You know you are firmly on the tourist trail when you pull into a viewpoint to have a brew and a random man appears from behind a gorse bush dressed in full kilt regalia….sporran, belt, buckles, spats, hat, the works….and starts puffing up the bag of his bagpipes revving them up for a full blown blast of pipe music. Nearby a small table complete with tartan table cloth was set up displaying his wares. The canny Scots do like a business opportunity. Although I do like the whole pomp and ceremony of a piper all kitted out in his or her glory blasting out a few tunes I’m not sure I’d want to listen to a whole CD of it. Not in one go at least. Needless to say we drained our cups and left empty handed.
We were on our way up through the Great Glen which, thanks to a geological fault, creates a very scenic route through the valley from Fort William on the West coast to Inverness on the East. We’d wanted to see the Caledonian Canal, built by Thomas Telford, which links four lochs (Loch Dochfur, Loch Ness, Loch Oich and Loch Lochy), giving a continuous watery route along the valley floor with a few locks thrown in effectively chopping the Highlands in two.
Wikipedia informs me there are 29 locks, four aquaducts and ten bridges along the course of the canal. The canal opened in 1822 as a shipping channel but now leisure craft and gongoozler’s like us enjoy the spectacular scenery.
We cycled from the north-eastern end of Loch Oich along the canal into Fort Augustus which was a very scenic and stress-free way to arrive as when we reached the town it was very busy and we didn’t have the hassle of finding somewhere to park.
I have to say that we haven’t struggled to find anywhere to park in Scotland yet as the dreaded height barrier doesn’t seem to have reached here yet and there’s just more space here than further south. Watching the boats go up and down the four locks is the spectator sport in Fort Augustus and with glorious sunshine it made for a very pleasant afternoon.
It seems the legend of the Loch Ness Monster is still alive and well with tourist attractions like Nessieland and the Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition competing for visitors. Steve Feltham has been a full time Nessie hunter since 1991 and lives all year round in a converted van on the banks of the loch at Dores. Now that’s dedication for you.
With the loch being twenty three miles long, one mile wide and two hundred and thirty metres deep at its deepest point Nessie may well be out there somewhere.
One of the top destinations to see dolphins in the UK is on the Moray Firth north of Inverness. Conveniently our friends Sam and Chris live in Fortrose just a mile or so from Chanonry Point where a pod of dolphins come to feed on migrating salmon during spring and summer. Our friends also, conveniently, have space for us to park up on their drive so we spent a weekend in glorious Scottish sunshine with them.
Whilst having a cup of tea in their back garden, which has a view across the Moray Firth, we spotted a couple of dolphins in amongst the moored sailing yachts. Sam said that they’d never, in the two years living there, seen dolphins from their back garden before so it was a bit of a coup.
We walked to Chanonry Point the following day to join the many other dolphin spotters hoping to see them.
Well we waited………..and waited…………and waited………….and waited. They finally appeared but were in sedate mood with just a few sightings of tail fins breaking the water. We weren’t treated to the aerial displays that can sometimes be seen but we were happy that we’d seen them.
Having been quite disparaging about the humble bagpipe earlier on in this blog post we now have a new found respect for all the pipers everywhere. You see, it just so happens that Sam plays the bagpipes and gave a resounding rendition on her pipes in the comfort of her back garden.
Fortunately the house on one side is empty and the elderly lady living the other side is deaf. Those pipes are blooming loud. Playing out in the middle of nowhere is probably the only place you get to practice without complaints from the neighbours. Imagine your kid coming home from school declaring they want to learn to play the bagpipes. Jeez, it would be enough to push you over the edge. The chap we saw at the viewpoint probably only gets to practice out there with nothing else around. Still, we both fancied a go.
Well, all I can say is it’s harder than it looks and takes a LOT of puff and coordination. It’s like holding a cat under your arm whilst gently squeezing it remembering to blow into the blowy end and move your fingers on the chanter at the same time. Not easy but highly entertaining!
After all that excitement it was time to move on up to the North coast but not without a pit stop in lovely Cromarty on the Black Isle.
Onwards North then.
Happy Friday everyone!