Thursday, August 15, 2013

Fort William, Scotland

View from the train - there was
no view from the bus - it was night

I took the overnight bus from London to Glasgow. That went smoothly except that my alarm clock was jostled in my luggage and went off at three in the morning in the overhead rack. Luckily we'd recently had a rest stop and most people were still awake. My arthritis did not like that ride!

More view from the train

I only spent about an hour and half in Glasgow - enough to walk from the bus station to the train station and have something to eat. What I noticed right away - and which I saw to varying degrees all over Great Britain - was how heavy the women are and to a lesser degree the men - heavy enough to outweigh me. I'm talking tendency here, not everyone, of course.

More from the train -
Scotland - sheep and old graveyards

So different from the French and, of course, it set me wondering about ethnicity and diet. In Paris, the new mothers were painfully thin and looked as though they'd never been pregnant (I'm not advocating for this). In Great Britain there are so many really heavy mothers and, likewise, many of their kids. But I did see a lot of really thin young men. It was really quite a shock. People eat an incredible amount of "chips" - they come with everything - and they are famous for loving their "sweeties". But the French have frites and pastries. Scotland also has lots of bleach blondes. I did enjoy seeing all the greenhouses in so many backyards in Glasgow - the only way to grow many vegetables, I imagine.

More from the train

From Glasgow, I took the train to Fort William at the foot of Ben Nevis - the highest mountain in Scotland (which isn't saying much). I really was going to this area to see Glencoe, but it was more remote and I wouldn't be able to make it in time for the ferry to my next stop if I stayed there. I was going to Glencoe because it was the scene of a famous massacre (which some people have never gotten over) by the Campbells (I'm a Campbell) of the MacDonalds in 1692. if you want the full story.

Clear cutting seen from the train

I saw lots of clear cutting all over Scotland and Wales. Most of their trees were cut down long ago. Now there is a logging industry that plants conifers (Sitka Spruce, etc.) and then, of course, cuts them down. So lots of Scottish forests are just tree farms.

The train ride was beautiful. I took lots of pictures, which was kind of silly, since most of them have reflections in them and we were going too fast. The woman sitting across the table from me took even more. She was from Australia. I ran into a lot of Australians everywhere I went.

Abandoned farm from the train

While on the train and looking down on a valley, we came alongside a golden eagle. It was spectacular. There were also huge rhododendrons along the railway - 30' high. They are in many places in Scotland.

My B&B in Fort William

All the B&B owners I met in Scotland were really nice and helpful and they serve a huge "full Scottish breakfast" - eggs, toast, bacon, sausage, baked beans, broiled tomato, sauteed mushrooms, and either black pudding (blood and oatmeal) or haggis (heart, lungs, liver of a sheep mixed with onions, oatmeal, and suet stuffed into a sheep's stomach) - yes, I ate both, but only once.

My room - window with the red trim

It's actually quite nice to have that big breakfast (unless you're one of those people who can't eat much in the morning) because it meant that I didn't need to buy lunch.

My window from inside

This B&B had been the rectory and then a school connected with the church down the hill. It was built in 1880.

View from my room

I took the bus to Glencoe, but I couldn't actually go into the glen itself - which is supposed to be fantastically beautiful (you go for the beauty, not to learn about the massacre - which happened over a wide area), but you need a car. Didn't matter much anyway, because of low cloud cover. 

Monument to the MacDonalds

But I did get to see the monument to the MacDonalds - memorial still held every year.

Wax MacDonalds in the Scottish Life Museum

The museum in Glencoe had a panel explaining the aftermath of the massacre which proves that nothing changes with politicians and the military (or kings). The MacDonalds had been acting (though some refused) under orders from the English military and there was an investigation of all involved afterwards. Needless to say, all the guilty parties were let off the hook in one way or another. 

Sailing in the gloom on the loch at Glencoe

Reparations were promised but never paid. There was a long list that reflected today's investigations by the police, the military, or Congress - just a farce. The elite are the elite are the elite everywhere.

"Consensus" island at Glen Coe

The little island on the right was used for a long time (pre-massacre) as a site for getting people with differences to figure out a way to get along. If two people had a disagreement, they were put on the island until they came to consensus.

Ruins of the original Fort William

Fort William is a rather down-in-the-dumps town, as are most towns. The recession/depression has hit a lot of small towns hard and there aren't enough tourists or opportunities to support them.  A young woman said that a lot of small businesses had shut down just in the past year. And just as peasants and small villagers were considered irrelevant during the Clearances, I think members of the working class in these small towns are also considered irrelevant.

The loch at Fort William

Unfortunately, you can't live on physical beauty alone. 

I did get better food than I expected, though I had to search (and, of course, pay). But they do have some pretty unappetizing things. How excited can you get over "scrummy salmon" and "mushy peas?"

Boat during my evening stroll

Same boat during my morning stroll

Both the towns and the countryside are filled with falling down buildings. They make everything very picturesque (and I love photographing them), but I don't know if they are there out of historical interest (though I doubt it) or because it's too much trouble and money to get rid of them.

Abandoned building in Glencoe

There was a group of young people who were learning to play the bagpipes. They would practice in a parking lot and then spread out over the town and play for tips. Some of them were good and some were awful - yes, you can tell the difference.

Bagpipe student

And everyone is very tolerant of dogs. They're allowed almost everywhere. In the local museum, a woman asked if her greyhound could come in. She was told, "Of course!"

The church that's connected to the B&B

And I decided to try a different single malt whiskey every night I was in Scotland (except the first, because I was too tired from the overnight bus). I kept a list, but failed to record some of them. I didn't start out a Scotch (they don't call it that!) drinker, but it turns out I like it. I really love its nose that you can smell from quite far away.

Fort William

I went to the ferry office to figure out the best way to get to my next destination - the Isle of Mull - and the woman gave me the details for the usual way, but then she said there was a completely different approach with a local bus and a local ferry that I might want to try if I wanted "a wee bit of an adventure." Of course, I chose that. Next blog entry.....

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