First things first! Thanks, everyone, for you encouraging words and lovely comments. It feels fantastic to be writing again. It’s fantastic to have something to write about! And I’m glad to have you along during this journey. At home, we like to make fun of a sponsorship commercial on PBS by Viking Cruises. They play it every week, just before Masterpiece Theater. The Scandinavian owner of the company laments, in sonorous, heavily accented tones that “This past year has felt like a long, long Norwegian winter…” Indeed it has. Eventually he gets to the “rebirth of spring” and welcomes us all back to the world. In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, click here:
I don’t think we’re quite back to the world as it was in The Before Times, but driving north out of Scotland’s central belt and on to Skye sure felt like a step (okay, maybe a drive!) in the right direction.
There is nothing, NOTHING , like the feeling of a full day in front of you when you’re driving toward a place you love.
But first, Glencoe.
Heather and I enjoyed our breakfast at the Inn on Loch Lomond. (Full Scottish Please! Complete with tattie scones.) Then we hit the road. This is Herbie, our trusty VW … umm, I don’t know what model of car it is. Nothing I’ve seen around my neighborhood. It’s tiny, has less power than a roller skate and is, we’ve come to believe, quite sensitive. It works hard on the hills. (And there are many. This is Scotland after all — the only place in the UK that can truly claim to have mountains.)
Herbie seems willing enough. However he erupts in beeps and baroops when we get too close to another car, a curb, or as we learned earlier today, a hydrangea.
We set out on a road that paralleled the very long and very famous Loch Lomond. Yes, its shores are bonnie, bonnie. However we had miles to go afore us so I did not stop to take any pictures. If you’ve not seen it, please open another browser, type in http://www.images.google.com and search for Loch Lomond. That’s what we saw. We stopped at an inn along its shores, checking it out for possible future stays. (Meh.) We watched tall swaths of fireweed (bright pink) cow parsnip(white) and ragwort (lemon yellow) bend under the swift chariot of our passing entourage. We saw names of venues, shops and towns and tried to pronounce them. (Cree-an-larich? Cray-ne-lah-rick? Crehn-lay-rech?) We made fun of Scottish road signs.
Trucks Crossing. Okay we get that one.
Heavy Plant Crossing. Wait, what? Is that for… I don’t know.. a group of Ents, from Lord of the Rings? Do they regularly pass through this area?
Highland Kennels and Catering. No. I think that was Kennels and CATTERY. Oh really? Yes. Cattery. Definitely cattery. Well then, that makes much more sense.
And on and on. All the while, the forest surrounding Loch Lomond was giving way to the open sky and treeless, windswept landscape that is the area called Glencoe. When the sun broke through the scattered clouds, we just had to stop and get out.
I’m sure you’ve seen the landscape we were driving through. Glencoe is famous and often filmed – tall monoliths of stone rising up out of green valleys with gray blue, rolling rivers and rocks wending their way along the bottom. I remarked to Heather that I was very glad the place had been protected. There are few buildings here, no development at all and a simple, 2 lane highway winds through it all. Now that I reflect upon it, I’m not sure the area was protected so much as so darned remote that no one could make a living here or wanted to go here until technology – the motor car and railroad- made it accessible. Now it is pristine and picturesque compared with Scotland’s central belt between Glasiw and Edinburgh, where mist of the population lives.
*** Note to readers: Actually, the Scottish Highlands was once full of people. However the politics, economy and transition from agrarian to industrial livelihoods that took place in the 18th and 19th centuries took their toll. But that is a story for another time. We’re keeping to this trip’s themes of travel during the pandemic, fiber scouting and generally delightful discoveries.
In no time we were around a bend and into the village of Ballachulish to visit a small inn we’re using for a tour next April, Loch Leven Hotel.
Liked the hotel? Check. Friendly staff? Check. Have their own gin distillery with tasting sessions and even classes in distilling? Check. We’re definitely staying here. (Knitters and friends from Scratch Supply Company in NH, that means YOU!)
We continued driving north through the Highlands and stopped at Fort Williams. For most people, this town is recognizable as the northern terminus of the Caledonian Sleeper, a train which starts its journey in London. Or, as the garrison at which Black Jack Randall is posted when he meets Jamie and Claire, in the Outlander series. (No rolling of eyes here, please. You KNOW that’s how 90% of Americans who recognize the town’s name do so because of those books.) But if you’re coming and going from around here, it’s the last town of any size before entering the sparsely populated, rugged landscapes of the northwest Scottish mainland and inner Hebrides islands. So, big grocery stores, parking lots, suppliers and light industry. After this it’s all small stuff. (Except the mountains and the sea. They get bigger and bigger from this point forward.) In fact, I didn’t know that Ft William was anything but those large commercial services and stores until today. It has a beautiful wee high street and pedestrian walks, a park and a waterfront. Who knew?
And of course, a yarn store.
In the tradition of UK yarn stores, this place is tiny. About the size of my living room. And I mean just the living room – minus the kitchen part and the dining room. This shop is, ahem… diminutive. Accessed by a steep set of stairs. So Scottish! But when you get up there, oh my…
The owner, Jam, is friendly, enthusiastic about her craft and stocks a really fine selection of books, fiber, yarn, tools and kits based on her own handspinning and designs.
I really should find a picture of Jam. She was so friendly and fun to talk with. I’m glad we met her. I want you to meet her too. Try searching for her over on IG: @the.caledonian.wool.co
And after our festival of excitement at the yarn shop, my favorite part of the day: lunch at the place our new friend Jam recommended. Rain Bakery. If ever I could own a bakery, I’d want it to look, smell and offer up goodness just like this one did.
Next, we stopped in the outdoor outfitters there in town so Heather could pick p a pair of lightweight hiking shoes. I looked at luggage. Of course. Success on all fronts! She found a great pair of shoes, perfect for tromping in the forecasted wet weather. I did NOT buy the brand new, super lightweight Alpine Lowe rolling suitcase offered at half price and we were soon on our way to retrieve Herbie from the parking lot.
Poor Herbie. He was abandoned in a most mundane public parking lot, next to a giant grocery store. He missed all the fun. Luckily, we soon had him out on the road again, headed for the Isle of Skye.
For the next hour or so, Heather drove, I knitted and Scotland rained.
We drove through some pretty rugged landscape, my favorite part of which is the drive along Loch Alsh. But since it was doing that rainy Scotland thing, we didn’t stop for photos. And honestly, I’ve been this way before. I don’t need any more photos of Loch Alsh, Kyle of Loch Alsh, Eilean Donan castle and the bridge to Skye. And you… I’m afraid you’ll just have to come with us on future trips if you want to see these places for yourself.
As we arrived on Skye, I reflected that it’s one of my favorite places in Scotland. But then again, you might hear me say that about all the places I go in Scotland. I really do find this place enchanting.
And though I’d like to write some more tonight, it’s currently 12:39 am. We’re out of here tomorrow morning after an 8am breakfast. Oh, and after taking our UK covid tests. More on that later. More about Skye later. But I leave you with this one picture that pretty much sums up how I feel about getting here.
That’s Heather, knitting on the front lawn of the Cuillin Hills Hotel in the town of Portree shortly after dinner. Yep. It feels just like THAT here.
And I’ll tell you about it tomorrow.