Loch Ness to Belfast

April 9, 1998, Thursday, Edinburgh.

Had English breakfast again. Yum. Made our way through the country towards Loch Ness. Finally blue skies, except it’s still bloody cold. I don’t think one day has been over 5 degrees yet. Snow caps on mountains everywhere.

Saw the Bruce Monument at Bannockburn. Bruce was King of Scotland at the end of Braveheart. Where Bruce defeated the Poms (the English.) Drove past Stirling Castle and it began to snow. Continued through mountains to the Highlands. We were level with the snow. It was like a picture book. Looked too good to be true, almost fake because it was picture perfect valleys, mountains, streams, ski resorts and sheep everywhere and hairy cows. (Pronounced ‘coos,’ these big hairy beasts are simply magical to see out in a field. We visited the field at Culloden too. If you ever want to know why the Scottish dislike the English government, just read a bit of Scottish history or the first two books of the Outlander series.)

I grew up in a very Scottish family even though they had more English blood than Scottish. Anyone who has an affinity with a particular ancestral branch will understand. I love everything French but as far as I know, I have no French blood at all!

It began to snow heavily. We stopped the car and got out to play in the snow. It felt weird – got some in our mouths. Very soft. Snowed heavily for about 30 minutes but still OK to drive. Called in at Glencoe Tourist Information Center. Glencoe is where the Campbells killed the McDonald’s in a bloody massacre. A lot of history here. (My family at McDonalds on my dad’s mother’s side. My brother married a Campbell. Makes me sad that my brothers probably won’t ever set foot in Scotland, just as much their spiritual home is France is for me. With them getting older and the dicey worldwide travel situation, I can’t see my brothers every getting over there.)

Made our way past various Lochs up to Loch Ness. About 5:30 PM. Found a nice BNB and had dinner at the pub. It’s light until about 8:30 PM and getting lighter all the time. Probably the best countryside and scenery I have seen yet overseas. Best day yet. Snow is fantastic. B&B had a Scottish deerhound about six months old. It was huge.

Not very thick walls at B&B. Heard a French couple going for it. (This couple also decided to take a bath in the communal bathroom and not lock the door. I walked in after knocking and the woman yelled at me. We went to the pub for a wee and decided to stay for dinner! It was a small pub but the food was good.)

Scottish Deerhound. Only the Irish Wolfhound is taller when they stand on two legs.

April 10, 1998. Friday Loch Ness.

It snowed overnight, snow everywhere. Car is white, took photos and threw some snowballs at each other. Made our way back down the coast to Urquhart Castle. Amazing ruins right on Loch Ness. It’s very windy and cold. We didn’t see the monster. The barman at the pub thought it may be a big eel, but he has never seen anything himself.

(This is the location of the best photo I have ever taken.)

This is possibly the best photo in the world. Bear in mind this is taken on an old SLR. I had one shot left on the roll of film and I said, go and he did. We didn’t know if it had worked until we had the photos developed in Bali on our return visit.

Once we got out of the Highlands, the less appealing everything became. The Highlands is definitely worth another visit. Had lunch at Oban, a little seaside town. Wanted to get close to Glasgow and ended up staying at Loch Lomond about 20 miles north of Glasgow. The guy at the B&B sounds exactly like Billy Connolly. Kept thinking he was gonna tell a joke. He had two little red Cocker spaniels who apparently are very good deer hunters. We cooked dinner on his stove. (It was very unusual for B&B owners to offer the use of their kitchen, but we found this everywhere we went. You can’t travel for months on end and eat at restaurants every night.) We met two Kiwis who also stayed there. Chatted for a while and then went to bed.

April 11, 1998. Saturday. Loch Lomond.

Realised our ferry trip wasn’t until Sunday. The girl who booked the ticket made a mistake. Decided to drop car off by 5:30pm (Fun Fact: The hire place was just south of Glasgow in the suburb of Paisley, the namesake of the fabric design. The name ‘paisley’ is not an international name for the pattern, it is called palme in France, bota in Netherlands, bootar in India and peizuli in Japan. It was registered as paisley in the UK, after the suburd where many weavers and importers of fabric were located. Read More) We’d booked into the YHA in Glasgow earlier that day.

Went and saw the Burrell Collection, a museum with a bit of everything- painting, sculpture, bits and pieces of old churches, etc. Was okay but decided better to only go to museums/churches/gallery of special interest. Then we can spend more time experiencing the culture. (I think this entry is suggesting that we just go to the museums and galleries of note to ensure my travel companion didn’t declare something we had heard numerous times already – NAFC – Not Another Fucking Church/Castle. I had to choose wisely. Once we got to Florence he had opted out of museums altogether, preferring to wander the town and leave me to enjoy the art in peace!)

Glasgow is very dirty and nowhere near as nice as Edinburgh. Didn’t have the presentation of Edinburgh either. Walked around town for a bit. It kept hailing little ice balls. Fair few people around town. Had some greasy chips at a little cafe. Saw Vidal Sassoon hairdressers where you could pay up to 150 pounds. (That was some serious coin for 1998.) The price goes on position in the company of person. Starts at 34 pounds. (We were hicks and had never experienced this.)

