Wednesday, 10 October 2012

East Coast to West Coast in a Day

Our Saturday in Scotland was the highlight of the trip for us. Andy was pretty keen to drive to the west coast so after a few discussions of how to best manage that with Walter we decided to go for it. We began our trip by leaving Aberdeen via the east coast, since Andy was very insistent that it was important we see both coasts on the same day.

Walter managed the three-hour drive to Inverness quite well, by obligingly sleeping until the moment we pulled into the Inverness Tesco for fuel & caffeine. After a half-hour break of changing & feeding he was ready for the road again and we set off through the highlands towards Ullapool. I was very excited, as we had been planning to go to Ullapool last New Year’s with Pippa & Andy until my first-trimester exhaustion made us rethink any plans that involved me having to be awake past 8pm.

Ullapool is a small village with a saltwater loch on the west coast. The harbour area is quite beautiful and Andy suggested we lunch at the Ferry Boat Inn where we could enjoy our meal from a table overlooking the water. The food was excellent (chicken on a bed of haggis with a creamy mustard sauce) as was the whiskey. After lunch the two gents went off to a bookstore while Walter & I browsed in some gift shops and a small market before meeting up with them. I had wanted to find something special for Walter to commemorate his trip to Scotland and at the bookstore I found a little kid’s book in Scotch Gaelic. David is learning Gaelic and thus will read the book to Walter and translate it for him. I really enjoy the idea of Walter having a book in a language he doesn’t know to commemorate a trip he doesn’t remember. The woman at the bookstore did not seem impressed with either of us or our plan for the book :) I suppose it is not every day that a Super Linguist comes into her store and so her seeming dubious at David’s ability to just “pick up” her language is fair enough.

The harbour in Ullapool
From Ullapool we drove to the UK’s most remote bookstore, Achins, which is relatively hidden in the highland hills. More book browsing and the purchase of another book in Gaelic, this time a collection of folk songs for us to add to our folk collection. We enjoyed a coffee break in the bookstore’s coffee shop and then pressed on north, to do a circuit alongside the west coast.

The long hill up to Achin's Bookshop. I have no idea who the woman in the picture is -- instead of moving out of shot when she saw I had my camera out, she posed and gave me a huge smile...

View from outside Achin's, looking over the highlands.

Our drive along the west coast was a highlight of the trip for me. It is a single track road, relatively deserted by car-traffic but fairly well used by the highland sheep which disdain to distinguish between hill & highway (and the crofters who disdain to use fences!). The landscape was unlike anything I had ever seen before. With mountains leading down to an ocean whose horizon was broken by the odd island it sounds as if it should resemble the views we’re used to on Vancouver Island but the way our coasts were formed are from two different geological events and thus they look completely different. The hills and mountains were a rainbow of green, brown, and purple because the heather was in bloom. The coast-line curved in and out, sometimes embracing small islands and sometimes appearing lonesomely stoic. Tall mountains rose up here and there from the hills, but there was no uniform chain. It had a wild, haunting beauty which I normally associate with my own west coast. 

The West Coast

Highland hills lit up with heather

As darkness descended we returned to Ullapool and back to the Ferry Boat Inn for supper. Fortunately they have an extensive dinner menu, as I didn’t fancy having the same meal twice in a day, so I indulged with an option a little closer to home and got a cheeseburger. It’s worth mentioning because finding a decent burger in the UK is a difficult feat but the FBI managed to pull it off. David had bbq’d pork chops which had a sauce that’s good like back home but that great English pork which Canadian pork products just cannot match. Walter spent his time eating and making big eyes at crowds of older ladies, thus meaning we could enjoy our meal in relative peace.

We ended up back on the road much later than planned, but I excused myself and took a nap when Walter fell asleep, since I knew I’d be awake before everyone else but Walter on Sunday. Thus the drive back was a lovely blur for me, although I’m assured that we made it to Aberdeen in record time. 

West Coast of Scotland

East Coast of Scotland

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