I can’t tell you the number of times over the past two years that I have longed to go somewhere. Anywhere. I’m not necessarily talking about a trip to visit family. But a trip taken just for fun. Where Hubby and I explore new places, drive tiny, unfamiliar roads, and are reassured that the world is full of wonderful towns and villages, interesting people, and beautiful countryside.
Wendy from York, who reads this blog, and her husband are travellers from way back. In fact, you might have seen an earlier guest post she wrote about a trip to India years ago. You can read that post here. Wendy and Max also love to travel closer to home, and both love Scotland. And since Hubby and I love Scotland too, I wondered if she might take a stab at another guest post, this time about Scotland. I’m happy to say she agreed.
So, put your feet up, my friends. Pour another cup of tea. Forget about the Christmas stress, and the Covid stress. And enjoy a little vicarious journey to Scotland with Wendy.
My father was born & bred in Scotland. He began his working life as a garden boy at the largest inhabited house in Scotland, Floors Castle in the Borders. It was owned by the Duke of Roxburgh who had plenty of money to spend on his garden as he had married May Goelet, one of the American heiresses who propped up our aristocracy in the 1800s. Taking greenhouse flowers to the kitchen door was the only contact he had with ‘the big house‘ & in ten years he never did meet her ladyship. Although Dad later travelled south to set up his own landscaping business, his heart was in Scotland. He loved the Scottish countryside, the bagpipes & always wore the kilt for special occasions.
On trips north it was tradition that we children all piled out of the car at the Scottish border & pulled heather to fasten on to the front radiator. For some reason Dad’s Scottish accent was immediately much stronger once over the border. All this might explain my love of the place, but then my husband Max feels the same & he has none of these links. Max and I travelled the world a fair amount in our younger days, but for over fifty years we’ve been also leaving our Yorkshire birthplace regularly to explore Scotland. It’s more crowded now, as it’s far more visited than it used to be, but there are still many quiet spots.
Here are just a few of them.
The Ardnamurchan Peninsula was our first love in Scotland. My dad’s sister lived there & I still have cousins there. A remote area of narrow single track roads, most easily accessed by a short ferry, it stretches out west into the Atlantic & on the tip of the peninsular is a lighthouse. This is the most westerly point of the British mainland & in stormy weather it’s difficult to open your car door & stand upright – well it was for us.
Before you reach that point turn north from Salen & you’ll soon be in the land of Bonnie Prince Charlie. It was here that he came ashore to gather the clans at Glenfinnan on Loch Shiel in his attempt to claim the British throne in 1745. He was ultimately doomed to fail and spent weeks hiding from the English Redcoat soldiers before eventually escaping back to France, but he left behind a romantic legacy which remains embedded in the area.
There’s a tiny side road off to the left after the village of Acharacle which follows a little river to a hidden castle. Castle Tioram, my favourite Scottish castle, is spectacularly situated on a small rocky island & dating back to the 14th century, was the home of the MacDonald clan. Despite its bloody history this castle is a tranquil, beautiful place on its tidal island surrounded by wooded inlets. There is an ancient track hugging the Loch side called The Silver Walk, best followed in the moonlight they say – mind your step though, it’s pretty treacherous.
There are usually little surprises on our Scottish holidays. One time we came upon the annual rally of the Model T Ford enthusiasts, all original vehicles, tackling the private forestry roads of Ardnamurchan. As we were on foot we were able to watch them coax their precious vehicles up & down the 20% gradients. There was lots of engine tinkering going on.
From Ardnamurchan there are short ferries over to the Isle of Mull. A beautiful island of weird geology & wonderful wildlife. The best ferry arrives on the quay at Tobermory, the only town on the island & a picturesque place where the houses are painted all the colours of the rainbow. Our first visit there was fifty years ago & it was a very different island in those days.
We stayed on a Croft, a small holding, where we had a decent sized, very basic bedroom. There were three other visitors, one of whom told us she was sleeping in an under-stair cupboard! As for the family, I went through to the kitchen late one evening to request a toilet roll & found the whole family of six bedded down on the kitchen floor. Some things have changed for the better. Also the sabbath was strictly observed in Scotland then. My aunt was ticked off for putting washing on the line on a Sunday & rules on the islands were even stricter. All shops, pubs & eating places were closed on a Sunday, plus B & Bs wouldn’t accept new arrivals. Travelling was difficult at times.
