Tuesday 23 October 2007 Another dismal day. We watch the plane bound for Benbecula taking off from the
Cockle Strand, the beach that serves as the airport runway. Last night we dined on cockles picked off the same sands. A
short way up the road stands the ruin of Cille Bharra, a chapel in whose grounds the chiefs of clan MacNeil were buried.
Compton MacKenzie, author of Whisky Galore, chose it for his final resting place, as well. A small museum houses
some grave slabs and the replica of an impressive Norse cross slab, cross carved on the front and runes on the back. The
explanatory sign notes that the original was "abducted" to the museum in Edinburgh 120 years ago. Seems the locals
would like to have it back.
We stop at the airport again and watch the returning flight from Benbecula emerge from the mist. Then we complete the circuit of Barra's ring road. Back near Castlebay, a spur road leads to the causeway linking to Vatersay, where we see what there is to see: the memorial to the wreck of the Mary Jane, overlooking a pretty beach; the peculiar tourist attraction of a scattering of vintage airplane wreckage; and the remains of a moderately interesting broch on a hilltop. Back across the causeway, up the side of a hill, is another one of the many newly-available ancient sites in the Western Isles, this one centering on what's left of a seven-spoked wheelhouse. All of these things would have seemed infinitely more interesting in sunshine, I think.
Back in Castlebay, there is, at last, an unexpectedly pleasant break: Kisimul Castle, sitting on its little islet in the bay, is open. The last I knew, it closed in mid-September, and we were not expecting to be able to visit. We signal the ferryman and make the short crossing, finding a couple of very bored staff people on duty. It seems we are the first visitors in a couple of days. (I expect the early closing date will be back in effect soon.) The castle was restored in the 1950's by the clan MacNeil, and the current chief has an office there. The historical accuracy of some of the restoration is a bit suspect, but no matter. It's an interesting wee castle.
We are in the Craigard for pints at 4:00pm, and dine there, as well. It's pretty quiet again, but we have a nice blether with the landlord. He's an incomer, English, of course--that seems to be de rigueur in this part of the world. I ask if he's encountered any resentment from the locals, and he reports quite to the contrary. When his household items arrived on the ferry after he bought the place, a number of men turned up unbidden, offering to help haul it up to the hotel. That sounds like Barra to me, and I'm sorry we haven't been able to interact more with the locals during our short visit here.
|>Wednesday 24 October 2007 There's a lovely pink sunrise this morning, and contrary to the standard folk
wisdom, it presages a fine sunny day. We spend five hours of it on the ferry for Oban. It seems petty, after several
gloomy days, to complain about the haze that limits long-distance visibility. I will say that Oban, on approach, has
never looked better, in this afternoon light.
We shop for last-minute supplies for tomorrow's planned hike, and then make the hour's drive to the Clachaig Inn in Glen Coe. Ron and I note at the front desk that Campbells are still nominally unwelcome, and we remain mum about our respective lineages.
There's a beer festival on at the Clachaig this week, and we are spoiled for choice in the Boots Bar. We are also advised of a free whisky tasting tomorrow night, and sign up for that. There's a band in the house this evening, and they open with a rousing version of Ye Jacobites By Name, driven by dual bodhrans. They follow with an Irish song I don't recognize--Bobby sings along--and then the Eagles' Peaceful Easy Feeling, which drives me off to bed. Bobby arrives a short time later, done in by Mustang Sally.
|Thursday 25 October 2007 When we passed through here two years ago (see
MF2MoG 2005), Ron got the bug to take a serious walk in Glen Coe. He's
chosen to go right to the top, up Bidean Nam Bian, the highest peak in the area at 3772 feet. We drive two miles up the
glen to a parking area below the Three Sisters, buttresses extending from Bidean Nam Bian's massif. Our plan is to ascend
between the eastern and central Sisters, and descend between the central and western ones. We are pleased to note that
there is one Sister for each of us.
In the car park, we chat with a gent whose intended route coincides with ours for the preliminary ascent, and we have plenty of time to compare notes. We cross the River Coe and ascend towards Coire Gabhail, the Lost Valley (or Hidden Valley), a hanging valley where the cattle-thieving MacDonalds used to hide their ill-gotten stock. It's a lovely sunny day, and we have spectacular views back down into the glen, but as we climb the headwall at the top of the valley, we enter some stubborn low-hanging cloud. We say goodbye to our friend, as he heads east and we go west along the ridge. The cloud breaks occasionally, giving us tantalizing views down Glen Etive, on the other side of the ridge. Eventually, though, we are completely enshrouded. Soon enough, we are on the peak, and we celebrate with a very modest dram of Dalmore 12.
