Going to sleep and staying asleep was another matter. I was up at
2 AM again, but managed to go back to sleep. Slowly, my sleep patterns
were adjusting. I was sleeping more and more every night. Donna and I were
up at 5 AM, Tuesday, May 29. Every place we stayed at had a coffee pot
in the room. We could have tea or hot chocolate, and sometimes there were
"biscuits" (cookies). Sugar came in little straw-like packages. I was getting
used to having hot chocolate in the morning. We turned on the TV news.
The weather said Britain was having a colder May than usual. It was indeed
brisk outside when I went for a short walk. There was a gas station down
the hill from the hotel. I looked at the snack shelf, which displayed bags
of things called Hula-Hoops, Squares and Discos.
Breakfast was in the hotel restaurant. The eggs were kind of runny. People talked about the chilly weather. We sat near Susan, who said it was 100 degrees in Phoenix when she left. The restaurant was full; apparently, there was a busload of people from a different tour staying at the hotel along with us. I looked through the newspapers laid out for us. I was missing my comic strips. British newspapers are not big on "funny pages." Neither the London Times nor the Independent had more than one or two cartoons. The Metro had some funnies, though.
We all filed out to the bus at 8:30. Every day, we rotated the seats on the coach, so that everybody would have a different view. That day, it was our turn to sit in the front seats, right up on the left side. We would've been right behind the driver on an American bus.
We got off the M90 and headed for St. Andrew's, where Prince William went to school. We passed the turnoff for Falkland Palace, a former home of Scottish kings. It was yet another castle burned by Oliver Cromwell. There was a little ruined tower on an island in the distance. The landscape was dotted with some lovely volcanic mounds. I noted that for a two-lane road, it was pretty busy. Some of the roundabouts in England are so busy they have their own names. We went around the Melville Lodges Roundabout, and past the Scottish Deer Centre. Donna thought it funny for Scotland to work so hard preserving the deer population, when in Oklahoma they can be something of a nuisance. The coach took us through the towns of Auchtermuchty (a Gaelic term meaning "Field of Boars") and Cupar. Down St. Catherine Street, was another war memorial, this one with a big angel. Off to one side, we saw the Quaker Oats Factory. There were rumors of a hot porridge pipeline running from there to Edinburgh. We saw fields of peas, and another war memorial. The rain seemed to let up, then started coming back down again. There was a NATO base at nearby Guardbridge. Crossing the River Eden, Nick the tour guide noted that the river was low. That was because the tide was out. Far off on the horizon was a dark line of blue: the North Sea.
We stopped inside the British Golf Museum, which had an interesting display of hands. Famous golfers had allowed their particular golf club grips to be immortalized in bronze. I'm not much of a golf fan, but it was very interesting. Donna and I looked through a gift shop, but didn't buy anything. We braved the harsh weather outside and walked up to the Scores Hotel, overlooking the North Sea. I got myself a much-welcome cup of hot chocolate in the restaurant. It turned out to be a Best Western hotel. They're everywhere.
At 11 AM, we boarded the coach and headed north for Dundee. The rain made it hard to get any good pictures out the windows of the coach. We crossed the River Tay, which is wide near Dundee. It's not quite a bay– more like a quay. I wondered if a pub on the Tay bay quay sold Tanqueray... The city of Dundee was wet and modern as we rode through. We all needed to take a "loo break." Along the waterfront, we pulled over near a an old, wooden, tall-masted ship docked close by. It was the RRS Discovery, the ship Captain Robert Scott and Ernest Shackleton took to explore the Antarctic in 1901. It was also the last wooden three-masted ship built in the British isles. There was a little museum next to the ship, guarded in front by fiberglass penguins. We were only supposed to stay a minute, but some travelers darted through the gift shop before returning to the coach.
