Culloden Battlefields Circuit.

I recently did the 14km Culloden Battlefield’s Circuit which included the Culloden Moors, the Culloden Visitors’ Centre, and the Clava Cairns. It’s an easy walk, physically. Flat (for the most part) with made paths that are either gravel, forestry trails or footpaths next to the road. In that respect it’s easy. No physical challenge.

There is, however, some emotional challenge.

Like most of the world, I knew nothing about Culloden or the history of the Scottish people until I watched the first series of Outlander. While it may not be an accurate historical representation, it has certainly piqued the interest of millions, including myself.

On top of that, both sides of my family hale from Scotland. Some of my blood started here. I was drawn to Scotland, by my own history and partly by Outlander. (And to be honest, partly by Neil Oliver, the simmering historian!)

On the 16th April, 1746  the Battle of Culloden happened in this place. Lasting less than an hour, it led to the deaths of 1500 Jacobite men and 50 Red Coats. It was not a battle of Scottish against English. It was not a battle of Protestants against Catholics. It was a battle for Scottish independence and for the personal vanity of a would-be King.

For me, the emotional challenge started at St Mary’s Well, where the Jacobite Troops got their water and where they retreated to after the short-lived battle. The trees around the enclosed well are covered in bits of material. These strips are “wish rags”.

Rags tied with a prayer for healing and good luck.

There are ghosts here. You can feel them. I cursed my crunching boots and squeaking backpack buckles, I needed to be quieter.

“I am sorry” I thought  “Sorry to disturb your rest.”

I don’t know who I was speaking to, but I felt it. Like you sometimes feel the change in air pressure before a storm.

You feel it when you stop to listen. You feel it when you stop to take notice.

People had died here. Badly.

A few kilometres on,  I passed onto the “official” battlefield. I expected more ghosts, but none appeared to me. There were too many living people here. The air was disturbed with the conversations of the now. It was too noisy. The ghosts were hiding, looking for peace. Perhaps if you came back at night, they would be here. If you came back after the buses had gone, after the Visitors’ Centre had closed, perhaps they would be here then.

Even so, without the ghosts, it was a sad, bleak and windy place. No trees, just low shrubs. The wildflowers should have packed up and gone home, because even their bright colours failed to cheer things up.

There may be no ghosts, but my rational self imagined what it must have been like.  I thought “Are there bones under my feet? Am I stepping on someone’s corpse?”

The ground would have been covered in bodies, blood and flies. By the 19th of  April it would have been a stinking quagmire of gore, with human scavengers picking the pockets of the fallen.

The loud laughter of a group of women on a private Outlander tour disturb my imaginings.

Go slowly. People died here.

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The Visitors’ Centre was excellent, a very good balance between entertainment and sorrow. The walk continued for another 8 kilometres or so after the battlefields, well sign posted and level, it remained an easy walk. Along the way, the Clava Cairns take us back to an even more ancient past. Perhaps 4000 years old, these rocks, arranged in slotted rings, take us back much, much further than the battlefields.

There are no ghosts here. The ancients made sure their dead were at rest, unlike those who died on Culloden Moor.

The Cairns are peaceful.

They are just another brown signposted ‘place of interest’  on the road.

This video shows you what to expect on the circuit trail.

I am having all sorts of trouble uploading videos with the mobile version of WordPress! I will post the video on my public Facebook site – Old Chook Enterprises.

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This walk is well worth the time. It took me around 5 hours but that included a good stop at the Visitors’ Centre. I used a map from Viewranger which you can access from the Walking Highlands website (https://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/lochness/culloden-clava.shtml)  but it was very well sign-posted and it would have been possible to do it without the map. I would recommend the Culloden Visitor Centre, although you can walk right on by it if you chose to.

My advice? Walk quietly, listen for the ghosts.

6 things you need to know about the Scottish Island Ferries.

Scotland is surrounded by little islands, some more famous than others. The Isle of Skye for instance, would be a place recognised by most travellers. Some of these islands are so close to the mainland (hmmph the whole of the UK is an island in itself but let’s not get into semantics here) that they are connected by bridges. Others, can only be accessed by boat. Unless of course you have your own light plane or helicopter!

CalMac (Caledonian McIntyre)  have the game sewn up in this respect. Their distinctive black and white vessels ply the routes regularly. The more popular routes have several crossings each day.

As a first time car ferry user I was a bit nervous about going from Oban to Craignure in Mull.

Here are a few tips that may help allay any anxiety you may have about ferry travel if you are not used to it.

  1. Book ahead!

You can book your passage easily on the CalMac website (LINK). They offer lots of different packages that bundle together several sequential island crossings. You should have a good idea of where you want to go before you start. However, their packages are no cheaper than booking single tickets. I booked each of my trips separately because none of the packages fitted what I wanted to do. The advantage of the packages are that you only have to enter your details and pay once. If you do it one crossing at a time you have to do all that as separate transactions. You have to buy a ticket for the people and the vehicle. The ferry from Tobermory to Kilchoan does not require a booking. You pay on board or at the ticket office if it is open.

