9 October 2011--The accounts of the previous days' activities are perhaps a bit fuzzy, incomplete, even inaccurate in
places. It is ever thus in Edinburgh--there is always a lot of socializing, and maybe a little too much time in the pubs. Okay,
way too much time in the pubs. My handwritten journal, normally updated every evening alongside a pint, always seems to drop
off the night before I arrive in town, and resume with a hasty summary the day after I leave. I could get a smart phone, I suppose,
and keep notes (or even better, tweet!) as I go along. I could walk around town with my nose in my device, and not see
anything at all. Then there would be no details to miss. "Walking down the Mile looking at my phone." "In the pub looking at
my phone." "Lying on the sidewalk looking at my phone."
No, I will never, ever tweet.
Just as well, in any case, that we are headed away north. We're bound for Craigellachie, a regular stop. The lure of such is the familiar, notably a well-loved pub in which to pass the evenings. The challenge to them is keeping them fresh, finding new ways to pass the days. That includes the act of getting there, and I've probably taken most of the possible routes between Edinburgh and Craigellachie. Today we take a side trip through Glen Lyon, a place I've wanted to see for some time. We drive past Stirling (yet unvisited, regrettably) and through Callander. From the north shore of Loch Tay, we follow a winding single-track road over the shoulder of Ben Lawers, descending into Glen Lyon at Bridge of Balgie. This is the southern fringe of the Grampian Mountains, which form a vast area of wilderness at the very heart of the country, and the glen seems as remote as any place I've been south and east of the Great Glen. Yet the cities of Perth and Dundee are within an hour's drive, and the town of Aberfeldy is just down the road, a few miles beyond the mouth of the glen. This is another scouting expedition, a look around with an eye toward a longer stay another time, based perhaps in Aberfeldy. We take in the scenery, and stop at the village of Fortingall to see the famous yew and have lunch at the hotel.
The Fortingall Yew is estimated to be between 2,000 and 5,000 years old, and is sometimes claimed to be the oldest living thing in Europe, or in the world. This is unlikely, in either case; see Wikipedia's page on List of oldest trees for more than you ever wanted to know about trees of verified age, trees of estimated age, and clonal trees. The yew is nonetheless impressively old. A stone wall was built around it in the 18th century to put a stop to people carving out souvenirs. A ring of stakes shows the tree's former girth, the reduction being a matter of natural decay of the heartwood (which also makes absolute verification of its age impossible), rather than of vandalism.
Even more doubtful than the yew's claim as the world's oldest organism is the legend of Pontius Pilate's birth in Fortingall. The Romans never had a great presence here, and what presence they had was later than the relevant period. I suspect this bit of apocrypha derives from the sort of game of telephone tag that is pretty common in folk history, where someone says the Fortingall yew dates to the reign of Pilate, and somewhere along the line someone assumes that Pilate was a local. (For what it's worth, which is next to nothing, Mr Tattie Heid once portrayed PP in a very minor league production of Jesus Christ Superstar. "Prove to me that you're no fool, walk across my swimming pool.")
The Fortingall Hotel is a pleasant surprise. One is never quite sure what to expect from hostelries in the middle of nowhere-- they can range from depressingly dire to impossibly upscale. I suppose that makes them like hostelries anywhere else, but if you find one pub in, say, Milngavie to be substandard, you can hope to walk down the street and find another to your liking. Out here, you get what you get. Rooms at the Fortingall are far too dear for my wallet, but lunch is excellent, and reasonably priced. I think I'll be back.
We wend our way north, through Tummel Bridge, picking up the A9 and driving past Dalwhinnie. Stop for a break in Kingussie, where my friend Marc from Quebec City says he had his best meal in Scotland. I don't remember the name of the restaurant, and see no likely suspects. We do see Ruthven Barracks, one of the British government's many responses to the Jacobite rebellion, sitting on a drumlin to the south of town. It's on the list for a visit. No time today.
Arrive in Craigellachie, check into our B&B, and stroll across the street to the Highlander for dinner and pints. Tatsuya is manning the bar. A pleasant evening in a pub I return to year after year, and wouldn't miss for anything.