This is another look back to a post from my early blogging days. On this day in 2014, I posted the third in a series of posts about our visit to Scotland in 1990. I have edited it slightly but it more or less as I wrote it at the time. I don’t think it is likely that I will ever visit the UK again but when I dream of places I would like to see again Scotland is always one of them.
This is the last post about our trip to Scotland in 1990. We were only there a week. How I wish we’d had longer. I guess that’s why I’m so attracted to television programs and films set in Scotland. Not “Braveheart” though. Too bloodthirsty. I preferred “Local Hero”. On television I liked “Shetland”, “Hamish McBeth”, “Taggart” and “Takin’ Over the Asylum” (even before I’d ever heard of David Tennant).
The last leg of our journey was partly based on “Confessions of a Train Spotter” an episode of the BBC television series “Great Railway Journeys”. The narrator of this episode was Michael Palin and I sometimes wonder if it was this program that started him on his career as a globetrotting documentary maker. In this episode he travelled from London to the west coast of Scotland by train ending his journey at Kyle of Localsh. We loved the scenery so much that when we planned our trip we decided that we wanted to see the West Highland line and Kyle of Localsh too.
First we travelled from Glasgow to Fort William which is on the shore of Loch Linnhe, a large sea loch on the west coast. That journey was very scenic and we didn’t even mind the signal failure that delayed us en route. Our “Let’s Go” guide book described Fort William as being a climbing centre for nearby Ben Nevis and rather a boring town but we really liked it. One day while we waiting at the railway station I saw a railway cleaner washing a carriage on the platform . Cleaning trains was my job in Adelaide at the time and I often did exactly the same job myself. I remember thinking that it would be nice if I could exchange jobs with that person for a while and stay in Fort William for longer.
We had been staying in youth hostels for a couple of weeks so in Fort William we treated ourselves to a bed and breakfast place. There were a few other guests who we met at breakfast the next day. A lady who had just returned from a trip on a sail training vessel which we saw in the loch later and another Australian couple who were a bit younger than us. I’m sure most people know about the concept of “Six degrees of separation”. Well we had that experience. We chatted to this young couple and it turned out that they were from South Australia like us and they lived in a nearby suburb. But the best part of the story happened more than a year later back in Australia. One day when David was on the train home from work, he met the guy who we’d met in Fort William and discovered that he and his wife had moved to our suburb. What are the odds of that?
At Fort William we had haggis for the first time; we liked it. We had plunger coffee for the first time at the cafe in the Mountain Shop which probably started our coffee addiction. We had a huge pot of it for a Scottish “poond”. We walked 3 miles from the town to the beginning of the path to Ben Nevis. Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in Scotland at 1344m (4,406 ft). We had no intention of climbing the mountain although many do, we knew our limitations even in those days. The photo that David took of me at Glen Nevis is one of my favourites and that day was one of the best of our entire trip for me.
We also went on a bus tour to Glen Coe scene of the infamous massacre of the McDonald Clan by the Campbell’s. Our guide, if I remember correctly, said that the historical facts of the massacre were not quite the same as popular history suggests. Of course he may have been a Campbell himself ! However there has certainly been a lot written on the subject, some of it factual and some not so much. I did have to agree with our guide that the scenery alone is worth going there for whatever the truth of what happened is.
The West Highland Railway
Another highlight was the train journey from Fort William to Mallaig on the West Highland line. In summer you can ride a steam train on that route but we were too early in the season. However it didn’t matter. It was another day of beautiful views and impressive railway engineering. In particular the fabulous Glen Finnan Viaduct. You can’t actually appreciate how amazing this is when you are on it as well as you can in this photograph.
Mallaig is a fishing port and we enjoyed wandering around the town for a few hours. The fishing boats were very picturesque. I would have liked to have taken a ferry to Skye from there. It’s certainly a place I would love to visit again.
Kyle of Localsh
Our journey to Kyle of Localsh from Fort William was an anti climax in some ways as we had to take a bus, a very crowded bus, which we were obliged to stand up on for most of the journey. As I am short that meant that I was not able to see very much of the scenery.
At that time there was no bridge to connect the town with the Isle of Skye so we took the short ferry trip across to Kyleakin, so that we could say that we had been “Over the sea to Skye”. The bridge was opened in 1995 and it is now free to use, initially it charged a toll which became a contentious issue for local people, so much so that many refused to pay it. The toll was removed in 2004. We took a photograph of the Kyle of Localsh Station sign but unlike Michael Palin we didn’t take a replica home with us. Nor did we sample the variety of malt whiskies served at the nearby Localsh Hotel. Instead we continued our journey by train on another scenic route, the line to Inverness.
At Inverness we stayed at a small hotel popular with rail enthusiasts. I had found the address in one of David’s rail magazines. They were happy to leave breakfast supplies outside our door when we chose to go out early in the morning on a day trip to Wick. We were a bit surprised that they left toast though. I hadn’t realised that in parts of the UK people ate cold toast.
Wick and Thurso are as far as you can go by train in the UK. We chose Wick as our destination for a day outing. Wick is a fishing port and once again I was captivated by the fishing boats. Wick was originally a Viking settlement and it would have been interesting to spend more time exploring the area which has ruins, walks and wildlife to see. I think a car would have been handy up here though.
We couldn’t leave Inverness without travelling to nearby Loch Ness. We took a local bus to visit the ruins of Urquhart Castle. We also visited a local museum which had a lot of information about the loch and the various expeditions that had been made to try to find the elusive Loch Ness Monster. I have to say that on the day that we were there we didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. There have been a lot of hoaxes over the years and I think that I would be sorry in a way if scientists were able to prove or disprove that there was a creature living in Loch Ness. The mystery of it is part of the attraction. Either way tourist operators and businesses in the region have done well out of “Nessie”.
We watched the movie “Loch Ness” released in 1996 which starred Ted Danson. It wasn’t a brilliant movie, we watched it for the scenery really, but we did like the ending where Nessie is left in peace. I thought the castle ruins were very atmospheric and I liked hearing the piper who was playing there the day we visited.
We left Inverness finally and took the train all the way back to London and then on to Bexhill-on-Sea to spend Easter before travelling around southern England and North Wales. As you can tell from how much I have written twenty-five years have not made me forget how much I loved being in Scotland and I’d go again in a heartbeat if I could.
http://www.electricscotland.com/books/paterson/glencoe.htm – The Massacre at Glencoe
http://www.seat61.com/WestHighlandLine.htm#Fort%20William%20to%20Mallaig – The Man in Seat 61 blog
http://www.lochalsh.co.uk/skye_bridge.shtml – Skye Bridge story