While it says it is only a four-hour drive to get there, the roads in Scotland are not always the friendliest. I don’t mean the drivers are rude, what I mean is the roads have loads of potholes. There are also narrow passes where only one car can pass at a time and wind around all the lochs and mountain passes.
If this isn’t bad enough, for my American driving friends, you have to drive on the left side of the road which is completely discombobulating. It takes a lot of concentration when trying to make turns, or navigate the roundabouts. While the scenery is stunning along the way, the closer you get to the parks, the more your views are blocked off by trees and underbrush.
It’s fun to think about how the Scottish Highlander men would hide in that underbrush and in the trees from the British. If you haven’t seen the show Outlander, you should, it paints a realistic picture of what life was like in the Highlands. I even did the Outlander Self-Guided Tour while I was in Scotland. It was my first time visiting a country and purposefully visiting shooting locations for TV shows, and movies. Did you know what Eilean Donan was featured in several movies? Here are a few it has been featured in:
Bonnie Prince Charlie starring David Niven (1948)
The Master of Ballantrae starring Errol Flynn (1953)
The New Avengers (1976)
Loch Ness (1996)
James Bond – The World is Not Enough (1999)
BBC One Television Identity (1997 – 2002)
There is about a good 45-minute stretch of road, however, that is quite barren and VERY boring. For those of you who know that stretch of road between St. George Utah and Las Vegas…..its almost as boring as that is…..YAWN. After a long drive, you round the corner by the shrinking lake, you can see Eilean Donan Castle.
Parking and Tourists:
There is plenty of parking for all to partake in this iconic castle. That means that about 8 buses can fit in this place, and the hoards pour onto the walkway to the castle. There are bathrooms available once you get there, they are clean and heated, but very small for the number of people there. A guard sits in his small wooden hut, looking quite sullenly at all the tourists coming in. Stop and talk to him, he is quite nice and warmly welcomes the conversation. I can’t imagine how boring it must be to sit there day after day, I would like the company as well.
Buying the tickets:
You must buy your ticket in the strategically placed, and very overpriced gift shop. The only thing I bought was a pin to prove I had been there, that cost about 3.99 pounds……yep…..see what I mean. Tickets to get into the castle are Adults £7.50 , Family (2 Adults + 3 Children Age 5-15) £20.00 Visit the Eilean Donan Website for opening times, closing times and group discounts.
The Grounds and the Views:
The views of the Castle from the Parking lot are some of the best photos you are going to get of the castle. The roads are too busy to stop on the way to the castle, and the pull-outs that are available are heavily saturated with tourists with the same ideas. I visited Eilean Donan about 3 years ago for the first time, and it was busy. There were several areas in Scotland on this that I felt were swarming with tourists compared to when I was last there, this castle was one of them. There was a waterfall on the way to Eilean Donan that was so crowded, we couldn’t turn our car around, and had to back out into the busy road to get out of the parking area. It was so crowded we ended up just leaving, muttering that it wasn’t even worth the hassle of trying to fight everyone to see the waterfall. Maybe this is what set the tone for the visit to Eilean Donan, but I distinctly remember feeling this same way the first time I visited the castle. The only reason I was coming back here, was because my roommate Bree had not seen it, and was truly looking forward to it. We are both of Scottish descent and I felt it would be wrong to veto her getting to form her own opinion about the place.
The History of the Castle:
Some say that this castle was named for an Irish Bishop Donan who came and established a community here. Others say there were no houses or fortifications built on Donan Island until the 13th century to protect the area from Viking raiders. It has the perfect location for a defensive position and controlled the main water gateway to other areas of the Scottish Highlands. It has changed significantly over the centuries but was primarily used as a defensive fortification.
It was so widely known as an indestructible stronghold that it played a role in the Jacobite rebellions, which ultimately led to its ruin and destruction. I won’t get into the details here, but the fortification was lost to the British, and the castle laid in ruins for over 200 years. It wasn’t until 1911 that the island was bought by Lt Colonel John Macrae-Gilstrap along with his friend (another Macrae), who spent the next 20 years rebuilding the castle.
The Macrae’s are now the rightful owners of the castle, and much of what you see today is due to their efforts. While the history is important, there was barely a shell left for the Macrae’s to build from…..so while it looks like an ancient fortification, it is in fact, quite new compared to other castles in Scotland.
The Castle Itself:
There are tiny balconies, cute little rooms for visitors, bathrooms, and the dining room filled with all the Macrae’s most cherished memorabilia. You are not allowed to take photos within the castle, so I don’t have much to show you in that respect. You get to wander through a few rooms that look like normal rooms to me.
The best part is the dining hall, with stag heads, family crests, and royal trinkets in glass boxes along the sides of the walls. There is castle staff to watch your every move, and there is nowhere to sit. So with how many people who swarm into this place, it makes it a little difficult to get around. As you make your way outside, you can see the tiny ramparts where the men would have defended the walls – ya have to turn sideways and squeeze through in order to make it.
I cursed a little as I could not figure out how burly broad-shouldered men in uniform, with guns, were able to maneuver around these small spaces. If you wander out back, you will see the patio where many a bonnie bride is wed and take their cherished photos. The views from the back of the Castle are really quite lovely, and kind of saved this from being a complete bust for me personally.
After all of this, I hope it paints a clearer picture for you of what to expect when visiting Eilean Donan Castle. While it has been featured in several movies, is often shown as the centerpiece for many Scottish marketing schemes…..I just don’t think the drive is worth it. If you are driving near the area, stop and take a few photos, but don’t pay the money to go in, when you can get just as good, if not better photos from the parking lot.
You pay about $10 to go and walk around a home, essentially, that was built in 1932. There are older houses in my hometown to be honest. If you think I just have a sour attitude about it, just ask my friend, even she said it wasn’t really worth it. Luckily, we were just passing through as we were going to see Cawdor Castle that has ties to Macbeth and a thorn tree in the basement; Dunrobin Castle a French-built Chateau in the Northern Highlands on the NC 500; the Fairy Glen, Sligachan Bridge, the Devils Pulpit, and Culloden field. I feel these are the places that truly represent the Scottish Spirit, teach visitors the legends and folklore of old, and give you a much better sense of what medieval life was like with the history deeply intertwined within them.
Where to Stay Near Eilean Donan
If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy these other articles about Scotland sites and Castles:
Santorini has been a bucket list destination for years by travelers around the world. The sweeping cliffs, blue and white colored buildings and relaxed environment make is a perfect retreat from the rat race of life. Here are a few things to do in Santorini to pass the time on this blissful island.
After my Photography Tour in Seattle, I am a huge fan of Photography Tours from Locals. The particular tours I found for Santorini may be a bit more expensive, but to have someone there who can show you exactly the settings, directions, transportation etc…. to get to the best spots in Santorini might be worth it. Wouldn’t it be nice to have the photo you took on your living room wall of the sweeping cliffs of Santorini? How about you solo travelers who are always trying to figure out how to get that perfect shot. Santorini is one of those iconic photography places that I personally would invest in a photography tour for.
The roads, paths, nooks and crannies are at times very hard to navigate. So to have a local who could let you into a backyard at the edge of a cliff face to take photos, snack on some cheese and introduce you to locals…..well…..that would be worth it to me. I certainly wish I would have done this when I was there, it gets a bit chaotic on the public transportation systems. These huge buses take turns around cliff edges so rapidly, I found myself squeezing my butt cheeks as hard as I was holding my breath while praying I didn’t die in a bus on a Greek island. Not a bad way to go, but repatriation is a nightmare, dying on vacation is bad form anyway.
