Monthly Archives: June 2015

Cruising Norway: Mainland via outer islands to Lofoten Islands (Alesund to Reine)

to Lovund

Tuesday, June 23

Leaving Alesund the sky became gray and misty but still absolutely camera-worthy.

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Facing light northerlies (which meant they’d be right on our nose), we passed fishing boats, Coast Guard patrol, ferries, and cruise ships who were also sailing through the inside passage heading north.

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As promised, we saw evidence of Midsummer night’s bonfires, and that midnight sun converted overnights to over-day passages.

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The next day was also a day of blue glass with just teasing ripples ruffling the surface, so, more motoring…

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while JUANONA quickly took on her passage look.

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There are a lot of rainbows around here, and we passed one on this passage.

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The island of Lovund appeared out of the mist or mizzle as the Brits say.

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We anchored in their outer harbor and prepped for dinghying ashore with Chris modeling our compliance with Norway’s boating safety.

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Rowing to the community dock (for some reason Max likes to keep our electric motor unused) we scouted out showers, groceries, wifi, the puffins’ cliff (which we didn’t visit because of time and we’d seen them in the Farne Islands… remember the head wounds? :), and laundry. The showers and laundry were available via the honor payment system so we paid for and enjoyed three hot showers and decided to do laundry the next day.

That night we pulled out our first Oh Hell game of our 2015 cruise, and I promptly lost both games. Nothing unusual for me.

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Friday morning we again rowed ashore. I say ‘we’ but it’s really Max and Chris doing all the work while I stand like a big bow sprit. Laundry was unloaded and, after fiddling with the washing machine knobs all in Norwegian, we finally got the water to run into the machine and hopefully mix with the soap.

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Taking turns, we each visited the lovely hotel where the staff said absolutely no problem using their wifi. Max and I stopped at the grocery store, which seemed really substantial for such a small village, where he purchased a sandwich and immediately attracted an unwelcome following.

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to Sanna

Friday, June 26

With winds favorable we decided to leave for another group of islands, the Traena Archipelago.  Only ten or so miles from Lovund was Sanna, an island that Chris said hosted a music festival in early July. Unfortunately, we wouldn’t be able to attend it, but we could anchor in a stunning cove then hike a bit around the island.

It was the typical warm-weather sailing here in Norway,

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which means we always look forward to reaching our next anchorage and heat below.

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In addition to the music festival, this island had some hikes, which took us up our cove (Lovund Island is center-left in the background),

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through spongy paths (honestly, it felt like walking on a pillow with all the moss and vegetation covering the stones)

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where ebony slugs greased the paths (Chris provided the perspective here).

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We wanted to see two special features of this island: Kirkhellaen, the church cave, which served as the music festival’s natural amphitheater and the tunnel that runs through one of the peaks.

The cave was our first stop and it was HUGE.

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A sign provided some history beginning with bone and stone age residents.

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And, the sound was magnificent, so, of course, we had to test it out…

as well as take some background shots that conveyed our privilege of experiencing this landscape.

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From there we continued around to the north side of the island and the hike up to the ridge where the tunnel was. I started it but my fear of heights quickly took over, and I watched as Max and Chris finished the climb…

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And, later I saw the photo ops from the top, such as our anchorage…

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the little fishing town of Sanna…

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the fish farms located on the next island over…

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and the spectacular view looking back east from whence we came.

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Chris did walk through the tunnel, which was totally black. Max ventured in about 25 feet, then backtracked to meet up with me at the bottom.

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Speaking with some Norwegians heading up the same trail, I discovered I could have reached the top by taking the tunnel from the other side. Goes to show how much trail maps would help :)

But, it was so nice just sitting on a rock and not doing anything but soaking up the views and sounds. At one point I saw a sea eagle soaring to altitude. This island was known for these majestic birds. The first and last time I had seen them was at the International Center of Birds of Prey in England (they’re the ones Max tried to mimic), so to see one in its natural habitat was awe-full.

Dinghying (i.e., rowing) back to JUANONA we took the obligatory beauty shots of boat in scenic cove, then prepped for our 20-hour passage to Reine in the Lofottens.

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to Reine

Saturday, June 27

As we exited our previous night’s anchorage we wanted to test our fishing acumen. Friends, including Kjetil, informed us that it was dead easy, almost with fish jumping into your boat. So, in Amble we had purchased a fishing line complete with wormy hooks and a weight. All we had to do was float over a rise in the seabed and toss out our line.

Chris did the honors and within 30 seconds caught a fish.

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All of us were a bit stunned, but when he plopped the lin back in again, bam! And, pulled up…

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four more!

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The first and last time we actually caught fish aboard JUANONA was on our 2003 passage to the Caribbean from the Canaries. Thanks to our crew member, Steve Keener, we savored fresh MahiMahi several times and, boy, was that delicious. We were definitely anticipating another tasty dinner.

But, we weren’t the only ones looking forward to some fresh fish. As soon as Chris began filleting them,

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we had uninvited company starting with one…

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growing to a small crowd…

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then a patient armada,

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and ending with at least 50, the lucky ones grabbing the discarded heads and tails as Chris tossed them overboard.

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The Lofotens represent the most northern cruising Max and I would do aboard JUANONA this summer. Max, who had sailed to Labrador aboard Fin Perry’s boat in 2013, alerted us to our crossing the Arctic Circle on this passage, so we kept a lookout on the GPS as we neared and then passed over that navigation point.

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Knowing we were going to do so, Max and I had bought some typical Norwegian ‘oilies’ when we were on the Hurtigruten a week ago as keepsakes of this special occasion.

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Then Max announced he had some special mementos in honor of King Neptune to document Chris’ and my Arctic Circle crossing,

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and he proceeded to dude us up with gloves and ear muffs to keep us warm, and a lei to fondly remember the warm climes we had voluntarily left far behind.

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As the hours flowed into the bright night, we licked our lips over moistly baked fish (we don’t know what kind except they were great tasting) compliments of Chef Chris.

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Sunday, June 28

After another easy passage, and a short one, we passed islands with their changing light

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and motored-sailed into our first stop in the Lofotens,

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Reine. Another adventure in the offing :)

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Spectacular Alesund

I knew the scenery was going to be spectacular in Norway but the people we’ve met are even more so, beginning Friday morning after our 10:00 p.m. arrival Thursday night at the town quay.

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With a knock on our hull Frank Cormer, Alesund’s OCC Port Captain and member of Alesund Yacht Club, warmly welcomed us to his home town. He provided some excellent information such as how to correctly pronounce where we landed (say Alesund with “A” as an “O”). He then described the lay of the land, which is always a gift when arriving by boat.

He also gave us an important tip regarding flags. Norwegians are extremely proud of their flag. Residents lower the Norwegian flag at 9:00 p.m. every night. This also applies to our USA flag when flying off the stern (our courtesy flag, the flag of whatever country we’re in and which is hoisted mid-ship, isn’t affected, only your country’s flag). Good to know as we’re sensitive to ensuring we abide by a country’s code.

