Tuesday, January 02, 2007

You won't believe this, but January could be the best month in Scotland

Loch Etive from the top of the old road to Bonawe, photo taken five hours ago on 2nd January

"If we are going to Oban then lets do the old road around Archattan," she says.

That's ok by me. The first part of the journey from the cottage is down Loch Linnhe, with the tops of the Morven hills across the water in snow. They are hills, too rounded and gentle to be mountains.

Then we are on the single track old road, the one that old McIain took on his journey to vow loyalty to King William exactly 315 years ago to this very day. He went to the wrong castle first, then crossed back over the Ballachulish ferry, then the Shian ferry, and then over this hill you see, to the Bonawe ferry to complete his journey in the Campbell stronghold of Inveraray.

I guessed it would take more than three days altogether for them to walk to here, but Gillian said they were probably on ponies and she is right. They signed the deed six days later than the deadline, and old McIain was assured it would be ok, no problem. 38 days later he was dead, the first one to be murdered in the Glencoe massacre at exactly 5.00am. King William himself signed the papers, and later said he knew nothing about it when the scandal broke. That's politics for you.

"What's that?" she says, "Oyster catcher," immediately answering her own question. "There's a heron"
We go past the lovely old Archattan priory, with its gardens. If you ever go inside, then in the ruined parts you'll see a small skull and crossbones carved into the stone above the arch of the 10th century remains. It took me a long time to find references for this strange carving, but apparently it is an ancient Christian reference to the Cross, not uncommon in religious buildings - just a few hundreds years before pirates adopted it as their logo.

We went on to Oban. As interesting as ever, and nice not to have too many tourists around.

The Calmac ferry was just lining up for the journey to the Outer Hebrides. It leaves at 3.30 and arrives at Lochboisdale around midnight. 2 of you with a car will cost you £100 for the single journey. No reduction for the Islanders, so you can understand why they get grumpy over Calmac.

Then to, Piazza, on North Pier. They are very busy. "We know you are serving lunches, but could we have a coffee?"

"Of course you can, and would you like the table by the window overlooking the harbour?"

You can't beat this place, you know.


Sunday, December 31, 2006

How to have fun on a wet windy storm tossed day in the Highlands

What a perfect day! 99 couples in 100 would have said that a full day’s downpour in Scotland is a disaster.

So Gillian and I are odd. Rain? Just go with the flow. As I write, storms are forecast, and Glasgow has cancelled its New Years Eve celebrations.

“You can’t put that on,” she said, eyeing the oversize yellow souwester I’d picked out from under the stairs, to counter the wet and the wind. “You look like a road mender.”

“Glen Etive?” said the road mender from inside the souwester.
“Let’s” she said.

The rain hit the windscreen with the velocity of AK 47 bullets as we drove down the narrow single track road beside the River Etive. She was in full spate. What a sight! Huge white waterfalls were cascading down, under our road, racing to join the main river.

The snow was on the upper cliffs of the Blackmount to the east of us. The colours started off with black and white on the tops, then down to a dark maroon of tree branches up the riverside, the hillside of greens, browns and even some orange. It is the day before January, yet the Autumn colours have still not gone completely from the Highlands.

The river winds in and out down close beside the road for miles. The water whacks into rocks, over the tops, round the sides and races on down. It is the finest riverside road you can imagine. The road itself goes nowhere. That is its joy. At the end you turn round and come back the same way.

“Look,” she said. Across the water were the deer. We counted twelve of them from the lay-by. Static, looking like the carved models you get in gift shops.

Above them, the perfect sentinel, stood the stag. Motionless. Looking at us. His harem looked content enough in the pouring rain.

Then we spotted the kayaks. Wow! They hardly needed paddles, just a touch here and there, canoes gliding over the boiling waters, sometimes straight, sometimes at right angles.

“The Etive falls are a mile further down, they’ll never get over those”

They were canoeing at 10 knots, 12 miles an hour, so we had to get a crack on ourselves to see what would happen.

We’ve seen people get into difficulty at these falls when the river is flowing at half the rate, but they knew what they were doing, these three lads. They stopped before the falls, hoisted up their canoes and walked. If only everyone were as professional as this.

The leader told me that the River Etive was becoming better known because of its two long stretches of white water.
We stop at the Don't do this, Don't do that hotel
Back home we stopped at the KingsHouse hotel for tea. This is a strange place. It was built as an inn on the remote Rannoch Moor before the Glencoe Massacre. Not much has changed inside.

It holds a special place in history for climbers and walkers. All you need for tragedy in the mountains is a twisted ankle and night coming down in Winter. If you got stuck on the Rannoch Moor, or on the Crowberry ridge of the Buchaille Etive Mhor and you needed help, then you headed for the Kings House, night or day, for the rescue attempt. Now you have mobile phones.
The Kings House marketing strategy is 50 years old and is based upon a technique known as customer prevention. Look at these signs, just inside the porch on the way through the front door! The toilets for campers are ten miles away in Glencoe!

They have the rare distinction of being awarded only 1 star by Visit Scotland the tourist agency. Not many hotels can say that. Even fewer will wear it proudly on the door.

But the staff are lovely and warm and welcoming. Once inside you are surrounded by friendliness. Gillian and I are terrified of one day meeting the owner.

But there is a more terrifying prospect.

One day, the owner might sell out this wonderful place to one of the modern hotel groups, who specialise in three star filing-cabinets-for tourists.

Now, that is the nightmare scenario.

You can still book a winter break in January or February. www.bayviewkentallen.co.uk/shortbreakscotland.html.
Lochside cottage near Glencoe in the Highlands of Scotland
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