As you may have gathered following yesterday’s not-really-a-post, I’ve come back to Scotland. After leaving Portsmouth the other day I headed straight for Liverpool, where I stayed with my friend Tilly and her boyfriend Luke. Luke says ‘you know what I mean’ at least every other sentence (I am being literal), hence the honorary naming of today’s post!
On the Saturday night I got in quite late, then we settled in with a few bottles of wine. It was all good fun: Tilly and I worked together in 2007 and have been catching up regularly since. We had a lot to talk about! Haha we’d just finished discussing all of the gossip regarding people we used to work with when suddenly Tills puts on this serious face, turns to me, and says “Laura, you’re intelligent..?”
“Uh… what do you need?” I asked. She then explained that they’d dropped the TV remote down the back of the radiator quite some time ago, and couldn’t figure out how to retrieve it. Drunk Laura is always up to the task, so naturally we started dismembering the room.
First I tried levering it out with a flag post, but it was a bit too floppy. It was also a bit skinny, so next we pulled out lots of pairs of socks and strapped them to the end of it, hoping to make a platform for the remote. So that was a good way to get some socks stranded.
I then complained that I actually couldn’t see anything I was doing, so Tilly got out her phone to use as a torch, and rested it on top of the radiator. Needless to say, it dropped down to join its buddy the remote within a few minutes, and we both lost it in a giggling fit which was far too prolonged. We moved the bed away from the radiator and I tried to knock the phone down off the skirting board so she could grab it, and eventually that worked out.
At some point in the middle of this I’d started eyeing off the curtain rods lustfully. So, next thing you know, I’m standing on the window ledge with Tilly holding my ass so I can use both hands to take the curtains down. Until, that is, she forgot what she was doing and walked off. I don’t even know what magic held me there!
Using the two parts of the curtain rod, I was trying to chopsticks the remote out when Luke walked in. To see the curtains sprawled drunkenly down the wall, the bed a dismembered island in the middle of the room, socks everywhere—and Tilly and I laughing ourselves stupid. He departed a short while afterward, not quite sure how to deal with us, I think!
Soon afterward we managed to retrieve the remote—hurrah—and we heard Luke’s voice from the living room, asking Tilly to set me onto all of the other impossible tasks.
I was super disorganised and hadn’t really arranged where or when I was going to in Scotland, especially given that everywhere and everything is booked out at the moment. My initial plan was to go to Glasgow for a night or two, hire a car to drive to Glencoe, then head off to the east/north. That would have been fine were there any accommodation, etc. I believe the teams bagging championships is on at the moment or something. So I spent Sunday still at Tilly and Luke’s place, trying out a million different plans.
Eventually I settled on heading straight to Fort William, bypassing Glasgow (and therefore not seeing my friend Rach :(). Thus, I spent all of yesterday travelling here—we left Tilly’s at 07:20, and I got to my hostel at around 19:00.
Today I made it my mission to find a car to hire. Ever since I was first in Scotland in late 2008 and saw Glencoe Pass, I’ve dreamed of taking a car there and taking some photos. That time, I dropped by Glasgow to see Rach, then caught the bus north to Glen Nevis (next to Fort William), in order to check out the museums about the Jacobites etc. Incidentally or not, on that occasion I ended up accidentally climbing Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the UK. But back to it: the bus north only had to travel around 200 miles, but it took something like 6 hours. And it, was, amazing. It’s a bus I could take just about every day, because the scenery is insane. My mind was absolutely blown: you’d go from these prehistoric landscapes where you expect to see a t-rex lunge out, to these plateaus with thousand-foot jagged mountains thrusting from the ground, to the lushest and most beautiful valleys you could ever imagine. It seemed to me that Scotland was like a land for giants: at some time, thousands of years ago, they’d gotten sleepy of gambolling around the place and had settled down for a nap. Eventually they’d become covered with moss and been renamed munroes—and one day they’ll wake up and roam around once more. It’s all just spectacular.
