Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Honeymoon in Scotland: Day 8 to 14

Okay. So I've been putting this off. But tonight I find myself motivated to finish the tale, for these three reasons (in no particular order):

1. To get Steve to stop bugging me.
2. To help Laura plan her trip to Scotland.
3. To give myself an excuse not to watch American Idol.

Given that I've waited so long to complete the last installment, the details in my brain are a bit fuzzy. Luckily for me, though, I kept a journal. Hah! Screw you, memory!

Shall we begin?

Our fearsome foursome woke up early to catch the 630 am shuttle from the hostel to the downtown core. The revellers whose revelling we were forced to endure all evening were still in the hostel bar. I shook my head in disgust. Then I felt old. While shuttling our way through Edinburgh, we started chatting with a fellow passenger. His name was Yoed. He was from Israel. Oddly enough, he was heading to the same tour we were, so this was the beginning of our 6 day adventure together. Hopping off downtown, we trekked across the North Bridge to the Royal Mile and decided to sample some local coffee. At Starbucks. Where we spent half our remaining funds for a hot chocolate and a muffin. But, it made the Bear's happy, so whatever.

When I was done recalculating our budget, we headed down the road to the Haggis Tour office. It had started to rain. This became a theme during our tour. But....it was Scotland...in October....so the griping was held to a minimum. We had actually been pretty fortunate up until then. We signed in, shuffled around outside and found our bus. We met our bus driver/tour guide, Laura, who proceeded to load the trunk with 20-some-odd backpacks (each the relative size and weight of a sixth grader) and attempt to shut it without being buried alive. With the help of some burly Canadians, the trunk was closed without any fatalities. Shortly thereafter, our merry band of Canadians, Australians, Asians, 2 Americans, an Israeli, a New Zealander, and a South African set off.

Our 6 day tour began with an introduction to our tour guide, the self-proclaimed "Lucious Laura", a freckled blonde from Inverness with a great sense of humour, a passion for all things Scottish, and conspiratorial glance and smile she would flash through the big bus mirror as she drove. We got some interesting facts, including an elaborate tale about how the Scottish invented the term "sh!tfaced", as well as the rules on Laura's Flaming Bus of Burning Love. We also learned about her love for all things Bon Jovi, and she played her personal theme song, Laura by the Scissor Sisters.

Leaving Edinburgh, we first made our way to Stirling where we visited the Wallace Monument. It was a difficult foot trek to the top. Tam turned back halfway up as her blisters were bothering her. There was a significant fee to enter the actual monument, so we just stayed outside and took in the view of Stirling, and listened as Laura passed on the tale of the Battle of Stirling Bridge (made famous in Braveheart). Leaving there, we travelled through the Trossachs (Rob Roy country) and Glen Coe. In Glen Coe we were told the tragic story of the massacre of the Macdonald's at the hand of the Campbells (who don't appear to be a popular
clan in the annals of Scottish history...). At one of the pit stops, we also were afforded the delight of seeing Hamish, the Highland Cow (or "Heilan Coo"). We stopped in Oban for the night, and checked into the hostel. We went for dinner at a little pub called Mackie Dan's. Sometime during our stay, it started to rain. Hard. Really hard. Tam and I sprinted back to the hostel with another Canuck couple, David and Arryn. We got hosed. It was like Beer Hunter. "Towel off!" On an interesting sidenote, David is the nephew of Jim Gordon, who was mayor of Sudbury. Small world. I said goodnight to Tam and headed to my 6-man dorm. Sleep was elusive. The bunk bed didn't help.

In the morning we departed for Fort William. We stopped at the Glenfinnan Viaduct where a part of the Harry Potter movie was filmed. At lunch we marvelled at the mists, behind which we're told was Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Scotland. Pressing up the coast, we made a few more stops at "points of interest" and did a little whiskey tasting as well. Along the way, Laura commented that the weather had turned from "atmospheric" to "dramatic". She wasn't lying. We crossed the bridge to the Isle of Skye and proceeded to our second stop for a two night stay. Our foursome
decided to depart from the hostel experience, which we'd had enough of after that last 3 nights (plus the lousy McLay's from the night before that), and opted for a bed and breakfast. Both couples booked in for both nights, and it was a welcome change. We booked in, then met the group back at the hostel bar for a meal and some live music (blues/jazz). Arryn had some fresh prawns. Wow. I think I'll pass.

The next day was for touring Skye. True to theme, it was raining. We set off up the east coast of the island. The scenery was spectacular. Laura had a wealth of knowledge of local history and legend (as well as a few personal anecdotes, which she was always generous to share) from time spent on the Isle in her youth. We heard the legend of Duncan and Morag, the tale of the Faerie Flag of Clan Macleod, and the history of the brutal Macleod/Macdonald feud. When we stopped for lunch, most of us opted to try some traditional Scottish fare. Haggis!
Some enjoyed it, while others didn't care for it at all. I thought it was alright, though I don't know that I'd add it to my weekly menu. I'd have it again, though. After that, we visited the grave of Flora Macdonald, the woman who helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape the government forces during the Jacobite Uprising. We also visited a ruined castle of the Macleod Clan, which was apparently haunted. We suffered through the rain for another day and finished back at the hostel bar for another meal. We also sat down and got to know some of the Australian contingent a bit better.

