27 August 1999
The next day we took the train from London to Inverness, the capitol of The Highlands in Scotland. Due to limited time, we bypassed the bulk of Scotland, the southern section and went to the north, to the part that looks like an island on a map because it is cut off by Loch Ness. We were met at the train station by a teenager in a Loch Ness Monster costume. 'Inver' means river mouth. Inverness, mouth of the river Ness (or Nessmouth if it were in England!). Inverness is a city that is growing fast, sprawling and very touristy. (For you Wallace & Grommit fans, we found the cutest Grommit cookies in a bakery there!)
We went on a dolphin watching boat trip on salt water Moray Firth. It was a wonderful ride, beautiful scenery -- but like the monster in the Loch, the dolphins were elusive. (The Royal Family however were not! They seemed to be following us. They took the dolphin cruise the day after we did and for several days they were just one day behind us!)
We also walked along the Ness river and the Caledonian Canal locks before hopping on the train to Carbisdale Castle Hostel. The Hostel is in an actual castle -- oil paintings in huge hallways, marble statues, giant stone towers. Spooky mazelike hallways. It is very isolated, and in a beautiful location, along the Kyle of Sutherland (Kyle == narrows, or estuary). The castle was built in the 1910's for a Duke's widow from the next county south, by the step-children who wanted to be rid of her. It is specifically designed to look old and authentic by having separate wings which LOOK like they were built at different times, and decorated in the style of different periods! The castle has its own train station about 1 km away, and from the high windows of the castle it was really neat to watch the train cross the bridge, poke in and out of the forest and roll down along the water in to the distance -- it looked like a model train!
While we were in Scotland I read a novel by a Scottish author that was set in Scotland. Complicity by Iain Banks. It was a very bizarre thriller, but it was fun recognizing so many of the places.
From the hostel we took a long walk through the forest and into the heather covered hillsides. At one point we turned around and saw the castle on the side of the next hill over, perhaps 4 km away, sticking up out of the forest with (I am NOT making this up) a RAINBOW directly over the castle. It looked like it was from a children's story book! We walked a long way that day: past 3 or 4 towns, through heather covered hillsides and miles and miles of sheep meadows.
Two things to remember about Scotland: Heather, EVERYWHERE!, and sheep. Sheep, sheep, sheep, sheep sheep. More sheep than people. We saw Rhododendron, a terrible invasive in Scotland, but native in Washington, European thistle and Scotsbroom, a terrible invasive in Washington but native in Scotland -- and many other familiar plants. In fact, the water and hills and rivers and plants and clouds and rain all looked very very much like home. (The accents on the other hand, did NOT!) We finished that day by walking to a waterfall where we saw salmon jumping upstream. And people on the deck above cheering them on! How Seattle! Oh, and we also saw a can of vegetarian Haggis in the gift shop. That's a bit bizarre...
From Carbisdale Castle (Aug 31) we took the train to Thurso, the capitol of the Cathiness, the northernmost region in Scotland and a very historic Earldom. All the train station signs are in both English and Gaelic! Most of the way we saw heather and sheep along the tracks. But we did see some elk, and for a part of the ride we went through a wilderness... the landscape looked like parts of Eastern Washington (only with heather instead of tumbleweed) and no farms or sheep or buildings. We also saw North Sea oil rigs in for repair and rivers and Kyles, beautiful beaches and a large flock?, pod?, pack? of seals on the beach! I was REALLY wanting my bicycle!
In Thurso we stayed at a hostel above a snack bar that appeared scary at first, but turned out very very nice. The people here were friendly and it was interesting to see their attitudes about Scotland. 'The Cities [Glasgow & Edinburgh] -- that's not Scotland!! Way down South there they just think they are English. I went there once, I see no need to go again!'
When we were first walking into town in the dark, with the somewhat scary
teenagers hanging out on the main street at 10pm (small towns are all the
same, eh?) in this rather depressed fishing town we looked at each other
and said, I think we are in Aberdeen, because it looked so much like
Aberdeen Washington. Then we realized that we were only a short distance
from the REAL Aberdeen.
© Copyright Mark Canizaro 1999
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