(Old) Magical Mystery Tour: Days Seven & Eight (Edinburgh), Nine & Ten (Fort William)

(Originally posted on June 7, 2012)

Day Seven we got up and hit the road. It was a bus and then train ride to Edinburgh. For some reason, the rail line was very bumpy and left me feeling pretty nauseous. We caught a cab to our B&B. The driver was very nice and chatted with us about Edinburgh and gave us tips for getting around the city. It was sort of funny because I did most of the talking–I think Mom couldn’t really understand him.

The lady at the B&B was awesome and sweet. Our room was pretty nice and surprisingly big. The B&B was off the main road, and totally quiet. I remember sitting at the desk listening to the birds sing.

After a cup of tea and a bit of winding down, we headed to the city proper. We walked there, which was a bit farther than expected. We wanted to get a decent city map, because the one in our room wasn’t that great, so we were trying to find the TI. This took a very long time, and was sort of stressful. We did find it… about five minutes before it closed. And all they had was the same not-so-great map.

We shrugged it off and went to the Royal Mile, a famous walk. We stopped to eat at a nice, almost completely empty Italian restaurant. This sort of caps off my food habits of travel, since I always seem to be eating something not native to the country when I first arrive. Ah, well. It was food.

We went into St. Giles after this, which was pretty cool. The coolest part was probably the random stain glass from several different centuries. It was need to see the different styles. There was a small room in the back where Scottish knights are knighted, which was also really neat.

After that, we wandered down the Royal Mile and popped in a few of the touristy shops. There were a lot of blue police boxes, and many were for sale. Alas, I am not rich. We ended up making our way back via Arthur’s Seat, which was sort of out of the way. There was a misty, and it felt very much like Scotland. We got back to the B&B quite tired. We had considered going to trad music that night, but decided we’d put it off till Inverness.

Day Eight we got up and went to Edinburgh Castle. I was really looking forward to getting more research done for the potential American Revolution POW story. But though the prison exhibit was really cool, the whole castle experience wasn’t so great. It was overcrowded (even though it was only like 10 a.m.), mostly with school groups. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about myself, it’s that I hate school groups. I think I forgot how much I hate them.

The presentations were also extremely biased, even for someone with as little Scottish history knowledge as myself. We went up to see the Honours of Scotland, which was a really neat exhibit. I laughed out loud when I read about how the Stone of Destiny was “absent” from Westminster back in 1950. “Absent,” it said, not, “Stolen by some Scots because actually they really wanted it back, thanks very much.” My amusement was short lived, because when we were in the room with the stone and various crown jewels the school group around us was mostly comprised of kids on their cell phones. I hate school groups.

We poked around a little more, but gave up because we both dislike crowds. I couldn’t find any books in the bookshop, which was a disappointment. But I’ll hunt up something about the POWs… eventually.

From there, we went to Sandeman’s New Europe Edinburgh tour. I’d gone to the one in Dublin, and though I don’t think this one was quite as fantastic, it was still great. We learned a lot about the city, and saw a lot that we hadn’t seen, and got a feel for the history of Scotland and the current politics. Our guide was really nice, and tried to answer my questions about the POWs. Overall, definitely worth it.

After that, we grabbed sandwich making material at Sainsburys and went to the B&B to rest. So we didn’t see as much of Edinburgh as I might have hoped. I did really like it, because it’s sort of like a bigger, more Gothic Bath. It’s full of history and personality in a way that (I feel) Dublin isn’t. But it was also a city, and cities aren’t my favorite. So I was very excited to head to Fort William the next day!

Day Nine we checked out and took a cab to the train station. From there we caught a shuttle to the airport. The plan was to rent a car and see Oban (and a few other stops) on our drive to Fort William. But when we arrived to pick up our car, my mom found out that it was going to cost three times the amount it’d said online. This was because they required a huge deposit that we weren’t expecting. After talking it over, we decided we just didn’t have that sort of money to put aside, so we opted to try public transportation. As soon as I had WiFi, I planned our route. We hurried back to the train station, then were on our way to Glasgow.

