A Walk to the Gap

St Kilda, Outer Hebrides, Scotland. Day 19 , 17th July.

Archaeology, Architecture, Hebrides, History, Landscape, Photography, Scotland, St Kilda, Travel

In the afternoon, we decided to go for a walk up to the Gap, beyond the top of the ridge behind the village.  I paused on the way for an image of this large cleit.

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Another, looking back.  The dark roof of one of the restored houses in the street is visible at far right in the middle distance.

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I had to be careful I didn’t fall too far behind….

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We’ve climbed the slope to a flatter area near the top known as An Lag (An Lag Bho’n Tuath in full).  This is one of the large enclosures here, presumably for sheep.  There are four large altogether, two of which also have internal walls.

(The rest of the group are to the right of the enclosure, almost out of sight).

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Only one entrance to the enclosure….

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… and there is a number of small cleits.

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Archaeology, Architecture, Hebrides, History, Landscape, Photography, Scotland, St Kilda, Travel .

Archaeology, Architecture, Hebrides, History, Landscape, Photography, Scotland, St Kilda, Travel .

Archaeology, Architecture, Hebrides, History, Landscape, Photography, Scotland, St Kilda, Travel .

Archaeology, Architecture, Hebrides, History, Landscape, Photography, Scotland, St Kilda, Travel

We are on top of the cliff now.  This must be the Gap.  It would no doubt look very different in the absence of fog.

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Here carefully I lie down full length on the ground so that just my head and my camera are over the edge of the cliff.  We are looking straight down, at the sea if we could see it.  The sea cliffs along here are the highest in the UK.  It’s probably higher a bit further along at Conachair but this is where it’s steepest, in fact vertical.  We can’t see much but we are therefore at the point of the highest vertical sea cliff in the United Kingdom.  Somewhere down below us there is also a sea cave and an overhang.

 

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The fog is even heavier at the top.

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Archaeology, Architecture, Hebrides, History, Landscape, Photography, Scotland, St Kilda, Travel

We’ve walked back down and here we are overlooking the street again.

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Lady Grange

St Kilda, Outer Hebrides, Scotland. Day 19 , 17th July.

Archaeology, Architecture, Hebrides, History, Landscape, Photography, Scotland, Soay sheep, St Kilda, Travel.

The Scottish aristocrat Lady Grange was imprisoned on St Kilda for a number of years in the 1730s.  The house in which she was imprisoned is in the middle foreground, behind the sheep.  However, it largely collapsed over the next hundred years and has been rebuilt as a cleit, although some of the original walls remain.  It was originally a 20 feet by 10 feet house (still about the same size), or according to another source, 40 feet long, and had wooden beams and a thatched roof.  Prior to her occupation it had been the summer house of the Steward (the Laird’s representative).

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Lady Grange was born Rachel Chiesley in Edinburgh in 1679.  When she was ten her parents had separated and a judge awarded her mother alimony.  This so infuriated her father that he shot and killed the judge in public in a street.  This proved to not be a fortuitous move for his career.  He was convicted then tortured, then his right hand cut off and then he was hanged.
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Rachel Chiesley, Lady Grange

Rachel Chiesley, Lady Grange, 1710, aged about 31.

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Around 1707 when she was 28, Rachel married James Erskin.  Rumoured to be a shotgun marriage, it was not popular with his family.  Alexander Carlyle, a Scottish Church leader, knew the family as a child.  He reports that Rachel was a savage martinet and her children were terrified of her.  Her husband James was something of a religious fanatic but was at the same time affable and popular.

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James’s elder brother, the Earl of Mar, became Scottish leader of the Jacobite Rebellion of 1715 (in the absence of the Auld Pretender, still in France).  He and the rebellion were thwarted by the Duke of Argyll at the inconclusive Battle of Sheriffmuir.  He would have been better advised to bypass Argyll and meet up with other Jacobite forces in the North of England.  Subsequently, John had to leave for exile, from which he never returned.

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By 1730, the marriage of James and Rachel was in trouble.  They agreed to a separation but Rachel did not abide by it and moved back to Edinburgh.  James had moved to London where he had a mistress (whom he later married) and he had removed control of the estate from Rachel.  He was a judge and a little later became a member of Parliament.  He also may have been dabbling with Jacobite sympathisers.

In 1732, after 25 years of marriage and nine children, he had her kidnapped by a group of his friends on the basis that she was about to reveal his Jacobite sympathies.   She was definitely out of control and seeking to embarrass him in public but it is not clear whether his rationalisation was justified.  It is a measure of her tyrannical reign over her children that none of them raised a hue and cry over her sudden and mysterious disappearance.

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Click to zoom in much larger image….

(Click the above image if you want to see it much larger and then to zoom around in it).

