I left California on Wednesday, April 29. Like usual, Supershuttle was late, this time by 30 minutes. At least they showed up.
I was upgraded to first class (Virgin Atlantic calls this "Upper Class," which is vaguely insulting. Does this mean the economy passengers are "Lower Class?") for this leg of the trip. So, I went to the upper class checkin, and did the business to get the upgrade. Next was the upper class longue, which was mundane. Free sodas, but alcohol was still a charge. Not a problem, since I don't drink. On boarding the airplane, the seat was larger, and that was the big benefit. It didn't quite fold out to be level, but it was about the size of a twin bed. The head was about two feet higher than the feet.
Dinner was served on the flight, I had guinea fowl with wild mushrooms. It was delicious. Despite the comfortable seat, I still did not sleep very much on the flight, maybe three hours total (out of ten). There were eight channels of movies, but none piqued my interest. Mainly, I read, tried to sleep, and thought about the upcoming trip.
The plane arrived in London 20 minutes early. We actually had to deplane onto the tarmac and catch a bus to the terminal, Heathrow is that busy an airport. Despite this, we were through immigration quickly.
The UK has done something I really wish we'd do in the US: you can take your bag through customs at your final destination. In the US, if you need to change planes domestically, you have to fetch your bag, carry it through customs, and re-check your bag. Since the baggage handlers here are appalling inefficient, this adds a lot of time to arrival. Since I was flying to Edinburgh from Heathrow, I did not need to get my bag at Heathrow, it was checked through to Edinburgh for me.
The British Midlands flight to Edinburgh was 30 minutes late leaving Heathrow, giving me a long, boring layover. Worse: UK airport security insisted on X-raying my film. No one else has ever been opposed to a quick hand check. Even the security people in Beijing were more accomodating. I use a special ASA 800 film that specifically indicates it should not be X-rayed, but the security droids didn't care. I've got the film at the developers now, and fear it may be fogged.
On arrival at Edinburgh, I had to get my bags, and get my rental car. The Alamo counter was there by baggage claim, and soon I was on my way. It took me a while to figure out how to put the car, a Vauxhall Vectra, into reverse. Turns out there was a ring on the stick shift that you pulled up, then moved the stick. Strange car... My first purchase was an Edinburgh street atlas, since they did not have exact directions to the Adam Hotel on Landsdowne Crescent. I knew it was near Haymarket Station. It was an easy drive, and Landsdowne Crescent was a block from Haymarket. Finding parking was tricky, though, and expensive, at one pound per hour at a meter.
I checked into the Adam Hotel. The room was small, but reasonable. I wasn't planning on spending much time inside there, all I need is a bed and a shower. After checking in, I walked all the way to Leith Walk, then walked back. It was good exercise, and helped me get my bearings. For dinner, I had my first curry of the trip, a Chicken Madras, veggie pakoras, chapati, and pulao rice. It cost 14 pounds. I called Ann in Guilford, and found that I wouldn't have Cup Final tickets. Bummer. I also got in touch with Mark Dingwall about Saturday's Rangers ticket, James Ross, and Sandy McKinnon. I then fell asleep at about 8:30PM.
No jet lag. I woke after nearly 10 hours sleep at 6:15 AM. The sleep was restful, but frequently interrupted.
I was ready to go by 7AM, and breakfast was at 8. I decided to read for a bit, and it was a good idea. It was a fine Scottish breakfast, bacon, sausage, egg, scone, toast, mushrooms, tea, and tomato. All fried, except the tea. I left at 8:15AM, for my first real test: Driving a rental car through Edinburgh's rush hour, with wildly different traffic rules than those in California.
Ian and Ricki will be pleased to note there were no clipped wing mirrors this trip.
Driving on the left side of the road with a right-hand drive is an experience, to say the least. I am familiar with sticks, so that wasn't the problem; the problem is that I am accustomed to looking down a lane on the left side, and so tended to drift left. Easy, I just had to pay a little more attention. The lanes in Edinburgh are narrower than those here, which was a little unnerving.
Anyway, I headed south without incident. Once you get out of Edinburgh, the roads were clear, and relatively fast. Only one poorly marked intersection tricked me. The countryside has a lot of stone walls to separate flocks of sheep.
