– Glasgow, Scotland to Kyle of Lochalsh, Scotland –
Our morning began with a run along the River Clyde in downtown Glasgow. It wasn’t perfect, but at least we had a trail that didn’t cross traffic. The weather was really quite cool, actually. Today was the first day that we’ve needed our sweaters for our run. The river was very still, which was a pretty sharp contrast to yesterday, when it was moving almost constantly.
Today, we had quite a few things that we planned to see: Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, Dumbarton Castle, Dunstaffnage Castle, and Bonawe Iron Furnace. It was an ambitious plan, but it did not end up working out. Due to time constraints, we had to skip the ironworks. At least we made it to two castles instead?
Once we’d finished running and we were all dressed, we had to venture forth to find some breakfast. Our hotel did not provide a free breakfast for guests, and it cost £15 per person to pay for in the restaurant, so we walked down the street to the grocery store to pick up something else instead. We ended up with croissants, cheese, oranges, and juice. It wasn’t too bad at all. In addition, Mark found some “deep fried mince pies” that he was more than a little excited about. More on that later.
It takes so little time to get to Dumbarton that we’d barely finished eating by the time we arrived at the castle. The castle sits on a huge mound of volcanic basalt right at the edge of the River Clyde, and it has the longest recorded history of any stronghold in Scotland, according to Wikipedia and the signs in the castle. The hill on which the castle sits is frequently called “the Rock” or “Dumbarton Rock.” People have been living on the rock since the Iron Age.
As it is on a giant hill, the castle is positively filled the stairs. The entrance down by the tiny car park starts at the river level, and the stairs wind all the way up to the top of the rock, which is 240 feet high. I lost count of how many stairs Mark and I must’ve taken. The whole place is a gorgeous green, and from the top, you can look back down on the river and the town below. It has a gorgeous view.
The castle’s most famous inhabitant from an American-point-of-view (and perhaps from a Scottish one as well, since she was frequently mentioned on the signs) was Mary, Queen of Scots. If you are like me and only have a passing memory of the various world history classes you may have taken, European history is so storied that you can barely remember the major salient points, let alone which queen did what and when. It’s almost embarrassing how much more history the people here must’ve studied in school compared to the very broad overview most of us received in elementary school. Even in college, if you aren’t a history major, a lot of this stuff is skimmed over.
So, assuming you are like me and need a refresher, Mary, Queen of Scots became queen when she was 6 days old and her young father, the previous king, passed away. Because she was an infant and thusly quite vulnerable, she immediately became nothing more than a political pawn. She was eventually married to the Dauphin of France, or the heir-apparent to the French throne (in case ‘dauphin’ means nothing to you, like me), despite England wishing otherwise. She briefly became Queen consort of France, her husband passed away, and she moved back to Scotland to regain her throne from the regents that had been ruling in her stead. She was eventually beheaded by her own cousin, Elizabeth I. There’s a lot more to it, if you want to read about it. Feel free. I don’t want to write a dissertation here.
History aside, the ruin are quite interesting, though perhaps not so interesting as some of the castles we saw yesterday. Most everything left on the grounds of Dumbarton Castle are ruins from the 18th century, not from an earlier time period. It takes away from the experience a bit, I must say, though being on top of that hill alone would have probably drawn Mark and I to the site. Like I said, the views were spectacular.
From Dumbarton, we drove up into Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. So the loch is obviously a large lake, but I bet you are wondering, as we were, what exactly trossachs are. As it turns out, it’s just the name of the woods in the area. The park is mostly used for water activities and hiking, which we did not do, so we didn’t enjoy it as much as we were expecting. It didn’t have many dramatic views that were easily accessible. It was pretty, don’t get me wrong, it just wasn’t good for a quick trip through. Of course, the road north would’ve gone through the park anyway, so we weren’t out anything by taking it in.
It started raining about halfway up the park, which we expected. They’ve been predicting a big, wet storm over most of the UK for the weekend. We are not excited about the weather, but we can’t really rearrange any of our trip, so it is what it is. We were told to expect rain and wind the further north we traveled, so we were at least unsurprised.
For lunch, we stopped in Inverarnan at a pub. The building the pub occupies is ancient. The walls are lined with taxidermied animals, and a sword hangs over the fireplace. The ceilings were low and dark and made of huge, thick timbers. We never found out how long it had been there, but I can confidently say that it is quite old, and the fact that the restrooms looked so new was totally jarring.
In spite of the age and authenticity of the place, they had vegetarian fare. Mark had an order of veggie bangers and mash, and I had a veggie burger. My burger was fried and did not come with anything on it. It was a fried bean patty on a plain bun, with fries on the side and a little side salad. Mark thought it was hilarious watching me scooping bits of salad onto my burger to make it edible. The dressing did make a delightful burger sauce, no matter what he thinks.
At the pub, we got to watch all of the other drivers, including a large group of motorcyclists, have beer with their lunch. Nothing fills your heart with dread like watching all of your fellow drivers walk back out to their vehicles full of alcohol onto two-lane roads with literally no shoulder. At all. The line is the edge of the road. If you go over it, you are in the ditch.
Regardless, we’ve obviously survived, so nobody had more than one beer, I suppose. Good for them. Way to stay alive. Since we did not yet really have any photographs of the national park we were driving through, we started more actively looking for pull-offs to grab some pictures.
