Ireland/Britain 1998 day 23: Loch Ness


I started my day at the Inverness Tourist Information center where I learned that Dr. Gordon Williamson’s minibus tours only went out on weekends in the low season. Since 12 February 1998 was a Thursday, I could not wait around for the weekend. Instead I signed up for the dreaded Inverness Traction coach tour as my only option for seeing Loch Ness. It was about as dreadful as I expected, a big bus with corny narration, but at least it made frequent stops where I could get out and away from the group.

In all those tv specials about Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster I was always drawn to the beauty of the loch itself. It did not disappoint. Loch Ness is 24 miles long, 1-1.5 miles wide, and unfathomably deep. It exudes an aura of beauty and mystery.

The coach tour’s first stop is at the Loch Ness Monster Exhibition Centre in Drumnadrochit. The most fascinating part of this exhibit is that in all the expeditions conducted to find and/or disprove Nessie’s existence, scientists have learned about many interesting creatures that inhabit the lake such as mollusks and midges that are not known elsewhere in the region.

At another stop on the tour we visited Fort Augustus Abbey a Hanoverian fort which became a Benedictine Abbey which became an incredibly cheezy tourist attraction. Presentation is everything and we visitors were forced to carry Walkmans as we viewed waxworks, models, and artifacts. The monastery was actually still in use so after escaping the exhibit I wandered off to the peaceful chapel and then walked along the Loch itself.

All in all, it wasn’t as bad as I made out. Yes, I did have to listen to macabre tales of Alistair Crowley, but I also got to take in views of the loveliest landscape from all sides of Loch Ness.

After returning to Inverness that evening, I took the train to Edinburgh. I checked in the High Street Hostel and apparently did nothing worth writing down. The have only clues that I went on a pub crawl in search of live music because I listed the names of three pubs: The World’s End, Tron Ceilidh House, and Whistlebinkies. I guess it was a good night, but I can’t remember a thing about it.

Loch Ness Otter

Look carefully in the foreground and you may see the mysterious Loch Ness Otter.

Liam by Loch Ness

Here you can see the not so rare Loch Ness Tourist.

Ireland/Britain 1998 day 22: Inverness


Passing the halfway point of my holiday, 11 February 1998 became my second vacation from vacation day. I slept late, and when I awoke I finally made it to the laundromat. Unlike Glasgow, the laundrette woman was cheerful and helpful. I also found a copying machine and a post office so I could send off the dispatch letters I was sending to all my friends (this is what we did before blogs).

The only site I took in that day was another brilliant museum The Balnain House Home of Highland Music. The exhibits included numerous video and audio stations with examples of Highland music of different styles and eras. My favorite part was the room with actual musical instruments for visitors to try out. Blowing a bagpipe is harder than it looks, and I could only make it produce a sickly moan. Two American woman Holly and Lori were there at the same time, and since they were studying music at college, they could make much nicer sounds on the instruments. Then we all jammed together playing “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”

In the evening I tried to take the “haunted tour” of Inverness but no one was there. I wandered about the city looking for signs of nightlife but found nothing, so I returned to the hostel and was in bed by 8:30. I awoke in the wee hours and went to the lounge to write in my journal. There I met Richard, a drunken middle-aged Scotsman who worked at the hostel and attend a local college. He cheered my up with his friendliness and compliments, and just being an all-around good-hearted guy.

Learning that I wanted to visit Loch Ness he recommended Gordon’s Minibus Tour led by a local historian and biologist who takes his groups out of the van to hike around and study the flora. This sounded like just my type of thing so I thanked Richard for planning out my next day, and went back to bed.

Bagpipes

Be very happy that there’s no audio accompaniment to this photograph.

Bridge over River Ness

I loved the River Ness which rushed through the city with a glossy, reflective surface. The pedestrian bridge is rather bouncy which is either fun or terrifying depending on your temperament.

Ireland/Britain 1998 day 21: Stirling/Inverness


I left Glasgow on the Great Northen Railways “In the Path of the Flying Scotsman” on 10 February 1998. The plan was to travel to Inverness stopping at Stirling en route. I’d seen Braveheart and read about William Wallace and the Battle of Stirling so I figured it was worth a day trip. From the train station I made a bee line toward the distant stone tower I assumed was Stirling Castle. The walk was longer than it looked and I had to wend my way through streets lined with those ever present British suburban duplex houses.

I made it to the big stone building, paid my admission, and climbed to the top of the tower. It was only when I read the plaque identifying buildings one could see from the top that I realized I was an eejit and not in Stirling Castle at all but in The National Wallace Monument. It was quite possibly the dumbest tourist moment in the entire six weeks. However, I got a good walk out of it and on the way to the real Stirling Castle I crossed the bridge that marks the site of the actual Battle of Stirling Bridge.

Stirling Castle made my day. It’s just a big old castle built atop craggy outcroppings and fun to wander around and explore. Great audiovisual displays interpreted the site and there are great views from the battlements. The castles was (and probably still is) undergoing some serious renovation, but even this was fascinating as signs explained how the castle would be restored to its former glory.

Arriving in Inverness, I checked into Eastgate Backpackers Hostel. For supper I got some Chinese take-away which inexplicably came with a side of chips. Hey why not have all of one’s greasy, sodium-filled foods at once? I stopped in at a couple of pubs – The Phoenix and Johnny Foxes – and tried some Scottish ales. Tuesday night in Inverness is pretty quiet though so I retired early.

Stirling Castle

On the walls of Stirling Castle.

Lion

This lion with its tongue sticking out cracks me up.