(Note:  Lady Grange’s House in front centre is in front of and to the left of where the original village was.  If you zoom in, you will see there are two buildings with turf roofs at the end of the wall that leads in from the right.  One or both of those may be a house from the old village.)

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Rachel spent some time imprisoned near Stirling and then at the Monach Islands (off the coast of Harris).  In 1732, she arrived in St Kilda where she was to stay for the next nine years.  This was not long after the catastrophic smallpox epidemic of 1727, the population of the island was still down and many were recent imports from Harris and Lewis.  MacLennan, a minister who was there from 1734 to 1740, was sympathetic to her plight and smuggled two letters from her back to Edinburgh.

Her lawyer, Thomas Hope, received one of the letters and sent a ship with more than twenty armed men to St Kilda to rescue her but by the time they arrived, it was too late.  The prisoner had been removed.  Lord Grange claimed that what had happened was sequestration because his wife was insane and that she had not been mistreated.  Since he retained control of all the powerful voices in Edinburgh, everything quietened down after a while.

In the meanwhile Lady Grange left St Kilda probably in 1740 and was taken to a variety of hideouts; at some stage to Castle Tiorem, over the first winter in Assynt, staying for a while in Harris, and arriving at the Vaternish Peninsula on Skye in 1742. (Links go to pages in the blog, where I visited the places).

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Trumpan Church, Lady Grange, Rachel Chiesley

Trumpan Church, Vaternish Peninsula, Skye

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She died on the Vaternish peninsula in 1845.  Unusual in many ways, she may have had up to three funerals.   There may have been one in Edinburgh shortly after she was kidnapped, the real one was at Trumpan Church at Vaternish and there was an “official” one in Dunvegan a week or two after that.

I could have photographed her memorial stone in Trumpan had I known of it at the time and I almost did – it is the white stone just peeking out beyond the right hand side of the archway.  The actual location of her grave is not known.  There are a couple more images of the ruined church in the blog post.

Ironically, had she not sent the letters and had she survived a bit longer, she would have been freed when British troops invaded St Kilda in 1746 looking for Bonnie Prince Charlie.

Reference:  Margaret Macaulay: The Prisoner of St Kilda

Cemetery at Village Bay, Hirta

St Kilda, Outer Hebrides, Scotland. Day 19 , 17th July.

Archaeology, Architecture, Cemetery, Graveyard, Hebrides, Hirta, History, Landscape, Photography, Scotland, St Kilda, Travel

This is the entrance to the cemetery at Village Bay, Hirta, St Kilda.  It predates the village of the 1830s and may be many hundreds or even thousands of years old, though the wall may have been rebuilt several times.

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Here we are inside the cemetery.  It is roughly oval, approximately 25 meters by 18.  The rocks you see poking up are tombstones of an unknown age.  There were probably never any inscriptions on them as few islanders would have been literate before the nineteenth century.  We saw the same thing at Baille Na Cille in Lewis, earlier in this blog.

In 1851 there were 105 people on St Kilda, comprising 40 aged 0-14, 28 aged 15-29, 20 aged 30-44, 10 aged 45-59 and 7 aged 60+.  There was a similar distribution and total in 1822.  The population had previously been higher than this as we saw in the last post, though it was to fall later.  The island was settled for 5,000 years and the main settlement would always have been at Village Bay where there is the best harbour and the best farm land.  If we assume an average population of 150 and a life expectancy of 40 for those who got past 5 years old, and if people were always buried here, then there could have been very approximately 3,750 burials here over a 1,000 year period.  Burying in damp soils with no coffins (due to lack of wood) probably meant that even the skeletons would disappear after some hundreds of years.

When the street replaced the old village in the early 1830s, a couple of “faerie mounds” were demolished.  These may have been prehistoric grave mounds.

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Another view, this time in infrared.  The plaque in the left foreground was erected by a former islander, Alexander Ferguson, in the 1930s or 40s in commemoration of both his parents.  The infrared makes the stones stand out in a different way from the grass.

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Archaeology, Architecture, Cemetery, Graveyard, Hebrides, Hirta, History, Landscape, Photography, Scotland, St Kilda, Travel

Here lie
the remains of
Margaret Mackay
native of Jeantown,
who departed this life
at St Kilda Manse on the
(?) day of February 1874
aged 44 years.
This stone is raised over her
remains by her brother
Minister of St Kilda.

So the most impressive tombstone in the cemetery was not for a native of St Kilda but for the sister of the Minister.  Jeantown is the old name for LochCarron village, on the shores of Loch Carron, on the mainland not far from Skye.

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Archaeology, Architecture, Cemetery, Graveyard, Hebrides, Hirta, History, Landscape, Photography, Scotland, St Kilda, Travel

This one is for a native St Kildan, though.

In
loving memory
of
Finlay
the only son of
Angus Gillies
crofter St Kilda,
born 8th January 1878
died 22nd January 1898
aged 20 years.

