Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Orkney to Fort William

5 o'clock awakening to get to Stromness for the 6.30am ferry to Scrabster. I left Bondi in the car for this crossing, and settled into a recliner chair for a further snooze.

The weather was deteriorating quickly, and I just couldn't spot a place for breakfast, so drove on to Inverness, which I reached about 10am. When I realised that paying for parking there was going to put a big dent in the cost of breakfast, I continued on another 40 miles into the Cairngorms.

Packhorse Bridge, Carrbridge

Pulled over in Carrbridge (home of annual World's Best Porridge-Maker event) so that we could both stretch our legs, and then another 7 miles or so to Aviemore. A number of people had suggested I go to this Highland centre, close to the Cairn Gorm ski area, because of its annual Sled Dog Rally. I found the town a bit of a disappointment, imagining something a bit like Whistler whereas it's little more than a commercial road with a few B&Bs and hotels slung around it. For £2.45 I got a bucket (that's a "regular" size) of the worst coffee slop I'd experienced in Scotland, failing to heed Michael's Espresso Machine Amortization Rule: the higher the price, the worse the coffee. The Aussie dollar may be headed up, but it still hurts to be paying $7 for a palate-destroying brew.

Since I'd found a still-fresh banana on the front seat of my car, and it was nearly lunch time, I made one final journey onto my last planned stopover for the day, the House of Brua near Pitlochry in Perthshire. This is one of those big clothing / farm produce / restaurant complexes like Killarney House, and after steering clear of the tweed, cashmere and marmalades, found that the restaurant ( a buffet/carvery affair) was really quite a gem, and ate enough for two.

Right behind the restaurant is a lovely walkway past a narrow gorge with a series of waterfalls. The long car journey wasn't exactly the best way to treat Bondi on his birthday, so this was a nice way of making it up to him; plenty of squirrel tracks to sniff out, and fresh water to plodge in. The lovely autumnal colour was also refreshing after a week of treeless Orkney brown, and I realised that this is the first proper autumn I've spent in Britain in the 2+ years of travelling: in 2005 we were in Salamanca at this time, and in 2006 I was back in Sydney (with poor Bondi kennelled outside London).

The last leg to Fort William necessitated retracing some of our journey along the A9, but as soon as we turned off for the road past Laggan (apparently where the TV series Monarch of the Glen is filmed) the countryside got better and better.

My B&B was once again full of Aussies, once couple remarking that they had just been on a coach tour on the continent that was 2/3 Aussie.

After several weeks of slow reading, I finished Alasdair Gray's Lanark. It's a singular piece of writing, two "books" of semi autobiography sandwiched between another two of a distorted depiction of the main character in a surreal Glasgow. The length of time I worked on getting through the 600 pages was split between sections which really took a lot of effort to absorb, and some bits (his time at art school, and the final "Provan" segment) which flew by. I guess since it took Gray 25yrs to write it, a month of reading is not out of proportion. You can sense some of the literary timeframe as well, as his debts range from DH Lawrence, Flann O'Brien and Mervyn Peake to pop culture/technology of the 1970s.

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