Friday, 30 October 2009

Thursday 1 October 2009

We awoke just outside Inverness. I say ‘awoke’ as I had spent a somewhat restless night rattling across Britain in a train while lights occasionally flashed in. At about 5am I realised, while temporarily awake, that the lights were going in the wrong direction and that at some point the train had stopped and set off backwards, the way we had come.
There was a problem, it transpired, with the coach that should have been there to meet us. However, we were instructed to leave our luggage in the charge of Gary, and to go and explore Inverness, which we did. It’s a lovely place. What we thought was a castle, was a castle, but also turned out to be the local sheriff’s court office.
I took a photo of a seagull sitting happily on the head of a statue of man gazing meaningfully out over the River Ness.
Later, we had a Scottish breakfast in ‘The Filling Station’ which comprised of bacon, Lorn sausage, black pudding, haggis, beans, tomato, fried egg and a bit of flat potato bread. The waiter was, I think, Italian.
The coach duly turned up, but not before I had witnessed the heartening spectacle of an orderly queue of people forming in the station, waiting to board the train.
And so, we set off for Loch Ness, initially having a wander around Drumnadrochit, a village which appears to boast two rival Loch Ness Visitor Centres and a plethora of shops selling Loch Ness merchandise and the campest taxi office in the world, festooned with roses and sporting a life-size artificial heron guarding its doors.
As the Ugly One stayed way too long skulking round the kilt shop we were told off by Gary for being late back for the coach.
Our next voyage of discovery was a trip to castle Urquhart on the banks of the Loch and a trip across Loch Ness itself on one of the tourist transit boats. One company, it appears, has this lucrative franchise, and their boats are named after the Jacobites whose history is so closely tied in with Castle Urquhart and Loch Ness itself. I was hoping that we were going to be riding on the Jacobite Queen, but ultimately we ended up on the Jacobite Spirit, where we were given a taped lecture on the Loch itself, accompanied by an Enya-esque soundtrack.
At the far end were yet more cafes and Nessie-themed shops. The locals, obviously, have a vested interest in keeping the Nessie legend alive.
So far, we have seen two men in kilts, just going about their normal business.
By this time we were exhausted and relieved that we were finally heading off to our hotel.
‘We’ll be there in about an hour,’ said Gary.
Some time later we arrived at the Nethybridge Hotel and as we were disembarking, noted a hotel employee come storming out, stand for a moment looking very vexed, and then storm back in again.
We took in our bags and went to reception where a very flustered manager was trying to cope with the influx.
Dinner, we’d been told, was at seven, so we had about an hour and a half to freshen up, relax and revitalise.
I was grateful to discover a proper bath and began running it immediately.
One odd thing is that the key-fob – which bears the number of the room and the name of the hotel – seems to be about seven inches log and two inches wide. What is the need for that?
Back in reception, on the way to the bar for a quick snifter before dinner, I was entranced (if that is the right word) by the sound of bagpipes which I assumed was being played on CD from somewhere in the hotel. To my surprise, the music stopped for a moment and a bagpiper – in full regalia – walked in through the front door, checked something in his bag, and then fired up his pipes and carried on. Hoorah!
Dinner was salmon mousse, smoked haddock with mozzarella and tomato, and black forest gateaux, drizzled with some kind of strawberry syrup.
The Ugly One went back to our room to pick something up, and the rest of us were herded through to another room for coffee and ‘Musical Entertainment and Dancing.’
As the ‘ME & D’ was setting up, I asked Gary about the vexed employee who stormed out when we arrived.
‘Oh Her!’ said Gary, who had, I suspect, been at the scotch. ‘well, she’s a feisty queen. Apparently he wanted to come on the coach to talk to you all, which I’d have been fine with… had I been told!
‘As it was, everybody just piled off and he didn’t get to make his big speech…’
I discovered later that he was talking about the hotel manager, and not the disgruntled employee, who turned out to be a feisty English barman.
The UO, it appears, had been sick. I decided to forego the ‘ME & D’ and set off for bed also. I’m exhausted. How do these old people do it? I want those drugs.
Tomorrow it’s Pitlochry. I’m not sure what that is. I think there might be a castle involved.
Outside our window there’s a horse in a coat.

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