Lastly,  he connected us with Kjetil Poppe, a co-member of Alesund Yacht Club. Kjetil (who also graciously gave us a pronunciation lesson on with how to say his name:  it’s like ‘kettle’ but replace the ‘k’ with ’sch’) not only came by to welcome us but also offered to take us to  the club the next night for the Summer Solstice celebration. It was a BYO-BBQ with a view of what is said to be the largest bonfire in the world:  a pyre of pallets carefully built by hand then set afire. And, when he heard we had a small electric outboard with limited range, he offered to tow us to the club (it’s on their own small island) so we’d have enough juice to return. He laughed when we asked about any issue returning at night. He gently reminded us it’s not going to get truly dark. Oh, right, we’re in Norway! :)

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While on the boat Friday early evening a replica of a Viking merchant ship pulled up behind us. Offering to help with the lines, Max started a conversation with the helmsman, Per. In discovering he had been involved with a BBC documentary on sailing to the Arctic, Max said we knew someone who was on the boat, Dean Plager. Lo and behold, Per knew him well. We took a photo and sent it to Dean saying Per says hi.

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Saturday morning we finished doing typical cruising errands (laundry, groceries, showers, filling water tanks, and tourist information, including booking a day trip to the UNESCO-listed Geiranger fjord on MS LOFOTEN, one of the famous Hurtigrutens) and proceeded to climb the 418 steps to a hotel overlooking the city and harbor. Chris had scoped it out before and agreed with others who had mentioned it was worth every step.

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Saying hi to everyone we passed (my mother said I would talk to a fence post), a fellow climber said ‘are you from the states?’. Well, that began a conversation, which led to our meeting Steve, a fellow traveller hailing from Arizona. He was exploring Scandinavia for the summer while staying in hostels. After inviting him to drop by JUANONA we continued heading to the top where the view, indeed, was lovely. Of course, having warm, sunny weather helped.

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JUANONA is on a pontoon close to the mast you see poking up in the bottom left-hand side.

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And, you can spot the towering pyre in the photo below, and beyond that peninsula is the island of the Alesund Yacht Club .

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Returning to JUANONA later that afternoon we saw a note from Steve who said he’d come by later, which he did; and, we realized, like with Kjetil, we were fortunate to have him aboard. During the conversation we discovered Steve had journeyed to numerous places beginning in his early twenties, He’d even written a book recounting one of his earlier adventures, ALONE IN AFRICA, with a whimsical subtitle:  A WIFE-HUNTING SAFARI. The latter speaks to his deciding to look for Mrs. Right versus waiting for her to find him.

Steve continues to travel on a shoestring yet is extravagant with his generosity, which we discovered the times we were with him.

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Soon it was time for our Summer Solstice evening with Kjetil. And, what a wonderful night that was! He towed us over and introduced us to fellow club members grilling summer fare while looking out at a spectacular vista.

I should mention that Norway takes their boating seriously, and that includes safety measures. We had noticed everyone wearing life vests so we asked Kjetil if it was required. He said yes, and then proceeded to let us borrow one he had just received in appreciation for running the regatta that day. Another example of his generosity. With our life vests on and our dinghy happily trailing behind us, we set off for this gem of a clubhouse.

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In the clubhouse Max noticed all of the burgees hanging up and asked if they’d like one of OBYC’s. They said better yet, they’d give us one of theirs in exchange, and Kjetil said he’d bring their burgee to JUANONA the next evening on his way home.

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During the grilling we noticed sheep, and Kjetil explained they served as lawn mowers for the island. My type of mowing.

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After dinner the four of us hopped into Kjetil’s boat along with our towed dinghy, which, at this point, was like taking a dog for a walk since Kjetil kindly took us not only to the club, but also back to JUANONA.

We floated amidst the growing number of boats filled with folk like us enjoying the evening sun in anticipation of a big fireball. The three of us felt pretty special sharing the longest day of the year in such an unforgettable situation. I mean, to be in Norway, the land of the midnight sun, watching a huge bonfire with a fellow sailor, well, it was spectacular.

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For our friend John Arndt’s Summer Sailstice we posed with the 2014 flag, last raised in Faja Grande, Azores, with Ricardo (Dick Stevens).

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Not only were there lots of boaters but also a drone capturing the midnight burn.

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It still wasn’t dark when we returned close to midnight.

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Sunday we had asked Steve and Kjetil for dinner; Kjetil couldn’t join us for dinner but would stop by for drinks and then dinner Monday night. Steve could come Sunday but not Monday. Our social plans were set, and we were thankful we’d be able to have more time with these new-found friends.

But, first it was the Hurtigruten trip up the fjord and back. This ferry service originated in 1893 thanks to Richard With, the one man (the only one) who accepted the government’s offer to establish a regular coastal route. Hurtigruten translates to ‘fast window’ or ‘fast route’, and With proved it was possible with his inaugural journey of 67 hours from Trondheim to Hammerfest, arriving 20 minutes ahead of schedule. Since then, other boats joined under the Hurtigruten banner, becoming the fastest and most reliable transportation to Norway’s most remote parts regardless of the weather.

Since we had decided to head to Norway numerous people had told us of these marvelous ferries (ones I called hurly-gurlies since the correct pronunciation was beyond me); and, we were looking forward to relaxing with someone else at the helm.

We walked to the ferry terminal and then watched as first the bow, then the stern was pulled in for an exchange of passengers. It did look like it listed a bit to starboard, which Max said must be all the folk standing on that side. And, when it docked there was a crowd along the railing. Must admit the debarking and lading of passengers didn’t look too efficient as people crowded to the front but it worked; and, soon we were on our way on a beautiful summer day.

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As we were checking in at reception below deck, we were standing next to a couple whom we discovered were from Seattle. Yes, once again I couldn’t keep quiet (I could feel Max mentally roll his eyes) and did the ‘do you know?’ questions (we know several folk living there now, K and John Robinson and Don Kohlmann). When I mentioned K, she looked a bit stunned. They had been in a painting class together and the woman shared a studio with a good friend of K’s. One more example of six degrees of separation.

Once on deck, the ferry steadily plied the waters as we passed striking green hillsides staggering up to sharp snow-covered pinnacles.

Other ferries, fast ones and otherwise, traversed from one side to the other, connecting small towns along the fjord.

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We spotted small farms on slanted land and wondered if, at times, the inhabitants just craved a piece of flatness.

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The captain would announce key interest points, two being small towns nestled in coves. Interestingly, one manufactures furniture, such as the stressless chair, which is shipped worldwide, and the other was responsible for most of the pizza consumed in Norway.

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Picture snapping was constant…

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of tumbling waterfalls…

mountain profiles…

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cottages, both traditional and modern…

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one another…

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the colorful mishmash of passengers…

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of rock graffiti…

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of the end of the fjord…

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and, of Max’s viking underwear, which he purchased at 50% off. Almost, but not quite, a rival to the Ellen underwear we received last Christmas.

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But, his best find was an unlimited mug of coffee for $5. He said if we bought a cup, there were free refills as long as we were on the boat (since this was a boat with cabins for 180, some passengers had booked for the week’s voyage versus our day tripping). I said, sure, I’d love a cup, so off he goes only to return saying it was actually $50. Our financial guru casually had forgotten a crucial zero. Fortunately, the kind woman at the register backed out that transaction.

