Yes Scotland may not have 6 legs, but it is severially beautiful, deep and meaningful, and dear to my polski heart. So herein is a blog of my latest travels through the moods of this fickle and glorious landscape.
The key word here is mood. Mr weather, and the ancient groobly landscape and forests and lakes, combine to always surprise with a new way to see the same place. The saying here is that “if you dont like the weather, wait 20 minutes”. Some travellers, especialy the ones chasing the sun and booze in Ibiza, or Cairns, might find the pic below a little daunting. But this pic, taken near Fort William a few days ago, is what its all about. Half an hour later, the mountains behind had sunbeams dancing on them, and pots of gold at the end of mr rainbow. And this is a mild mannered landscape, wait till you see the uga uga stuff..
So lets start at the start of this long awaited travels..
Day one, a drive to Fort William, near which cottage number 1 awaited. The road passes through a very serious, deeply emotional landscape, the Glencoe valley, a scene of much carnage in the bad old days, and grand mountains which always turn on a powerful display.
This first week was mainly exploring a blob of land to the WSW of Fort William. Not much travelled, and beset with the single lane roads the Highlands are full of. An experience in itself. It takes hours to get not very far, and now and then you get woken up with a start as a local comes at you with gusto.
The most extreme western point of Britain is at the end of one of these tracks, whereupon is a lighthouse. The locals are converting the ancient lighthouse keeper cottages for rent, and I am slavering to be there when they are available. How many dreams (and a song) are based on marrying the lighthouse keeper….. Apart from the light, still functional, there is a a ludicrously large horn. It has to be heard for miles across rough seas and fog, and is so powerful, it takes 3 giant engines to create the wind to drive it.
Driving back, all relaxed and at below the legal speed, my right foot suddenly rammed on the brakes all by itself. It had noticed a radar wielding mr Fuzz on the side of the road, before the slow brain registered. It took stopping and turning around to realise that this was the best illusion I have seen for a long while. Me and mr two-dimensional then had a good larf and a selfie.
Another route in this area is the road to Mallaig, a nice coastal town with ferries to Skye and many of the other Isles. On the way are several beaut lochs, and the engineering marvel of a railway line built in the 1800’s with super high stone ‘viaduct’ style bridges over steep valleys. Yes this is the Hogwarts express line, and on another trip I booked a first class cabin for the journey on the choo choo which plies this route twice a day.
Another bridge thinggi is in a setting I have stopped to gawp at on several trips, and have caught in several moods – that word again. Even by moonlight…
Some of you may know about my weakness for wee drams of singe malt whiskey, oddly, made by humans here in Scotland-land. On each trip I try to see a distillery to learn more about the process, and taste new ones. This time it was the turn of Dalwhinnie, a very old one, in the Cairngorm Mountains at over 1100m. These lovely copper ‘onion’ stills have 16 tons each. The malt – barley which is allowed to start to germinate – is first put into a cauldron at 80 degrees and mixed until the gruel is starting to be alcoholic. The liquid winds up in the stills, but the gruel becomes sheep and cow food – wowski – the Japanese give their moomoos grains, but they dont make it grog first. I know where I want to be a moomoo. The other pics show a coooling barrel, building sized, where the fabulous drop called Winters Gold, the fav drop of my beloved’s, is made over the winter where the temp up here can fall to minus 20. The teacher at the blackboard is just cute, learning us philistines not about the perils of imbibing, but about how to drink the drams in style.
At end of week 1 it was time to up sticks and head for cottage #2, in the last ‘town’ on the NW route to the top of Scotland – Ullapool. It is a very sweet fishing and now tourist place, which is also the harbour for ferries to the Outer Isles.
On the way one passes a treasure that it took me several Scotland visits to find. It is a fairy forest where magic definitely still dwells. It out-lord-of-the-rings New Zealand (as does much of this land). Look deep into this pic and see the cute little stone structure built by the elves.
Several days before, mr BBC said that the last snow had just melted in them there hills (from the winter before the spring and summer now past here in upside down land). But mr weather could not let this stand, and turned on the first snow of the season all over the Nevis Range, east of Fort William, which has the highest peak in Scotland, Ben Nevis.
