Hertz let us down yesterday morning: when I got to their desk at the Stranraer ferry terminal, the lady informed me that they did not have an estate wagon available. One was on its way from Edinburgh, she said, and would be delivered to our hotel around noon. Since we had given them over three months' notice, and had already had to wait thirty-eight hours for them even to open, this was rather annoying. After we got started at last, a missed turn entailed our seeing more of the heart of Glasgow than we had ever planned, but the traffic wasn't bad and we managed to find our road north without too much difficulty. I called our guest house to advise them of our arriving three hours later than planned. We thus wound up losing three hours of early evening here at the foot of Ben Nevis, Scotland's highest mountain, and gaining in their stead three hours of morning in Stranraer, which is hardly a good trade.
We proceeded north alongside beautiful Loch Lomond (obligatory vocal rendition by yours truly, the song apparently wholly unknown to the rest of the party). We stopped for dinner at the Bridge of Orchy Hotel for the sake of auld lang syne. I had stayed there with my family over thirty years before, when I was thirteen and we drove this same road; and my brother and I had climbed the mountain across the road, finding it singularly soggy. Unfortunately, the dining room was closed, and even the bar menu was so determinedly esoteric and "up-market" as to suggest that children were now about as welcome as cancer there (indeed perhaps less so--for there was no shortage of ash trays). We moved on.
The sky cleared just in time for our passage through Glen Coe, so we got a much sunnier view of this spectacular highland valley than I remembered. We finally reached Fort William (and found a place where the children could be expected to eat) around half past seven, and we settled into this very tidy and accommodating guest house a little over an hour later.
This morning we returned to Glen Coe and took a trail walk, starting from the visitors' center and proceeding across the Coe itself on a foot bridge.
We went as far as Signal Rock, from which a beacon had signaled the Campbells to begin the notorious 1692 massacre of their hosts the Macdonalds of Glen Coe. As might be expected, it commands a good prospect of the Glen.
Our walk took us through deep hemlock forest and beside mossy banks.
We then proceeded to "Highland Mystery World," where folkloric creatures including a kelpie and a fachan are portrayed by an assortment of puppets and live actors. (No selkies, though--sorry, Deborah!) It was a bit hokey and canned, of course, but relatively well done, especially two extended monologues performed in a little theater got up as a megalithic henge. An actor representing the Macdonald clan chief gave a posthumus reminiscence of the aforementioned massacre, and a sennachie (storyteller) told a comic but still somewhat grisly folk tale. The children seemed at the time more scared than amused by much of this, but by the end of the day their pleas to go back convinced us that it had been a delicious sort of terror.
After a late lunch (and picking up our laundry from "McKleener's") we split up. I ascended as high up the Ben Nevis footpath as I had time for, perhaps a little more than half-way. Stas went woolen-mill-shopping, taking the kids, the cash, and the room-key. I just took a little extra clothing, water, and of course the camera.
Today we visited Eilean Donan Castle on our way to Skye. This castle was busted down by naval bombardment centuries ago and what you see is a rebuilt version dating from early in this century; but still it is marvelously picturesque, and a great spot for an enterprising bagpipe busker to ply his trade. (I pitched a pound into his instrument case, but did not presume to call the tune even so.) Here too I was taking the next generation of Donovans somewhere I remember being taken by the earlier generation decades before. Film buffs may recognize the place, not from Entrapment (that one is on Mull), but from The World is not Enough and The Highlander. (Highlander IV, I was told, had just wrapped up shooting here a few weeks earlier.)
Our agreeably remote hotel here gave me my first taste of real Scottish haggis (deliciously served with a dram of the local malt, Talisker) and provides wonderful sunset and other views, from its beer garden and elsewhere, of Loch Harport, a "sea loch" or inlet of the Atlantic.