This was our spontaneous day with lots of beautiful pictures. They're from Glenfinnan. If I havent' sent you the pictures and you want to see them, let me know.
July 12, 2009
Today was the day we were going to find Puffins; Scotland is one of the only places on earth to find them. We got up at the buttcrack of dawn in order to get to Oban, a lovely little village on the loch (‘cuz there’s none of those around here). It was our first taste of Scotland mist in the morning as it coated our layers of clothes in droplets of dew-like water.
Most of the drive was through foresty stuffs with lochs along the way on either side. We knew we’d have to test our driving again, pretending not to be tourists by driving 20 miles under the speed limit. We were running a tad late – who knew Wendy had that ailment as well – so we had to hotfoot it on the road as the tour started at 10am. The problem was that we still had to buy our tickets at the desk because we couldn’t purchase them before we’d left the states. I’d tried to call the night before to leave a message and I’d sent an email but we never heard anything back. I grabbed the phone with the intention of calling along the way.
Oh, and I think I forgot to mention that there are castle ruins everywhere. And I mean everywhere. It’s just incredible to think how many people lived like that! We hit our first one of the day on the way to Oban, Castle Stalker; the only standing piece is a tower in the middle of an island. One can only imagine how they built it in the first place on this tiny piece of land. But we didn’t have time to look now as we had to get to our destination.
Many roundabouts, a few bridges and lochside views later, we ended up in Oban. This was the first port we’d seen with the ferries – and the ships were massive! The town itself was a good size – even having its own Tesco – so it stands to reason that the port would be a hub of lots of activity. Still, seeing that ship up close and knowing that we’d be on one in a few day’s time just shoots a sense of awe through your veins.
We parked the car, illegally it turns out, and raced over to find out where the ticket office was. The tour desk held our answers as a sweet man behind the desk nodded as I mentioned my name, informing us that the tour had been cancelled for the day. Ugh! I knew we should have called first, but we were in a hurry…haste DOES make waste. And speaking of waste (wow, what an awful transition) I needed to use the loo before we hit the road to our now new adventure, but had to pay 20 pence for it! As Wendy says, welcome to Europe!
We decided to make lemonade from lemons and figured we’d go find the Glenfinnan monument, dedicated to Bonnie Price Charlie who tried to rise against the English in 1745. They lost – badly – but it was a good show, apparently. Enough so that they wanted a monument to remember the fight and loss of life. In addition to this monument based along the stunning scenery, if you do a 180, you see the famous viaduct used in the Harry Potter movies (which we’ll be taking on Wednesday). Also in this area is this amazing church that Wendy randomly found on a website. We decided that we needed to find it and take our own pictures. So, that was the new plan of the day.
Tesco has this great lunch meal deal for 2 GBP that includes a sandwich, drink and chips so we figured we’d head over there first, grab our own packed lunch and hit the road to Glenfinnan. Well, that was the plan. Apparently getting to the Tesco demands some ancient Scottish ritual where you have to find the magic passage in order to enter the parking lot. We drove up and down, left and right and still couldn’t find it. We saw it from a distance, but it flipped its elusive middle finger at us as we tried to get to it. Along the way, Wendy found this little tiny road up into the houses of Oban. Unfortunately, there is no room to get your car by, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing. And we didn’t. We also trucked along next to water and no guardrail which did not make for a happy time. Eventually we got to the top and found our way back down, shaking like a leaf at the bottom.
There was a Co-op next to the Tesco, so we ended up going there, grabbing a few groceries (but putting back the bagel that an old woman coughed on) and walking through the streets to get to the other store. Apparently that ancient Scottish ritual only applies to driving as we were able to walk there. Finally, we made our way out of the city and back onto the road. Where we promptly got lost – and didn’t realize it.
Somewhere along the way, we took a wrong turn at the round about and ended up in more beautiful Scottish country/mountainside. About twenty miles in or so, we realized that this area didn’t look familiar, as we were next to another loch. We found a place to turn around, and headed back to the cottage. This time we stopped at Castle Stalker and took pictures of the intangible little tower on the edge of the water. The day was dark and dreary – at least for the moment – as we snapped away from our various angles. We stopped briefly in the gift shop to use the washroom (and didn’t have to pay this time) and head on our way.
