Jean Sue's Diary (IV)
The Highlands' West Coast
On our way to the western coast – following a beautiful ride out of Ballater, first along the River Gairn and then up and over the Grampian Mountains – we took a brief detour at Inverness and drove up to the Black Isle to see a former neighbor who now runs a hotel and restaurant in Fortrose; we highly recommend The Anderson: wonderful food and an interesting area in Scotland.
We then stayed for three days by Loch Torridon on the Applecross Peninsula. Until 30 years ago, most of the peninsula was reachable only by boat or by the Bealach na Ba (Pass of the Cattle), frequently closed by snow for months at a time. Bob drove Bealach na Ba twice (once in the rain, once in the sun); the hairpin turns, single lanes and frequent drop-offs were quite spectacular. It is the highest road in Great Britain.
Delightful along the road were several signs: "Heavy Plant Crossing" inspired me to think of a 200-pound petunia lumbering along, and "Beware Lambs" made us wonder if they were vicious!
So wild, sparsely settled (except by sheep) and lovely; we stayed at a B&B run by a shell fisherman and his wife and thoroughly enjoyed our time. Tigh a' Chracaich was perched on a crag overlooking the Loch. Of interest to me were Derrick’s cross-breeding of broom for new colors and his 6’ high fuchsia bushes. I adore fuchsia but always struggle just to keep a small, hanging plant going…. Of interest to Bob was the locally caught, cold seafood plate filled with six langoustine prawns (a.k.a. Dublin prawns), both cold and hot smoked salmon, crabmeat and prawns in marie rose sauce, accompanied by salad, hard cooked eggs and hot potatoes.
Going into Shieldaig one evening for dinner, we passed a wedding party on the Village Green, dancing traditional reels to fiddle and squeeze box..
Best meal of the trip was at the Potting Shed in the Walled Garden in Applecross; everything was well prepared and carefully thought-out for maximum taste. I wanted Scottish venison and was highly satisfied by the chef’s casserole mounted upon a colcannon of red cabbage, mustard-enhanced potatoes and apples, topped with deep fried shreds of celeriac … followed by a huge profiterole with hot fudge.
The roads on the peninsula are two-way but single lane; it's quite a driving experience even when no car is coming from the opposite direction as the sheep tend to graze near the road and the lambs tend to scamper across it. Passing zones are located every tenth of a mile in the hillier, curvier places. Frequently, there is a sharp drop off on one side of the road leading to a loch or gorge. Fortunately, it was easier to drive than the hedgerows of Devon because there were no hedges hiding oncoming cars from view, but there were frequently big rocks and hillsides to obscure the view and the locals drive quite quickly. Bob drove extremely well in these circumstances.
I had earlier taken a turn at driving on the left side of the road; it is quite daunting. The difficult part is judging the location of the left side of the car when the steering wheel is on the right.
Most lambs head off when confronted by strangers but I met one little lad who was fascinated by the zoom lens on my camera and the noise its motor made; he and I had a little conversation about mechanics. Per instructions following the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease several years ago, we did not touch the livestock.
We had a chance to see a herd of Highland Cattle with their shaggy bangs and red coats; we spotted several red deer, particularly at sunset. In Ayrshire, we spotted several pheasants.
I now know more than I care to about midges. At the Inverewe Gardens, they were so bad I resorted to bug spray. This is an incredible garden to visit as it sits on the Gulf Stream and is home to many plants from Africa, Australia/New Zealand and elsewhere around the globe. There were scores I had never even seen in photographs, some exotic, some quite mundane.
All of Scotland was in bloom while we were there; it is easy to see how the rhododendron has invaded the countryside when they are in flower; they are literally everywhere. Anywhere lilacs bloom is heaven to me. We were both unprepared for the spring of Scotland… daffodils and tulips and roses all in bloom along with a luscious range of yellows from the grape seed fields, the gorse and the broom.
This was actually my fourth spring of 2004: I saw the cacti in bloom in Arizona in March, the flowering trees of Philadelphia in April, the lilacs and tulips of Wisconsin in early May and then the prolific blossoms of Scotland in late May. My allergies are delighted.
We finish in Glasgow
We drove down the shore of Loch Lomond to Glasgow for two days before heading home. We stayed at the Kirklee Hotel, a charming B&B where the proprietors decided to maximum space by not having a breakfast room. Instead, a chambermaid (in full Victorian uniform) brings the guests’ breakfasts to their rooms. I could get used to that. (Bob kept singing Sondheim's ditty, "Everybody Ought To Have A Maid" from A Funny Thing Happened on My Way to the Forum.)
The highly-touted Burrell art collection was most interesting for the architecture of the building housing it. Tea at the Willow Tea Rooms by Charles Rennie Mackintosh (a Glaswegian Art Deco designer) was fun (and tasty) and, although the Kelvingrove Art Museum was closed, many of its masterpieces were on view at the McLellan Galleries including Thomas Faed’s ‘The Last of the Clan’, Rembrandt’s ‘A Man in Armour’ and more Mackintosh. We also enjoyed the city's transportation museum, where I found a pristine Volvo 1800s, a model I enjoyed driving in Wisconsin.
The conclusion was a seven-hour flight back to Philadelphia with a sigh that, all in all, it was a wonderful trip.