It was difficult to keep track of time that Monday between being focused on what was happening in the moment and having cloudy skies most of the time; no point of reference from the sun. I’m guessing we left Fort Augustus around 4:30 p.m., continued on A82 to Inverness where we picked up A96 for the final miles to Nairn. By the time we arrived at our castle looking hotel, the Muthu Newton (stark contrast to the modern urban lodging of the night before) it was close to 6:00 and nearing sunset. We did drive alongside most of the length of Loch Ness but the trees were so dense I didn't know until I looked at Google Earth.
We had a little free time before being due at dinner so Wendy and I did brief settling in the room and quickly headed out to explore, as it was only about a 10 minute walk to the beach. On the way down the lovely wooden banister stairs, I made a startling discovery.
The risers were wood with a carpet runner and a rubber strip on the very edge of each step to give traction on the smooth carpet surface. When my shoes hit the first strips, my feet/shoes (with super grippy soles it turned out) stuck while my body went forward. I fell down a couple of stairs, partially into the banister and my sister. Thankfully she had good footing, was alert and stopped me from falling any farther. Really took me off guard and I knew it wasn't a matter of my balance but something else had happened. Quickly figured out it was the grip of my shoe on the rubber strip so I carefully tried continuing being aware. The soles still grabbed so completely I lost my balance again but remained upright.
So those shoes came off until we were done with the stairs! I can honestly say I've never experienced anything like that in my life. We were thankful I only had a little bit of a sore wrist and that was it. It was nice to know so early on I needed to pay attention to any kind of surface like that when I wore those shoes.
With that behind us, we made our way down the street to the beach. It really was just about a 10 minute walk through residences in the charming little village. Sometimes no sidewalk but the streets are more like paths. There is a wide mix of structure types ranging from small cottages with walled gardens that come right up to the road, to "mansions" set back with large lush yards and gated. A lone sunflower (Kansas state flower) caught my eye in one of the cottage gardens.
I’ve since gotten on Google Earth and “walked” it again. It was quick to find where we entered the beach (it stretches miles along Nairn) as it was very near the Golf View Hotel and Spa whose tennis courts border the beach and are purple. (Really easy to spot on Earth.) One of my photos that survived is of the purple courts, which I was thinking a K-State alum would love.
Scotland does have white sand beaches in various areas of the country to the point of some looking like the Caribbean. Nairn Beach has very light tan sandy areas; however, where we were it's rocks mixed with darker sand, a unique beauty of its own. We loved taking it in for a short time as the sun was setting. In the distance we watched a couple of barges on the Moray Firth.
I snapped pics nonstop the whole trip but Wendy was more selective. Thankfully, this was one of the areas she chose, so again, a number of the photos (and the video) are hers. Twilight was advancing and quickly it was time to head back to our beautiful lodgings for the evening meal.
A long lane goes up to the hotel with one side bordered by the fence of a pasture belonging to the Muthu Newton, home to their Heilan Coos, Highland Cows or as Kevin, our Scottish Guide, called them, Hairy Coos. The breed has a fascinating history with Queen Elizabeth II having one of the best folds (their term for herd) in existence, some with bloodlines back to Queen Victoria in 1871.
The Coos are so cute with their very long shaggy hair (locks!), definite photo magnets which they don’t seem to mind at all, as most are very friendly docile animals. For 2 £, you could buy a bundle of hay and feed the Coos which a couple of our fellow travelers did. I'm sure I took pictures closer up but they appear to have been part of the disappeared photos for that day. Being former dairy farm girls, my sister and I did not get enough time with those cuties, as it was on to dinner.
During the course of conversation with Kevin at lunch, he mentioned that he did have his bagpipes with him and would play if anyone wanted him to. Wendy and I exclaimed we knew everyone would love it! So after our wonderful meal, Kevin brought out the bagpipes (photos and video missing from that) and did a wonderful concert. He was really good and his type of bagpipe had a deeper tone so it sounded like none we'd heard before.
We were only the one night in Nairn, so had to be mindful of the time as “bags, breakfast and bus” would come all too soon.
Now that I’ve done six blog posts on the day, my memories have really filled in and I've learned so much more time didn’t permit then. It’s astounding to me what I experienced via every aspect of my senses and heart. Each day on the trip, both expanded exponentially!
Over a week since I've done any writing in this blog journal as I have been just as gobsmacked as the rest of the world with the situation we are in. I've been caught up in the 24-7 news cycle, telling myself I should stay informed. Many years ago I turned my life from being negative to nearly always seeking, living and sharing happy. Earlier in the week as the reel of virus played on a loop in my brain keeping me from sleep it became a "staying awake call" to return to my positive choices. Here I am, back to focus and do research on one of the happiest times of my life to date!