One of the more amusing sights was Selkirk. There are a bunch of row houses up the side of a hill, and right next to them were pastures. No transition.
While driving south, I saw a robin. I stopped for my first, and only, merlin of the trip. Too far away to photograph.
My first planned stop was Hermitage Castle. This was a powerful fortress on the borders of Scotland, behind the Armstrong Clan. The Clan was able to seize it once, but did not hold it. It was often used as the base of operations for controlling the Armstrongs. The Armstrong Clan settles primarily on the banks of the Liddell and Esk Rivers.
For those who don't know, the Armstrongs were one of the great Border reivers. I guess today they'd be called brigands or theives, but in their time, they were highly respected by their neighbors. In fact, there were Armstrongs on both sides of the border, although we are traditionally considered Scottish, since the Clan Cheifs were based in Liddesdale.
There's much history to the Clan. At one point in the 16th Century, they could assemble an army of 3000 Armstrongs, and were considered one of the best, if not the best, light cavalry in all of Europe.
(Interestingly, the external menace in Hamlet was named after the Clan. When Armstrongs resettled in Europe, the French translation of the name was Fortinbras. At the time Shakespeare was writing Hamlet, the last stand of the Border Reivers before the Union of the Crowns was happening, and the Armstrongs were prominent, and probably seen by the English as one of the biggest menaces. Undoubtedly, Shakespeare would have heard of that, and that may have encouraged him to name the villian Fortinbras.)
1530 was a black year for the Clan. King James V of Scotland ordered a cleansing of the Borders. "The Kingis grace maid ane raid upoun the theives, and tuik of thame to the nomber of xxxii personis of the greitest of thame, nameit Armestrangis, Ellotis, Littilis, Irwenis, with utheris." The King summoned Johnnie of Gilnockie to meet, unarmed, in Carlanrig. At the time, Johnnie was one of the richest people on the Borders, and perhaps all of Scotland. He came, with 50 riders, for the King's pardon. James V's reaction was, "What wants yon knave that a king should have?" and he ordered the hanging, without trial, of Johnnie Armstrong and his riders.
Realizing he had no hope of reprieve, Johnnie replied, "I am but a fool to seek grace at a graceless face. But had I known, sir, that you would have taken my life this day, I should have lived on the Borders in spite of King Harry and you both, for I know King Harry would down-weigh my best horse with gold to know that I were condemned to die this day."
The Borderers had the last laugh, though. In 1542, at the Battle of Solway Moss, King James V lost his life, and the infant Mary ascended the throne of Scotland. The Armstrongs, Elliots, and other Border Clans fought on the side of the English, against the King that killed Johnnie Gilnockie.
Enough of that. Suffice to say, the Liddesdale area was beautiful, and I can understand why my ancestors would have liked living there.
After visiting there, I went to Langholm, to get a (very) late lunch. I had some fish and chips; excellent. Fried fish, covered in salt and vinegar, there's nothing else like it.
After lunch, I went looking for the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) Site marked on my map near Brompton, just outside Carlisle. I spent a bit of time on back country lanes looking, but never found it. Later, when I found a guidebook, it didn't even mention Brompton, so I now suspect that was an error on my map. I looked on the map to see if another RSPB site was nearby, but there weren't any convenient. So, I decided to head back to Edinburgh.
I wanted to do some birding, and the RSPB Sites came highly recommended to me. I wanted to get a guidebook, so I'd know which sites were worth the effort, and which were not. I had a limited amount of time, and wanted to use it to my best ability.
I arrived back in Edinburgh at 7PM. I immediately set out with my camera to photograph Edinburgh Castle from Princes Street in the fading light. The shadows and lighting make the castle even more impressive; it was meant to be photographed in the evening.
I wanted another curry for dinner, so I tried to go to Omar Khayyam. This place bills itself as "The best Punjabi restaurant in Edinburgh" and was highly recommended by the hotel. I did not eat there. They refused to seat me, despite having open tables, because they do not serve single people. All I can say is fuck them.