“With Christ which is
far better”

Surnames of residents of St Kilda included Gillies, McDonald, McKinnon, McQueen and Ferguston.

Brief History of St Kilda

St Kilda, Outer Hebrides, Scotland. Day 19 , 17th July.

Hebrides, Landscape, Photography, Scotland, St Kilda, Travel, Seascape

Here is a boatload of us heading off into the heavy fog and mist in the early-ish morning.

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Soay sheep on the shore.  You can see the self-moulting characteristic on a couple of them.

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Soay sheep and the Village

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St Kilda History

People have lived in the Hebrides for 6,000 to 8,000 years and it is likely that they have lived in St Kilda for 5,000 to 5,500 years – so from 3000BC to 3500BC. There are extensive signs of Neolithic tool making on St Kilda with many dolerite quarries.  Some of these are visible from the shore but I didn’t know at the time to make the right photograph.  They produced numerous stone tools including hoe-blades, pounder/grinders and skaill knives. Many of these were worked into the structures of the houses much later, when stone tools were no longer in use.

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 Archaeology, Architecture, Hebrides, History, Landscape, Photography, Scotland, St Kilda, Travel .

The pounder/grinders are like the pestle in a mortar and pestle. The equivalent of the mortar is the cylinder quern, which are now very scarce because the islanders used to sell them to tourists in the nineteenth century. The skaill knives are roughly circular with one side for holding and a sharp edge.  One curious thing for this early period is that the stone tools show connections to Orkney and Shetland rather than the nearer islands of Lewis and Harris.

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Cleit and houses. The drystone structure in the middle distance with a turf roof is probably an 1830s house converted to a byre (for animals to stay in over winter).

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In the Iron Age period (500BC to 500AD), the cultivated area of Village Bay was larger, including a low-lying plain largely now eroded by the sea. There may or may not have been a roundhouse or fort on Hilda or Dun though there are some clues that a souterrain (an underground passageway for storage ) near the current village may have been associated with one.

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Cleit and 1860s house

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However, there was clearly a round house from this period on Boreray, which collapsed in the 1840s and has never been excavated. Boreray is an island off the coast of Hirta that we glimpsed in the distance in an image in a previous post. Its name is of Norse origin and means “Fortress Island”.

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The Boreray roundhouse was called Tigh an Stallair, or “House of the Steward”. There would never have been a permanent population on Boreray, so this must have been something of a hunting lodge. It may have been built and used by regular visitors from Harris or Lewis. Bones of seabirds likely to have come from St Kilda have been found at sites in Harris and Orkney, also indicating contact by sea.

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 Archaeology, Architecture, Hebrides, History, Landscape, Photography, Scotland, St Kilda, Travel .

The people on St Kilda grew barley and ran cattle and sheep. Though their soil was poor their yields were high due to a judicious use of different kinds of seaweed as fertiliser. They grew sorrel for green vegetables and harvested seabirds and their eggs, including gannets, fulmars, puffins, guillemots and razorbills. Until the nineteenth century they also harvested great auks. In the late nineteenth century they consumed between 300 and 350 seabirds per person per year but this was a tiny fraction of the seabirds available. They also fished from rocks and to some extent from boats using hand lines, being able to catch deep sea fish from the rocks. They also caught some seals but that was a difficult and dangerous exercise.

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Some of the longer, rounded cleits are remaining houses from before the 1830s. For example, they may have bed cavities in their thick walls. This might be such a case, though it is outside the zone of the old village.

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The last great auk was captured on Stac an Armin in 1840 and was also the last known sighting of a great auk in the British Isles, though a couple were killed in Iceland a few years later. They tied up its feet and held it in their bothy (temporary hut) for three days. Then a storm blew up, preventing their departure. They decided it must be a witch and had caused the storm, so they beat it to death with sticks. It just goes to show that you can romanticise living in a wild bygone age but you can never know what it was truly like.

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The Norse ruled the Western Isles between about 800AD and the Battle of Largs in 1263 (an inconclusive battle but it ended Norse control of the Western Isles). After that the McLeods of Dunvegan held sway over St Kilda for 500 years. For much of that period, the Lairds operated as predatory raiders, descending annually with a large retinue for some weeks and demanding to be fed and housed. In this they may not have been much different from earlier Viking raiders. They exacted taxes in the form of commodities but also provided some support such as the occasional boat and assistance in times of disaster.

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The early years of the eighteenth century were a time of hardship and the population fell from 180-200 at the start of that century to 120-130 in 1727. Then in that year there was a devastating smallpox epidemic. Only four adults and twenty-six children survived, and that many only because three men and eight boys were stranded for nine months over the winter when they went fowling on Stac an Armin. There were not enough adults left to launch a boat and come to get them back. The Laird repopulated the island with people from Skye and Harris.