It’d been raining in Edinburgh, but the sky started to break through the clouds almost as soon as we got on the train. In Glasgow we had to make a change to a bus, which was a little bit insane. The bus windows were horrendously filthy, so I packed my camera and settled in for the ride. In some ways this was a mistake, but I actually think I’m glad I did it.

The bus ride was… mind blowing, really. We went past Loch Lomond (“you take the high road and I’ll take the low road…”), which was completely still, like looking into another world. Then we were in the highlands, surrounded by beautiful, huge mountains. I wish I could put what it was like into words. I turned on my playlist and listened music from The Eagle and How to Tame Your Dragon and Doctor Who, plus other traditional ballads. It was stormy and dark and ethereal, clouds low over the mountains, shrouding them like a veil, with water as still and reflective as a mirror below. The mountains were far bigger than I had anticipated. Some were covered in long tan grass, others vividly green, others made up of jagged rocks and cliffs. I was grinning the whole time, just taking them and their foreboding beauty in. I want to write about characters who live like that–who are part mountain, solid and wild and untamable.

It wasn’t all fun, though. Like I said, I’d put my camera up. I was wishing I hadn’t, but it was so dark I couldn’t have gotten very good pictures anyway. I thought to myself that if Mom and I had been driving, we would have never made it to Fort William because I would have stopped her at every bend. Then I probably would have gone running over the rocky fields and broken my head climbing a cliff or something. People around us were snapping pictures with their dinky $20 cameras. I try not to judge $20 cameras, but it’s really hard, I admit. But then these people turned on their flash, taking pictures through the dirty windows with the flash on. I was mortally offended on behalf of the Highlands. If I had been the bus driver, those people would have had a long walk home.

At last, we did arrive in Fort William. It was a quick taxi ride to the B&B, where we were greeted by the most enthusiastic hosts I’ve had so far. They were all smiles and laughter and eager to have us, lingering in our room to hear our plans and our impressions of Scotland. They recommended places to eat in town. Later, when we went to find dinner, I was alone with the husband in the hallway. I pointed at a wedding picture on the wall and asked if it was him and his wife. Obvious question was obvious, but he took it and ran! Apparently they were from Holland, wanted to get married in England, but couldn’t wait the eight days required. So they ran off to Gretna Green! Soon after that, they’d visited Fort William for the first time. They fell in love with the house and a new dream to have a B&B there blossomed. For the next several years, they tried to get the house, but problem after problem came up. Finally they decided it wasn’t meant to be, and they prepared to leave. At the very last moment, the house went on the market. They snatched it up, and have been living that dream ever since.

Then we were off to the Grog & Gruel, an apparently famous pub. It was quite delicious, and cheap. We wandered the quiet town after that. Then it was back to the B&B.

Day Ten we got up and had breakfast, teased by our hosts about “sleeping in” until 8:30 (HA). The husband wore a kilt as he served us and chatted about our plans. We were going on the Jacobite train, which is where the Hogwarts train ride was filmed and is award winning as the most beautiful train ride in the UK. The clouds had broken up, revealing a beautiful sunny day, absolutely perfect weather.

We went down to the station a bit early. The train was already there and being prepared, so we snapped several pictures. Our seats were in the very, very last car. They were just standard four seats facing each other, but that was all right. We got lucky because no one sat opposite us.

If you ever take the Jacobite, sit on the left hand side if you can help it. The views are much better over there. We were on the right side, which was great, but not so awesome for pictures. As the train started, we were told not to lean out windows, as the brush came quite close to the train in parts. But I discovered that I could squeeze my camera out a little opening on the top of our window, which worked quite well.

The ride itself was lovely. The views weren’t quite as beautiful as they had been on the bus, but they were still breathtaking. The Glenfinnan Aqueduct was in the first leg of the journey, which is what most people on the train wanted to see. Because of that, we lost about 50% of the passengers after the first stop. This was great because then I could hop sides getting pictures.

We rode it all the way to Malliag, a small fishing village with not much going on. There we spent our time popping in shops (where I found a Celtic mythology book), having tea, and listening to a girl play the violin and harp. We were going to catch the regular train back, because it was cheaper that way, so we had several hours to kill. Eventually we went down to the coast and I climbed around on rocks while Mom took pictures. Then we caught the train back into Fort William.

It was a fantastic day.


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