SCOTLAND ODYSSEY : MURDERS & MARTYRS

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Saturday, November 7, 2009

Fri 6.11.09 (Day 8):  It’s 11:21 and after leaving Glen Finnan this morning I’m now at the Invergarry Hotel and have just enjoyed a marvellous breakfast of Scot’s 'porage' with cream and honey and definitely the best cup of coffee I’ve had since arriving in the UK.
 
Just back down the road I came across Loch Oich and the Seven-headed Monument I so badly wanted to get to.
 
As it happened, it’s right alongside the road with a rather ugly ‘Seven-headed Shop’ opposite it despite which the scenery onto Loch Oich is still delightful and there is a board which explains the significance of the spot very well - pardon the pun because the monument is situated over the well where the severed heads of the unfortunate seven were washed!
 
As the story is told, they make it sound as if the act was fully justified and not an atrocity as we would tend to regard it today.  In fact it was sanctioned by the powers that be as lawful vengeance, which explains the inscription:  “To equal and summary justice”.
 
On the opposite side of Loch Oich is a serene campsight (talk about a paradox!)  and a group of cold-looking ducks huddled near the well, clinging to a half-submerged jetty, not seeming to relish the water around their feet.
 
The Invergarry Hotel where I so enjoyed my breakfast is a family concern.  Just before leaving I looked around a bit and enjoyed the tasteful, understated furnishing and décor.  I also read about the history of the hotel and the explanation of the motto on the front gable ‘Sperno’:  “We neither fear nor despise”.  I thought I might adopt it for myself. 
 
I then moved outside and took some photos of the building, the bridge across the way and the ‘fisherman’ in the garden.
 
As I was doing so I became aware of a screeching sound becoming ever more loud and just as I was thinking that it was caused by the tyres of a heavy vehicle approaching at speed, a jet passed low overhead under the heavy cloud cover. 
 
I asked a gentleman passerby if there was an airforce base in the vicinity and he explained that the airforce use the Great Glen for training purposes as it sharpens their low-flying skills and reactions which then comes in useful in places like Afghanistan.  
 
We got chatting about things in general and I found out that he was a Mancurian who told me he felt a bit out of place living among the reticent Scots whereas people from Manchester hold nothing back and are very direct. 
 
He recognised that I was South African and we spent some time philosophising about life in general  with him mentioning that he had had “some shit in my life” that he was still dealing with.  He didn’t elaborate but said it had to do with divorce, death etc.  
 
Over breakfast in the hotel I checked the road ahead on the map and decided to take the slightly longer route by continuing up/down the Great Glen to Fort Augustus at the head of Loch Ness.
 
Fort Augustus proved to be a very interesting place and one that is obviously very popular with tourists, particularly youthful ones. 
 
Whilst walking through the place I came across an old timber trestle bridge for which a local organization is trying to raise funds to restore.  It was built to span the gap caused in the original old stone bridge by a flood many years ago and is now itself of historical importance but has become rotten and unsafe. 
 
I then walked down to the top end of Loch Ness where there’s a small pier with a bollard at the end of it.  The loch was looking very placid and there was no-one else there apart from a young couple in a car.  I walked to the end of the pier and decided that I had to have a photo of myself taken standing on the bollard with the loch behind me.  So I went over to the car and asked the young guy behind the wheel, who told me he was Dimitri from Greece, if he wouldn’t help and he was happy to do so. 
 
As he was lining up the shot his girlfriend, or perhaps wife (I got the impression they may be honeymooners), called out something from the car which he translated as “make sure it’s a good one”. 
 
He took a couple, one of me with my arms outstretched.  I was happy with the result, so much so that it’s the one I’m using to identify myself in this blog.
 
From Fort Augustus I drove to Invermoriston where I found the old hotel just as it is described in ‘HH’ (p.123).
 
I didn’t do anything there apart from taking a photograph of the hotel and popping into a little corner shop (‘The Press & Journal’) to buy a local paper . 
 
I spotted a sign indicating a path to “St Columba’s Well”.  I was tempted to investigate but decided against it because there was a light drizzle and it was only after I had driven some distance from Invermoriston that I read in ‘HH’ (p.127) that the well was a spot where according to legend St Columba had blessed the water. 
 
I kicked myself quietly for not following my instincts and going to have a look at it.
 
Further on down Glen Moriston, which is written about so enthusiastically in ‘HH’, I passed a simple cairn alongside the road with some steps leading up to it. Something made me think it must be a site of some significance and I turned around and parked near it to have a look. 
 
Before doing so I consulted ‘HH’ (p.126) where I read what it was that made the place important.  It also explained the sign erected nearby by the Scottish Unionists. 
 
The cairn marks the spot where Roderick Mackenzie met his end being mistaken for and pretending to be the fugitive Bonny Prince Charlie.
 
The road carried on down alongside Loch Cluanie fringed by high mountains with water rushing down in rivulets.  I stopped at one point to photograph one such rivulet and found myself being watched closely by two deer just off the road.  Took a nice shot of the two looking as if it was two heads at either end of one body.
 
The road then went on down the very dramatic Glen Shiel, descending to Loch Duich.  Only then did I realise that this was the loch of the famous Eilean Donan, the “most photographed” castle in Scotland. 
 
As it was getting dark so when I spotted Kintail Lodge at Shiel Bridge I went in to enquire about accommodation. There was a building annexed to it called ‘The Wee Bunkhouse’ as well as a ‘Trekkers Lodge’ which I thought may offer a reasonable rate. 
 
But there was no sign of life, so I decided to press on and take a look at Eilean Donan before dark.  I did so and as impressive as is the place and its setting on the loch, it looked quite somber and forbidding in the failing light and rainy conditions.
 
I then went back to Kintail by which time there was life in the place and I was given a room in ‘Trekkers Lodge’ for 13 pounds 50.  Excellent value! 
 
After unpacking I went over to the pub in the hotel itself where there were just a few locals at the one end of the pub talking about fishing and the merits of catamarans.
 
They didn’t pay much attention to me and I minded my own business taking in the photographs on the walls. They were mainly to do with mountaineering in the area which is well known for its ‘monroes’ - mountains over 3 000 ft. 
 
Eventually I saw an opportunity to join the conversation and was invited by the company at the bar counter to “coorie-in”, a new expression to me which I was told means, “become one of us”.
 
I had a long conversation with a fellow, John, and his brother-in-law, Brian – the fisherman. John has a plumbing business but also owns a boat. 
 
Others arrived including a chap in a camouflage outfit who works as a ranger in the hills and whose job mainly entails hunting jackal to protect the sheep.  He is Colin Campbell and he’s been to SA.
 
In fact, the owner of the Kintail Lodge regularly visits SA as has a brother in Cape Town.  She told me that she had owned a house in Franschoek which she restored and sold quite reluctantly but for a very good price.
 
By then quite a lot of liquor had been consumed and Brian fell off the bus after knocking back a couple of ‘drams’.  He was driven home by his wife and John also left soon afterwards.  I had a long chat to another patron, P J Smyth, followed by a couple of games of pool with Colin and then took myself to bed.
 
Earlier in the evening, John said that a place I absolutely had to visit in the area was Plockton which he said was one of the most beautiful places in Scotland and of which I had never heard.  Its one disadvantage, according to John, was that it is very popular with the English! 
 More about Plockton in my next posting.
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