|We were quickly on our way again. At Fort William we saw more locks
of the Caledonian Canal. We were traveling southwest on the A82. At Invergarry,
the coach slowed down long enough for us to get a glimpse of the Well of
the Seven Heads. In 1663, two members of the Keppoch family were killed
by seven of their own cousins. The murderers were captured and beheaded.
Before their heads were presented to the clan chief, they were washed in
the waters from the well. The monument near the well was built in 1812.
We passed the fresh water lake of Loch Lochy. I wanted to ask about the
Battle of the Shirts, which took place there in 1544. It was a terrible
battle between the Clan Fraser and the Clan Donald. I wish we could've
stopped to look around.
We did stop further down the road at the Commando Memorial. During World
War II, over 25,000 men received military training in nearby Achnacarry.
The soldiers came from America, France, Belgium, Poland and Norway, as
well as Britain. The memorial commemorates all those soldiers that died
during the war. Nearby is a small, humble memorial to fallen soldiers since
World War II. Most of them were tiny, homemade memorials. They reminded
me of the memorials posted on the fence around the Oklahoma City Bombing
site. One memorial was only two months old, remembering a British soldier
that had been killed in Afghanistan. The travel brochures said the Commando
Memorial would give us a view of Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the
British isles. That day, however, it was completely hidden behind storm
We pulled into a little town beside the road. That's where we stopped for
lunch. By then, the rain had mostly let up. There was a hotel, a couple
of places to eat, a gift shop-- and a post office. It was a little general
store that doubled as a post office. We managed to get to it right before
it closed for lunch. I needed to exchange my money for British money. That's
not all I got. Scotland prints its own paper money, and even some banks
in Scotland have their own currency. They all had fascinating, colorful
designs. I remarked to the lady at the post office that British money was
so much prettier than American money. She replied, "Have you seen the
Jack Nicklaus five pound note?" I never got around to seeing that.
Nick the tour guide had bragged about one restaurant in town having
some great soup. On a cold, wet day like that, soup sure sounded good.
By the time we were done with the post office, there was a long line for
soup. So, we walked around to the hotel, which had its own café.
Donna and I ordered fish and chips, which were delicious. We found a place
to sit outside under a picnic shelter. We ate fish and chips in a drizzling
Scottish rain, washed down with a 9 proof bottle of Kingfisher beer, and
I thought, I like Scotland. Before we left, I stopped in
the gas station and picked up one of those no-holds-barred British tabloids
I'd always heard about. One of them had a picture of the prime minister
on the cover, with the headline "Vanity Blair."
We left the little town at 1:35. We went through Fort William, but didn't
see much more than the train station. Loch Linnhe was a cloudy blur out
the windows. The rain got so bad that taking pictures was almost impossible.
The coach passed a bridge over water. To the right was Loch Linnhe, and
to the left was Loch Leven. We turned southeast towards Glencoe. Great
monstrous mountains appeared out of the ground with little warning. Glencoe
was the site of a terrible massacre. In 1692, 37 MacDonalds of the MacDonald
Clan were killed by their guests the Campbells over their allegiance to
the new king, William of Orange. Their homes were burned, and their livestock
stolen. Donna, being a Campbell, had mixed emotions. The mountain views
were breathtaking. Part of the movie "Rob Roy" was filmed nearby. In the
winter, the rugged landscape becomes ski country. One mountain had a chair
lift that disappeared into the clouds. There was still some snow left on
the higher elevations. We saw some dramatic waterfalls off on the right.
In every direction we saw hikers, backpacks piled high, bundled-up against
the weather. They were following the West Highland Way through the mountains.
At one point, I put down my camera to just marvel at the scenery. Mile
after mile, the land rolled past like ocean waves, huge hills of mossy
earth surrounded by craggy titans. In trying to describe the Highlands,
words fail me. I was just overwhelmed. Stunning scenery.