Lunch was our usual picnic, along with a $5 cup of shared coffee. Traci and Smokey might recognize the bag :)

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It was four hours up and four hours back, with the last bit being buzzed by jet skiers. This form of water recreation had only just been allowed, and three skiers zipped and zoomed by us as they jumped the waves. Every now and then you’d see one check out if any passengers were watching him.

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On the way back to JUANONA we stopped off at one of the hostels to confirm Steve’s arrival for dinner and then headed home. We also found a troll.

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Kjetil stopped by and we documented the exchange of burgees (the AS one is proudly hanging aboard JUANONA until we can place it at OBYC).

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Steve arrived and conversation flowed.

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Kjetil took his leave promising to return for dinner Monday night. A delicious salmon dinner prepared by Chris fed our appetites and the discussion ranging from the benefits of travels to the challenges facing teachers. With the sky still bright, dinner ended and we said our good-byes to Steve asking him to please keep in touch. Like Kjetil he truly felt like a gift.

Another lovely day dawned on Monday. Frank, our kind greeter, came by to see if he could help us with anything, and that included an offer to drive me to their marina to do laundry. Always appreciated! We were okay at this point, although laundry is the bane of my existence when living aboard. There is a public WC which featured a washer, dryer and showers, but the facility was always iffy:  either the washer wasn’t working or, the more recent event, the door to enter (costs over $1 just to get into the facility) was out of order. Can’t say I’m impressed. However, the Tourist Information managed to get the washer fixed within 24 hours when I told them it was broken the first time. That was impressive!

Our itineraries were comprised of a day of just wandering and checking out a museum or two in this lovely town. A major fire January 23 reduced 85% of the dwellings to embers. Unbelievably only one person died but most of the residents were left homeless. Within three years, thanks to their fellow Norwegians, international aid, and Germany’ Kaiser Wilhelm II (he use to vacation here), it was rebuilt in the style of art nouveau.

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Kjetil arrived with an excellent bottle of Italian wine, and we learned even more how well-versed this lovely Norwegian is on a broad range of topics. He also provided another Norwegian pronunciation lesson on Hurtigruten.

Another promise was exacted to make sure he stayed in touch for we didn’t want to lose contact with this new-found friend.

On Tuesday we hauled the dinghy aboard, filled the water tanks, and went in search of showers, locating some at the caravan parking lot. By 2:00 p.m. we departed Alesund hoping we will make a return stop when heading back to the UK in August.

We had expected to find spectacular scenery, and we did; yet, it was the gifts of friendship that truly were the most spectacular at Alesund. A definite Ja! for that.

Ja!

Norway Passage

Tuesday, June 16, to Thursday, June 18

Because north winds were forecast for the following week, we decided to skip the Shetland islands (our planned next port of call) and head straight to Norway, our ultimate destination for this summer. The winds would be good for for the next two days (direction and speed) then lighten up on Thursday but still favorable direction (west).

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So, early Tuesday morning we left Peterhead at 4 a.m. with our course set for Alesund, Norway. It’s not as far north as we wanted but at this point we’d be happy just to be anywhere along the coast of Norway.

And, I can’t leave this port town without, once again, commenting how exceptionally gracious and warm these folk are. From the town librarians who helped us with our wifi to the guy who saw us with our load of groceries and insisted on driving us back to the marina to Charlie the car rental man who shared some good road trips with us to Billy at the marina who made us feel at home just from his huge smile and Scottish Burr. These harbor towns are amazing in their hospitality.

The weather was beautiful Tuesday as we made excellent time, reaching seven knots with the wind directly perpendicular to our sails.

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And, I made sure I had my crackers just in case I got a bit of queasiness.

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Throughout the day Max doublechecked weather and course while we settled into our watch routines.

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Believe it or not, there is a body (Chris) hidden in that bedding. We have similar snaps of our crew Ricardo (to Flores, Azores) and Steve (to Falmouth, England) from our crossing last summer :)

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The few obstacles we had to avoid were the oil and gas rigs sticking out of the ocean waters. Like the wind turbines we saw off the coast of the UK, these large, metal, man-made structures just seemed odd to be poking up out of something so natural and fundamental as the sea.

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Because we’re so far north, night watches were almost twilighty, which always makes it easier for me to keep my eyes open.

Wednesday, our second passage day, dawned cool and gray; and, for those who want to know what it’s like, it’s like a whole lot of nothing at times.

But, then it’s pretty spectacular to be out there surrounded by the North Sea with two other people and your boat watching the steely waters. A few gulls come sweeping by eyeing you while continuing their soaring highs and lows. You’re part of a vastness that goes on and on and on.

And, it’s pretty wonderful to go below where the heater’s on.

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Once again we were thankful for our AIS as we were hailed by a ship towing seismic cables. He told us we needed to keep a minimum of two miles (from his bow and sides) and five miles (from his stern) to ensure we wouldn’t be in his way. Happy to comply, we tracked him and his accompanying ship via the AIS.

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On Thursday we were hoping to make Alesund by 9 p.m., and, we motored for most of the day as the wind slowly died.

We were excited to see our first glimpse of Norway in the early evening, and we were all thinking of hot showers (if you notice, we have the same clothes on Thursday night that we left in Tuesday morning), celebratory drinks, and a full night of sleep.

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Then, the engine starting acting up–no cooling water coming out of the exhaust. So we quickly killed the motor and unfurled the jib while Max began problem-solving. After an hour, he found the culprit:  the impeller wasn’t spinning. With a quick repair (thankfully, JUANONA has tons of spare parts), we were able to head to the harbor.

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Max raised the Norwegian courtesy flag and our OCC burgee as the three of us just gazed in awe at the coast appearing out of the clouds.

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We docked with no problem in this very protected harbor,

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then pulled out the bubbly compliments of Anne and Peter in Ipswich and used flags that Max’s sister Krissy had given us a year ago to decorate our cocktails.

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It was a perfect ending to a good passage.

And, with a visit from Frank Cormer, Ocean Cruising Club’s Alesund Port Captain, our first morning here, we feel really welcomed and oh so glad to be able to cruise in this lovely land.

Tomorrow night we’ll be celebrating Summer Sailstice (www.summersailstice.com) by watching a huge burning bonfire with a whole bunch of Norwegians.

At least that’s the plan :)

Ja!

Northward bound: When flapping wings mean RUN!

If you ever have the chance to visit the Farne Islands, do so.

We were planning an overnight to Peterhead with a sail-by of these islands. Yet, an updated weather forecast showing settled winds – good for anchoring in its semi-open roadstead, with better winds for sailing forecast for the following night – altered our plans  so we decided to anchor at these islands where the National Trust monitors a bird sanctuary.

Our approach from the south put us right in front of the cliffs where a bunch of birds nested.

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We ended up anchoring (our first of the year) in the small harbor where one other sailboat shared this small bay along with several excursion boats moored while more arriving.

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Not being totally prepared for the visit, the three of us launched the dinghy but without the electric motor.

