I like the way the loch looks infinite.
Geo: 56.4104, -5.46972
Another gloriously beautiful day, though still cold. When the wind kicks up, it's very bracing, as the English might say.
We drove first thing to Loch Ness to take a boat down the loch to Urquhart Castle (pron. ER-kert). The loch is pretty impressive, being 23 miles long and 750 feet deep at some points. It's not very wide, though; maybe a mile or so? This morning, the water was a mirror and could not have been more lovely. I mostly stayed inside the boat (just our group was on it) but did go out in front a few times to take photos. Brrr! The loch, the surrounding hills and tiny towns, the castle … it was all so impossibly pretty!
We docked at Urquhart Castle and were the first ones at the Gate House. It sits on a bit of a hill directly above the loch but is entirely a ruin. One tower still stands, though it's not got a roof, and there are plenty of partial walls, but it's not a wander through a nicely furnished castle like yesterday's visit to Brodie. The first castle was built in the early 1200s and then gradually expanded over the centuries. Its
owners — whose name I have completed forgotten — were pro-English and anti-Jacobite. In 1692 when the Jacobites were threatening, the owners decided to abandon the castle. They even blew it up so the enemy couldn't use it.
I asked one of the workers (rangers?) why the castle is called Urquhart, and he said it's the name of the area. He then remarked on the swallows, which have returned all the way from South Africa. I was astonished by this (all the way from South Africa?!), but I should have remembered my Monty Python. A few seconds later, Ryan came up and pointed out a drone flying over the loch right in front of the castle. It just hovered there and made a lot of noise. Then mere seconds after that, the worker's radio crackled, and it was someone alerting someone else to the fact of the drone: "We have a drone flying over the castle, and we need to know if it's authorized." Immediately came the reply, "No, it is not authorized!" The worker I was talking to said it actually happens a lot. I'm not sure how they managed to get rid of it, but after walking back up
the hill to the visitor center I noticed it wasn't there anymore.
We drove a little farther down the road and stopped in Invermoriston, ostensibly to see some Highland cows, but in reality to have a little picnic-style snack: smoked mackerel, smoked salmon, raspberries, blackberries, cheddar and oatcakes. I also tried ginger beer, which turns out to be slightly bitter but pretty tasty. In the end, the cows that live in the field never showed up, even though we tried to lure them out of hiding by mooing. Maybe our accents confused them.
While we were eating, I saw a Trafalgar Tours coach go by. It was packed. The really wonderful thing about Rick Steves tours is that we each have two seats to ourselves, and we can do things like stop for a picnic next to a field of shy cows. Trafalgar Tours doesn't get to do things like that. Nothing like a little Schadenfreude on a sunny Sunday morning!
A while later we stopped for lunch in Fort Augustus, named after the Duke of Cumberland, who was so vicious about hunting down hiding Highlanders after the '45 that he became known as the Butcher Cumberland. But the little town, which
sits on two sides of locks in the Caledonian Canal, is charming. After our picnic I wasn't terribly hungry, but I knew I would regret not eating. So I got an egg sandwich and sat in the window of a cafe enjoying the sun beaming in. An English cyclist sitting at the table across from me remarked that you just don't expect a day like this in Scotland in April. The state of the weather is truly everyone's favorite subject in Britain, and since Seattleites are good at discussing the weather too, I feel right at home.
Before getting back on the bus, I went into the stop attached to the petrol station in search of Mentos. The first thing I saw was a display of Mike & Ikes, Snickers, Three Musketeers, etc., and even Twinkies. "Where am I?" I thought. And then I saw the sign: "Imported American Candy!" And they didn't even have Mentos. But when I got back to the bus, Roddie was handing out tea cakes, which were delicious.
We made a quick stop at a roadside memorial to the Royal Marines. It's a tiny park surrounded by hills, and the reason we stopped was to see Ben
Karen, Pam H., Margaret, Elizabeth, Paloma, Debbie, Ann. Roddy is in the background, and the red behind Ann is Bonnie.
Nevis, the highest peak in … I can't remember if it's Scotland or all of Britain. Martin assured us that we were lucky to see the top and that we may be the only tour group this year who gets to see it. Anyway, compared to Mt. Rainier it's kind of a quaint little mountain, but I still wouldn't want to climb it.
And finally we came to Glencoe. In 1688, it was proclaimed that everyone of any standing must swear an oath of loyalty to King William (of William & Mary) no later than New Year's Day 1692. Anyone who was even a day late would be severely punished. If a landlord took the oath, then it was presumed that all of his tenants swore as well (and could, therefore, be punished if the landlord violated his oath). The clan chiefs didn't want anything to do with the oath, but there was the threat of punishment hanging over their heads. Most of them put it off till the last minute, but the MacDonald chief, Alexander MacIan MacDonald, put it off till the last possible second. He went to Fort William on foot to swear the oath, but the man in
charge there said he wasn't authorized to accept the oath. He sent Alexander on to Inverary, but he gave him a letter stating that he had witnessed Alexander swear his oath before New Year's Day. So Alexander moved on to Inverary, only to find that the man authorized to accept oaths was not around, and Alexander wasn't able to swear a new oath and hand over his letter until January 6.
