Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Mad to get to Skye

Love is better the second time around!
Fooh, my companion from Salisbury, England.
Close on the hounds the hunter came... Sir Walter Scott
2 October, 2009: Rejoice, rejoice! We’ve made it to Scotland again. After a hackle-raising night alone in a huge Victorian B&B, with the owner up the road and a weird grocery clerk down the road who was aware of my lone night with Fooh (a 20-pound-deal sleepless night, listening for creepings up the stairs), I am a bit fuzzy.
   North of the border, past Dumfries, to Thornhill, with the idea of having lunch in town, then tea at Castle Drumlanrig. Am hoping to talk to Dorothy, the chef, who had offered a job to my chef daughter, Woo, the last time I came through. The owner of the Drumlanrig Cafe makes a deal with me for four pounds of violet creams for £18. They go in the back seat, where sugar-crazed fingers can reach them at all times.  
   Then to the bathroom by a parking lot. I just sit down, when I hear the clump-clump of boots and the sound of a zipper going down by the sinks. Oh my god. It’s the grocery clerk—he’s found me in the toilet! Fearful of encouraging the wrong sort of chap, I remain quiet til he leaves. I finish quickly and rush outside to find I have gone into the men’s room. This calls for a photo of the sign, just to remember when...

  At the castle, there are about thirty dark green Rovers parked all over by the entrance, with perhaps fifty to sixty men and a sprinkling of women, all in woolen knickers, vests and wellies. It has the definite feeling of a hunt, sans les horses, with lots of energy and activity. I keep waiting for the horn to call the hunt. They all look at me in my skirt and raincoat; I probably look preoccupied and scowling, because I am figuring the castle is closed and am not happy we will miss our tea.  

