Published: September 7th 2008September 2nd 2008
The view on the way up.
Don’t you love clouds? I love clouds. They are so different from what they appear to be. Flying over them, I always want to sink into that billowy, white softness. The reality is so much different. In the middle of a cloud, it is always cold and wet.
Good thing I love clouds, because I hate heights. The love of the former got me up a mountain this morning. I had to go in a gondola that was swaying in the wind. I kept looking at the cloud, imagining that it would be billowy soft if I fell into it.
I have left Airds and driven up to Fort William. Just beyond the town is Ben Nevis - the largest mountain in Great Britain. Today, the top is covered with clouds. To be fair, so is the bottom. My red sky at night lasted until 8.00 this morning.
Being the eternal optimist, I paid to go to the top of the next mountain over in a gondola, hoping for a break in the weather. Well, I arrived dead in the middle of a cloud - so, not that much to see. Treated myself to a latte to see
This was my ride to the top of the mountain. I was very proud of myself for getting on it.
if the cloud would move on.
Not only did it not move on, it got worse. The clouds settled in and I descended the mountain in the pouring rain. I’m afraid I’m having a bit of a sense of humour issue with the weather. I keep telling myself that I would rather be here than at work, but with Apple not playing nice (more frustration this morning) and a dreary day, I’m finding it difficult to stay upbeat.
Driving through pouring rain, I got on the “Road to the Isles”, the scenic route to Skye. The first stop was Neptune’s Staircase, a flight of eight locks on the Caledonian Canal. Interesting, and would have made a great walk, but hard to appreciate in the pouring rain.
Just up the road is a town called Corpach. It is know for its view of Ben Nevis. Guess I’m just going to have to trust the guidebook as the view today was nil - just more rain and cloud. I did, however, get to see a steamship enter the canal. That was pretty cool.
I carried on until I reached the Glenfinnan Monument, which commemorates those who supported Bonnie
The station at the top where I had my latte.
Prince Charlie in the uprising of 1745. Now, I will be the first to admit that I knew absolutely nothing about this part of history. And, I’m ashamed to admit that even after reading all the things at the small museum and reading the pamphlet I bought, I’m still 100% sure about what happened. Something along the lines that BPC thought he was the heir to the English as well as the Scottish throne; the Scots agreed; the English did not. There was some talk of the French getting involved, but they didn’t. Long story short, a bunch of the clans supported BPC; he made it all the way to Derby before having his head handed to him; he then escaped back into the Highlands where he hid for five months before heading off to France to live in exile. Anyway, this monument commemorates his landing in Scotland, raising his standard and being met by the clans.
One can climb to the top of the monument - very scary as the entrance to the top is very small and the steps very steep. It was worth it, however, as there were some great views across the loch and the
The "view" from the top.
glen. I met four Japanese girls who are travelling all over Britain together and having a great time. They were the first thing that made me smile all day.
Leaving Glenfinnan behind me, I made my way to Arisaig where, rumour has it, there is a cairn that marks the spot where BPC left for France as well as a great restaurant for lunch. I say rumour has it because there were extensive roadworks going on and I was basically thrown all over the countryside by the detours. I missed Arisaig completely. The route was circuitous at best - even my new friend TomTom was a bit nonplussed.
Not being able to bear the thought of backtracking through that mess, I carried on to Morar, known for its sandy beaches. They are, indeed, lovely, but that is about all the town has to offer. I was hoping for a fish and chips shack on the beach, but no such luck.
With no other choice, I went on to Mallaig where I was catching the ferry for Skye. As I had some time to kill, I found a restaurant called The Tea Garden for some lunch. I had
Amazing series of locks right at the beginning of the canal.
a pint of prawns that came from the water 10 metres from where I was sitting. Very good. I also treated myself to a Millionaires Shortbread. This is chocolate and caramel on shortbread - unbelievably sweet, but unbelievably good.
It was now time to catch the ferry. I pulled up behind a small, blue car and whom should I see but my Japanese friends from the monument. We smiled and nodded and drove onto the boat. The ferry is not very large, but there has been a ferry crossing here for centuries. I like feeling part of all that.
The ferry ride did a lot to bolster my mood. The rain had stopped and the sun was shining through the clouds. I even saw the faintest hint of a rainbow. I could hear the seagulls and smell the salt water. As the boat moved across, the wind blew away a lot of the cobwebs from my mood. So, by the time I landed on Skye, I was in a better frame of mind.
Skye is amazing! I have never seen anything like this. Really empty, with large, white houses dotted around. I even had to wait to
The steamboat going through.
cross a bridge to allow a ram to cross before me. I’m not sure it gets more rural than this. I am staying at the Kinloch Lodge, a former hunting lodge for the Donald clan. It is still run by the chieftain of the clan and his wife, who was one of the first celebrity chefs in the UK. As soon as I got here, I ordered a double Talisker (it is, after all, made on Skye) and went out to sit on a wall, look across the loch and blow the last remains of the mood away. I more or less succeeded.
Back to the room to don the LBD, figuring that dressing up would improve my mood even more. It did. I sat in the lounge in front of a roaring fire and had more whiskey. Dinner was out of this world. I had an avocado salad (deciding that something green never did anyone any harm) and a steak with mushrooms. Both delicious. During the meal, I got to meet Mr. MacDonald, the Chief of the Donald Clan. Very sweet, nice man. I also met his son-in-law, who now runs the hotel. Again, very nice and charming.