Anyway, being on the bus on that occasion, I couldn’t exactly jump out to take photos, and I’ve been dreaming of Glencoe Pass ever since. So car hire was mandatory! I hadn’t pre-booked (of course), but strolled on down to the car hire place. They said they were out, but to try next door. Next door were also out, but the guy called the final car hire place in Fort William, and they had exactly one car left. Way more than I wanted to spend (and as I’m sure anyone who ever reads this blog knows, I’m constantly stressed about money !). But how often am I in Scotland? So I took it. It’s a Ford something, and it’s actually a really nice drive—though confusingly it keeps telling me to shift up a gear when it’s only at around 1500 revs. Stoked to have a manual, too.
After the guy from car hire place #2 was kind enough to drop me off to get the car, I promptly returned to the hostel because I needed to google the speed limits. Haha I’d forgotten that I don’t know them here: I remember the first time I drove in the UK I kept getting confused by the ‘national speed limit’ sign. Being that I had no idea what the national speed limit actually was. Ian, a guy who works here at the hostel, gave me immense amounts of shit about it. Well, that and my complete lack of clue as to what I’m actually doing.
Next it was off to Glencoe, via every possible ‘scenic route’ I could find. I’ve taken an intimidating number of photos: in a way, I’m glad the weather’s so bad, or there’d be even more. I’m definitely not going to go through them all tonight. Maybe in a week or so, when I’m in Aberdeen.
I stopped in Kinlochleven, where I somehow forgot to go and see the awesome waterfall, but I did have the best cake I’ve ever eaten in my life from the ‘Wee Charity Shop’. Thence to Glencoe Village, where I had a fairly unsatisfactory lunch at the cafe, before heading to Glencoe Wood.
‘Why Glencoe Wood?’ you may be wondering (or not). Well, about 18 months ago I saw an ad on facebook for this website, whereby you buy a square foot of land in Glencoe Estate for around $50, and thereby become titled aristocracy. I thought it was a hilarious thing to do on a pay day, so went for it. Technically in the UK, my legal name is preceded by ‘Lady’. My legal names just keep multiplying. Anyway, I headed to the wood to go and visit my square foot.
I didn’t have a GPS so only found within around a hundred metres, but had a great time: other people had found their plots and put things there. There were flags (disproportionately Australian), more flags, quite a lot more flags, plaques, signs, a memorial stone in one place, and then my favourite—a fortress. I was SO impressed!:
I was feeling a bit tired but then realised I was completely derptarded if I didn’t head off to Glencoe Pass despite the rain that was quickly settling in. And my goodness am I glad I did. Honestly, it’s so beautiful and overwhelming. I may have gotten a little emotional. I’ve included another 360 panorama below, but I really recommend that people try to make it for themselves. It’s just ridiculous, and my photos certainly don’t do it justice.
I’ve definitely had a million mishaps so far (as is usual), but someone else needs the power-point, so I’ll wrap up for now. I’m off for an extremely soggy hike tomorrow (hello, torrential rain—but there’s also no way I’m wasting the money I spent on car hire in order to get to places!), then spending the next two nights on the Isle of Skye before Edinburgh on Friday.
At some point in the night, I’d written ‘yellow fever’ in my phone. Almost-unconscious-Laura is good for leaving me reminders. So I woke up on the Wednesday morning and googled yellow fever vaccinations, as it’s one I’ve never had. I then learned that it was necessary for South America, and that I needed to get it more than ten days before my arrival in the area, or it wasn’t valid. Which would result in quarantine and serious travelling difficulties. So, naturally enough, I then got on to calling all of the GPs (and even the hospital) in Fort William. Then within thirty miles. Then within a hundred miles, until I finally got myself an appointment in Inverness. So, only half of Scotland away:
Throughout this process I was lurking in my hostel, variously giving and receiving abuse from Ian. At one point he wandered in, asked if that was my hire car out the back, and if it was unlocked. I threw him the keys and went back to trying to figure my life out. A short while later he came in, looking smug, and said he had something to show me. So, needless to say, I followed him out the back, where he showed me my ‘new and improved’ hire car: he’d managed to put all of the seats down, take parts out, and had made me a nest! He’d put in a camp mattress, a million doonas (duvets/quilts for those non-Australians out there), a sleeping bag and pillows. It was awesome. So he told me to give it a go, and I started climbing into the boot, when it suddenly occurred to me that from the side, it’d look like the world’s most gentile kidnapping! Much giggling ensued.
