Thursday, May 10, 2018

A Wee Camping Trip In The Highlands: Part 16 - In Which We Find The Dark Underbelly

This day was the day of Loch Ness. We got going early for once, with the sun up and shining bright. It was a clear blue sky that made me think of being back in Florida, except that I was wearing every bit of clothing I could get on, including long underwear, which seemed to be a requirement to endure the temperatures outside. I began to see how it was in Scotland. After days of being in the 30’s and 40’s, a day that has sun and 56 degrees is a day for the girls to bring out the bikinis.

We felt sure that nobody else would be on that desolate road and it would be a safe drive back to the small village we had passed on the way, but we were wrong. Now, it was the early morning folk that were late to work, with a cup of coffee in their lap, trying to make up time on the back road, never expecting to see a motorhome that far off the track. Nobody ever honked though, except to say thanks when I found a place to pull over and let them pass. I’m fairly certain that there is no texting while driving in Scotland. Those people are all long dead. There is quite a bit Darwinian evolution in the driving. If you drive badly, it’s not just a fender bender. The roads are divided into categories. An “A” road means they take care of it, and probably two trucks could pass each other…probably. A “B” road  means that somebody will eventually come and fix the potholes and you would really be better off if you did not drive your motorhome there. Then there was the road that is colored “white” on the map. These were the roads that basically say “if you go there, you're an idiot”…and I seemed to have found myself on those roads frequently.

We came into the village of Fort Augustus, me worrying about running out of diesel while on one of the ‘white’ roads and the gypsies having their way with Pam while they killed me after (gotta stop watching Outlander)…unfortunately, I ran into the only petrol station that would not take my credit card. It wanted a PIN number and our credit cards don’t have them that I know of. Nobody could solve the problem and the bank was only open on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Pam shopped for a bit, while I worried about the lack of diesel, until we had a chance to see the operation of the river locks that go into Loch Ness. That was a treat and I also realized that this wasn’t something fancy and new. It had been modernized, but the first lock was built in the middle 1800’s and was operated by men pushing bars instead of hydraulic pumps. This was all done so that boats could enter Loch Ness, which is a much lower level than the nearby river.

What we know of Loch Ness, is the story of the Loch Ness monster, but the really incredible part is how long and narrow the lake is. By narrow, I mean that it is the shape of a very long pill, but that pill could be over a mile across, so this is a really big lake with really big boats on it. And it is deeper than the ocean in parts. It really does look like a glacier came sliding through and left a trough behind. There was not all that much to see there about the monster, except trinkets that are available everywhere. Apparently, monster legends abound in the region, just like fairy legends. This one just happened to get famous and really help tourism.
We were doing quite well in the cozy little town, until Pam decided to go off the main street and take a look to see if there were any shops open along the riverfront. We hadn't gone far, when we saw a nice little coffee shop with some folks outside sipping those large cups of coffee that I remember from the TV show, Friends. I was getting excited and heading for the front door, as my brain slowly started processing the group of people in front of me. The very first image that popped into my mind was a picture of Boris and Natasha from the Rocky and Bulwinkle show when I was a kid. Slender, pale skinned people in all black, with hats and trenchcoats. There was at least 4 guys, but I didn't think for a moment that the woman in the group was any less sinister. Their gaze followed us up to the doorstep, and sneers appeared as Pam fruitlessly pushed on the door that said "Pull". Laughter ensued, followed by "Caan't yer read, it's CLOSED!?". Pam was busy formulating a question about the origin of their coffee cups and probably getting ready to go poke the largest guy in the chest with her finger, while I was frantically digging my hand in my pocket for something more like a weapon than the key to the van. I whooshed us away as fast as I could while our appreciative audience laughed on. My main thought as we left the 'bad part of the village' was how did gangster life end up so far away from urban society? We got in the van and headed on to find Petrol somewhere else.

Another chance stop while driving down the side of Loch Ness was the chance to see the ruins of the Urquhart castle.

This was the only castle that we had seen where it was pretty much left alone as they built it. It was more like what I had expected to see, quite large, with tour guides, a movie, gift shop, cafĂ© and large groups of people milling about. A favorite pastime of ours had become people-watching at the castle tours. This particular trip, the winning group was a pack of 5 elegant ladies in their 40’s-50’s, laughing, taking selfies and having the time of their lives, speaking in a language that sounded like Norwegian to me. It was like watching a foreign movie with the subtitles off and trying to figure out what was said from watching expressions on faces.

We spent several hours there and then it was on to our next leg of the adventure. We going to try to get to Ullapool, a place that had been recommended by a local in one of the shops in Fort August. Our goal was to travel to the spot using back roads, as opposed to going through Inverness, which we had been advised to avoid with our motorhome.

We soon found out just how badly google could send us astray on the Scottish “white roads”. Basically, we were travelling through hamlets and corn fields on one lane roads, never seeing anything like a gas station or any indication that we were heading in the right direction. Curious looks from the sheep in the pastures and the locals walking their dogs were the norm. After a short discussion with Pam, it was decided that I was heading to nowhere quite slowly and we had better start thinking about food and a place to sleep. So, we turned around and headed back to the campground we had seen near the Urquhart castle. It was nothing but a large green field with campers on it, but it was surrounded by mountains and was quite close to the castle and a small town. The gentleman running the place was one of the nicer people I’d met on the journey and he quickly set us up with a ‘pitch’, what the Brits call a campsite. I’d started noticing that many new buildings in campgrounds were actually made from shipping containers, as the bathrooms were at this one. It sounds bad, but the insides were quite nice. In fact, on the whole trip, the rest rooms were very nice and clean. By the way, there truly are no ‘rest rooms’ in Scotland as they will laughingly tell you. There is no ‘rest’ in Scotland! They have toilets and that’s what they call them. We settled into our spot between a wee VW camper that was a 1960’s version in mint condition and a large motorhome. You would see very few tents in this cold and wet weather, and those campers appeared to be more miserable than most. In the motorhome next to us, there were 4 women. I don’t know how 4 people could get along in something only slightly larger than ours.

We decided that for dinner, we’d drive back to Fort Augustus, the tiny village and get something from a nice restaurant. We soon found there were only a couple of choices and even at that we had to wait until 6 pm for them to open. And then it was a pub once again. And pub food. This food is very good tasting and I love it, but I wonder about the health of anyone that eats it for long. Your main course is meat with some kind of great tasting sauce and large steak fries they call chips. It is always served hot, nothing has ever sat waiting on a kitchen window for a waitress to come get it. There was not a single time on the trip that Pam curled her upper lip at the food and sent it back…not even close. Pam would breathe over her spoon, cooling something down, while I was to her left, licking the plate. I knew full well there would be a reckoning when I got home…salads and exercise were in my future for sure.

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