Karen (aswanargent) wrote,

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Karen and Tavi's Scotland Travel Adventures Chapter 07: Loch Ness

Welcome again to the very very belated update of our Travel Adventures. It's taken us almost a month to the day for this chapter to be written. Karen has returned back to labouring in the US, while Tavi is travelling around Madrid and Moraira. The travel diary won't be as fast as it used to be, but neither should there be such a delay as there was for this chapter. We hope to have Chapter 8 posted within a week's time, and then perhaps two chapters a week.

Previous Chapters of the Travel Diary:
Chapter One: Stonehaven: the cliffs, the old town, and harbour
Chapter Two: Fetteresso Part I: Into the countryside for barley, bullocks, and barbed wire...
Chapter Three:Fetteresso Part II: Bronze age cairns, Home Farm, and tree climbing!
Chapter Four:Kirkton Village and the Ceilidh: gothic graves, little schoolhouses, and Scottish Country Dancing!
Chapter Five:St Andrews: stone colleges, deathly harbour walks, truffles, and Latin recitations...
Chapter Six:Dunnottar Woods: hidden gorges, witches, secret shell houses...and not so hidden fungi...

Chapter Seven: Out on the Lochs:

Karen: After several days spent exploring the North Sea coastal towns of Stonehaven and St. Andrews, we turned our attention inland. Our first trip took us north and west to Inverness, the launching point (literally and figuratively) for explorations of what is perhaps Scotland's most famous and largest body of fresh water - Loch Ness. We had our cameras at the ready in case the monster decided to put in an appearance, but while Nessie didn't cooperate, the trip was anything but uneventful, especially for Tavi.

Tavi: For anyone planning on sailing on the Loch, the warning "from beneath you it devours" comes to mind, although it was definitely from above us this time...

Teaser Preview Pics:

Tavi: To get to Inverness, we caught one of the early morning trains from Stonehaven to Aberdeen, and then waited about 45 minutes in a cold station watching pigeons until the train to Inverness arrived. In all my years in Scotland, I have never been further north than Aberdeen. There's always been an invisible border there, and so the feeling was almost like crossing into a foreign country. Sadly the landscape did not reflect this, despite Inverness being the unofficial capital of the Highlands, but we liked seeing the sudden appearance of Gaelic translations in green beneath the English on the signs for each station as we arrived closer to Inverness, or Inbhir Nis.

Karen: As we were on that early morning train to Aberdeen, waiting for the ticket inspector to come through our carriage, I noticed that my rail pass said it wasn't valid before 9:15 a.m. on weekdays. Fortunately, no one said a word about it. Tavi said the rail passes are enough of a rarity that the inspectors don't quite know what they're supposed to do with them. That may be true, because even though we made early train journeys on other weekdays, no one ever pointed out that I was riding too early. I either looked like a completely befuddled tourist, and they felt sorry for me, or else I looked completely in control of the situation, and they started questioning themselves.

Tavi: At one station we got a rare glimpse of the Flying Scotsman! I've seen this train only ever two times before. The first was a couple of years ago at Aberdeen, and the second was about a month ago in Dundee. It's quite a beautiful train. At least different enough from all the other trains to make me stare at it. There was also the fact that in Dundee, I was standing on my platform looking straight at it as it was parked parallel and next to my overdue train's track...but there wasn't a platform the other side! It was stationary with a wall on one side, and a track on the other. Meanwhile, I could see the passengers inside being served tea as if they were spending hours there. I asked a passing station-man-thingy what it was, and he said that silly rich Americans pay $7000 to ride about in it all around Scotland for days. It still puzzled me why they were stopped at a station without a platform to get off onto. I mean, ok, it was Dundee, and so probably best to stay inside, but still!

