Tuesday, August 18th
We were up early to get a start on a very busy day. Tucked in our breakfast, managed to haul all our bags, which had grown precipitously since leaving the QM2, down the steep stairways to the car without incident. Both of us were anxious to get going and leave some time to get to our first destination of the day, the Glencoe Visitor Centre.
Saying goodbye to our hosts, I drove us straightaway up the A815, connecting to the eastbound A83, the same road on which we drove into the Lock Fin and Inveraray area from Glasgow five days earlier. Backtracking just a bit, we turned north at Tarbet and proceeded on the A82. Did we mention how narrow all the roads are? Yes, we did. What a relief it was to once again be on a more generously proportioned roadway today. The sun was peaking through thick clouds and we felt ready for the next adventure.
At Tarbet you get to follow up the west side of Loch Lomond, which is just lovely. The loch comes into view now and again from behind trees and scrub. Every once and a while you get a clear view of the mountains of the Trossachs National Park system. Up we head, speeding along with the traffic, not as nervous about actually going the speed limit now on these wider roads. Still, one never knows exactly when a gargantuan semi tractor-trailer rig will appear from around a sharp corner. We made it unscathed of course, but nerves were on edge I could say that for sure.
After Loch Lomond, heading north, the road buries itself into a series of heavily wooded small river valleys, then bounding up over the occasional small pass, all the while gradually ascending. There isn’t really much to report on for this part of the trip. We just kept going on A82, taking in the Scottish views, thankful of the Mercedes’ road gripping handling.
You have to love the names of some of the towns we passed through: Inverarnan, Inverardran (rival cousin towns perhaps?), Tyndrum, Auch, Bridge of Orchy (a personal favorite – half expecting to see an orc come into view!), and the lovely Loch Tulla. It was just about here, maybe 2 hours into our ride north, that the road bends west and climbs into the mountains leaving behind the lush forests with their thick undergrowth.
This was the first time we’d been into something close to what we know as mountains. Being from Seattle, the Cascades are quite tall for a coastal range and offer many wonderful views. But we don’t have the wide-open high mountain areas that have little or no trees. The bare rock face of the mountains seem to sit on tufts of green, almost as if the green is holding the rocky cliffs aloft so humans can enjoy.
One of the ranges holds Glencoe Mountain, a ski resort of some size. No snow yet, so we just stopped to enjoy the vistas at a road stop and switch drivers. I was over driving on those roads for the time being at least.
You can see Rainbow Mickey really enjoyed the view of Loch Tulla behind us as we began the climb in earnest. It was hard to know which turnout would have the best views, so we just grabbed the one nearest the highest part of the journey. We weren’t alone. Somehow, this place immediately got crowded after we pulled in. Buses and large caravan’s piled with tourists (we know, tourists just like us). But does there have to be so many? We were starving, so we partook of a food truck parked there. I can’t recall what we had. It wasn’t good, but it was hot and washed back with a Coke, palatable, just.
Coming down into a valley we were on the look out for the Glencoe Visitor Centre. No problem finding it. It was well marked and up to the main parking lot we went. We were early, maybe by 30 minutes. The visitor complex looked pretty new. It consisted of a few low, mountain-modernish buildings, connected by raised walkways so not to disturb the natural flow of water in and around the area. A small stream presented itself as we exited the main building while waiting for our tour to begin. We went just a little ways up a trail and came back, mostly because my hip was hurting again, a mysterious pain that crept back now and again demanding I sit down and stretch a little.
We finally got to our tour and ended up being the only ones there. A few other people just didn’t show up, so we had our guide, who we secretly called Groundskeeper Johnny – a play on groundskeeper Willie from the Simpsons, all to ourselves. Score! You’ll hear the similarity in the video.
Let me tell you, the Scotts are a talkative bunch and Johnny was no exception. His Scottish brogue was more than a little enchanting – can I say that? Well, it was. Hearing him retell the local history of Glencoe (emphasis on ‘coe) brought the famous tussle between Steven’s Clan Campbell and Clan McDonald, from whom our Johnny descends. It turns out, that about 30 McDonalds lost their lives trying to escape from the Campbell chief who was empowered by the King of England, James I to collect new taxes. Of course, come into power, much less become a King, and get some cash by taxing the people. Heard this a million times. We dared not mention Steven’s heritage.
Anyway, it wasn’t a ‘massacre’, at least not in my Hollywood tainted mind. A skirmish? Yes. A fiercely independent people escaping into the mountain valleys to get away from a new ruler, only to be frozen or starved? Yes. Not really a massacre. But, in fairness, it was a deeply symbolic event, one that still fuels a few raised pints at the pub recalling the demise of kin.