Ian’s niceness wasn’t even done: internally tutting (I’m pretty sure) at my apparent mass incompetence, he found me some waterproofs to take with me as well. Amazing.
Later on, Jamie, who also works at the hostel, wandered in for a chat. My initial conversation with Jamie hadn’t gone very well and resulted in my resorting to google rather than asking him questions. Then, somehow, we got onto bestiality, and it turns out he knew all the stories. The next thing you know, he’s telling us the story of dolphins being given hand-jobs and acid (article here). He then said to me (and you’ll have to imagine this in a Scottish lilt) “see? Ask me about hill-walking and I don’t know anything, but if you want to hear about wanking dolphins, I’m your guy!” Hilarious.
At this point, Ian asked me whether I’d seen his dinosaur yet (I’d showed him mine, ‘Fluffy’, a large plastic velociraptor that was given to me by two of my students in Finland). I said no and went to go and have a look—only to find out it had been dino-napped! He was a bit devastated. When I left the hostel later on, I left Fluffy at the back door as a present.
The trip to Inverness was fairly uneventful, if beautiful. I managed to get yelled at by a coastguard at one point and saw quite a few wonderful cars (eg the ‘featured image’ for this post!), but that’s about it. Then I got to Inverness and got hopelessly lost for quite a long time, before finally—and thankfully!—making it to the doctor’s for the jab. Afterward, I asked them where I should go for lunch, and was told the ‘Castle Cafe’ and given some directions. Both the name and the directions turned out to be a wee bit wrong, but I eventually managed to figure it out. I’d been told to order the ‘macaroni and cheese’ as it was ‘to die for’, and given that I’d never heard that particular phrase used in conjunction with mac and cheese before, gave it a go. And my goodness do the Scots know how to do carbs. My meal came out all of two minutes later, and it was a huge pile of chips on top of an epic mess of macaroni and cheese. ‘Yes’ to balanced meals!
It was then time for the epic drive to Skye, which took hours longer than it should have because of all of the photo stops. I’m again intimidated by the sheer number of photos I’ve taken so will do a ‘Scotland photos’ post later on. For now though, I’ll leave you with just one (completely unedited!) photo of Eilean Donan Castle:
The first time I woke up in the car, outside Sligachan on Skye, dawn was breaking over the mountains around me. I looked up, thought to myself how good the light was, then opted for ‘fuck it, it’s too early’.
A couple of hours later, I was awoken by kids giggling. They called out to their parents that there was a lady sleeping in a car, and their dad called for them to come away: then walked over to the car with his camera to take a photo of me. Do as I say, not as I do? Also, surely that’s creepy. Though to be fair, I found the smiley faces traced on my window by the kids pretty discomforting, too (too much ‘The Mentalist’?)
Actually, that’s pretty much the only thing I ever worry about sleeping in a car: that people will wake me up and be creepy about it. It occurred to me at the time that I’ve been sleeping in cars for far too long, and in a fairly outrageous number of locations around the world. I feel like the quality of the cars is slowly improving though, so there’s that!
