I am writing this looking out at a Norwegian fjord. Today I had a run-in with a Viking. I think, after he honked his horn at me, that he took issue with the salutation I sent in return. He stopped his van, mid-road, and disembarked. He tried my drivers side door which was unfortunately locked depriving me of the opportunity to meet locals but he did start a one sided discussion on the other side of the drivers side window.
He was large, hairy, and blond. Yes…a real live Viking had alighted from his long van to discuss my use of the indicator lamps on our motor home with me. It was then I decided that as a precaution, actually, locked was good. As the monologue on the other side of the window progressed I realised that all was not well and when he punched the window we did have some concerns regarding his intent. Was he going to invade us as Vikings apparently do, or did?
This however is another story.
We must return to our Scottish adventures.
I love train travel and the London to Edinburgh didn’t disappoint, at least going in that direction.
Great scenery, wine and food at your seat, comfortable, and no driving stress. Edinburgh was full of tourists and did disappoint a little. The fun started though after picking up a rental car for a few days. The plan had been head to Inverness, look around the north coast, visit the Orkneys and then re-visit some of the highland distilleries I have come to know and love…but once we got past Inverness that all changed.
There is a coastal route they call the 500. It’s 500miles of often narrow steep road right around the north coast starting and finishing in Inverness. Because we didn’t know about it and didn’t plan we ended up doing it as a figure 8 but it didn’t really matter. What the Scots lack in Culinary imagination in the little towns of the north is made up for in scenery at least on this stretch of road. And to be fair we did happen on a 4 star lodge in the very far north; Forss House, in Forss of course, not far from Thurso. Here my faith in the Scotts and their ability to string together a well constructed meal was properly restored.
But to start at the start. In Edinburgh we visited Hollywood House (wait, did I say Hollywood? Rather apt slip of the tongue, but it’s Hollyrood) as tourists do.
We walked to the top of Hollyrood park, to Arthurs Seat as tourists, for the most part, don’t (it’s a 500m climb) and what a view. And we found an Italian restaurant.
Then we drove up to Inverness and across through the mountains to Gairloch and stayed at the Gairloch Highland Country Lodge. Next day we drove through Poolewe, and past Inverewe. It wasn’t until we saw the Isle of Ewe that I realised we had the funny language thing going on. This wasn’t “Pool…We”. It was “Pool…Ewe” like in the sheep. It reminded me of that old joke about Mac…Innes, Mac Cloud, Mac…Donald and Mac…Hinery. Never mind.
On through Ullapool where Linda had a really nice cuppa and I had crap coffee. Then the road got really narrow. One lane with passing bays about as far apart as a long sighted Scotsman could see and lots of really cold looking beaches and bays. The scenery was outstanding and the drive is worth it. Forss House was like a beacon. The one hitch was although it was lovely and on the river Forss, a well known Salmon fishery, we did drive past an interesting industrial facility just prior to arrival. I thought to myself, gosh if I didn’t know better I would say that looks like an old nuke. Sure enough. I had to google “Vulcan Naval Test Reactor” and “Dounreay site remediation” to be sure. I didn’t see any two tailed three eyed salmonids, but there again the only Salmonid I saw had been sliced, filleted and broiled. And there was a respectable several miles between us and the site. I have to say that this place did have both an owner who understood what he was supposed to be offering up and a chef who knew what he was doing. Great food, and a very good selection of single malt in the bar.
From there to Thurso and John-O’Groats. We didn’t do the Orkneys in the end because we were starting to run short of time for the rest of the 500 but we did see where the ferry left from! We also saw a castle that the Queen Mum bought after Edward died (Dunnet). It was actually one of the more interesting castles I have been in because it was frozen in a time period between the 1950’s and 1970’s when she actually resided there. Fascinating as an insight into her as a woman but equally into the remnants of the class system in the UK and why the Labour Party, bless their hearts, got (get?) traction. For Adrian one small distillery on the way down the coast and a bottle of quite unusual single malt. For Linda several small towns with wool shops and purchases to knit something for grand-kids on our return.
Actually John O’Groats is not the most northerly part of the UK (even excluding the islands). It’s a place called Dunnet Head (nearby the Queen Mums similarly named castle). It was mildly interesting that this was further north then John O’Groats but very interesting that every nano sized insect on the planet chose that day to hang out at Dunnet Head. They bit. And there were enough of them that a pack could carry off an adult human. Or maybe even their carriage. Short visit.
The rest of the drive down toward Inverness was a little more trafficked so done at pace. Then we zipped across to compete the first part of the 500, which we had missed, in reverse. Wow! Fabulous. Amazing coast, single lane for 100km or more, some great smoked fish from artisan places on the lochs on the way and a mountain pass to get back out.
We couldn’t get any further back toward Inverness and then Edinburgh than Loch Ness which was good because we ended up staying in Loch Ness Lodge. This is a real life Fawlty Towers complete with a manic Bar man. It’s all a bit sad in hindsight but I probably would have paid extra just for the entertainment value in the bar and restaurant that evening. Oddly the food was good.
I missed out on another highlands whiskey crawl but it didn’t matter, the time on the route around the north was well spent. We looked up some of Linda’s relatives on the way back to Edinburgh (check out the photo) and got back in time to return the car at the appointed hour.
The next day was a big very carefully planned train journey. Edinburgh to Kings X then St Pancras to Paris. It got off to a really great start when British Rail couldn’t cope with the high temperatures (high 20’s) and cancelled our Edinburgh-London train while we were watching the big time table board in the station.
We were at the station early so we found our way onto the earlier train. However it was a free-for-all. Booked seats meant nothing and first class? Pffffft. Possession was fractionally more than the nine tenths in the saying. We were on the train at its origin and in the wrong seats. Let’s just say we were still in them when we pulled into King’s X. What a shamozzle. Apparently the English rail system isnt good with temperatures above 30C because the rails buckle and welds pop so trains everywhere were cancelled, delayed, or even derailed. We got seats so the issue of not getting fed seemed a minor problem.
In the end we got to London, left the station, found our little Italian restaurant near Kings X, had a proper wood fired Pizza and some nice wine, and found our way back to the station and onto the Eurostar on time for the departure to Paris. That wasn’t without drama of its own as all the trains feeding the Eurostar were late or cancelled and the lines were awful.
Anyway, Paris, Marseilles, and Milan, and our sudden re-jig of our plans (such as they were) is next.