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The men were mainly hunter-gatherers, harvesting seabirds, eggs, to a lesser extent fish and sometimes seals. Gathering eggs and catching birds was a precarious task requiring great skill, agility and courage. Using home-made straw ropes, they descended the vertical cliffs and swung sideways if necessary to access distant ledges. The women were cultivators, growing barley and oats. The islanders stored and dried birds, feathers, eggs, barley and oats in the cleits. There were no cleits on Dun but 40 on Soay, 50 on Boreray and 80 on Stac an Armin (north of Boreray).

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They were communalistic in many ways, supporting the sick and infirm and evenly dividing up labour, responsibilities and harvesting of birds. Maintenance of the boat and allocation of berths on hunting expeditions was also divided up communally. On the other hand, they locked their houses with ingenious wooden locks that they made and maintained themselves. The reason for this may have been stores of coins gathered from trading with visitors that individuals wanted to retain for themselves rather than give up to the Community.

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 Archaeology, Architecture, Hebrides, History, Landscape, Photography, Scotland, St Kilda, Travel .

Life in St Kilda in the nineteenth century was significantly changed by a succession of priests who came from outside. In the early years there was a developing split in Scotland between two wings of the Presbyterian Church. The establishment wing featured clerics who were appointed by the Lairds to comfortable benefices and who had little inclination to make any waves. The evangelical wing practised a fervent, committed faith that owed no allegiance to the Lairds. It was evangelicals who came to St Kilda.

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At the same time there was a movement to replace common land with private crofts and on the mainland many were forcibly displaced from their land in the Clearances. This never happened in St Kilda, largely due to the isolation and rugged conditions, but there was a move from communal to private ownership of land.

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The first Minister was John MacDonald, who first visited in 1822. His successor, Neil MacKenzie, who first visited in 1829, was more influential. We have already seen that Sir Thomas Ackland’s yacht gave its name to the Melbourne suburb of St Kilda. In 1834, on one of his visits to the island, Ackland donated £20 towards the building of new homes, which apparently was matched by the Laird. Prior to this, the villagers were living in a cluster of twenty-six rounded dry-stone houses. MacKenzie organised a rebuild.

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The new village was laid along a street vaguely parallel to the shore. Each house had its own narrow strip of land, stretching in front of it to near the shore and behind to the head dyke, the long wall enclosing the village and its agricultural land. The houses, still using dry stone construction, faced perpendicular to the street, sheltering from the strong winds which could come off the bay. The houses featured thick walls, some of which included recesses for beds, and a partition for a byre, where cattle would stay for the winter.

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 Archaeology, Architecture, Hebrides, History, Landscape, Photography, Scotland, St Kilda, Travel .

In 1843 the evangelicals broke away to form the free church. The St Kildans adhered to this but the Laird did not and locked their church and tried to harass them in other ways. In 1852, 8 families and 36 people emigrated to Australia out of a population of about 110. 18 died on the way there, mainly of measles and their departure weakened the viability of St Kilda. Shortly following this, perhaps fearing further abscondments, the Laird gave in, reopened their church and allowed them their religious freedom.

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 Archaeology, Architecture, Hebrides, History, Landscape, Photography, Scotland, Soay sheep, St Kilda, Travel .

In 1860, a Captain Otter was charting the seas around the Outer Hebrides for the Royal Navy. He was at anchor at St Kilda when a huge storm struck that was in danger of sinking his ship but it survived. The villagers at St Kilda fared rather worse. The storm blew the thatches off all their houses which were knee-deep in water. Their barley had been harvested but not stored and was all destroyed, as was the oats crop.
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Archaeology, Architecture, Hebrides, History, Landscape, Photography, Scotland, Soay sheep, St Kilda, Travel .

Otter organised a public appeal and quickly brought effective relief to the islanders, much greater and more quickly than they would have got from their Laird. This was partly due to money from a £700 bequest in a will in 1857 for improvements in the Highlands of Scotland. The Laird, stung by bad publicity, insisted this was his responsibility and built new houses for the village in 1861 and 1862, which were mortared rather than dry stone and had roofs of zinc. The roofs however, were less than watertight and must have been very noisy when it rained so they had to be refurbished later. The newer houses face the bay whereas the earlier dry stone houses are perpendicular to that, sheltering from the weather coming from that direction.

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 Archaeology, Architecture, Hebrides, History, Landscape, Photography, Scotland, St Kilda, Travel .

The mass emigration of 1852 may have pushed the population below a sustainable level and this was made much worse by very high rates of infant mortality due to tetanus, which had probably started in the eighteenth century. In 1889 the Minister brought in a new nurse who delivered a couple of babies that survived. In 1892, after the nurse had left, the Minister went to Glasgow to obtain detailed instructions on good hygienic practice and started delivering them himself, thereby solving the problem. The likely cause was that the Hirta midwives had been smearing the rag that dressed the umbilical cord with fulmar oil, unfortunately kept in a gannet’s stomach.

