United Kingdom – 2023
Wick to Limerick
June 6 to June 11, 2023
Click on the photo for each day to view that day's photos
Day 22 - June 6, 2023
The Orkney Islands are at 58.6º north, or almost as far north as the Alberta, NWT border. The average summer temperature is 12º C. We have been very fortunate with the weather! Anyway, today we took a boat across the channel that runs between the mainland and The Orkney Islands. This channel also joins the North Sea with the Atlantic Ocean.
Very pretty country even though there is scarcely a tree to be found. And there are over 20,000 people living here. On the way over I got a shot of an Atlantic Puffin and several other birds. There is a large cathedral in Kirkwall that was started in 1137 ad. Quite beautiful.
The highlights of the day were the Circle of Brodgar and the village of Skara Brae. The Circle of Brodgar are 36 large stones standing in a circle. It is believed they were erected over 4,500 years ago.
Skara Brae is a village dating back over 5,000 years ago. That is before the Great Wall of China and 500 years before the Pyramids of Egypt. It was buried for thousands of years until 1850 when a severe storm uncovered a part of it. It has since been carefully excavated. There is also a house dating back to the 1600s that we toured.
Lots of sheep, more birds, scenery and a boat trip back to the mainland complete the day.
Day 23- June 7, 2023
Today I would like to start off with a little housekeeping. A few things I have been meaning to mention. First, a couple bouquets. There are two people on the bus (sorry, “coach”) that are indispensable. First is our Tour Director, Mark. Originally from South Africa he has been doing tours like this for 27 years. What an incredible wealth of knowledge! There is not much about the history of this land he does not know. And he also has the job of coordinating the hotels, the meals and the optional activities as well as herding cats (the cats are us, the tourists). So hats off and a huge thanks to Mark.
Next is our driver “Doogie”. Simply unbelievable. These rural roads are narrow. And I mean narrow. Often, one lane. And winding, And the sides of the roads are treed so visibility is often restricted. At times I doubt there is 6” between our 53 passenger coach (with seats taken out to reduce that to 40 for more room, thank goodness) and the truck or coach going the other way. And there are no shoulders on the roads. It is utterly amazing what Doogie makes look easy. It’s a really good thing that I am at the back of the bus, because if I could see in front I would have had a heart attack by now. I told Mark we need to get the King to give him a knighthood so we can call him “Sir Doogie”.
Next there are a few challenges to what I do. First are the accents. We have 34 “guests”. 4 Americans, several New Zealanders, several Canadians and what seems like 56 Aussies. Between all those accents Mark’s South African/British, Doogie’s Scottish and the “Local Experts” (the optional tours) there are 6 or 8 versions of “English”. It can be challenging. Then there is the challenge of taking photos through the windows of a bus going 40 MPH, swaying back and forth, with trees only a couple feet away so timing is critical, and the hardest part is trying to avoid the reflections of light from the other windows. Not an easy feat. What I am attempting to do is show the beauty of this country and some of the history too.
Today was a very long day on the coach. From Wick in northeastern Scotland to Broadford on the Isle of Skye, west central Scotland. The first shot is of the world’s shortest street, then shots from the bus until the last few from the Isle of Skye. BTW...Mark says in all the years he has been coming here, several times a year, this is the best weather he has ever seen. It is usually, cool and rainy.
Day 24 - June 8, 2023
An easier day today traveling from Broadford on the Isle of Skye to Glasgow. Our first stop was a gorgeous castle known as Eilean Donan Castle. Here we got everyone together for a group shot with the castle as a backdrop.
Next stop…a memorial to fallen Commandos of Great Britain with the highest peak in the UK, Ben Nevis in the background. Then a stop for lunch at Fort William, then on to Loch Lomond for another photo stop. Here I managed to get a shot of a couple Swallows and a Robin. The Robins in the UK are different from our Robins.
Finally, Glasgow. I only had a few minutes before dinner to go for a quick walk and get a few shots of Glasgow. Tomorrow we are off to Northern Ireland.
Day 25 - June 9, 2023
Next stop…Northern Ireland. After about an hour drive through the Scottish countryside we boarded the ferry to Northern Ireland. Once again, the weather gods smiled on us. It was a smooth, sunny and calm two hours. I did get a shot of a huge jellyfish. Once off the ferry we headed straight to The Giant’s Causeway, passing the ruins of Dunluce Castle on the way.
The Giant’s Causeway is an area of approximately 40,000 interlocking basalt columns formed by volcanic activity 40 to 50 million years ago. Of course, there is a folklore tale about two giants related to this, but I won’t get into that here. I am sure Mrs. Google can fill you in if you are so inclined. Very interesting and beautiful to see. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is very busy.
Then off to Londonderry and the hotel for dinner and arrest to prepare for another day of adventure tomorrow. This tour is very well run, and the timing is like clockwork. But it is exhausting. There are no days off and every day is go, go, go. BTW…Betty is the name of our bus (sorry, “coach”).
Day 26 - June 10, 2023
We started the day off with breakfast at the hotel in Londonderry. The hotel has a stunning bar that was busy last night. so I got a few shots this morning. Absolutely beautiful.
Next, we were joined by a “local expert” Ronan, who really is an expert. He has lived the turmoil in Londonderry (or simply Derry, depending on your side of the political fence). He was here in the late sixties, the seventies and eighties. I found him extremely intelligent, articulate and wise. There is a “peace agreement” between the unionists (generally Protestant who wish to remain under British rule) and the nationalists (generally Catholic who wish to not remain under British rule). This was a violent time. At one point there were an average of 9 bombs a day exploding in this city. There is a photo with a sign “Foyle Books” in a small-town square that was completely destroyed. Guildhall was bombed and rebuilt.
The 7th photo here I managed what I think is a pretty cool angle of a church spire that dates back almost 400 years. And today, Bud E. appears only once but he might be a little hard to spot.
On Sunday, January 30, 1972, 13 unarmed people were shot dead by British soldiers and many others were injured. U2, an Irish rock band, had a major hit with the song “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” about this event. This was a very dark time in Irish history. Ronan says the peace agreement of 1998 is far from perfect, but it gives people hope and has stopped the bloodshed, for now. To this day schools are segregated, and Ronan believes this is the path to repeat history. He works with teens that at ages 14 and 15, many have never met a person of the opposite religion! He believes the schools should be joined and while it may take a few generations, eventually people will come to realize they are far more alike than different, with the same goals and desires out of life. Anyway, if anyone is interested, again Google can fill in the details.
Then we were off to the Republic of Ireland (not under British rule) and Donegal for lunch and a few photos of the town square. Next, a stop at a pottery manufacturing plant, Belleek Pottery. Handmade pottery that is crazy beautiful. And lastly, to our hotel for tonight in Sligo, The Clayton Hotel which is an old converted hospital that they have done a terrific job of making into a luxury hotel.
Day 27 - June 11, 2023
Bud E. Bear has been to many places, seen and done many things. But today might be one of the coolest. Dinner at a 550-year-old castle, complete with a butler, ladies in waiting and a wonderful show.
But first we left our hotel in Sligo and headed to the village of Cong. Very picturesque, complete with the ruins of a centuries old Abbey. Then on to Galway, a bustling city of about 100,000 with a wonderful town square and a pedestrian market running several blocks. Also, a harbour. I tried my hand at capturing a few birds, in a beautiful pub and some street photography.
Next stop was our final destination, Limerick. After checking into the hotel we boarded the bus again to go to the dinner and show at Knappogue Castle. Great atmosphere, great food and wonderful show.