Now that I was awake, I ate a very nutritious (blatant lie) icing-covered muffin, then drove off to find some walks. Ian had actually done me a hand-drawn map of Skye, and I was operating on that. It was pretty good for the towns and things, but I didn’t do very well in finding the entrances to walks, so continued on until I was at the far northern tip of Skye. I then went for a wander, being rather inconvenienced by a bull on the way (and as I was dressed in bright red, I was rather hoping that the ‘red to a bull’ thing wasn’t true), finally winding up on some very dramatic cliffs.
When I got there, I sat and had a ponder about South America. The thing is, I haven’t exactly been looking forward to it. In some ways, that’s normal for me: I have a tendency to book international flights, and then I sort of succumb to this feeling of inevitability that I’m going to go, and work it out from there. Not this time, though. I’ve realised over the past couple of weeks that I’m not recovered from Russia, and that what I really crave at the moment (other than food security!) is to feel safe for a bit. Like not just physically, but emotionally: and I’m wondering whether ten weeks travelling through yet another culture, living out of a suitcase and having to deal with the exhausting tribulations of travel is really going to provide that. As such, I’m considering just going to Colombia for three weeks, then cutting the rest of the trip short and heading back to Australia for a while. I’ve said before that I miss having a real job, and the other things is, I’m off to India some time in the new year for a wedding, then Brazil in February 2015, for Lana’s 30th/Carnivale, so I could theoretically trek through South America then, when I’m a little more emotionally ready. And that’s all discounting the fact that I’m also applying to do my Masters in Public Policy here in the UK, so will relocate back here next August ish if I get a scholarship (but only if I get a scholarship haha!). Shrug, I don’t know. I’ve emailed my travel agent and he’ll tell me what flight re-arrangements’ll cost.
Phew. Anyway, by this time my frosted muffin was starting to wear off, so I went on a food quest. I meant to go straight to Portree, but got distracted and ended up outside Dunvegan Castle. I then realised that you had to pay to get in, so went into the gift shop and looked at photos to see if it was worth it. I decided not: plus, there were a million tourists crawling around, and it was a bit late for good light, so I bought myself an impractical candle and headed onward.
I got back to Portree (Port Righ) and went into Tourist Information with a list. Top of which was ‘where can I get a shower’?! I also needed directions to the Fairy Pools, a series of small pools/waterfalls in the west of Skye:
Soon after the Pools, I actually completely stopped taking photos. Everywhere I went I was surrounded by beautiful scenery, until I actually became quite exhausted with it all. I was over-saturated! It was weird actually: as I was driving around, the radio would occasionally come into reception. It was full of news about alleged chemical weapons attacks by the Assad government in Syria, and I was worrying about my friend Reda, who lives in Damascus. He always ‘likes’ my photos and things and wishes he could see these places, and I couldn’t help but wish he were in Scotland, safe and seeing everything for himself instead!
I later made it back to Portree for a fairly frustrating but worth-while shower (it was a button shower, and would only go for around fifteen seconds—the first few of which it was intolerably hot—before the tank had to refill). I then drove down to the south-west of the island, in order to be close for the ferry the following morning. I found myself a lovely spot on a cliff overlooking both the ocean and the mountains, so fell asleep to the sound of waves. Not bad.
Firstly, and appallingly, I somehow forgot to include the ‘funny Indian man’ in my last posts. I came across him because in a lot of rural Scotland, and over most of Skye, there are very narrow roads—they’re two-way, but wide enough for one car. As such, there are reasonably frequent passing points. Or, of course, you can simply opt to drive off the road.
Anyway, at one point I pulled into a passing point to let the oncoming traffic, including a huge tractor, pass by. Then for some reason, a car going in the other direction stopped, just behind my car, so we were now blocking the entire road. Then more cars came in from behind me: but there’s no way I could have snuck past, given that the tractor needed to pass before anything else could happen. I look next to me, where I see an Indian guy and his family looking about as baffled as I did. I gave him a “wtf is the person in front of you doing? there’s a tractor!” wave, and he gave me a shrug and a “tourists” motion, then we rolled our eyes and somehow carried on.
