Monday 8 October 2007 I'm off for Knoydart today, a place I've wanted to visit for several years--in fact,
it was booked in 2005, but lost when I had to go home. I'm a little nervous about it, as it's different from any place
I've been before. There is no road access. One may ferry from Mallaig, or make the long trek in overland. I'm taking the
ferry, of course, and I suppose it's not unlike going to any island, except I can't bring the car.
I've allowed three hours from Inveraray to Mallaig. There are major roadworks along the Road to the Isles; the last few twisting single-track sections are being widened and straightened. The road might be losing some of its character, but I doubt there are any objections to the improvement of access.
I arrive in Mallaig in time to book my onward passage to Skye on Wednesday, park my car in a long-term area, and do a little shopping. At 2:00 I board the MV Western Isles, bound for Inverie with a dozen other passengers and boxloads of groceries and other goods. We depart under a blanket of cloud, but the sky shortly begins to break, and we land forty-five minutes later in full sun.
Inverie is a pretty little whitewashed village. I take note of the pub and the Pier House restaurant as I pass through, as well as the shop and post office, which keeps decidedly short hours. The Knoydart Foundation bunkhouse is about a fifteen-minute walk up the road. There is no one in when I arrive, so I choose a bunk and go out for a further walk along the track toward Loch Hourn. An hour later, I find Morag at the bunkhouse. She confirms that I am the only one in tonight.
It's fairly quiet in the Old Forge this evening. This place must be something in the summer, when it's full of walkers. There are leftover posters around advertising appearances of various bands in the village, and even some for upcoming offseason events. It's hard to think of a place this small being that lively.
Tuesday 9 October 2007 When you've set aside a single day for walking, you are at the mercy of the weather,
and it doesn't look very good as I stroll into the village this morning. But I note, as I eat breakfast in the Pier House,
that the sun is shining on Rum to the west, and I figure it will be along in a little while. Sure enough, I am shortly
peeling layers as I walk up the forestry track behind the village.
I have in mind to climb Sgurr Coire Choinnichean, the 2600-foot peak behind the village. There does not seem to be any kind of maintained trail, however, and the ground is fairly boggy. I lower my sights to Beinn Bhreac and Creag Mh˛r Sc˛iteis, two knobs of around 1200 feet on the other side of the track. That turns out to be suitably ambitious, and the summit of Beinn Bhreac serves well enough as a picnic site for lunch. The higher peaks are wreathed in some stubborn low cloud, which spoils the view a bit, but validates the decision not to go higher.
As I negotiate the saddle between the two knobs, cloud cover comes and goes, causing me to don and then doff my jacket. I am just about to ascend Creag Mh˛r when I realize I have lost my bumbag somewhere, probably when untying the jacket from around my waist. There is a moment of panic, and I briefly consider abandoning it. What's in it? Junk, mostly, but also my infrared filter. Fortunately, I have my hand-held GPS, and I am able to retrace my steps within inches. After fifteen minutes of backtracking, I virtually stumble over the bumbag before seeing it--I'd never have found it without the GPS. As I bend to retrieve it, I remember that my passport is in it! I have learned a lesson, and gotten off easy.
I'm back at the bunkhouse by late afternoon, and shower and walk into the village, which is glowing in the low sunlight. A dozen lads are enjoying their pints outside. The sunset is spectacular, and anyone with a camera takes a shot. Inside, it's quite a bit livelier this evening, and some of the denizens take an interest in the photographs I'm working on in the laptop.
The sky is clear and moonless as I walk back to the bunkhouse, and I think that I have never seen so many stars. I've thought that more than once in Scotland--a few years ago in Ardnamurchan springs to mind. I stop in a clearing and set the camera on the ground, lens pointed straight up, shutter set for thirty seconds. Who knows how that will come out.
Wednesday 10 October 2007 I breakfast at the Pier House, then sit at a picnic table in front of the Old
Forge, writing postcards and waiting for the Western Isles to arrive. As the time approaches, people begin to gather on
the pier. The boat's arrival is an event of sorts, both an important part of the village's business, and an opportunity to
socialize with villagers and visitors. I chat with two lads who walked in from Glenfinnan yesterday--met them in the pub
We land in Mallaig shortly before noon, and I am able to catch the earlier ferry for Skye. I drive out to Sligachan, hang a left, and roll into Carbost and the Talisker distillery, where I am pleased to find a bottle of Talisker Cask Strength. Some years they have it, some years they don't.
I'm in Plockton by 4:30. Dinner and drinks in the Plockton Inn. I have planned to go to Applecross tomorrow, but I am feeling very tired, so I think I will let the car sit tomorrow, and relax around town.
Thursday 11 October 2007 An off day in Plockton today--the car doesn't move. I spend the morning online,
catching up with email and business. Stroll into town and have a panini at Plockton Shores, and take some photos around
the village--it's a lovely sunny day. Nap late in the afternoon. Guess I really was pretty beat.