If you are coming from the cruise ship, it is a bit difficult to NOT take the cable car. You must pay to ride it, the cost to ride is 5€ for an adult one-way ticket, 2.5€ for children under 5 years old and 2.5€ for large luggage. Make sure to bring cash, when I was there, credit cards were not widely accepted.
You can also lug your body weight, and luggage up the steps to Santorini…..but if you are there in the summer I highly discourage this. The sun hits the cliffs, the stones reflect the heat and there is usually donkey dung dotting the pathway all the way up. So you may as well go lock yourself in a barn that hasn’t been cleaned in 6 months and run 5 miles on a treadmill in July in Texas…..at least you will have access to water in the barn.
The views from the cable car are quite stunning, and especially at sunset…..this is the time to do it. Combining your cable car ride with your evening boat tour would be a perfect ending to your day while there.
Swimming at Oia south of Ammoudi Port
It is the Mediterranean. It is an isolated island. You have to jump into these crystal clear blue waters! It is a right of passage for me to jump into whatever ocean I am visiting, just to say you did it.
I would suggest going with a guide or a local, as they will know the best places for swimming without currents, clear areas for cliff jumping, the best area for seeing fish and which areas are clear of coral or other dangerous obstacles.
Fresh fish, clear waters, cool breezes, good company…..this should be your siesta. Jump on a boat and try your hand at fishing some of the exotic fish in the area. I’m not really into fishing, but I wanted to include this for all my ladies who want to shove their husbands on a boat for that coveted ‘man time’ they all talk about. Tell them it’s a ‘gift’ for them, even though the alone time is going to be a gift for you, because of the next suggestion I have.
THIS is where it’s at ladies! These areas contain the best shopping, views, photographic spots around. Firostefani and Imerovigli is where the classic white buildings with blue-topped domes are hugging the cliffs. I also found most of the unique clothing, trinkets, Ray Ban knockoffs etc..in these areas.
The pricing is a little on the steep side when you factor in currency conversion, but keep in mind that the items are genuine and handmade. Too often I am visiting countries where the ‘cheaper’ option is made in China, not very well made, and doesn’t last long. The tourists support these items to save money, but often it takes away from the local economy and puts families out of business. So whenever possible, try and buy from shops that are family run, and locally made — it will help sustain the culture, local economy, and make the tourism in the area you are visiting a little more sustainable.
Walk to Skaros Rock
After eating all the fish your husband/boyfriend/local café caught that afternoon, you will want to take a hike. I suggest walking to Skaros Rock. This is a medieval fortress that was built in the 15th century to help defend the island from pirates and raiders. I can’t imagine the raids worked all that well, given the steep cliffs. You didn’t think I would let you leave my website without including a little tidbit of history, did you? There are some fascinating drawings of what Skaros Rock would have looked like in the 15th Century, and also depicts just how flourishing this tiny outcropping really was.
Loads of shopping is also available here, just watch out for the occasional sweating donkey carrying items for the various shops that line these alleyways. The donkey’s cause quite the traffic jam, but they are really necessary as there isn’t a way to get supplies into the center of town without them. The ones used near the center of town (in my opinion) are a little better treated than the ones used to haul tourists up the long path from the Old Fira Port. A tour of Oia’s alleyways is the best way to do this, but make sure to stay for the sunset — you won’t regret it.
Don’t ride the Donkeys at Fira Port
I know they say it is the classic Greek thing to do, I was sucked in and did it and felt like crying afterward. The donkeys looked drugged, miserable, and was sweating like crazy. They get whipped to bring you up the pathway in Oia from the cruise port and it is so so sad. I even poured water on the donkey’s back as it brought me up the steep and long pathway. I will never ever do this again unless I see loads of water available and know for certain the animals are regularly switched out. It is the one thing I have done while traveling that I am still ashamed of honestly.
I know it may provide money to the locals utilizing these animals to haul you up, but the more ethical way of doing this would be to take the cable car. The donkey has been scorned and punished for centuries, let’s give it a break when we can.
Rent a Scooter and explore the Santorini countryside
This is the best way to get around on Santorini if you choose not to get a guide. The maneuverability of the scooter on small roads, pathways and winding roads is very useful. You can also visit a lot more having your own transportation that is fairly reasonably priced if you choose to stay for a few days.
The only downside to this is that near the cliffs, where many tourists want to stay, there is nowhere to park and you really have to hike down or up into your accommodation. So I would suggest doing day rentals from a company that has shops throughout the island.
You can also hire a private driver for about $58 for a day. A local can take you around the island, see the highlights, and then you can spend the rest of your vacation relaxing, eating delicious food and enjoying the sunsets of Santorini.
Eat in the local Café with the REAL Mediterranean food
Fresh food, sea breezes, Greek hospitality, and warmth…..you would be a fool not to partake in the cafes of Santorini. This is where the local culture spends their evenings. They talk about life, love, children, work and being Greek. Their laid-back demeanor is sure to make you want to linger longer and ask to be adopted by the end of your meal.
If partaking in local food traditions, and want to taste the best of the best of Santorini’s Cuisine – I would suggest taking a Local Food Tour. Food Tours are not my cup of tea, I’m more of a historical and natural surroundings type of gal, but for those of you who really want to experience the culture of Santorini – then food is the way to do it.
Stay for the Sunsets in Oia
Sunsets in Oia are what many tourists flock to see. Orange hues reflect off the whitewashed walls of the buildings, with the blue tops creating a perfect complement of colors. Settle down in a café in Oia, unplug from technology and let the gentle waves of the ocean below lull you into a sense of pure vacation bliss.
When the lights turned on at the old Fira Port, the sun settling down behind the mountains….this view took my breath away. My camera was hot in my hands from taking so many photos. It will be difficult to get a good evening shot of this view when you are on a boat, but don’t give up…..it will be your favorite photo. Seeing lights dot the sides of the cliffs like fireflies flickering, seeming to want to compete with the bright stars above. I wanted to make a bed on my boat, open the windows to the sea breezes and fall asleep whilst watching Santorini settle in for the night.
The structure of the city, colors, people, food, and contrasting barren landscape to the deep blue of the ocean and buildings is a visual feast for the eyes.
If you would like to do a full day boat tour around Santorini including snorkeling, seeing the volcano, eat lunch on the boat, and then stay for the sunset then I would recommend the Caldera Oia Perl Boat tour. This is a really good price for this considering the currency exchange and everything that is included for this type of trip.
Rest your head after your fun-filled day in a Windmill in Oia.
You can stay in this windmill! The Dutch woman in me went a little bonkers when I found out you can stay in this Windmill! It’s the Windmills Suite at Golden Sunset Villas in Oia it can easily fit 20 people. There are a kitchen, full bathroom, 2 “bedrooms”. The stairs are steep, narrow, a little difficult to maneuver in with your luggage (so pack light). There is only one windmill suite in Santorini, so be sure you book as early as possible. They do include breakfast as well should you choose to book with them.
Santorini is a glorious experience that I hope to repeat one day very soon (I really want to stay in the Windmill). The isolation of the island has kept much of the shifting of the Greek culture from being westernized. While I anticipate that this will change soon, I will always hold a place in my traveling heart for this unique and beautiful city.
As Always….Happy Travels, Happy Tales, and see YOU on the Flipside.
A scary encounter turned to a blissful although slightly chilly day in Den Haag. See mind minding artwork, what to visit in the off season and just how special getting lost in this city can really be.