Castle Drumlanrig
   As we walk toward the stables, I meet a be-knickered and wellied man and ask him if the castle is open. "It closed yesterday for the season." Shucks, I say. He by now has deduced I am an American. I ask if they are going on a hunt and where are the horns? He chooses to be cagey and gives me some information about the use of hunting horns, which are integral to the hunt.     
   The hounds are trained for the horn and the voice. ‘Tally Ho’ is when the rider sees the fox—I actually never knew that. In a hunt, the condition of the riders can be detected by their voices, whether they are fresh or fatigued, loud or distant. The horn calls announce all activity, from moving off, drawing, bringing back the hounds, leaving cover and finding the fox.
   Gavin, my friend for the day, says a huntsman has to think like a hound. I am giving my best English interjections of ‘Fancy!’ and ‘Did you ever?’ and Fooh in the backpack giggles behind my ears. Gavin describes the sport. ‘You think of a hunt as being organized and focused, but it can become complete mayhem. The hounds get distracted and sometimes lost, riders go off course and even the hunt master can’t be found.’
Stables Shops at Drumlanrig
  I wish him good secret adventuring and go to the castle outbuildings, looking for life. Here is a lone woman cooking in a stables shop. She tells me to ignore the north part of Galloway, which is the old industrial area and not pretty. I am supposed to go over the Erskine Bridge, before Glasgow, which advice turns out to be my downfall ~  
   We go northwest toward Kilmarnock. I have begun to fill my hunger pangs with violet creams and rather enjoy the villages and housing, clearly the aftermath of the industrial era: Dark granite-looking attached houses lined along the road, all the same and not too many souls walking around. I am driving toward Glasgow and looking at my newer map, much too small to get it right and miss any suggestions of Erskine Bridge. This is where frustration begins to rumble in my brain and then, over these two and a half hours, turns into anger and panic. I cannot find the bridge and there is too much traffic everywhere in this god-forsaken city that I am stuck in again.
   We wind up in a quiet area and Fooh suggests we stop at a small store to catch a man outside his car. ‘How do I get to Erskine Bridge?’ He starts to tell me then asks, ‘Where are you going?’ I say, ‘Loch Lomond.’ He says, ‘You don’t need Erskine Bridge then—you are on the other side already!’ I argue with him (as I am wont to do when completely confused), unable to imagine how I could have gotten to the other side of the Clyde without knowing it. He tells me I didn’t use a bridge, I simply went too far and wound up in Glasgow and around the other side. I write him off as nutty and drive away, but some little voice tells me to remember his directions anyway and I find Dumbarton in spite of myself.
   Meanwhile, it has begun to rain and get dark. We see a sign for a B&B and turn up a rough, pot-holey dirt road, which goes on forever. I continue to be frustrated, with the agitation of having missed lunch and tea and being hungry and knowing if I find this place, I will have to come back down this way to find nourishment. I do find the B&B, and she wants £50. No way Jose will I go down and come back for robbery, so I inevitably, in my hunger, go down a wrong road and wind up at the woman’s lower farm. A worker says, ‘Oh aye, ye’ve just come down her other road and missed the turn—it’s funny-like.’ Two hungry bears don’t find much humor in it.
   Soon, we are back on A82, in driving rain, pitch black but for blinding headlights. The other cup holder is now filled with violet creams, which I nibble each time I stop. We are on the narrow road along the loch and it seems hours of miserable, hair-raising half-misses—either a car on the ‘opposite’ side of the road (all the same lane really) or the hill on my left; I marvel I haven’t hit one or the other...and the spreading strobe-lights in the downpour are destroying my vision. Out of the blackness, the Ardlui Hotel appears on the loch side. Grateful for my big English Glencoe umbrella, I run to the door and book a room—no matter the cost--and I devour a veggie burger in the quiet pub.  
   Good lighting is still hard to come by in the UK. Not as bad as Costa Rica, but they do try to save here. I set up my laptop, though trying to take the shade off of a lamp gets me in trouble, so I let it be. My pudding arrives and I’ve forgotten pudding in Britain means a cakey thing with Crème Anglaise or rummy sauce. Not in the mood, I don’t finish it and head to the car for more violet creams. Fooh has developed a decidedly gourmet palate, so I am surprised that he has gotten into my cheap violet chocolates himself.    
   My discontent in my room might have something to do with the noise that has started up with a rumble and now is a constant vibration and party voices coming from the walls. It seems I have been given a room above the party pub. I am moved into a twin room not nearly as well furnished, only heated by a radiator in the bath, and a high window has a broken hinge. The attendant acts like it’s okay and closes the curtain; I am freezing and the traffic from that small crazy road is loud, so I climb up and fix the darned hinge. Hardly any light again but this is the price for being a small town, small time reporter. I must get my articles done for the newspaper back home.
   3 October: I sleep and wake up smiling, thinking of Skye. Instead of the prepared corner table in the dark, I grouse--'dark, dark, dark'-- and pick a nice light table in the middle of the dining room, so I can see the loch outside. At this point, a man comes in grumpily to join some people at the large window table and says, ‘Aye, it’s pretty grim out there.’ I laugh—someone to match my own curmudgeonly mood.   
River Coe prehistoric monster!
  Rain, rain—pouring, then finely sprinkling, then wild and wooly...but all beautiful. We are in Scotland! The rain stops and starts and I splash through it at 60 mph and it doesn’t bother me at all. We turn onto the small road that goes through the forest at Glencoe, past the hostel and over the River Coe.
Little people watching us.
  On goes my poncho, so I can get out and take photos of green mossy things and a red telephone booth. It is lush, with twisting trees and rotting stumps covered with ferns; if I look carefully, I can see the little people peering out in curiosity, but I’d never take their picture...Fooh says soul stealing and all that.  
  We see a whole rainbow over Loch Linnhe on North Ballachulish by Onich. So enthralled, I take a panoramic photo and again, it is backwards. Now I realize how to do it. I make a mistake in memory and follow the turn to Glenfinnan, forgetting I had seen it last time on the way back from the Skye ferry at Mallaig.
My backwards rainbow on Loch Linnhe
Bonnnie Charlie from France met clans here, before
third Jacobite uprising and Culloden disaster.
   This time, I get shots of the ‘Hogwarts’ train trestle, sorry there is no steam train to Hogwarts. I am taking a shot of the Standard tower amid clouds and gorgeous light, when I hear the train steam-whistle blow. By the time my camera finishes its focusing and shutter movement, I spin around to get a shot of the train and there is only a long, puffy trail of smoke. So I shoot the smoke in the trees and have done with it. Am mad at myself for missing that wonderful photo op...and the magic of seeing the train travel across the trestle. Fooh, on the other hand, has been sitting in the car park, with a straight view of the train and trestle, and is in Harry Potter ecstasy.  
   Ten miles from Mallaig, I realize my mistake. I think about going ahead and taking the ferry across to Armadale, but I am driving along the Strait of Sleat and the wind is quite bad and waves are huge, so I turn back, figuring the ferry won’t be running. Good choice, it turns out.  
   A freaky thing happens. There is a sharp left turn into a one-car, low stone tunnel, and cars are warned to slow way down. I am busy loudly berating myself about the steam engine and the wrong road travelled, when I get to the tunnel and turn. A car comes through the tunnel and I slam on my brakes like mad, then swerve into the tunnel. Fooh admonishes me after we get through safely that I could have killed someone and us, had there been anyone behind that car.     My imagination has been running rampant lately and the thought crosses that perhaps I have come here to die. For me, there would be no better place and I now have visions of having my expired body chopped up and tossed to the eagles. Even though this seems a viable option to ending a meandering life, I have just escaped one opportunity to leave the planet. It is celebrated with a few violet creams ~ ~ ~ ~

Excerpted from Gimme the Song o' the Pipes! Crazy American Lady on Tour in Historical Scotland

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