Boat, Bronze Age Grave, Castle Urquhart, Ellen Jacobson, highlands, humor, International Dog of Mystery, Loch Ness, murder, mystery, Nessie, Sailing, Scotland, stone circles
It was all Nessie’s fault.
I meant to post my review of Ellen Jacobson’s new cozy mystery, Murder At The Marina, several days ago. But then we took a trip. And as Ellen mentioned in her guest post here, the two of us have a lot in common—including an addiction to travel, and to blogging about travel, and especially to blogging when travel goes (so inevitably) wrong.
After a quick trip to the Highlands, I’m FINALLY back on Arran, a seven-hour trip home that took us three and a half days. I blame Nessie. It all started when a friend told me
I had no travel cred. …er… I couldn’t call myself a proper resident of Scotland …um… Living in Scotland without seeing Loch Ness was like going to India and not seeing the Taj Mahal, or Paris without the Eiffel Tower, or California without ordering from the secret menu at In-N-Out Burger. Okay, what she actually said was if I’d never been to Loch Ness to look for Nessie, I was the same as Donald Trump. (Only she pronounced it “That apricot-faced toupéd wee fooktrumpet…”). Right, then. The Hub and the dog and I went to Loch Ness.
Well, first we went to Edinburgh—several hours out of the way—as one does. We need a table to hold up the ginormous TV the kids guilted us into buying (although we never watch it, don’t have an antenna, and wouldn’t know what to do with one if we did). But we heard about Georgian Antiques in Edinburgh, and their fifty-thousand square feet of antiques spread over five floors, surely one of which contained a suitable support for TVzilla.
Those who know me or to whom I’ve given birth will realize what a bad idea this was. I don’t even like to go to chain grocery stores because they have too many identical items to choose from. An antiques store bigger than some towns I’ve lived in? Baaaad move. I made it through the room full of old golf clubs, each lovingly displayed inside glass cases and was standing, stunned, before a wall-o-chamber pots. The Hub—being a man of action when action is needed—dragged me off to a pub with promises of lunch and assurances that the TV-on-steroids could just sit on the windowsill forever.
Leaving Edinburgh was as difficult as ever, mainly because this beautiful and charming city has as little use for freeways as I have for…well, TV tables. But finally we were driving through the breath-stopping gorgeous scenery of the Highlands. If you’ve been there, you know how absolutely stunning it is. If not, you’ll have to take my word (unless you have a friend who compares you to Donald Trump, of course, and thus have to prove your wo/manhood by going to Loch Ness yourself).
We spent the night in the coastal town of Cromarty, at the Victorian era Royal Hotel. When we checked in, they told us we’d received an unexpected upgrade to a charming and comfortable “superior” room with a sea view (which, we were surprised to see, included several decommissioned oil rigs waiting to be demolished).
But Nessie was calling, and we were soon on our way to Loch Ness. First though, we had a stop to make. I’ve always been fascinated by the standing stone circles found throughout the UK, and especially in the north of Scotland. Located near Loch Ness is the Bronze Age Corrimony Clava Cairn. We arrived in late morning and didn’t even have to touch the standing stones to step back in time.
Sudden, massive migrations over four thousand years ago had pushed populations out of what is now Russia and Mongolia. In less than six generations, they spread into Western Europe and north to the British Isles. Flourishing trade routes extended worldwide, connecting iwith civilizations in Turkey, Egypt, Mesopotamia, India, and elsewhere as tin was mined and fused with copper to produce the bronze used for tools, weapons, and household objects. Settling into agrarian communities, they developed rituals for everything from burying their honoured dead to tracking the lunar and solar seasons that controlled their planting and their very lives
I tried to imagine what we might be building today that people would visit in 4000 years. Would they marvel at our ancient achievements, wondering if we worshipped them or used them as tools? Would they think giant TV screens perched on windowsills were aligned to worship at Superbowl Sunday?
