Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Scotland Memoirs (Part II)

Rising early and eating breakfast are not activities that settle well with my stomach. Adding a two hour ferry ride across Pentland Firth to that unstable combination was a recipe for near disaster.

We had to arrive for boarding at Scrabster at 5:00am. So far so good. It's dark, gloomy and coastal, a mood I can handle well. We find some comfy chairs and settle in to catch a few more Zs. About half an hour into the crossing, I start to feel a little queasy. This doesn't alarm me considering the hour. After another half hour, I am silently praying to a non-existent supreme being that I don't heave up my tasty Alpen breakfast. Eric is quietly snoring beside me, head against my shoulder. As tender as my feelings for him are, I think the phrase "lucky bastard" may have popped into my head at that point. I looked around at everything, trying to find something distracting enough to take away the nausea. My eyes came to rest an a clear plastic box attached to the wall at the front of the lounge. No labels. It just contained bags. You know. The waxy bags. I kissed the top of Eric's head and gently shoved him the other way. When he stirred, I smiled and said, "I'll be back!"

Half an hour later, I am *still* standing in a stall in the ladies room. I got my wish about the not vomiting (so there is a non-existent supreme being?). The problem at this point was that I now intensely wished I *could* vomit, to get this whole nausea thing over. It worked on the early bus in fifth grade with the Rice Krispies I told my mother I really *couldn't* eat. But no...

Half an hour later, I was still standing there when the announcement came that we would be at Stromness soon. I rejoined a happily slumbering Eric (I could swear he had a grin on his face) in the lounge. Eric smugly comments, "I had a nice ferry crossing. The nice refreshing snooze made up for the sleep deprivation of arising at 4am."

Luckily we were among the first to drive off the boat. Our first stop: the Standing Stones of Stenness. Inside a sheep enclosure rose a few very tall stones. We gingerly stepped through the dung piles and took pictures of the stones and each other (and the sheep). A string of a few other vehicles arrived shortly afterwards.

Thinking pretty much the same thing, Eric and I motored speedily on to the Ring of Brodgar, an amazing circle of stones. We ran to the top of a couple lookout points, taking several pictures before the masses arrived. The ring consisted of thirty-some stones still standing (out of sixty-some), surrounded by a large ditch, everything covered with heather except the paths around the ring. There are two lochs on either side of the ring so in almost any direction you look you can see water. The stones were weathered and lichen-covered, and many of them had graffiti on them, some with dates back to the 1700-1800s. Supposedly there are earlier writings (i.e. older graffiti) but we didn't do a careful inspection of each stone.

Says Eric, "This particular circle of stones is more picturesque than most. Nicely positioned between two lochs and exceptionally well preserved. Most of the stones are still standing, and the surrounding ditch is still quite deep."

From there we drove on to the prehistoric village of Skara Brae, a cluster of small family rooms with furniture -- shelves, beds, etc. made of stone, on a small cliff overlooking the sea. The village is about 5000 years old -- older than the pyramids -- and very well preserved. It was mostly subterranean, keeping the inhabitants sheltered from storms under a heap of midden. Along with other odd furnishings, the dwellings contain several stone boxes. It's believed that they used these to soften some type of bait by soaking it, and they had several boxes so they could tell what had been soaking longest.

Our next destination was the Earl's Palace near Birsay. At this point, Eric earned his Scottish driver's license by successfully traversing single lane roads. This would be a good time to mention the criteria for getting your Scottish driver's license, which we made up while I was driving back down the treacherous coast:
1) City driving, preferably Edinburgh or Glasgow 2) Several roundabouts, especially the 3-4 lane circles with greater than six exits and heavy traffic 3) Single lane roads 4) Hairpin bends and bicycle tourists

The Earl's Palace at Birsay is the remains of a 16th century palace built by the earls of Orkney. A cat is in residence there today, and kept following us around and literally jumping into our photographs.
Eric says, "The cat seemed quite fond of Terry. And she seemed fond of it. Just don't tell Dervish she was cheating on him."