Karen: "Station-man-thingy"??? Now there's a job title for you, lol! Seriously, though, Tavi was very excited to catch sight of this train. (We saw it again a few days later on our way back from Skye; apparently there are three or four different routes that these trains take.) I looked it up online when I had a chance; the Royal Scotsman is Scotland's own version of the Orient Express; no more than 36 passengers who travel in luxury (formal black-tie dinners on alternate evenings, for example) and are given admittance to private residences not open to the general public. Because you do pay a small fortune for the experience and the views from the observation car, the train doesn't travel at night. Instead, it's "stabled" (their word) off on a siding at one station or another. The passengers sleep in comfort in their staterooms, and then the train sets off again in the morning. Oh yes, and apparently there's a bagpiper on hand to welcome passengers as they board the train in Edinburgh.

Tavi: Bagpiper?! All right, definitely not going on it now!

Tavi: Like Aberdeen, despite all the Gaelic, Inverness is an old Pictish city, and the roots "aber" and "inver" are very similar. The etymology/history is fascinating. I think I'll go into more on that later in another post; you have been warned.

Karen: Regrettably, we didn't have a real chance to explore Inverness, despite being there twice. This time our sightseeing was limited to finding the information centre where we could buy tickets for the Loch Ness cruise, and then what we could see from the Jacobite tours van that picked us up at the bus station and took us to meet our boat on the Caledonian Canal.

Tavi: I think this is the town hall of Inverness. It has city status, unlike poor Perth now, but I never really counted it as much of a city, but perhaps that was just lack of acquaintance with it. I will say that if you're spending a long holiday in Scotland and planning trips, Inverness may well be the best place to stay in for transport convenience alone. Although it's not in the centre of Scotland like Perth, it has direct trains to Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Perth, Glasgow, and even (and especially) Kyle of Lochalsh for Skye. Each trip is only about 2-3 hours.

Karen: Inverness also puts you close to Cawdor (of "Macbeth" fame), and to the battlefield of Culloden. Both are on my "Want To See" list for a future visit.

Tavi: Which will be difficult, because although Cawdor is apparently geographically close, it's still several complicated bus rides away, which is why we never had time for it. Jacobite do have a tour to the Culloden battlefield, though, although I'm at lost to see the appeal there!

Tavi: After buying our tickets for the boat, we had an hour to wander down the streets and took a leisurely lunch here, lured more by its name than the menu, although the lunch was very nice. Inverness seems to have many cafes open for lunch, but later, after we'd had our afternoon on Loch Ness, there was no sign of a chippy or even a restaurant. Apparently there is one fish&chip shop in the centre, but there is something very wrong with it; everyone we spoke to warned us away from it but wouldn't say why!

Karen: Re the fish & chip shop, it could be the case that the food is so wonderful the locals want to keep the place all to themselves. My vote for "best chips", though, goes to the place we tried in St. Andrews.

Tavi: Our lovely boat! Named after the Jacobite cause, which came to an end near Inverness in the aforementioned Battle of Culloden. Jacobite offer several different cruises, all with names such as "Temptation", "Sensation", "Imagination." We chose "Reflection", which gave us a long cruise on the loch and up the canal. However, it wouldn't be long before we discovered that the brochure had left out something pretty important...

Karen: And I still can't believe neither the captain nor the crew gave us any warning of what to expect! If anyone reading this remembers the old American television show Gilligan's Island and its opening credits, you'll have some idea what lay in store for us.

Tavi: But for the moment, we sail along here blissfully unaware of what is to come. This is the Caledonian Canal (in Gaelic: Seolaid a Ghlinn Mhoir), which was cut out to connect Inverness to the west coast, so ships didn't have to sail all around the treacherous northern coast line like the Spanish Armada.

Karen: I'd like to point out here that at least the boats in Scotland are parked (moored?) properly, unlike automobiles!

Tavi: Karen's referring to a photo in our Stonehaven post. She doesn't know that in Madrid, cars sometimes park in the middle of the street!

Tavi: This day out on the canal and then the loch was one of my favourite days in all of our travel diary. I think it's maybe the magical, romantic aspect that the water has. The man-made canal less of course than the loch, but it does have its own mystic legend: the perhaps mythical Gaelic Brahan Seer once foretold its existence in a prophecy, saying that one day people would be able to sail around the distinctly water less Tomnahurich Hill.