Thankfully, the following day the weather started to clear. We headed back to the mainland and up the coast to Ullapool for lunch. We also had to do some groceries as the hostel that night was self service. The highlight of the day was the stop at the Bone Caves. If there was much history attached to them, I missed it, but the views were spectacular. We hiked up into the highlands where there were some caves nestled high on the mountainside. There were some inner caves that many crawled into (under Laura's guidance) for a little spelunking. It was a little claustrophobic for my taste, so I
stayed out and enjoyed the view. From there, it was onward to our hostel, Carbisdale Castle, which is the flagship of the Youth Hostel Association and is said to be haunted. After preparing our own dinner, the group headed down a road, over a fence, through a field, along a path, over a bridge and across a street to the Invershin bar. A number of the tour were provided with some kilts and other traditional dress for an evening of drinking and live music. A family group consisting of a bagpiper and father and son who played the Baran (bone drum) entertained us with some traditional Scottish music. All the Haggis bus driver's also have their own drink at the bar, so I tried Lucious Laura's Lethal Liqour which was a mix of Irn Bru and 7 shots of liqour (at least 2 of which were tequila). After a few beer and that, I was pretty good for the rest of the evening. One of the American's got really drunk, and disappeared, heading back to the hostel on his own. We were concerned, as it was a difficult walk from someone who was sober. So we kept an eye out for him on our walk back in the dark, across the street, over the bridge, along the path, through the field, over the fence and up the road. We almost got lost ourselves, until one of the folks on the tour showed up with a flashlight. Ultimately, we found the Yank passed out in his bunk, so all was well.

I woke up with a bit of a headache (thanks Laura). We drove back south, stopping for a nature hike by a waterfall, as well as at the Glen Ord distillery. Inverness was the next destination, where we stayed for lunch. Tam and I had some traditional Pizza Hut at the mall. We hit the Battlefield of Culloden Moor, where in 1746 Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites were defeated by the Government forces. It was cold. And raining. Nearby, we stopped at one of Laura's favourite spots, which she only takes "special" tour groups to. (I bet she says that to all the tours....) It was a site of a number of stone cairns which are said to be about 5000 years old. Pretty cool. It's said that they are arranged in the patter of Orion's Belt, which has also been said of the Pyramids. We continued south along the western bank of Loch Ness, stopping for a few photo ops. We pitted in at St. Augustus for the night, at the southern tip of Loch Ness. We stayed at Morag's Hostel, in which the dorms had movie themes. We were in the Trainspotting dorm. After supper and a few hands of cards, I called it a night on account of my headache.

On the last day of the tour, we headed to the southern tip of Loch Ness to do some "Nessie" calling, led by Laura, which consisted of a chant and various body gyrations that at a distance may resemble the Macarena. We made a couple stops on this last day, but nothing that really stands out. We stopped at one town and took a group photo (of which I've never received a copy) and presented Laura with an autographed rain poncho. Then it was onward to Edinburgh, over the Forth Bridge, and back to the Haggis tour office. Tour complete.

We decided to stay at a Travelodge in downtown Edinburgh rather than deal with another hostel. It was rather expensive for a relatively crummy room, but we didn't have to walk far, and the bed wasn't bad. Tam and I went for supper, then we met up with the Bear's and some others from the tour and went to the Walkabout pub, an Australian bar. We had a good time, then said our goodbyes and headed back to our room.

We met the Bear's in the morning and went for lunch, after which we parted ways (they were staying on for a few days in Scotland, then to Belgium. We did some souvenir shopping up and down the Royal Mile. I found it hard to find anything good, as everything was very corny and tourist oriented. And every shop had the same stuff. Once finished, we hopped a train back to Glasgow, then a bus to the airport. We stayed at the Ramada at the airport and ate at the hotel restaurant. It wasn't cheap, but it was nice. Unfortunately, we didn't get much time to enjoy it, as we had an early flight.

The flight was bumpy. A lady in the next row was crying. I was even white-knuckled on a few occassions. It cleared up eventually though. The in-flight movies were Batman Begins and Mr. and Mrs. Smith, so that was alright. We also got a nice view of the snow-capped mountains of Greenland as we passed over the southern tip. The rest of the flight was uneventful.

We arrived in Toronto after about a 7 hour flight. We drove 1 hour home. Packed again. Drove 3.5 hours to Sudbury and attended my friend's wedding reception.

And then we slept.


Blogger Kim said...

Wow, good recount of the trip. I have to say I truly enjoyed it. At first glance at the pics you included (ie. the prawns and haggis) I thought perhaps you had taken part in some sort of freakish scottish 'fear factor'. Can't believe you ate the haggis...and LIKED IT! Also, as great as it was to learn about all of the history of 'mac'-like clans it's too bad you didn't hear too much in the way of the 'Grants'. Didn't our ancestors do anything of particular note? Ho-hum.
And I can't help but ask why we didn't get the pleasure of seeing you and Tam in the scottish attire, hmmmmmm? And hey, I've seen only a bit of Trainspotting and I sure hope that doesn't imply that your dorm was wall-to-wall covered in, well, you know...

Thanks for the great read bro.

10:41 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

Scottish Fear Factor? Now there's an idea. Someone get FOX on the phone....

As for the attire situation, Tam did don one of the gown-things, and I even have pictures to prove it. As for the kilt...the simple fact is, they ran out! Kelvin and I were prepared to throw one on, but being the polite Canadian Mounties that we are, we let others have their fun....

..and after the other guys had them on 'sans' gitch, I was no longer too eager to try one on.

12:34 PM  

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