Closeby is the Brough of Birsay, which made for an interesting walk. It is located on an island accessible only at low tide, and consisting of the remains of a Norse settlement and a Romanesque church.

Driving on, we came to the Broch of Gurness, another settlement of stone huts surrounding an Iron Age tower.

We stopped for lunch at the Maes Howe visitor center where I had the world's best bacon cheeseburger. Unfortunately, Maes Howe was a scheduled tour and the timing was such that we had to drive back to Stromness before the next one began. Eric says, "I really do wish we'd had time for Maes Howe." I'm sure we'll catch it next time we are there.

On the ferry back to Scrabster, Eric attempted to distract me from seasickness by suggesting we write postcards. It wasn't working very well. As Eric said, the motors of the ferry must have been vibrating on the resonant frequency of the lining of my stomach. But the sky cleared up and it was beautifully sunny and we went out on deck to see some amazing mossy green cliffs and a huge natural stone tower. Somehow the sunshine and the fresh air made all shadows of seasickness go away, so we stayed out on deck the rest of the trip. The wind was brisk and very strong, but it was lovely to see the smaller isles in the Orkneys against the blue sky, and watch the mainland approaching.

After we arrived, we retraced our drive of the previous evening back down the coast. We stopped for petrol just out of Thurso, and I marvelled at the potato chip flavors in the station shop. I bought cheese & onion, prawn cocktail, and roast chicken flavored chips. Then I took the wheel. Sometimes terror can be fun. It was a beautiful drive, this time the sun was lighting up the gorgeous landscape. I was glad Eric was finally getting to enjoy the views I'd been sheepishly trying to point out to him earlier. I took the road a bit slower than Eric had taken it on the way up. Our destination was Cromarty, on the Black Isle. Along the way, I experienced the hairpin bends and the bicycle tourists, the seemingly lawless traffic circles, and the single lane roads. But apparently, driving up to the Royal Hotel in Cromarty did not count as city driving. Thus I'm sad to say I haven't yet earned my Scottish driver's license.

Our room at the Royal Hotel was charming. Very comfortable with a beautiful view across Cromarty Firth. Only one oddity -- no phone in the room. We were a bit late for food in the dining room, so we ate in the pub, with pretty much the same menu. I can't remember the rest of the food, but I had an appetizer of deep fried haggis balls in a drambuie cream sauce. It was excellent. We each had a pint of Guinness, and I concluded that Guinness exported to the US tastes better. We switched back to McEwan's after that.

The next day we began our drive down the Great Glen. The day started out grey and misty with occasional showers, so as we drove A82 alongside Loch Ness, the monster was nowhere to be seen. There was nothing particularly noteworthy about Loch Ness except for being nestled in a long valley between steep hillsides, and an inordinate number of hotels/restaurants/gift shops and a historical museum, all inevitably Nessie-themed. We stopped and purchased a number of goodies, and since there was another branch of the Whisky Shop in Drumnadrochit, we shopped for some single malts. Eric found double matured versions of Talisker and Dalwhinnie to add to his collection, and I purchased some Macallan for my uncle. I also found the flask I had been looking for -- round with a Celtic knot pattern on the front.

On towards Urquhart Castle, we had plans to stop and tour, but the parking lot was full, and the overflow lots had stopped offering shuttle rides. Not wanting to deal with the mile walk in the rain, we took our glimpses as we drove by.

At the end of Loch Ness, we stopped in Fort Augustus to look for lunch. At the Fort Augustus Abbey we toured another gift shop, and glanced into the little cafeteria, but decided we really didn't want to deal with all the crowd and noise. On the road again, my travel book recommended a certain hotel in Invergarry to stop at for lunch. It was way past lunch time, but we decided to stop and see what we could come by.