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 Archaeology, Architecture, Hebrides, History, Landscape, Photography, Scotland, St Kilda, Travel .

In the late nineteenth century, agricultural productivity had declined due to declining soil productivity. It occurs to me that a cause of this may have been the delivery of two tonnes of guano as part of the relief measures of 1860. I have seen a documentary suggesting that imported guano brought with it organisms that caused the potato blight in Ireland. Perhaps the use of the guano instead of their traditional seaweed fertiliser significantly eroded the productivity of the soil.

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 Archaeology, Architecture, Hebrides, History, Landscape, Photography, Scotland, Soay sheep, St Kilda, Travel .

The island gained a school in 1899 but hard times were coming. Their economy was now largely based on producing tweed and in 1914 the bottom fell out of the tweed market. They got some relief including employment from a naval wireless station during the war but this did not continue after the war. By 1925 the population had fallen to 46 and in 1830 they agreed to leave. The promises of conditions on the mainland were not fulfilled and most would have returned if they could but this was not to be. St Kilda is now a World Heritage area and the only inhabitants are personnel of a small naval base, and a few archaeologists and their volunteers.

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 Archaeology, Architecture, Hebrides, History, Landscape, Photography, Scotland, Soay sheep, St Kilda, Travel .

 Archaeology, Architecture, Hebrides, History, Landscape, Photography, Scotland, St Kilda, Travel .

Hebrides, History, Landscape, Photography, Scotland, Soay sheep, St Kilda, Travel .

 

Reference: Andrew Fleming: St Kilda and the Wider World (Tales of an iconic island)

First evening at St Kilda

St Kilda, Outer Hebrides, Scotland. Day 18 , 16th July.

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Later that evening we landed on St Kilda.  This is the “Feather Store”, where the locals used to store the produce that they submitted annually to the Factor to send to the Laird.  For centuries before 1779, the McLeod Lairds from Dunvegan Castle on Skye owned St Kilda along with Lewis and Harris.  Decades of wild spending and gambling forced the sale of St Kilda (along with Harris).  The new Laird was a retired sea captain also called McLeod, who built the Feather Store in the 1780s.

Behind the store is what must be an ammunition store for the gun that we see in the next image.

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In 1915, a German U-Boat shelled a radio station in the village but was careful to try to avoid shelling the villagers’ houses.  A few were still damaged and their owners received no compensation from the British Government.  The gun was installed later to deter a recurrence of this event.

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This is the “coffin cleit”, not far from the jetty.  We will see as lot of cleits in the next few posts.  They are storage sheds and drying rooms.  This one is unusual because it is quite long and has two entrances, one at each end.  It was used for storing wood.  There are no trees on Hirta, the St Kildans made use of whatever driftwood came their way.

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This image and the next one are also the “coffin cleit”.

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These are Soay Sheep, an ancient breed of sheep that used to live only on the island of Soay.  The islanders on Hirta had the black faced sheep more common in the Highlands (and that we have seen earlier in this trip).  When the islanders finally left in 1930, they took their black-faced sheep with them.  Soay sheep were then introduced to Hirta, where they had not previously lived.  The breed is said to be six million years old and to be similar to the wild ancestors of domestic sheep.  It is self-shearing, so that wool comes off by itself, as we shall see in some images in the next posts.  There is another ancient breed of sheep on the island of Boreray, which is I think not usually open to visitors.

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Obviously, the one with the horns is somewhat younger.

The Soay sheep belonged to the Laird and were probably always feral.  Conversely. the Boreray sheep were farmed by the residents and were also on Hirta in the eighteenth century.

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This is one of the “modern” houses, dating to 1861 or 1862.  I don’t think it has an original zinc roof, but I could be wrong on that.

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Looking along the “street”, the more modern houses alternate with older houses from the 1830s, dry stone constructions perpendicular to the more recent ones.

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Looking through beyond one of the newer houses.  The small rounded structures are cleits.  There must be hundreds of them on the island.

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Further along the street….

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Inside a ruined drystone house.

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Walls and cleits at the far end of the road with Dun in the background.

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It’s not a place where stones are scarce.

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Arrival at St Kilda

St Kilda, Outer Hebrides, Scotland. Day 18 , 16th July.

I’m now back to posting on Scotland. I last posted on Fuiay five months ago. Since then I travelled to India and then decided to process and post those images before continuing with the North Atlantic trip. My last post for India was in Jodhpur. It’s quite a contrast between the colourful crowded Indian desert city and the remote wilderness of one of the most isolated parts of Scotland.

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Gob Na Muce, Dun

Sailing through the fog and mist, this is our first glimpse of St Kilda.  This is almost the main island of Hirta but in fact is Gob Na Muce, at the south-east tip of the island of Dun.  Dun used to be connected to Hirta by a natural arch and according to a map I have seen appears to be connected at low tide.

