It was a very wet day so we caught a bus down to London. We killed some time sitting in Trafalgar Square watching people, pigeons and stone, then walked around to the St Thomas’ Nurses’ Hostel where we are to stay for a few nights.
Helen and Brian dropped us off at Junction 8 on the M74 south of Glasgow and left us to hitch down to London while they took their rental car back to Stranraer.
We only had to wait about 10 minutes for a ride with the truckie who took us down to Leeds. Our next ride (after being moved on by a cop for hitching on the motorway slip road) took us off on a tangent over to the town of Doncaster, a very boring industrial town on the edge of a flat plain beneath which lies huge supplies of coal which have given rise to a chain of huge coal-fired power stations whose cooling towers release towering clouds of pure white steam into the sooty yellow air.
We caught a bus from the edge of town into the city centre then the bus driver, who was going off duty, took us on the bus around to a street full of B&Bs. We checked into one and showered then watched TV for an hour or two before we went out for a sumptuous Indian meal which laid us out cold as soon as we got back to our room.
With such lousy weather and a limited amount of things to do in Aviemore, we decided to leave a day early. We packed up and checked out of the resort and drove out of Aviemore.
We followed the main road round to Pitlochry then turned off and drove over to Loch Tay. About halfway down the side of the loch we came to a sign pointing off to the right saying Glen Lyon¹ so we turned off and followed the narrow road which wound up through a narrow tree-filled gorge and emerged in the beautiful and rugged Glen Lyon. We drove slowly up the Glen whose steep, U-shaped sides and many shimmering streams were amazingly like Glen Lyon at home.
At the head of the Glen, we turned left and drove up a steep grassy valley with a rocky stream running down the floor. Halfway up we stopped for a cup of tea at a set of stone sheep yards built on a flat area of ground. Sheep grazed amongst the bracken on the hillsides above the yards, their calls echoing around the valley. A stand of pine trees have been planted on the left-hand side of the road.
The road became steeper as we climbed higher and eventually we reached a saddle at the head of a small man-made lake. There was a cairn built amongst the heather on the saddle so we stopped there for photos and enjoyed the view out over the lake to the hills on the far side of Loch Tay. The sun was brilliant above us and the strong, cool breeze carried with it the fresh smell of the hills – of heather and grass, rocks and water, and the elusive and evocative smell of the sheep dotted about the surrounding land.
Beat and I had a quick look at the concrete dam holding back the lake: much of the water for which emerged from a tunnel in the side of the hill, probably leading down from another lake higher up. We dropped rapidly down off the hill then and came out on the edge of Loch Tay at the foot of the hill called Ben Lawers, then carried on down to Loch Lomond where we booked into a B&B in the town of Balloch.
¹Glen Lyon is a famous High Country sheep station on the South Island of New Zealand.
It was a cold wet day again but we paid a visit to the Glenfiddich distillery at Dufftown. The distillery, built by James Grant and which first produced whiskey on Christmas Day 1887, is a huge tourist attraction but despite the crowds we had an interesting tour of the place starting with a slideshow and finishing with a dram of the finest whiskey made. An added bonus was the three-quarter bottle of whiskey which the four of us each received by presenting our forged National Trust Heritage cards¹.
¹These cards gave tourists from overseas entry to many of the National Trust’s properties throughout the United Kingdom. They were valid for one month after they were first used but ours had expired. So I used the skills that I had perfected in Africa the previous year, when I’d regularly had to forge dates and signatures on currency declarations and vaccination certificates, to alter the expiration dates on our Heritage cards.
At last a fine day greeted us when we got up so we headed for Lochness for the day’s sightseeing. We drove up to Inverness through the rolling hills of the Eastern Highlands with streams, brimful from the rains, cascaded down through the heather and the hills gleaming in the fresh sunshine.
Lochness was quite quite pretty but the hordes of tourists and tacky souvenir joints rendered it into the class of all the other tourist holes in England. However, the day wasn’t an entire waste as on the way into Inverness we visited the site of the battle of Culloden, where the English dealt a final, crushing and humiliating blow to the Highlanders under Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1746.
Charles Edward Stewart (The Young Pretender) was the son of the exiled James Edward Stewart who had never crowned but was recognised as the rightful King of Scotland by the French and Spanish. Charles was born in Rome in 1720 and from early on he turned his attention to claiming his rightful throne and trained himself rigourously to that end. He returned to Scotland in 1745 with the aim of reclaiming the crown denied to his father by the Act of Succession of 1701.
He landed on an island out on the West Coast of Scotland and raised his standard at Glenfinnan. He marched on to Edinburgh where he declared his father King and won the Battle of Prestonpans. With the support of the Highlanders he advanced south, but found the English apathetic to his cause.