Noticing the brisk wind and current, we decided to test our ability (well, Chris and Max’s anyhow :) ) to paddle ashore. Notice the dinghy’s still tethered to the boat during this practice row.

It appeared it was doable, so we untied the painter and headed for the dock only to be told there was a fee to land. So, back out Chris and Max rowed to retrieve money to pay for entrance tickets,

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returning as more day trippers arrived while others were leaving.

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As we were walking up, the long line of visitors who came by excursion boats mentioned we better have hats. Hats? Well, Max and Chris had ball caps, and I ended up wrapping my head in a fleece pullover then jamming the visor back on. Functional but definitely not attractive. Must say I couldn’t blame those kids I saw pointing their eyes at me then giggling.

But, boy, we were all very glad we had covered our heads.

The attack of the terns began as soon as we got close to their nests dotting the ground.

These birdies look so calm and dignified when still,

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but we quickly discovered their appearances were deceiving.

We had just entered a scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s film The Birds. These birds were pecking the heck out of people. My sister Betsy wouldn’t have gotten out of the dinghy as she’s not a huge fan of swooping feathered animals to begin with, and she definitely wouldn’t have liked the scene we walked into.

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Max’s blue color seemed to draw the most attention, and the poor guy probably didn’t unhunch his shoulders until he got back in the dinghy.

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At one point he tried to commune with one of these tiny guys…

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only to be dive-bombed soon after…

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repeatedly.

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Whatever he said to the wee fella didn’t work, and both Chris and I knew to keep our distance. Yet, we couldn’t resist the opportunity to film these shrieking banshees.

Furthermore, everyone began to get some white streaks somewhere on their person.

Of course, the sign at the top of the walk should have been our first clue.

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At the cliffside nests we ran into a group of school kids, two of them looking a bit stunned by it all.

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Must say none of us could stop laughing. And, for those who know my sense of humor, such as my brother, know I definitely couldn’t stop laughing.

Next to the paths we saw painted rocks with numbers, which indicated the terns’ eggs.

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If our friend Jayne had been here, we would have gotten the best tour ever. I kept thinking of how much we’d learn.

But, we did meet a wonderful young monitor with whom I posed, head gear and all.

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I had no idea puffins burrowed into the grounds for nesting. We also heard about a puffin party. The event occurrs at night when all the fledglings shuffle out of their nests en masse after three to four weeks nesting, head to the sea, and jump in to begin their pelagic lives. Pretty cool if you could witness this annual event. I guess that would make it worth being splatted in white and head-jabbed.

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We asked the monitor why the blackheaded gulls were attacking the puffins.

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She said the gulls weren’t trying to harm the puffins and their chicks. The gulls were after the food the puffins were catching.

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Which is why we glimpsed some of these clowny-looking birds huddled in their holes with beaks full of silvery, dangly fish.

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We continued our walk around the island heading back to the quay area.

I loved the colors of the black-and-white birds against the blue sea. They looked like penguins at one point.

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We visited the chapel where we saw a memorial to Grace Darling, the Longstone Light Keeper’s 23-year-old daughter. She helped save some passengers aboard ss Forfarshire, a floundering steamship in 1838 when she and her father rowed to the sinking ship. They managed to save nine of those aboard. A memorial to her with an inscription by the poet Williams Wadsworth stands in the church.

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Farne Islands are also where Cuthbert, that monk/biship/eventual saint lived as a hermit for awhile.

But, the birds were truly the best attraction.

We were able to get some pictures of baby terns huddled by their moms once we braved exiting the church…

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And, again, Max became the main attraction.

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Chris did get a sitter on his hat, which led to the idea of selling hats with stuffed birds on them along with a t’shirt stating “this head is already taken.”

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The island was open 1:30 to 5:30, and we ended up being the last ones there.

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On our way down to the dock we met up with the lovely young woman who greeted us when we first landed. Like those working at the English Heritage Centers, the National Trust people were welcoming, informative, and just great to be around. We were wishing we could host them all on JUANONA but realized it’d be a tight fit if all 12 came aboard.

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Back on the boat we proceeded to remove our protective gear only to discover some of us weren’t as protected as they had thought.

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With that, we got ready for dinner and an early start the next morning for our overnight to Peterhead.

And, as tempting as the evening sun was, none of us ventured out of the cockpit that night…

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which my sister would definitely have understood why :)

Northward bound: Scotland road trip

Lands High and Low

Tuesday, June 2, to Saturday, June 5

Since we had another week before Chris arrived, we decided to keep the car and cross the border via roads versus waterways.

The weather was what we now define as typical UK:  clouds, showers, sun, cloud, showers, sun… repeat. But, it certainly didn’t dampen our enthusiasm for heading north. The last time I had visited this country was in 2000, and I wanted to expose Max to the inviting warmth of the Scots living in this giant landscape.

We decided to go without reservations thinking it was still too early to worry about not finding a room, especially since the kids’ school half-term had just finished the previous weekend.

Armed with Rick Steves’ Scotland tour guide we left in the morning and began our drive up, skirting Edinburgh heading towards Inverness. To reach that area we drove through Pitlochry where we stopped to spot any salmon running. Too early for them.

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We then entered the dramatic scenery of Scotland’s lowlands into the highlands and the snow-patched, Cairngorm mountains, the highest landmass in Britain. Most of the time it felt like it was just us and the ubiquitous sheep.

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Max saw some deer grazing along the vertical hillsides, and we later discovered it was the one reindeer herd in Scotland.

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Just following the road we ended up passing Balmoral, where we stopped, took some pics of the entrance (and the tour bus to see the grounds)

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and of the church where the royal family worships when in town (August-October or so). The previous church, Crathie Kirk, was where Queen Victoria worshiped for 45 years. Then her daughters, Princesses Louise and Beatrice, organized a two-day bazaar at Balmoral, raising some money to help build a new church, which opened in 1895. Queen Victoria’s beloved John Brown is buried across the road from the church. The royal family continues to worship at the church when at Balmoral with the south transept and porch are reserved for them.

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Soon it was time to check for places to stay and we discovered that it really would have been a good idea to book ahead; yet, we knew we could get rooms within our budget as long as kept asking.

Sure enough on our third time of asking if any rooms, we landed in Dulnain Bridge where we were lucky enough to meet Elle and Malcolm Cooke, owners of Auld Manse. They had just opened their B&B the year before, which meant everything was pristine. Not that it wouldn’t be even after ten years judging by the standards they set.

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I noticed some felt artwork and asked Elle about them. One in particular captured the sensation of being amidst these hills living in a croft (one of the country stone cottages).  Like me some friends Carol W., Kathy W. and Katie P. would appreciate these pieces of art.

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The next morning Malcolm suggested we head for Skye and to make a reservation ahead, which we did.

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After a hearty Scottish breakfast (eggs, bacon, sausage, potato scone, toast, beans, blood sausage, haggis (we opted out of some of the items and I bet you can guess which ones), we took off for the one destination we had agreed on ahead of time:  Culloden Battlefield outside of Inverness. But, we had to take a picture of the squirrel feeders (!) first.