Go to Den Haag they said, it would be fun they said. It was an entirely different experience for me, and not just in visiting the city but the entire process of going, being there and wandering around the area. I was visiting the Netherlands for my Birthday, it was the offseason, and it was very cold! Before I get ahead of myself though, let me take you on the whole journey of experiencing the difference of Den Haag.
Getting to Den Haag:
I had my Eurail Pass in hand, palms sweaty, my first time traveling on European trains was a complete nightmare. I was determined to make this trip better and figure this out. My European friends still snicker at how unlucky I was for my first train ride, with the train catching fire, getting on the wrong train etc…. But this isn’t about that horrible train ride, this is about experiencing something again even though I’m afraid to do it.
Right…..onto the train I go…. I had the right car, the right ticket, the right direction and even found the second class seating like I was supposed to. Ok now that I’m in my seat, I should check the GPS when the train starts going just to make sure I’m going in the right direction towards Den Haag. I should just act natural, not speak because otherwise, these Netherlanders are going to look at me like a stupid American that freaks out on trains……oh if they only knew the horrors I have endured…. Stop being dramatic, and focus on the positive Janiel. Right, ok train is now moving – the moment of truth……YES!!!!!! God be PRAISED I’m going in the right direction! Now I can just sit back and relax and be proud of myself for not flummoxing this one up like I did Prague. See, I can really do hard things!
A Scary Encounter:
It wasn’t long after I had sat down and congratulated myself when a suspicious looking character walked down the aisle of the train. My internal dialogue when something along the lines of, ‘Don’t make eye contact, don’t make eye contact…..oh God, please don’t let him talk to me’. I made the mistake of looking up because I could just feel him standing there looking at me, ‘Shit’, I thought. He smiled a toothy grin and sat down right across from me. Just for the record, I always try to be nice and be kind to whoever I meet…..but I got some bad vibes from this man. He was tall, lanky, had big baggy torn clothes on, and oh how he smelled of the streets.
I had previously worked in a homeless clinic in Las Vegas, and he smelled all too similar to that. I gave him a half smile, and in my panicked brain, I tried to figure out how I could get away and still be polite. He started to speak to me in French, and I had no clue what he was saying. He realized I spoke English, and tried to speak English to me. He asked where I was going, who I was traveling with. I hate lying, so I told the truth and reiterated that I was going to Den Haag and had a very busy schedule.
He wanted to get coffee and as he asked me slyly grabbed onto my hand and interlocked his fingers with mine. I told him politely that I didn’t have time and that I did not want to hold his hand. I looked across the aisle at the couple sitting there and tried to beg with my eyes for them to help me. They were politely ignoring the situation and the male sitting across from me didn’t want me to pay attention to anything else but him.
Evasion and Protection:
I tried to distract him with other areas in the Netherlands, but he decided he was going to come with me to Den Haag. I didn’t want him to, I started to sweat a little and reverted into a fight or flight mental mode. I started planning with the GPS on my phone, the path I would take to the museum, the alleys I would take, using the public roads as much as possible. He got up and sat right next to me, blocking the aisle and the escape. I moved over to the other chair right in front of him. It was like I was playing chess with him, and I was bound and determined not to lose. Maybe I was paranoid, maybe not, but I knew I didn’t like feeling cornered and smothered…..blame it on my prior bad experiences with men. They conductor announced Den Haag, and I got up quickly, told him I had to go because I had a very busy day. I was able to collect my things and get up quickly enough to put a few people between him and I. Step one of evasion and protection complete, not to maintain the distance just out of arms reach.
As soon as the doors opened I was off, not looking back, I didn’t care about being nice at this point. Alas, he caught up to me with his long legs, I cursed my short legs and looked at my GPS. Ok, the museum was not that far away. I maintained a rapid pace, running across a street here or there to throw him off. It was early in the morning so not many people were out. He knew we were getting close and grabbed my arm to get me to slow down, pleading with me to come over to have coffee at his place. I had taken enough self-defense classes to known how to break his grip….a quick powerful smooth movement towards the thumb, with an immediate turn up the road and I was free.
My GPS took me into an alleyway that I knew was not the best place to be alone with this person, but taking another route would have meant more time with him. I quickened my pace, and he ran and got in front of me. I told him very strongly I was not going anywhere with him, and I traveled too far to miss this artwork I have been wanting to see since I was a child. I crossed the street again and a car drove by, blocking him temporarily. I took a photo of him just in case something were to happen, for evidence. “Ugh, I really need to stop watching horror movies” I chided myself for being too dramatic and that he was likely just trying to flirt…..but knew the instant I thought this, it was likely more than just flirtation bordering on something slightly sinister.
He ran to catch up just as I turned the corner and saw the gated museum, luckily there was a cop out front. He grabbed the backpack I had on, and pulled me back around the corner, I twisted out of his grip and he said he cannot go in there with me. I told him that was ok with me, and that he should continue on his way to wherever he had been planning on going. I kept moving, walking, twisting to look at different things and watched as he slinked away back into the alley with a very angry expression on his face. I descended down into the museum and went straight into the ladies room.
This was the first time traveling as a solo female that I had been afraid, truly nervous for my safety. I did exactly what I knew I should do, walk with purpose, keep moving, hold my heavy camera in one hand just in case I had to use it as a weapon, and found the nearest tourist attraction that had police there. It took me a little while to calm myself down from this ordeal before I was able to go and purchase my ticket and finally see a Vermeer painting in person.
The Mauritshuis Museum is built in an old Palace of one of the Dutch Royal families main residences. Complete with a boat loading dock right on the canal, surrounded by gates. I bought my ticket, hands still slightly shaking, chanting ‘your safe now, you’re safe now’.
I went into the first room and went to the windows, lifted the blinds slightly and was faced with the alleyway where I had left my shadow. He wasn’t there, ok, maybe he had gone, ‘calm down Janiel – you came too far to not enjoy yourself here’ I whispered to myself under my breath. The museum attendant looked at me in her navy blue sweater and gave me a warm smile. This seemed to help me refocus on the experience. I wandered the room, getting lost in the artwork here and there.
Then I saw her, the girl with the pearl earring. She was smaller than I imagined but stared into my soul – a beautiful woman trapped in a painting that would be shown to many throughout history. The slight bend in the neck, the wrapped hair, the slight coloring of her lips contrasting against the dark background. Seeing her was like seeing a woman of strength, yet relaxed.
If I were to meet her on a street, I could imagine her inviting me in for tea – getting to the root of my anxiety and then sending the many suitors vying for her attention after my sinister shadow outside. The strength of her stair chased the rest of the jitters within me away, and I became misty-eyed with relief and awe at how moving and realistic Vermeer’s works truly are.
Mauritshuis in Den Haag: open 10am to 6pm – Gold Age paintings like Vermeer – Plein 29, 2511 CS Den HaagNoordeinde Palace, one of the Dutch royal family’s main residences
The Noordeinde Palace Disappointment:
I left the Mauritshuis cautiously, and couldn’t see my sinister shadow anywhere and was able to breathe a sigh of relief. I was still a little jumpy, so I decided to go to the Noordeinde Palace. This is one of the three official palaces of the Dutch Royalty, typically used for official state business.
I wandered through the streets towards the palace, peering out the windows, admiring the Dutch style. One thing I noticed more than anything else, was how clean all of the windows were. I mean, every single window was clean – several people were out cleaning windows even though was supposed to rain. How odd, yet, how intriguing this cultural idiosyncrasy was to having clean windows as a way of a status symbol in a way .
