Tuesday 11 October 2005
Ron calls the airport this morning to see if his bag has turned up; we could conceivably run back to Glasgow, if necessary, before going on our way. But it isn’t there, and he is given a number for the airline’s missing luggage tracker. We are astonished to learn that it is only available from noon to 5:00pm. How’s that for service? That’s USAirways, folks.
We drive northwest, past Falkirk and Stirling, and stop in Doune to see Doune Castle. In the parking lot, I inform the lads for the first time that the reason I have chosen to visit this particular castle is that it was the location for nearly all of the castle scenes in Monty Python And The Holy Grail. I am uncertain whether the Historic Scotland staff on site will be particularly cheerful about acknowledging this part of the castle’s history, but as it turns out, they are pretty used to it. The interpretive signs around the property are straightforward historical stuff, but in amongst the usual sort of souvenirs and books in the shop are books about the movie and ersatz coconut shells. The woman on duty cheerfully tells us where much of the taunting took place. We spend the better part of an hour trying to work out which parts of the building served as Camelot, Swamp Castle, and Castle Anthrax (while still appreciating the actual historical context of the place, of course). Then we go away before they taunt us a second time.
Up the A84, we stop in Callander, Gateway to the Trossachs, for lunch. Ron calls the airline about his luggage, and the fellow who answers is cheerful and chummy, until he does a bit of checking on the computer, at which point he clams up. No news, or nothing he wants to relay, anyway. I suggest to Ron that his bag left Seattle, not for Philadelphia, where he changed planes, but for the Philippines. The airline authorizes some expense money for Ron to buy necessities, so we go shopping. Alas, there are umpty outdoor clothing stores in Callander, but nowhere, apparently, to buy underwear.
There is an outlet of The Whisky Shop in town; they seem to have sprung up everywhere in the past few years. I browse for a bit, and buy a set of two Penderyn miniatures with a Glencairn glass. I also pop into a candy shop for a bit of World Famous Scottish Tablet.
Up the road we go, into the Highlands, through Crianlarich and on to the head of Loch Awe, where we plan to visit Kilchurn Castle. This is the stronghold of the Argyll Campbells. Ron and I both have Campbell ancestry, although we have no idea whether we are related to this branch of the clan. We rather hope not, as you will understand in a minute.
There are, or have been, two ways to visit Kilchurn, which sits on what used to be an island, now in the middle of a marsh. The first is a seasonally-operated boat that approaches from across the loch. We check on this to find, as we suspected, that it is done for the year. The second approach is a footpath through the marsh. This, alas, crosses a railtrack, and the railway operator has recently locked the gate permanently, citing liability issues. The Ramblers’ Association contends that the railroad has illegally blocked a longstanding public right-of-way. (The issue is covered in some depth on Undiscovered Scotland’s page on Kilchurn.) We quite naturally side with the Ramblers’ Association, and are planning to hop the gates. We lose our nerve, however, when we read a sign warning of £1,000 fines, and have to settle for a long-range view of the castle.
Kilchurn Castle. Photo by Mr Tattie Heid, 1999.
We drive up the minor road through Glen Orchy, which ends at the A82. There is a hotel near the junction, and we stop so that Ron can make another fruitless phone call to the airline. Then we are off across desolate Rannoch Moor, and soon enough into Glen Coe. I have in mind a short walk near the top of the glen, but the weather is not very good, and it’s getting rather late in the afternoon, anyway. Bob, an avid skier, asks to have a look at the ski lodge sitting not far off the main road, and has a short blether with someone there who tells him that last season was a bit of a washout.
We descend the glen, which is awesome in any weather. The Three Sisters loom over us. History looms large here, as well, and the centuries-long feud between the Glen Coe MacDonalds and the Argyll Campbells. This seemed to have come to a close in 1692, when the MacDonald finally swore fealty to the Crown. The oath was taken five days after the deadline, however, and the king was looking for someone to make an example of. He sent troops into Glen Coe under the command of a Campbell, and for ten days they were amicably billeted with the MacDonalds. Then the command was given early in the morning to slaughter every MacDonald under the age of 70. Many escaped the sword to the hills, only to die of starvation or exposure. This is certainly the most notorious incident in Scottish history, and it is the breach of hospitality that has long been considered the most heinous and treacherous aspect of the massacre. After all, murder and mayhem were pretty much routine in the clan warfare of that era. It is perhaps not relevant to note that the cattle-thieving MacDonalds were not particularly nice people themselves. In any case, the name Campbell has been mud in these parts ever since.
All of this took place within sight of the Clachaig Inn, our home for the evening, a few miles above Glencoe village at the mouth of the glen. As we check in, we notice a sign (common in Glen Coe) by the front desk reading “No hawkers or Campbells”. Ron and I take this as a light-hearted jest; on the other hand, they are probably serious about the hawkers, so we decide it best to keep our mouths shut.
There are two bars at the Clachaig, the larger of which, called the Boots Bar, obviously caters to the many walkers and climbers who come to the area. It’s the party bar, but it’s quiet tonight. We have a good pub meal and pints of cask ale, and peruse the 120 or so malts on the wall. During the evening, the latter part of which is spent in the more comfortable Bidean Lounge, we sample several of these. I have a G&M Cask Old Pulteney, which is heavily sherried with subdued smoke; a Dallas Dhu, which tastes of popsicle stick and, very late, cake icing; and two Benromachs, the younger light and smoky, the 21 tasting of molasses, but dry and slightly sulphurous.
We are all feeling a bit draggy and so retire relatively early. We make sure to lock the door before going to bed.