The rainbows disappeared soon after we left the Commando Memorial continuing on A82 northwest for a short distance, then north then back northeast as we made our way to our next stop at Fort Augustus. Loch Lochy was off to the left but for the first few miles we only caught glimpses every so often through the thick hedge of trees on both sides of the road. I’m including a Google Earth link so you can see, from above the trees looked like dark green berber carpet. We were once again in a forest with mountains all around that we could not see and were not climbing. Loch Lochy was about 12 miles long and flowed into the small Ceann Loch which joined the Caledonian Canal, all on our left with fields between us. We crossed the Laggan Swing Bridge which put Loch Oich on our right but not for long as we soon zigged back over the River Oich. From there it was just under 5 miles to Fort Augustus where the Caledonian Canal contained a lock (highlands, lochs and locks) and fed into Loch Ness.
Until I started this research I had no idea we were in Fort Augustus. I somehow thought we were in a village called Loch Ness. Oh how I have learned! Anyway, when we arrived clouds had moved in and started to drop rain. The first stop everyone wanted was a toilet and so happened our first pay toilet experience. Most of us did not have the correct change! Several of the men in the group decided they thought once they dropped some coins and the gate released, they could hold it open. Amazingly they could, so quite a few of us thankful ladies scurried through. I didn’t object to paying but the exact change and not a standard fee made it tricky. And then when we got to Ireland, the money changed too.
We had tickets to be on a Loch Ness cruise in less than a half hour so everyone headed over to the boarding area. By that time it was a downpour. My rain hat and coat were terrific for dryness but after a bit it felt pretty chilly. Wendy had an umbrella but the rain was driving so even that was not a total barrier. All the spaces with some cover were full of folks huddled; so my sister and I decided to brave the rain as first in line! The waiting passed pretty quickly and we were committed to being seated inside which was easily accomplished with “first” status. Our cruise was aboard The Spirit of Loch Ness which I think is classified as a “barge” but I can’t find a definitive answer. True to Scotland weather the clouds moved out as we were heading down the canal onto Loch Ness, so for the majority of our time on the Loch, the sun was out with only a few scattered clouds. The cruise was smooth as glass and the day had turned to perfect. I even ventured out the back door and got some wonderful shots, to say nothing of enjoying the freshness and the beauty.
The presentation the crew gave was fascinating including a wall flat screen with sonar showing how deep it was beneath us. I don’t remember noticing the depth but parts of Loch Ness are 700 feet deep! The water reflects blue sky but where it roiled from the engines the brown from the peat made it look like strong tea. Of course Nessie was discussed and we were there not long after some new discoveries had been made. There is no doubt something quite large is in the Loch and given the first sightings date back 1500 years, more than one.
I remember my grade school days at La Grange country school and all us kids were excited hearing about the Loch Ness Monster and seeing the photograph. Honestly, I had not kept up with Nessie and didn’t know until our trip that the photo was determined a hoax back in ‘74. Anyway, I have lived most of my life believing the photo of Nessie and because every shot I had ever seen was black and white, also thinking of Loch Ness itself as a dreary, haunting body of water. Being raised in Kansas, I also had no point of reference for something the size of many of the Lochs there. Now I am even more haunted by its incredible beauty. I don’t think my brain still really grasps the childhood mental picture I carried was never “real” in any way. All too soon the cruise was over (about 50 minutes) and the clouds had thickened by the time we were back on the dock. Not long after, Pat headed our chariot back out on A82.
My senses were on overload earlier in the day in the Glen Coe Valley and Loch Ness again put me at a loss for words. I still am. We know the earth is old but somehow there in the Highlands and then out on Loch Ness you “feel” it and the shift is away from self to something unnameable that is so much bigger.
This was only our first full day in Scotland and there was still more to come before our heads hit the pillow.
It certainly boggles my mind what has happened in the world since I began this project. This blog is a deviation in that it only relates to our tour of Scotland and Ireland indirectly.
First I am so very thankful for the timing of being there last October. Hard to believe it was only a little over five months ago that life looked a whole lot different and I was overflowing with happiness from the experiences while traveling with my sister.
I think often about what we learned of history in both of those countries and how difficult so much of it was. I guess still is. I have great hope that while I believe some things in our world will shift or completely change forever; we will come out of this better together. I continue to maintain hope that some time in the future my sister and I will return. My goal is to spend even more time in Scotland and Ireland and expand to visit our Welsh and English roots as well.
Today I took a little walk during a lunch break. Didn't have to go far to find daffodils now up and blooming. They missed Saint David's day by a number of weeks but still cheered me greatly. I took it as a message from spring, "Virus be damned, we are coming!"
Knowing it was going to be a balmy evening, I met a couple of fellow residents on our rooftop deck to enjoy social distance time together and watch an incredible sunset. It was just what was needed.
Remember, we are all one day closer to hugging again!
Leaving the Three Sisters stop we continued on A82 through the Village of Glen Coe to Ballachulish Bridge where we crossed an inlet of Loch Linnhe. The Loch was visible on our left the fifteen miles to Fort William.
At Fort William the sun was finally breaking through the clouds. We stopped at the Ben Nevis Highland Centre for lunch. It's another business very much geared to tourism with an expansive gift shop and a cafeteria.