Michael getting hailed on in Glasgow.

Cooked dinner in the kitchen at YHA. Tried to watch a movie. Had these horrible 10-year-old soccer players who were running around and screaming and wouldn’t shut up. Lots of complaints about them. (The parents and coaches were staying at a B&B up the road apparently. Lucky bastards. You imagine doing that these days? I recall one young boy who had Autism. He sat at the piano and played this incredible piece, and we were all blown away. Then he played it again and again. At full volume. No one came to suggest perhaps he try a new piece or perhaps read a book for a while. Sigh. Where was his carer? At the B&B up the road, bless them!)

Slept in a room in the basement with constant buzzing noise from boiler. I didn’t sleep too well from that, but Christine slept well. (I had been struggling with insomnia for a few years and finally sought treatment in 1996. I had a number of sessions of hypnosis and not only did it sort out my insomnia but helped with some of my weird phobias. I highly recommend both hypnosis and tapping but you have to want to change. It works but it’s not magic bullet.)

April 12, 1998, Sunday. Glasgow.

Had breakfast and saw devil-children again. Went to see a motor museum had everything from bikes to motorbikes, cars, boats, trains, good exhibit. Was interesting, went to museum to fill in some time. Bit boring. (I have absolutely no idea why we would go to something like this, except that it was probably free and indoors – out of the cold!)

Back at the hostel, met some 18-year-olds from Canada, there for a soccer carnival. (It has just occurred to me that they were probably at the same carnival as the horrid kids ruining our peace at the YHA.)

They were cooking lunch and there was a huge mess in the kitchen and lots of smoke. They were nice people, but I don’t think they cook much. One of them took a photo of their lunch. (Isn’t it funny how taking a photo of your lunch is so commonplace now but was bizarre enough behaviour in 1998 for it to make it to Michael’s travel diary when so many things didn’t!)

Made our way to the bus station about 2 kilometres with full backpacks and bags. Very heavy. Will reassess situation in France and see if we can travel lighter. Finally got to bus station – seemed like forever. Nearly died on the trip. (Really? I have a small memory of almost dying…I think someone tried to mug us but a local stepped in? Or perhaps it was just so damn cold and we had heavy bags?)

Got on bus last but didn’t realize seats weren’t reserved. Couldn’t sit together. (I remember standing in the aisle and politely asking the other passengers if they would mind if we sat together and you could have heard a pin drop.)

Bus trip was about two hours. We had to wait in ferry terminal waiting for crossing to Ireland. It had small, enclosed room, half with smoking and half non-smoking, so stupid. Sat out in foyer to escape smoke. Everywhere it seems to have the same mentality when it comes to separating smoking from nonsmoking. (It’s interesting that we found this so objectionable considering smoking indoors in restaurants and pubs was only banned in Queensland, our home state, in 2002, four years after this trip. I think it must have been the enclosed nature of the buildings in the UK and Europe that made it so much worse.)

Had to run through the rain to board the ferry. Had dinner on the ferry. Pretty rough trip. Christine felt sick. (I will always, without fail, get sick on a boat, or car if I’m not the driver, but trains and planes are no problem. Weird. The man says it was a pretty rough trip, but the big group of lads on a footy trip were whistling the theme tune to Titanic and laughing. The Titanic was built in Belfast and the movie had just some out that year I think. By the way, there was enough room on the door, Rose.)

Took a bus from the docks to bus station and walked from bus station to backpackers, about 10-minute walk with two others. Past a bonfire in a huge spare block with kids throwing bottles at cars was a bit scary. (It was Easter 1998. The Belfast Agreement, also known as the Good Friday Agreement, because it was reached on Good Friday, 10 April 1998 had just passed, and people were low-key protesting the agreement between the British and Irish governments. A few months later a car bomb went off in Omagh (15 August 1998) in County Tyrone. It was carried out by a group calling themselves the Real Irish Republican Army (Real IRA), a Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) splinter group who opposed the IRA’s ceasefire and the Good Friday Agreement. The bombing killed 29 people and injured some 220 others. Telephoned warnings which did not specify the actual location had been sent almost forty minutes beforehand, but police inadvertently moved people toward the bomb. My cousin and her husband lived in the town at the time.)

 We were happy to get to the hostel. Checked in small room with a double bunk. I had an OK sleep. Christine slept well. Tried to sleep in the same bed but too small. (Well, we were on our honeymoon after all!

This hostel was an enormous, purpose-built pile on the edge of the centre of town. According to its current website it has some great house rules now, but there were none back then. People bashed on the door for a laugh in the middle of the night. Hilarious.

I particularly remember the communal area of this one for the miasma of smoke that sat at around waist height and above in the space. It was a great illustration of why you should Get Down Low and Go, Go, Go in a house fire! We were beginning to suspect that we were far to old for hostels but if we wanted to stay for a few months we would have to stick to our budget, especially as camping was off the agenda until the weather got a bit better!)