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Dun

Dun is a Gaelic word for a fort but there is no evidence of a fort there now.

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Dun

The name St Kilda is the consequence of two mapmakers errors long ago – a transposition error and a typographical error.  Norse sailors called the Haskeir Islands, off the coast of North Uist, Skildir, which refers to a domed shield, because from a distance they were low and rounded.  This name was then mistakenly transferred to what is now the St Kilda group, further out in the Atlantic, and erroneously rendered as S. Kilda or St Kilda.

There is thus no person who was St. Kilda, or perhaps she is the virtual saint of mistaken identity.

There is also a suburb called St Kilda in Melbourne in Australia.  In 1812, a Devon landowner, Sir Thomas Dyke Acland, visited St Kilda and later named his yacht Lady of St Kilda.  That yacht ran aground near Melbourne in 1835 and gave part of its name to the suburb.

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Dun

One of the four natural arches through Dun.

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Oiseval, Hirta

Looking north now, to the headland of Oiseval on the main island of Hirta, with the islands of Stac Lee, Stac an Armin and Boreray from left to right in the distance.

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Dun

This is another natural arch in Dun.  You might just be able to see the chink of light from the other side.

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Dun

St Kilda is an archipelago forty miles from the coast of Northern Uist (in turn south of Lewis and Harris), of which the main islands are Hirta, Dun, Boreray and Soay.

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Dun

 

St Kilda has huge numbers of seabirds including 30,000 pairs of Northern Gannets, 49,000 pairs of Leach’s Petrels, 136,000 pairs of Atlantic Puffins and 67,000 Northern Fulmar pairs.  There is also the St Kilda Wren, endemic to St Kilda.

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Dun

A sky filled with birds.  The tiny island of Dun is home to the largest colony of fulmars in Britain and until 1928 was the only place in Britain where they bred.

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Dun on the left, Hirta on the right.  Getting across the channel is one thing; climbing the cliffs of Dun may be another.  Perhaps it is easier on the other side.

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Village Bay, Hirta

And here is our first view of Village Bay in Hirta.  If you look closely (click on image for a larger view) you can see the many structures left behind by the previous inhabitants.

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Map of St Kilda

A map of St Kilda showing the islands.  We have come in past Dun at the south-east point to anchor in Village Bay.  Wen we leave we will go around the north coast of Hirta and out through the passage between Hirta and Soay.  In the small map at top right, you can see where St Kilda is by the red square.

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Note:  If you happen to be going backwards here, post by post, the previous posts to this one are a series on India by the previous post in my travel through Scotland is the one for Fuiay.

Other

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Mt Haughton Tree on Cliff in Fog 6 A3+

Tree on cliff in fog, Mt Haughton, Budawangs, NSW, c. 1984

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This is a summary page for posts other than images of travel, lighthouses or live music.  The links below either do not appear in other tabs or they focus on broad subjects:

Comments on the image above:   I was walking with a friend in the Budawang mountains in Morton National Park, probably in 1984, in driving rain and it was getting dark.  My friend kept wanting to stop and bivouac anywhere with the least amount of shelter but I insisted on keeping on going because I knew what was ahead.  We reached a huge “camping cave”, a great overhang on the side of Mt Haughton, and stayed there all of the next day out of the inclement weather.

At the edges of the overhang, I was able to set up my tripod and take photographs out into the mist and rain from a nice dry location.  At first glance it looks like a tree on the right with a branch coming off it, but it’s a cliff with a tree growing improbably out of the vertical face.  This of course is well before the days of digital photography and I was using a borrowed Linhof Technika.  This is a large format camera with a 5×4″ film size (9x12cm in Europe but a slightly different size) and it is a field camera because it folds up to a compact size.  The film would have been Fujichrome 50 (before the days of Velvia).

There may be a bit of a pause before my next post on St Kilda.  While I have lots of images prepared, I need to reread a couple of books to make accurate commentary and I have other demands on my time at present.

 

Monochrome and Infrared

Here are links to the posts on my blog that contain monochrome and infrared images.  Most of the infrared images are also monochrome but they can also be colour.

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Ring around the moon, Canberra, June 2014

Ring around the moon, Canberra, June 2014

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Perversely, I am illustrating this post with a colour photograph that probably includes the night-time equivalent of a rainbow (though it looks almost monochromatic).

 

Preparing to Travel

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Ceiling and chandelier, Jama Masjid, Delhi

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I adapted this post from an article I recently wrote for the Canberra Photographic Society. It draws on my travel experiences over the last few years and includes some monochrome versions of my images from India.  The main focus is travel with photography in mind.

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Ceiling, Humayan’s Tomb

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Of course what I’m talking about is what I have found useful for myself. Others will no doubt have different experiences, opinions and preferences.

