Monday, 12 October 2009
Ticking off Ardnamurchan
Once we had decided not to allow the forbidding ferry costs to spoil our Scottish travels but instead take it as a stimulus to choose a different journey, we planned to continue heading north around the west coast and to go to the Isle of Skye via the bridge.
On the way we spent a couple of nights in Fort William. Some of the journey so far was familiar since we were retracing some of our steps travelled on our honeymoon thirteen years ago. The last time we had been in Fort William I popped into the hospital to get a tick removed from my leg. It had so far foiled all attempts at eviction by a squeamish me. The doctor I saw back then was new to the job, English and had not encountered a tick before. The digging out technique he used was not the preferred one but his grasp of the tweezers was a bit shaky. Apparently what you don't want is for the body to come off and leave the spiky mouthparts in situ. Other possible remedies include dowsing the little critter with alcohol or suffocating it with a blob of Vaseline. Both methods are supposed to result in the nasty little blighter simply dropping off. This time around I was ready for ticks (purpose-made tweezers, Vaseline and I'm sure there's alcohol around here somewhere), midges (jungle spray) and rain (brand new red Gortex jacket).
Fort William was much smaller than I remembered. The last time we were there it was a useful place. It was where we stopped off for essential supplies. This time my impression was of one street lined with discount outdoor clothing stores and shops selling tacky souvenirs of Scottish clichés. This is where the shortbread trail begins.
The site we stayed on was kind of pleasant and kind of odd. Well really it was just unlike the sites we normally use. It covered all of the self-catering holidaying options with 'chalets', apartments, tent areas and touring caravan areas. All of this was under the giant shadow of Ben Nevis and a couple of miles from the town centre.
At some point along the way our road atlas had changed its scale without us noticing. So when we fancied a bit of a drive out to Ardnamurchan, the furthest point west on the British mainland, it was twice the distance we'd anticipated. On our travels we have developed a need to see the ends of roads and the furthest points of the compass. It started quite accidentally. We just happened to be at the most south-westerly landmark at the beginning of our journey and, since we have this Man From Atlantis-like need to return to the sea, we always seem to be ticking off these extremes.
This drive was also to be our initiation into twisty, single track road driving. Most of the roads from now on would be narrow and perfectly constructed. It was fantastic. What an exercise in concentration. With trees alongside a lot of the route you just never knew what was around the next bend. When we weren't enclosed by foliage the scenery was hilly and green at times, then as we traced the higgledy-piggledy coastline the sea sparkled under clear, blue skies. It was prettier and a lot less rugged than we had expected.
Touristy landmarks along the way included the Glenfinnan Monument commemorating where Bonnie Prince Charlie's standard was raised in 1745, and the viaduct used in the filming of the Hogwarts train in the Harry Potter series.
Once we had finally arrived at the Point of Ardnamurchan we could enjoy looking across the sea we would not be crossing and enjoy views of the islands of Eigg, Rum and Muck. (No, I'm not making this up). These were not on our itinerary so not so torturous as you might think.
There was also the first of many lighthouses. They go with the territory of course and they look magnificent against a clear, blue sky. My favourite features are the huge red-painted fog horns.
Most of Scotland's lighthouses were designed by members of the Stephenson family. Think of the heyday of industrial engineering, bridge building, the steam engine, railways. Various members of the Stephenson family were responsible. Confusingly, a few of them are called Robert. The author Robert Louis Stephenson was also related. Great genes aplenty there then. This one was the work of Allan Stephenson.
And I always try to imagine what it must have been like for the lighthouse keepers to live in these places. Sometimes it must have been beautiful solitude and at others it must have been desolate and desperate. Surely you must love the wind, or go mad.