part 3: the highlands
Please excuse the quality of the photos, we did not know that our new camera had a defective part when we went to Scotland
Most of us that have even a drop of Scottish blood like to indulge in the romantic fantasy that we descend from brave warrior clans of Scottish Highlanders, I am no exception, being of Scottish descent on my Father’s side I was really looking forward to this day, with (Unrealistic) visions of tartan clad men and rosy cheeked women. Mike, daughter, youngest son, and I set out toward the mist shrouded hills of the Highlands. Our oldest son wrestled long and hard about coming with us, but in the end he could not shirk his work duties on this particular day due to pressing matters with his team.
So the day started out well enough.
As we motored along highway A82 toward our first destination of Ben Nevis, a trip of just under three hours, we followed the winding curve of the mysterious and beguiling Loch Lomond.
Loch Lomond is the largest freshwater inland lake in Great Britain with a surface area of twenty-seven miles. There are thirty plus islands that dot the loch and one of them, Inchconnachan, is inhabited by Wallabies. Also, not to be outdone by its neighbor, Loch Lomond has a monster which allegedly inhabits its cold, murky depths. Perhaps due to its resemblance to an ordinary crocodile and because the last sighting was in 1997 people tend to ignore this bit of interesting trivia.
Even though it was a rainy, misty, cold day, we were enthralled by the scenery. Mile after mile of breathtaking, enchanting views from all sides so it was no wonder that we stopped often for photo opportunities.
CROSS TIP: Make sure you fill up with gas prior to heading toward Ft. Williams. There are towns throughout the trip, but eventually they spread out further and further and you wouldn’t want to be low on gas in between towns
Along the route, we stopped in one of the picturesque towns for a delicious lunch and a quick sightseeing trip along part of the lakefront.
When we did eventually arrive in Ft. Williams we proceeded directly to The Ben Nevis Distillery. Established in 1825 at the foot of Britain’s tallest mountain, this distillery has brilliant views of the River Lochy. There is a small cafe inside where you can enjoy a nice coffee if you do not plan to partake in a whisky tasting. Ben Nevis was a much larger operation than we had experienced on Islay, but we chose not to tour the facilities as we wanted to see as much of the Highlands as possible, however Mike and our daughter did sample some of Ben Nevis’s finest, while my son and I settled for cappuccinos.
Back in the van we traveled a short distance down the road and found one of the walking trails that dot this area. There were multitudes of people with backpacks and camping gear walking the roads. Ben Nevis is 4411 ft tall and is part of the Grampian mountains. According to Wikipedia, it attracts over 100,000 visitors per year who hike and rock climb toward its craggy peak.
We were not prepared to do either of those activities, so instead we parked in one of the many parking areas that line the riverfront and trekked toward a bridge that traversed the river Lochy and strolled along the footpath that led toward the Ben Nevis Mountain Track.
Climbing back into our blue van we back tracked through Ft. Williams with a short stop at Old Inverlochy Castle. Built in the 13th century, by John Comyn, it was a pivotal trade spot for Spanish and French merchants up until John Comyn was killed in 1297 by his rival, Robert the Bruce.
The castle witnessed two major Highland battles during its history. The first Battle of Inverlochy, fought in 1431 and the second Battle of Inverlochy, fought in 1645. It is now in the care of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland who maintain its remarkably preserved walls. I always have such a profound sense of wonder when I see buildings that have such a long story. The history of the place becomes alive to me, I was enthralled, but we were on a mission so did not linger long in the shadow of Ben Nevis.
You cannot come to the Highlands of Scotland and not try to find the road to Skyfall.
The location for this piece of cinematic scenery, involving a pensive James Bond and his iconic Aston Martin, is Glen Etive, on a side road off of A82 near the mountains of Buachaille Etive Mor, and so off we went.
As if on cue, the weather turned rainy and the clouds started a lazy roll down the hills as the wind picked up slightly. Undaunted, we left the main highway and turned off onto a small side road which paralleled the River Etive. As we travelled down the winding one lane road we were trying desperately to pull up a photo of the movie but cell service was non existent.
Going by memory we think we were pretty close to the spot, although we probably needed to go a little further down for the proper angle, and obviously the seasons were different during our cinematic venture.
