18.07.2007 - 21.07.2007 15 °C
Entering Scotland from England via road is somewhat of an anticlimax. There’s no sign, no marker, although perhaps the weather got slightly worse, which was saying something. Snuggled up in my new ski jacket (yep, it may have been summer in the Northern Hemisphere but I had to run to an outdoor shop in Cumbria to stock up on woolly socks and a heavy-duty, wind- and rain-proof padded coat) I watched as grey, rain-soaked fields gave way to the industrial outskirts of Glasgow. After managing to negotiate peak-hour traffic in the rain and still stay married, our next task was to make it across the Firth of Clyde, a large inlet that separates Glasgow from the highlands. Unhelpfully, the big bridge was closed, with nothing but a small sign saying ‘Ferry this way’, plus an arrow pointing in the direction of the boats. About, ooh, and hour’s drive later, we made it to the car ferry landing, which was basically a small barge on a chain that putted back and forth across the water. Finally, we were in luck. The boat was about to leave and wasn’t quite full. Although safely on board we were more than a little shocked when this 10-minute trip cost us almost 20 pounds, which is more than 50 Aussie dollars. Still, we were on our way. Ach laddies.
Driving in Scotland is truly an experience to savour. The roads, even the minor ones, are well-sealed and safe. The scenery is breathtaking and you really do see so much from your car. A hugely different experience from whipping along the Autoroutes in France or Italy at 130 kilometres per hour, staring at a grey wall. Scottish driving is actually part of the fun, unbelievably.
After a quick night-stop in a charming and tiny town called Inverary, it was over the sea to Skye for us (thankfully that bridge was open and it was free!). Next challenge. The sun came out. It was warm. People were actually wearing T-shirts – I could hardly remember last time I saw a t-shirt all on its own. And it felt like the whole of Scotland and beyond had descended on Skye to rejoice in the “finally a little bit of summer” weather. Which would have been awesome if we’d pre-booked accommodation. As we were however homeless, we spent an increasingly frustrating day trying to find a bed. When, some time very late in the afternoon, we ran out of an old lady’s B&B who’d totally seen us coming and told us slyly we could have her spare room (literally, it was her spare room – 2 single beds, sharing HER bathroom with 6 other poor souls) for a mere 65 pounds (or over 160 bucks – “ I could stay at the Sydney Hilton for that” I cried in anguish) I lost my ladylike faculties and screeched at Mike, “Drive back to the mainland, we’re leaving, damn it” (although I might have said it a little more unprintably).
Thankfully, the Holiday Gods put their foot down at this, and miraculously we spotted a sweet little motel in the island’s suburb of Broadford, home of Drambuie. “Excellent”, we thought, “A bed, and hard liquor, just the thing”. Two nights later, we were in love with Skye. It’s a beautiful, windswept place with fierce-looking mountains, mysterious lochs, rolling green fields, ruined castles and isolated, white-washed cottages dotting the landscape. Our highlight was stumbling across a sheepdog trial competition down a little back lane. Now, this may have been simply a country-Skye trial, but anyone would have believed it the Dog Olympics, such was the atmosphere, the concentration of the competitors, the excitement of the dogs, the size of the trophy. We were enraptured with these clever, clever animals, their patient owners, and the crazy sheep that were driven mercilessly through gates, around fences and into pens. Some fellow travellers, a carload of Americans, also found the festivities, but unluckily for them, got their people-carrier bogged in the field poor things. After the locals couldn’t budge the car, the driver had some kind of stress-induced tantrum even I would have been proud of and strode off into the middle of the competition ground screaming into his mobile phone that he “didn’t want to be stuck out in the middle of ‘Goddam’ nowhere for the rest of the day”, and to “make it a priority to send a guy out immediately”. Unfortunately, he scared the competing dog and spooked the sheep, got shouted at in thick Scottish accents by the locals, and had to end up standing stock still in the middle of the field pretending to be a tree, looking, umm, sheepish, for the next 10 minutes until the trial had finished. I’m not joking, he really took up the stance of a tree. Naturally, we didn’t laugh at his misfortune. We’d had too many travel-disasters of our own to feel superior by that late stage.