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The non-indiginous gray squirrels have taken over the British red squirrels habitat, so now many people are actually feeding these rodents. The Cookes laughed when we explained to them we trap our red ones in have-a-heart box and release them off island. In short, we do everyting we can to NOT feed them.

The visitors’ center for this 1746 battle was just opened in 2013, and it was one of the more impressive centers for a single battlefield I had been on. The Park-and-Pay sign was in Gaelic as well as English. Similar to Wales, Scotland is ensuring its native tongue doesn’t fade away, so almost all signage we saw is uses both languages.

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Culloden is where Bonnie Prince Charlie (1720-1788), a direct descendent of Mary Queen of Scots, lost his fight to retake the British throne. As one of the Catholic Stuarts, he had been born in Rome, the grandson of King James II/VIII who’d been deposed in 1688 due to his despotism and pro-Catholic stance. This belief in the divine right to rule ran in the family resulting in an unfortunate ending for King Charles I who had his head lopped off by Oliver Cromwell in 1649.

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This April 16, 1746, battle was the last Jacobite uprising (Jacobite comes from the Latin name for ‘James’) with previous ones in 1708, 1715, and 1719 and the last major battle fought on British soil. Placing this war in the context of Scotland vs. England is the romanticized view. A more accurate description is calling this a Civil War between two dynasties:  Stuarts (represented by Prince Charlie) and Hanovers (represented by King George). There were some Red Coats who fought with the Jacobites, and some Scots who fought under the English flag. The reason for the latter is many Scots feared a return to the tyranny of divine rule and Catholicism if a Stuart took the throne. (FYI:  a lot of Scots had converted to Presbyterism, thanks to the rabid preachings of the Scottish John Knox a century earlier.)

I find fascinating the public relations used to further the cause of one side against the other. To incite folk against the Jacobites the English government printed bulletins like the one below depicting an angry mob of Highlanders wrecking havoc among unarmed citizens.

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Prior to walking onto the battlefield, we toured the visitors’ center. The center provided an excellent primer for what took place. Both sides, that of Bonnie Prince Charlie and of the Duke of Cumberland (1721-65), the third and youngest son of King George II, are explained in detail ending with the Jacobites being soundly and finally beaten after winning most of the major battles the year before.

The Jacobites’ military decisions reflected a deep division on exactly how to face the British, who outnumbered them. When Cumberland ended up in Nairn (12 miles from Culloden) after prepping for six weeks in Aberdeen, the Jacobites were undecided how to approach him, or even if they should engage the English right away. Some Clan chiefs wanted to withdraw and then ambush Cumberland’s army in the Highland passes. The Highlanders were expert at hand-to-hand combat, firing their muskets at close range then ferociously charging the enemy screaming and yelling with deadly weapons.

Unfortunately, Charlie and some of his other commanders argued for a stand-and-fight battle. The latter won out, but only to lose big time the next day. Not only were the Jacobites outnumbered, they were also exhausted. The night before the battle Charlie had sent his soldiers out to launch a surprise attack on Cumberland and his troops (the Duke was throwing his own b’day bash that night). The Jacobites never made it because of the slow-going through thick woodland, rain and fog. They retreated, only adding exhaustion to their list of woes. The map below shows the troops leaving for the surprise attack (bottom line) then returning (top lines).

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Even by morning there was an opportunity for the Jacobites to withdraw to Inverness and recoup their strength, but Prince  Charlie refused to listen to his senior commanders, and the Battle at Culloden Moor was fought. The result:  Charlie didn’t only lose his chance at being King. He also lost the Highlanders their way of life.

To ensure the Jacobite cause would not come back to haunt them, the English under Cumberland’s leadership (later he earned the title ‘Butcher’) ruthlessly demolished the Highlanders and their clan system. The victors hunted down over 3,000 who fought for Charlie. Many died in prison while 120 were given trials with the verdict pretty much pre-determined, publicly executed, then put on display as warnings to anyone thinking of rising up.

On display was a 1644 legal text referenced and marked by Lord Balmerino who used it during his trial for treason. He was executed in August 1746.

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Some Jacobites were sold into slavery and transported across the Atlantic, which is how some friends of mine came to be in Maine due being descendants of those sent abroad.

Kilts and tartans were outlawed, Chieftains lost their legal power and clansmen, their weapons.

Bonnie Prince Charlie escaped thanks to Flora MacDonald hiding him. She then dressed him as her maid allowing him to escape to the Isle of Skye. Supposedly he used this compass when on the run.

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On September 20 he finally managed to get on a French ship and hightail it out of Scotland. He continually tried to raise support for his cause but no one took him up on it, and Prince Charles Edward Stuart died in Rome and in obscurity until later revived in a romantic depiction. Flora, for her efforts, was thrown into the Tower of London but was later released and became a cause celebre. A few days later we saw her grave on the Isle of Skye.

The Jacobite cause, however, soon became romanticized thanks to heroic poems and ballads. In the 1780s visitors began touring the Highland areas. Walter Scott’s novel Waverley increased the interest in the Highlands, and he created a grand pageant for the visiting King George IV. And, because this king wore a kilt, the tartans came back into fashion.

Rick Steves theorized that it was due to Charlie losing the war that led to our American revolution. Steves’ ‘what-if’ cogitation is… if the Bonnie Prince won, there wouldn’t have been the Seven Years’ War with France… taxes wouldn’t have been raised… so American colonists probably wouldn’t have felt the need to revolt. Who knows?

Out on the battlefield there’s a croft where a family lived until the early 1900s. An interesting connection to the 1746 battle is from a story relayed by the grandmother. A wounded Jacobite who lost his hand in the battle ran into their house (it wasn’t the one we saw on the battlefield) only to sizzle his stump on the iron pot to staunch the bleeding. Not something I’d need to witness.

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After listening to the audio-guide and reading the center’s displays, we felt like we had stepped back in time. We definitely left there glad we had made it one of our primary goals of the road trip. And, Max said he understood the poignancy of some songs a favorite group, Schooner Fare, has sung over the years, such as “Bonnie Prince Charlie” and “Loch Lomond”. Scotland had entered our hearts and souls.

Before leaving the area we stopped at Balnuaran of Clava, Neolithic burial sites. The rings of stones were once covered with the entrances lining up with a winter solstice setting sun. Not a lot is known about these structures but to walk around and into these chambers once used over 3,000 years ago is worth a visit.

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On our way west we drove along Loch Ness and stopped in at Urquhart Castle to take some photos for our friend Joanne Urquhart. We decided not to do the tour but were glad we got some pictures peering through the buses from the parking lot.

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That night we landed on the west coast just a few miles from the Isle of Skye. Our room in Dornie was comfortable and well-outfitted, just like the Cooke’s Auld Manse. We unpacked then went across the lane to a hopping pub where we met some other travelers:  father-son motorcyclists and a young couple from D.C. (both born in Italy). We also met a few locals, one being the bartender who was originally from Toronto area. No live music but the camaraderie, local beer, and food made up for it.

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And, there was a castle five minutes from our room, The Eilean Donan Castle.

