The interminable bagpipe playing continues unabated as you move from one corner to the other. Some pipers clearly know only one piece. If you stand in the same place long enough you hear them play it again and again.
My last stop in Scotland is Edinburgh. I am glad I didn’t come here first, it would have swayed my opinion of this wonderful place.
The sun is shining down on the people sitting outside one of the authentic Scottish pubs. Authentic, except everyone there is not from Edinburgh. Not even the staff.
Some of my melancholy may stem from the fact that I fly home tomorrow and my big adventure ends. I think some stems from the fact that this city is in danger of losing itself. Losing itself up the arse of overtourism. I wrote about this in a previous post and here I find myself conflicted again.
I am a tourist.
I am in Edinburgh.
I’m part of the problem.
There is absolutely no doubt that this is a place to visit.
The architecture? Sublime!
The history? Incredibly long and intriguing.
The winding streets and narrow closes (laneways) a photographer’s delight.
But the people? So many people. Jostling and bustling.
Selfie after selfie. In front of the castle. In front of the Kirk. In front of the shops with the fake wisteria.
We’ll all have the same photos. I retreated to the Galleries and the breathtakingly magnificent Scottish Museum.
I wish I could have been here 30 years ago. (But with the same digital technology I have now!!) Then, it would have been truly spectacular!
What do we do? What do we do? There is obviously too much money sloshing around in the collective travel bucket of the world, including my own. I feel badly for the people who do call this place home. They have lost their city. AirBnB has taken up most the properties nearest the city and people can not find places to live. Their pubs are crowded, their streets noisy. I apologize for the contribution I made.
Next big adventure? Definitely most definitely, has to be in Australia.
Culloden Moor Inn carpark was full, yet when I walked into the Keppoch Bar there were only two people other than the barmaid. They eyed me warily. I asked the barmaid if I could get a drink and some food.
“You might be more comfortable in the restaurant?”
“No” I said “I’m happy to sit here in the bar”
The “crowd” relaxed
The older fellow struck up a conversation immediately picking up on my Australian accent. The usual questions. Are you on your own? Where have you been? Where are you going?
“Don’t hang aboot there too long” the young bike rider quipped as the barmaid chortled.
I laughed nervously, this was the second group of people who suggested Fraserburgh was a less than desirable place to stop. Mutterings about a drug culture and a depressed economy since the end of the fishing.
“Ummmm, It seemed like a good place to stop and … and it’s got a Lighthouse Museum.”
“Och, Aye” with nods that could be interpreted as sympathetic. Had I made a bad choice based solely on geographic location and a museum? Only time would tell.
It was my intention to hug the Moray Coast east (across the flat bit of northern Scotland), turn right at Fraserburgh and drop down to Aberdeen. I discovered that this was called the Coast Trail (east) and it was well signposted. Since being here I have discovered lots of signposted routes. The NC 500 (I knew about that one) but others. The Rock Route, The Pictish Trail, The Castle Trail to name some which all take you to themed points of interest. I followed most of the Rock Route by chance and most of the NC 500.
The drive from Forres to Fraserburgh was grey and wet. The bright colours of the sweet little towns of Buckie, Portessie, Cullen and Findochty muted by the rain. The ocean steely blue and the beaches, dull despite the light coloured sand.
I spent a while at Lossiemouth in the Museum of Fishing and Community. Run by volunteers, it was small but had some fabulous model boats and quite good archival material if you were looking up family who may have lived in the area. I found the 14th April 1912 issue of the Daily Mirror interesting. The front page news was about the Titanic. The the page 3 banner proclaimed that all passengers were safe!. Goodness! Was that a bit of false news or what? It would take another day to reveal the true story.
As I had arrived in Fraserburgh in the late afternoon, I went directly to the Lighthouse Museum and just managed to join in on the last tour of the day with one other fellow. The guide gave us his undivided attention and it was inspiring to go right up to the lens room and see how the whole mechanism worked. (Ok, ok so I’m a bit of a nerd in that respect!) The Kinnaird Head Light is built over a castle and therefore has some unique features. It is no longer operational. The museum exhibits have a large collection of beautiful glass lenses which are fun to look through.
As to the rest of Fraserburgh? It was bleak with ALL the buildings made from the same dull grey stone. The dark skies adding to the gloom and things were quieter than the other places I had been too. It had obviously been a prosperous town with its public buildings and monuments reflecting more opulence than it now had.
The large harbour was filled with fishing boats that ranged from tiny dinghys up to huge trawlers.
The lovely host of the AirBnB had recommended the fish market as a place to take good photos, so in the morning I went in search of them. I asked for directions at a cafe and a very hospitable young fellow, Mathew, who works on his dad’s trawler, gave me a private tour of the selling floor, despite the fact he had a cup of tea going cold!
So yes Fraserburgh was bleak, it did seem gloomy but the people I meet added a little sunshine!
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.
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 bothyin 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.
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.