full of atmosphere and history, each one is unique and with its own character.  They are some of my favourite places in Scotland to stay, and fit well to the landscape of the islands.  Here would be our home for the next two nights as the gales continued to sweep across the islands.

Sunday brought little worth wandering outside for, so it was mostly spent driving around the south of South Uist.  And with darkness arriving around 3:30 in the afternoon, the day doesn’t even leave much time for that.  In the morning, we headed north, to Berneray.

outer hebrides ferry scotland

Photo: Just made it, 2nd to last car on the ferry.  Isle of Skye in distance.  Dec 2012

Howmore youth hostel

Photo: Howmore Hostel, South Uist, Scotland.  Dec 2012


Photo: Warm fire and a splash of whisky, Howmore, South Uist, Scotland.  Dec 2012

Howmore church cemetery ruin

Photo: Cemetery and church ruins, Howmore, South Uist, Scotland.  Dec 2012

Howmore church cemetery ruin

Photo: Cemetery and church ruins, Howmore, South Uist, Scotland.  Dec 2012

Howmore church cemetery ruin

Photo: Cemetery and church ruins, Howmore, South Uist, Scotland.  Dec 2012