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Children on the street in Vrindavan

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What to read beforehand

Since this was a pre-organised tour we didn’t have to arrange our own accommodation or transport inside India. For my first time in India this was a great advantage.  I purchased a couple of guide books and took them with me, however I found them largely a waste of time because we didn’t need to worry about the logistics of travel and the information they provided I found generally too superficial.  Sometime previously I had read a History of India and that’s what I should have taken with me. It would have helped me understand the significance of places we visited and enabled me to ask intelligent questions of our guides.  I also purchased a book Culture Shock! India that proved a very useful introduction to the perils and opportunities of travel in India.

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From the bus, near Vrindavan

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If you’re organising your own accommodation, Trip Advisor is a good place to start (the link comes up at Deo Bagh by way of example). You can learn quite a lot by reading the traveller reviews.  Also, there is always a map you can click on and you can explore in that to find other places nearby with optimal locations. Always check the web sites of places you might be interested in.

I tend to use SkyScanner for booking flights though it’s not the only choice. If you use the wrong search engine you can end up paying much more. Make sure you book the correct dates and leave enough time between flights and make sure your flight times match the logistics of travel inside the countries you visit.  In some cases you may want to arrive in a country a day or two early in case a delayed flight can make you miss a critical connection.  You may prefer to use a travel agent which may be safer but will probably cost you more.

It’s also wise to have reserve funds because problems are always possible.

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Photographing and being photographed, near Vrindavan

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It’s important to find out what the weather is likely to be so you can consider in advance how the weather might affect your photographic opportunities, or even what activities you undertake, and so you can know what clothes to bring. There are lots of online sites that show weather in a location for the next ten days or so and most guide books will give you an indication of what weather conditions will be like by month or by season. For both Japan and Iceland I found detailed time series data online for various locations, which was very useful. However, in these days of global warming, there is always the chance that you will encounter atypical weather conditions.

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Making sugar, near Vrindavan

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Visas and Vaccinations

Visas and vaccinations are essential for a place like India and you need to ensure you do them well in advance since you have to surrender your passport for some weeks.

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Early morning in Vrindavan

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Clothing

You obviously need suitable clothing and the trick is to take what you’re going to need, especially to keep you warm and dry, without discovering you have lots of stuff you haven’t used. A pair of good hiking boots is likely to be essential and I always bring a second pair of footwear just in case.

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Open-air food markets, Vrindavan

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Camera Gear

There’s a huge variety in what you might take as camera equipment and much of this is personal choice.  Roger Clark has a useful article: Does gear matter in photography? .

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Taj Mahal from nearby mosque

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For the most minimal system, you might go for a single camera such as a Sony RX100, a Fujifilm X100s or a mirrorless or DSLR camera with just one zoom. In that case how you carry it and carry-on weights are not major issues. Alternatively, a camera like this might be a secondary camera, especially for walking around in cities.  A Nikon 1 AW might also be an option as the only genuinely waterproof camera system.

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Motorcycle repair shop, Agra

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However, most people will probably carry a mirrorless or DSLR system, having negotiated trade-offs for weight, image quality, low light capability and autofocus speed. Whatever you take, you should have a backup camera because you can never eliminate the possibility of camera loss or failure.

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Laxminarayan Temple from Orchha Fort, Orchha

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If it’s going to be wet or a desert (potential for wind-borne sand), you might consider a rain cover for your camera. If I am travelling with a full-frame Nikon system I take ThinkTank Hydrophobias, which are admittedly expensive. There doesn’t seem to be an equivalent quality option for small cameras but a cheap option offering some protection is the Op Tech Rainsleeve.

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Street scene in front of Laxminarayan Temple, Orchha

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Checked Luggage

Organisation of luggage is always a task and when I travel overseas I use a spreadsheet to list and check off items to make sure I take everything I need. In my partner Jools’ case for our trip to India, her strategy included taking as little as possible so she could bring as much as possible back. Allowable limits can vary by airline so finding the best option may require a bit of research.

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View from Hotel Fatehgarh, Udaipur

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Carry-on Luggage

If you have a full DSLR camera system, carry-on limits can be a challenge. You don’t want to have your camera gear go in the hold because it’s more vulnerable and not insured. Usually they don’t check weights (though they can) and may be more concerned about size, especially small regional airlines that may have small lockers. If necessary, you can put a camera round your neck and take out items to put in your pockets.  On my North Atlantic trip last year, I flew British Airways where possible because they don’t have carry-on weight limits; you just have to be able to lift your bag into the overhead locker.

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City Palace, Udaipur

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You may need a dedicated carrying unit for your camera gear. I took a Lowe-Pro Inverse belt pack with me to India (for a Fujifilm system) but many choose a photographic backpack (and I have a couple of these that I may use with a full-frame Nikon system). Among the better choices, if not cheap, are the Gura Gear packs such as the Gura Gear Bataflae (various sizes). Be wary of Tamrac packs, though. They look good and I got one and immediately returned it because it put strain on my back even with a light load. Thom Hogan reported the same thing in one of his reviews.

