Tuesday, 12 October 2010

My First Trip - The Road to Skye

Note: As I'm re-writing this, I'm realising just how much I've learned about Scotland over the last twelve years. Naive doesn't really spell the right word - I had no idea what I was doing back then. There's so many things I've experienced, so many things I've done, so many more places I've been. It most certainly is bringing back so many memories of that first trip - which we all only have just once. Good times! =)
30 July

Today was the first day that we had an opportunity to eat breakfast at Lochalsh House (no longer a B&B). We came down (first ones, for once) and sat at the table. I poured my juice and got my tea ready; Cathy poured her juice (she's not much of a tea drinker). I was a little curious to find out what differences there were going to be in the breakfast here as opposed to St Mungo's. Not much, as it turned out, except we were given a menu to pick from (got a choice of either full Scottish or full English breakfast). We ate till I thought we were going to be rolling upstairs again!

This was our last day in Inverness - Thank Goodness! I hated driving there. The other folks at the table had a much familiar accent ... they were from Michigan! They told us they were seeing "Scotland in a day" - Ha! That's not possible, you miss so much! At least they got to see some of it, right? The next couple came downstairs and they gold us they were from South Africa. They were very kind people and were in town for a wedding, which they missed because they couldn't find the church on time (there's that reference!) and barely made it to the reception before the bride and groom left for their honeymoon!

We ate and talked and ate and talked and of course the subject of Bill Clinton came up and I bypassed it like I didn't hear it. It worked and the subject changed quickly. Note: The reason was that everywhere we went, it seemed as though people wanted to talk about Clinton. Even now, many years later, when people find out I'm from Arkansas, they say "Oh, that's Bill Clinton country, isn't it?" *sigh*

We learned that Cathy's Mom had called the night before. She forgot about the time change and it wasn't until around 2am that she called and Terri wouldn't wake us. Not sure if it was because she didn't want to get out of bed or that she really didn't want to disturb us, but nevertheless, Cathy didn't get to talk to her mother while we were there.

We finished breakfast, I emailed home to tell them we were on our way to Skye. We moseyed upstairs to get our things packed and decided to leave it all there while we went to town to get money exchanged and to get another adaptor. The more I thought about the adapter, the more angry I got and now that I'm writing it all down again, my dander is up again!

The first and only time we made it to the B&B without getting lost was when we were leaving! Geez. We said our good-byes and got a photo of Bill & Terri outside the building. I wanted to do this with all our B&B folks so we'd have a record of our visit for all time.

The first stop was the Culloden Battlefield. We parked and went inside. We got in and went through the museum. The Torridon MacKenzies and the Stuarts of Appin were two clans that fought there. For some reason, I feel more drawn to the MacKenzies than any other section of the family.

For the first time, I realized what the Jacobites were actually about. They weren't following a terrible leader, who was only Scottish by blood, not by birth (Prince Charles was born in Rome). They were following the Stuart name and the idea of being free from England once again. I can understand wanting your freedom. We wandered out onto the battlefield. It was rectangular (roughly) in shape and on one side flew the English side, the other, the Scottish one. This one was the farthest away from us at the starting point.

We walked along, it was quiet and not many people were about. The clouds were threatening to open up on us but never did. It wasn't cold, it wasn't warm. There was a very sad feeling there. Feeling of death and great emotion. Only one other place would I feel this on my trip. We decided to cut across the middle of the field. We felt alone. No voiced. No cars. Nothing - just silence. About halfway across the battlefield (neither of us were talking) we both just stopped. I was a step or two ahead of Cathy and I turned to look at her. She said I was white as a ghost (pardon the pun). She asked, "Did you hear that?" Boots. Like marching. Chills ran up and down my spine and back up again. We said nothing else, we just kept walking. Absolute quiet was deafening. We made it to the other side of the battlefield (Jacobite side) and we were going to turn left up the trail to go to the clan graves. I stopped and told Cathy that I needed to go to the right. She nodded her head and she continued on to the left. I walked slowly, not sure what I'd find. The closer I got to the flag the louder my heartbeat boomed in my ears. I could hear every breath, every heartbeat as I approached the flag. I didn't know what I was going to find but it terrified me. I got closer and noticed a sign posted at the base of the flag. I got close enough to read it and it said, and I quote:

"Beyond this point fought the Torridon MacKenzies"

A single tear ran down my face as I stood there for what seemed like forever. I put my hand on the sign as if it were a gravestone. I still get quite emotional when I talk about it. I don't know how many of you can understand this feeling or this emotion.