We had a bit of difficulty finding it -- it was right off the highway, but the little tiny sign right at the entrance didn't give us enough warning. We drove through some fairly extensive grounds to reach the Glengarry Castle Hotel. The outside of the hotel was beautiful, a big old stone building, a small castle of its own. Inside it was elegantly decorated in warm colors. We were informed that we could take afternoon tea, and we chose to take our tea in the library. The library was decorated in flowery yellows and had many windows looking out over a garden of red roses, and down a slope to Loch Oich.

Our tea arrived along with small sandwiches and a variety of cakes and scones and cookies and biscuits, cream and butter and preserves. We are not ashamed to admit we cleared all three tiers. It was wonderful. It was completely quiet, except for another group of three women talking very low. The sky was a bit clearer letting the sun drench the landscape outside. We browsed books on Scottish wildlife and Robert Burns, and discussed going for a bit of a jaunt on the grounds to look for Invergarry castle. We walked down to the lake and along many paths, through forest, through fields, through a sheep enclosure, etc. We found no castle. Another couple we ran into said it was along the entry road. So we enjoyed our walk a little more, and went back to the car and drove to the castle.

Invergarry Castle was the clan seat of the MacDonnells of Glengarry. Apparently Bonnie Prince Charlie stayed there after the Battle of Culloden. Now, the castle is surrounded by two fences, the inner fence topped with barbed wire. There are signs posted all around it saying that it is dangerous and kept closed for the public safety. But they also mention that if you ignore the warnings, it is at your own risk. We cased the perimeter and planned our invasion. The fence went all the way down to the water on both sides. On one side there was a stone enclosure that we easily entered into a sunny field of wild flowers, and towards the water, there was a broken down doorway back to the castle. Going through this, we encountered the outer fence again.

Eric made the climb and I passed him my camera over to get some good shots. I then searched for a better way for me to climb over. Around the other side, I eventually heard Eric say "I'm in!" Amazed at how he got over the barbed wire, I asked how, and he said the gate through the inner fence had no lock. Just push it. I climbed over the outer fence and went in through the gate, and climbed around a path Eric showed me. The going was a bit treacherous since a vast majority of the front of the castle is collapsed, and there was a good amount of large rocks to climb over.

"It seems trespassing laws don't really apply to most of Scotland." says Eric. "They instead prohibit unfair use or damage. So it was quite legal for us to wander around the ruined castle as long we didn't mess anything up. Our intention to invade had been preceded by vandals long before. The door in the stone wall had been smashed down years before. And up around the back of the castle along the cliff face, the iron fence had been ripped open at least a decade before."

It was incredible and beautiful. Grown over with weeds and moss and lichen. Sunlight was hitting some strange red flower growing in one of the high windows. I think we both felt the joy of being about 10 years old and making an amazing discovery. We spent a wonderful long time climbing about and taking pictures of the ruins.

Continuing on our drive, we enjoyed the mountainous countryside now drenched in sunlight, along Loch Lochy. As we were approaching Fort William, I started reading information from our various guide books about Ben Nevis and hikes in the region. Out of the blue, we started entertaining the idea of climbing Ben Nevis, and by the time we reached Fort William, we had already rearranged our plans for our last two days in Scotland. We moved our trip to Islay to Saturday in place of touring Ayrshire, and decided to climb Ben Nevis on Friday. In Fort William we stopped and asked for information about the climb, and purchased some brochures on the subject. We also inquired about weather conditions at the summit, which led us to purchase warm gear, hats and gloves in a local shop. Then we were off on yet another scenic leg of our journey towards Oban, and we branched off the A82 onto A828.

Somewhere past Portnacroish, I think it was near Appin or Port Appin, an amazing view met our eyes. We were driving on a high hill near the water, and the land gave way steeply to our right, and sloped down to meet the waters of Loch Linnhe. There in the water was a small island on which stood a small squarish castle. It did not seem to be a very large castle, but it may have been larger than Invergarry -- it was hard to tell at that distance. But it was a very magical scene in the early evening light. The sun was still fairly high, and it was silhouetted against the sparkling water. Very beautiful. We each only just got a glimpse of it, but we made a note to check it out the next day on our way back to Ben Nevis. We never did find out the name of our mystery castle.