Bonnie Prince Charlie -- check out the hair!
After dinner, I went back to the lounge to have my coffee and fell into conversation with a couple who were just back from Verona. We had a lovely chat all about the operas and the town and stayed up a bit late comparing travel stories. One of the nice things about travelling alone - people don’t hesitate to talk to you. I think they often feel sorry for me…
I am awoken the next morning but what is usually one of the most soothing sounds in the world. What is it? Oh yes, rain on the window. “Sod it,” I think to myself (actually I wasn’t quite that polite in my head) and went back to sleep for a while. Eventually, I knew I was going to have to face the day, wet or not, so went down for a proper breakfast. It was lovely, but when one orders a full breakfast, one wants a plateful - not the nouveau version. Oh well, I saved on the fat and calories.
I decided to drive all the way around the island. I headed north towards Portree, the metropolis of Skye. I honestly nearly missed it. I pulled
The monument itself. In theory, it stands on the site where the standard was raised.
in to the town square and went off looking for an outdoor shop. You see, I had left my rain gear at home. Dumb, but the end result is that I need a raincoat. I went into the tourist information centre to ask where the nearest shop was. Can you believe it? They don’t have one. Oh well, I thought, I’ll just get wet. Thank God for fishermens’ sweaters - they were made to get wet.
Leaving Portree, I decided to go see Dunvegan Castle. On the way, I passed a shop selling outdoor gear. I went in and found a raincoat. As I was buying it, I fell into conversation with the woman who runs the shop. I was moaning to her that I had forgotten all my raingear in London. She smiled and told me that now I have bought the coat, I won’t need it. Hope she’s right - it would be the best £39.99 I ever spent.
Still on my way to the castle, I passed a sign that was advertising boat trips to see seals - guaranteed sightings. Well, that solves that problem. Some man at a booth at the top of the
The loch on which it stands.
road told me I would have to park in the castle parking lot and then walk back. Fine. I do so and buy my ticket. “When is the next boat leaving?” I ask. “Dinna worry. They go all the time,” was the response.
So, I slowly wandered down, taking photos of the castle as I went. As I got closer to the boat, some very thin, tense, nervous woman comes running out and asks me if I am going on the boat. I tell her I am. Her lips purse so tight that I swear to you they disappeared. “We have been holding the boat for you.” Oops. So, I don a lifejacket and jump into the front of a boat about the size of the dingy I learned to sail on.
But, did we see seals. I mean, literally hundreds of them. Sleeping, eating, swimming, one even stuck his tongue out at us. I decided that I was a seal in a previous life - like them, I am clumsy and awkward on land, but am something else entirely in the water.
Once we finished that trip, I wandered around to the castle. It was actually
BPC himself -- the statue on the top.
very interesting. It has been the clan seat for the MacLeods since (wait for it) 1200. The current chief is called John and he is number 29 in the line. On one of the walls, they showed the chart showing the line from the first one all the way down to John. Imagine being able to trace your history back over 800 years AND still live in the same house they did. It turns out that this castle is the oldest one in the world in which the same family lives in it. The best part is that the title goes to the oldest child regardless of sex. I like that! Maybe I wasn’t a seal, but was a chief of a clan somewhere… Lord knows I would be bossy enough!
The castle has been visited by some very cool people through the years, including Sir Walter Scott (who wrote a story for the children while he stayed there), Johnson and Boswell on their trip through Scotland and the Queen Mum. There were all the things one would expect from a castle - the towers, the walls and the dungeon.
The family has something they call the Fairy
The view from the top across the loch.
Flag. It has been in the family since the beginning and the saying is that the clan will survive as long as they carry this flag before them. It is a piece of silk that has been dated to around the 4th Century AD and no one knows how it came to be in the family’s possession. The clan live and die by it, so much so that members of the clan who fought in the two world wars carried photos of it with them.
At the end of the tour, one can listen to a video made by the Chief about the family and the castle. Pretty standard stuff, but what struck me was his accent. Very posh and VERY English. I imagine one can’t have the chief of a clan sounding too local…
As I walked out of the castle, it was raining again so I threw in the towel (pun intended). Came back to the manor to write, read and put my feet up for a while. It actually felt quite nice as I’ve been on the go for a few days straight now.
Dinner was fabulous again and tonight included a mushroom risotto
A warning sign where I caught the ferry. How wonderful is this? Wonder how many cars drove in before they put it up!
that is, hands down, the best I’ve ever eaten - in or out of Italy. I asked the waitress if the chef would give up his recipe. Nope. His response? It’s the white truffles that make all the difference. No kidding!
During dinner tonight, I wrote the first and last paragraphs of my novel. Where they came from, I couldn’t tell you. But, somewhere inside me is a great story. I know it seems odd, but Margaret Mitchell always said that she wrote the last chapter of GWTW first and the rest just came to her. Here’s hoping!
After dinner, I fell into conversation with a family from California. I met them because the father asked me if I were a writer. I told him that I would love to be. He told me that he had never seen anyone write so (and I quote) feverishly. I told him that I finally had the beginning and the end. He congratulated me and we settled down into a proper conversation. The son has come to Scotland to work in a distillery for a while and they are doing the grand tour before he starts work. How cool a job
Ferry to Skye
That little silver baby is Nessie, my constant companion for the week.
is that??? Gives me added incentive to stay out of the insurance business.
There are more photos below