I ended up eating at a Nepalese restaurant that served vindaloo. I had prawn vindaloo, meat momo, peshawar nan, and lemon rice. #13.90. I suppose inflation happens, but it is more of a shock when you see it as a step function as opposed to a gradual slope. It had been nine years since I was in Scotland, and 6.5 years since I was in the UK, and the prices have nearly doubled.
One interesting measure of the change is the ATM machines. Previously, they dispensed 5 and 10 pound notes. Now, they dispense 10's and 20's. In 1991, it was rare to see a 20 pound note, the nearest American equivalent would be seeing a 50 dollar bill. Now, they're British Yuppie Food Coupons.
The plans for the day are football. First, after breakfast, I visited Edinburgh Castle. Commanding views of the Lothian region, and I bought a gift for my mother. It is quite a climb to reach the castle, particularly if you try to go up the side. I went up the streets, and went down the side.
I dispatched my first set of Scottish postcards from the castle.
Next, after dropping off my photo gear, I caught the 1134 train to Glasgow Queen Street, then used the Clockwork Orange to reach Ibrox, where I met up with Mark Dingwall. Train fare was #8.30, the Orange was 65 p each way. Mark had arranged to get me a ticket on the club deck at Ibrox for #20 for the day's match against Kilmarnock.
Since I had arrived early, Mark and I chatted for a bit, as he was also distributing Follow, Follow, to his sales force. It was enjoyable, associating a face to a name I'd known from e-mail for many years.
When I lived in Scotland in the early 80's, I visited quite a few different stadia, and at the time, Ibrox Park was the only stadium in Scotland that was better than an American high school football stadium. Most of the stadia were mud banks, cheaply made, and fairly scary. If you were lucky, you had a corrugated tin roof to keep the rain off you. Ibrox had suffered a disaster in the 70's that lead them to rebuild the stadium, and make it an all-seat stadium.
In 1989, at an FA Cup semi-final in Sheffield, there was another disaster that lead to many deaths. This forced the government to act, and require football clubs to build better stadia. This is called the "Taylor Report." It is unfortunate that it took the deaths of many football supporters for the clubs to react; and it is even more tragic that they missed the warning at Ibrox.
Anyway, in 1983, when I was last at Ibrox, it was an amazing stadium. It has improved since then! Catering is vastly improved, the seats and view are top notch. Perhaps this is what one would expect from Scotland's best club, but it was still an enjoyable experience. Ibrox would certainly be a legitimate place to hold World Cup games. From the outside, it has a truly noble feel, like a Wrigley Field. Inside, it is modern to a fault. My seat was near mid-field, about a quarter of the way up the club deck, a most excellent seat. Before entering, I met up with Sandy Mackinnon, Steve Murray, and Scott Jackson, all from the Internet. We were to meet up after the match and go to a pub.
This game was important. Rangers trailed Celtic by a point in the race for the Scottish League Championship. Rangers had won the last nine. It was the last home game of the season, and players like Brian Laudrup were expected to move on after the season. (Brian had, in fact, reached agreement to join Chelsea after the season.) It was also the last home game for Walter Smith, the manager for the last seven years.
Ibrox was loud in a way that American stadiums are not. American sports are more family oriented, and the enthusiasm for the teams is not as strong. Here, at Ibrox, you had 50,000 fans, primarily male, whose enthusiasm for their team was strong. It was a tremendous experience.
(I'd say Duke basketball was about the only thing that compares. The Duke student section has the same enthusiasm, and the acoustics of Cameron work well, but 50,000 will inevitably make more noise than 4000 if they put their minds to it. Or, put it another way: Picture the Cameron Crazies if there were 50,000 of them!)
It is too bad that the on-the-field performance let down the fans. While it looked like each player for Rangers was individually more talented than their Kilmarnock counterparts, Kilmarnock played as a team. They played aggressively, controlled the ball, and won the game on a goal three minutes into injury time. Rangers, despite their talent, looked desultory. Players were not running into space or to the ball, forcing their teammates to try to beat two or three defenders, and leading to many passes being easily intercepted. Walter Smith has been criticized for his lack of tactical awareness on many occasions, and I could see that the criticism was valid. This team should have won the league in a romp, and here they were, losing their last home game, a game that was as much od a "must win" game as any in the last nine years. Rangers were not worthy of their audience that day.
