So much more leg room in the front left seat without
that silly stearing wheel in your way!
It was a brilliant idea. The glamor of living abroad and working in a pub was finally starting to wear off. My parents had been over to visit just a week ago, and I had worked the entire time they had been here. The pub needed me and I needed the money, but I (and Nicholas as well, I believe...) were in dire need of a vacation; a break from the routine here in Edinburgh, pouring pints, and throwing people out of the pub. We needed freedom. We needed glory. We needed a road trip.
At simple glance, most who read this will probably agree that getting out of town for a few days might be a good idea, but look past the fact that the simple act of driving is going to be such a monumentous adventure that hiring a car and cruising around the city would probably suffice for a weekend thrill. But what a silly idea, hire a car and take it nowhere? Pah!
Pass the petrol, mate!
The setup was actually beautiful. My good friend and former roommate of three years, Adam, was to be flying into Edinburgh for a two-week visit. Nicholas and I would go pick up the car that morning and drive to the airport to pick up Adam. Em would take the bus to the airport in case we encountered any problems with the car hire people, shifting, or oncoming traffic. She had her wee mobile phone and I had my cricket bat-sized brick (which I sometimes like to carry around in my pocket--I lovingly refer to it as my mobile phone...) to keep the team in contact.
All these roads and roundabouts, but which
one to take where?
The car hire company promised to pick us up, so Nicholas and I grabbed the morning paper and stood outside our flat, waiting for our ride, nervous as all get-out, preparing to go against all that we've been taught by shifting with our left hands and drive down the left side of the road. With thoughts of how to properly handle a round-a-bout in our head, a little whit eRenault Clio came zipping up to the curb beside us. THe window slid down a bit, and a bit of scottish blruble spewed from the mouth of the young driver, turned-down-just-enough rock music humming in the background. I looked at Nicholas, and we nodded to each other, assuming he was there for us.
He seemed like a nice lad, happy-go-lucky about his job, but he had taken us not a block when he quickly decided we were headed the wrong direction and drove across the road for a quick three-point-turn. point three was awfully close to tthe curb, though, and with an increadible scraping sound, the passanger-side(front-left) wheel trim (hub cap!) was done for. "Boss' not gonnae like that," he said as he pulled over. "Bettar go'n see if I carn go'n'ae find it." I thought for sure we had lost the entire front fender.
This side still intact! Glen Coe is pretty, eh?
Because everyone drives so crazily here, many people zip-tie their wheel trims to the wheels to avoid loosing them while out cruising, but I'm telling you two things: One, it doesn't help, because there's always stray wheel trims lying in the streets, and two, it wouldn't have mattered here because even if he had found it, there was no chance it had survived the crunching and scraping sound we had just heard. No matter. We were off to sign for the car, and it was the perfect day for a road trip.
We met Adam at the Edinburgh Airport without incident, and he jokingly asked about the drive out, clueless of what we had in store. When we got to the car he simply rolled his eyes and threw up his hands in disbelief. With that, we were off.
Nicholas at the wheel.
Driving through Scotland is a dream. The roads are narrow and windy, and everyone drives really fast. Not out of control, wreckless fast as people tend to do in some places, but a skilled, controlled fast where everyone is sort of in it for themselves. The race of traffic sets your knuckles white, even as a passenger. As the driver, on the other hand, it is an exhillerating experience. Breathing becomes shallow, sometimes holding one's breath for minutes at a time with periodic ghasps--not because of a lack of oxygen, but because you're driving as fast as you can down some B road and two to five cars fly past you in the passing lane, darting back into the correct (?) lane just in time to avoid oncoming traffic (which usually happens in these cases to be a large lorrie or another long string of cars). I might be a little more comforted if the cars passing me would have been some sort of exotic european sports car, with so much power they could just pass me with the flick of a wrist.
Never is this the case, though, because 97% of the cars on the road are quite similar to our wee Clio, with what I might imagine to be seven to ten hampsters running on an elaborate wheel contraption under the hood. I hear that some cars over here actually equipped with sliding panels in the floor, so that one can put their feet down (Fred Flinstone style) and help push when going up hill or engaging a passing maneuver. I once actually caught the person next to me, engine blairing near redline and inching past me, rocking back and forth as if to urge their car foreward in anticipation of oncomming traffic. Brilliant fun anyways.
Taking a break from the grind.
With no particular destination in mind, we started by heading north and west out of Edinburgh, across the fouth bridges. These two bridges connect rail and auto traffic across the firth of fourth, a long, narrow bay that Edinburgh lies on the south side of. Near the western-most point (most inland) of the firth lies Stirling, historically scotland's most strategic military holding point, and a nice little town to boot! Now run heavily by a large industrial zone, Stirling was once the home of Sir William Wallace (see any Scottish history book, as well as the film Braveheart), probably Scotland's most famous hero. There has been a huge monument erected for him just outside of Stirling. This, combined with Stirling Castle, are to be the tow most popular tourist attractions ithe city has to offer. We visited neither, and opted for a nice late lunch in a pub off of the main drag. It was cold and rainy, and we had decided our final destination for the evening should be the town of Oban, on the west coast.
Oban, ah, Oban!
Now, I've never been to a small port town like Oban before, but I'm telling you I was absolutly in love. There is nothing to do. In the evening, huge ships come in to dock, almost looking silly in the small harbor, and when you wake up in the morning, they are all gone, and you really wonder if they were really there in the first place.
We woke up early, to get a good start on the day, and in time to watch the town wake up and come to life--in this case to snow! I couldn't believe it, early November, and I hadn't even brought a jacket along (as I was sure my super-comfy sweater would be adequite), and Clio was covered in snow! What fun!
