A recounting of travels in the far north, armed with increasingly surly french car, lemsip and no internet ,
Day 1 : Packing the Stupid Little Car ™ Lack of Gushies ™ and Roads Not Taken.
This may be SLC’s last big journey with me. Well, not maybe. Will be.
When I Get back, its SLC ™ little blue self is off to the knackers yard / getting traded in.
It’s done the tour several times now, and should be used to things, but it had a somewhat apprehensive appearance when I plodded up the first 240 mile leg of the journey. I know it has no eyes, but it.. looks at me, sometimes. With sad little fog lights. I have no mercy.
Even SMAC(tm) [ Sadly Missed Awesomest Civic ] Made the long haul up to Torridon and the Frozen Wastelands, and it was even more laden down than the SLC ™ so it can stop whinging.
A quick round of the usual Tetris game that is packing and the boot is filled with woolly jumpers, other peoples hiking boots, and most importantly, my various electronic gadgetry. Ipod, Iphone, Ipad, keyboard. Chargers. Not of course, my SatNav. It’s away somewhere safe. So Safe that I can’t quite remember where I put it. But really, why would I need it?
The area we are going to has no motorways and only one road on the Map. It’s not like Loch Ness is hard to find, bisecting the country into the area of Real Geography ™ and Boring Geography ™. There are some exceptions, but they are mostly around the regions where the Boring Geography ™ smacked with great force into the Real Geography ™ with sufficient force to make it wrinkly and interesting. SatNav? Pfft. For wimps. We have an out of date road atlas, and an easily distracted by maps variety parent for navigational purposes.
Oddly enough it’s not raining when we set off. Oddly because it’s been pissing down for most of October so far, and we’re heading out on holiday, and well, quite honestly, to properly enjoy a holiday in scotland in autumn, it should be dreich, with chance of mosquito. But because it isn’t raining, and hasnt been raining today or yesterday, there’s no water for the adhoc waterfalls that spring out of the rock by the roadside when you’re in the highlands. These are known as Gushies ™, and are one of the favourite things to look at once you hit Rannoch Moor.
Properly speaking this place should look desolate. Properly despairing desolate. It’s brown, and wet and sodden,a boggy, peaty expanse with a road and a railway floating on top of it. Yes, I do mean floating, with the connotations that, yes, it could sink. Has sunk. Does sink from time to time if the appropriate efforts to add extra support are not kept up with.
There’s an amusing little frisson of excitement if you think about expanses of road suddenly slurping their way into the bog, leaving your car teetering on the edge of a chasm. I try to follow someone else so that they will go first.
There are random isolated stands of green in the brown expanse, where shrubs and trees have sprung up like small oasis’, and it’s surrounded by hills, and low mountains pushing their way into the sky to the point where you’d need to crane your neck out of the car window to see the peaks. Ideally, it should appear that if you left the road by twenty or thirty yards no one would ever see you again. Within twenty minutes you’d be dead, and they’d dig you up in two thousand years and give you a twee name based on your helly hanson red jacket, and then make a discovery holo program about you, while you lie naked in a glass box in london, with scientists exlaiming about your ceremonial last meal of a twix and some marmite crisps.
Much to my disgust , it is, in fact sunny. And dry. Which entirely spoils the effect. I can’t help cursing at the merry hikers who are determined to bag a Monroe, and will in all probablility return to their vehicles, which litter the side of the road, like the bens were the corner shop, and they’d just nipped in for a pint of milk.
Coming out of Glencoe, which has a distinct lack of Gushies ™ owning to the unpleasantly clement weather. We rounded the corner, crossed the bridge over Loch Linnhe, and approached Fort William. We were now ‘nearly there’, as Fort William is only and hour or so from Mallaig and Inverness. And Traigh Beach, upon which I have dibs when the Euromillions is mine. I shall buy the golf course, Bunnacaimbe, Camusdarach and all the caravan places, and raze them to the ground, sending the inhabitents to the US or Canada to strive armed with only the clothes on their backs. I will send in Sheep, red Deer and furry coo’s to take their places. Highland Clearances 2010. This could also lead to a few movies, and series of depressing books with black and white photographs in, which could be hawked at all the tourist stops.
I’d buy an island.. they sell for cheap, as i recall, having just checked, there was a nice 8 acre rocky crag in the hebrides just gone for 65k. Not unreasonable, and I’m sure that Castle plans are available on t’internet. I can build from the local rocks and run in a couple undersea fibres for the internet. Except I get seasick, and the construction of a bridge is an invitation extended too far. P’raps with a buzzer and big gate on. Portcullis.
Yes. Uhm, I digress, but we scuttled past Ballaculish, and round past the Corran Ferry, leaving us to motor along next to the four and half thousand”Loch View” B&B’s, originality not being a selling point here. Or actual Loch Views that are not obtained by standing on a chair in the upstairs bathroom, and squinting.