It's session night in the Plockton Inn. Sometimes there are students from the local school playing, but none tonight, just the usual locals, grayheads all, save for the lass on bodhran. (Someone once told me that most adult women don't remember their natural hair color.) Fiddle, small pipes, guitar, and left-handed mandolin. There's also an outsider with a banjo who sits at another table and plays along quietly. Given a turn, he removes a small beanbag animal from the banjo and plays "My Grandfather's Clock". After, I point at the beanbag and ask what it is, meaning what kind of animal. Not quite understanding, the banjoist's mate says "It's to keep it quiet." "I want one for me wife," I say, getting a cheap laugh. Don't bother to explain that I have no wife (and small wonder, eh?).
There's a poster in the pub advertising a CD by the Sensational Jimi Shandrix Experience. For those who might not know, Jimmy Shand was a legendary Scottish accordionist and dance band leader. Photo shows a fellow in huge afro wig, playing accordion, in front of a psuitably psychedelic background. The title of the CD is "Electric Landlady".
Friday 12 October 2007 I leave Plockton late in the morning. Drive up Glen Shiel and through Spean Bridge,
and stop briefly in Dalwhinnie. Through Aberfeldy and then the wild Sma' Glen I go, arriving in Crieff at about 4:30pm.
Crieftan--Kenny--arrives a short while later with Mrs C--Jill. They drive me to their lovely home in farm country on the edge of town, where I meet three cats, four chickens, and a dog. Kenny dips into his cabinet for several drams, including a Cadenheads Rosebank, a couple of Glenturrets, and a vintage Old Pulteney. The couple asks if I would like to eat in or out; I opine that it might be fun to survey some of Crieff's public houses.
There has been some discussion on the whisky forums as to whether Mrs Crieftan is a real person, or a figment of Kenny's fevered imagination. I look for signs that this charming woman might in fact be a hired actress. Then I witness this exchange:
Jill: "Should I wear this blouse [the one she is wearing], or this one [held aloft for inspection]?"
Kenny: "The one you have on is fine." She goes to change, anyway. Verdict: Absolutely, definitely, genuine married couple.
After experiencing the finest hostelries in Crieff, I come to the inevitable conclusion that the best place to drink in town by far is Crieftan's cabinet. And judging from his robust physique, I'd wager Mrs C's table is the best place to eat! Next year I'll see if I can wheedle another invitation to eat in.
Saturday 13 October 2007 It's market day in Crieff this morning, and I take a stroll through the stalls. On
my way back up the High Street, I spy a pair of mannequins in a housewares shop, begging to have their photo taken. I think
they are plotting to overthrow the shop clerk.
Drive into Edinburgh and find my B&B on Ferry Road. The faithful Punto is returned to Europcar at Waverly Station, and I go shopping on the Royal Mile. I buy several CDs at Coda, and then stroll down to the Cadenhead shop. I have a lengthy blether with the fellow there as I try to decide what bottle to buy. It finally occurs to me that I can purchase four 20cl bottles for the price I was willing to pay for a 70cl one, and thus have four new whiskies to sample. Balmenach, Glenburgie, Glencadam, and Dailuaine will soon be in my repertoire.
I am soon in the Bow Bar, of course, and shortly am joined by Kenny and Nick. After a dram or two, we descend into the Grassmarket in search of a pub meal. We are suddenly aware that it's Saturday night in Edinburgh. I have found in the course of my travels that it is necessary to be very careful about where one lands on a Saturday evening, when things tend to get just a wee bit too boisterous for the more sane and sedate of us. So it is this evening in the Grassmarket. We find what we need and escape with our dignity more-or-less intact, back to the sanctuary of the Bow. It's quite busy there as well, of course, but the crowd is a far more mature one; there are many gents there with significant amounts of gray hair, or, like Mr Tattie Heid, insignificant amounts of gray hair. There's a harpie over in the corner who shrieks, banshee-like, occasionally, and there's one out-of-place lad who cheers rather too passionately for France, or more to the point, against England, in the rugby, but on the whole it is a civil place, even when it's jammed.
We sample numerous drams and engage in a wide-ranging discussion. A stray comment about Kenny's pink shirt prompts a rumination on the roles of genetics and culture in the formation of gender identity, just to cite one point. (The pink shirt is fine, but the heels are a bit much.) There is much whisky talk, too, of course. And Nick feels compelled to sample the G&M Cask Old Pulteney first-fill sherry that left Kenny and me tasting burnt popcorn for days last year. The look on his face as he tries to come to terms with it says more than any words could.
One is always loathe to part from such sterling company, but there are limits to one's endurance, and the Bow closes at a civil hour, as well. No trip to the Standing Order this year.
Sunday 14 October 2007 Kenny picks me up at my B&B this morning and drives me to the airport, where we meet
Ron and catch up over a cup of coffee. Then he goes on his way, and Ron and I pick up the new steed, a roomy Toyota
Corolla Verso. We get Ron settled in at the B&B and then head to the Scotch Malt Whisky Society chambers at the Vaults for
a very nice lunch.
We have a rest at the B&B before meeting Nick at the Bow. I muse idly about all the award-winning sausages I have seen in guesthouses around the UK, and wonder who gives out such awards, and whether there are in fact any sausages that have not won awards. Not surprisingly, Nick has an informed opinion on the matter.