Just north of Ullapool is a pretty shmik place, the views of mountains and lochs are so cute from this area, the National trust has built a special viewing park. The best thing about these mountains is that they almost always create ‘lenticular’ clouds. A fun phenomenon where air passing over the peak, turns to cloud and then unturns as it passes off the peak. Standing still you can make out that its moving, just, but if you do a timelapse sequence, as I do often on travels here, you see the clouds like a living thing – mr weather having fun.
So another day, and mr weather fell asleep and allowed mr sun to rule all day – Oz style, super boring, one dimensional, glary, colourless, blaaaah light, that kept the camera in its box most of the day. Explored a NW area to Achiltibuie (great names), and on the way back a few clouds snuk into the scene, and the sun’s power faded closer to sunset, allowing this slightly 3D view to wake up mr camera. Bit of drama there, eh but what..
and leter still, the wind died and the waters of the lochs became fun, almost mirrors
Another day, and the breeze has changed origin to arctic. The day looks normal, but the temp is penetrating my Italian designer fluffy coat (the only coat Denise has not yet pinched from me). Spent the day in a forest near here, where a local 19th Century traveller, planted over 200 types of trees, now all porperly old and majestic. It also sometimes turns on a fungus show in the autumn. Normal pics of these luveley critters are always posed from above, as we are a bit taller than them. Today I tried a technique called upside-down-triopod, (not for the faint hearted) which lets the camera pretend it is a little gnome, same height as the funguses. See a before and after:
This autumn, despite being very wet of course, has not yet fully woken up the funguses what I know live here. So the following 4 shots are from my previous trip here, when funguses ruled OK.
…and of course where is fungus there is moss – Scotland-land is the moss capital of the Solar System. Everything that does not move for a few days, soon gets wondrously lost in its fluffy embrace. Here a stone fence in that forest.
Later. Mr weather came back to normal, and clouds got frisky. See the show awaiting my first look see:
I wont put many vids in to keep the site small, but today the other type of lenticular cloud event happened. Not forming and unforming along a sideways line through the mountain top, but the waterfall effect, with liquid cotton wool cascading down the sides of mountains.
Been in my secret cabin in the woods for the last few days, no phone, no internet, no TV. It is in the magical Loch Torridon area, where the mountains often hide under nice thick cotton wool blankies.
One of the areas this is close to, is the Applecross peninsula. It has a very high mountain in the centre, and you have to go over the top to get to the cutsi village on the coast, and of course it is along the single lane, blind bend, blind summit rough track roads. Love em…
Today we had a proper Scottish gale. Not quite a cyclone, but enough to not be able to stand in it, and the very horizontal wind keeps lifting the surface off the sea lochs and creating sea spouts and general water mayhem. A grand day out in real weather.
Week 4, and it is time to be on the Isle of Skye. Many of my fav memories since I was 20 years old hitching to here, are linked to this island. I have rented a house in them there hills, with a giant window overlooking very shmick scenery. First is the general layout of the place, but the second pic is from my last trip here in 2019 when it had already started snowing, and is a view from that window…
Driving around one is never too far from a rainbow, as rain scuds are a daily event. This one was cute as the pot of gold was underwater, but note how all the colours, including the ultra violet are clear here…
and last note for the day – on the way to this house, in the village of Torin, there is an ancient church and graveyard ruins. Very quaint and atmospheric. And note on the last pic, the arrow shows where the ghost of that particular unhappy dude gets out. I am not going back there after dark.
More days, more rain squalls, more dark clouds rushing past and the odd bit of sun to add 3D to some scenes. A place called Sligahan is home to many camera happy visitors, as it always has attitude. And an ancient stone bridge you can be very kitsch with….
What I like about the silly hill above, is the almost perfect symmetry, as if someone poured pebbles and sand gently to create the shape. The colour is very cool too, created by a mix of grasses and lichen holding the scree slopes together. And then as I was waiting for the light to change over and over again for different photos, I spied a very uber cool meteorological phenomenonon – a real UFO made of ice crystals, which lasted only for about 30 seconds. Wowski
I nearly forgot a quintissential aspect of Scotland-land. It be sheeps.
They are everywhere, and their fav grass is on the edges of the one lane roads, so one is constantly very closely passing these very well behaved docile critters. They are very sweet, and everyone of them is called Fiona-the-sheep of course. However as the sun sets, a naughty, were-sheep side of their character comes to the fore, and they invade the roads with gay abandon, and menace poor tourists with gnashing teeth. Gotta love em, especially the black faced ones.