The traditional “Fill the car to bursting at Morrisons” comes next, with the toss up between “What can we pack in the coolbags and around mum, and what do we actually plan on eating that won’t need to get binned at the end of the week.” Stuff for breakfasts and soup and beer and wine and lemsip, plus the occasional treat slides into the basket.
I have a litle pang as we leave Fort William and fail to hang a left on the Rathad Nan Eilan. The road to Mallaig, and the isles [ alright, islands, for the less picturesque of phrase ] is one of my favourite stretches of road in pretty much the entire world, bar none.
Once you are through CowPat and the Treasure-easures of-ffff the-eee Earth-rth-rth, when you get to Glenfinnan, fail to run over ducks or tourists and see the monument and the now forever named”Harry Potter Viaduct”, then its all twisty turning single track past dead sheep loch [ Loch Nam Uamh – AKA Loch Nam Doofa ] and a preponderance of potential rockfalls, additional Gushies(tm) and more and more sea lochs. Plus some of those little islands with trees on where Dementors will shimmy after you in that shifty way they have. Check them out. I’m right. This stretch of the land is all dementorish.
There’s a point in the road, bobbing up and down twisty turny stretches, trying to stay to the right of the single track road because the left hand side is a sheer rocky plummet, when you head up out of Arisaig, church on your left and you have to take the old road, not the new ‘fast’ road – which is beautifully paved, but ever so dull, so you go through Arisaig, where Prince Charlie has not escaped in over two hundred and fifty years, watching venison on the hoof bobbing along strapped to the back of a pickup, up the road past the church, and through the back of Keppoch, and the sea twinkles on your left. Eventually, you come past a stand of trees, and some vile caravans, which should be razed to the ground [see earlier section on highland caravan clearances]. You swing round the corner, heading north, with the sun hanging in the afternoon sky, clouds dotting. Traigh beach is there, [Traigh Beach, from the Gaelic ‘Beach Beach’ ] laid out below you, bumpy and seaweeded, and rocky, intwo or three sweeping curves, with a stand of rocks and heather in the middle that becomes an island at low tide. The water is clear, and turquoise, and the sands glint with a million tiny shells.
It’s not the most impressive beach up here. That distinction lies with the white sands of morar, or the beautiful dunes at Camusdarach, but it never fails to take my breath away and leave my stomach feeling like i left it on a bump in the road miles back. I’m struck silent and my eyes sting. From the middle of this beach, though, over the little tiny island in the middle of the bay, you can look over over Eigg and Rhum and Muc, get your breath whipped away by the ever present wind. You can spend hours perched on the little rock stacks, getting windburned and slowly cut off by the tide. It’s isolated, and theres an urge to buy up the golf course, and the dwellings to either side, let the fields go to old forest, and evict the sheep, and build a castle [ yes a new one] out of old stone on where the golf course would no longer be, and stop trimming the perfect green. And just sit here. Looking out to sea, toasting individual marshmallows with an individual blowtorch, carried for just such purposes. The View hasnt changed in a thousand years and likely won’t for the next millenium. I could, and have, spent hours here watching the sun set, watching the moon over the water. [ I have not inserted a photo gallery at this time. But I could. If you could stomach that many sunsets. ]
We aren’t going that way, but inland this time. Up the side of Loch Ness, to a base of operations halfway between Fort William and Inverness.
Spean Bridge, when we head through, is closed. Again. well, its past 4pm, and it is October. The Fergusons lorries are off the roads for the evening, or are out on the single track roads, tormenting the unwary. Ben Nevis keeps itself just always there, though there are other peaks that look higher. And then Loch Ness is by the side of the road, and no Nessie. or Nessie-hunter traps, that is left to Drumnadrochit, an otherwise pretty little place between Invermoriston and Inverness. It holds the worlds largest collection of tacky Nessie objets d’art. And should be razed to the… huh, repeating myself again.
We find the cottage easily enough. Mostly because last night we used Google streetview to amble up and down the road outside, until we were sure to recognise it. The only difference was that there wasnt smoke coming out of the chimney, but its the same place.
So perhaps I’d checked every cupboard and drawer before the car was unpacked. Its a hobby. I read the visitor book cover to cover and found the cheesegrater and all the little nooks and crannies before the kettle boiled. Information is always useful.
It’s a lovely place, roomy and well laid out. Incidentally, and should you stop there, the DVD player does too work, if you have the mental capacity to hit the TV-DVD button, this being an older set that doesnt auto switch [ Not aimed at you Mr BBC engineer. that was a general *men* of exasperation. The instructions being tucked under the visitors book. I may, or may not make a sarcastic comment to that effect when we leave. Also – the oven. Laminated instructions in the drawer next to it. Doesnt anyone check all the drawers, cupboards and boxes anymore? ]
Minor hiccup. I can get 2 bars on GPRS, if i balance on one leg near the window. I dont think i’ll make it the week.
