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Greetings from Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis, Scotland! Lewis and its connected island, Harris, make up the main isles of the Outer Hebrides. During the past week we have traveled by car and ferry to visit here, after stopping in Orkney. We also traveled on the mainland for a couple of days for more scenery and to check out the tiny settlement where Robin's grandmother grew up (Modsary). That part of northern Scotland is sparsely settled and a great place to "get away from it all."

We have yet to see much of the sun on our road trip; I guess it's time to accept that it rains nearly every day in Scotland. I just hope I am someplace scenic on the next nice day, so I can get a few photos in the sunshine! Meanwhile, here are some of the sights we've enjoyed on these beautiful islands....

Continuing our quest to view ancient stone circles and ruins from civilizations 5,000 years ago, we visited several of these monuments on Orkney and Lewis. But beware of cruise ships and tour buses! We enjoyed the gorgeous Ring of Brodgar on Orkney in the company of a hundred other visitors (though still able to get a good photo in the nick of time!). It reminded us of our determination to wake up early and enjoy these places before the crowds arrived. Indeed, we had the Calanais Standing Stones on Lewis all to ourselves at 7 AM on a drizzly Sunday morning. Here you can walk up and touch the monoliths, which were somehow transported and erected by Stone Age people, without much in the way of tools, all those centuries ago.

A few other scenes from our travels:

Today will be our fifth and final night on the Isle of Lewis. We've had a restful time here in another very nice house rented through AirBnB. We're past the midway point of our trip now and our remaining stops will be busy ones, so it's been nice to enjoy the quiet town of Stornoway, dodge the rain for some interesting walks, and sample the island's eateries. We went on a walk known for golden eagle sightings; no luck with that, but we really enjoyed the hike up to the Harris Eagle Observatory in its dramatic valley.

And yes that supermarket photo represents us taking advantage of the nice kitchen, and making some meals at our rental home. We also enjoyed sampling the island food and drink establishments this past week. The soup photo below is "cullen skink," a famous and tasty Scottish fish chowder.

Don't you love that they gave us little scissors for the ketchup packets in the fish dinner photo?

Tomorrow we depart on our penultimate ferry trip for the Isle of Skye. I'm excited to return, although we've been warned to expect hordes of tourists now that it's (purportedly) summer. (Sorry for all you folks back home suffering from the heat wave! I'm sure you're tired of me complaining about the cold and rain.) You can get to Skye by bridge from the mainland, so we will no longer be in the most remote parts of Scotland. Nonetheless we look forward to revisiting some of our favorite places there.

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Drawn to the compelling scenery by the great TV detective show, we had to include Shetland in our June road trip. The "road" to Shetland from Aberdeen, Scotland involves a 12.5 hour ferry ride, which these days is quite comfortable. We were able to book a pet-friendly sleeping cabin, and along with our dogs, we weathered the overnight journey pretty well despite some rolling seas. The ferry reminded me of a mini cruise ship with its movie theatre, restaurant, and bar.

We tried to pack as lightly as we could for this car trip. (But add in two dog carriers and beds, a month's supply of dog food, hiking boots/poles/backpacks, a cooler, plus a couple of suitcases, and our car is pretty full!) Nevertheless in Shetland we were really regretting the absence of winter coats, hats, and gloves. It may be June, and Shetland does average 10 degrees warmer than places at the same northerly latitude, but it sure is windy and the week of our visit was unseasonably cold, with rain on-and-off every day. I felt so badly for all the livestock who live outdoors year-round - no barns for the sheep, cattle, and ponies. The island doesn't have any trees either, so there is never any shelter. The lambs especially looked miserable to me this week, but they still seem to thrive. I was thrilled by the sweet little lamb who wanted to make friends with me as we crossed her pasture on the trail to a viewpoint.

Shetland has a kind of stark beauty. It is empty moorland, rolling hills, watery inlets and lots of ocean. The capital is Lerwick ("LAIR-ick") but even that is a pretty small town. Other little settlements dot the island. We rode with another couple and a guide to the northern isles, taking two short ferry rides to arrive on Yell and Unst. We had an isolated wildlife reserve all to ourselves. Robin has been thrilled to see the variety of birds who inhabit these remote places.