Both buses hit at about the same time and near the end of the restaurant's service for the day. The staff did an admirable job of handling the 80+ people who descended; but it took most of the break to get through the line and eat. They didn’t have much in the way of leftovers to deal with that day.
Wendy and I were somewhat far back in the line with our guide, Kevin, standing behind us. He had exhibited not only great knowledge of history but also humor, so when I noticed the shirtless men in kilts calendar I naturally asked if he was on it (he was wearing a kilt). That began a fun time of banter but also getting to know him and a little more of Scottish life as we ate lunch.
Back on the road we drove 16 miles northeast to the village of Spean Bridge where A82 took a turn back to the northwest and our next stop, the Commando Memorial, a little over a mile outside the village.
The sun was out but in true Scottish fashion some of the clouds hanging around were dropping rain and treated us to our first rainbows, plural because it turned into a double. The whole bus was in motion to the windows snapping pics when Pat pulled into the Memorial. I don’t know whether it was a planned stop or he simply knew it would be a great vantage point for capturing the rainbows.
I was beyond thrilled. Probably most everyone likes rainbows but I have a deep seated long standing love. It may have begun during my childhood on the farm with our home situated on the top of a hill and a 360 viewpoint. Haven’t been on a farm since my teens; but not that many years later my young (then) son gave me the prism you see in the photo here. It has lived in so many windows I have no idea the count; but for 40+ years on a sunny day, at some point, I see rainbows.
When the bus stopped I was out like a shot to take pictures with a vantage point facing away from the Memorial. By the time I captured my pics and turned to be in awe of the surrounding mountain ranges, which included Ben Nevis, I was chilled and the bus was loading. I knew there was a statue people were going up to look at but I did not know until I began researching for the blog what it was. Wish I had run up real quick as it is a bronze statue honoring World War II British Commandos who trained all around the Lochaber region which the monument overlooks.
That double rainbow was one of two we saw that day. By the end of our ten days we saw a total of 8 rainbows; 5 in Scotland and 3 in Ireland. I really loved that.
As I am writing these blogs and our current state of affairs is front and center everywhere, I am very thankful for this happy task I set myself. And it just happens to be solitary. Thinking I sure would love to see some rainbows about now.
On to Loch Ness!
Thanks to Oprah and Eckart Tolle, a few years back I began learning being in the moment and am now much more aware of my surroundings, often taking photos. On the trip I trusted my LG v40 thinq for all photography, which proved to be a good decision for many reasons. My phone is set up to auto upload photos to Dropbox and Google photos which wifi on the bus facilitated somewhat. However in many remote areas, upload speed was sluggish. This day was outstanding in every way but also sad as I'm sure I took a huge number of photos; however later at the hotel I didn't look closely at what had been uploaded or realize it was a hotel where wifi connected only for so long and then dropped. Many places once checked in and connected, you were on until out of range. I was either tired or lazy when checking my Dropbox account, made an assumption everything was there and went ahead and cleaned the photos off my phone. Later I discovered only a fraction of the photos I took that day were saved. Most of the photos from Glen Coe are from my sister, the one included here is mine.
About 25 miles from the Green Welly at just over 1100 feet elevation, we emerged from the forest into the Glen Coe Valley, another Scottish icon. The valley is right at 1000 feet while the surrounding hills and munros are up to 3,000 feet elevation. I’ve visited numerous mountain ranges in America, some with peaks much higher but none that impacted me like the vistas there.
Maybe part of the impact is being able to see exposed mountains. There is certainly vegetation and some trees but nothing like many of the ranges I’ve visited in the states. Since it was October we only saw scattered bits of heather clinging to its purple glory while most had turned rusty brown. Our photo opp came at Three Sisters Car Park View, well used and known by tourists.
When first off the bus, I did not immediately take pictures--I literally was awestruck. I stood and turned slowly, trying to grasp the enormity of what we were in the midst of. I’ve now seen many photos of the valley on sunny days but it was overcast during our visit so a number of the bluffs’ peaks “disappeared” in the clouds. The Three Sisters are lushly covered with vegetation as were most of the hills on the south side of the valley. Opposite, very much in contrast, is Aonach Eagach ridge. The stone it was carved from by the ice age glacier is exposed, has very little vegetation and a craggy face mostly straight up.
Generally I avoid having people in landscape shots; but in this case I was happy to find one with several in the foreground of the Three Sisters as it’s most effective at providing perspective. I liken my Valley experience to a clear night away from light pollution and actually seeing the myriad of stars in the night sky. If you've ever experienced it, then you know nature looms really, really big and humans minuscule.
After we re-boarded and drove on, Kevin, our Scottish Guide, shared history about whatever we were near. In the Valley he recounted the story of the Glencoe Massacre which happened the day before Valentine's day, February 13th in 1692. Details can be found on the Links page. I had never thought or known about the battles Scotland went through and it's quite a bloody history.
The Three Sisters stop was somewhat near the eastern beginning of the valley so there were stunning views for miles ahead. Okay, stunning was really everywhere we went in both countries in one form or another! Up next, one of my favorite things always showed up on our drive!