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It’s one of the most photographed castles but it’s really less than 100 years old. Although, the current structure was built on a site where a castle stood until destroyed in battle in 1719. You might recognize it from several movies: Sean Connery’s Highlander (1986) and a 1999 James Bond film (The World Is Not Enough).

The next morning we left for Skye, just 10 miles away and connected by a bridge. It was showery and gray but patches of sunlight filtered through, and we made the most of driving these winding roads. Similar to driving through the Cairngorms, these ‘hills’ were magnificent, making us feel very, very wee indeed.

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The scenery was awe-inspiring but so were some of the folk we met. We met a touring Aussie couple, both retired now and enjoying a major trip each year. We ended up meeting up at several sites (there’s only one road around, and in many instances only one lane).

We pulled into another overlook next to a guy enjoying his hot chocolate while surveying the Outer Hebrides in the distance (Skye is one of the Inner Hebrides). We got out to peer at the view and met Steve, one of the happiest people you can run into. He had delivered a small container to someone on Skye and was just enjoying the stretch of seascape. He and his wife are from England but had moved to Ireland so she could raise horses and he could focus on buying and selling vintage motorcycles. His outlook on life was so cheerful it was contagious. We found ourselves not really wanting to leave; yet, we wanted to tour the next peninsula over, which meant continuing our circumnavigation of the island.

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Well, we should have stayed with Steve for no more than five miles down the road, after visiting Flora MacDonald’s grave,

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we heard a funny sound. Rolling down my window I noticed it got worse. Sure enough, we had a big ole’ flat tire.

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We were just up the hill from Uig where a gas station was located, so we shot up the sad tire with that white stuff rental cars have in lieu of spares, and limped down to the station. Here we met another friendly person who let us use her phone. After an hour on the phone with Enterprise Car Rental and a roadside service, we finally learned the best option was to head back to Dornie (we got permission from Enterprise to drive on the inflamed tire) and call the roadside service once we reached our room. (The service would have sent out someone from Fort Williams or Inverness, both two-to-three hours away, which seemed stupid considering there were tire shops in two towns right on the island.)

Shortening a long string of frustrating misinformation calls, we discovered we were responsible for getting the tire fixed and could have just gone straight to one of the tire places and had it fixed within an hour. But, this did give us another opportunity to appreciate the hospitality and openess of these islanders.

Our second night at the pub we met up with young Italian couple who invited us to share a table (the place was packed once again with locals and travelers, always a good sign for a pub :).

The next morning we returned to Skye where we met a few more locals (yet, like the woman in Uig, one has also immigrated here from England) and got our tire fixed.

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We then left for Oban, further south along another beautiful road,

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stopping for our picnic lunch

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and to take advantage of some signage close to Oban.

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Again, we lucked out with a small B&B out of town. We ate our picnic dinner and even watched a Bond movie on the TV.

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Saturday morning we decided to head for home but not before retracing our steps a bit to reach a marina on the outskirts of Oban. My Dad, his wife Micki, and my siblings and nephews had some meals there when we were touring the area in 2000. It was nostalgic but not the same, so I was glad to grab a few photos and then head back into the present.

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Our last stop in Scotland was Stirling Castle.

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This fortress sits above an expanse of countryside with memorials to William Wallace at one site (far in the distance on the left) and Robert the Bruce at another (on the right in the background).

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What was more impressive, we found, was the Church of the Holy Rude next door bounded by its cemetery hosting graves as old as 1600s.

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This church was where Mary Queen of Scots held her son’s Roman Catholic baptism. Within several months, though, events changed dramatically with Mary leaving her son and fleeing to England after being accused of murdering her second husband, Lord Darling. During this time the religion of choice switched to Protestantism; and, inside we saw the plaque indicating where her 13-month old son, James VI, was crowned by that fiery Presbyterian preacher, John Knox July 29, 1567.

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Back in the car and three hours later we arrived home to JUANONA at Amble Marina. Now, prepping for Max’s son Chris who arrives June 9th for a sail up the coast and passage to Norway :)

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Northward bound: Iain & Sarah

East Coast from Hartlepool to Amble with some road trips inbetween

Saturday, May 23 to Sunday, May 31

When Iain joined us on our last passage to reach Orr’s Island ending our first Juanona voyage, he said he wanted to buy a boat and go sailing. He was still in school and this was his first blue water sailing. I’m thinking that’s a nice thought but…

Fast forward to today and he’s happily married to Sarah who also loves to sail. After selling the first boat he purchased (a Sabre 28), they bought their second boat in 2011 (a Niagra 35). They live on her (s/v BLUE) during the summer when they can rent out their home to fellow beach goers in Nags Head, NC. Working and saving and enjoying life, they also love to travel; so, when they expressed interest in joining us, we said of course!

They arrived in Newcastle-upon-Tyne late afternoon where we picked them up and returned to Hartlepool. The sun was still strong and bright thanks to being so far north, so we enjoyed some evening time in the cockpit.

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It was quite special having these two young people aboard. Now, if only the weather would cooperate for sailing!

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We had been checking the weather and it seemed the best time to go was mid-week. But, it wasn’t just wind we needed to take into consideration. To enter Amble, our next port of call, we had to arrive 2-3+ hours on other side of high tide thanks to a sill that kept water in the marina. Outside of the marina in the channel it could get as low as 3 feet. Fortunately, we had all the info aboard in charts and books.

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While waiting for weather we used the car to take them to several of our favorite haunts, the first being Whitby where they experienced a crowded Sunday stroll around the priory and down in the cobble-stone town. It was Sarah’s first time in Europe, and Iain’s first time in England, so the humongous ruins of the abbey required some photoshops.

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We headed out along one of the jetty and passed others out enjoying their Bank Holiday weekend.

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I couldn’t resist this pic of a family eating their fish & chips. They’d make a great ad for whomever sold them those take-away meals. We satisfied ourselves with ice cream cones.

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We stopped by the James Cook Museum but only to look around outside.

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We then headed back to Hartlepool for the night where mixologist Max did the honors

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and, I pulled out cheese bits.

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Then, we toasted having them aboard with Juanona glasses they had given us several years ago.

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Monday we left for Hadrian’s Wall, where we all enjoyed just being outside stretching our legs.

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Use to living in a confined space, they quickly fit into JUANONA’s routine, even taking over the nightly duty of dish washing and drying.

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Wednesday was the day we could leave, but it had to be at 4am in order to get out of the lock in Hartlepool. Fortunately, it started getting light at 3:45am; and, the four of us got up, untied from the pontoon and headed just around the corner to the lock. After waiting for the water to fill, we exited motoring slowly as we made our way out to the harbor.

But, all of a sudden we all felt ourselves stopping a bit. Sure enough, JUANONA was hitting the bottom. Max told Iain to unfurl the jib while Sarah and I held our breaths as we untied the fenders and lines in prep for stowing.

We made it past the shallow parts and into the open water. Thank god we left 30 minutes earlier than originally planned. The marina guys had mentioned we might want to do that because the high pressure we were in actually lowers the water below the charted tide levels. If we had left any later, we’d probably have been sitting there for a good while as we waited for the tide to go all the way out and then start back in again. Not a good feeling.

