Lochs, lakes, glens…and dongles?

Louise and Alistair Campbell (middle and right) at the Camus House in Glencoe

Louise and Alastair Campbell (middle and right) at the Camus House in Glencoe

“The Scots are never happier than when they are oppressed,” Alastair explains. Our host for our second night fills us in on several centuries of Scottish history in about 15 minutes. I figure that’s about 100 years every 120 seconds. I’m sure my students wish I could do that. We had asked him if it was true that the Scottish really do hate the English. “Oh, yeah, absolutely…we can hold a grudge.” But, I reply, it’s ancient history, is it not? “No,” he says, “it’s really just from when Bonnie Prince Charlie was defeated in the 1700s.” That qualifies as recent history, I suppose. “Did you know,” Alastair continues, “that the Scottish are the only team in the world to run a *defeat* lap in sports? We never win anything, which is unlike the English, because they think they’ll never lose. Just like they thought they’d win the World Cup.” And I think I understand; history and sports…if you are defeated in either it changes the national psyche. As Alastair reminded us, Scots do oppressed really well.

We take Alastair and Louise’s advice and try not to do too much that day. “Knowing how Americans are, you would probably try to see all of the north in a day,” he laughs. We decided he was right: we don’t want to be in the car all day. So, we settle on a westerly route, going to Loch Shiel at Glenfinnen (and the sight of a famous battle of the aforementioned Charlie), which has the added benefit of having a microbrewery.

Happinees is a boat ride on a loch near a microbrewery.

Happiness is a boat ride on a loch near a microbrewery.

The beautiful Loch Shiel at Glenfinnen

The beautiful Loch Shiel at Glenfinnen

Stan is sold: boats and beer in one stop. What could be better? Our boat ride is two hours and we enjoy crisp weather with lots of sun. The mountains are not shy about sharing their sparkle: The mica on the rocks glistens in the sun so that the mountains look almost wet. Logging claimed most of the trees back in the 1700s and 1800s before they had a managed logging program, so these mountains are mostly just green grass and shimmery rocks.

We venture on after lunch to Mallaig, on the western coast of Scotland. This is on the sea, but in an inlet, so of course the Scots also refer to the body of water we saw as a “loch”. Lochs, glens, and bens…I’m gradually adding to my vocabulary. Mallaig has the smell of salt water in the air, and the fishing boats in the harbor are a colorful addition to the landscape. We can see the Isle of Skye off in the distance…just a ferry ride away.

Some local residents on our way to the very remotely located "gift shop" at Malacra

Some local residents on our way to the very remotely located “gift shop” at Malacra

We poked around in a few shops and used a local map to find a craft store advertising traditional Scottish wares. Good thing it was on a map, as the craft store was on the side of a mountain overlooking Loch Malacra and very remote. The narrow and single country lane that took us there became even narrower with the addition of some sheep lounging on the side of the road. They paid us no mind, even when we got out of the car to get their picture.

We drove to Loch Lomond in the evening and arrived to a beautiful lodge on the Lake. It felt very bonnie, of course. Our room overlooked the lake and we take in the scenery. I exhaled. Relax. Bliss. Then Stan broke the mood with, “Wow, that is great water for waterskiing. It’s so calm.” Our boys (who are waterskiing fiends) would have appreciated it, certainly.

Our room overlooking Loch Lomond.

Our room overlooking Loch Lomond.

The area around Loch Lomond is a national park with ferries, paths, boating, and lots of B&Bs and lodges. Glasgow residents had several days off for some kind of Glasgow holiday (regional holidays…interesting idea!) so there were some tourists but nothing overwhelming. Dinner consisted of a bar burger in the lounge overlooking the loch. We have adopted Rick Steves’ tips for enjoying European cuisine and not breaking the bank (or gaining a hundred pounds). Essentially, we stay in B&Bs and lodges that offer a huge breakfast, and then we have a late afternoon picnic on some beautiful vista. If no picnic, then we would find the local pub and enjoy the atmosphere. We made occasional allowances for a nice meal, but mostly we just wanted to see Europe and not be stuck at a table for long hours eating away our savings. So, after the bar burger, we returned to our room to do some online work. That never ends!

We ventured on the next morning, opting for a walk along the loch. Lots of families with their dogs were out. We laughed at the numerous pictures we took of lochs and mountains and glens…they were all going to run together in our pictures. I would have to edit ruthlessly.

With a long drive before us, we left Loch Lomond for the Lake District in England. Time to say goodbye to Scotland. It’s a 3 hour drive on a major highway, so I decided to pop out my laptop, plug in my air card and get some work done. Ah, technology! I still chuckle over purchasing the air card, though.

Stan and I had stopped at a mall in Stirling to go to the Vodafone store (a UK cellular company). I was able to get my unlocked cell phone hooked up with a new sim card so I’d have a local number. This would be important so we could call ahead for reservations if we needed, or for when I needed to call the family or my students back home. I also needed a way to access the internet wirelessly. As an online instructor, I’m rather neurotic about having a back up to the back up (what if the wifi goes down where we are staying?) as well as a way to use the internet on the road. At home I use an AT&T air card. Did they have these in Scotland? I went into the Vodafone store, and talked to the young twenty-something about what I need. “Well,” I said, “in the States they’re called ‘air cards’. I’m not sure what they’re called here, but I need one.” He nodded, and said “dongle.” I blushed. “Ahem…okay, well they’re definitely not called that in the States, but yes, I need, a….dongle.” I paid for a bright pink one (last color left) and we were on our way.

Upon entering England, Stan complained about leaving the homeland. Scots Wae Hae! and all that stuff. Once off the major highways and on the quaint country roads with stone walls, he decided England is great. “Wow, you were easy,” I said. “What about fighting for your clan and swearing fealty to Scotland for the rest of your days?” He replied, “That’s right…just give me a parcel of this land and I’ll sign away my country!” So much for oppression. God save the Queen!

That night found us at a beautiful B&B in Ambleside in the Lake District. The last hour of the ride consisted of one-way roads, sheep, and a gas tank on empty. Really empty…as in, so empty even my laid back spouse was worried about running out of gas in the countryside of the Lake District (I do recognize that there are worse places in the world one can run out of gas.) Fortunately, the last mile and a half was on a road called “The Struggle” (so named because it is the highest pass in the Lake District and to ascend it in a horse drawn carriage was quite a struggle), which, blessedly, was all downhill with a BP station at the bottom. That worked out well! For a great joy ride of the one lane road known as “The Struggle” watch these two cyclists on it:

The Riverside B&B in Ambleside

The Riverside B&B in Ambleside

Safely ensconced in our room overlooking a stream, we relaxed, ready to plan two whole days in one place. On to a lake (not a loch) tomorrow!

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