Meanwhile, a list had been drawn up of all the clans that had sworn the oath by the deadline. The man in charge, Dalrymple, noticed that the MacDonalds were not on the list. Orders were issued to "cut out" the MacDonalds and to take no prisoners. Particularly, the orders directed that Alexander MacIan MacDonald and his sons be killed. So a contingent of redcoats, under the command of a Campbell, was sent to Glencoe. For several days they were hosted by the MacDonalds, given shelter and food. On the morning of January 13, the redcoats were ordered to rise early and kill the still-sleeping MacDonalds. Thirty were slain. Martin pointed out that the redcoats must not have been that into the job because with the MacDonalds asleep, the soldiers could
have killed a lot more of them.
However, the murder of thirty people was enough, and when a pamphleteer in London got hold of the story and published it, it became a massacre. Highland hospitality was a way of life, and it was abused in the worst possible way. People were appalled. Though Dalrymple lost his job for a while (and then was re-hired and given a promotion), no one stood trial for the crime. Today the valley is known as The Weeping Glen, and it occupies a spot in the hearts of MacDonalds.
For the first time on an RS Scotland tour, the group (most of us anyway) walked through the glen. Even Martin hadn't done it before, so we were all guinea pigs. Rick Steves was apparently very keen to have his groups take this walk. Well, Rick's a smart guy, but he's not infallible. It starts with a steepish walk down some stone steps and a pebbly slope (which would be impossible to manage if it were raining or wet), and then it's a two-mile path down the glen. The scenery is gorgeous but you can't appreciate it because you're busy keeping your eyes down on the path,
which is all rocks, with a few patches of mud and small streams. If you want to see the landscape, you literally have to stop and look or else you will probably trip and fall or twist your ankle. In the end, it felt more like a march than a pleasant walk.
Martin gave us some American trivia on the bus: First he wanted to know the name of the family in "High Chaparral." The answer is Cannon. Then he wanted to know the name of Tonto's horse. I got that one: Scout. How I knew that, I have no idea. Then he asked which American states are the farthest east, west, north and south. North is Alaska, west is Hawaii, south is also Hawaii, and east is Alaska. This is because blah blah blah something about 180º longitude (latitude?) passing through Alaska, putting part of it in the eastern hemisphere. And then Martin gave us a riddle: What's the difference between a Land Rover and a hedgehog? With a hedgehog, all the pricks are on the outside. (The joke works with BMWs as well.)
We arrived in Oban a little early: one of the B&Bs doesn't like anyone to check
That Roman-looking structure on the hill is a folly.
in before 5:00 p.m. So we drove down to the other end of town so that we could see where the ferry dock is and a few other things. When at last it was 5:00, we drove back to the B&Bs. The tour info says we're in Glenburnie House for this stop, but only half of us are. I'm two doors down with the other half of the group in Wellpark. I'm on the ground floor and my room has two twin beds, a really high ceiling, tartan carpet, and a little bathroom with a sliding door. Instead of a minibar there is an honesty tray: just leave a pound for anything you take. It's very clean, and there are several mirrors to make the room seem a little bigger. I'm happy.
Walked back into town with Paloma and Margaret and had fish and chips. Best fish and chips I've ever had. The batter wasn't too thick, and there was homemade tartar sauce. Super good and only £10 with a Coke. While we were there, nine other people from the group trickled in. The service was good and very friendly, which has been the case with everywhere I've eaten. We walked
My B&B is on the left
There's a separate B&B on the right. It's sort of a Victorian duplex.
up to Tesco afterward, and even there the checker chatted with me while he rang me up. Granted, I only understood about half of what he said.
Going back to the B&B along the waterfront (did I mention that Oban sits on a bay?) we were walking into the wind, which made for a bit of a slog. We stood and watched a border collie race up and down the pebbly beach while the tide came in. She had barely any beach to run on and was running through the water, but she was having a great time. We met the man who owns her, and he said she would keep doing it till he decided it was time to go. He demonstrated by walking away from the railing. The dog quickly noticed that he wasn't there anymore, so she trotted up the stairs to the sidewalk. He told her he was only kidding and that she should go run some more. She ran halfway down the stairs and turned and gave him a questioning look. "Go on!" At the bottom of the stairs, she gave him one more look, and when he told her again to take off, she went rocketing down the beach. It was really funny to watch.
We're on the west coast of Scotland now so, while we're unlikely to get any snow, we could get rain. We go over to the islands tomorrow, so I'm praying for no rain. I'll take the wind over the rain any day.
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