After the debacle, I met up with Sandy, Steve, and Scott, and we took off for the Auctioneers pub in Glasgow. I'm glad I met up with them, as I doubt I could have found my way there on my own. Other members of the Rangers Mailing List joined us, where my kidneys were saturated with diet coke. We talked about many things, ranging from the inept performance to Scottish Devolution, to Silicon Valley. By and large, we agreed that Rangers lost the league that day.
Scottish Devolution is an interesting idea. Fifteen years ago, the thought of an independent Scotland was only a fantasy held by the Scottish Nationalist Party. Now, I see it as a real possibility. Scotland will be electing their own parliament very soon, the first since the union of the parliaments in the early 18th Century. A vote on indepenence could happen in the future, and it could succeed.
I previously felt it was unlikely. The Conservative Party would not want an independent Scotland, after all, for 18 years, they used the revenues from the North Sea oil and gas to fund their cronies in the Southeast of England, and why let a cashcow go? I thought it was unlikely for Labour to let Scotland go, because Scotland has historically been one of their strongholds (I think something like 80% of the Scottish delegation to Westminster is Labour) and letting Scotland go would be effectively seeding power to the Tories in perpetuity.
The other topic of discussion was the evolution of the net in Scotland. In the US, we've suffered through our AOL-style invasion, and the expansion of the network past just the industry professionals and students. Scotland is going through this now, too, and the arrival of some of these people is what lead to a schism on the Rangers List last year. To be honest, the list is better off without the bigots that spun off.
We stayed at the pub until about 10PM, then went for, what else, a curry! At 10PM, it was still light outside. Living in California, one forgets the psychological effects of prolonged daylight. To be honest, when I lived in Scotland, I didn't mind the long nights of winter, either.
We went to a balti house, a popular style of curry cooking that has not made it to the States yet. Baltis are similar to a wok-cooked curry; historically curries are slowly simmered to allow the meat to tenderize. Baltis are a faster cooking process. I had a lamb bhuna balti. We ordered way too many starters, though, and none of us could finish our curries. Total cost was #16.50.
Scott and I caught the last train back to Edinburgh, and it was clear we weren't the only Bears who had this plan in mind. There were about ten other Bears singing drunkenly the entire trip back.
"Hello! Hello! We are King Billy's Boys! Hello! Hello! You'll know us by our noise. We are knee deep in Fenian blood, Surrender or you'll die! For we are the mighty Billy Boys."
"We shagged all the boys cause we're the Celtic Boys Club."
(I've probably got these wrong, it's been a while since I've heard them, and I wasn't taking notes.)
There were other sectarian songs. The bigotry was disturbing, I don't know if they really understood the words even when sober. They were young, and drunk. Also on the train were a pair of Celtic fans, who were singing "You'll Never get ten in a row." This prompted the much louder, "You'll never get two in a row." Not to excuse the bigotry by the Rangers fans, but the Celtic fans are also bigots, and, in my opinion, worse: They support IRA terrorism. When asked if he'd support Celtic in the European Cup next year, Steve had the perfect answer, "I will support the teams that fly the flag of my country."
The Irish tricolor flies over Parkhead, the home stadium of Celtic, not the cross of St. Andrews.
Sunday morning, I checked out of the Adam Hotel, and started my four day trek through the northern parts of Scotland. I am amazed that I've not suffered any jet lag on the flight out, usually it is the easterly trip that bothers me.
They are resurfacing the Forth Road Bridge, and since this weekend is a bank holiday weekend, they were expecting serious delays on the crossing. I needed to be in Anstruther by 11:30, so I didn't want to be stuck in traffic. I also bought my first tank of petrol for the car; 44 litres for just under 30 pounds. In American terms, that's nearly $4/gallon, makes the California prices look reasonable. I also found the elixir of the gods, Irn Bru, now has a sugar-free version! Oh, frabjous day, calloo, callay!
