Friday, June 17, 2011

Past the Bonny Banks of Loch Lomond to the Scottish Highlands. June 3 to June 17, 2011

For as long as I can remember, my father has had a strong affinity for things Scottish.  We had Scottish terriers as pets.   My brothers and I marched to bed each night to “Band and Drums!”  The music was provided by a 33 rpm LP vinyl record of the Scots Guards combined pipe and brass bands.  In the late sixties, we often went to the annual highland games in Santa Rosa.  There, people wore kilts, tossed cawbers, made bagpipe music, and walked their Scottie and Westie dogs.  I never noticed any of the concession stands selling haggis, but you get the idea.  When it was over, of course, everyone returned to their California lifestyle.   And in all of our travels, Penny and I had never come to Scotland.  She had been to Edinburgh before I met her.

Leaving Glasgow in the car, we first passed Loch Lomond.  We stopped for pictures, as one might expect of those who sang “Loch Lomond” as children.  That was one of the standards  in the song book used for music class at Tachikawa Dependent School in the early sixties.  Half a century later (!!), here we are on the bonny, bonny banks of Loch Lomond.

Loch Lomond is just 25 miles outside of Glasgow, and so it is no more in the Scottish Highlands than Folsom Lake is in the Sierra Nevada.  You must go farther, and farther we went.  The roads get narrower and the towns get smaller.  Roadside services are fewer and farther between.  More and more sheep wander along the road “shoulder.”  Passing through Fort William and heading toward Inverness, we came to Loch Ness.  Along the banks of this famous loch, one comes to the town of Drumnadrochit.  Yes, that is a real place.  There, we turned off the road to Inverness and drove fifteen more miles into the glens and the village of Tomich.  Tomich Holidays is a working farm with a number of self-catering chalets and smaller accommodations. 

It is a lovely place to spend a couple of weeks relaxing.  It has rained a great deal, and the temperature has been quite cool.  We are looking forward to Paris’s beastly summer heat after Ireland and now this.  The games room has a rather slow wi-fi connection which does not reach the chalets at all.  The Kindle 3G connection is sporadic and only at one bar’s strength, and that is when it comes in at all.  There is a SPAR Market five miles away in Cannich.  That is a convenience store much like Seven Eleven.  So the best bet is to go twenty miles to Inverness and stock up at the Tesco market.

Cawdor Castle lies to the east of Inverness.  If the name rings a bell, that is probably because you read Shakespeare’s MacBeth, or “The Scottish Play.”  The Thanes of Cawdor (now also Earls) still have the estate, but the castle was built after the Bard’s time.  The self-guided tour was very interesting.  The current earl’s stepmother lives there seven months of the year and clears out for the summer tourist season.  So there are tapestries (this is a castle, after all), eighteenth century oil portraits, antlers on the walls, and photographs of present-day persons to be seen throughout.  The kitchen is modern, but the dungeon is intact from centuries gone by.  Wikipedia alludes to significant legal issues between the Dowager Countess and the present Earl Cawdor, but none of that laundry was aired in the tour literature.   Many of the explanation sheets in the various rooms show a droll sense of humor and were written by the late earl before he passed away in the early nineties.  A google search yields news stories of the imbroglios between the current lord and his stepmother.  Hilarious reading!

The park service has established several nice walking trails in Glen Affric.  We took the five-mile one through Dog Falls.

The highlands also lend themselves to nice drives in the countryside.  We took one even father north than Loch Ness.  We went northeast to Invergordon and Tain, and then turned inland along the A836 and then the A837.  We stopped for lunch at a remote place, Altnacealgach, and please don’t ask me to pronounce that.  At 58 degrees north latitude, this was as far north as we got.  Penny had the cock-a-leekie soup, which was chicken, leek, onions, and rice in a broth.  It was windy, cool, and rainy, and it tasted very good.  Four other Americans came into the pub.  Go figure!  They were golfers whose game had been rained out that day.  We continued on to the Atlantic coast and returned to Glen Affric via Ullapool and the A835.
The Highlands can be remote!

Sometimes we have to share the road.

Approaching Ullapool from the north.

We took a long day's drive out to the Isle of Skye.  It was warm.  That was especially nice, since it was the first warm day we have had since leaving Montevideo two months ago.
 It was a sunny day on the Isle of Skye.
These old telephone booths are along the roads as they pass through small settlements.

Portree is a bit larger than most small villages.  This is one of its "suburbs."

After school in the public square of Portree. Those sticks you see are for the game shinty, somewhat like Irish hurling.  We saw some kids practicing, though, and it seems they don't ever pick up the ball.  So this might more resemble field hockey.

You may remember Chuck Stuart from some of the history books?  Or should I say, Prince Charles Edward Stuart, the Young Pretender, Bonnie Prince Charlie?  We drove east past Inverness toward Moray and stopped at Culloden.  On this battlefield, the Jacobites got smacked hard.  Jacobites favored restoring the Stuarts to the thrones of England, Scotland, and Ireland in place of the Hanovers (Georges) that came on in 1714.  The biggest and last Jacobite rising was in 1745.  Culloden was the end for them.  Bonnie Prince Charlie went back to the continent and sulked for the rest of his days.  That guy was an even bigger twit than his distant cousin George III.

The Jacobite highlanders were tired, but the Prince ordered a charge anyway.  They came up a slight slope and made their trademark highland charge, taking off their underpants and attacking frontally (no pun intended) with broadswords and firearms.  This "shock and awe" had worked every time before, but this time the government troops were ready and drawn up in battle formation.  Many had fixed bayonets.  The highlanders were cut to pieces.

We left Culloden and enjoyed a leisurely drive on a rainy day through eastern Scotland.

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