Strolling around the town, early AM.
So we walked around the town for a bit in the morning, visiting the places we had been the night before. Where there was before a black wall that was the edge of the ocean now opened up into spectacular views actoss the small by. Even though we were freezing, we could do nothing but walk and look for an hour or so, until we retreated back to the Jeremy Inglis' Bed&Breakfast/Hostel (where we had spent the night) for what they had advertised as a 'continental breakfast.'
That's snow, baby! Notice ____ tower in the background.
Now, I don't know what your idea of a continental breakfast is, but to me it's a crap muffin, maybe some toast, and crap orange juice from a machine. Jeremy Inglis' B&B is affilliated somehow with ________, a buffet-style restaraunt about a block away. For £7 a night, not only will Jeremy himself give you a nice bed to sleep in, but all the leftovers you can eat from _____. Tea, coffee, milk, thick sliced toast made from fresh bread, biscuits, muffins, and homemade jam. Absolutly spectacular!
Mucking around on a half-finished tower overlooking Oban.
Over breakfast i had a nice conversation with a bloke by the name of ____ _____. I recognized him as Glaswegan (one who is from Glasgow) almost immediatly (from his accent), but soon thereafter learned that he was a writer for the Lonely Planet, and had in fact written the article that had brought me to this very bed & breakfast! and out of the book that has educated me for the majority of my time here about what to see and do. As it turned out, he was just in Oban on sort of a semi-holiday, as he was in the middle of writing some rather large articles on Scandinavia.
Oban harbor in the early AM...good stuff!
We said our farewells (Jeremy Inglis, by the way is an absolutly fabulous man. At 65, he is living his own room in the B&B, taking care of the place, and continually charming travelers.), and once outside, made a simple plan where Em and I would go to find some petrol for Clio and Nicholas and Adam would run over to the Tesco Supermarket across the way for lunch supplies. We would pick them up at the door and be on our way. This quickly turned into 'Chris and Emily driving through most of Oban, many of its steep and narrow back roads, alleys, driveways, and surrounding countryside in search of a petrol station.'
It turned out that we should have turned left instead of right from the beginning.
We are FOR SURE lost!
Photographic evidence of Adam in quite possibly the most spectacular
one-foot-two-foot slip-slide down a hill I've ever seen. Quite a feat to be done in Burkenstock sandles!
Any part of the city we hadn't seen on the first leg of our adventure we not-so-quickly saw on the second leg of our mission, to pick up Nicholas and Adam. In particular, we got to know a splendid round-about in the middle of the town quite well, because no matter where we went, we simply could not figure out how to get into the tesco parking lot (though in plain view at all times) but could always find ourselves merging onto this one, stupid round-about.
We eventually found our way in and found the boys, and then eventually found our way out again to make our way to our one major tourist stop for the town of Oban, _____ tower. Build in sort of a roman colluseum-style, this is a two-and-a-half to threestory ring of wall with arched openings set at the top of the hillside that Oban is set into. It was meant to eventually have a large tower built in its center, but as so often happens with these sort of projects, money ran dry part way through. Still, it has been turned into a public park-type area, with benches, railings, and whatnot, making it a fun place to go play.
Off Clio sped us down the trecherous hillside and then zipping out of Oban, and into the scenic highland countryside. We headed north, towards Fort William, built on both the edge of the ocean and the waterway that sort of slices through the scottish highlands. The drive there was quite fun, coaxing Clio through the twisty turns, over picturesque bridges, and even a few passing maneuvers!
We were in a bit of a time crunch, so we settled for a leisurly stroll down Fort William's main shopping drag, the padestrian-only High Street. Dieing for a Lu, I semi-calmly darted through three stores and a supermarket before finally finding relief in another one of these buffet-style restaraunts that seem to be so popular in these parts. After a bit of shopping and a few photo-ops, the team headed back to the Clio for lunch and to decide what our next move should be. We left Fort William shortly after that, heading south towards Glen Coe. I later learned that only six miles to the north lied/lay one of Scotlands's biggest ski areas, and the only one with a gondola. It was snowing outside, but it was anything but ski season, but the gondola runs year-round and would have made a good stop. This just goes to show you: if you are being spontaneous and decide to visit a place, make sure you take five minutes and stick your nose into a book about the place before getting into a rush about where to go next. But no worries, because we were headed for Glen Coe.
This is the backside of the Glen Coe ski area. Build in 1952, and now running about four chairlifts, it is the oldest ski hill in Scotland.
A glen is a sort of mountain valley, and since we're in Scotland, you can count on it being a particularily beautiful one. Glen Coe will not let you down. There are a few small villages in its basin, all of which serve as small outposts for hikers and mountaineers, as this is the perfect place to hike for tow to four days, perhaps a week or so if you'd like to get into the surrounding countryside, immersing yourself in nature. Still, we're less than three hours from Glasgow, so if you're the city-type, this still makes for a nice weekend holiday.
So we continued on towards the south east, and just after coming out of the bottom of Glen Coe, decided that we'd rather not go back on the same road on which we came, and instead head south past Loch Lomond (lalala...'you take the high road, and I'll take the low road....on the bonnie, bonnie banks of loch looooomand!') towards Glasgow. Loch Lomand is beautiful. It is probably a reasonable distance for a good swim across, but runs for ten or fifteen miles from north to south. The northern-most area of it is full of rich Scottish history, and perhaps the future site of some great archeological activity. I am neither well versed nor well educated enough to go into detail here, but one of my partners-in-crime at the Mitre and History graduate student, DJ has enlightened me as to its importance (reference upon request). I think his dream is to develope the area into a huge museum of Scottish history some day.