Actually, we did. Numerous kind folks have e-mailed me the name: Castle Stalker. And one sent a very amusing photo and caption. Many thanks!

"Fancy having to wait 'til the tide goes out."
A828 took us on a wild ride along the coast as did A85 which took us into Oban. Driving through Oban, we had to stop at a petrol station to get directions to our hotel. Our directions led us nowhere, so finally, I told Eric to just drive along or as close to the coast as possible. We were supposed to have a view. And so we found the Alexandria Hotel.

The Alexandria Hotel was a pleasant place to stay with warm decor and cosy rooms. We rearranged our stay there to be two nights instead of one, and called on our Prestwick Hotel to change our stay there to one night. As we were checking in, it looked as if we would get to experience yet another event on our list of things to do in Scotland. I pointed out the sign to Eric, "Ceilidh tonight". We made our dinner reservations and went to our room to freshen up and put on some nicer clothes, since we were somewhat grubby from storming Invergarry Castle.

What a dinner! As we were looking over the menu and pondering wines, the hostess asked if we were considering ordering a wine, and when we responded in the affirmative, she said she'd send over the wine waiter. We were decided on dinner but not so sure about a wine to go with what we were having, so when the white haired gent stopped by our table, we asked for his recommendation, telling him what we were planning to order. He looked a bit bewildered and said he really didn't know a thing about it, and he preferred the Grouse himself. After a polite chuckle we selected a wine, and when he went away we couldn't help but burst out laughing. Our choice did go well with dinner, but then dinner was so good, we might not have cared. I can't remember what Eric had, but I had a duck dish that was extremely tender and flavorful and prepared in a delectable sauce. I've never had better duck, and I probably never will have such good duck again.

For dessert (and I'm really not sure where we had this dessert, but it was so good I'm throwing it in here for good measure), we had a custard served with a raspberry sauce and fresh blueberries, and it was truly amazing.

After dinner, we heard the piper warming up for the Ceilidh, so we moved into the hotel lounge, and sat at the bar and ordered up from the bartender (who was in fact our wine waiter) two Famous Grouses. We weren't thrilled with it as it was pretty harsh for a blended, but it warmed us up for what we were about to experience. We moved to McEwan's in its various incarnations for the rest of the evening.

The Ceilidh turned out to be a most surreal experience. The band consisted of two late-middle-aged men, one on the accordion, the other on bagpipes, and then a small drum kit. The audience consisted of the two of us, plus a tour group of "special people", many in wheel chairs and either physically and/or mentally disabled, or the relatives and/or caretakers of the former group. The band played a few Scottish folk tunes and tried to organize a dance or two (rather difficult with mentally disabled people in motorized chairs). Then they moved on into popular sixties and seventies tunes by groups like Neil Sedaka, and the Carpenters. Those songs brought a big response from the tour group and the locals. Apparently, they love that stuff in Scotland -- they knew the words and they sang along. Very surreal to hear that played on the accordion and sung with a Scottish accent. When the band took a break, various folks attempted to sing at the open mike, and when the band returned, things got really wild. Dancing, singing, and all sorts of cavorting to music we normally wouldn't want to get caught dead listening to. Well, the sign hadn't said *traditional* Ceilidh. Whatever that might be. We left early to rest up for the next day's climb.

Ben Nevis
After a hearty breakfast of kippers and smoked haddock, we began our journey towards Ben Nevis. On the way, we managed to find a place in Appin to pull off the busy narrow highway. We took the camera and set off up a wet grassy hillside to photograph the mystery castle in the morning light. It was truly breathtaking.
"Parking is prohibited up on top of the hill where the castle first comes into view." notes Eric. "It's illegal for the quite good reason that the way the road bends and rises makes cars difficult to spot in time, and navigation with opposite traffic impossible. Despite that, we saw a good half dozen vehicles illegally parked on both sides of the road when we climbed up the hillside. All that hazard and all you have to do to avoid it is park in the post office lot at the bottom of the hill and walk a few hundred yards."