My phone vibrated in my hand as I was lost in this thought indicating that I had arrived at the Palace. I felt a bit of relief to be able to get out of the cool breeze, but as I looked around….realized there were no entrances. DRAT! It must have been because I was there in the offseason that I wasn’t able to enter. I was severely disappointed, I had been so excited to compare the how the Dutch Royalty decorated their official palace compared to that of the Holyrood Palace in Scotland. So I did what I typically do when disappointed by unforeseen circumstances, I Googled what the inside of the Noordeinde Palace looked like. I took the obligatory photo through the fence, and of the statue of the man on the horse out front. Sighed heavily, and punched in my next destination, the Escher Gallery.
I was wandering the city on my way to Escher in the palace and found this enchanting little courtyard in near the Ridderzal. This is the EXACT reason I have one day planned out for every trip I go on, where I allow myself to get lost in a city. I was able to sit on a bench, not feel rushed to see this or that & interact with some lovely tourists who were there on holiday celebrating their family. It was a beautiful thing to witness and one of the things I really hold in my heart and taught me in a small way to appreciate my own family. It was hard to leave this place because of this moment, but as with all good things — it did have to come to an end.
Imagining the Abstract with Escher:
Wandering down the streets, through perfectly aligned trees I noticed how fancy all the homes were. It would make sense being that in the early 19th century this is where the Royal family lived, and so all of the surrounding buildings would have been part of court or those in power. Escher in the Palace Museum is not a typical cement box type museum, but a repurposed palace full of history. There is a small sign out in front, and you almost feel as if you are intruding into a home when you enter because of the doors. This is an oddly intriguing museum for all who love both Art and History. Combining two very opposite exhibitions for visitors. This house was the former home to Queen Emma, who was part of the Dutch Royal Family in the early 19th Century. You will be able to see where she lived, what her life was like, where she gave speeches and the rumors that surrounded her. To be honest, I wasn’t super impressed with this part of the museum, but it may be worthwhile to visit for those who love Dutch History.
Different sections of this former palace are also reserved for the intricately abstract, and mind-bending photos of Escher. I have always loved his art and remember seeing one of his first graphic designs, The Drawing Hands, and how it entrapped my mind circling around their infinity like symbolism.
One thing I was entirely surprised by was that Mr. Escher was a dreamer and a world traveler. While some may look at his life of art entwined with mathematics and think of him to be odd or eccentric, I found his works and his life to be absolutely brilliant. My creativity skyrocketed after visiting this place and truly made my trip to Den Haag worth it.
I’m very good at getting lost, I know this about myself and this is why I do not travel without some sort of GPS capability. So when I reached the 2nd to last stop on my way to Escher in the Palace and ended up at Scheveningen Boulevard Beach I decided to make it an experience instead of panic about it. I jumped off, saw people heading up a hill with coats, towels and some kites. I decided to follow them and see where the locals went to play.
Cresting the top of the hill I was greeted by the longest running white sand beach I have ever seen. There were also fun metal art pieces, that made me grin and giggle away the stressful morning completely. There is nothing more relaxing to me that watching the ocean waves crash into the beach and smelling that sea breeze. It was a bit chillier than I was planning on, and the torrents of wind pounding the beach front was making my eyes water from the cold. It was exhilarating and made my adrenaline start pumping from the chill that was seeping into my bones.
I wandered along the Boulevard, taking photos of the interactive statues that were available. I think it was the perfect random addition to complete my trip to Den Haag (The Hague). I love getting lost in the city and seeing how locals do things. I was able to witness something I typically would not have searched out and was pleasantly surprised to find something that would bring peace back in my trip despite the cold. I couldn’t feel my face, and my teeth started to hurt from the cold winds hitting me because of my perma-grin. I squealed and ran in place a little bit, which didn’t help thaw anything out, and likely made me look a bit mad really, so I decided to head back to the city trams.
Traveler Tip: The EURail pass doesn’t work on the Trams, so make sure you buy a ticket for them. Otherwise, you can get a ticket, I didn’t know this and was given a one-time free pass because I had my EURail pass. Make sure you buy the right pass for the right city and the right time of day. A ticket in Amsterdam will be different than the one for public transport in Den Haag. Day tickets are less expensive than Night-time tickets. So go to IAmsterdam and buy your public transport tickets there.
address: Bezuidenhoutseweg, The Hague, The Netherlands
Rounding out my day:
I spent more than half the day in Den Haag and feel it was not quite enough time to properly explore it. I was only in the Netherlands for 10 days and wanted to get small taste of multiple cities.
If I were to go back, I would plan to go in the summer so I could explore more of the beaches here, see the palace, and then ride a bike through the forested areas like a local. Despite bad or scary things happening on a trip, you don’t always have to let them destroy your experience. Just focus on the good things, and realize it was a moment in time and does not mean you will have the rest of your day ruined. Just be smart, have a plan, believe in your own power and carry-on.
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It had to be here! I knew I was looking for a random white hotel at on the right side. I was concentrating so hard, trying to remember the name that was just out of reach. The rental car sailed over a hill, and around the corner and BAM there it was! Sligachan Hotel, no wonder I didn’t remember the name (I’m terrible with names). We waited for a spot, as many tourists wanted to partake in the photo op atop the picturesque bridge. If you’re parking at the hotel I would obviously advise you not to be too cheeky and at least have a coffee as you’re using their parking facilities. You would be surprised how much a Scottish Highlander knows about the local area, and where to find those hidden gems.
THE MYTH OF WATERS
Now let me tell you the tale of the enchanted waters that runs below Sligachan Bridge. Long ago, in a town not so far away, lived a great warrior woman of Scotland. Her name was Scáthach. She was a beast of a woman, one that you wouldn’t want to rival in any Scottish Highland games – but would want in front of you in battle.
Tales of her bravery and strength spread across the Northern Isles and lands. The Irish warrior, Cúchulainn, was known in his country as the strongest, smartest, fastest warrior and knew in order to maintain the coveted reputation he had to put an end to these rumors of Scáthach being able to beat him. He set sail immediately, arriving on Skye he ran into a trainee of Scáthach and demanded that her mistress should come and face him.
The crowds gathered as she emerged, the fire of pride shown in both of their eyes. Everyone held their breath as these two warriors charged each other and when they struck their first blows, the earth shook the petals off of all the flowers in the surrounding valley. The children reached for their mothers, the horses bucked and neighed in fright. Animals ran for cover, and the men took an uneasy step back as the ferociousness increased. They were too evenly matched, neither one of them was willing to give in — it was to be a fight to the death.
Scáthachs daughter ran, crying with worry and not wanting anyone to see that her weakness was the love for her mother. She fled to the river, she couldn’t bear to see her mother die and pled to the angels and fairies to save her. What she didn’t know, is that water is a gateway between the faerie world and ours. Her sorrow was so intense, combined with the battle not far away reached the ears of the faeries.
They came to Scáthachs daughter, gently collecting her tears and poured them into the water as an offering to the Faerie Queen. Her tears, being full of love, moved the faeries and granted her wish. They asked her to wash her face in the river, and the faerie’s knowledge rushed into her of how she could stop the battle and save her Mother. Gathering the most fragrant herbs and nuts, the loving daughter threw her bounty into the fire. The delectable scents rose with the white smoke, caught by the wind, the scents wafted into the noses of the warriors.
The ferociousness of the battle began to dwindle, as the stomach pangs of both the warriors won over their determination. At a brief pause in weapons clashing, a break in the battle was agreed upon and both warriors laid down their weapons to head to where the delicious meal surely awaited them both. Scáthachs daughter had craftily prepared a meal worthy of these legendary warriors. As Cúchulainn ate, awareness dawned on both of the warriors they were in fact under the roof of Scáthachs.
