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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.

Thus…

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.

Needless to say, no antiques were harmed or purchased that day, although I did lobby hard for the deer leg coat rack—a bargain marked down from £575 to a mere £225…

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).

Highlands of Scotland [image credit: Pixabay]

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).

The ‘sea view’ through our hotel window, Cromarty Scotland

 

Greeted by the Royal’s proprietor, Jenny Henderson. And its concierge, Ellie the miniature schnauzer.

The Royal’s Lounge, with restaurant beyond, where we sat in front of a log fire to eat our delicious dinner of cottage pie (supervised by the ever-hopeful Ellie in her role as maître d’ & assiduous crumb vacuum).

After a wonderful night, we thought we’d be ready for the Royal Full Scottish breakfast “all from the grill”—bacon, sausage, tomato, black pudding, tattie scone, sautéed mushrooms, and fried egg—to which the Hub optimistically added Scottish smoked haddock fillet, an enormous poached-egg-topped fish that looked like it came from Moby Dick. We were SO not ready.

We attempted to walk off Moby Haddock with a stroll around one of the more charming towns we’ve seen, with winding streets of victorian terraced cottages, lighthouse, parks, and shops—often opening onto sea views.

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

Corrimony Cairn & Stone Circle. Over 4000 years ago a woman died. All we know is that she must have been important, because her body was laid alone into a stone cavern. A massive roof cap stone was set over the top, surrounded by a ring of twelve standing stones. As the millenia passed, calcium from her dissolving bones leached into the stone beneath her to leave a shadow marking her presence. Some of the standing stones were moved over time, some replaced in Victorian era with others.

The low (about a meter high) entry passage is oriented southwest to line up with the moon’s lowest midwinter setting.

Thus every 18.6 years, you could lie on the floor of the passage and watch the moon set from its lowest point, marking the middle of winter for a rural farming society.

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?

[image credit: Clan MacNicol Federation]

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.

Loch Ness from Castle Urquhart. Can you spot Nessie? (Me either…)

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.

There are worse things than being stuck in the Highlands of Scotland on a gorgeous summer day…

“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.

We had to turn around, go back toward Inverness. Slowly, because the roads were clogged by hundreds of cyclists, not to mention all the cars still heading for the crash site because nobody was directing traffic or even putting up signs warning Abandon-Hope-All-Ye-Who-Drive-Here…

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.

Our saviors! The Cairngorm Hotel in Aviemore—a Victorian hotel that has never met a plaid or deer-horn decorating item it didn’t love—came to our rescue with fabulous burgers (“Our kitchen is closing, but we’ll just check if our chef can help you”) and the very last available room. The desk clerk was quite concerned about renting it to us because it was over the bar, but she needn’t have worried. The industrial air conditioning unit outside our window provided white noise for a blissful night’s sleep. Between the plaid and tweed decor, and the twin beds, I felt like I was in an episode of the Dick Van Dyke show. O Rooooobbbb!)

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.

 

 

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