On Sunday Robin drove us to Sumburgh, the southern tip of the main island and another bird preserve. Here we were lucky enough to see puffins up close - first time seeing one for me! They are not afraid of humans, and I was ecstatic to spend some time with them. (And yes Mom I know there are puffins in Maine, but they are not an everyday sight!)

A few final observations about Shetland this June: 1.) It never gets dark! The sun goes down for a few hours, but there is always some light in the sky. 2.) Along with fishing and tourism, North Sea oil has brought prosperity to the island. I visited a huge state-of-the-art fitness complex with an Olympic size pool, squash courts, and all-modern exercise equipment. It was one of an island-wide chain subsidized by oil company grants. 3.) Knowing the islands have been inhabited for thousands of years makes it all the more interesting. We visited the ruins at Jarlshof, one of many pre-historic sites which preserve a glimpse into the earliest settlers. 4.) We enjoyed two amazing dinners at a French restaurant in Lerwick called C'est la Vie. The owners moved to Shetland from France, I'm not sure why, but they cook beautifully! We also enjoyed a visit to the 24-hour "Cake Fridge," where on the honor system you can leave payment and help yourself to island-made goodies.

Shetland: you were windswept and cold; but there was much to love about you.

Next: The islands of Orkney, Harris and Lewis.

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Kim and Gin on the trail

Dearest Readers,

This month I will try to take you along on our 31-day road trip to northern England and Scotland. We largely have our dogs to thank for this plan. After our Finland and Rome vacations last fall and winter, one of our dog-sitters decided she didn't like Chihuahuas, and the other took a different job. It seems we are stuck with these dogs and can't leave them behind.

But, Scotland is a dog-friendly country, and the pups are welcome on ferries, trails, lodgings, and in many pubs. We love the beautiful scenery, the friendliness of the Scots, and their excellent cooking! So we made a plan to indulge our love of "the highlands and islands" by driving with dogs. They have become well-seasoned travelers by now!

But before we crossed over the border, we made a stop in England's Lake District. Nestled in the mountains, we were blessed with three days of beautiful weather, which I'm told is unusual and that clouds and rain are the norm. But WOW, the scenic beauty was beyond what I imagined! The poet William Wordsworth lived in the Lake District (Grasmere) and it is easy to see how he got his inspiration. His 1804 poem "Daffodils" beginning "I wandered lonely as a cloud" is his famous ode to the area.

As Robin explained, the Lake District is really more about the hills and mountains, although the lakes are all the more pretty for their rarity in England. I loved their names: Grasmere, Windermere, Buttermere, Derwentwater, as a few examples. I look forward to a longer visit in the future.

From Keswick we are currently making our way north towards Scotland's most northerly and remote island chain, Shetland. We've stopped over for a couple of nights in Stirling, which has a few interesting attractions of its own. One is a cool engineering marvel, a kind of ferris wheel for canal boats trying to travel between a higher-up canal and a lower one, without a cumbersome series of locks. It's called the Falkirk Wheel and was nicely set up for visitors. Another draw in Stirling is the "Kelpies," two very large horse sculptures built in 2013. I felt especially sympathetic for the poor horses brutally wounded and killed in the medieval battles we've been learning about. We visited the Battle of Bannockburn site (from a 1314 battle in which Scotland successfully defended its independence from England). The visitor center was great with its multimedia history lesson, but oh the carnage!

On Wednesday at 6:30 PM we will board a ferry in Aberdeen, and travel overnight, arriving in Lerwick, Shetland at 7:30 AM Thursday. We have a dog-friendly sleeping cabin and are hoping for calm seas.

I have to confess, we got hooked on the TV detective series "Shetland" a few years ago and were impressed by the amazing scenery in the show. We had to include a visit to the island, remote as it is, in our plans. If you're not yet a fan of the show I highly recommend it! I will try to post some representative photos when we get there.

Until then, I'm wishing you calm seas and clear weather as well.

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