--Only it's not the peak, not the one we're aiming for, anyway. We reach a higher one, and then a higher one after that, which we are certain is the summit of Bidean Nam Bian only after we find no further higher point. Up here in the mist, we can't see from one peak to the next. And we miss our intended descent, which would have brought us back close to where the car is parked. We end up virtually skiing down a scree slope, and then picking our way around boulders for a while, until we can pick up a trail again. The descent now takes on the character of a forced march, for we are much later than we thought we would be, and can see that we will be hard pressed to make it down before sunset. We land on the main road just at that deadline, near the side road to the Clachaig, two miles from the car. Bobby and I are pretty well exhausted.
Ron wants to close the circle of our hike, but I convince him that it's more sensible for me to hitchhike back to the car, while he and Bobby walk the short distance back to the Clachaig, rather than risk being blown off the narrow road by a speeding truck in the gathering gloom. It's twenty minutes or so before I get a ride from a woman who has been walking herself today, and is on her way home to Glasgow. On the way up, we pass a couple who are also trying to thumb their way up the glen, and when I see them still trudging up the road as I drive back down the other way, I make a u-turn and give them a lift to their car.
I expect to fall asleep in my dinner in the Boots Bar this evening, but I'm actually feeling energetic as we settle in for the whisky tasting, which is hosted by Gerry Brown of Gordon & MacPhail. We sample two Benromachs (Organic and Peatsmoke), a Connoisseur's Choice Aberfeldy, Laphroaig Quarter Cask, and the liqueur Athol Brose. After, we are chatting amicably with some of our fellow tasters when a staff member approaches me and asks if I am Mr Tattie Heid (actually, he uses my real name). He has had a call from the gent we'd walked with in the morning, who'd seen our car still in the car park when he returned at sunset. He tracked us down at the Clachaig via the plate number, concerned that we'd gotten down safely. I am deeply touched, and ask the staff member to pass along my profound thanks. Moments later, the fellow I'd picked up on the road approaches me--I had no idea that he was staying at the Clachaig--and offers me a pint, which I gladly accept. I am moved by the way walkers look out for each other, and am only sorry that I cannot pass a pint along to the gent who called, or the woman who gave me a ride.
There's another band in tonight. If their rendition of Folsom Prison Blues is nominally as absurd as last night's band's cover of the Eagles, they nonetheless do a fine job of selling it, and I stay up far later than I would have imagined possible as I stumbled down off the mountain earlier in the evening.
|Friday 26 October 2007 Up the glen, across Rannoch Moor, and through Crianlarich we go, on our way to
Glasgow. I've come to quite dislike the stretch of road along Loch Lomond and on to Erskine Bridge. We are in town by
early afternoon, and commence the task of cleaning out the car and hauling all of our junk up the stairs to our rooms so
that I can return the sturdy Verso to Europcar. The weather has turned wet again--we were incredibly fortunate with our
window for walking--and a light drizzle falls on me as I walk back to join the lads.
We are soon enough in the Pot Still, a pub that rivals the Bow Bar for the top spot on Mr Tattie Heid's Favorite Scottish Pub list. As it happens, it's my birthday, and we are hoping some of our acquaintances from the whisky forums will join us. Mr Nick Brown and Mr Ian Logan arrive; each has arranged to do business in town today, and I am very grateful for their presence. It is otherwise a very quiet evening, and my near-perfect record for boring parties is not threatened.
|Saturday 27 October 2007 We take the bus tour today. I've spent little enough time in Glasgow and don't
know the town well at all, so this is overdue. Ron hops off at the University, and Bobby and I complete the tour. We're
feeling pretty beat, and take a short rest back at the room. Then we stroll over to Glasgow Cathedral, which we'd passed on
the tour, for a closer look. There is a wedding going on, and we watch as the bride arrives. A short time later,
Ron happens to show up. He is still dressed casually, so we are pretty sure he is not the groom.
We wander through the market stalls at the Barras, and buy some confections, including Lucky Tatties, at Glickman's famous sweet shop. We have a quiet evening in the Pot Still, our last in Scotland, and are early to bed.
|Sunday 28 October 2007 --And early to rise, 1:00am, in fact, to watch the Red Sox in the World Series on BBC5.
Bobby and I are off to the airport at 4:00 (Ron's flight is later). There is a longer layover in Amsterdam than we would
like, thanks to KLM's cancellation of our original midmorning flight out of Glasgow. Crossing the Atlantic, there is plenty
of time to reflect on the antiquities of Salisbury Plain, the castles of Wales, the whiskies of Speyside, the Butts of
Rhonda and Lewis, the Stones of Callanish, the summit of Bidean Nam Bian. Soon enough we are looking at Cape Cod in the
afternoon light, my first sight of North America since flying over Halifax nearly five weeks ago.
Bobby drops me at my doorstep, and I manage to stay awake as the Sox complete their sweep of the Rockies. It seems like a really long doubleheader. I have some days ahead to sleep, and to dream about where I want to go next year.