It was time to look into Nessie. A quick Google-check revealed an account of Saint Columba, early in the sixth century, who waved his hand at a water beast threatening one of his followers swimming in Loch Ness, commanding the monster, “Go no further. Do not touch the man. Go back at once.”—Life of St Columba, by Adomnán of Iona
Properly chastised, Nessie obediently disappeared, rarely sighted again until 1933, when the Inverness Courier reported:
…George Spicer and his wife saw ‘a most extraordinary form of animal’ cross the road in front of their car. They described the creature as having a large body (about 4 feet (1.2 m) high and 25 feet (8 m) long) and a long, wavy, narrow neck, slightly thicker than an elephant’s trunk and as long as the 10–12-foot (3–4 m) width of the road. They saw no limbs. It lurched across the road towards the loch 20 yards (20 m) away, leaving a trail of broken undergrowth in its wake.”—Wikipedia
Although many Scottish lochs have stories about lake monsters, it was Nessie who ignited interest around the world. People poured into the area by the thousands in hopes of catching a glimpse of the elusive monster. Scientific searches were mounted, the lake mapped with sonar and submarines. And it goes on today. A new scientific search by the University of Oswego in New Zealand has been collecting samples from the lake, and is analyzing the DNA in the water to determine if any of it belongs to shy lake monsters.
Who are we to argue with science? We went Nessie-hunting. And that’s where things got ugly. Was it because I laughed at the frankly tacky tourist bait (Nessieland anyone?) as we approached the castle ruins on the shore of Loch Ness? Or the way I complained about the thousands of German and Japanese tourists forming a solid human wedge blocking the entrance (through the gift shop of course) to Castle Urquhart? Was it the high-pressured upsell delivered to each and every person ahead of us in the queue before they were permitted to fork over their fees for the privilege of peering out from a ruined castle at the Loch where Nessie wasn’t? Of course not. I have, after all, been to football matches.
No, it was the part where they told me they DO NOT ALLOW DOGS. In Scotland.
“Not well-done,” complained one of my fellow dog owners, from the shady side of the carpark where exiled pooch-handlers were gathered for protection from the blazing (for Scotland) heatwave which, rumor had it, might reach as much as 21C/70F. [NOTE: We were permitted to talk to one another—without even being in a pub—because we were discussing the only two socially-acceptable topics: dogs and the weather.]
“My dog is better behaved than most of those children,” added another.
“It’s so unBritish,” one silver-haired lady declared. “I think something is going on.”
We began speculating. Was the Nessie operation a cover for something sinister? Russian spies? Aliens? MBAs?
“And they’re afraid our dogs’ superior senses will sniff them out!” We all stared at his dog, who had apparently used his superior senses to locate something highly questionable at the side of the carpark, and was now energetically rolling in it.
The Hub came up to take his turn at dog wrangling, and I went to explore the castle ruins and search for Nessie. Here’s what I found.
So we abandoned the bazillion tourists at Castle Urquhart and headed for Glasgow. About an hour later, we saw that all the cars in front of us were stopped. Then we watched drivers get out of their cars, wandering around and asking each other what happened.
As we chatted, I noticed how relaxed most people were. The dog and I went to join them.
“We’re supposed to catch a ferry and pick up our kids from the grandparents,” said one couple. “So sad we’ll miss the last ferry and be a day late to collect them.” Both were beaming.
A group of motor cyclists were discussing other universal issues.
BikerGuy #1: “I could NEVER be with a woman who makes the bed before she leaves the bedroom.”
BikerGuy#2: “Or who takes those weird little pillows and puts them back on the bed. Like, ‘That’s us done here’.”
All the BikerGuys: “Those little pillows. What the f**k is that about? In the history of the world, has anybody ever actually used them for anything?”
About four hours later, our new friends all got the same news: there was a head-on collision on a bridge that had narrowed to one lane. So traffic was stopped for miles in either direction. Of course—it WAS Scotland—no police came to direct traffic or even tell us WTF was going on.
Finally, a kid on a skateboard came back from going all the way to the wreck and he told us they were sending an ambulance helicopter but had to wait for them to cut the people out of the cars. [Okay, that was such a disturbing image, none of us wanted any more firsthand reports.] Even more finally, we found out they were closing the road “for investigations”. The ONLY road.
By then it was getting late, we hadn’t had dinner, and we decided to look for a place to spend a Sunday night, in the middle of a bank holiday weekend, in the middle of gorgeous summer weather, in the middle of some kind of bicycle-marathon event, in the middle of the Highlands. Easy-peasy?. Not.