As was the custom in all the northern lands, when you dine under a roof – you are the guest and are compelled to do not harm to the guest, the host or anyone within. It is said that because of the beauty of Scáthachs daughter, and her tears of love being poured into the river. Any who are brave enough to dip their face into the waters beneath Sligachan Bridge, you will be granted eternal beauty.
How to Approach the Gateway to the Faeries:
To do this the right way, you must give yourself over wholly to the process. You must believe that there is magic in Scotland and approach the river full of love for yourself and those who you travel with. The way to the water requires a bit of skill, as you must climb over rocks and crags being careful not to slip and taint the waters with blood and pain. Once you reach the waters, it isn’t just a matter of ‘washing your face’, you cannot use your hands. You must get on your hands and knees, just as Scáthachs daughter did when she begged for her mother to be saved. Think of someone other than yourself and pour love into your heart for them.
Make sure that your heart is full of love, as you dip your face into the waters beneath Sligachan Bridge and hold it there for seven seconds. Every gift has a sacrifice, and the faeries need to know that you are committed in love and earnestness. After the seven seconds, remove your face with your eyes closed. Do not wipe away the water, but let it dry naturally. Say a quick thanks to the faeries for their kindness and reminding you of what is truly important in life. If your heart is sincere, you may just be granted eternal beauty. Now the question remains, what is eternal beauty to you?
The Hiding Place, I was shocked I had never heard of Corrie Ten Boom and her heroic efforts to save hundreds of Jewish victims from the Holocaust. Once I bought my ticket to Amsterdam, I knew I needed to visit The Hiding Place Museum in Haarlem.
Tickets for The Hiding Place Museum:
The Corrie Ten Boom home is still connected to a jewelry shop and has limited space within the home — you must book your tickets online.The tickets need to be booked five days in advance of when you are planning on visiting the museum. Reserve your tickets for The Hiding Place Museum, and learn of the courageous efforts of the Ten Boom family.
Getting to Haarlem:
Address: Corrie Ten boom House 19 Barteljorisstraat | North Holland, 2002 CE Haarlem, The Netherlands Getting to the Corrie Ten Boom home is fairly easy from Amsterdam. I would suggest taking the train from Amsterdam Centraal Station towards Haarlem. Once you exit the train station it is about a 15-minute walk or 5-minute bike ride to The Hiding Place Museum. Here is a Map to The Hiding Place Museum, from Rome2Rio.
Once you reserve your ticket, you will arrive at the home and go into the side door of the home behind the jewelry shop. The door will be locked and closed with times of when each tour starts. Once your tour is about to start, the door will open and you will be greeted by a volunteer from the church that Corrie Ten Boom had been associated with.
Who was Corrie Ten Boom:
It was 1837 when William Ten Boom, Corrie’s Grandfather set up his clock shop and opened his home to all dedicated Christian’s who wished to worship. The family lived by the Biblical verse Psalm 122:6
Pray for peace for Jerusalem: “May those who love you be at peace!”
Their family held weekly prayer service, open to all who wished to participate for over 100 years. This dedicated family welcomed anyone into their home who wished to pray, no matter what their religion was. This likely set them up in the community as the natural source of leadership, which was vital in saving hundreds of innocent lives in the coming years. Casper Ten Boom, Corrie’s father, began to have prayer meetings that included Jewish members in increasing numbers. The persecution of the Jewish people had started in Holland, and the need for a safe place became increasingly vital.
Their home was turned into a place of refuge, a Hiding Place, for as many as seven to ten Jewish people and the Dutch Underground members who were being hunted. Led by several generations of good examples, Corrie Ten Boom took the baton of the family with her faith in God and became the leader for the Dutch Underground in Haarlem.
Why was it called the Hiding Place:
When you enter the Museum, there doesn’t appear to be many places to hide ten adults from the Gestapo. The guide leads you up into a large room and several chairs set up in a circle, just as it would have been in Corrie’s time. There were pictures on the wall of family members, and Corrie Ten Boom herself.
After I acclimatized to all of the visual stimuli in the room, from the book Corrie Ten Boom write, and I so cherished as a child — I noticed a sheet of music on the piano titled, “You are My Hiding Place”. This touched me in a way that I didn’t expect. Not only was the home itself a Hiding Place, but the songs that must have been sung here preached that God is our hiding place. Now for those of you who may not believe in God, I hope you can appreciate that their belief in a higher deity is what helped bring them through one of the darkest times in European history. After a short history lesson from our guide on who the family was, how prayer meetings were held and eventually morphed into a full-scale rescue operation.
We were taken upstairs and told of how there was a bell in the kitchen downstairs that would be pressed, and only the people there for hiding could hear it. Once the bell rung, they would rush into a room at the back that had a false back on the bottom half of the bookshelf. A brick wall had been built providing just enough room for ten refugees to stand upright in this small space, for as long as it took to let the danger pass. Nothing was allowed in this small space so as not to attract rodents, and give away the Hiding Place. The area was not insulated from the bitter cold winters, so being trapped in this place was not ideal.
As you read the book, The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom writes of the training she received to be able to be woken in the middle of the night and evade the questioning of the Gestapo who would comb the Haarlem neighborhoods looking for Jews and traitors. There were several close calls with the Gestapo, and eventually, they were betrayed by a community member who knew of their operation; but not before they were able to save nearly 800 Jewish lives.
Those who were taking refuge in the home were able to escape, and three of the four Jewish members in the home at that time survived the war. One even came back to the Hiding Place, unknown to the Museum staff, to face the harrowing two days of being trapped in The Hiding Place while the Gestapo combed through the Ten Boom home. The museum staff told the moving story of being able to meet a man who had benefited from the Ten Boom’s efforts during the war.
They may have been caught, but as you read the book of Corrie being separated from her beloved father, placed with her sister in the brutal Ravensbruck. You realize just how deeply courageous she was, and the dedication to her faith could inspire anyone. Everyone Corrie met both inside and outside the concentration camp was both inspired and infused with hope, due to her ability to resist fear and despair in the face of evil. Several camp prisoners in the Ten Boom bunker were converted to Christianity due to their faith while being imprisoned.
Who was the involved in the Resistance?
Corrie was the ringleader for the Haarlem underground. Her “Beje group” strategically search for families willing, able, and courageous enough to harbor refugees and members of the Dutch Underground movement. Much of Corrie’s time was spent finding ways to feed the refugees, continue to give them hope and so forth despite rations being severely limited throughout Holland.
The sign in the window of the shop was used to let members of the Underground know that the area was safe when it was in the window. The night that Corrie and her family were taken, they were unable to remove this from the window — and 20 other members of the Underground movement were caught and brutally treated in order to obtain names of other members. Fortunately, they held on as long as they could, so that those members and subsequent refugees would have time to escape and relocate to other safe havens within the city.
Lessons from the Past:
At the time of the capture of the Ten Boom home, two Jewish men, two Jewish women, and two members of the Dutch underground were hidden behind the brick wall of the Hiding Place. They were forced to stand for two days, in the middle of the harsh winter in that small space without food, water, or bathroom — remaining deadly quiet to save their own lives. The house remained under guard to catch any other members of the Underground movement in the area. One of the survivors remembers there were two guards that played cards in a nearby room, while his heart pounded from the fear of being caught. Two days after the initial seige, the refugees were able to climb out a window onto the roof and make their way to another safe house.