On a more recent trip, I was sitting in the sunshine at a little café on the island enjoying a coffee. Our old dogs needed a rest after their walk, so Max went off for the car. A large group of leather clad motorbikers arrived on their noisy machines & filled up the café. They were headed to Iona, a small island off Mull famous for its ancient abbey, & they asked me for directions. I showed them on my map & then pointed to a twisty road that would bring them back to the ferry via the best panorama on Mull. They thanked me & roared off in a cloud of dust. Max soon arrived & we were off too.
Later in the afternoon, we were parked up admiring that panoramic view when who should arrive but my biker friends. They spotted me & clustered around the car peering in, grinning & giving me thumbs up signs to show their approval of the wonderful view. Max had no idea what was going on. I hadn’t thought to mention meeting them at the café – his face !
It was whilst we were staying on Mull in February last year that the pandemic began but we felt safe in the tiny village of Dervaig. Only to discover that one of the first covid cases in Scotland was a field away, the family having just returned from Italy. The small village shop immediately rationed their goods & set up hand washing facilities. The affected family isolated themselves & consequently it didn’t spread. Nevertheless we came home early to lock down.
There’s lots more to tell you about Mull but we must get on.
We’ll head further north & east now to a place called Badbea. About 30 miles south of Wick, set high on massive sea cliffs, there’s little evidence today of the small community trying to survive there years ago. In the 18/19th century many Scottish landowners decided sheep were more profitable than people so, by fair means or foul (usually foul) , the people of the glens were moved out of the homes they had lived in for generations. Emigration overseas was encouraged, but groups of villagers were also resettled in very inhospitable places to fend for themselves.
Badbea must have been pretty grim on top of that wind blown cliff. Apparently it was so windy their livestock & even their children had to be tethered to prevent them being blown off the cliff edge. One of the residents was Alexander Sutherland, born there in 1806. In 1839 he emigrated to New Zealand. By 1911 his grandson Donald had become wealthy enough to erect a fine stone memorial near the site of his grandfather’s cottage to commemorate the families who had lived there. It’s a sad place today with just broken down stone walls marking the old cottages. There are many, many such villages in Scotland.
I think I should finish on a more cheerful note so we’ll head south again where, far west of Glasgow and set in beautiful surroundings, is the Crinan canal. Built in 1809 to avoid stormy seas further south, it carried the fishing fleet & also the little Puffer boats from Glasgow delivering their cargoes around the Scottish coastline. Most of these hardy Puffers have gone, but the 9 mile canal is a tourist attraction for visitors on sailboats & walkers along the towpath. The canal is undergoing some reconstruction work just now but there’s still one puffer left, ready to travel along the canal carrying passengers on five day cruises. It’s called the Vic 32 & it’s a lovely sight. We were lucky enough to be staying in an old lock-keepers cottage by the canal one year when the Vic 32 came through, so we walked alongside & took far too many photographs.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this little hop round Scotland. There’s far more to it than this of course. The coastline is so indented that together with the islands it measures 11 & a half thousand miles. There are reckoned to be 1500 castles to view, plus majestic mountains to climb, vast empty beaches for dogs to race round on, excellent whisky distilleries to visit, & some fine cities to explore.
Bear in mind this is not a sunshine destination. All the greenery, busy rivers & waterfalls come at a price. We reckon that if we get a third good weather, a third bad weather & a third so-so then we’ve done OK. Rain & mist can be very atmospheric & often flatters the local scenery, but we think Scotland is beautiful whatever the weather. It constantly changes with the light. Perhaps you should come & explore it for yourself – best not in the height of summer though, the local midges are ferocious.
Hope you enjoyed that as much as Hubby and I did. I’m still smiling at the image of Wendy and Max’s car surrounded by big hairy bikers. Hubby and I have dreamed of returning to Scotland every year since we visited there in 2005, and drove all over from top to bottom, from Jedburgh to the Orkneys. We’re sure there are roads and places we missed. Then again, we say that about every place we’ve been and loved and dreamed of revisiting. And lately all we are doing is dreaming. Sigh.
As always, folks, we want to hear from you. What travel are you dreaming about these days?
P.S. I hope you are able to receive and view the new posts on my blog at the new host. I’ve tried to solve the glitches that have sprung up since I moved. But some of you may be mistakenly directed to the old blog for a day or so, I’ve been told. As the internet gets used to directing queries for High Heels in the Wilderness to the new location. If that’s happened to you, I apologize