The best-named pull-out was for the Falls of Falloch, which seems unnecessarily repetitive. From what I gather, the river is named Falloch. It was raining pretty steadily at the falls, but we had our rain jackets, and it wasn’t a long walk, so we went out to have a look. We’ve been spoiled, I think, because while I found the falls lovely, they hardly compare to many of the others we’ve seen. It’s a bit funny to become jaded about waterfalls.
I’m not sure how to put this, exactly, so forgive me if it sounds awkward, but the falls have a sort of… artwork. Someone built a metal cage with a see-through bottom out to the edge of the falls. It doesn’t provide a better view than the ground below it might have, so it seems almost pointless. The artist carved some words out of the end-cap of the cage, where you look over to see the falls. I don’t know. I’m not the greatest at understanding art.
We did not find much else to photograph before leaving the park, and with the rain, we were more unwilling to get out of the car. We drove on ahead to our castle, Dunstaffnage, which is some distance from the park. We didn’t do much in between, since the rain hampered our excursions. This is where we ended up skipping the ironworks. We probably would’ve had time, but we didn’t want to see it badly enough to use up some of our precious daylight and get wet, so we didn’t go.
It was rather windy on Loch Etive, where the castle sits, so the rain was a bit more unpleasant than it had been earlier in the day. The storm front was arriving, we could tell. This castle was passed for centuries between three Scottish clans: the MacDougalls, the Campbells, and the Douglases. It is still nominally owned by the Campbell family today, though they gifted it to the state in 1958 and it is now operated by Historic Scotland, which is the group we bought our castle-pass from.
This castle is only partially ruined. That means that a decent portion of it is still standing, with rooms and windows and a roof. I don’t think I’ve mentioned this, but in my castle travels, I’ve discovered a distinct distaste that I seem to have for old spiral staircases. As someone with a fear of heights, it’s impossible to enjoy curving up (or especially down) a tight, narrow set of worn-down stone stairs clinging to a bit of rope dangling alongside. I’ve done it a lot over the last two days, and I’m expecting to do more, I’m afraid.
We saw a lot of dogs playing on the lawn on Dunstaffnage, and it reminded me that I’ve been meaning to mention- most of the castles we’ve been to allow dogs inside. We’ve even been to cafes where dogs are allowed inside with their owners. In fact, an adorable young lab was in the pub with us at lunch. She was very excited to be there, and she did not want to sit still, despite being told multiple times to sit and stay by her people. She was having too much fun.
This is where I really start to miss Ripley: when I find something she could have and would have enjoyed doing with us, I hate to think of her sitting at home alone, being bored. It’s also really difficult when we first wake up, and then when we go for a run. I’m used to taking care of her when I get out of bed, and I’m also used to her exuberance while we get our morning exercise. Poor baby. If you’re reading this, Mom, give my baby a hug for me.
From Dunstaffnage, which we fled a bit early to escape the rain, we stopped at a garden center that claimed to also house a gift shop and cafe for Mark, who was feeling sleepy and wanted a coffee. It was the closest thing we’d seen coming in, and we thought it would look different than it did.
None of its signs mentioned the fact that it was also a garden center, so when we drove up to it, we circled around the sketchy parking lot, looking for a cafe. Instead, we just saw plants and a greenhouse. Luckily, the cafe was behind the plants in the same shop, so we made off with some coffee, tea, and a single brownie.
The woman behind the counter was just sure we wanted two brownies, but we told her no, only the one. It was a bit small to split, but we weren’t going to do that. Oh, no. Remember Mark’s mince pies? His dad makes mince meat tarts around Thanksgiving and Christmas, and he loves the stuff.
Before I met him, I had assumed mincemeat was literally meat, but that isn’t the case at all. Historically, it could have had meat or meat fat in it, but nowadays, mincemeat simply refers to a mix of dried fruit (mostly raisins) with some sort of spirits (alcohol) and spices. Some of them still have beef fat, but it isn’t common. John gets jars of the stuff for his tarts from a handful of select grocery stores, as not many places sell it. Mark likes it much more than I do. I can take it or leave it, but Mark only takes. Anyway, my brownie was delightful and cake-like, and he really seemed to enjoy one of his six pies.
The drive to Kyle of Lochalsh was uneventful after that, and the weather remained foul. We made it in good time, though a little later than we might’ve liked. We spent half an hour trying to decide between a total of perhaps 10 restaurants what we wanted to eat, then ended up circling the tiny downtown of Kyle several times trying to find parking.
Our restaurant had everything from fish and chips to pizza to Indian food, which is what we ended up with. The restaurant was directly over a pub of the same name, which Mark tells me is a common occurrence in Europe, though I think I’ve only seen it once before. The pub was called The Islander, and despite the total lack of a focused cuisine, it was pretty good. It was much better than the meal we had at the vegetarian place, and had miles more flavor than our previous adventure in Indian food in Carlisle. If you ever visit, it is not bad at all, and better when you realize how tiny the town is.
The internet here is terrible, so chances are this will not post tonight. We have breakfast here in our hotel tomorrow, and we will most likely not get the chance to run. It is pouring rain now, and there aren’t many places to go nearby that aren’t dirt paths.
Tomorrow we will see Loch Ness and the Isle of Sky. I’m not holding out much hope for this bit, since the weather forecast is still promising a great deal of rain. Only time will tell.
– Trip Total : 5,523 miles –