I managed to cross without delays, I left early enough to avoid the bulk of the traffic. I am always impressed by the Forth Rail Bridge whenever I see it, it is one of the most beautiful bridges in the world. I stopped at an RSPB site in Perthshire, Vane Farm. It didn't open until 10, so I just looked around the area. I continued from there, to Anstruther via Cupar. It was beautiful.
Anstruther harbour was fairly big. I bought my ticket for the Isle of May, a #12 ticket, and found an open grocery, where I bought some snack foods for lunch. Boarded the boat at 11, and we set off at 11:30 for May.
I was surprised at how slow the boat went. Once we cleared the harbour, we still creeped across the smooth seas. I know the boat could have travelled a lot faster, as the engine was barely clicking over, so I guess this was the plan. Anyway, on the way to the isle, I saw bottlenose dolphins, gannets, grey seals, and even a basking shark. Approaching the island, you are inundated with seabirds.
We pulled into a dock, and went exploring. The first spot I visited was an area where most of the species were nesting. Here, I saw shag, fulmar, kittiwakes, razorbills, and guillemots. At one point, you are almost on top of the nests. The shag indicated their displeasure with a snapping sound that came from deep in their throats. When the shag were upset, I backed away quickly.
Next, I hiked along the cliffs. Every now and then, you get a phenominal view of the rookeries. Literally tens of thousands of birds nest on these cliffs. Many gulls, including the only great black-backed gulls I saw on the trip. This was a huge gull.
The Isle of May is not very big, and we had three hours ashore. This is enough time to walk from end to end and back, at least twice. It is also enough time for a leisurely exploration and photography hike. Overall, I took nearly 140 pictures on May. The highlight of the island were the puffins. There weren't very many around, as they'd not yet come in to nest, but the few that were present were quite cute. Last year, they had 83,000 adult puffins on the island, this year, I counted 15. I don't think I got a good photo of a puffin, alas, as they were very skittish.
Many more were flying or in the water, though, and they should be coming in to nest fairly soon. Another highlight of May was the arctic terns, who also nest on the island. Fascinating place.
On the ride back, I chatted with a gentleman who teaches international relations at St. Andrews. He wondered a bit about the way a successful computer scientist used his brain; ie, what the thought processes were. It was an interesting discussion.
After the boat landed back at Anstruther, I went to photograph St. Monan's church, one of the famous churches in Scotland. This ended the last roll, 148 pictures total in one day. I wonder if any will come out.
Next, I worked my way up the coast to St. Andrews. I had never approached St. Andrews from the east, so never really realized how big the city was. It seemed to stretch out over a fairly large area, at least when compared to places like Anstruther, Crail, and Cupar. I stayed at the Golf Hotel in St. Andrews, which is one of the better hotels in town.
For dinner, I went to Balaka, the Indian restaurant where I had my first curry, 15 years ago. This time, I went for a lamb ceylon, which is a coconut a d lemon curry, and very hot. Normally, it is hotter than a vindaloo. I also had a veggie pakora. As I was there, the restaurant filled, and the staff was not up to the task. People were leaving after waiting 15 minutes to place a drinks order. I was lucky, my food came out quickly, and it was very tasty. But it took 30 minutes to get the bill, and even then, it was "Go to the till and ask for the bill for table 6." Yeesh. The curry was excellent, I think they may have the same chef, but the service was poor.
Balaka is regularly voted the best curry in Scotland, and the flavor was definitely the best of the trip. Maybe the rating have lead to larger crowds than they can handle, though.
Unfortunately for me, I did not recover my SPF 50 sunblock from my sister. I loaned it to her when she went to Trinidad, I never figured I'd need it in Europe. I mean, bloody hell, it was only 68 degrees outside, and I'm as far north as Edmonton, Alberta. So, I get sunburned! Yeesh.
I also called my parents in New Jersey.
Breakfast at the Golf Hotel was wonderful. Venison sausages and black pudding were the highlights. I do enjoy black pudding, must be the vampire in me.
The first part of the day's plans were to head up the coast to Stonehaven, looking for more seals and shorebirds. While the drive was scenic, the shorebirds were notably absent from view, and no sea mammals were seen. So, I headed back down to Loch Lewes. There's a small sanctuary here, where they have a nesting pair of ospreys. They've build the nest in the trees; this may be the first osprey nest I've seen that wasn't on a nesting platform.