2. Get there on time

There is a scheduled departure time and a last check-in time. Make sure you know when the check-in finishes. Although in my limited experience, there is a lot of hurry up then waiting. You will be directed to wait in various queues (depending on car size I think). First on does not mean first off.

3. Wear warm clothes.

Even though the sun may be shining it will be windy out on deck so make sure you are rugged up with layers.

4. Will you be with your car?

Some of  the ferries have an enclosed car deck. For instance, from Oban to Craignure the cars are underneath.  Others have an open car deck in the centre of the ferry where you can see your car at all times. When you are sailing on the ferries with the below decks car deck you can not return to your car until you are directed at the end of the crossing, so make sure you have everything you need before you go to the upper decks. The ferry opens at both ends. I wondered how there was room to turn the cars around inside!! You drive on at one end and drive off the other end.

5. Do not lock your car.

If you have a car with an alarm system, don’t lock it or activate the alarm system. The vibrations from the vessel will set it off. Again and again, until the friendly staff realize it’s you and come tell you to unlock it.

6. Relax and take it easy.

Listen to the safety instructions. In the unlikely event that something does happen you need to know what to do. The ferry travels at a very even slow speed. On the days I travelled, the sea was calm and quiet. I am sure this is not always the case.  If the weather is too bad the crossing will be cancelled, so don’t worry too much. If the ferry is sailing you’ll be OK. The larger ferries have a bar, cafe and both indoor and outdoor seating. The smaller vessels have at least a vending machine and a small passenger saloon. They all have toilets.

If you are sensory sensitive there are a few things you might want to prepare yourself for

  1. It’s noisy.. There are loud bangs when the doors are opening and closing and a siren sounds when the doors are about to open or close. The cars make a lot of noise comin on and off the ramp. There are safety announcements which are heralded by chimes.The ferry makes a low churning sound when it is sailing.

  2. It’s smelly on deck, especially near the funnels. The ferries use diesel based fuel so there is some smoke and fumes.

  3. There are people of all ages and lots speaking languages that you may not understand. There are also people with pets. You can sit in areas where pets are not allowed (unless they are service dogs). You will be in a confined space and you won’t be able to get away from everyone but there is generally more space out on deck then below decks in the cafe area etc.

  4. It is windy. Even if it was fine on land the movement of the ferry will make it windy outside.  You can stand behind things to reduce the wind or go inside.

Travel Mascots Part 3

Introducing Iain mac Iain

After the tragic loss of the original Iain, I would like to introduce his wayward son Iain mac Iain. Wayward, because he has abandoned the family tartan, has a tattoo and is wearing shoes, and a utility belt.

He has cast aside family tradition and decided to wear mostly black. Perhaps it’s just an emo stage?

Despite his careless disregard for tradition, he is valiantly searching for his lost father.

As the new chief – this is his role!

Please help Find Iain!

Travel Mascots Part 3

Introducing Iain mac Iain

After the tragic loss of the original Iain, I would like to introduce his wayward son Iain mac Iain. Wayward, because he has abandoned the family tartan, has a tattoo and is wearing shoes, and a utility belt.

He has cast aside family tradition and decided to wear mostly black. Perhaps it’s just an emo stage?

Despite his careless disregard for tradition, he is valiantly searching for his lost father.

As the new chief – this is his role!

Please help Find Iain!

Isle of Skye

Impressions of Skye?

Sheer igneous escarpments surrounded by velvety green slopes,

Outcrops and boulders interrupting the grazing sheep’s progress.

Slushy bogs and deep lochs. Tiny wildflowers and soft grass.

Rocky beaches with brown seaweed and driftwood  (and unfortunately blue plastic bags, plastic ropes and packing straps).

Single track roads. Sailing boats. Craft shops and cafes with modern cuisine.

People!

Lots and lots of people.

I spent three days on Skye at the end of June, crossing from Oban and from there I travelled on to Lewis and Harris.

Apart from the city of Glasgow and the Harry Potter Bridge (oh sorry the Glenfinnan Viaduct) Skye was the most crowded place on my road trip. Neil who has a blog Travels with a Kilt) recently wrote a post about how places like Skye are being drowned by the weight of tourists and I would concur even though I’m one of those tourists.

It becomes obvious in a number of ways, firstly nearly every homestead is a B&B,  you need to let 4 – 5 cars pass at each passing place on the single track roads and you get yelled at by people in car parks. I decided to give Syke’s “must sees” a miss after such an experience at the Claigan Coral Beach carpark. I opted instead to head back to the small bothy I was staying at and spend the time sitting in the sun and staring out over the fabulous view I already had.

I trudged across the rocky beach to the pub at Stein, had coffee and posted some cards back home. I lit the fire for effect rather than warmth, as it was a comfortable 18oC. I rested and wrote and contemplated how grateful I was to be able to afford to do this. I pondered on how little we need to be content if we let ourselves. I made porridge for breakfast and smiled at the shared culture that meant I knew exactly what that jar of brown sugar was for.

