The Long and Winding Road
Days 4 and 5
We headed out west, going through Glasgow, and up to Alexandria and Balloch, for tucked between these old coal mining towns is a small village called Jamestown. This was where I was born. It has all changed, now it's a Barret housing estate, though better than it was in the 70's when a high rise getto stood here. We were surprised at the scale of things. I remember as a child seeing a Steam locomotive pulling out of Balloch, I realise now that this occured only about 3/4 mile from my birthplace, and just beyond the station: Loch Lomond.
The sun was on full display by now. Temperatures were thrust into the low twenties celcius. Loch Lomond is a long narrow glacial cutting. Low bare mountains rise above the still cold waters. It is a bleak scene in some places, but then you come across the big hotel at Tarbet, with its picturesque ferries and sightseeing boats, and you realise that you have not really left civilization, it just seems that way.
We head up to Inverary. This is a small town, formerly a customs port, nestled on the side of Loch Fyne. It comes into view after having driven over the saddle between Loch Lomond, Loch Long and Loch Fyne, passing Ben Arthur and then rounding the end of Fyne and heading west. It's a scenic drive, made significantly easier by the lack of tourists. We still got stuck behind a tour bus, but as both we and the bus were stopping in Inverary, we had no complaints. The sky was clear, as in horizon to horizon blue, quite rare in this part of the world. Warmth came with the sunshine. We sat on the lawn at an Inn and eat a ploughmans lunch, looking at the tranquil Loch Fyne. A guy on an Aprilia Mille came in and sat with his friends. I siddled over and inspected the bike, then wandered back and broke into conversation with the guy. Seems it was a new bike, last years model so it was cheaper; he was enjoying it. Later he hurtled by use on the Oban road.
We headed out and up the coast. I had hoped to go to the far western coast, a craggy place that I am told is a must-see but it was apparent after looking at the map that we were not going to be able to 'do' this coast, Oban and then get to Inverness in what remained of the afternoon, we're only talking of about 300 miles of winding narrow roads here... such a shame! We cut the corner and headed along Glen Aray, round Loch Awe, picking up the main road west to Oban.
This was our first visit to Oban. As a child I remember my mother going on about the Oban Crosses you could buy in the shops here. Little replicas of the Celtic crosses that are stand all over this part of the world (courtesy of Iona perhaps?). Indeed we saw a good many shops selling such. We dropping in on the visitors centre (get the spelling right, Alistair) where I was able to email the USA and give details to a friend about where to look on the web for Iona details (the ferry to Mull and Iona, and the Maclean Clans' ancestoral home, leaves from Oban.) We visited the Oban Distillery, didn't do the tour as we have seen others, instead we just bought some rarer Scotches. Then we went out and bought fish of all things, fresh fish. We were going to take it to Inverness for my Aunt. The fishmonger was a little distressed that his fresh fish was going to be taken far away and not be eaten for at least 4 hours... I thought back to a trout I had on a trip through New Mexico, it could not have been more than a month out of water...
We headed out of Oban, north up the coast. One useful feature of being in these northen latitudes is that the day is a tad longer than it ever is in New York, even this early in the year. We had sunlight, lots of it, well into the evening, infact we were still looking at a dull glow in the sky at 10:45pm - recall this is early May, aways from the longest days of the year. This added day length helped get us from Oban to Inverness, that and a lead foot. We covered the distance from Fort William to Inverness in just over an hour. There were more than a few locals wishing that we hit someone head-on, I'm sure, just so they could say 'stupid tourists.'
The run into inverness is along the banks of Loch Ness. We have been here before, but this time it was bright with a deep golden tint from the setting sun; the last time we saw the Loch, low clouds and drizzle made the place slightly more atmospheric. We hurtled past Nessie. I love this part of the world, it is colourful yet quite austere.
We put into Inverness and had a grand old time with my Aunt, who is getting on in years now. She gives us all the old scandals: she's a fun person to be with.
We set off in the morning, target Aberdeen, well almost, actually a little village called Kintore just to the west. We headed out knowing that we could cover the distance in about 90 minutes, so we found other things to do. First we stopped at Culloden. This is a bleak place, even 300 years after the battle here, you don't want to hang about; the ghosts of my Clansmen still writhe here. Bonnie Prince Charlie lead the pride of Scotlands highland warriors to an ill planned and untimely death. The battle field has been improved over the years, a plesant and busy tourist centre has all the usual tourist trap momentos. We picked up something here about another site, not far away, called Clava Cairns. We drove there next if you go, watch out for the single lane roads. On a picture perfect, sunny day we walked into a clearing and laid eyes on three large cairns which had obviously been designed by someone, each with its own standing stone circle. These Neolithic structures are old, though I was surprised to read that they can be found almost anywhere in Scotland, especially by rivers where fields had been cleared (obvious I suppose). Clava Cairns were clearly something special, someone wanted some special dead folks well represented in the afterlife.
Moving on we headed along the coast towards Lossiemouth. I decided to take in the RAF base there, and was surprised to come across the ruins of an old Abbey set amid a graveyard. We passed the bases, Tornado fighters taking off and landing, with a gentle sea mist floating over the area. The dunes and surrounding golf coarses were eeriely quiet when the fighters were not about. The mist was not tenacious, as we drove back inland, it quickly vanished.
Further on we saw signs for an old port town called Portsoy. An historical marker suggested this town had the first harbour on this coast, back in the 1600's. We found a quiet, sleepy, granite town, that sat above a small bay and a smaller stone harbour. There were few people about, which allowed us to wander freely amoung the granite silver cottages and other white-washed buildings with gaily coloured doors. We stopped for lunch in the pub on the quay, its frontage freshly white-washed and drapped in Union Jacks.
The harbour was old, biuld in the mid 17th Century, it long ago became too small to handle anything other than lobster boats and small yachts. The granite sea walls looked fresh, but I expect they have seen a few storms in their longs lives.
Farther along the coast we dropped into another tiny fishing village that was also propped up on the side of a cliff, this one was Gardentown. It was a scenic little village, with a tight hairpin strune road that fell to the harbour. Old stone walls created a moderately sized harbour area. Beyond this though was a line of cottages and crofts that ran along the line of the bay shore, a narrow lane was break water, access and sea wall, all at once. Some women walking a couple of dogs stopped to talk with us. They said the town was a good place for artsy folk even though work was hard to find here, but the cost of living was very low. This was a well hidden place, hard even to see from the narrow road that might be refered to as the main road, a mile away, but in its remoteness it is a sanctuary of peace.
Kintore now called. We blasted down meandering country lanes in rich agricultural land, through Turriff and onto Inverurie, where we climbed on the main Inverness to Aberdeen road for the last few miles to Kintore; Ian and Elaine awaited us.
|© Copyright A. Maclean 2001 -|