There's an osprey nest platform in Marin County that had a pair fledge three chicks last year. I'll probably go by the platform this weekend to see if there's a pair there this year.
Ospreys were almost completely wiped out in Scotland earlier in the century, so the Scottish birders are still excited by these fishing eagles. While they are more common here, there still a precious sight to me. The current osprey population in Scotland is apparently an offshoot of the Norwegian population, some may have been blown off course and settled in Scotland.
Also at Loch Lewes, I identified my first warbler, a willow warbler. I was mildly surprised to be able to do that, I'm not normally very good at the little birds.
After Loch Lewes, I went to RSPB Kingussie, up the center of the country. Here, it was pretty impressive. I saw soaring buzzards, alas, too far away to photograph. I also saw crows and finches. It was a pleasant hike and climb, after which I was quite hungry.
I went to Pitlochry to see about getting something to eat, but the town was packed. (It was a bank holiday Monday.) I just wanted a take away that I could eat on the road, but the only places I found were sit-down places. I make my way north, then west to Spaen Bridge. I drove northeast from Spaen Bridge to Inverness along the Caledonian Canal and Loch Ness. At about 3:30 I finally found a chip shop, and had a sausage and chips. I was nearly fainting from hunger.
I really wanted to stop and photograph Loch Ness, but there was a lot of traffic, and no really good turnouts for photography. I finally found a few at the north end of the loch, north of Drumnadrochit. Even saw a rainbow, and took a picture. No Nessie, alas.
Pulled into Inverness, needing more petrol. #29.95 @ 67.9p/liter. That's about $4.50/gallon.
Drove through Inverness to Drumossie Moor, and the Culloden battlefield. Culloden was the site of the last battle fought on Britian, between the supporters of Prince Charles Stewart, and King George II of Hannover. The fight, to a certain extent, still goes on today; Charles was Catholic and George was Protestant. Charles was an inept military leader, chose a bad field for battle, did not prepare, did not have supplies, and the Scottish army was slaughtered. The Duke of Cumberland lead the English, and was hailed as a hero.
In the long run, it is probably better that the Highlanders lost, if Charles command of the field was any indication.
The battlefield was surprisingly small, perhaps a square mile at most. You can see the city of Inverness from the battlefield, which was a minor surprise to me. I bought a few books while here, one on William Wallace (which I finished reading in Paris), one on British Battles (finished on the plane back), and one on Culloden. The battlefield closed at 6PM, so I left from there and went to my hotel in Inverness.
The Station Hotel was decent, and dinner was part of the package. I had duck in mushroom and orange sauce, salmon, and chocolate for dessert. It was a delicious meal.
The fifth of May was my sister's birthday.
I have been truly blessed with wonderful weather for this trip. There's been no rain at all, and the skies have usually been bright.
After breakfast of haggis and black pudding (Even the white bits were black) I headed north from Inverness. My first stop was Fairy Glen, and RSPB site in Rosemarkie. This was a short trail, with a waterfall at the end. On the walk in, I saw a wood warbler, and some great tits. The waterfall was nice. While walking out, I was buzzed by a pair of blue tits, mating. They never even know I was there. My stay was about 90 minutes.
Next stop was Bonar Bridge, where I left the North Sea coast, and started to work inland. I quickly came by the Falls of Shinn, where I made another photography stop. These falls were a bit bigger than Fairy Glen, and are probably a better photograph. Alas, I did not make it to Eas Co Aulin, the highest falls in Scotland. I was amazed at how long it took getting around.
Then again, I made many stops to take pictures.
Much of the Highlands are one-lane roads with passing places, where head-on traffic can pass. Through some aggressive driving, I managed to get ahead of a tourbus. Following that would have been a nightmare. I was able to make many stops, and photograph the glens. I may even have photgraphed a female kestrel at one point. Even with these stops, the tour bus never caught up with me, so I can imagine how slowly it was moving.