Karen: I agree with Tavi; this was a wonderful excursion.

Tavi: Here, we clearly have some very mad people! They waved to us as we went by, perhaps to prove that they weren't frozen to death. You can't tell here, because maybe it looks warm due to the sky, but it is absolutely freezing. Even below my tolerance! Especially as I was the only one who wasn't wearing a warm rain jacket on the boat. I thought my red cardigan over a thin camisole top was adequate preparation for the weather, but when we got on the boat, the wind was howling. I had to wrap my fingers in my sleeves and huddle on the bench throughout most of our journey through the canal, hoping (rather misguidedly as it turned out) that it would be somehow less windy and cold on the loch.

Karen: It looked like a father and son camping alongside the canal. The father was trying to cook something, and had the red-and-white umbrella set up to shield the campfire from the wind.

Tavi: Here is a private boat docking temporarily within the lock. We're only going to Loch Ness, but private boats such as these can take their sailors the whole length of the Great Glen to the west coast.

Karen: There appeared to be two couples on this boat. The men were sitting down steering, while the women were doing the harder physical labour of tying up to the side of the lock.

Tavi: This is us going through one of the "locks" (not to be confused with "loch"). The water apparently is made to rise, and this helps us sail upwards. We only had one of these locks to go through in order to get into the lochs but further down the Great Glen, there is one called "Neptune's Staircase", which has eight in a row.

Tavi: Again, this looks like a lovely peaceful sailing day out with beautiful skies, but it is bitterly cold and windy, and we are about to enter Loch Dochfour, where things will get worse.

Karen: At this point most of the passengers, including us, are up on deck enjoying the wonderful views. The weather was invigorating; it put me in mind of a nice brisk autumn day in Chicago, walking down Michigan Avenue with a chilly wind coming off the lake.

Tavi: Loch Dochfour. *shivers*

Karen: Notice how the colour of the water and of the sky has changed from one picture to the next? This is what it really looked like.

Tavi: I don't know whom this house belongs to, but it is beautiful. I love the turrets, the widow's walk, the trees around it, and how it's on the banks of the loch. And it's neither too close nor too far from Inverness. Perhaps it could do with a barley field or two, though...

Karen: Why not throw in a few brambles and nettles while you're at it?! It was a lovely house, though, and somehow I think that whoever lives there doesn't have to worry about making a daily commute anywhere.

Tavi: Here we are about to enter Loch Ness. Compare the sky here to back when we were on the Caledonian Canal.

Karen: Not photoshopped. I couldn't get enough of the skies here. And remember, this is mid-July, the height of summer. Imagine what this must look like on a bleak November day.

Tavi: The loch looks calm and still here, but it is most definitely not! Already people were starting to flee. A few Taiwanese girls and a boy tried to open up an umbrella, which got ripped and almost taken away by the wind.

Karen: Yes, those are waves you see. Meanwhile, as people are starting to make their way downstairs, the crew cheerfully went about their business, not saying a word to those of us still topside.

Tavi: Here we go deeper into the loch. Water and lochs are very mystical in Scottish legends and Celtic mythology. Water is where the fairies and those of the Other World come from. Across the water is how King Arthur was taken to Avalon, and I think there are some who believe he was a king in Scotland. Wells also have a magical property, and that's possibly where the wishing well concept comes from: ancient custom was to circle the well and then put a silver coin in to have good fortune.

Karen: Good fortune on this particular afternoon might have taken the form of some gloves or woolen mufflers ("scarves" as Tavi insists they're called) being handed out by the crew.

Tavi: Not to mention a towel!!

Tavi: Movie clip! Karen and I were in the middle of taking pictures as we entered Loch Ness when suddenly a huge wave appeared out of nowhere and soaked us. We thought this was just a freak wave (Nessie under the boat!) but as we were filming the aftermath, we realized Nessie wasn't finished with us!

Karen: Having seen all three Pirates of the Caribbean movies, I should have anticipated this, but it was still a surprise when it happened!