Groundskeeper Johnny is a highly educated and trained naturalist. He pointed out all the local heathers – pronounced by him, ‘heether’ - (I really didn’t know there were this many varieties) and the invasive species of plants that took over where ever sheep were allowed to graze. There is a balancing act going on between sheep farmers, perfectly at their rights to let their animals graze on the land, and caretakers of the land like Johnny who want th
e high mountains to be as unperturbed as possible, to retain their beauty, and limit human intrusion. Humans brought the sheep after all. The wild goat, well they can stay. They have squatter’s rights apparently.
Way up in the distance we caught one on camera. Barely could make out the dark, very still shape, until some hikers got a bit too close causing the ram to move out of our sight. Besides the flora and fauna, Johnny let us in on a bit of natural history we would never have guessed unless being told. The area you see in the pictures is actually the remnants of a collapsed caldera. In fact, the whole of what looks like a wandering valley with high mountain cliffs is really the ring of a caldera. Johnny waxed on a bit too much when he compared it to Yellowstone, but he laughed too at himself for saying that. The joke was that Yellowstone is sitting atop a seething mass of magma, where Glencoe is quite extinct, though there are still earthquakes now and then. We thought that was all pretty nifty.
We stopped to take this picture of Johnny and me. Steven doesn’t know what exactly happened, but I’m disincorporating with only my head left, and Johnny isn’t far behind. Maybe the faeries were having fun?
We thought initially that the Glencoe Visitor Centre was part of a national park system. It turns that the centre and surrounding area is owned by the National Trust of Scotland. If you’re familiar with the Nature Conservancy in the US, it’s a very similar concept. It’s an non-profit that buys land and heritage sites for preservation and conservation. Pretty cool. Check out more: http://www.nts.org.uk/
The next big site was of Ben Nevis, Scotland’s highest peak. Steven was driving as we passed Fort William on the very northern end of Loch Linnhe where Ben Nevis comes into view. I tried to take a picture but couldn’t get it and there was no turnout here for us to pull over. Remember, narrow roads and crazy-speeding drivers. It wasn’t safe to just pull over unfortunately.
Speeding now farther north, still on the A82 believe it or not, we whiz by Loch Oich and onto the famous Loch Ness!!!
Fort Augustus is at the bottom, or south end, of Loch Ness and has pretty nice set of attractions all on its own. There are plenty of sightseeing tours available, a few snack shops and a set of locks that are pretty nice. Its called the Caledonian Canal and its five locks cascade down like a river into Loch Ness. Very much worth the short walk from the car park. Oh, and we saw our first Nessie kitsch too…the wire Nessie in the middle of the park. We only wish we’d seen it in full bloom. We walked around the village just a little, we both needed to get out of that car and get some snack of some kind. After much searching and internal debating, we both settled on Café Americano’s from a vending machine. My, my how far we have fallen from the silver trays and white-gloved service on the QM2.
So off we were, up the A82 some more
sliding up the west side of Loch Ness, Steven still driving. Now, you’re going to call me crazy, but just as we made a bend, not too far from where the picture was taken of a castle across the Loch, I swear I saw a black hump in the water and then it was gone when I was able to see the same area again after rounding another bend. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Steven just smiled. “Yes, dear, of course you saw Nessie.”
I think he was secretly jealous.
Okay, the Loch is really beautiful. I wish we could have stayed over someplace for the night, but there really aren’t that many places to stay. You have to go to the bigger city past north of the Loch, Inverness.
Speaking of Inverness…avoid it. I know there is some quaint seaside atmosphere down by the water, but it’s nuts with clogged roads and an over abundance of lorry’s. Maybe you’ll have better luck with Inverness than we did, but we shot through town not looking back. Oh, we couldn’t look back otherwise we would have been sideswiped by a truck…err lorry.
The next stop, our accommodations for the evening in Elgin at the Mansion House Hotel. I insisted that we stay at one castle while in Scotland. Turns out, they are very expensive and the nicer ones are either booked up with August weddings or so far out of our price range that we couldn’t justify it.
Getting to the Mansion was a funny adventure on its own. Our typically trusty navigation system on the Benz, led us down what can only be described as a back alley. We think it was the best route as the crow flies, but it took us into lanes that would almost not accommodate our car, much less a car and a dog or cat. Finally, though, over a little footbridge-sized passage over a diminutive creek and we were there.
Ah, the Mansion House, what we will jointly refer to forever, as Scotland’s very own Faulty Towers. More on this later. You’re going to love it.