The tide was in, high and grey, as we passed the Tay Rail Bridge. When it was officially opened by Queen Victoria in 1878, it was one of the longest bridges in the world. The rain was coming down pretty steady by then. Through the downpour, we rolled on, passing parks and soccer fields and domitories. Dundee University is one of the world's leaders in cancer research. We were soon out of the city on the A90 and driving through farm country. There were fields of strawberries and fruit all the way to Perth. The wooded hills were charming. I saw some highland cattle, all brown and furry, scratching their necks on a handy fence. We went through Perth at noon. There was a light-colored building beside the road. Nick explained it was originally built for French prisoners during the Napoleonic Wars. It was still raining as we turned through the Broxton Roundabout and continued north. We were back on two-lane roads again. I knew we had a long drive ahead of us when the driver put on a CD of Scottish ballads. We crossed the River Almond, and climbed into a deep valley with steep wooded hillsides.
I saw a truckload of portable toilets going down the highway, all belonging to a company called "Event-a-Loo." We were heading towards another side trip, and since only a few of us were not going, they were dropped off in the picturesque Victorian town of Pitlochry. From there, the coach took us through the Perthshire woods to Blair Castle.
|I thought being in Scotland would remind me of Scotty from "Star Trek,"
but instead I kept thinking of Groundskeeper Willie from "The Simpsons:"
"Brothers and sisters are natural enemies. Like Englishmen and Scots! Or Welshmen and Scots! Or Japanese and Scots! Or Scots and other Scots! Damn Scots! They ruined Scotland!"
|It was wild, raw country. A buzzard flew overhead. There was deer alongside
the road. I spotted a group of about 8 over on the right, 45 degrees up
the mountainside, about 100 yards away. They were big ones, too. Scarred
patches on the hillsides showed where the heather had been burned off.
It was done on purpose to make the heather grow back stronger. It also
attracted grouse, which were valuable to hunters. We got off the highway
and passed through the little village of Dalwhinnie, world-famous for its
whiskey. The road narrowed as we went through a wide valley. At times,
it was barely a one-lane road. The coach crossed the River Spey, and we
arrived at our little hotel in Laggan.
So, where the heck is Laggan? Laggan is deep in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park, Britain's largest park, covering 3,800 kilometers-- about as off the beaten trail as you could get.
We got settled in, and had time to relax before supper. Several others joined me outside to take pictures of the amazing views. I went to the hotel pub. Following the practice of "think globally, drink locally," I ordered one of the local beers. The bartender brought me a brew called a Sheepshagger. It was very tasty. I had expected British beers to all be warm, but the Sheepshagger was chilled. In fact, he asked me if I wanted it chilled or "super-chilled." All the beers I got in Britain were served cold. Donna had a hot cup of tea, and we spent a lovely time sitting by the fire, relaxing the comfortable chairs. The Sheepshagger cracked me up. The label read, "The best beer baa none." The hotel apparently had the only pub for miles around, and several locals came by to sit with us. One girl picked up my bottle and said to herself, "Sheepshagger comes in a bottle?" (I was glad she said that and not me.) I also had a bottle of Nessie's Monster Mash, a dark, heavy beer, also locally brewed. I didn't have enough British cash for any more after that. The hotel did take credit cards, but only if you spent 20 pounds or more. I made a mental note to find a bank or post office the next day and exchange all my traveler's checks for British money. We went out onto the enclosed porch to enjoy the view. The air was wet and chilly outside, but we were comfortably warm on the porch. Looking out at the rugged landscape, I kept thinking, this was the Scotland I came to see. I think it was Jocelyn who commented, "Why couldn't we stay here two nights?"
I was updating my journal when I noticed Joan from Utah writing in her journal. We struck up a conversation with her and her husband Colin. Donna thought the temperature change from Utah must have been a shock, but Joan said it got cold in Utah, too. Brien & Elaine came out, and we talked about sheep and cattle and living on a farm. They sat with us at supper that evening. Donna asked them about their home in New Zealand. They said everyplace in New Zealand was no more than 2 hours form the ocean. They went to the Scottish Night dinner the night before, but weren't very impressed. Brien said the vegetables were barely cooked at all.