Day 2. The Well of the Dead, and, well, general deadness overall. We went to Nairn afterall.
We got up this morning with the intention to visit Culloden. 50 Minutes drive, historic jacobite site. Reportedly eerie battlefield, and lonely desolate moor. Classic tourist stuff.
By the time I’d finished coughing and trying to turn my lungs inside out, and was sufficiently doped up on lemsip and coughdrops, it was, still, technically morning, so we loaded the car with fleeces and raincoats and binoculars and set off.
The problematic “Service” & “Bwahahhaah you have no airbags” lights were soon fixed by plugging the seatbelt tensioners back in again properly, which had become unhooked during the”packing the car to the rafters” debacle when travelling up here. Orange blinky lights, I fear you not. !!!
Invermoriston – which my translation of scottish place names tells me, means mouth of the river Moriston, has two awesome little stone bridges. Which we will look at this week, on the off chance that there are In either case we were through it in ninety seconds and trundling up the side of Loch Ness. Castle Urqhart lurked in the lack of fog, looming not at all. What the heck happened to the sense of presence and awe it was supposed to inspire? I’ve seen the postcards. It was distinctly not majestic and there should be a governing body to report it too.
Drumnadrochit was driven through with the windows up in case the tourist information board lobbed stuffed green nessies wearing bunnets through the windows. It’s not even on Loch Ness, but inland a little way. You couldn’t spit on the monster from the town if you tried.
When you actually get to Inverness, they have done a cunning thing. It’s to confuse either the Government [Redcoats] or the Jacobites [ Scottish rogues, blue outfits, woad and kilts, very dashing ], or both, but they do this funny thing where streets signs and road signs become optional. And since the A82 does not, as it turns out, stay the same road, or even head in the same direction as you drive through Inverness, it is very possible to get very very lost. Just because you arent looking twelve feet up a lamppost, but are looking at street corners for names of roads. Serves you right, really. It’s about this point that I think that a Satnav might have been a little useful, and I should perhaps have thought about unpacking mine and fetching it with.
Eventually, when you think that both armies should have been cheesegrated and left to mulch just for damning future visitors to confusion, a signpost appears to Culloden. The road also leads to Nairn, but we can’t have everything.
The new visitors centre is built from slate and silvered wood and glass, and melts into the burm. Subtle is the best way to describe it, as you can barely see it from the road, and only two lines of flags mark one of the most famous sites in scotland.
Once inside, and into the preliminary exhibit, you realise what a brilliant job they have done of invisibly using technology to bring it to life. Directional speakers, to tell you about both sides of the story, using character witnesses. A tunnel down which you walk listening to conversations from both camps. I paused for a second and heard snoring, while other passers by got intense conversations, a multitude of accents, crackling fires and hoofbeats. Me. Snoring. My favourite part was the projection of synchronised movies onto all four walls of a square room, placing you dead in the middle of the two opposing lines, armed with Cannon, Muskets, Blades and bare knees. There were no seats, huddled mass in the centre of the room, looking slightly poleaxed.
I should have watched it through twice, as I spent most of the time twisting and turning from side to side avoiding canonballs, and rifle shots. The realism is not underdone, with many bloody violent deaths. It’s short, brutal, and gripping. Go See It.
There was also an overhead computerised projection, showing the sheer scale of the battlefield, a much larger place than is now held by the national trust. Blue dots and red dots struggling against each other. And then it pans out. And you realise how many were here.
There was a jolly surgeon, chatting about the advanced medical equipment of the day. Leeches and Gin. If anyone ever doubts the historic accuracy of Balckadder, then they should have paid more attention. Rubber leeches, I’m glad to report, because they make me a little queasy to look at. So does gin, but theres more for everyone else. My Mum, Being a School Classroom Assistant, gamely juggled a rubber leech, having recognised the species. Brava !! I wasnt planning on testing it out. I need my blood inside.
Eventually you are going to step outside and look at the place where it all happened. They’ve developed a portable Battlefield Guide, which is a brilliantly executed marvel of GPS. A guided tour that hangs around your neck, clips into your ear, and dings where you approach something of interest. It’s a good job it clips to your ear, as anything else would be whipped away from you, snatched by the biting wind.
Some of the heath is farmed land, or had been. Rough but manageable terrain, looking nothing like artists renditions or images of heather and rough grass. There is a moment of cognitive dissonance, as you try and work out if you are in the right place or not.