Brigid’s bothy in Waternish, is a small stone, single roomed building about 4 x 12 m with a tin roof and double glazed windows. Facing directly west it is bathed in soft light. Sitting literally a weak-arm’s stone throw from the rocky beach you could spend the whole day looking for shells and sea glass. (It would make a fantastic writing/artist retreat!)

Brigid runs the bothy as an AirBnB and I began to imagine it is magical. Judging by the comments in the visitors’ book, others before me agreed. It’s quiet, secluded and there is no easy access to the internet.

In the 10 days before arriving there I had been relentlessly pushing myself to see and do as much as I could while in Scotland. I was tired. The long, long days had meant my sleep patterns were out the window. Being there around the solstice meant it was still light at midnight and the sun returned at 4 AM. I was emotionally drained after losing my travel mascot, Iain. First world problem perhaps, but nonetheless, I was honestly upset.

After taking on the Quiraing Hill Circuit I slowed right down, sorted out my suitcase and took fewer than 100 photos. The decision to take it easy for two days was well made. I’ve wrote three blog posts, created two short little videos and edited some photos ready to upload when I did get internet. I contemplated about whether to try and replace Iain and decided what will happen will happen. I read a short book – Brokeback Mountain and watched the tide come in and out.

I discovered that unlike Australian sunsets which are over in twenty minutes, the twilight lasts for hours. The red streaks lingering and deepening. It did not get truly dark and my intention to photograph the night sky was thwarted by the biggest light polluter around – the sun.

I checked out refreshed and recharged.

If you come to Skye, take Neil’s advice, come in the quieter times of the year. Judy at the craft shop in Stein summed it up. “We have the place to ourselves in the winter and autumn. No-one comes then.”

Come then, the mountains will still be here. The snow, if it falls, will add another dimension and the stormy weather will give you more stories to tell. Best of all you won’t be arguing with other tourists about parking spaces.

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P.S. I ended up going back to the coral beach early the next day and there were only 3 other cars there.  I would recommend this strategy for the “natural” sites which don’t require a ticket. In summer, it’s light from around 4AM and it seems most people don’t get on the road till around 10. You could get an early start and be back in a cafe for a late breakfast and miss the crowds.

Claigan Coral Beach

Lewis Coastal Walk

When I packed my suitcase to come to Scotland, I went out and bought another pair of fleecy Gortex pants because I was worried I would be wet and cold. My research of the weather said I could expect temperatures in high teens at best. I didn’t pack any shorts and only one t-shirt. That plan was sorely tested.

On the day I did this walk, The Outer Hebrides put on a summer day to rival summer in Wollongong! Not a cloud in the sky and at one point my car told me it was 30C!

After 5 km of walking, I decided to cut down my jeans with the little scissors in my trusty first aid kit!

After a thorough cost benefit analysis I deemed it worthwhile.

Pros:

1. It’s 30 C (86F)

2. The jeans are not expensive ones

3. It’s 30 C (86F)

4. I’m sweating like crazy and I am only carrying a litre of water. It’s a health issue!

5. It’s 30 C (86F)!!! In Scotland!!!

Cons:

1………

2. Still thinking of 1!

The Quiraing

I walked the Quiraing Hill Circuit earlier this week. While these images go part of the way in showing the majestic landscape it is still not a true representation of the scale of these sheer hills.

With my new hiking pole!

It’s fairly crowded to begin with but that peters out after a kilometre or so.

I have made a short video but I am having trouble uploading it so will do that when I have access to a computer again. In the meantime here are a few stills.

27/8/19: I remember I promised a video!

 

 

Travel mascots: Part 2

I lost Iain.

My muscular travel companion is lost somewhere after only a week of travel. We were having such fun too! I can’t be certain but I think I left him on the car roof at Salen Jetty. Perhaps, I just left him on the rocks staring out to sea. I did not realise until I got to the Glenfinnian Memorial and discovered he was not in his little carry pouch. I presumed he was on the front seat of the the car. A thorough search showed no signs of him. I messaged the owners of the shop at the jetty to no avail.

I was devastated. Close to tears. He may have only been a plastic action figure but he and I had made a connection. Well, the connection was really with my friends who had been commenting on his daily antics. That was the connection.

The connection with the travelling strangers who saw me taking the photos and joined in on the fun.

The connection was with the young hitch hiker I picked up near Bunessan on the Isle of Mull. When he got in the car and introduced himself as Iain, I had a hard job not choking on my laughter. I then of course had to explain why him being Iain was so funny.

I seriously thought about coming home. What was the purpose of my journey without Iain? He and I had been preparing for this trip for months. The rational side told me to get over myself.

The question of course is do I try and find a replacement? An Iain the second, son of Iain? The second Cheif of Clan Mangerton?

Will Iain return? If you know someone currently travelling in Scotland share this post and ask them to return my lost Iain of Mangerton. Please spread the word. Someone has him? Someone must be holding him for ransom?

Of course, he may have slipped through the stones we touched at Kilmartin? I half expect him to turn up on the front seat of the car at any moment.

PS: Please ask around your networks – someone in the world must have him? Last seen at Salen Jetty near KILCHOAN on Sunday 23 June 2019.