Why were the Ten Boom’s taken, if the refugees were not caught or found in their home? The Gestapo scoured the house and found extra ration cards and some of the Underground operation materials within their home. Corrie’s father, Casper, was 84 years old at the time and was taken to Scheveningen Prison, where he died 10 days after arriving. When he was asked why he would risk his life for the Jewish people, when he was Christian, he responded eloquently by saying, “It would be an honor to give my life for God’s ancient people”.
Corrie Ten Boom and her sister Betsie spent time in three different concentration camps over the next 10 months. The last camp, was Ravensbruck Concentration camp, right near Berlin.
I don’t know that I will ever understand why they were betrayed, or that God didn’t warn the family that was so dedicated to him and to doing good. One thing I will take away from this story is that Corrie Ten Boom was true to what she believed was right; she was the change she wished to see in the world and saved hundreds of lives from never giving up hope that things could change.
The brutality that human beings inflict upon one another is unlike anything else in the animal kingdom, this is a fact. It is the warped sense of feeling ‘our way’ is the ‘right way’, that leads to derision and war. Seeking first to understand another’s mindset, religion, culture is the first step to making the world what we want it to be.
While I truly believe this is the first step, we must fortify ourselves against the inevitable reality that there will always be humans who for whatever reason….refuse to understand or take this first step. Do not give up hope in your efforts, take the message of the Ten Boom family’s efforts to heart and realize that with dedication, heart, faith, and effort — lives are impacted and may one day be saved from the despair that seems to be ever present in this aging world.
The Ending of the Story and A Message For All:
We all have our own internal demons, people who may have harmed us that it is difficult to forgive. I have my own past that is fraught with traumatic events from people I feel never got justice for stealing my self-worth, trust in humanity, and the ability to have a relationship. I don’t know how long it will take to forgive the people that caused these unsavory characteristics. I don’t know if I will be able to have a family of my own, or if my efforts in this platform will be of use to anyone. What I do know, is that in those moments I lose hope….I feel I let my past win.
So I keep the messages from the book, The Hiding Place, close to my mind and heart. I am trying to use the example of Corrie Ten Boom and many others – to forgive, forget, and let God into my life again. As Corrie Ten Boom said once,
“There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still,” and “God will give us the love to be able to forgive our enemies”.
God bless all those who gave their lives and put themselves at risk to save the Jewish people in Europe. May those who did not survive rest in peace, and be remembered for their courage and fortitude. I hope that the world and those who fight for good, may remember the past and stand in the face of ridicule and danger, to help these things not be repeated. Make a Donation to the Corrie Ten Boom – The Hiding Place Museum, and help them continue to operate this house and spread the message of forgiveness and love to all who enter.
As Always, Happy Travels, Happy Tales, and See You on the Flip Side.
Address: Baluachraig PA31 8QG, UK The Kilmartin standing Stones are about a 45-minute drive outside of Oban. The drive takes you along a very picturesque coastline, winding through farms and into an expansive field with 6-8 foot standing stones. Within the immediate six-mile radius, you can find 350 ancient monuments. Monuments include standing stones, a henge monument, numerous cists, and a ‘linear cemetery’ comprising five burial cairns.
When you approach these massive standing stones, you will immediately notice the geometric pattern, linear in nature, and despite the distance, it is perfectly aligned. Keep this in mind as we explore some of the other ancient structures.
This Cairn was one of my favorite Cairn’s to visit in Scotland. You park about a mile away with an elevation gain of 50-100 feet. The walk is on private property, the trail is boggy and at one point you will need to walk across a wooden walkway to continue on the trail due to the amount of water.
As you make your way along the trail, you will come upon a barbed wire fence. The owners have lovingly placed a set of wooden steps on either side for people to climb over. Please do not agitate the livestock as you approach the cairn, don’t ruin it for everyone else.
The Cairn is at the top of a hill overlooking the surrounding countryside. A perfect place for the sun to hit the Cairn. It is a round chambered structure with two forecourts that face North and South. Once you enter the Cairn, it is about 10 feet long (3.3m). The cairn itself is about 7 feet in height (2.25m). The cairn was discovered and excavated in 1866, where seven sets of remains were found in the forecourt and more cremated remains were found in the main chamber.
Nearest town: Inverness Latitude: 57° 28′ 25.21″ N Longitude: -4° 04′ 27.66″ W These well preserved Bronze Age cemetery complex of passage graves; ring cairns, kerb cairns and standing stones in a beautiful setting. Clava Cairns or the Prehistoric Burial Cairns of Bulnuaran of Clava is a group of three Bronze Age cairns located near Inverness. A hugely significant and exceptionally well preserved prehistoric site, Clava Cairns is a fantastic example of the distant history of Highland Scotland, dating back about 4,000 years.
The cemetery was used in two periods. At around 2000 BC a row of large cairns was built, three of which can still be seen today. A thousand years later the cemetery was reused and new burials were placed in some of the existing cairns and three smaller monuments were built including a ‘kerb cairn’. Traces of a smaller cemetery can also be seen at Milton of Clava, a short distance up the valley to the west. The cairns at Balnuaran of Clava extended along a gravel terrace raised above the River Nairn.
Excavations have found evidence for farming on the site before any of these monuments were built. The settlement was directly replaced by the cairns and it even seems possible that some of the material used to build them had been taken from demolished houses. If you look closely you may even find the ring-and-cup marks symbolizing and unknown tripartite god or the Triple-Goddess of the Maiden-Matron-Crone.
This Goddess is a number of the Celtic myths and legends – in the Wiccan and Neopaganism she is thought of as the ‘Great Goddess’. Three signifies balance and stability. The first stage is maiden, the second stage is matron or mother, and the last stage is known as the crone. These different stages are often portrayed by the moon and the different phases of the moon as well as colors.
What is the meaning of the Cairns for that time period?
We are born into maidenhood, and when our innocence is lost, this is when we have gained our sexuality transforming us into the matron. Pomegranates (from the tales of Persephone being raped by Hades, losing her innocence and then fed Pomegranates to be trapped in the underworld with him) are symbolized by color.
First, the seeds are white, then age to red, then when dried are black. These are the colors of the three goddesses’ of the world: Maiden, Matron, and Crone. Demeter is the Mother Goddess and Matron. Persephone is the Spring Goddess and is offered gifts. Hectate is the crone, she is the one that carried the torch for the maiden as she evolved into the mature Persephone, Queen of the Dead, and also the Queen of life’s rebirth in the spring. Hectate is considered to be the guide to the souls through maidenhood to womanhood. Hectate stands at the doorways quietly awaiting the soulful cries of the innocent, to help light their way.
A winding tunnel where one had to crawl, sometimes on their stomach to reach the burial chambers represents the further journey through life and these phases. Flecks of cremated bone were found on some of the surfaces inside the tombs and was the final resting place for only a select few. The outside of the cairns showed there was evidence of quartz, a white stone that when the body was cremated would have glowed, combined with the suns reflection.
When the winter sun sets, the entrances align with the position of the setting sun. Think of the symbolism of that – white snow surrounding a charred interior of black, with the sunlight guiding the way of the deceased to the underworld. I’m sure there was some sort of red involved in the ritual to complete the maiden-matron-crone, but I didn’t find anything conclusive that would have suggested this.
I like to speculate that maybe they were buried with some sort of red fruit, or there was an animal sacrificed – but this is just Scottish History according to Janiel, which could have me skewered by the locals for even speculating such history. Scotland is full of magic, and otherworldly creatures were often believed in, so I don’t think it is too far-fetched to speculate such things. I would like to think that the symbolism means, but the significance of this is still highly debated among scholars.