Then you round a corner and see a dip, and the beginning of uneven ground. There in front of you is a stone tagged “Well of the Dead”, where a small spring bubbles next to a shaped marker stone, telling you where a Laird fell. It’s surrounded by gorse and heather, and thigh deep slimy bog with little floating hummocks.
Glancing up, you can see other stones, that, when read, spell out the name of the mass grave where each heap of clansmen lies. Who knows what the well of the dead bubbles through, though archeologists have still not found all the bodies, or all that is to be found here. The clanmembers were identified and buried in pits with their brethren. There are two markers for those of unknown clan, who were so unrecognisable that they sleep with parts of strangers from all over scotland. This is the killing ground, where the Jacobites were mown down by Cannon and rifle fire. Where they broke their lines and charged in anger. After campaigns that got as far as Derby in England, and all through the north parts, they lost everything here and paid for it. The government troops slayed the injured, and followed on by destroying their homes, familes and lands for their actions.
My face got burned by the wind, standing in autumn sunlight, on ground that two hundred fifty years ago would have run red with blood. The sunlight seemed obscene.
Last time I came, it was at dusk, there was mist floating, hiding the surrounding hills, making the place appear alone and untouched. You couldnt see the road, or hear anything but the crows which still flap about. That hasn’t changed significantly today.
Coming back onto the even ground is a single stone for the goverment dead. The guide explains that this is their only marker, foreign men buried on foreign soil. There are scots here, who took the winning side, backing the crown, and are muddled in and away from their clans, forgotten and unmarked. It’s hard to be English here, and I want to move on, disown this spot, even though I’m technically part of the winning side.
Its not until you go to re-enter the warm hall, and you see a plaque, stopping to read it as you admire the slate stone wall. You blink a little as you take in the meaning. There is a stone in the wall for each one of the dead on this field. Those that protrude from one side. Those that lie flat for the other. Looking along it, it seem obscene to think how many died here. It’s hard to put numbers into a perception, I cannot visualise that many corpses, but I can see the stones and cannot count them. Two minutes before, I was thinking how attractive it was, and wondering about installing something similar at home. The thought has rather lost its appeal.
When we leave, it is quietly. Heading along the back roads towards Nairn, where we have stayed before. The road takes us through Cawdor, where Macbeth’s castle lies, but we dont stop. There’s a farm shop en route, which draws us in, containing many delicious items. And a multitude of wooden furniture that I have fallen in love with. I’m saved only by the fact that I cannot strap the enormous press to the roof of my SLC ™. I did pause to look at anchoring points, but realised that wind drag would be too great. We come away with garlic things and a motivational slate for Adam.
Nairn, as we previously found, appears better when the “Thank you for visiting..” Signs are well behind you on the road in the rear view mirror. We keep hearing rumours of it being a pretty pleasant place, and folks enthuse about it. I suspect that those people may drink heavily, or have never been to a seaside town which is actually nice, pleasant, or at the very least, attractive. If I was thinking up adjectives for the town – Scuzzy would be my first choice. That feeling you get when you get up and know you need to brush your teeth on a morning. The road leaving is a welcome sight. This way lies Tesco, shops full of technology, books .. but not Borders, and a chance to fill up the car.
Armed with foreknowledge, and bread, we plotted the route back through Inverness, looking a mere twelve feet above street level for the road signs.
Urqhart has its act together in the darkness at last. Lit up and floating on the lake. We miss a chance to stop and gawp, narrowly avoided a head on collision with someone who decided to gawp and drive, and must make the most of it tomorrow or later in the week.
Day 3 : Castles which are exactly right, the end of roads, and a village of the edge of nowhere.
It was a proper Culloden visitation sort of day today, overcast, and air is hanging with raindrops waiting to fall. We pottered out of the village with directions in mind, places to go and things to view. Castles and villages at the end of nowhere. We’ve been sitting down with actual maps, and bumph and tourist guides and lists of places and things to do, and drawn up a schedule for most of the week. Days interchangeable, but grouped into a general area.
It rained overnight, so when we head up the A887, [ spotting the shop selling clogs and antlers – intersting combination, and I’d love to know what social occasion calls for both..] along the bottom of Glen Moriston, watching the river slither back and forwards along the peaty valley floor, and slowly rise towards the Clunie Dam, there are the starts of little .. and big … gushies ™ sputtering and spattering their way down the hillsides, disappearing under the road to land in the Lochs. The roads were a little greasy, so I kept tucking into parking spots to let all the impatient locals through. That way, if there is a landslip or suddenly slippy corner of the road, I’ll be forewarned by the screeching of brakes and the column of smoke in the sky.