We drove into Fort William and bought food and water and more miscellaneous equipment, then drove to the Ben Nevis Visitor Center in Glen Nevis and began our ascent at noon.

Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in all of Britain at 4406 feet. The path to the summit was built in 1883 as an access and supply route to a weather observatory and hotel, now in ruins on the summit plateau. The total round trip distance of our walk was 10 miles. The brochures described the path as rocky and arduous, but said that no serious climbing would be needed, which was a relief to me, in my intense fear of heights. Normal conditions to expect: rain, snow, hail, gale force winds, fog. We checked the weather report for the summit before leaving, and no snow was expected for the day, and none was present at the summit. So that looked like a good sign. The weather so far had been a bit rainy, so it looked like it could be a bit of an unpleasant journey. But our luck in Scotland was quite good, and the rain never lasted long, so as we began our climb, the patches of sunshine were persisting over the rain.

We walked out of the visitor center toward the Ben Path entrance. A foot bridge took us over the River Nevis, and a pleasant walk along the river to our right and a fence of a sheep pasture to our left, began our hike. Eventually, the path turned to the left and headed through the pasture straight to the low side of the mountain. (I'm not sure that it was really considered a part of Ben Nevis -- one map I have labels it Meall an t-Suidhe, with a height of about two-thirds that of Ben Nevis). The path veers off to the right and begins a slow ascent along the side of this lower peak. At this point, the path is no longer simply dirt, but consists of large rocks embedded in the ground. The path starts to turn to the left a bit and becomes much rougher, cut out of the rock in huge uneven steps. To our right, a steep drop facing the even steeper green slope of Ben Nevis. Rivulets of water are flowing down these slopes into a small river, the Red Burn, which eventually flows into River Nevis. Up ahead, we see people resting on a bench, and notice that the path hairpins along the side of Meall an t-Suidhe, and we actually can see people walking the path several feet above us. As we go we stop frequently to drink water and enjoy the amazing view. Glen Nevis has opened up below us, and the colors are misty greens and purples and blues.

We reach the turn, and continue along a strenuous section of unrelenting upward slope. Shortly after that, the path again doubles back to our right, but this time the going is easier. We are on an open plateau, vast and beautiful. We are in the saddle between the peaks of Meall an t-Suidhe and Ben Nevis. Soon the path reaches a T and the Ben Nevis path goes to the right. The path has become much rockier, with occasional patches of loose stone, and rises steeply. It has been getting chillier and windier as we go. After a short time on this section, we looked back to the plateau we'd just come from and saw Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe, a beautiful, blue jewel of a lake against the bright green of the plateau, reflecting the sky in the light ripples from the wind. Soon the path crosses at the Red Burn Ford, in the form of a pleasant waterfall crossing our path. This is the halfway point, and we stopped for water and a bite to eat. The path continues, carved out of red granite, with springs popping up everywhere. Soon the path becomes very rocky, and starts to zigzag. At this point, we can look out over the rest of the surrounding mountains, and see the waters in the lochs of the Great Glen. Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe is still shining at us far below. Soon the surrounding land gives way to large rocks with no vegetation except for an occasional clump of grass and some lichen. It is quite cold and windy now, but it doesn't feel so bad when we're moving. Our restbreaks became more necessary as we went, but less comforting as the chill sunk in. The path is mostly loose rock and very slow going. Looking out over the amazing view, we are at eye-level with the cloud line. We had experienced a light bit of sprinkling on the way, but most of the time, it was patchy sunshine, but there were still plenty of clouds in the sky.