The winds were perfect and lasted beyond the forecasted time. We had a great sail

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arriving at Amble almost three hours ahead of our ETA thanks to the winds maintaining their strength.

The marina people are extremely welcoming, just like in Hartlepool. It’s filled with both pleasure boaters and fisherman, and the camaraderie is immediate.

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We walked around town with Max in search of a boat part, which he found at a candy store.

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Since it had some remaining lollipops in it, the crew obediently began to empty out the container.

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Now, to modify it to ensure the perfect fit.

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And, voila! Janona’s new ice chest…

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As I mentioned, Sarah and Iain are boat people, so they didn’t mind the usual hanging laundry lines used when rain instead of sun appears.

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The next day Iain, Sarah and I walked to Warkworth Castle, just a mile from the marina. It was typical showery-sunny day, and Sarah saw her first castle, which happened to belong to the Percy family, the Earls of Northumbria. This was their second home, the first being the larger Bamburgh Castle where the Kings of Northumbria had held court (we briefly checked that out on our coastal-route drive the next day).

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Friday we headed to Holy Island or Lindisfare where St. Cuthbert (the guy finally buried in Durham Cathedral) landed after being inspired by St. Aidan. To provide some background:  Aidan was an Irish monk who lived on the island of Iona in southwest Scotland. However, this monk’s fame really grew thanks to a young boy. This young man, Oswald, the second son of the Northumbria king Aethelfrith, fled to Iona after his father was killed in battle in 616 c.e. Oswald embraced Christianity; and, when he became king in 633, he established a mission on Lindisfarne under Aidan’s care.

Unlike other monasteries, Lindisfarne was only for men and boys, the reason being women wouldn’t have been able to do Aidan’s type of missionary work (walking the streets and accosting strangers, which is how Aidan knew to convert folk to his religion; at least Aidan recognized the importance of female leadership since he is credited with placing Hilda as the Abbess of Hartlepool and Whitby.). At this point it was the Irish Ionian monks who were spreading the word; so, to ensure the mission wouldn’t die out once they died off, Aidan set about establishing Lindisfarne as a place of learning. He died in 651 at King Oswald’s Bambrugh castle.

While Aidan was busy with the Priory of Lindisfarne another monk, Cuthbert, was gaining a reputation for devotion and sanctity. He became Prior of the Melrose monastery (in southern Scotland) in 664. That same year the Synod of Whitby (held under St. Hilda) settled whether the Celtic Rite or the Roman Rite was right. Turns out the Roman Rite was agreed upon. Cuthbert was then assigned to Lindisfarne to transition that monastery from Celtic to Roman.

This island is also where the famous Lindisfarne Gospels (to define a gospel, for those, like moi, who weren’t sure, it’s the story of Jesus and his faith) was created. Unusually, one monk, the Bishop of Lindisfarne (698-721) Eadfrith, created this beautiful medieval manuscript. Its historical significance is how he blended both the Celtic and Roman churches’ traditions to reflect a growing ‘Englishness’. (It’s now part of the British Library’s revolving display of historic literature.)

Soooo, a long explanation on how these two saints’ lives intertwined and why they are so important to Christians of England.

To reach this holier-than-thou island you had to wait for the tide to clear the causeway, which meant we had lunch (notice pickle jar on car roof :) while waiting for water to drain off the one road on/off this island. No Moses arrived to part it, just Mother Nature.

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There were warnings in the car park, too, about watching the tides and not getting caught out.

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The island was beautiful with the ruins of the monastery perched on one side of a small harbor overlooked by a castle across the way. (Below, we’re facing the castle.)

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We walked around the bottom of the castle, built in 1550 during Henry VIII’s time after the dissolution of the monasteries (1536-40).

Around the castle cairns and sheep covered the marshy expanse, and the sun came out in between showers. Opportunities for selfies with sheep occurred as we strolled back to the harbor.

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In just our brief time spent going to and from the castle, the harbor had started to dry out.

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We also saw a beach of seals basking in the shallow waters as well as a cross on a small island looking towards the mainland.

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Climbing a hill at the head of the harbor we looked down at the priory. The priory was constructed in the 11th century next to where St. Aidan’s Irish monastery stood.

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We recognized the typical Norman archways and saw a sketch of what these ruins would have looked like way back when.

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The little museum had some surprising finds, such as how brightly colored some of these stone works would have been. Below are replicas of two, rare Anglo-Saxon stones. These are rare because they named two people, Osgyth and Beannah, who lived and worked at the community when the Lindisfarne Gospels were created. These colors were found through x-ray fluorescence and magnification. So strange to think of these ancient sites in full color when we’re only seeing them way past their heydays in muted beiges and grays.

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We left the island and headed back timing it to ensure we crossed without any water under the car.

Saturday dawned clear and bright with Iain and Sarah taking a long walk, and Max and I hanging out. Sunday we dropped them off at the station to catch the train to Edinburgh.

A short visit but filled with a wonderful time together with our niece and nephew :)

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Northward bound: Road trip!

Hadrian’s Wall

Wednesday, May 21

Having made the decision to stay in Hartlepool to await our nephew Iain and wife Sarah’s arrival, we decided to explore a bit further. This time we headed north to the magnificent Roman ruin, Hadrian’s Wall.

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Begun in 122 c.e. and built over a six-year or so time period, this stone wall ran 73 miles from the Solway Coast in the west to Wallsend near Newcastle upon Tyne in the east and incorporated 17 forts and 80 milecastles (these were much smaller buildings placed roughly one mile apart housing anywhere from 12 to 30 soldiers).

Emperor Hadrian (76-138 c.e.) built this wall as a defense against the wild and wooly ‘barbarians’ whom he and his predecessors didn’t have any luck taming. So, instead of expanding the Roman Empire, he consolidated it.

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He was quite a guy. When Hadrian’s father died, his father’s cousin Trajan became his guardian. Lucky for Hadrian, Trajan later became emperor (98-117 c.e.), and when he died, Hadrian followed in his footsteps. Although, some say he set himself up better for getting the emperor title by saying he had been adopted by Trajan and his wife. Whatever. It worked, and Hadrian left his governor’s post in Syria to rule the Roman world.

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This emperor is considered one of the good ones due to his belief in the philosophy of stoicism. In trying to find a concise definition of this ancient Greek philosophy, I stumbled across one on the Internet that says stoicism is learning to enjoy what you have and not crave what you don’t. I guess taken further this philosophy evolved into enduring pain without showing it. I like the first definition better.

Hadrian, I gather, was a realistic guy who was strongly influenced by the Greeks, hence the stoicism. He was the first emperor to grow a beard, which was a Greek thing to do. He loved building (no surprise there) with one of the most memorable landmarks in Rome, the Pantheon, in existence today thanks to him as well as his villa at Tivoli.

He travelled through his empire extensively (all the places in orange are places he visited) and he came to Britain to inspect his wall in 122.

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Not being a dummy he married his guardian’s great-niece, Vibia Sabina, in 100, yet loved a young male Greek named Antinous. His lover tragically drowned, and they say Hadrian never fully recovered from this loss.