Tavi: Most of the time I was pointing my camera ahead and then had to suddenly swirl round to turn away from the wave as it pounced upon me! About two minutes ago you would have seen some others next to me there, but by now they had dashed down the stairs and inside.

Karen: There were only three of us who stayed topside the all the way to Urquhart Castle. Tavi was the bravest (and consequently got the wettest). One of the Taiwanese girls and I found a somewhat sheltered spot on deck and stayed there, only occasionally venturing out to snap a photo like this one.

Tavi: My poor drenched camera!

Karen: Tavi's camera wasn't the only thing to be drenched. nicci_mac, are you paying attention here?

Tavi: The waves don't look like much here, but at very very very frequent, if very irregular, intervals, they would suddenly leap up and soak the entire deck like a tidal wave. It lasted for an hour, and I only stopped screaming after the first 15 minutes' worth.

Karen: Remember what I said earlier about Gilligan's Island?

Tavi: I think this is beautiful but it was breathtaking in a different, more literal, way on the boat! I was very close to the edge to do this. The waves were worse here, and I could see the captain inside looking at me as if I was mad. Behind me, everyone had vanished from the outer decks apart from one Taiwanese girl and Karen, who were both cowering behind the engine pillar which afforded some shelter from the waves, too frightened to follow the others down the slippery wet staircase.

Karen: If you read our Dunnottar Woods post, it won't surprise you that Tavi was very close to the edge. Of course, here she couldn't tell me that if she slipped and fell she'd just wind up against the tree conveniently in her path, and wouldn't go over the edge and into the water. Happily, though, there was no need to call "Man overboard!" on this trip.

*pointedly ignores the "cowering" and "too frightened" slurs* ;-p

Tavi: It was so NOT fair that I got so drenched and you stayed merely mildly damp!!!!!!!!

Tavi: I am absolutely drenched at this point and decided that I may get some better photos on the lower deck, because perhaps it was only the upper deck getting the full brunt of the waves. Wrong!!!!! The stairs were indeed very slippery, and I met with a wave in the face as soon as I made it down. Here's a recording of the waves close up from the lower deck, with the Highland music more prominent. It made me think of the music they played on the Titanic as it was sinking...

Karen: I'm very glad Tavi kept that Titanic comment to herself until now! I'm also glad that the Highland music didn't suddenly change to a recording of "Nearer, My God, to Thee"....

Tavi: Finally we approach Urquhart Castle, which is mostly in ruins. When I saw this, I thought back to the cartoon of The Family Ness, which is about two Scottish children, Angus and Elspeth. Their father is usually seen playing bagpipes on top of Urquhart Castle, bedecked out in a kilt and red beard. He never sees the Loch Ness Monster, but Angus and Elspeth have seen it...they've seen a whole family of them, such as Ferocious Ness, Silly Ness, Her High Ness, Sporty Ness (who likes to water-ski on the loch, of course) and can contact them with their "thistle whistles"!

Karen: Why am I just now hearing about Angus, Elspeth, and company?! Clearly Silly Ness is the most photogenic of the bunch (or the one most anxious for her fifteen minutes of fame), because every little souvenir Nessie plushie I saw anywhere in Scotland had this idiotic expression on its face.

Tavi: Would have told you at the time, but I couldn't reach you for some reason... :p And Silly Ness is a 'he'.

Tavi: Other than this cartoon, Nessie is actually thought to have some family: "Morag", the monster of Loch Moray. There are legends of a hidden water tunnel between the two lochs. On the other hand, many believe the sightings of the Nessies were fuelled by a scene in King Kong. But the legend of a monster goes further back than that to St Columba, Inverness's other visiting mystic. Unlike the Brahan Seer, St Columba's magical powers were grounded in the present. It was written that when the monster showed itself, St Columba managed to drive it back into the depths with words (and presumably his magic staff). He also marched on Inverness itself, and when refused entry, tapped on the city gates with his magic staff, and they opened for him.