A few of the rivers and lochs this way are dammed at the head by Scottish Hydro. The first one is ugly with pipework jabbing out at odd angles, and plainly an offense to the eye, the second is the local almost black stone and seems to grow out of the hills on either side, better covered by vegetation. That’s the Clunie Dam. It’s a nice ride up to the main A87, at which point we turn left, and plod along the side of Loch Clunie, which has sandy beaches and waves. We wonder for a while if its a sea loch, as its so choppy, but it has rocky little islands with trees atop, like cress growing on cotton wool. After this loch, there’s a lot of time spent twisting and turning through an inland region with limited water features.
I’m not sure why, but all of us in the car are happiest when in sight of a stretch of water at least as big as a river [ ponds are too small ] but mountainous peaks with dusts of cloud slipping down over the peaks will do, at a push. Not rolling hills and fields. Real Geography ™The trees are proper scottish ones, without a cash crop of massive green pointy interlopers, in dark green toupees atop the hills. None of that. The ground level ferns are brown gold red, and the spindly trees that look like cotton buds with bare stems and a right of bushy yellow green leaves at the top.
Eilean Donan is visible from a distance as you approach, accompanied by the slowing down of traffic as folks stop to gawk.
Its a proper castle, albeit with a bridge, which makes access far too easy for the invading hordes.
Provided they have tickets, bought in the nearby giftshop, and have run the gauntlet of same and escaped without shortbread, nessie hats, or a newly discovered Clan Tartan.
Once over the bridge, I spent a while staring up at the portcullis – which works! Brilliant for keeping out the riff-raff, small children and those folks who persist in posting takeaway menus, betterware catalogues and the like. I’ll have to make enquiries for home. We had the moat already this year, of course.
Inside you find out that this castle was rebuilt from a ruin just under a hundred years ago, for about half a million. Which is reasonable, i think. I have a list of other castles that i plan to get my hands on, should the occasion arise.
Most of it is roped off and locked away, as its still owned and lived in by the McRae clan, but not all the year. You’d think they’d let other people have a go every now and then. What is cool about it, is the normal doorways and halls, and then overlaid on top of that is the servants entrances, and stairs at about half the width, its a wonder that they made it through in the skirts and aprons, without getting wedged. How the hell did they carry anything anywhere?
There is a gaggle of americans poking about, and group is unfortunately demonstrating the worst characteristics of tourists Viz sitting on the things marked”Do not sit” and photographing anything that says”Please do not take photographs”. Those signs are for other people.
Mum pauses in the kitchen to tot up an old shopping bill in Pounds, shilling, pence and farthings. Smugly.
The visitors from the continent over the pond are swarming the kilt clad guide, who is taking the queries gamely enough. They are rather startled to find out that yes, people do still live in scotland, and are not actors hired for the amusement of tourists.
They might have annoyed me a little. P’raps.
Visitors are not permitted to play with the portcullis [ which really, really works ] or drop boiling lead on anyone, so eventually the fun wears off and we leave, a little reluctantly and get underway again.
The Kyle of Localsh is mostly there to have a bridge and let people travel to Skye, which looks to be a swimmable distance away. The objective part, again, is leaving the Kyle, rather than travelling to, as there is nothing in particular there, other than a shop selling awesome woolly objects. Also a multitude of tat shops. ( Tat – pointless dross )
Next place en route was a sharpish visit to skye, and back again, having pootled through Kyleakin and back. I wanted to have a go on the bridge, because I never had before. It firmed up the resolution to aquire an island and install a bridge. Gates and Portcullis are also aquirable, and its much better than sailing. Plockton was the next real stop, and there were some cracking single track roads on the way. There’s nothing quite like that ‘Whee, the road is wet and slippery with a plummet to my left, lumpy wheel eating rocks to my right, and a german tour bus bearing down on one at a rapid speed’ feeling to get the adreniline going on a morning.
It is apparently home to a multitude of artists, of whom we saw none. There is a visible castle, accessible by road, although not one that we were taking. And, if one looks carefully, a number of small islands in the bay. One of which has the correct looking sort of trees for proper pirates to be at home, staggering about, looking for the rum. There was no rum and no pirates, but there could be a new industry just waiting to happen.
Adam requested Beer be brought back from my travels. There are a number of small breweries including one on the Black Isle, that we plan to get to this week. and I’d noted that Plockton had a brewery, but not where it was, or if it was open. When we entered the tiny tiny shop on the main street there were two bottles lingering on the shelf. The slightly … dippy …lady behind the counter promptly called the brewer to see if he’d drop off a few more bottles, which was unexpected. The request for”is there any more” usually results in sucking of teeth, or a noncomittal grunt. Not this lass. He was up to his armpits in beer at the time, so said it was fine if we popped up and the brewery was just behind the primary school. [ She also had a minor breakdown over the fact it was too late to get a five course meal anywhere and we’d have to settle for butties, but we edged out of the shop backwards until we could no longer hear the gashing and wailing and wringing of hands]
The local hostellery provided nice toasted butties. Unless you wanted tuna without mayonnaise, which was in short supply. but the Mozzarella and Pesto was delicious.