Should you find yourself on the NC500 Coastline, be sure to make a few stops along the way starting in Inverness and seeing Clava Cairns, Wick and Cairn O’Get. This is an important part of the ancient history of Scotland. Take a walk around the standing stones, the Cairns and imagine and speculate what the religious meanings must have been for these ancient people.
Happy Travels, Happy Tales, and See you on the Flip Side.
Hidden in the Red Light District is the religious relic the Museum of Our Lord in the Attic. It is something you have to search out, but is well worth the visit due to the religious history it represents for not just the Netherlands but Europe as well.
Why was a Church built in the Attic?
Jan Hartman was a dedicated German and Catholic that was stripped of his rights to public worship in 1663. Calvinists prohibited the ‘non-reformed Catholics’ from worshipping in public spaces. Catholic churches were converted and could not be recognizable to anyone on the street per the local laws of that time. Let us rewind this story and figure out why a particularly popular religion throughout Europe during that time would need to hide in an attic in order to worship.
The Dutch Golden Age and the Reformation:
Catholicism ruled most of the Dutch region until the 16th century when Calvinism was introduced and spread like wildfire. This led to the Dutch Revolt, a revolt against the Roman Catholic King Phillip II of Spain who was suppressing the Hapsburg crown. This revolt produced the Dutch Republic, whose leader was the famed William of Orange (a supporter of King Phillip of Spain). Skirmishes along the French borders, imposing countries vying for lands led to a revolt resurgence in 1572, which forced William back to Delft (his ancestral home) until he was assassinated in 1584. Spain was at its limit, waging war on multiple fronts. Their wars included those against the Ottoman Empire, France, England, and its colonies in the Atlantic. New taxes were introduced into the Netherlands to help fund these wars. The militant Calvinist groups grew restless and agitated, hoping to suppress and oust the Catholic Phillip II of Spain. William of Orange was so hard pressed, he eventually converted to Calvinism himself in 1573. Northern Holland was over-run by the Calvinists and all churches were converted to Calvinism, and the members either fled or were forced to convert to Calvinism. While Holland prided itself on religious freedom and was accepting Protestants and Jewish refugees into its borders, the subversive persecution of the Catholic religion continued. As the number of Catholic priests became rare, so did the ability of the members of the Roman Catholic faith ability to worship.
Hiding their Faith
This wealthy merchant bought the 2 houses on either side of him and built a church where Catholics could worship. When you first enter the home it is a museum in and of itself. Here you will walk back in time to a home as it would have appeared 350 years ago. Complete with corridors, steep stairs, tiled kitchen, and the ornately adorned gathering room. The steps are warped, narrow and steep — this is very typical for the architecture of that time period, but may not be safe for those who have difficulty getting up and down stairs. As you make your way up the different levels, you see the bedrooms, how they kept themselves warm, and then come upon the entrance to the attic.
The entrance is hidden, and in the side wall, there is a rotating aspersorium where worshipers could bless themselves with holy water as a reminder of their baptism. Doing this helped the worshipers transition from the secular world into the world of the divine.
Preparing them to receive the sermons and teachings of their religious leader or priest. Once you enter, you must ascend a set of stairs that leads behind the organ and into the back of the chapel. On the left-hand side of the altar (if facing the altar) there is a pullout pulpit that is built into the wall. The two floors allowed for many attendants to be present for mass.
The Organ is masterfully built, with a dampener to help conceal the sound of worship. If you look out the side window, you will see the steeple of (what was then) their prior cathedral and place of worship. They devout Catholics were likely ousted, and the former cathedral converted for Calvinism uses. How difficult would it be to remain faithful to your beliefs and not give in to despair when you could see your former place of worship outside the window, while you were forced to worship in secret, at the peril of your own life.
Important Information for Tourists:
How to get there
Address: Oudezijds Voorburgwal 38. 1012 GD Amsterdam Get on the Metro tube, and stop at Central Station. From there it is a 10-minute walk to the Red Light District. Don’t try and drive here, there is virtually no parking in Amsterdam except for bikes. Map to Museum of Our Lord in the Attic
Tickets and Hours
Hours: Open Monday to Saturday 10am-5pm, and Sundays from 1pm-5pm. Ticket Prices: Adults are around 10 Euros, Kids between 5-18 years old are 5 Euros, and kids less than 5 years old are free. Purchase your tickets here.
Despite the beautiful facades, cobblestone streets that line the canals of Amsterdam, it still has a religiously troubled past that led to the prominent atheism and agnostic population today. Be sure to visit Museum of Our Lord in the Attic, and be witness to a turbulent part of the history of the Netherlands.
Just outside of Oban is a remote Island called Staffa Island. This is a protected area due to the nearby basking sharks, and the puffin sanctuary on Staffa Island. There is something else on this enchanting island….Fingals Cave. With not just folklore legends being inspired from the massive structure, but poetic and music legends as well.
The Formation of the Cave:
Rising out of the Ocean this gargantuan Oceanic cave rises 72 feet (22m) out of the water, and the depth of the cave is approximately 269 feet (82m). Geologists estimate the cave itself is 50 million years old. Staffa island itself is mad in layers, like an onion (Shrek reference :), The first layer is the tuff layer (the part underwater), the second layer is crystalline structures that make up the top of the island, and connecting the two are the black columns of black fine-grained tertiary basalt. This type of layering bodes well for the folklore surrounding the island, and what mythological characters may have built it.
Folklore Surrounding Fingal’s Cave on Staffa
There is an Irish legend sung in Celtic, ‘Uamh-Binn’ meaning the Cave of Melody. This melodious legend sings of an Irish giant Fionn mac Cumhail who longed to go to Scotland so needed to beat his rival Benandonner. As a little backstory to this legend, there is a geological formation in Ireland known as the Giant’s Causeway. The legend continues its verses of the Giant creating a bridge from Ireland to Scotland and Staffa Island and Fingal’s Cave are the two ends of the giants bridge.
With the storms, quick currents and fairyland like areas throughout both Ireland and Scotland — even the most non-creative souls leave feeling that this legend could be true. Still skeptical of this legend? What if I told you that this legend could be real based of science? The island of Staffa is made entirely of volcanic rock with very unique geological formations of basalt columns. These columns were made from slow cooling of Volcanic rock, creating their characteristic hexagonal shapes. The same type of volcanic rock and basalt columns are also found 82.8 miles (133 Km) South of Staffa Island.
Another myth dating back to 250 AD regarding an Irish general Fin MacCumhaill, also known as Fingal. A traditional Irish poet, and father of many of the stories that migrated from Ireland. The Scots wanted to preserve the memory of this fabled character and named the cave after him. In the 17th century, the cave was rediscovered by Sir Joseph Banks. He inspired others to visit in steamboats, paddleboats etc… Poets were so inspired by the cave, a poem called “Fingal, an Ancient Epic Poem in Six Books” by James Macpherson was written – basically, it was the translation of the poem from the Gaelic Irish Legend to English.
Beyond the legends and poems Pink Floyd, Queen Elizabeth, and many other notable artists have visited the cave specifically for the magnificent acoustics of it. Sadly due to erosion from visitors over the years, you can no longer enter the cave by foot.
The Puffin Sanctuary on Staffa
What they didn’t tell us before booking the tour, is that the rocks to Fingal’s Cave are VERY slick and precarious, so be sure to hang on to the ropes tightly. Make sure your footing is sound before turning quickly or putting your full weight on each step. The other situation I should warn you of is the VERY steep (think more like a ladder) metal grated staircase up to the top of Staffa island. At the top of the staircase, you want to turn right, follow the 15-20 minute trail to the edge of the island (on the opposite side of the island from where the cave is). Here you will find nests of Puffins. The tiny little Toucan and Penguin cross bred looking birds that chirp like new baby birds.
