21.07.2010 - 23.07.2010
A. and I have been getting along well considering the 24/7 quality of this excursion. We have settled into standard road trip patterns: I navigate, plugging in gps coordinates and double checking on the map when we are led astray. I also open water bottles to pass him and scan radio stations for entertainment. In turn he agrees not to kill me on the road. Barring a flat tire we have been good. When he is annoying I threaten to send career damaging emails on his BlackBerry in his name. When I am annoying he sings pop songs in falsetto. Actually, sometimes he does that regardless.
After long drives through the Isle of Skye and central Scotland, including Loch Lomond and Loch Ness (decent but uninspiring), we woke up early Tuesday morning with the goal or reaching the far north. We weaved our way along single track roads and blind corners, stopping to take pictures and buy coffees in tiny towns. Here is A. on the white beach at Achmelvich, a small camping haven on the west coast:
The word of the trip is bleak. That is even how the Scots describe this area:
You can see why. Bleak and beautiful:
We made it all the way up to Durness, a tiny community (pop: 400) in the most sparsely populated area in Western Europe. There is something so powerful about staring out over fields into the North Atlantic:
Driving along the coast we twisted around lochs and found this lonely church on a hillside:
A. had flirted with the idea of going to the Orkneys (small islands off the north eastern coast) but we didn't have time so when we reached Bettyhill, which is pretty much the middle of the north coast, we turned south again trying to make it to back to the B & B in central Scotland. Here are some peat mounds we found:
Luckily, the country is a manageable size by Canadian standards and we made it back with time to spare.
On Wednesday we had our one and only bad weather day and it rained constantly, that irritating light rain that sinks into your bones. We tried to do more "inside" activities like castles. However, A. wanted to see Fort George. I have really limited (i.e. no) interest in military history and this was combined with the chilling Scottish weather but we were close. Standing on the walls of the fort we looked out on the bay (the Moray Firth) and saw dolphins! The truth is I had been harassing A. to find me whales and/or dolphins for the whole trip so this was one of the major highlights. There were actually about 5-6 of them and they jumped into the air, flashed fins and darted around. Sadly my camera is not well equipped for wildlife shots but you get the idea:
After some epic drives earlier in the week, A. and I saved some gas and engaged in a castle extravaganza where we saw approximately 10-12 of them over two days. Castles are a dime a dozen in Scotland. We didn't go into all of them as some were just crumbling turrets and walls, hauntingly romantic but fairly inaccessible. But some were more recent and of the fairytale variety:
Some of these old clan families still live in them! There was even a Brodie castle that I was considering reclaiming. A. Also wanted to see Balmoral, the Queen's summer home. i.e. castle. While I’m not adamantly opposed to her reign I just don’t share the same tender (and historical) affiliations. When I told him I didn't really care about the queen he kept saying, "But it's Balmoral!" Which didn’t have much emotional impact but her castle is pretty neat and she does have this pastoral and idyllic view:
I was really excited about the Cairngorms, a National Park in the northeast part of Scotland, so we also did some (limited) hiking past rivers, gorges and waterfalls. I saw an enormous trout leap from the air and twist around, desperate to get up a rushing waterfall. It failed. This was the view of the Cairngorms as we drove to our farm B & B:
The women in my office (who are Scottish) told me this was their favourite part of Scotland and you can see why:
Today was the last day of our vacation and we spent it in the streets of Edinburgh. After gorging on Indian food for the last few days we gave in to haggis (for breakfast) and pub food (for dinner). Apparently, J.K. Rowling (of Harry Potter fame) lives in the house beside the B & B we are staying in tonight. A. leaves early tomorrow morning and I leave midday by train.
When I reach Brighton A.R. will have arrived! I can't wait!