Mindful of the fading of the light, and the overcastness of the sky, we opted to take the car to go and look for the brewery on the wayout, in one of the three streets in Plockton. We headed for the primary school to see if it was where it was supposed to be. It was, in fact. A very nice shed with a label on the side and two boilers inside. Eight barrels were stacked out on the pavement, and a chap in a boiler suit kindly fetched us two or three more bottles, of the”purple label beer” And then it rained. Persistantly.
About… ten years ago we were touring Torridon, Gairloch, and Loch Maree. We’d halted in Gairloch on a bright sunny afternoon, obtained a scone and jam from a local vendor and taken a stroll along the beach.At which point the sky tipped a solid sheet of water from the sky for a total of three and a half minutes. Precisely enough time to run back to the car park, try and find the keys, discover that we were soaked through to our intestines and try and pile in. At which point it stopped, and sunbeams peeked through again. It didnt rain again for days, and we all sat around ringing out our socks, looking dazed.
It didnt rain quite that heavily. Nope. It stotted, bounced off the floor and turned into hail, as we kept shuffling backwards into this poor chaps brewing shed, making small talk and wondering if we could make it back to the car before having to tip water from our wellies.
Of course, as soon as we’d decided to get back in the car, it stopped.
We took the scenic route back towards the main road. There was an incredibly scenic sheer drop down one side, slightly blurred by wet leaves and mud. Glad that my power steering is still top notch we pootled off through villages containing three houses and a post box, until we found the route back.
There was a minor event as we trundled along looking for Gushies ™ when we saw a column of smoke, or steam, although not for long enough to pinpoint what it was. Down in the floor of the glen, behind the damn, near the serpentine river. It looks like someone’s barbecue had gone horribly wrong. No leaping flames. Just smoke, and then it was behind us.
We turned off and started the climb up. And up again, looking over Glen Garry. With the rain, theres no good place to stop, as the parking spots and scenic vista halts are entirely swamped in puddles and mud. It was also likely to start pissing down again. Its a total shame because the glimpses ofthe view through the trees are incredible, glass like lochs spread out amonst the hills, and belonging on a postcard.
Twenty minutes later as we dropped down towards Invergarry, a fire engine went storming by in the opposite direction, lights and siren.
Oh Dear. It might be entirely unrelated.
Day 4 : Here be Dolphins. Unless it’s cold, windy, or you happen to be looking for them.
On the map between Inverness and Cromarty on the tip of the Black Isle, are several markings, labelled “Here be Dolphins”. There are a multitude of signposts and leaflets telling you all about the Whales, Dolphins and other squatic mammals. However, if you take this road [ having managed to navigate through Inverness towards the A9 and dealt with their chancy attempts at Geography – “Why yes, everyone heading north will of course immediately divine that the signposts EAST and SOUTH to Aberdeen are the obvious ones to take“.] which does indeed do the usual A9 thing once you are over the rather impressive bridge, and becomes the epitome of dullness. The landscape turns dull, the road surface becomes hypnotic, and only the randomly named places, and insane drivers brighten things up in anyway at all.
While there may be fascinating places on the Black Isle, I’m sure it is named for what you are mostly looking at as you traverse along it. Viz, the inside of your eyelids. All the good hills are well out of reach and to the north. It’s much of a muchness and you could be in England [ southern Boring Bit ] for all the variation and interesting-ness of the scenery has turned bland. At Tore there is a right turn to Cromarty and Fortrose.
A little noise of interest from a parent as we motor past Glenmorangie. There are a lot of distilleries here, but otherwise nothing of any reason to stop is present until Rosemarkie. Farmland. Beaucolic, haybales and fields of plantlife. I do not have any sentimental wish to retire to the country and look out on rolling fields, and herds of sheep. RoseMarkie on the other hand is an adorable little place, where the old fashioned houses and red postboxes are too close together, with twisty turny streets and actual pleasant views. It doesnt last long, and the endless hedgerows resume.
Finally, one lands at Cromarty, which overlooks a beautiful bay, which reportedly contains dolphins and seals. According to reports, one should be able to stroll from Cromarty to Nigg – on the opposite headland, atop the roiling life in the water. A Ferry is, alas required for those days when the sealife is less than accomodating.
Cute little houses, old and wonderful adorn the jutting spit of land.
We do not see any dolphins, even with binoculars.
Clearly visible however, are the multitide of Oil Rigs. Working, decomissioned, half built and all, all of them absolutely ugly in every possible way. There is no way to avoid them, and they skulk in the waters ominously. It should be criminal to abandon these things here, in sight of this antique little place. I suspect the dolphins agree and have buggered off in protest.
