Archive for May 12th, 2009

Nothern Scotland and the Lake District (Of Scotland)

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

Waking up outside Inverness, we made our way back towards Loch Ness. The day was rainy and the wind was pushing white caps the length of the lake. Loch Ness has an air of brooding mystery that is enhanced by the legends surrounding it and the knowledge that its the deepest body of water in the UK, plunging precipitously to 700 feet in depth only 70 feet from the shore. Though its only about half a mile wide, its length is many times that, giving it, as related in an expert’s grim illustration, “enough water to submerge all the people of the world three times over.” These dimensions are reflected in the local legend that the lake was formed by the stroke of a giant’s axe. We drove along the lake until we came to the Loch Ness Center which offered a £6 tour that explained the legend of Nessie from beginning to end, and gave a scientific introduction to the lake itself. We also drove to the ruins of Urquhart Castle, built on the lake’s edge, before heading SouthWest towards the Isle of Skye. We were disappoint to have seen no sign of Nessie, and briefly considered tying our rope around Matt and using him as a lure, but we were anxious to reach the Isle of Skye before nightfall and decided to keep moving.

The Scottish Highlands were absolutely jaw dropping. The highway wound beside lochs that were bordered by rugged mountains, with slopes periodically bisected by tumbling streams, and snowy peaks shrouded in mist. The fog gave an impression of endless wilderness as the steep mountains stretched as far as the eye could see in every direction. We spent a few hours at Eilean Donan Castle, widely considered to be the most picturesque in Scotland. It was situated on a small island which was accessed by a stone bridge. Though the current building was a reconstructed replica, dating to the 19th century, the castle’s origins lie in the dark ages when it was a bulwark against Viking invasion. The castle was heavily modified through the centuries until it was destroyed by the British in the 18th century to prevent it from being used by Scottish rebels. It was rebuilt with the guidance of a stone mason who claimed to know from a dream how the castle looked originally. After the reconstruction was complete, the original plans were found and the new castle did indeed match them. Though small, the castle and its walls are built at varying levels up the central hill, giving it the picturesque appearance it is famous for. The interior is filled with nooks and crannies and hall ways and unexpected rooms that make Eilean Donan a delight to explore.

That evening we explored the Isle of Skye, detouring onto a one lane road that crept along the rocky coast. We found the Isle of Skye Golf Club, closed, and David and Dan resolved to return the next day to play golf in Scotland where the sport had its beginnings. We returned about a mile down the one lane road to a pull off we had spotted earlier. Freezing rain began to fall but, intent on having a hot meal, we made a shelter out of tarp, rope and the left side of the car. Though we were dry as we made supper , it began to rain with a vengeance when we began to eat, and the chilly water used every hole, no matter how small, to permeate our cozy shelter. Even so, we enjoyed our soup and even made some hot chocolate which raised our spirits considerably.

After a fitful night in the car, Dan and David woke early and set off on foot towards the golf course. Matt and I followed about an hour later in the car. It cost them £14 each to use the golf course and an additional £8 each (sharing was not allowed) to rent clubs. When converted to U.S. currency, the total reached about $33 a head. Matt and I planned to watch the first tee-off but it began to hail and we fled to the car, leaving Dan and David to enjoy their genuine Scottish golf in genuine Scottish weather. The golf course manager was nice enough to let Matt and I stay in the warm, dry clubhouse while we waited for our friends. He even let us drink the coffee that he brewed for the club members (Normally 80p) for free, when it became clear that the weather would keep everyone except crazy Americans away. He also let us shower at the clubhouse for free.

We used a pub’s, Saucy Mary’s, free internet (With the owner’s permission) for several hours before leaving the Isle of Skye. While online we bought a roof box on ebay from a man in Coventry. We agreed to pick it up the next day, and drove South late into the night so that we could take some time to see Hadrian’s Wall the next morning. We parked outside Carlisle for the night. The next day we woke early and followed a maze of signs to the wall. Though it has crumbled significantly, Hadrian’s Wall is impressive for how much remains standing eighteen hundred years after it was built. It was fascinating to walk the walls patrolled by the legions in antiquity and to see the holes ground into stone where ancient doorposts had been set. Hadrian’s Wall is an example of both the power and the transience of the human race. Built by one of history’s greatest empires, it is still visible almost two millennia later, but all it does now is pen up sheep; an expression of Rome’s power has been reduced to one side of a pasture, illustrating the futility of making anything of worth in this world.

Daniel S