A calm weather sunday came along and I chose to do the big northern loop of roads on the Isle of Skye. Pass the Sligahan again, and onto a fab geological oddity, The Old Man of Storr. It is huge, and leaning like the Piza tower, so its days are numbered.
… the next geological thinggi is a cliff of giant basalt crystals, seen here past a cute 60m falls directly to the sea, a rare sight. Pic next to it is the Quirang, a mountain pass with big views, scary single track road, and lots of sheep dudu. Below these two is the Quirang again, taken on the last trip after mr snow arrived, and brung attitude.
…and today just trees. I forget what these cute European dudes are, but they shine so nicely, and like all trees in Scotland-land, attract artisitic mosses. On left taken over a month ago, early autumn, and on right late autumn yesterday. And below these two, a cute tree called a larch. A very odd dude, as it is a gymnosperm, ie what pines trees is, but it loses its needles for the winter. They start by going uber deep yellow, then go more pastel, followed by revealing their lichen covered skeletons.
The very next day was Isle of Raasay day. This is a long skinny island along the eastern side of the Isle of Skye. Sparsely populated, and so close to the edge of the world, the sheep are actually scared of cars. I love ferry crossings, here be my ferry with Raasay in the backdrop. Note the flat topped blob in the centre of it. It is an ancient basalt volcanic plug, extinct since dinosaurs wore shorts. But the locals have all sorts of fun mythology about it, urban myth style stories that she’s gonna blow one day when the planets align and such stuff. My old friend mr Zen, from the Isle of Skye, when he was young and entertained whiskey driven ideas, had a plan to go to the top of it, with a friend and two old tyres, and light them up. The smoke would have had great effect on the locals and their stories.
…and isnt the road sign cute, bub blub blub. The weather on the day was nice and moody, with just the right amount of horizontal rain fronts passing through.
Another day, another gale force wind day. To get the best effect, drove to the western edge cliffs of Skye, at Neist Point, and sort of managed to stand up in the wind coming up the cliffs. There is a famous postcard in South Island NZ, of a giant waterfall going over a cliff into the sea, except that the wind is reversing most of the flow. Here several little falls over the cliffs were fully reversed by the wind, while a lower fall, with more flow managed to get to the sea. First pic is the general cliffy coastline, with the next pic, a detail from the centre.
Last day on the Isle of Skye was beset by weather serious even by Scotland-land standards. A month of rain fell in 24 hours, combined with gale winds. The roads had a layer of water that the strong wind mixed this way and thet every few seconds, like quicksilver, and the wee burns (creeks) went mad.
After Skye, the road south to the aeroplanes home starts. I was given secret information to make the route special. After at least 10 trips to Scotland, doing many thousands of km of road and roadlets each time, I thunk I knew it well. But there is a secret valley, Glen Affric, about 50km west of Inverness, that hides real ancient original mixed Caledonian forests, a fast river, a lovely loch, and a feeling of really being in wilderness. So more trees. Most pine trees we see are plantations of Pinus radiata, in Oz as in Scotland, and they are super straight, law-abiding, and geometrical structures. But the Scotch pine breaks all the pine rules and grows with wild abandon into any shape it feels like. See the one on the right, it even has ‘hands’ questing to the right…
The above is pretty special. I think these are birch trees, which seem to have a symbiosis with the bearded lichens covering them so artisitically. Other trees have only little bits. And note the ones sprouting in water – that is not normal, but a temporary result of the WET day. The weather came down later, making early afternoon very dark and misty, below is the loch here. Note how many different trees make their home here.
It is now the end of Scotland-land adventure. For something new I explored a promontory of land west of Glasgow, with the southern Hebrides, like Jura and Islay (proper god-fearing whiskey making places), just off the coast. The townlet/village of Tarbert is a cute fishing port, with a great style variety and colours among their buildings.
For the penultimate night of the trip, I found myself in a castle “bespoke’ hotel (whatever that word means. The interior is still largely from its 1870 beginnings, with many styles of lounges to relax in, including a great old library, whereupon I read a book… A blob of poshness before the madness of 5 flights over two days to gets me home. So now bye bye from Scotland-land !