There is a pottery here. Signposted around the back of what appears to be a house, and when entering it is filled with a myriad of blue green pots, all handmade, all unique and different from each other, without a single heather coloured glaze or identikit tartan stripe. The Potter has taken her time and made glorious jugs and mugs and little things to hold flowers, tiny little animals and a rather self amused looking mermaid, plump and feisty, and suited to the northern waters in a way that the usual disneyfied blond limp ones are not.
I have obtained a salt shaker. It looks like a sea urchin, dried and glazed blue green. The funnel to add salt is also where the salt comes out. It lurks on the table now, ready to confuse the unwary, and I cant wait to take it home to annoy Adam with.
When we leave Cromarty, without visiting Hugh Millers house, or museum, as Scotland closes after 30th September, and it is also known as furbling windy today, it is not a day for much strolling. So we take the coast road to join up with the A9 and another low slung bridge. Houses are springing up apace, and road signs are still a thing of mystery. but we find it. There is a post office in a shed by the side of the road on the way, whichleads one to suspect that it could be carried off on the back of a flatbed truck, giving a whole new meaning to PostOffice Robbery.
And then we find roadworks. Long tailbacks. Snail’s pace we crawl across the bridge, dolphins hiding underneath it in a taunting fashion we are sure. and then up across country to Dornoch. Which had, last time we came, a splendid beach and view, upon which we arranged pebbles in a message to unwary sea creatures to warn them that the parent is fond of nibbling on them. There were also low flying harriers from Lossiemouth, at the same level as the bridge, which was rather splendid, if not a little disturbing… lorry, lorry, car, harrier jump jet, lorry… whaaaa?
We can see snow falling on the top of mountains at the moment, but we cannot pronounce any of them, so just take a snap or so and leave it.
Dornoch is a proper, and posh, little village, with a higher quality of gawking tourists than surrounding areas. It has a bookshop and giftshop and chemists and spar, all with superior produce. The Hairy Cow candles are adorable. Although not adorable enough to buy one, as its hair would snap off heading home. The Spar contains “More Beer”, to add to Adams collection.
[ There are twenty bottles of dark ale, porters and stouts in the cupboard] Then there is the “Jail” [ Actual old Jail ] which attaches to the castle, and contains a large variety of utterly wantable boots, shoes and handbags in a rainbow of colours. I forestall myself buying red shiny patent leather ankle boots that hook up with buttons, with great reluctance. but I have made a note of the maker and will look at them later. Yes.
Also included, “other crafts” ( i.e. things that are fluffy, smelly, and breakable in all ways.)
At some point we descend upon the Castle Hotel for a scone. Walking through the bar, everyone else is required to duck their heads to walk under a low wide lintel. I think i am the right height for castles, which is why I should have one. And then there is scone ordering, only marred by the whipped plastic cream and not clotted. Otherwise terribly, terribly pleasant.
What is not pleasant, is lunch. Well, it is. The Venison Cardaccio ( raw bambi ) is absolutely awesome, falling apart with a fork. Keeping one eye on dad eating mussels in cream and garlic sauce is a little less fun, but Mum and me are mostly out of the spatter zone. The two of us had the beef casserole, with proper mash made from potatoes and not a packet. Dad had the cast of extras from the little mermaid, ‘Under the sea’ number.
There is a general slurping and gnawing on langoustines, one of which proves to have roe. Little orange roe all along the underside. We had called this one Claude, but it is definately Claudette. More slurping, and careful inspection of my own carrots, until the tiny eggs are devoured. Admiration of the gardens, cupboards and everything else follows, when the leg crackers and meat spike are brought into play.
It’s growing dark as we head southwards again. Dunrobin castle will have closed 15 minutes before we got there, even had we gone in June, so there is little point in attempting it. It’s also a tad breezy for the beach, october winds blowing ice cold across the sand.
We avoid it.
It never fails to surprise me, how much of a hurry some people are in, that they feel the urge to attract death by stupid overtaking at random moments.
It is a well known fact that Scotland has crap roads. The M8, M9 and M90 are about the only motorways they have. North of Perth, its normal single carriageway. And thats the main roads. Single tracks are better as folks learn to use them courteously, or die. There is a nominal speed limit of 60 on most roads. Driving at 60 in rain, fog and darkness, where corners are random and farm traffic pulls out at any moment, seems like a sure way to suicide. It doesnt stop some people. Heading up the A9 past Tain. There have been two lanes. There are markings 500 yards back that we are going to narrow again. I drop to 60, and feel my car shake as a prick in a mercedes drives down the hatchings, anchors on behind the car in front of me and then swerves into oncoming traffic in an attempt to get to the roundabout 3 seconds sooner. He doesnt die this time.