The next time I encountered funny Indian man, I was at the other end of the island, on my way to the Fairy Pools. There were two bicycles parked on either side of the road as their owners chatted, with not quite enough gap between them for me to pass through. So I edged up and they realised my predicament. The guy on his bike to my left edged over, edged over again, then finally edged over once more: and toppled over in slow motion. I gave him a big thumbs-up and laughed myself silly, only to then look in front of my car and find that funny Indian man was there in his car watching the whole show and having a giggle.
The next day, after waking up overlooking the sea in Skye, I quickly packed everything up and drove down to the ferry terminal. I managed to briefly score some wi-fi (quite a relief, as I had no idea where I was going, and hadn’t actually made set plans re where to meet my friend in Edinburgh). Then the receptionist cleared his throat and suggested I might want to get on my ferry, so for once I managed not to miss my latest form of public transport and got on board. I was on quite the deadline: the first ferry for the day got back to the mainland at 09:20, the car was due back at 10:30 (and Fort William was apparently over an hour away), and then my train to Edinburgh was at 11:40. Somehow I wrangled the magic however, managing to drop off Ian’s things at the hostel on the way past and stopping for a photo (taken from the same place as the 360 the other day):
Magically, everything worked out, and I made it down to Edinburgh to meet Amber.
Amber’s a Scottish girl who I met in New Zealand the second time I was there. We were sharing a hostel room and ended up drinking (this is clearly a natural progression). There was some other girl as well, but she’s disappeared into the ether. Anyway, it all got way out of hand and the next morning I woke up to find the room full of girls in a state I have honestly never seen girls in before. It was a mess. Amber was the brave soul who then toddled out and brought us each back a litre of water. (It should also be mentioned that she woke up with half a burger on her: yes, it was that kind of night).
We later met up in Sydney for drinks with my friend Nick, and after I realised that I was coming to Edinburgh during the busiest part of the year, asked if I could stay at hers. And we had a great time!
After arriving on the train and not having any idea where I was going for quite some time, I found Amber and we went back to hers. We picked up her father-in-law then went to have some epic Indian before seeing a show at the Fringe Festival. It was called ‘Puppet Up!‘ and was pretty great.
Saturday was then spent at the Edinburgh Pipe Band Festival. Which was awesome. There was obviously a lot of bagpiping, plus some highland games. Which seem to consist entirely of throwing heavy things. Hammers, weights and trees:
Arguably, though, my favourite part of the event was when I decided that what I really wanted was a coke spyder (or coke float: where you put ice-cream in the top of your fizzy drink). Amber thought it would be impossible, so naturally I said ‘challenge accepted’! We went to a drinks stand and asked for a coke and a cup, and they really didn’t want to give me one. Then I explained “I’m on a mission, you see”—and suddenly, magically, they were on board! They went through all of their cupboards looking for a cup for my spyder, and finally came up with one covered in polar bears: awesome. Not only that, the woman then got super-excited and called me back to grab a straw off her.
Next we made our way to the ice-cream stand, to be greeted by a very grumpy man in a white hat. Somehow he got on board with the mission as well however, and gave me some ice-cream for freeeee. Few things make me as happy as ice-cream in soft drink.
Sunday involved being a much more effective tourist. Amber had managed to score us some cards which meant we got free entry into all of the different tourist sites. First-up were the Edinburgh Dungeons, an attraction (albeit one which involved lots of screaming by the tourists involved) where you go underground and learn about old-school Scottish ‘justice’. Then it was wandering through the crowds to end up at the Castle (which as it turns out, I trespassed in last time I was in town), before finding ourselves at Camera Obscura. Which was freaking awesome. It was full of illusions and things to play with! I absolutely recommend it if you ever find yourself in town.
I’m now in Aberdeen for a few days before heading south to London, thence to Colombia on Monday. And I’m going to try and get some work done..!