Sunday, January 04, 2009

New Years' Adventure

New Years' Day was lovely (Anyone annoyed about the apostrophe yet? I've been waiting for someone to comment or email; but I've heard nothing. So accepting!) and scary and wild and beautiful and maybe a bit dull all at once.

After a quiet morning where I got a set of opal earrings and a gorillapod for my camera: both I love, we decided to take a drive in the Highlands. The roads would be abandoned with many hungover Scots taking the day in quiet and forced motionlessness. We'd been talking a couple days earlier about how the oldest tree in Europe was in Scotland - really? Here? We could see that. It was only an hour away. so off we went enjoying the empty roads to the town of Fortingall to see the Fortingall Yew. I've never seen a yew tree up close before and I figured since it was estimated to be about 2000-5000 years old it would be pretty big, but no. I have seen bigger yew trees on TV. Apparently souvenir hunters would nip pieces of the bark and wood and have reduced the tree. Selfish twats.

On this trip I forgot my camera, but Husband and Sassy had theirs. Neither of them took any pictures of the Yew. To be honest, Sassy was far more interested in the ice that had formed in the font outside the church next to which the yew lives. Solid ice is not something the kids have seen often. On this trip they saw their first icicle too. Just down the road from this spot was a small ring of standing stones I wanted to go see, but we forgot, and in another field was a grass covered cairn with a head stone on top that we were worried we'd be in trouble if we crossed the fence for a looksie. We stopped for scones and coffee in the restaurant of the lovely hotel there before heading off to go see Loch Lyon.

Along the way we stopped a couple times to take pictures as the day was beautiful and full of warm golden sunshine and eerie mists. We were stalked by an enthusiastic robin at one point who would've gotten into the car with us if we'd let him.

We went to the very deserted Lubreoch hydroelectric dam and had some wonderful views down the Glen Lyon where there were patches of thick snow (Ok, four inches or so) because there are areas of the glen that get no sunlight. We saw a glacial corrie which was neat. According to Husband, a corrie is where glaciers are formed. They're a bowl shaped formation on the sunless mountainside where during the ice age, snow would gather and compact over centuries before a mild thaw or the sheer weight of the thing would set it off on a path.

Now. On the way we ended up on a pretty scary road. We followed the Garmin and it was absolutely right, but let me tell you - all those stories about Highland roads being fucking scary - TRUE! Single lane, two-way roads with no guardrails and hundred foot drops into rocky fields or frozen rivers where you'd not be discovered for days. If another person does come along and there's no passing point, someone has to reverse along their road until they come back to a passing point.

On the way to the dams I got the "Don't look down" view and Husband was quite happy pointing out all the lovely things. I was remaining calm and trying to shoo out the images of a flaming death bouncing down a mountainside. It was starting to get dark and we figured we'd take the shorter road through the glen to reach Loch Tay and then head home. The sunset sun was stunning all magenta and gold. As we began the trek up another single lane road through the glen there was a sign, "No salt or grit beyond this point. Find alternate routes in winter."

"Did you see that sign?"

"No, what did it say?"

"No salt or grit beyon this point. Find alternate routes in winter."

"Yeah, but it's just a bit of frost. We'll be fine. It's not like I'll be driving fast."

And thus began the longest drive ever. We barely got above 15mph and were Shitting Ourselves the whole time. Husband got the scary view down the side of the cliff this time. Using the calm voices as to not alarm the kids. The kids were fucking amazing and were so deep into their boredom that they didn't even know they were inches from death. At one point Husband asked if we should go back but I said we should press on, we'd just been passed by a white Fiesta (Thankfully he waited at his passing point for us) and if he could do it, it would be ok. We drove by the second dam barely daring to flick our eyes over to see it. Eyes on the road. Eyes on the road. Fucking road. Where there's fucking lambs skipping about and wandering across the road. And it's getting dark.

We were never happier to be driving down the final part of the road where we could see Lock Tay nestled in the valley, covered by a thick fog so it looked like the valley was bottomless and there were clouds below peaks. "It's freaky," was all Sassy would say. That's become her favourite saying. Everything is "Freaky" "Scary" or some other negative which annoys me.

In the town near Loch Tay I found a toilet, where Husband had to move the car around and shine the headlights in as it was pitch black and no light switch. I'd gone into that admiring small things to distract the mind, where I was fascinated by the fact that when I pulled the toilet roll from the dispenser it made little sparks. Was it static or phosphorous? Pull some more and let's try and figure it out..."Are you done yet?"

Finally got home. Got Chinese food for dinner. Watched Wallace and Gromit's newest (It's good) and didn't talk about it. Just wanted to chill. Try and forget it for just then. Some pictures are here.
and also Here.
Scary. Beautiful. Fascinating. That's the Highlands.


jomamma said...


Roxrocks said...

I would have puked or cried or maybe both. Especially after my own recent vehicular adventures.

Sylvana said...

SSB decided that we should take a short cut when we were going from Culraine to Isle of Skye. I warned him that in the Highlands, there are no shortcuts! The map told him that it was two lane most of the way. The map was WRONG!! And the worst thing about it was that it seemed to be popular with lorries that would drive as if it were thoroughfare and you'd better get the fuck out of their way or they'd move you for themselves! I nearly threw up every time I had to drive around a sharp bend in the road winding our way up and down mountains, because if there happened to be someone coming the other way there wasn't much time to react and there was only room enough for ONE vehicle! I was so happy to finally get to the Isle of Skye!! And we are all still alive!
Then we got to our hostel which was at the top of a steep, rocky hill with a one-lane drive and no real room to turn about once you were at the top so if you got there and found no parking spaces, you had to back all the way back down the winding drive! I finally did break down and cry.

But I would still rent a car to travel the Highlands. It's just more convenient than the buses and trains when you are on a tight schedule. And I only ran into something once denting the underside of the car -- but the rental place said it was nothing, basically normal wear-and-tear for the Highlands.

Ree said...

Amazing photos. Do you know what kind of bird that was with the redbreast?

Lyvvie said...

Judith - It is. It really really is, but if you ever go, bring steel knickers.

Roxy - I'm more the wet myself type than puker but no one is allowed to pee in the Alpha Romeo. The worst part, which I now realise I'd forgotten to mention; were the areas on the scary road where there was run-off from the hill forming a rough sheet of thick ice across the road. My imagination had our front tires hit that ice and then begin to slip to the right tipping us over the edge. In reality it had been driven over enough to have grip but you understand the anxious mind.

Sylvana - I think that would've done my head in too. Thankfully we saw no lorries but yes - turning a corner was scary. At least at night we could see the other's headlights. It was reassuring as we figured they got through that bit safely so we would too.

Ree - That was our enthusiastic, stalking Robin. Robins in the UK are cute little birds with Napoleonic complexes instead of the larger ones from the USA. Although the UK Blackbirds are identical to US robins in all ways except for the red-breast. My mind still plays tricks on me when I see blackbirds and I imagine they're American Robins.

V said...

Guardrails, shmardrails..

Great photos!

You captured it - that's how I felt as we drove up various sides of cliffs in Ireland.

I kept thinking, "wow we might actually die today..!"

It's all too "safe" in the States:)

Maja said...

I would have been shitting myself too!