From this point on, our world consisted of only the grey stones and the white mist that surrounded us. Apparently on a clear day, you can see many of the isles, such as Mull and Skye. The path goes though eight long zigs and zags. Eventually, it straightens out and passes very close by the edge of the cliffs of the north face of Ben Nevis. The first instance, I looked down into Tower Gully, which looked like a bottomless pit disappearing into the mist. The second, I was looking into the deep chasm of Gardyloo Gully, and dark, black, sheer cliff faces were visible disappearing into the mist on the right. Truly amazing. I got as close to the edge as I could without suffering panic. A short jaunt from there, and we'd reached the summit, at approximately 4:15pm. Another couple who we'd overtaken and been overtaken by frequently throughout the climb offered to take our picture at the summit marker. We climbed into the ruins out of the wind for another snack.

Our descent started off at a rapid pace, Eric moving off ahead rather quickly and I taking in a view of the cliffs on the way down, stopping, and then rushing on to catch up. I probably shouldn't have done that. I really felt like taking the downward journey leisurely. Call it intuition. Or maybe it was partly the fact that looking *down* all that path before me made me a little more cautious as the fear of heights phenomena kicks in for me. So Eric occasionally stopped and waited for me to catch up. But as soon as I did he was off again, at a time at which I really needed a break myself, and hadn't had one. So I lagged behind again, still going faster than I would have liked, and after a few twists and trips and stumbles on the shifty stones at that pace, I gradually became aware of a steadily increasing pain in my left leg, near the outside of my knee. It seemed just a minor bit of strain, so I ignored it at first, but as it increased, I began to favor it a little more. Pretty soon, my right leg was doing most of the work. I could either keep my left leg bent, or keep it straight, but bending my knee had become quite painful. The next time I met up with Eric, I informed him that my leg was hurting a bit, so I'd be resting and taking it easy a bit more than he was. I think I spoiled his fun in running down the mountain.

Says Eric, "My hurry on the way down Ben Nevis was twofold. Initially I just wanted to make decent time on the excursion. I wasn't keen on the idea of being beaten out by an old guy walking his poodle. Initially I thought Terry was just leisurely strolling back down. When she told me of her increasing agony, I became somewhat worried that we would be descending in the dark. All for naught it seems because we did (barely) make it to the car before dusk had finished off."
As we neared the half-way point, my left leg was in excruciating pain, and my right leg was starting on a similar path, with a slight pain on the outside of the knee. We rested and filled our bottles up with clear cold Ben Nevis water (Eric still has a bottle of it in his refrigerator). My legs were starting to stiffen. We'd reached the halfway point in 1 hour, excellent time, but the rest of the hike would be a test of my tolerance for pain. A short time later, both legs had reached the excruciating level, and I was hobbling along and getting out of the way for everyone else who was charging down the mountain.

It got to the point where I had to walk with a hand on Eric's shoulder so I could get over the rockier sections. Resting had no effect on the pain, except to further stiffen up my muscles, and to provide an opportunity to release pent up emotion at the fear that I wouldn't make it down the mountain before dark, and fear that I was making Eric's adventure as miserable as mine had become. He was an absolute angel to me though, and with his help, I inched my way down that mountain, cringing against a pain that I never thought I could bear. When we'd reached the pasture crossing, I started to lose hope again, and Eric carried me piggyback for a few hundred yards. After a while of that I was distraught and amused at the same time, but my legs actually hurt too much to hang on tight enough, and I kept sliding off. So I went on back on my own two feet, such as they were. That pleasant walk along River Nevis earlier was now an ominously long detour. I whined about why they didn't put the bridge right there at the end of the pasture-crossing path. When we finally reached the car, it had taken us three and a half hours from the halfway point. Three and a half hours of walking with that level of pain. At least *some* childbirths aren't that bad.

Says Eric, "Terry really was having quite a bad time coming down that mountain. Despite the pain she refused my offers to carry her until that final few hundred yards of sloping slippery ground. Once on level ground, she was able to walk with slightly less discomfort.