Their tiny little heads pop up from the long grass and look at you quizzically. They don’t seem to be afraid of humans, but it is best not to ruin this natural wonder and their nesting grounds. If you visit, please do not try to pick them up, trample to the side of the cliffs attempting to get photos with them. There are hundreds there, and we want to preserve the area for future generations of both humans and puffins to appreciate. The thing about these birds that surprised me the most, that left me both stunned and giggling was when they took flight.
I nearly missed the boat to the next destination because I was so entranced by these magnificently strong yet so delicate birds. I did not anticipate that these birds that so resembled penguins could fly so deftly against the Scottish Sea Winds. They would plunge off the edge of the cliff, gliding along the wind, streamlined against the gusts. They would play along the cliff face, skim the water searching for fish stirred up by the waves. So if you take a tour, make sure you allot yourself enough time to see these magnificent animals. When we had to go back to the boat, I felt a little piece of my heart was left with these adorable creatures. This place was so remote and special…..I don’t think I will ever forget how it felt to watch these birds fly, and so up close.
Tours to Fingal’s Cave on Staffa:
There are several options in order to visit this geological mysterious masterpiece.
Option 1: Commercial Boats, quick tour of the Inner Hebrides via Staffa Tours Due to time constraints, we took a tour via Staffa Tours. It is a big company, with big ships. If you are prone to sea sickness then this is the way to go. There was a storm the day that we went, the swells were so big that my roommate, Bree, go very ill on the way back. They were timely, allotted us just enough time to make it to the island, see the cave, the puffins and then we were off to Iona Abbey. Due to erosion, going inside the cave to hear the acoustics is closed. You can still walk up to the entrance, but cannot go inside.
Option 2: Spend a multi-day trip exploring the Inner and Outer Hebrides of Scotland on a SUP, Kayak, Diving, or Snorkeling with Basking Shark Scotland Tours. Even on a calm day, the swells in the cave can be quite large, there is only a small weather window in which you can safely enter the cave. There are so many unexplored islands around the area, but due to the currents being so fast – what should be a 30-minute boat ride can take up to three hours. So go and explore the islands of the Hebrides, see just how beautiful the beaches are, the untamed wilderness of Scotland is. The beaches of Scotland are cold, but nothing a full wetsuit couldn’t handle in the summertime. Next time I go to Scotland, I will be spending the majority of my time in the Hebrides and hope to do some diving and maybe even swim inside Fingal’s Cave.
Should you find yourself in nearby Oban Scotland, be sure you leave an entire day to be inspired by Fingal’s Cave on Staffa Island. Be careful when walking along the Basalt columns as they can get hazardously slick when the waves douse them in seawater. Get caught up in the folklore surrounding this Giant’s Bridge and let yourself believe in the unordinary and extraordinary. Be sure to leave yourself enough time to visit the Puffin Sanctuary on the other side of the island. Watch the clock and set a timer to give yourself enough time to get back to the boat. Lastly, enjoy the magic that is and always will be Scotland.
It was 563 AD, Irish settlers were migrating into Scotland bringing Christianity with them. St Columba arrived on Iona, looked out over the sea and deemed the spot that Iona Abbey now sits on the sacred ground. St Columba is the revered Saint of Iona Abbey (for more on his life, see the books below).
As time passed, 795 AD brought in the first wave of Viking raiders. The first raid was brutal, much of the Abbey was looted of its precious relics. Subsequent raids in 802, 806, and 825 resulted in burning of the original wooden Columban monastery, and a replacement stone abbey being built to help protect the monks. The remaining Abbey relics were hastily spirited away to Denkeld Cathedral in Perthshire and back to the Kells in Ireland for safe keeping.
Inside of Iona Abbey
In 1200 Reginald MacDonald turned Iona Abbey into a true Christian Pilgrimage. The Benedictine Monastery and an Augustinian Nunnery were built on the island. Pilgrims flocked to the Abbey by boat, making their way to the Monastery pausing at each cross that lined the road giving an offering of supplication.
The 8th Duke of Argyll swept in and commissioned the restoration in 1899, then turned it over to the Iona Cathedral Trust. Restoration of the Abbey continues today slowly returning to its former glory.
The Experience that is Iona:
What I expected from Iona Abbey was not what I experienced….. What I expected to see was a cold, dank, dark stone house with a few crosses and lots of gold embellishments. What I expected to feel, well….frankly I expected to feel bored by yet another abandoned religious establishment with some historical facts.
After the hustle and bustle of getting off the boat, I started the trek to the Abbey (a 20-minute walk up a slight incline). The tiny stone houses that dotted the road were quaint and full of local crafts and artisanal products. Giving the feeling you were in a small, yet tightly knit town. Another few minutes of walking, and you come upon the farms filled with plants sprouting produce & color on the gray and blustery day.
What I experienced was turning the corner nearly missing the 13 foot Celtic Cross. I wondered why this cross was so far away from the Abbey. There was a sign at the bottom that told of how pilgrims to the Abbey would stop at each cross and make an offering. This was to prepare the soul for worship, and I felt that in a way it helped introduce the story of this Abbey & all it has been through.
When first seeing the Abbey, it indeed was a stone church but set against the backdrop of the mainland, I couldn’t help but feel inspired that it was a refuge from the threatening storm moving into the area that day.
I paid for my ticket, inquired about the small graveyard. The graveyard itself is home to several Scottish Kings due to the belief that Iona Abbey was the closest place you could get to heaven on earth. There is said to be 48 Dalriadan (Scottish) Kings, 8 Norwegian kings, and 4 Irish Kings.
Walking through the ancient nunnery, made me feel that there was once determination, hardiness, love, and order that contributed to this being a spiritual place for many. It is always a beautiful thing to see human beings working together in harmony for the same peaceful purpose, it is not something often seen in the world today. When experiencing other cultures religions, I try to keep not only an open mind but an open heart. Doing this leads to greater understanding and insight for me personally.
Making my way to Iona Abbey I was regaled with tales of resistance against the invading Vikings. The plundering’s of the relics, the persistence of the priests, the miracles said to have been performed here. The thing that struck me to the core though, was with the images of Vikings, being brutal warriors and conquerors. Many Vikings ended up converting to Christianity and became protectors of a faith that they once attacked. It just shows how love, patience, kindness and long-suffering won them over.
How many wars have been fought both in the name of religion and in the name of power? So often we try and force our beliefs upon another, or take their beliefs away because we feel we are ‘right’. Ultimately when approached this way, everyone loses. Yet, when approached with love, longsuffering, kindness, open-mindedness, and suppressing our own internal boundaries….it creates change that is far greater than the change that would have occurred if it was forced.
The conversion of the Vikings’ to Christianity, knowing this Abbey was the key that allowed Christianity to come into Scotland gave me a sense of spirituality as well as inspiration to be a better example and human being. I am Christian, learning of the Abbey in the face of such dangers, I hope inspires all of us to be better at being an example and being that change we wish to see in the world.
Should you find yourself near Fort William, Glasgow, the NC500 or just want a holiday. Head to the west coast of Scotland, stay in Oban for a few days, then head to the Isle of Mull and Iona Abbey. You are sure to come away from this place feeling inspired by the enduring spirit of the early Christians in this area that helped to create change for the good.
Happy Travels, Happy Tales, and See You on the Flip Side…