Well, I better move on or I'll dwell on that forever.

We weren't on just a battlefield. This one had a special significance and meaning to more than just me. It does to anyone with one drop of Scottish blood (a Jacobite or not).

I caught up with Cathy in the graveyard. There were large stones everywhere with names of clans carved in them so washed by time that some you can't read any more. I searched and searched but no stone marked MacKenzie was to be found. I found several stones that simply read, "Mixed Clans" and these were mass graves of men who died in this battle for independence. This was a foreboding place. We walked along and finally left this field of war. We slowly walked back to the visitor's centre and went into the gift shop. I bought a book about the battlefield and some other treasures to take home.

Silently, we made our way back to the car. Neither of us said a word for a long time. We drove away and I turned into Cathy and asked her what she thought. She just looked at me and showed me the chills on her arm.

Our next stop along the way was Cawdor Castle. This would prove to be a little more on the light side of our travel today. This is a privately owned castle and we did pay the admission there. We ate at the restaurant inside, which was good, but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone on a budget. We ate the least expensive thing we could. The food was good, but the prices were, well, pricey.

I bought a lambswool shawl - the softest thing I've ever touched! I love that thing! We took the self-guided tour and saw some really wonderful rooms. They wouldn't let me take photos (I would always ask first) so we just use the guidebook for memories on this one. I went to the gardens where I found a maze. I didn't get to go through it, though - they'd closed it down due to people messing it up so it could grow back. It was my idea of a castle and people still live there, so its very well taken care of. There were highland cattle in a fenced area (the first ones we saw and the only ones we saw in a fence!). It was very relaxing and very beautiful.

We headed back toward Inverness and stopped for petrol. We also loaded up on dairy milk bars and Pringles! Driving along Loch Ness again, we came upon the Nessie Exhibit. Although we'd seen Nessie two days before, we decided not to go through the exhibition but did hit the gift shop. I had to get some stuff for the kids there (at the time they were 9, 5, and the twins were 3).

We found the most amazing scenery on our drive. We decided to take an alternate route to Skye and go through Fort Augustus and Invergarry. In Fort Augustus, we saw that we were in a traffic jam! Oh no, not here...not in Scotland! Well, after we found out why, we didn't mind that much. We noticed the bridge in front of us went up - a little on the odd side. Then we saw what was going on. A sail boat crossed the road. All we could see was the sails and masts of the boat; it was through through a little area to bypass a longer way around. We got it on video as the second boat went through. This kind of traffic, I can handle!

We drove on to Invergarry and as we got closer we noticed we didn't know where we were going! There wasn't a map to the bridge of the seven heads we were looking for. So we turned around a couple of times and I noticed there were several cars behind me. I pulled over to let them pass. Cathy counted 25 cars behind me. I know they were cussin' me as they drove by. I didn't hear a single horn nor did I see a single "one finger wave" ... at least they're polite!

As we looked for this bridge, we went to a hotel to ask directions. There weren't any petrol stations around to stop so we opted for the hotel instead. We turned the corner to drive up to the hotel (a little dirt road) and just around this bend, out jumped a castle! It was striking and majestic. It was well ... I don't think there are any words to describe it.

Cathy's fingernails somehow ended up in my arm and she said, "Do you see that? Do you see that??" How could I not? We had to pull over. I think if I hadn't pulled over, Cathy would have jumped out of the car window! It was fenced off by two ten foot tall chain-link fences and signs were posted all around it that it was dangerous and that if you entered you did at your own peril. Peril! We wanted to get to it so badly! There wasn't much of it left standing, but enough to know that this was some castle in its day.

On the video, you can hear Cathy's voice saying, "Robin won't let me to it, I can't believe she won't let me touch it!" Well, if she felt like she could've made it over those two ten foot fences then I would've let her go. But she didn't. And neither did I. We just looked at it like a diamond behind glass that you long to lay your hands on but cannot. It was wondrous. Like something in a dream. I'm glad it wasn't.