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Common Langur reflecting the bus in his eyes, near Ranakpur

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Until recently, you may have had a problem if you wanted to go bushwalking (or tramping or hiking) for many days, or even on a long day trip walking many kilometres in variable weather conditions.  This is because there were no suitable packs available to let you carry food, clothing and other equipment, as well as your photographic gear. In the last year or two, modular packs for this purpose have become available.

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View from fort, Sardargarh

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My next trip includes walks of many hours in the south-west US canyonlands. For that I have purchased a MindShift Rotation 180 Pro.  This is a modular pack that includes a beltpack that you can swivel out without removing the backpack, or that you can wear separately.  It has a variety of ways of carrying a tripod and seems to have a very comfortable harness system.  There is also a variety of options for carrying clothes, food and other items.

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Travellers hanging out of moving train, between Sardargarh and Phulad

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Another modular option is the Gura Gear Uinta, which allows you to access your camera gear from the front or the back of the pack. It has a feature where you slip out of the shoulder straps, rotate the whole pack around your waist on its base, and take out cameras and lenses from the back without removing the pack. The Mindshift pack can do this too (at least for the top part of the pack), but in either case this doesn’t sound very practical with a very heavy pack.

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Hermit/ holy man, Sardargarh

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A third option is the Aarn Featherlite Freedom, or similar Aarn models that distribute the weight on the front as well as the back and have photographic modules that hang off the shoulder straps on the front. It must be very ergonomic and as a New Zealand pack would be waterproof but is probably more suitable for a small compact system.

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Dancing in the desert, Manvar Desert Camp

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Planning a Shoot

When you’re looking at the locations you want to photograph, the Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE) is a very useful utility. It can tell you when the sun or moon rises and sets, directions and even shadows cast by mountains. You need an internet connection to use it.

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Near Manvar Desrt Camp (infrared)

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Some of my trips I have also preplanned on a car GPS (including accommodation and photo stops). For my North Atlantic trip I would ask the car GPS “OK, where do I want to go next?” and it would set me on my way. The only problem was sometimes working out why I had wanted to go there. I also found it useful for off-road sites such as brochs (though an all-terrain one would be better for more extensive use) and I found it useful on foot in Kyoto where street signs are in Japanese.  A smart phone can also offer you useful maps but won’t extend to route planning.

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In a laneway, Jaisalmer

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Backing up your images

I guess another form of trip preparation is working out how to select and process your images when you come back and what your forms of output will be. To end up with images to process, you need to either take lots of cards or a laptop and external drives. You should always have two backups of your images and ideally store them in separate places while travelling, just in case.

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Young woman and child, from the horse and cart, Jodhpur

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To my mind taking the images is largely intuitive. You make your choices, you understand your equipment, you find the right light and you let the photographs take themselves. You can get into things like rule of thirds for composition but for me the important thing is simply to see the final result as you are making the exposure. It’s important to shoot RAW because otherwise you are only storing a fraction of the colours and tones that the camera can see.  You can always improve images in post-processing even if your objective is “realism”.

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Seller of scarves at entrance to Jodhpur Fort

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Feel free to comment on how your experiences and attitudes may differ, or if you think I have left anything out.

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Jodhpur – Jaswant Thada

27th February 2014 (Day 19) Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India

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(This is the last post for India, out of 56 posts with 1,000 images and 20,000 words.)

After Mehrangarh Fort, we visited Jaswant Thada.  It is in the Rao Jodha Desert Rock Park and close to the fort, the walls of which you can see on the horizon at the left.

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Jaswant Thada is a white marble memorial built by Maharaja Sardar Singh in 1899 in memory of his father, Maharaja Jaswant Singh II.

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There was a small bird with iridescent blue plumage feeding on the blossoms of a tree.  It is somewhat like an Australian Honeyeater but I don’t know what kind of bird it is.

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On the skyline is the Umaid Bhawan Palace, residence of the family of the Maharaja, built in the 1930s and finished in 1943.  Amongst other things it is a monument to incredible wealth but in 1948, Marwar became part of India and the Maharajas lost their taxation revenue.  The palace has 347 rooms and includes a hotel where you can stay for as little as $A400 per night, or if you feel like lashing out, $A1,725 per night for a grand royal bedroom suite.

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Back to Jaswant Thada, this is the shrine inside.

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Bronwynne, a member of our party, on the left, had just been photographing this Indian family.

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Later, on the way back to the hotel, we passed this demonstration.  Our driver was unable to say what they were demonstrating about.

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This street vendor obligingly stopped for a photograph.

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Goodbye from India!  This is an appropriate image to end on as well as being chronologically the last photograph.

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