Thursday, 13 September 2012

Glasgow to Grantown-on-Spey

Loch Lomond
We had another early start, as I suspect we will have for most of the days left on this tour of the UK. It wasn’t that we had monstrous distances to travel but more mountains to climb, beasties to spot and breath to be takenaway and all of that takes time.

Before leaving, news from the Tour Director was that some further activities which we have booked through the travel company for our week in London, had come through. We will arrive in London in the afternoon of next Monday, get settled into our flat near Hyde Park and then will join another couple from the tour for dinner and a cruise of the Thames. On Wednesday night, we will be going to the West End to see Blood Brothers, something we are both very excited about.

This was one of the red letter days on my read of the itinerary, for after wandering through the Lake District yesterday in the wake of Wordsworth, today, Robbie Burns would be close to me as we traversed the Highlands. The weather was even perfect. No unseasonal, unusual bright sunshine and temperatures in the high teens for us. Wet, windy and wild was our Scottish coach driver’s brief explanation of the forecast.

We didn’t have to go far before we were travelling in everybody’s vision of Scotland, driving along the western edge of Loch Lomand. We appeared to be taking the low road and apart from the constant interference of trees between us and the Loch, their were still plenty of places where the opposite shore - sometimes five miles away - could be seen rising from water’sedge to impressive crags which were mostly lost in low cloud spreading a constant supply of rain. We stopped at the northern end for photos and a quick coffee. We followed the River Tay for a while longer until changing our direction in order to pick up Glen Mor.

A glen is a valley and Glen Mor follows a valley made initially by a rift fault and then gouged out by glacial ice. When the ice flows stopped, the rock and debris pushed in front of its slow advance formed a barrier which the lakes formed behind. When the ice melted, the huge mountains on either side provided a watershed for the abundant rainfall. A succession of Lochs run in an almost straight line north east from Oban to Inverness, the most famous of which is Loch Ness. To get there, we climbed up through the Highlands and the area known as Rannoch Moor. If God has forsaken any place on earth, this could well be it. It is wild country with very few trees, low shrubs and being so high, the weather is almost always inhospitable. We certainly didn’t strike an exception today.

Glencoe - scene of the massacre
Our descent to find Glen Mor took as through deeply cut gorges where water and not ice had been the main agent of erosion. The road wound through the sharply interlocking spurs and always down and I wondered just how unpleasant the winters must be in this place. Passing an inn, we were told they have a sign over the bar which says “No spitting, no swearing and NO CAMPBELLS” which is said to be strictly enforced.

Back in the time of Bonny Prince Charlie, the Stewart King of Scotland who became the King of England, the MacDonalds were the clan of these parts and they had failed to sign an oath of allegiance to a King who was worried he didn’t have the support of all of the Highlanders, known as the Jaccobites. As a result of not signing, the King ordered the Clan of the Campbells to travel up from Fort William and deal with the MacDonalds. The Campbells arrived in the dead of winter, late in the afternoon and were welcomed in, given fresh clothes and fed. After the meal, they drank and played cards with the MacDonalds and slept in the warm beds they offered. At 5:00am, they rose from those beds and slaughtered all they could catch. Some escaped to the heavily snow covered mountains but died of exposure.

Campbells are still not welcome around Glencoe.

I mean … I don’t like MacDonalds either but that’s taking things a tad too far.

A beautiful treat on a foul day
At Glenduror, with the ghastly tale of the MacDonalds still settling, we turned north east into Glen Mor. The first lake, Loch Linnhe, led us to Fort William, where we had lunch. During the stop, good and bad things happened. The good was the purchase of a Harris Tweed jacket but the bad was the loss of my Aran wool beanie which Sue gave me for my birthday. The largest peak on the island, Ben Nevis, sits beside Fort William, dwarfing anything it might do to seem important. We couldn’t peek at the peak today as it was dressed in cloud. Such is life.

The second lake - Loch Lachy - is home of the Commando Memorial, which commemorates the work of Brittish Commandos who trained in this area in preparation for their work behind the lines in the second world war.

The third, is the mystical Loch Ness! From the time we first sighted it at Fort Augusta, Sue scanned the surface for some sign, some major breakthrough in a mystery which has captured the world’s imagination. Driving along, it was easy to see why so many have made hazy sightings because most of the time the Loch was behind trees or just sighted through trees. The weather didn’t help, with some of the heaviest rain of the day falling as we made our way up the western side. Sue's quest, nay her belief, that she would make the breakthrough sighting and achieve fame or at least notoriety as a result, went unfulfilled.

The battlefield at Culloden Mor
Inverness was a non-event. We had hot chocolate in a pub and then moved on. It was hard to work out why we had stopped when less than half an hour away was the ancient battle field of Culloden Mor, where the Jacobites were routed by the English after fighting their way to within striking distance of the south of England and retreating, exhausted, to this field just outside Inverness. Here the English didn’t just defeat and kill the Jacobites but also their families. A hut with a thatched roof from those times has survived beside the field of battle and part of the defences are also still in place but little was left.

The last three quarters of an hour of our travelling was spent getting to Grantown-on-Spey and the delightful Craiglynne Hotel. Sue and I walked through the nature reserve opposite the hotel and spied some red deer and mallard ducks before the rain came again. The hotel was delightfully old, quaint and rustic - a nice description for things not working exactly they way they should but the food was good and the rooms warm.

Tomorrow, we move to Edinburgh, via the Royal and Ancient St Andrews Golf Club.

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