Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Mission to Find the Highland Coos

On Friday around 3:30, Janie and I set off in our rental car to the Highlands. The weather had been a bit rainy and snowy, so we were rather dubious as to how much we would be able to see and enjoy. But, as we drove along Loch Ness (no, we did not see any monsters), we were lucky that the weather cleared up, permitting us to get a perfect view of the lake with snow-capped hills looming behind and sun shining through clouds in the sky. Needless to say, we took a lot of photos (eh...too bad I haven't posted them yet...)

We made it to Inverness that night and stayed in a nice little B&B called Braeside. After getting settled in our spacious room (that accommodated three twin beds), we head off to town, ate some dinner at an Indian restaurant, and then made our way into Hootenanny's, voted the best music venue in all of Scotland the last two years running. The place was packed with old people, young people, middle-aged people, and on the last Friday night before the smoking ban went into effect, it was also very smoky. I had come down with a bit of a cold on Thursday (wiped me out all day), and so my throat didn't take kindly. But, the music that night was a traditional Scottish group, headed up by Duncan Chisolm (touted on as "one of Scotland's finest and most celebrated fiddle players" and who incidentally, along with frequent music partner Ivan Drever wrote a song on the soundtrack to "Good Will Hunting"). It was definitely very good music, very appropriate to listen to in Scotland, and the place was fun, even though we only lasted through about one pint.

The following day, we had our breakfast in the B&B, and were rather amused by the contemporary R&B hits pumping through the stereo system—a tad incongruent to the quaint, traditional B&B setting. Our hostess asked us where we were from, and when I said San Francisco, she said she'd always wanted to go there, especially in the sixties and seventies since it was the mecca for hippies. I had to laugh thinking of this cute Scottish B&B owner once being a hippy. After we checked out, we ventured to Black Isle Brewery, which is on Black Isle. But don't let the name confuse you: Black Isle is not an island. So it wasn't as exciting as a drive as it may sound. Nonetheless, it was well worth the trip. Our tour of the nano-brewery was about 3 minutes long, and then we went on to the tasting room, where we had just about each of the 6 (organic) brews they regularly produce. We came away with a six-pack (one bottle of each kind).

Later, we drove past Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain in the UK, under which we had tea and scones at a fancy inn called "The Old Pines". I don't know why but we were perusing the pages of some Wedding magazine and making fun of some of the most hideous dresses. At one point, while Janie was eating half of her last of two scones, a young boy (about two and a half years old) came along and put his finger on her scone. She politely asked if he'd not touch her scone, but he didn't oblige. Instead, he picked it up, shoved it in his mouth, and then ran away as his mother came along to see what was going on. It may well have been one of the most hilarious things I've seen in a long time.

That evening while it was still light, we made it to Fort William and found a B&B that suited us just fine. Also called Braeside (how strange), but slightly different. Our room was quite tiny but it was en suite, i.e. we had our own bathroom. We found ourselves that night in a pub in town, having a drink (big surprise) and then back to the room where we saw a made-for-television film called "The Ripper" starring Patrick Bergen. This film suggested that it was indeed Prince Albert Viktor who was the crazy killer. How annoying that we will likely never know who the Ripper really was.

Sunday morning I had the vegetarian breakfast and Janie had a full Scottish breakfast, which she said later didn't exactly treat her stomach very nicely. There was quite a lot of meat on the plate: white pudding, black pudding (and I don't even want to know what exactly was in those puddings, I just know it's some kind of meaty "delight"), and ham and sausage. Good lord. Onward ho, we went to Glencoe, a glen that is designated part of the National Scenic Area of Scotland. We went to the Visitor's Center, where we finally saw some Highland Cows (coos)...BUT...they were a bit away and it was rainy and they were all wet, so they just looked like regular cows.

The Ben Nevis distillery is meant to have a couple that are around for visitors to pet, but the distillery was closed and the coos were no where to be seen. We didn't end up visiting any distilleries, actually, as the season doesn't start yet for many of them to be opened all weekend for tours. We did stop and try several whiskies in the shop at the Green Nelly Stop, a tourist destination in a village called Tyndrum.

So, although we didn't stop at a distillery, we didn't see any highland cows at close range, we had a great time. The scenery is amazing and everything you'd expect the Highlands to be. Hillsides with russet, golden, green, and occassionally snowy patches. Flowing rivers, glistening lakes. You get the idea.

We made it back to Perth around 6:30 and that was the end of our adventure.

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