Karen: And why exactly was St. Columba marching on Inverness? And what did he do when the gates finally opened?

Tavi: I think he wanted to be-christianize them all like he did apparently the monster?

Tavi: There's no known Brahan prophecy about the Loch itself (nothing like "In July 2008, Tavi will forget a coat and get very wet!"), but there is a connection to the River Ness. The seer is said to have declared that come the day there were five bridges over the Ness, there would be disaster in the world. Those who like the legends point to how the Second World War started the day after the five bridges. And also it was said that when Inverness was daring to build not just five but nine bridges, there would be fire and flood. The Piper Alpha oil spill happened within a year.

Karen: Parents! Please tell your children that "Blame Scotland!" is not going to get them high marks when they're asked in a History exam to discuss the immediate and underlying causes of World War II.

Tavi: Damn it! I had to do an essay a few months ago about whether liberalism and the international community was the cause! I could have mentioned that.

Tavi: Karen took this dreadful picture secretly! This is me still looking drenched and shell-shocked, even though the waves have been quiet for the ten minutes it took to pull in to Urquhart Castle. My hair is slowly slowly drying, but my red cardigan, unbeknownst to me at this moment here, is staying drenched and is sinking into my skin, making me even colder. I only realized it when we were coming back on the canal, and my hair was dry but the rest of me was still very damp. I took it off but was still shaking even when we arrived back for the bus.

Karen: I was going to say something about this being the latest fashion craze - the "drowned rat" look - but taking a good look at Tavi's face, there's nothing amusing about it. I'm more shocked now looking at this photo than I was when I took it, and I really do think people should have been given some warning what to expect. (Or at the very least they should have had towels for sale downstairs along with the postcards and cold drinks.)

Tavi: On the way back, we decided to watch the loch downstairs through the windows inside instead, which was definitely a much better idea. There's definitely something of an atmosphere you miss from not being up on deck, but at least you stay dry. If anyone plans to do this trip, bring a warm hooded coat, and a towel!

Tavi: Inside there is also a computer showing the boat's sonar tracking of the loch beneath it. We're supposed to watch out for any large deviation that could be Nessie! For many, Nessie is supposed to be a descendant of plesiosaurs. Sadly there are many points against this: the Loch was ice about ten thousand years ago, and there's certainly not enough fish or eels in the loch to feed one, let alone the whole colony of Family Ness.

Karen: Even the occasional tourist who falls overboard probably wouldn't add much to the food supply. :-(

Tavi: Oh yes, that reminds me! We saw a lovely postcard of the monster sitting up in the loch writing a letter: "Dear Tourist Board, please send more tourists, they were delicious!!!"

Tavi: Although she didn't see the Loch Ness monster, here Karen gets introduced to one of Scotland's treasures: Irn Bru. "Irn" is pronounced iron, and no one knows what is actually in it. A nervous Karen asked me what flavour it was, but if you've ever tried it, you can't answer. All I can say is, despite its vivid colouring, it doesn't taste of orange, or any other fruit.

Karen: I'll have more opportunities to sample this drink now that I'm back home. A local shop carries British imports, including Irn Bru.

After we were off the loch and back on the canal, we went by the father-son campsite again. The boy was fishing (probably catching dinner), and the father was only visible as a pair of legs sticking out the opening of the tent. We also saw a male jogger (in very short jogging shorts) running along the path bordering the canal. He passed us on one side of the canal, made a couple of turns, and then passed us again going the opposite direction on the other side of the canal. We must have a photo of him somewhere....

Tavi: I'm afraid I think we missed him. Maybe he was a ghost! Oh, and *whispers* Karen doesn't know this, but I've just looked up Irn Bru, and one of the rumoured ingredients is...barley!

Next Chapter: Karen and Tavi visit the old sacred Scone Palace where kings were crowned, Ruthven Castle where kings were allegedly cursed by black magic, and we have an encounter with the peacocks of Perthshire!

Tags: karen and tavi's scotland adventures, loch ness, scotland, travel

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