the Brave - 16th June 2011
The landscape in Scotland also seems somewhat more open and after the last 10 days of charcoal grey stone buildings it's also a relief to be in an environment where most buildings are painted white or cream.
Unfortunately the sunshine doesn't last long and it's raining again by the time we reach Ayr, a small city of about 50,000 people although it seems rather larger than that. We have two nights booked in the "Robbie Burns Suite" in an apparently upmarket bed and breakfast place on the edge of town. This establishment proves to be indeed well found although our room is physically small compared to most places we have stayed during our time in Europe thus far.
Our host couple are delightful and extremely hospitable without being over the top.... pillows excluded. Have you noticed a stupid and increasingly widespread practice nowadays for accommodation properties to "impress" guests by how many pillows are on the bed and how many complimentary jars, tubes and little cardboard boxes of cheap creams, shampoos and conditioners they can squeeze into their bathrooms? Well, we're not impressed.... just give us back our bathroom bench space and also save us the trouble of finding a place to stash all those silly cushions and pillows. Hmmm, I wonder if increasing age is associated with increased irritability?
We took the opportunity to take a guided tour of the Oban whisky distillery. This proved very interesting but the visit to the tasting room left us a little dazed after tasting half a dozen small nips of various blends. We couldn't really recommend it as a pre-lunch warm-up activity. Of course it didn't help that Lynn merely sniffed most of our samples which left yours truly having two small nips of almost every blend. After all, I wouldn't want to insult our host and of course I also abhor waste !!
Following the distillery tour we staggered on to a large harbourside seafood restaurant for a late lunch. We both had a delicious seafood platter. Lynn had a couple of glasses of wine and I had..... water! As my eyes began to clear I noticed that the tall ship "Lord Nelson" was moored right beside the restaurant. A group of trainees were being put through their paces trying to fold and stow huge canvas sails. Their superior must have seen too many pirate movies because he was continually shouting at the junior crew in a very ugly and disrespectful manner. An ugly and totally unnecessary performance which I rather suspect was for the benefit of onlookers.
It's now time to farewell Oban and head on north again to a town called Plockton. Because we'll be taking a more scenic but obscure route we're looking at a trip of about 270 km. We plan to go via the Isle of Skye. Once again we are travelling through intermittent showers and rain so it's hard to appreciate the natural beauty of craggy hills, green valleys, ponds and small lakes.
Continuing further on we find ourselves in a very sparsely populated region. It's nearly 2.00pm, it's raining continuously and I cannot find any restaurants or other places to buy food. More importantly I can't find a toilet and things are getting pretty desperate! Luckily fervent prayers are finally answered and we find a tiny roadside inn which provides us with both necessities. What a relief.
After a warming bowl of soup and a toasted sandwich we drive further westwards to catch a ferry over to the Isle of Skye. Upon arrival at the departure point we discover that the next sailing is fully sold out but we are offered the option of buying our ticket anyhow and lining up in the standby lane in case there are any pre-booked "no shows" for the following sailing. We end up becoming Car Number 3 in an eventual standby queue of about seven vehicles. The ferry eventually arrives and after loading heaps of cars, trucks, buses and motor homes we can see what seems to be a tiny spare space at the stern of the ferry. We are left holding our breath for 10 minutes during which time nothing happens. Then a man in yellow wet weather gear becomes vaguely visable through our severely fogged window. He holds up four fingers and beckons we lucky ones to drive down the ramp onto the ferry. Thank goodness we won't have to wait in the rain until who knows when !!
Our drive across the Isle of Skye was uneventful and in due course we can take a relatively new bridge back over to the Mainland at Kyle of Lochalsh. From there it's only a short drive on to Plockton
Our accommodation outside Plockton proves very hard to find. It's supposed to be a two bedroom self contained cottage on a remote unmarked road surrounded by forest. The directions we were given seem wholly misleading and we can't find the mentioned sign. For once our Sat Nav system also seems at a loss. Eventually trial and error finally brings us to our destination and the cottage owner informs us.... "oh yes we had a wee accident with the sign. One of our cows sat on it and we haven't had time to replace it yet".
Nearby Plockton turns out to be a very cute village on a handsome loch. The surrounding countryside is very pretty too and often breathtakingly majestic. Thankfully the next four days are mostly free of rain so we take the opportunity to do some serious exploring. Each day we head off into different remote locations encompassing drives of 100 to150 km or so and we experience some wonderful valleys, mountains, streams, lakes and lochs. We took hundreds of photos and a handful of these are shown below. Our only disappointment was not making it to the highly recommended town of Ullapool. We set out for that destination one day but we ended up running out of puff and consequently shortening our planned circular day tour. After 8 weeks touring our energy levels are seriously depleted. On these daily driving excursions I'm often obliged to take a short afternoon snooze parked beside the road. This is totally new for me as I have never in the past indulged in an afternoon nap more than one or twice per year. Just another sign I suppose .
Today is 25th June and Lynn's birthday. She thinks we are going to find an off the cuff hotel when we overnight in Perth on our way to Edinburgh. But I have been a little sneaky. Months ago I secretly booked us into the Gleneagles Hotel on the famous Gleneagles Golf Club. To cap off this birthday indulgence I also booked a table in "Andrew Fairlie's" two Michelin Star restaurant which is housed within the Gleneagles Hotel. Well it all proves to be extremely posh with all the male staff immaculately garbed in kilts leading us through incredibly rich foyers and halls to a wonderful large suite where a huge basket of fruit and a complimentary birthday gift awaits Lynn. All of this helps to offset the disappointing fact that it is (you guessed it) softly but continuously raining.
A degustation dinner and a very late breakfast preceded our next day departure for Edinburgh. Upon arrival we have to dump our car at the Hertz depot in Edinburgh Airport. However this proves to be the busiest day of the annual Edinburgh Show which is located right next door to the airport. The roads are all grid locked and in floundering around trying for alternative routes we end up in an apparently restricted part of the airport complex. This is where we are unceremoniously bailed up by two burly coppers in a police car. After inspecting our documents they decide we are harmless and offer to escort us to the Hertz depot. So hugging their rear bumper we play follow the leader until we reach our car drop-off. Although we didn't have a siren escort there's no doubt that cars readily give way for cop's cars. However it was very important that we stayed closely on their tail. I kept reminding myself to concentrate, concentrate. Imagine accidentally ramming into the rear of a police car !!
We only have two nights in Edinburgh and most of our free day is spent re-organising a massive amount of luggage before flying off to New York. Lynn decided to send much of our surplus home by Royal Mail but this involved quite a bit of rigmarole, was time consuming and incurred significant expense. Still it's probably a wise move and will make the next two weeks somewhat easier.