Embarking on a little trip
Wandering down for the morning tour, outfitted in my brown leathers-coat, pants, and boots (it's pretty cold in Scotland in the winter), and twisting my olive newsboy hat on straight, I joined the crowd of about twenty gathered outside the travel agency. I double checked my pockets, just to make sure I brought my little mag light and digital camera.
I was barely awake, but the other travelers seemed a bit more upbeat, conversing in various indecipherable tongues. I took second row behind a family of noisy Italians, and leaned back to relax, maybe catch a little shuteye. An older lady, prim and well dressed in a navy blue short skirt and jacket, her white hair twisted up into a carefully coiffed bouffant, climbed the steps to greet us. Taking a front seat behind the driver, she seemed genuinely cheerful as she recounted the highlights of the trip, which included the journey up the Scottish highlands as much as the destination itself.
Rumbling off through the city, we were soon headed into the foothills of northern Scotland.
The stories were fascinating, tales of mass slaughter, tyranny, and the constant betrayal of the smarmy upper-class. The family in front of me, despite the fact that they probably see each other the entire rest of the year, felt the need to constantly talk over the tour guide. I held my finger to my lips and whispered for them to be quiet. They either ignored me, or didn't understand, and droned on.
A pair of lesbians were seated to my right. Both were young, one a cute brunette with long hair, the other more mannish and lanky with curly blond hair and skinny, wire-rimmed glasses. They would alternate between looking in opposite directions, like they were barely connected, and being all over each other. As we passed dramatic scenery, flowing hills of heather and trees, fronting lochs snow capped mountains, the cute girl would spring forward. Positioning her Cannon Rebel just right, it's big lens just inches from my face, she would assume a serious pose, sprawl out in a stable position, and snap pictures of the passing landscape. She didn't seem to notice me, or least she didn't care. I was still half awake, and falling asleep again. It didn't help that it was warm in the bus, and I was dressed in heavy winter clothing. I started to doze off.
I snapped out of it as we pulled up to our first rest stop, disembarking onto a white strip of packed sand and gravel. Mulling off to the left were the strangest looking cattle I'd ever seen. Stringy orange-brown hair hung in thick tufts off their heavyset bodies. They reminded me of rebellious metal-heads, in a Wayne's World sort of way.
Thin sliced meat of unknown origin, and white cheese, sandwiched between rolls of bleached white bread, was all the restaurant offered. Well, that's not entirely true, they also had some very suspicious looking soup, of a vaguely red color. At least the soup had some hint of vegetables in it, something the sandwich obviously lacked. England's not really known for it's food, but apparently that extends up into Scotland as well. At least the tourist trap areas of Scotland. The coffee was good, if twice the price and half the size of a US coffee.
The store attached to the restaurant was obviously also made up for tourists, and contained mostly useless trinkets of everything from cutesy stuffed dolls of Nessie, to an endless variety of everything Hollywood expects of the Scots. Kilts, hats, mugs and pictures with just the right lighting and perspective to be the sort of thing that neither offends nor inspires anyone.
Climbing back up onto the bus, I was really hoping the final destination held more authenticity.
I had almost dozed off again, when we pulled up into the dirt lot of Lake Ness. A spread out, ranch style dwelling greeted us. It looked like a recent construction, with it's large glass windows, framed by freshly painted yellow planks of wood.
Inside, the shop actually spread out a bit, with a store, a cafe, a small movie theater, and thanks to the embankment it was built on, a wide open downstairs. Giant two story glass windows opened out onto a vision of the ruined castle in front, the loch just behind.
I wouldn't have known it was a castle, if the tour guide hadn't told us. It looked more like a fort, and the broken down remnants of one at that.
The cafe was just off to the right, and I headed there. Another quick coffee, to get the last of the cobwebs out of my head, and I wandered down the steps and out the back door.
The grass was intensely green. Shorter and more lush than American grass, it spread out into a short procession of hills and valleys. I wandered down the curving concrete path, a little lightheaded in the yellow glow.
I passed the remains of a giant, centuries old catapult, now a monument with it's own descriptive placard. Wrapping behind it was a winding path that lead up into the ruins.
Not much to see, really. This trip was so far a bit less dramatic than I had hoped. You've seen one ruined castle, you've seem them all. Tiny, cramped quarters, and a narrow, steep stairway that now sported a gleaming metal handrail. Crumbling walls of ragged brown and ocher stone, stitched together with whitish-gray mortar, looked entirely out of place with the shiny modern addition.
A boat was pulling up at the nearby dock, and our tour guide had warned us that if we missed the boat, we would be stranded a good four hours from Edinburgh. I wandered down, a couple of young kids in pastel clothing yelling at each other as they crossed my path. Their overweight father, replete with greasy, salt and pepper hair glued down so it almost looked like a comb-over, followed behind. His beer belly pushed out of the bottom of his checked white and grey shirt, and he was yelling at what I assumed was the mother. Dumpy and middle aged, her chin receding down into her neck in one long slope of overweight and under care, she shrugged her shoulders in exasperation. Real sense of authentic Scottish atmosphere I was getting.