The following day, we finally got back to Glasgow, where the Hub dropped the dog and me off at the train station. With minutes to spare, I stumbled inside, bought my ticket, and waited for my train to appear on the board. And waited. And waited… Finally, they announced that Glasgow Central Station was broken. Five hours later (my dog was NOT pleased) we finally got on a train to (barely) make the last ferry to the island.
On the plus side, I see Nessie has finally been spotted!
Please come back tomorrow…I PROMISE not to leave the island again before I post my review of Ellen Jacobson’s upcoming cozy murder mystery, Murder at the Marina.
Almost Iowa said:
That’s not Nessie, it’s her brother.
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NOW it makes sense!
Sue Vincent said:
The countryside is glorious… in spite of tourists. I camped on the shores of th eloch so long ago I could shower in a roadside waterfall in peace. Or maybe that sight is what sent Nessie looking for a new home 😉
The cairn though… wish we’d managed to see that last yer!
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I have to admit I was truly overwhelmed by the cairn. There’s something incredibly moving about scooting along that tiny passage to reach the central cavern, and knowing that people have been doing the same thing for literally thousands of years. The unfortunate part is that the surrounding stones of the circle were “fixed” during Victorian times…so it’s difficult to say what their purpose might have been in terms of tracking lunar and/or solar seasons.
On the other hand, I can’t blame Nessie for not being ready to see you shower. (I’m not ready for that myself…)
Sue Vincent said:
Ach, ruddy Victorians! First our churches, then our cairns 😉 Still, at least they recognised they needed preserving, which is something.
I’ ve been lucky enough to visit several of these burial mounds where the tunnel is intact and I agree… it is very moving. perhaps the best was a visit to Stoney Littleton Long Barrow, where there is no sign of modern man on the horizon and the passageway is so low you are almost on your knees. You really get a feel for what these places might have been. Birthing chambers for the soul, perhaps.
The Lockwood Echo said:
I’ve been regaling some comedy of error type travel tales myself, but this beats any of mine hands down! Love that you took it all in your stride and what a fabulous location to be stuck in. Would love to visit some Scottish scenery.
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If you’ve got to be stuck somewhere, Scotland is definitely the place to do it. (Especially the Highlands!)
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Rosie Amber said:
Oh what a tale, glad you made it home.
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Terry Tyler said:
Lovely pics, Barb, and I envy you greatly, despite delays!!
I have been to a few places up your way…. as far as Thurso and Wick, around Ullapool, also went to Oban/Glencoe area, but never been to Loch Ness!
Incidentally, should you ever see your bikers again, tell them I agree re people who make the bed as soon as you get out of it, but admit to having one or two of those little pillows. I will now explain what they are for. When you watch telly in bed, like wot I do, you use them to prop up your neck. Or to rest your ipad on to play Plague Inc video game (how quickly can your virus destroy humanity?) when husband is watching something you find boring. Or to put under your knee when your arthritis is hurting. I could go on.
I suspect the sort of women who make the bed immediately after sha**ing don’t watch telly or play Plague Inc video game in bed, though.
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Oh I loved this! It reminded me of the time my sister and I ended up in Aviemore one weekend in August, with no hotel reservation and literally EVERYTHING was booked. We ended up sleeping in our car in a car park… it was too cold though so we took off at 5 a.m. (but of course it was bright as mid-day outside) and drove around the loch. At 7 a.m. there wasn’t a single other person at Urquhart Castle so we had the run of the place! It was a gorgeous day. So annoying to get stuck in traffic though! Glad you – eventually – made it home.
Nessie hunting has its drawbacks. Hope the dog wasn’t too traumatized.
It is a lovely part of the world – I have been there – ddin’t see Nessie either. 🙂
Looove your stories, Friends of ours got married at a similar site to Corrimony: Cairinpapple Hill Near Linlithgo. It is the highest place between Edinburgh and Glasgow, and it too is filled with cairns. John and I were there once in June, and watched the sun head off to the west, then pop up again in the east a minute later. Soooo cool!
He he, what a great post, Barb. I thought it was only in Africa that traffic police seemed to be a fallacy and could never be found when needed.
carol hedges (@carolJhedges) said:
Have you seen a haggis on your travels? They are rather shy. And they have one leg sorter than the other from going round mountains.
We have never been in Scotland when the sun was out for more than an hour at a time. I think I need to tour with you! That plus the laughs! 🙂 🙂