I tried to ignore the traffic as it zoomed along past us. Vehicles were
barreling down the tight, narrow roads at breakneck speeds, flying mere
inches past each other. I didn't understand why there wasn't a dozen head-on
collisions in Britain every day. At the foot of one mountain, more hikers
watched as a train rumbled by. Leaving the mountains behind us, we pulled
into the Trossachs, called by some a "mini-highland." Our coach passed
through a thick, wooded area. Rob Roy MacGregor is buried in nearby Balquhidder
churchyard. The road narrowed to 1-lane, and going around a wide corner
It was a relief to arrive at Loch Lomand, the largest expanse of water
in Great Britain. A Highlander greeted us with some bagpipe music as we
crossed from the coach to a small dock. A ship awaited to take us on a
short cruise. Donna and I climbed aboard and found seats near one of the
windows. The air was brisk. We cast off and began a casual cruise along
the water. The boat ride seemed like a ride back in time. Riding out on
the water felt simple and pure, a classic manner of travel for thousands
of years. The water of the loch was dark and slate grey. Completely opaque.
After being cooped up in the bus for hours, it was wonderfully refreshing
to be out in the fresh air. Donna and I sipped on some hot tea. Many people
took videos. We were out on the loch for about an hour before returning
to the coach. Back on the road, we passed the Loch Lomand Golf Club, the
most expensive golf club in Britain. It costs 70,000 pounds to join. Sean
Connery and Bill Clinton were both members. Above, the rain stopped, and
the sun finally started to break through the clouds. We passed the garage
where race car driver Jackie Stewart worked for his father as a mechanic.
Nearby was the port of Faslane, where British nuclear submarines came to
dock. The sun appeared and shone over the bright green landscape. The sky
turned blue and completely clear. Why couldn't it have been like that all
We approached the River Clyde, and crossed over the grand Erskine Bridge
towards Glasgow. The Queen Elizabeth II recently put to port in Glasgow,
which was still a major shipping and shipbuilding point. Glasgow had two
soccer teams, the Rangers and the Celtics. The Rangers were supported by
local Presbyterians, and the Celtics were supported by the Roman Catholics.
Ahead, a traffic jam appeared. The driver pulled off the highway to get
around the jam. We pulled down Seward Street to Paisley Road, then turned
into an apartment block. Turning around, the driver explained, "We're just
experimenting." He got us around the traffic jam, but after putting up
with congesting on the Broken Arrow Expressway it didn't look that bad.
We arrived at the hotel just before 6 PM. Pulling up to the lobby, we had
our only traffic incident of the whole trip. The rear-view mirrors of the
coach stuck out in front of the vehicle like the lures off a huge angler
fish. One of them scraped against an unexpected artsy overhang that stuck
out from the hotel's exterior. There was no damage. It looked like that
overhang had been bumped before, too. The Glasgow Crowne Plaza was a very
ritzy hotel. Inside, we took the "panoramic elevator" to our room on the
fourth floor. A complimentary terry cloth robe was laid out on the bed.
The hair dryer was in a drawer next to the Bible. The mini-fridge was full
of expensive items we tried not to touch. I turned on the TV, and found
a bunch of weird programs... and "The Simpsons." The news was covering
the story of the parents of a kidnaped British girl who got to visit with
the Pope. Out our window, the view of the River Clyde was tremendous.
A lot of the group went out for a "Glasgow Evening"side trip. Donna and
I opted out of that. We went downstairs for supper. The brochure said the
hotel had three places to eat, so we stopped at the front desk and asked
for the "casual" one. The girl's Scottish accent was so thick neither of
us understood what she said, so we just went in the direction she pointed.
We were the only people in the restaurant. The buffet had 5 different kinds
of salads, 4 different entrees and 7 different desserts to choose from.
I had cheesecake! I checked out the health club, which had lots of exercise
machines but no sauna. There were German tourists everywhere. In the lobby,
I passed Colin and Joan as they returned from seeing Glasgow. They said
it was getting colder outside. I could see scary, dark clouds gathering
in the grey sky. A bitter wind blew through the lobby every time the front
doors opened. I decided to check out the bar. I didn't recognize any of
the labels displayed, so I ordered a Mangers. I thought it was beer. The
bartender got out a glass and started putting ice in it. I asked if that's
how it was usually served, and he said yes. That's because it turned out
to be Irish cider, 4.5% alcohol. I found it refreshing. I couldn't taste
the alcohol at all. I sat down and got caught up on my writing. The hotel
gift shop had electrical adapters that let Donna plug in her stuff-- that
was an achievement.
We'd been away from home for a whole week. It seemed longer. That first
day seemed like two or three. I was running out of clean clothes –or, I
should say, cleaner clothes. Fortunately, I found spray deodorant
in the gift shop. That made me feel much better.