We stopped briefly at the cottage and decided to eat our meals at our dining room table, planning out our trip to Fort William and ultimately, Glenfinnan. It was my turn to drive, so I got to hit the roundabouts in the city. Wendy is MUCH better at them then I am so I managed to get us lost, which is pretty easy for me to do. Eventually, we got out of town and headed to the monument and another stage of this journey.
It took a while to get there, but we learned the rules of the road pretty quickly, allowing people to pass us either by pulling over in the passing lanes or just plain getting passed along the highway. Eventually, we got the feel for driving faster. In fact, someone even pulled over for me! That was pretty cool!
The monument and museum are on the side of the road at the bottom of a hill pretty much in a blind spot. And the speed limit is 60. It’s nerve-wracking trying to get in and out, but we got there. As we looked to the left of the parking lot, our hopes were realized as we saw the famous viaduct for the steam train from Ft. William to Mallaig – the trip in the Harry Potter movies. I had to giggle a little at the sight and the fact that we’d found it. It was magnificent!
We paid our 3GBP to climb to the top of the monument; this tiny little round tower. Oh, and I mean tiny. We barely were able to fit up the narrow staircase – this was even worse than the one at Melrose Abbey. There was a caretaker that checked our tickets who looked strangely like Finch with a black netting across his face, draped in a tannish overcoat to stave the rain off. Once we climbed the 57 stairs (yes, I counted) you have to duck through, squat and haul yourself up. We couldn’t fit with the backpacks, so we handed them off to one another.
But the view was stunning.
While we were only a little ways up, it makes all the difference. You’re on Loch Shiel, overlooking these amazing mountains that seem to courtesy to the loch itself. They make a valley for the still waters to roam about freely. The clouds hovered innocently, pretending they held no water to pour on us. Evil bastards! As we looked around, they started a gentle spit on us, reminding us that they were there, innocent or not! In the distance, we got our first real glimpse of the viaduct, and it’s magnificent! Do you feel a trend here? We even got lucky and a Scotrail train, the line we took from Perth, went cruising by. It wasn’t the steam train, but it was still cool as hell!
After squeezing back down through the hole at the top, we walked back to the parking lot and found a trail that went up a winding hill to overlook the monument and give us a better view of the viaduct. Along the way, we finally discovered what midges were; well Wendy did. And they loved her. A lot! A nice Scottish family offered us Skin So Soft (because we’d forgotten ours at home) and we sprayed ourselves with it. I actually watched the midges hit my skin and die – it was awesome! We stayed up top and got even more stunning views of the loch and the viaduct – probably one of the most beautiful spots we’ve seen, and we’ve seen a lot.
Jumping back into the car, we headed towards the little church Wendy had discovered. It was as lovely as we’d hoped, sitting peacefully on the loch just a few steps from the monument. They have services on Sundays at 1pm. The light gray stone is highlighted by the dark, added a deep tone and mystery to the church. The stained glass was various shades of blues and greens but you can only see it if you run up close to it, and stared into the house of the lord. The round glass always reminded me Notre Dame even though there’s no comparison, but this house of the holy still gets the message across, just on a smaller scale. Three prominent crosses are perched atop the roof, perhaps to symbolize the holy trinity.
All around the area, the grass is spongy and green, padding steps carefully as you circle the structure. In the back, there is a lone bench angled toward the loch to overlook the beauty that God created. At least, that’s what it seems like the church goers were aiming for. I would have loved to sit there all day, just breathing in the exquisiteness of the scene.
Getting our fill of the area and the midges, we hopped back into the car to go home and get Wendy’s inhaler. She’d gotten a bad whiff of some detergent in Oban and had been fighting it all day. We stopped briefly at the cottage, grabbed that, popped some chicken in the oven and headed back out in search of more castle pictures.
It turns out the grounds actually close at some of the castles so we didn’t have much luck getting to Castle Dunstaffnage. We turned back around and got sunny pictures of Castle Stalker and found some friends along the way. Little snails speckled the grounds and remnants of their relatives were crushed along the way. They’re so easy to miss so we were careful on our way back. Poor things!
At home, we made a lovely salad of chicken and rice and we enjoyed the comforts of our simple home. What a lovely day!