The night before we left Millport was the Olympic Opening so we all stayed up watching it on TV. It really was a magnificent show and the theme progressing from the farming era to the industrial revolution was particularly relevant to us as we had been reading about it in our history story over the past few months. In fact the day before we had just watch the an episode from the BBC Seven Wonders of the Industrial World about the SS Great Eastern designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel in the 1850’s. Then who of all people would we see portrayed in the Olympic Opening show – none other than Brunel himself as a kingpin of the industrial age. So we were glued to the TV set and watched the first part of the countries parade giving up after the letter “c”! New Zealand was evidently the 134thcountry and appeared around 11:20pm – the kids were asleep by then.

So Saturday morning I forced myself out of bed at 7am and began our packing up routine. Even after packing as much as we could the night before while watching the Olympics it still took us three hours to pack up and clean the Millport apartment. It’s hard to believe it could take that long but just about every time it takes that long! Around 10:15am we said goodbye to the town we had thoroughly enjoyed and then made our way to the ferry slipway. The ferry had just arrived and was unloading the cars so within a few minutes we had driven on and were ready to be transported to Largs.

My plan was to take the coastal route via Port Glasgow to Old Kilpatrick then to head north alongside Loch Lomond eventually reaching Neptune’s Staircase just out of Fort Williams. It was a fantastic drive with fabulous scenery. The drive alongside Loch Lomond reminded me of New Zealand driving alongside Lake Taupo except a much narrower road in this case. The later part of the trip to Fort Williams, through green valleys flanked by steep hillsides that reached up into the clouds, would be my favourite scenery in our trip to date. Sadly for them, Karen and the kids were asleep at this point. I almost woke them up but they needed sleep and as the trip was going to be long I left them to it.

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After around three hours of driving we reached Neptune’s Staircase where we stopped for a lunch break. It was perfect timing as two boats were making the 8-lock flight journey down from Lock Lockie towards Loch Linnhe. It is the UK’s longest staircase dropping 19 metres over quarter of a mile. Read more at’s_Staircase

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After a quick coffee at a nearby hotel we headed off to Drumnadrochit via Fort Augustus. Our purpose for the Drumnadrochit visit was to go to the “Loch Ness Exhibition” – which I found was a rather unexciting, but professional media presentation, designed to shatter any dreams of a real Lock Ness monster! The family we had around for coffee this afternoon (Sunday) commented that it was a rip off which made me laugh because they were my very own unspoken words. About NZ$40 to see five short video’s in cave-like rooms. How it got the five star rating I really don’t know.

To reach Cromarty you drive about 40 minutes north east of Inverness. Being a small seaport of around 700 people there doesn’t appear to be a lot to do but it is lovely to have a cottage just a stones throw from a sandy beach.

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We are not far from the entrance of the Cromarty Firth so from our windows we see the wharf, in fact it is only a few minutes’ walk away. There is an interesting sight out our window – the feet of a decommissioned oil rig platform:

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Here is a misty view,

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and a sunset view:

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You can also see a couple of other oil rigs in the Firth further. Over the water is the port of Invergordon where on most days can be seen a cruise ship. Tonight we watch a small cruise ship, the Azamara Journey leave the port.

Monday afternoon we headed into Inverness stopping by the Tourist Information Centre and the Dolphin and Seal Centre on the way. We enjoyed walking around town while it was fine but then remembered we were supposed to be grocery shopping so we returned to the car.

I had parked in an underground carpark, one of those buildings with large square concrete posts supporting the next floor. Usually I park with these on my right side to minimise the chance of hitting them when reversing out. I looked back over my shoulder to check there were no cars and then moved backward. Next thing Karen let out the loudest screen I have ever heard – the concrete post had jumped out from beside us and embedded itself in the side of our car. The post must have been right in my blind spot so I didn’t see it when I looked back. Slack, what an expensive day out this had been. The front left panel would need replacing but the car looked safe enough to drive. After calling the rental car help line we drove to the nearest office and then we went on to the supermarket.

It was getting late by this stage and our goal was to go to Chanonry Point around 6:30pm which is supposed to be one of the best places to see dolphins in all of England. The ideal time we were told was an hour or so after low tidy. We were not disappointed. This would be the first time I think I have ever seen dolphins in the wild. There were four or five swimming around. Unfortunately my humble phone isn’t quite up to the challenge of taking photos of these creatures as they pop up out of the water, breath and then gracefully glide back down into the water. Here are a few shots anyway:

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We thought these were good sightings but later in the week we had even better views (see photos below). If I can just forget the fact that I reshaped our rental car I would say this was a fantastic day!

Looking at the weather report I worked out that Tuesday would be the sunniest day this week and the best day for driving up to the northern part of Scotland. Amazingly, when we woke up the clouds were gone and the sun was full strength. We gathered up our things and left around 9:30am. Remembering back to our OE 18 years ago the northern part of Scotland was one of my favourite regions so I was keen to show the kids the fantastic scenery and to see it again myself.

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My goal was to drive to Wick on the east coast and then on to the tip of Scotland, a place called John o’Groats. We stopped at a few places along the way for photos and coffee and then decided to have lunch just out of Wick at a small village called Lybster which once was the third largest herring port in England.

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We had lunch at the port and Daniel enjoyed climbing on the rocks:

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Once we reached John o’Groats we drove out to Duncansby Head and walked the short distance to look on to the Stacks of Duncansby (we walked to the point called Gibbs Craig).

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On the way you can see birds nested in the cliffs (at the Geo of Sclaites).

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It’s a little hard to see the nests, here is a close up:20120731 Camera Wk24 Cromarty Northern IMG_8342

The stacks must be one of the most amazing sights I have ever seen. Again my camera just couldn’t handle the light contrasts so the following photos don’t do justice to the scene:

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I dragged myself away and walking back via the cliff nests I heard someone mention muffins. Of coursed my eyes lit up because I thought they were talking about muffins and coffee but no, believe it or not it was something even better. There were a couple of Puffin birds. Now Daniel had pointed these out to me when they were on display in museums but here they were alive in their natural habitat. Using my powerfulcamera I zoomed in and got the following shot:

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I was on a high, the trip was worthwhile in that one stop to see the Stacks and the Puffin bird. Next we headed to Dunnet Head, the most northerly point in the UK mainland, in search of more Puffins. Sadly we couldn’t sight any birds up close. I am not sure why this was, maybe we were in the wrong place or perhaps we had too high expectations.

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A little disappointed we drove on to Thurso where we stopped for a coffee and chips. The drive home from there to Cromarty took around two and a half hours. All up we were travelling around for ten hours, much longer than I had anticipated.

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Thursday morning we left home by 8am to return to Chanory Point to spot some more dolphins. Once parked we walked down to the beach and even before we had reach the point we saw them jumping playfully out of the water. What an amazing sight! Yes I really did take these photos!

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The night before, Daniel and I had stood out in the cold hoping to see dolphins but they neglected to show. Now they were performing perfectly as they dashed around plucking up the fish swimming back into the firth. Evidently at low tide the sea wall is only about six or seven metres from the shore and the dolphins use the wall to trap the fish as they swim around the point.

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A gathering at the point for dolphin spotters:

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And a final photo:

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We explored our own neighbour on Friday which didn’t take very long. I think the little village is quite nice.

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Afterward we drove to Fortrose and wandered along the main road. Here are a few photos:

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It was a really exciting week at Cromarty seeing the dolphins but once again it was time to pack up our bags and clean the house.

(Week 24: Saturday 28 July – Saturday 4 August 2012)