We left Edinburgh in a rental car – an orange Renault Twingo. “What is a Twingo?” you ask. Well, I can tell you because I looked it up. The name is a combination of the words “twist,” “swing,” and “tango,” and supposedly refers to the fun nature of the car. It is a nice zippy little thing. We headed north to Stirling and then up to Doune to do something that we both wanted to do very much—visit the castle where Monty Python and the Holy Grail was filmed. I went last year, but didn’t get to go inside. This time we actually got to go inside and up to the top where we could pretend like we were farting in people’s general direction and all that. No coconuts, though. Then we headed up to the Glen Coe area which is another one of my favorite places in the world.
As you drive from Edinburgh into the Highlands, the landscape goes from farmland to high craggy mountains and tranquil lakes. You pass through innumerable small towns each one just as quaint and picturesque as the next. Immediately we began discussing the possibility of living in one of these out of the way places. “All we need is two Twingos and a cottage,” said Adam. It may be marginally more complicated than that, but why ruin the fun?
To stand on the road in front of The Three Sisters in Glen Coe is awe inspiring. It doesn’t matter how many times I have been there, it is always breathtaking. You are penned in completely by mountains of variegated greens and browns. Huge boulders jut out indiscriminately, waterfalls tumble down the cliffs, tiny sprays of purple flowers peek through the greens and browns. I have always wanted to go hiking there and this was the first time that I actually got to do it.
We were looking to do the “Lost Valley” trail which takes you through the center of two of the three sisters to a valley where the MacDonald clan used to hide their stolen cattle. Unfortunately, since the trails aren’t marked, we took the other trail which requires you to basically climb a mountain. I say unfortunately, but it was beautiful when I wasn’t panting my way up the steep rocks. In fact, I did rather well until we got almost to the summit and I lost my nerve. Adam went up ahead and since there was no longer any trail, I tried to scramble up the loose rock and dirt towards the top. Then two things happened. A semi-large rock dislodged from above and came tumbling down into my path and I had to jump to the other side of the path so that it wouldn’t knock me off into the waterfall below. Then I slipped and couldn’t get a foot hold, so I hung onto the grass clumps on the side for several minutes until I could figure out a way to scramble onto more stable land. These two occurrences convinced me that I had come quite far enough. I was disappointed in myself, but Adam came back down and gallantly made me feel better about it saying that it wasn’t really that spectacular on the other side and I had done a pretty good job climbing a mountain that we hadn’t expected to climb. I felt better and contented myself with taking some pictures of the view from the almost-top.
Coming down was nearly as difficult as going up. The rock was loose and there were several sections where we slid. I finally fell down properly for the first time this trip. Usually I have pretty good balance and I catch myself before I totter over, but this time I was unable to pull it off. There are two halves to a potential fall. The first half is the part where you trip or slip and you don’t know yet if you are going to fall. At this stage you are totally immersed in doing whatever it takes not to go down no matter how silly it looks. My personal style is generally the wild arm flail followed by a kind of hopping dance. However, sometimes you go over the edge into the second half and this is when you have done everything that you could and now you know that a fall is inevitable. This is a very bad feeling indeed. In this stage the thought process goes something like this: “I am really going to do this. Yes, falling down is certain now. Where am I, on rocks? Hmm. That is going to hurt. I wonder how much it’s going to hurt. I hope not too badly. Ouch. Yes, that did smart quite a bit. What’s the damage? Skinned ankle, bruised hip, could have been worse. I can’t believe I just did that. I am lying on the ground right now. Get up stupid. I really wish those strangers hadn’t seen me biff it.”
Later on our way in a young girl fell down and started crying. I wanted to tell her to stop being such a baby.
There really isn’t much in the way of food in the Glen Coe area, so we took a drive to Fort William which is a nice little town with good views of Ben Nevis when the weather cooperates which it didn’t on this particular occasion. We decided on a take-away place that served kebabs and burgers and the like. There was one old lady running the place. I innocently asked her what the difference was between a “single” burger and the “supper.” That old bitch smiled at me condescendingly and said, “Well, the single is just a burger by itself and the supper is a burger with chips. See how simple that is?” And then she cackled like I was the biggest idiot she had seen in a long time. I thought that Adam might lunge over the counter and grab her by her wrinkly throat, but instead we both stood there silently seething. Later he said that he wanted to smack the last tooth out of her mouth, but I’m sure that would have seriously impaired our ability to procure food from that particular establishment.
Fortunately that old hag is the exception. Almost everyone you meet in Scotland is helpful and friendly and will go out of his way to give you information and tips if you ask. And you can use that information…if you can understand it. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE the Scottish accent. It is my favorite accent, in fact. But the further north you go in Scotland, the harder it is to understand someone on the first try. I have to concentrate hard because I feel it is bad form to ask, “What?” more than twice. After the first “I’m sorry?” the person will repeat himself normally as if you didn’t hear him. After the second, “Come again?” he will slow down his pronunciation as if you are slightly retarded. This helps not at all since it is the vowels and not the speed which hinder my comprehension. After that if you still don’t get it, you just have to guess what the person might be saying through context and consonant sounds. For instance, if I am buying a hot dog and the person hands it to me and says words, I can fairly assume that he is asking me something about the condiments that I might like applied to it. However, if someone comes up out of the blue shouting at you, you are screwed.
But I digress for too long. We will be going to Skye soon which is my happy place.