Despite the weather conditions we all felt that the area was an untamed masterpiece of natural wonder and we completely understood why it was chosen as a filming location.
Nightfall comes early in the Glens of Scotland and there were still a few places that we wanted to stop for photos so we started the long drive back to Glasgow.
It would be impossible for me to find the correct adjectives to try to explain the expansive and stark beauty of the highlands. The impossible terrain and the intense quiet of the forbidden moors. I doubt that my pictures will be able to fully give credit to what we saw, or how we felt in such a vast natural landscape. It was an incredible experience and I am immensely pleased that we did not let the opportunity pass to see it.
Civilization was back in view as we had been travelling for about two hours back toward Glasgow. We were discussing all of the magnificent sights that we had seen and going over the itinerary for the last part of our trip to Edinburgh the next day when we decided to stop at a kitschy rest area on A82 called The Green Welly Stop in Tyndrum. Mike filled up the tank, we used the restrooms, called our son back at the flat with our ETA, and with snacks in hand to tide us over until dinner, we got back on our way.
Or so we thought….
The weather was still poor but we were making good time when we rounded a bend on the narrowest part of A82 along Loch Lomond and saw an RV partly in our lane. Mike moved over slightly to avoid the vehicle and we heard a loud boom. My son and I, sitting on the left side of the van, were thrown about violently as we struck something in the roadway. Immediately we could feel the van list toward the left. There seemed to be no doubt that we had blown a tire, but it became apparent quickly that this was no ordinary blow out.
Coasting into a clearing, we leaped out of the car to surveyed the damage. Once we saw the tires we knew that we were not going to be driving anywhere in the van. Not only were both tires blown, but the rims were bent and we had a pretty good suspicion that the undercarriage was also damaged. We realized that we were fortunate that we were able to get it off the road since there was a mountain on one side and a foreboding lake on the other.
CROSS TIP: If you plan to rent a car while on vacation, check with your car insurance carrier while planning your trip. If they do not cover you overseas (And Mexico), and most do not, then I would strongly advise you to purchase it from a travel insurance provider. We use Allianz because we have had two claims with them through the years and they paid both with absolutely no hassle, but there are many good companies to choose from.
My husband called the number for a recovery truck (Tow truck) that was posted on the rental van’s window, and we started the long wait for help. During that time we were able to walk back to see what we hit and discovered a great rock protruding into the roadway with fresh tire tracks on it.
Thankfully, we had stopped at The Green Welly because we did not know it then but we were in for a very, very long wait for help. For three hours we sat in our mutilated van as Mike called the helpline repeatedly, while we sang Police songs about dark Scottish Lakes.
At a certain point we were beginning to wonder if anyone was going to come for us, as we debated the possibility of spending the night in the wrecked van, or taking our chances with walking however many miles it was into town, we were finally giving the information that we had been so desperately waiting for, the recovery truck driver was on his way!
When he arrived he shooed us all into his massive truck while he used a small crane to pick our van up and place it on the flatbed, which we found to be quite impressive. Climbing back into the truck he asked us what happened and when Mike told him, his reply was that it happens all the time and that he has picked up quite a few people that have hit that same rock. Which made us all slightly annoyed to say the least.
The driver was kind, and felt bad for us and was happy that our day had not been spoiled. He brought us all the way to our apartment and let us know the van was going to the rental lot for the night.
Although, there was a bit of a panic in the morning when the Rental car company called to ask us where it was. “What do you mean where is it? Don’t you have it?“
SIDE NOTE: In case you’re wondering, we did a little over six thousand US dollars worth of damage to the van. Jake and I were a little sore the next day, but I (Being an Insurance Agent at the time) had purchased International car insurance prior to our trip so every bit of the claim was paid with no issue.
Back at the apartment in Glasgow our oldest son had hot food from a local restaurant waiting for us. After regaling our son with the story of our harrowing adventure, packing up for our trip to Edinburgh the next day, and tidying up the apartment, we all slumped off to our beds exhausted and ready to put the ordeal behind us. We had enjoyed our stay in Glasgow, loved our trek to Islay, and had a most memorable time in the Highlands, but Edinburgh and The Fringe awaited us at our fourth and final stop.