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This stone barrier snaking across the top of England offers a wonderful glimpse into the lives of those Romans who built and defended this stretch of the Roman Empire. Knowing we only had one day to do view this structure, we selected three sites to learn about Hadrian’s Wall.

The first was Houseteads Roman Fort, touted as the most complete Roman fort in Britain. It’s also where you can actually see the wall and even walk on part of it.

The fort was a half-mile from the visitor’s center, so we trekked up spotting sheep spotting us as we climbed to the little museum and the fort itself running along part of the wall.

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I must say you have to use your imagination to envision the way it must have been back in Roman times, but the displays both in the little museum and explanations on site were excellent educators.

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Having explored the fort we went to the wall and slowly travelled a bit with Max perfecting his Roman soldier stance and his one-foot-down-one-leg-up pose.

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He also checked the stones to ensure they were properly set.

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It was a beautiful day so the stroll both on and beside the wall was spectacular, including a visit from a welcoming puppy eager to share her sheep poo.

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Peering down one side of the wall we found ourselves once again in awe of the engineering prowess in building something so substantial without the benefit of the mechanical tools and construction aids we have today.

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They would build an envelope of well-placed stones and then fill the middle with rubbled stones and used lime stone to cement it.

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Our next stop six miles away was a twofer:  The Roman Army Museum and Vindolanda. To reach the museum you enter through the remains of a settlement outside the fort, then through the fort itself. What’s really cool about this site is that you can watch archaeologists find items as they continue to excavate this fort.

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We stopped to chat and were there when they pulled out a nail that hadn’t seen the light of day for over 1800 years. We were the first people to hold it since some Roman had used it for construction. The archaeologist who showed it to us said the reason for finding such excellently preserved artifacts was due to the aerobic soil. Since the fort was built atop eight previous ones, tons of items were stuck in the mud keeping them safe and sound until dug up and help by folk such as us.

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Reaching the museum we were in awe of all that had been recovered, from a full set of broken samian ware from the late 80s (they concluded this was the date because the same potters’ stamps appeared on an unopened crate at Pompei (destroyed 79 c.e.)

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to pieces of glassware

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to leather shoes

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to jewlery

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to the most important of all, writing tablets.

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It is because of these slim, wooden tablets that we know so much about the actual daily lives of the Romans in Britain. Besides finding descriptions and tallies of the number of soldiers and their assignments, they’ve also discovered tablets relating to every-day life. One of the most famous is a birthday invitation, one of the earliest examples of Latin penned by a woman translated below:

‘Claudia Severa to her Lepidina, greetings. On the third day before the Ides of September, sister, for the day of the celebration of my birthday, I give you a warm invitation to make sure that you come to us, to make the day more enjoyable for me by your arrival. Give my greetings to your Cerealis. My Aelius and my little son send their greetings. I shall expect you, sister. Farewell, sister, my dearest soul, as I hope to prosper, and hail.’

To me it’s fascinating to imagine this woman sitting down to ask a friend to join her for a birthday celebration. In spite of the language being both flowery and formal, the warmth of this friendship is apparent. Can’t you see her? I could.

First discovered in 1973, many of these tablets are now housed in the British Museum and listed as one of their top ten treasures. Fortunately, for us, Vindolanda were able to keep some for display.

Another unique find in addition to the writing tablets was the actual fringe you see illustrated on Roman helmets. They came this is the only one to-date found fairly intact.

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Having sated our desire to experience Hadrian’s Wall, we headed for the car and started looking for an inexpensive place to stay while driving these windswept moors.

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After checking out several pub accommodations in small towns along the way, we found one that came with bathroom en-suite, a full English breakfast and a friendly pub-keeper. Pretty wonderful way to spend a night and morning break.

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Helmsley

Thursday, May 22

Next day we headed due south, back to The North Moors National Park where we first travelled through to get to Whitby and Robin Hood’s Bay. Only this time we’d be on the far SW corner at Ducombe Park.

The reason for heading to this park in Helmsley is that it featured the International Centre for Birds of Prey. I had read about this organization in one of the many pamphlets we’d picked up and I was curious to see the flying demonstrations they touted.

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I’d never forgotten one I’d seen in Scotland over 14 years ago. It was a friend’s (Marci’s) birthday, and Joanna, her partner, had arranged an amazing party. My sister Betsy and I went. It was spectacular. And, one of the optional events was seeing the bird man with his birds. So, when I saw I could show Max something similar, I persuaded him to go.

In spite of two roadmaps, an iPad GPS, and our own eyes, and with 2.5 hours to make a 1.5 hour journey, we barely made it to the first showing at 11:30. Thankfully our navigational skills at sea seem to be better than our shore based ones.

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Two trainers alternated flying several different types of birds.

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The demonstrations were filled with lots of swooping birds but also time spent gazing at the sky or a tree in search of the free-flying object. The trainers were excellent, though, at keeping up an educational patter as we all strained to see a little birdie. Lots of practice, no doubt.

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One of the interesting displays was how they eventually got the birds back to the demo area. The trainer would swing around a line (baited with a meat item since these are birds of prey… one of the trainers said you may not want to look too closely at that end of the rope)…

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the bird would swoop down and catch it…

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the trainer approached very carefully while winding up the rope…

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finally getting close enough to switch out the baited line with another piece of meat…

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resulting in both emcee and actor being content.

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After the first show we toured the facility where these birds of prey are captivity bred for conservation. This northern branch was opened in 2013, and the site is both lovely and engaging. We walked among all the pens (each bird is flown every day) and I snapped photo after photo. Unfortunately, it was through mesh screens for most of them; but, don’t worry–I’ll only post a few!

The profiles were so regal it was as if these birds were used to posing for photographs.

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And, the owls were wonderful. I mean, look at these faces. The first one below has a wreath of feathers that are amazing in their exactness. The face appears to have been shaved with the underneath part being the tiny white feathers.

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The wee burrowing owl (so small it can’t carry the weight of a radio transmitter like the larger birds have, so it gets its own carrying box) was a comedian as the trainer explained how they couldn’t fly that fast so to escape predators they burrowed. He told us they can sometimes share prairie dogs’ homes, and the dogs actually appreciate these little fellows because their whistle will alert everyone to danger; and, if a snake tries to come down, the owl can imitate another snake’s hiss scaring off the approaching menace.

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Of course, there was the comical moment or two.

How could you not love a guy who sees the following…

then does this? :)

We found a spot for good cell coverage and called Eileen,

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then took in one more demo where we saw the largest bird being flown, the Sea Eagle. The trainer said he grew up around here and, when he was little, he pleaded with his parents to take him to see the birds. They did so and he saw a sea eagle. From then on he fell in love with the majesty of birds.

Twenty years later, he’s back and training and flying the son (!) of those same birds he first saw so long ago. Karma.

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What is so exceptionally clear is the devotion these people have for these birds. That emotion came through with every bird they flew.

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Happy to have experienced this intriguing center it was time to return to JUANONA, and so we set off, driving through the beautiful English countryside to Hartlepool.

Soon, Iain and Sarah!