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Scotland, more than Haggis and Bagpipes

by Paul Youden
Scottish Bagpiper at Glen Coe, Scotland

There was a wedding in full swing at Gretna Green as our coach pulled in for a “compulsory” stop. The piper was playing the bagpipes and everyone was happy and applauding the bride and groom.

Gretna Green wedding

Gretna Green wedding (c) Paul Youden

Thirty five years earlier, having got married in Germany two days earlier, my new wife and I had by-passed Gretna en route to our honeymoon destination at the tiny hamlet of Ardfern just outside Oban on the west coast of Scotland so this year’s nostalgic return to Scotland was to bring memories of mountains and beautiful scenery flooding back.

Scotland in September this year was indeed “bonny”. Throughout our week based in a splendid “castle” hotel on the banks of Loch Awe we enjoyed fantastic weather, warm sunny days and cold nights but there were big roaring log fires in the three lounges and well stocked bar at the Loch Awe Hotel.

Loch Awe Hotel, Scotland

Loch Awe Hotel (c) Paul Youden

It was a touch of Monarch of the Glen TV series at the hotel with beautifully oak-panelled rooms; sweeping staircase and relics of the past. It became even more impressive when I learned that Queen Victoria and William Wordsworth had both been visitors to Loch Awe.

We had decided to travel to Scotland by coach with the holiday firm – Lochs and Glens – rather than driving as the itinerary gave us more choice and flexibility than we could ever achieved “doing it alone”.

Our first day took in the small, romantic town of Inveraray on the shores of Loch Fyne. The town had been planned in 1750 but took 100 years to complete but was worth waiting for. The Inveraray Jail is a museum worth visiting if only to see the cruelty eked out to the poor prisoners who had been locked up for nothing worse than poaching a salmon from the loch!

Another day it was an early start as we had to be at Oban for 9.00am to catch the ferry for the 45-minute crossing over to the Isle of Mull. Once on the Island it was a coach journey of over an hour on a single track road (fortunately with passing points) to the far end where there was another 15 minute ferry ride to the Isle of Iona.

En route our lady coach driver – named Dizzy Lizzy – told us it would be roast lamb on the menu that evening, mainly because of the large numbers of sheep on the road! But she managed somehow to miss every one of them.

Road sign warning of sheep, Scotland

Road sign warning of sheep, Scotland (c) wikimedia/Africaspotter

Perhaps one of the highlights of our Scottish visit was to go inside The Hollow Mountain (aka the Big Hole). Here the hydro-electric power station at Cruachan is 1000ft beneath the mountain top reservoir and at least half a mile inside the mountain.

The turbine house could easily accommodate the Tower of London at 120 feet tall and 300 feet in length. Ben Cruachan mountain is 3,689 feet high and a dam was constructed in 1960 to hold the water which is fed down in a series of tunnels. Indeed, nearly 12 miles of tunnels were carved out of the solid granite rock. Visitors are taken inside the mountain by mini bus and you then walk through humid tunnels to the huge turbine house. Plants grow extremely well in the humidity but are lit by lamps generated by the electricity.

At Glencoe and Fort William we saw the spot of the infamous massacre and were told “do not mention the Campbell’s” but then learned the current Manager of the Glencoe Visitor Centre was himself a Campbell! How times change!

We also did Fort William at the entrance to the famous Caledonian Canal which then passes through Loch Ness and on up to Inverness. We did not have time to go “Nessie” hunting but I could have sworn that I saw the “monster” shortly after leaving a local distillery having enjoyed several “tastings” of some aged single malt!

The Caledonian Canal entering the southern end of Loch Ness in Scotland

The Caledonian Canal entering the southern end of Loch Ness in Scotland (c) wikimedia/Nilfanion

Evenings back at the Loch Awe Hotel included Scottish music and some excellent Scottish dancing “lassies” whose nimble footwork was impressive. It was not until our restaurant Manager – Philip – who heralded from Newcastle also went onto the dance floor to demonstrate his prowess that I decided to remain seated!

Scotland may be “north of Hadrian’s Wall” but there is little doubt it is part of Britain well worth the effort of visiting. I certainly saw far more of it than I did 35 years ago in that honeymoon week and rest assured I will not be leaving it another 35 years before I return.

Och aye da noo – and all that!


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