We made it to the hotel and asked directions to the bridge and got them, we just hadn't driven far enough yet. So we drove back by the castle again - this time very, very slowly.

When we got to the bridge, we pulled the car over and saw the statue. Sometime in times long ago, a man was robbed by these seven brothers. He sent a group of his men after them and they were brought to him. He promptly removed their heads and hung them from the bridge nearby. This was a warning to others not to commit a similar thievery. There is a statue erected nearby and it depicts the seven heads and the story engraved in different languages on its base.

As we drove along we noticed there were still no billboards, power lines, phone lines, etc. We drove through Glen Moriston, Glen Clounie, and they are very beautiful indeed! The mountains, the roads, the bridges, the mountains, the waterfalls, and did I mention the mountains?? We stopped about every ten minutes to take photos. There was hardly anyone else around and very few cars on the road. Incredible, extraordinary, amazing, unique, remarkable, phenomenal, spectacular, astonishing, are all to week of words to describe the loveliness and beauty of this land. The weather was not cool, not warm, and held up well for us. The clouds rested among the mountaintops as if they were tired from holding all their rain for us. But they never let it go.

We finally made it to the Skye Bridge. We had to pay the toll to get across (£5.60 in 1998 but they scrapped the toll since then, now its free!). We got to a pub that was still open and we used the pay phone to call Tom and Marje (we'd left our directions at home) to find the B&B. Of course, my being from the USA, I was thinking that ten pence will get me a call and that's what I did. I put ten pence into the payphone, dialled the number, and Tom answered. Well, Tom has a thick accent and was a little hard to understand on the phone, so I had to ask him to repeat himself a few times. Well, like I said, the phones work differently. They go by units. The first unit is ten pence and its a minute long. Each second after that is a pence. After the first minute, I was cut off. I put in more money (a pound coin this time!) and called back. He knew what had happened and laughed but said he understood.

Cathy was writing directions on the back of a receipt as fast as I was reeling them off. Tom said we were six minutes from the B&B. That's not far, we thought. I hung up the phone and headed in the direction of the B&B. We came across the only roundabout on Skye (almost as big a controversy as the bridge!) and drove and drove .... and drove some more.

We got to the red phone box in the directions and I passed it, even though Cathy told me that was it. It was getting darker and darker and the wind was picking up and I got a little more nervous as I drove along. We made it to a petrol station (not in the directions) and picked up some sandwiches (we were starving) and we werent back the other direction. I finally gave into Cathy's directions and turned at the phone box. We made it on down the road, all the time I was thinking that we were never going to find the place. We came upon the road that we were looking for and there was Tom, standing outside with binoculars! He was laughing so hard he was crying. He'd been watching us for the better part of an hour - yes, an hour. It took us that long to make a six minute drive and we got lost. Okay, I got lost!

Tom said six minutes, I said fifteen, took us nearly an hour. Life gets us lost sometimes, doesn't it??

We made it inside with all our stuff and Marje walked in from the kitchen and said, "I was just drawing them a map to their room!" We decided that we'd never live this down! She fixed us a cup of coffee and warmed us up. It waited until we got inside and then the floodgates opened. All that patience that the clouds had that day was over and they rained like we'd never seen them rain before.

As you know, our camcorder battery ran down and we didn't have a way to charge it up. I kind of threw the camera bag down on top of some soft stuff and Tom asked me why I did that. I told him the long sad story of not having the right adaptor and that I was going to jail when I got home for the murder of the Radio Shack guy. He looked at the charger and noticed that the voltage was right level and he cut off the end of the plug and replaced it with one that would fit in their plugs. And it worked!!

We talked for at least a few hours and didn't get in bed until late. We were finally there. One of the places that we longed to be and the second we met Tom & Marje, we felt like family!

Financial run-down:

    Cawdor Castle - Quiche, salad, apple tart, coke - £5.70
    On the way to the B&B after we got lost, just about £2 for a sandwich, crisps (chips), and a coke
Culloden Battlefield:
    £3.00 (£10 now)
Cawdor Castle & Gardens:
    £5.50, free parking (£8.30 now)
Nessie's Visitor Centre (Loch Ness Experience):
    £3.50 (£5.50 now)

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