Despite my grumbling about our stay in Inverness, I actually liked the town. Bustling and growing, it had a weird vibe that I don’t know how to describe without sounding insane. It seemed a bit like a rough and tumble frontier town. I don’t exactly know how a mainland town in an ancient country could seem frontier-ish but it did to me.
Still, one night was more than enough in that B&B so I was excited to be heading to “the middle of nowhere” which is how our next destination was described to me by my Glaswegian airline seatmate as well as the semi-helpful man in Waverly Station. They said it was beautiful but that there was absolutely nothing around. In fact we had hoped to stay in an even more remote location but when we saw the photos, we knew that this was the place for us.
Things were made a bit more difficult because my mother didn’t feel up to driving. She liked the idea of driving one of the little Fiats available to hire but, given that she wasn’t in great shape, she didn’t think it would be the best idea to drive a stick on the wrong side of the road. So we had taken the train to Inverness rather than driving (via the Dalwhinne factory as I had suggested) and were were going to take the coach to our happy western highland hideaway. Figuring out the coach journey was an epic pain in the ass and in the end we had to hope that google knew what it was talking about because both the coach and rail stations in Edinburgh were completely unaware that bus service to our destination even existed. But I won’t go into the details because I can edit, I really can. It’s not easy and I don’t like it but I’ve LEFT A LOT OF STUFF OUT of this travelogue/memoir/blog. You can thank me later.
Imagine our releif when we got to the coach station in Inverness to find out that there WAS a coach to Fort William and another connecting coach to our happy western highland hideaway (OHWHH). So all there was to do was to sit and wait. I left my mother with the luggage while I departed to find a little Nessie doll for Nitro’s neice. (FYI, if I ever figure out how to post a sort of sidebar with useful information on it, I would like to provide a legend of people’s aliases. Nitro is a very old friend of mine and one of the best people in the universe, diplomatic to a fault, outrageously generous and one of the finest minds it has been my privilege to know.) She, meanwhile, struck up a conversation with an American from Baltimore. “Oh, like on the Wire.” she said because being from Baltimore is exactly the same as being in the Wire. “You know the Wire?” he asked, “How about Homicide: Life on the Street? I was in that.”
More importantly, while on the hunt for a plush Nessie, I found a Starbucks. OK. Despite only now entering this tale, Starbucks has played a major role in our journey. You can feel however you want about Starbucks when you are at home (my mother was boycotting them at home) but when you are abroad, there is something very comforting about a familiar setting AND FREE WI-FI. Mostly the wi-fi. So when I returned, we paid a fortune to stow our luggage at the coach station (more like a coach shack) and we headed off in seach of email and lattes.
It is as well that we fortified ourselves thusly. Or not. Perhaps caffeine made it worse. Here is a 14 second snippet of our coach ride. Please pay particular attention to the following: our speed (f’ing RAPID), our height above the lake (varying between 10 and 80 feet and approximately 30-60 feet in this video), and the appalling lack of guardrails for most of it.
I spent most of this 2 hour bus ride clutching the seat in front of me and tilting my weight away from the water. As our distance above the lake changed between 10 through 80 feet, my inner monologue was a prediction of the result of sliding off the road: “Survive (<20 feet). Instant death (> 60 feet over rocks). Slow death (over water). Survive with broken bones. Instant death. …” White knuckles all the way. I tried not to look because it was making me so anxious but, well, I also wanted to be prepared in case I had to, oh I don’t know, jump? or hold my breath? My mother was on the other side of the coach so her view was of the hillside to which the road clung. But she wasn’t faring any better. At one of the stops she briefly spoke to the driver and then got off and went into a nearby shop. She wasn’t for talking so it wasn’t until we arrived in Ft. William that I found out she had purchased some kind of motion sickness pills. Didn’t work worth a damn, though. Poor thing, she was so ill. “I’m NOT getting on another coach. NOT.” she said and then wandered off. I sat with our bags and chatted with a nice man who looked like a cross between Spud (from the movie Trainspotting – link NSFW) and Simon Pegg. After about 10 minutes, I became concerned and slowly hauled all of our stuff along the platform in the direction she had gone which was also towards the stop for our connecting bus. She had found a taxi driver willing to take us the rest of the way for a flat fee. It was only another 45 minutes or so but it took a lot longer because we had to stop every 5 – 10 minutes so she could get our and be sick. Poor mum.
Finally we arrived. Once in the house, she slumped on a couch and closed her eyes and I let myself be led around by our airbnb host who directed me in the quirks of the house and the directions for the wood stove, how and where to turn off all power when we left, where the recycling bins and compost were, and about a million different things.
It was shortly after this that I wrote in my notebook: “I think [name of town] is a step too far for her. … She’s been varying degrees of sore since we arrived and she came down with a bad cold on the third day. That she was so car sick has only made it that much worse. … She needs to go home or see a doctor. This is not fun.”
1. Recall that my mother conquered Everest (in the form of the hills and stairs of Stirling) and vanquished cigarettes. I think I called it determined before. Now I’m calling it out-and-out stubbornness.
And the next day:
She absolutely refused to see a doctor.
I grumbled some more.
It was beautiful. So very beautiful.