In 1746 he was pursued back to Culloden where his army was slaughtered in a battle which lasted only one hour, by the forces under the Duke of Cumberland, son of George the Second.
Charles was rescued by loyal Highlanders and fled “from Glen to Glen” back to France. For generations afterwards, it was forbidden to have water on the table at Scottish feasts as the English wanted to prevent loyal Jacobites from symbolically toasting their king “across the water.”
It was another day of rest as it was windy and wet. After lunch the rain stopped for a few hours so Linda and I set off to climb the hill across the road from the resort. We weren’t feeling very energetic so took our time as we scrambled up through the heather on the steep hillside. About halfway up we stopped and sat on a lichen-covered rock while we ate an orange each and marvelled at the view out over the Spey River to the distant hills, dark and brooding beneath grey clouds. At the top of the hill we lost the track so made our way down a steep face covered in bracken to the main road and walked back to the unit.
RENDEZVOUS I got up I got up at a leisurely 8:30AM and after a shower I packed up and sat in the lounge of the hostel for an hour or so, reading my book and breakfasting on chocolate Hobnobs and a can of Coke – healthy!
After breakfast I threw on my pack and walked into town where I spent two hours sitting in a cafe drinking tea and writing up my diary. Later on, I walked up to the entrance to the Scandinavian Village Timeshare Resort and sat on the ground reading for four hours. When it began to rain I went into the office and asked if I could get into the unit that Helen and Brian had booked for the week. The manager gave me a key and I settled down to wait.
Linda walked in about half an hour later and it was so good to see her. We all got settled and then went out for tea to a restaurant called the Winking Owl.
GLASGOW TO AVIEMORE I caught a bus back into town and spent a couple of hours looking around. After asking directions to the road to Perth from a policeman I ended up, on his suggestion, at the bus station where I cadged a bus ticket to Perth for an economical £2.60 using my YHA card.
I slept most of the way and when the bus arrived in Perth I went into the town centre where I got a map from the information centre showing the road to Aviemore. I also got some money out of the bank and bought Linda a little Lilliput Lane cottage to go with the T-shirt I bought her in Glasgow.
I had to walk a good way out of town before I got a lift with a couple of neo-hippies on the way into the hills to go a-rambling! They took me all the way to Aviemore where it was cold and misty, the grey clouds swirling low around the heather-clad hills which surround the valley where the town is built. I hung around for a few hours, filling in time while I prepared for an uncomfortable night under a bridge. I sat in the pub for a while watching the news of Iraq’s latest efforts in the Middle East¹ and had a feed of fish and chips sitting on my pack in front of an empty shop. Finally, I began to walk out of town to look for a suitable bridge. On an off chance, I went into the YHA hostel to see if there was a spare bed (I had rung them from Perth earlier in the day and was told they were fully booked) and, as luck would have it, there was one bed left!
So, I spent a night of luxury in the hostel instead of a night of misery under a bridge somewhere.
¹The First Gulf War to liberate Kuwait would start just a few months later.
HITCHING TO SCOTLAND. Sally dropped me off on the outskirts of Cirencester and after about 10 minutes I got a lift with a Welsh guy on his way back from a folk music festival. He dropped me off near Kidderminster and from there I hitched a ride up the M5 in a truck as far as Birmingham.
Another ride with a businessman took me to Preston and then a Scottish guy picked me up and took me all the way to Glasgow. He dropped me off at the Central Railway Station and after a disgusting feed of Casey Jones “food” I settled down in a corner with Tom Clancy’s novel The Hunt for Red October.
At 1:30 am I was rudely awakened by a cop who threw me out of the station which was closing so I found myself on the streets of Glasgow in the middle of the night, nowhere to go and it was starting to rain. Things could’ve been better!
I found some trees to hole up underneath but drunks and nutters were patrolling the area breaking things so I walked back into the centre of town to find the Police Station with the idea that I would be safest sitting on the steps of a police station for the rest of the night. I asked a bloke standing outside a pub (still open at 2:30 am) for directions and he said that he was the owner of the pub and I could doss down at his place. So, after a pint of lager (on the house), I squeezed into his little Scimitar sports car and went out to his place. I slept on the sofa and had quite a comfy night compared to what the steps of the Glasgow nick would’ve been like!
I slept in till 11 am!! Spent the rest of the morning getting a Hornby train set going for Matthew and in the afternoon I shifted the electric fence. Later on, John and I went for a swim at the local baths. Back at the house I packed my gear up then put my feet up for the rest of the day.