I worked my way around to Ullapool on the west coast, where I had lunch of fish & chips. It was aleady 1PM, so I certainly didn't tarry. I photographed Loch Broom, then worked along to coast to photograph Little Loch Broom. I next passed by Gruinard Island, aka Anthrax Island.
There's an interesting story, and a warning, about Anthrax Island. In the 1940's, the British military experimented with biological agents as possible weapons to use against Nazi Germany, and one of those weapons was anthrax. In a full scale test, they used Gruinard Island to see how effectively the weapon could be used. If it worked well, and if the war continued into 1946, they may have used it on Germany.
It worked well, perhaps too well. The island remained uninhabitable into the 1980's, due to the risk of anthrax. This year, there were no signs of warning, but similarly, the island itself did not look inhabited. I did not venture a closer look.
I ended up needing to pass on a visit to the Isle of Skye, due to time. I really should have planned for at least three more days to visit this area, and will keep that in mind for my next return.
I reached the Kyle of Lochalsh area at 5PM, and went to Donan Castle. This is the famous castle, sitting out on a peninsula. I took many pictures. The original castle was reduced to rubble a few centuries ago, but was rebuilt earlier this century.
The drive from Donan to Mallaig was another 100 miles, going back to Spaen Bridge and Fort William, then back out. The last 20 miles were the twistiest, narrowest of the narrow country roads I had seen to date. Steep hills, sharp, blind curves, and narrow bridges. It took nearly 2 1/2 hours to cover the 100 miles.
I checked into the West Highland Hotel. Out my bedroom window, you could see Skye, and the harbor. I had dinner in the hotel restaurant, chicken kiev. Finished dinner after 9PM, read a little, then went to sleep.
My last full day in Scotland was spent in a futile pursuit of the White-tailed eagle. These were released initially on the Isle of Rum, one of the Small Isles south of Skye. They're not common, but I figured Rum was the best bet for seeing them.
The boat would leave for Rum at 10AM, so I had a little time to kill. Breakfast at the hotel was good. Nae haggis, and I doubt I'll find the offal sausage in London. I visited the Mallaig aquarium, which had examples of sea life in the Mallaig harbour area, and some demonstrations of the fishing fleet.
The good weather was broken on the boat trip. We has a couple short ssqualls of rain, including a hard rain when we were waiting to transfer boats. All told, there were about ten minutes of rain on the 90 minute crossing. To land on Rum, we had to transfer to a smaller launch, that took us to the pier. Once landed, I asked a warden about the sea eagles. I was told they were extremely difficult to see, and that I probably wouldn't see them. But, I was still given directions to hike up a valley, where I had the best chance of seeing them, and golden eagles.
I saw neither.
Instead, on the walk up Kinloch Glen, I saw many beautiful flowers, some small warbler-like birds, and a waterfall. No eagles, no raptors. I returned down the glen to the town, where I photographed greylag geese, eiders, and oystercatchers. The climb up the glen was gentle, and it was warm.
Total hike was about 5-6 miles. The ride back was unexceptional. There was one bottlenose, and a few flying gulls, but really nothing of consequence. There was one beautiful woman with long, auburn hair who had been working on a research project on the black guillemot population.
Rum was a fascinating place. It is a quite barren island, and is, in its entirety, a nature preserve. There are a few buildings near the pier, and a couple other places, but largely, it is open field.
After landing at Mallaig, I faced a four hour drive to Livingstone, where I was spending the night. First, I had to navigate the treacherous one-lane road out of Mallaig. After that, it was clear, if long, sailing. The roads passed over many beautiful glens. I wish I had the time to stop and photograph them, but with a four hour drive ahead, I know I needed to keep moving.
I arrived at the Travel Inn at about 9PM. Dinner was duck with orange sauce at the restaurant. I slept well, woke early the next morning, and returned the car to fly to Paris.
Scotland was wonderful. Clearly, I did not plan enough time for my stay, I needed at least three more days, and a full second week would not have gone amiss. Probably the seabirds on the Isle of May were the highlight, and the biggest disappointment was that I missed Eas Co Aulin and Skye.
Fly to France
All images are © Copyright 1991-1997 James C. Armstrong, Jr.