"Despite all that, I highly recommend climbing Ben Nevis. You see some truly extraordinary countryside that way."

We had a quiet twilight drive back to Oban. The last light of the day shining behind the mystery castle, which was lit from within, was a truly mystical sight.

Arriving at our hotel, I discovered that the pain and stiffness had reached a new intensity. It was all I could do to get myself up the steps, into the hotel, and onto the lift. We were too late for food at the hotel, so Eric went out to get us Indian food, and I slipped into a hot bath (Ice! Ice! said my mother when she heard I suspected some sort of tendon injury). It did seem to help, and I wrapped my legs up in warm towels and crawled into bed. Eric came back with the food (which was quite good) and we ate like we hadn't for days. Then he took his turn in the hot bath, feeling a bit achy himself. And much sleep was had by all.

While Eric was out, "I was also able to catch up on recent news." he says. "The Indians at the restaurant were more than happy to tell me all about the US missile strikes against the Sudan and chat about the whole Lewinsky affair. I was eventually able to turn the conversation towards things Scottish and found that they highly recommended the Isle of Skye. Pity we hadn't had the time to visit there." Definitely the next time we're there ;)

We decided to skip our Islay excursion, due to outstanding pains. Instead, a leisurely drive to our next resting point in Prestwick, Ayrshire. My legs were just slightly less painful than the night before, but stairs and any sort of unlevel surface posed a huge problem for me.

Says Eric, "We were just too tired and sore to deal with another early morning rise to catch the ferry. Terry had only done well on the last ferry trip by staying on the unsteady deck. Her legs were hardly in shape to repeat that performance."

Before leaving Oban, we sought out a post office and shipped out the many bottles of Scotch. The postmaster seemed very thrilled to help us out, and was even more thrilled by the items we were shipping. He kept joking with Eric about how if we were to pass by the post office about ten that evening, the lights would be on and a big party going on. Meanwhile, I was browsing a selection of greeting cards they had on display, and I came across an extremely amusing category of greeting card: the Congratulations on Passing Your Driver's Test! card.

"The postmaster was a very friendly fellow full of many jibes and jokes," Eric comments, "Unfortunately I was only able to understand about every other one. Actually, the tour books seem quite correct in labelling the west of Scotland as much friendlier than elsewhere. Everyone was extremely outgoing and pleasant. Not that they were unpleasant elsewhere, more that they were much more reserved."

The drive to Prestwick was a pleasant one, through flatter countryside. The roads were still insanely twisting, but it seems like this time they just did it for the fun of it. En route, we stopped off and toured Kilchurn Castle. Quite an amazing little castle, open to the public this time, but mostly accessed by a small ferry. There were no sign posts on how to find the land causeway leading out to it, but our tour books had enough vague instruction for us to discover the gravel road that led to the nearest parking area. It was a long walk for me, gimping along the causeway, but worth it. Kilchurn is an extensive ruin, well-explained by signposts throughout. Some levels have been rebuilt to give visitors views through the higher windows (those stairs were tough!), looking down the length of Loch Awe towards the isle of Jura. The day was sunny and clear, and we could see many of the points of interest, including some of the isles.

We stopped for lunch along Loch Lomond and reached the St. Nicholas Hotel in Prestwick very early in the evening. We went for a nice slow hobble along the beach from a park, and then returned to the hotel for dinner. I decided to have duck again, in the hope that I'd get something comparable to my meal in Oban. Well, Oban served me duck, and this was the anti duck. It's flavor wasn't too bad, and the sauce in which it was served was all right, but the meat itself was tough and not at all duck-like. We retired early to our room since we had to get up and make it in time to the airport in Glasgow. The room was nice and spacious and comfortable, but the bathroom was very awkwardly configured.

Notes Eric, "I had a very nice steak and a glass of Guinness there. So I think Terry was simply unlucky in ordering the duck."

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