I am surprised that scottish people do not have an exemption from road tax. Or have to pay on a pro rata basis for the quantity and quality of the roads they actually have.
Day 5 : Road to the Isles, Fish & Chips, Mittens & Steamtrains.
The snow that was apparent over the unknown hills of the Black Isle yesterday, has been wandering through the night. The sky is blue, the grass is white, and there are small pheasant shaped footprints in the frost across the gravel. The weather report indicates that while it is going to be brass monkey weather, it’s probably not going to rain today. Good enough. We are up and moving early today, even me, armed with Lemsip and coffee, which is my breakfast each morning.
I stagger out of bed, where I have cocooned myself. Before I go to bed each night I switch the electric heater on in the room for half an hour to take the chill off, so that the bed is not so hideously cold. It goes off when I get into bed, wearing Socks. SOCKS, me, that overheats when near a duvet, and pokes bits of me out to adjust my temperature. Not here. I’m having flashbacks to childhood and no central heating. I dont like sleeping in warm rooms, but I don’t like to be cold. so I warm it up a little, and then construct a nest from pillows and duvets, only my nose poking out. When I wake up to cough in the mornings, I commandeer two mugs. One with coffee, and one with lemsip. By the time I am through with both, then I can operate machinery [ Shower, Car, toothbrush] and get my eyes open enough to apply contact lenses]
Today is an up bright and early day. Doped and Caffeined, showered and clad in fingerless fishermens gloves with little diamond buttons holding the mutten part back, I start scraping the ice off the windscreen and lights, using an old burned CD of stuff I’m bored of.
when we set off, armed with every fleece we own, we reach a point in the road before Fort augustus when we think there is a low hanging cloud. It turns out that Loch Ness is steaming where the sunlight hits it, which is intensely freakish, and yet there is nowhere safe to take a photo. You’ll have to beleive me about the incredible wowness. I plan to chill the waters round my castle, in order to provide this effect every morning.
Most of the Drive to Fort William is through shadowy glens, which the sun hasnt hit yet, and which are still frozen long after they should have melted. There is a moment at Fort Augustus where we halt the car as they have swung the road to one side to allow a ship to go through the Canaal and the lochs. It’s kind of fun to watch it sail past as we wait at the traffic lights. Car’s this way, boats from the left and right. There is also a stop off at Spean Bridge Commando Memorial to take in the scenic vista. [ hills with snow on ] and then to Fort William for journey sustenance, which happens to be well done bacon sandwiches at Morrisons. The coffee machine is a bit overenthusiastic, attempting to dispense a pint into a small mug. A little wiping of spillage and then we set off again, suitably fortified for the journey.
I love this road. Well, once one is through Corpach and the brilliantly yellow Treasures of the Earth [ Hideous, but accepts coach trips.]
As we pootle on down past Glenfinnan and Lochailort we observe a number of abandoned vehicles, and all the parking pullins are full. Harried looking women are trundling after men armed with telescopic lenses. Lots of them. Which was a bit weird. Glenfinnan is packed with them. I suspect either a quidditch match or a steam train. When we turn the corner at Loch Nam Uamh there’s even more, these ones perched in various places. It’s at that point that things start to look a bit strange. The single track road….. isn’t. There are two lanes, considerably less wiggly than before. It’s still scenic and pretty but there’s definatley something missing now.
We keep seeing puffs of steam from here and there through the trees, which indicates that yes, this is probably a steam train and not a pile of scruffy little urchins on broomsticks, more’s the pity.
Despite this, we drop down into Arisaig and take the single track road from here.
Arisaig is a gorgeous place, brilliant view. And the bay is full to the brim with seaweed. It’s the yellow brown smelly sort, which does put a damper on things, and is suspiciously abset from the multitude of artists renderings of this place. I wouldnt paint seaweed either, but still….
Rathad Nan Eilean, In the snow.
Many short roadworks.
Fish n Chimps.
Rhu peninsula and houses thereby.
Not the strontian ferry, and not acharacle today.
Morar and Bracara and the very verysteep and twizzly road.
ideal spot for another castle.
Craft shop closed on wednesdays. and after 4. and wood carvings at a reasonable price
We’ve passed 1k miles today on the way home as we trundled past LochAilort and the SLC’s ™ little stupid wheels have not fallen off. Brilliant.
Day 6:Inverness and other places of interest. People slow to make decisions.
book shop. rain. fort george. rain. castles not for riffraff. rain. scenic route via a831. moniac, ardesier cheese. brodies. nairn. rain. home and bothy
Day 7: Ullapool, back of beyond, possibly waterfalls
Day 8: Distillery, home, avoiding the A9 where humanly possible