Scottish golden Autumn Days
Scotland is much better than its food-based reputation. Meanwhile the notorious Scottish-English weather even excels our Berlin mix of clouds and rain. No matter if in the Highlands or in east coast cities and villages, there’s always a break in the clouds permitting the light of low standing October sun to push through and to stage the mountainous landscape between Edinburgh and the lovely Isle of Skye. Often that Scottish version of Golden Summer gets framed by intense rainbows.
Cathedral Remnants and Steam Trains
The journey leads us into the Scottish mountains, the legendary Highlands, the homeland of bagpipes, sheep and lots of whisky. Before we make a stop at the coast though, to see Scotland’s first university and the home of golf sports; both being based in lovely St. Andrews. While back home at the same time Martin Luther gets peculiarly hyped as national hero, over here we can witness a victim of his reformation, that is the ruin of once giant St. Andrew’s Cathedral. We sort of benefit from that religious schism today its 500th anniversary means an exceptional bank holiday to us that’s virtually allowing us to journey Scotland.
One might think of the Berlin Airport when hearing of 160 years being needed as construction time for a church. Back in 1158 the effects of severe storms were the same like Klaus Wowereit’s and Berlin Senate’s political incompetence (former Berlin mayor) in combination with a non-working smoke extraction as well as catastrophic door closing system. In 1318 all delays and a non-progressing construction finally resulted in St. Andrews Cathedral’s first prayer service.
The church was history again only some 240 years later, when in 1559 reformists looted the once largest cathedral of Scotland measuring 119 metres in length. The church fell victim to decay and offers today a picturesque mix of weathered tombstones being mingled with centuries old remnants standing on such a lush green grass lawn that makes one believing of being part of a butter or milk TV commercial.
We head on towards Fort William, where Caledonian Canal mouths right next to Scotland’s highest mountain Ben Nevis. Fort Williams is also start and terminus of the Jacobite Steam Train that is known to most people as Harry Potter train. Its picturesque railway leads through the Scottish Highland and culminates at the 30 metres high Glenfinnan viaduct when the train bridges a 380 metres long gap in the mountains being cut by a small river.
On time at 10:47 the locomotion rattling towards Mallaig gives signal before huffing and puffing over the 21 pillar backed viaduct being more than 100 years old. To successfully climb the following mountain stage and to the delight of tourists gathered, the engineman literally has to put more coal on the fire.
Short rain showers and their interesting play of sun and fast shuffling clouds create several intense rainbows. Their moving around stages the already thrilling landscape between Loch Shiel and the Gulvain mountains. The Jacobite Steam Train is well-patronised if not to say often fully booked. The train ride from Fort William to Mallaig is definitely a highlight that we have to catch up on a next time, but it’s always good to have a reason to come back ;-)
Up to the Sky(e)
The ferry between Mallaig and Armadale doesn’t operate these days due to technical problems, hence to reach the picturesque Isle of Skye we take the long cruise through Spean Bridge, Invergary and Kyle. Before we make a stop in Dornie where along the road the Eilean Donan Castle can be found. The fortification was backdrop of films like Braveheart, Rob Roy and even England’s one and only agent James Bond jumped around over here. In fact one doesn’t have a clue at all that the entire castle is a reconstruction got demolished in the beginning of 18th century.
On the way to the Isle of Skye we drive through Kyle of Lochalsh, where at Hector’s we had some of the best fish & chips of the entire journey, that was a huge juicy haddock filet. Scottish food isn’t that bad and definitely puts the Dalmatian stuff we had to have on our Croatia trip to big shame.
Culinary strengthened we drive over the Skye Bridge. Fortunately, the bridge isn’t subject to toll anymore these days, hence we can save some £11.40 and spend it for example at one of the highlights of Inner Hebrides, that is the worldwide known Talisker Distillery.
Skye is Scotland en miniature and Talisker, its most prominent whisky, is only one highlight among others like for example the breath-taking mountain panoramas near Sligachan, where an old stone bridge stages the same name river in front of picturesque rock formations.
Again a short drizzle shower paints an intensive rainbow in the dark sky boasting with all colours possible. Not far from that junction and only a short drive away the small cascading waterfalls of the Fairy Pools flow down the slopes of Bruach na Frithe mountain. Its pristine and slightly blue glowing water invites for a swim, if the freezing water temperature of 4-8°C wouldn’t be that cold at.
We hike along the Fairy Pools towards the summit. Without proper hiking boots nothing works these days as everything looking like simple normal grassland is secretly soaked up with water up to one metre thick. That’s quite a play in the mud, also for the famous highland cattle we meet along the way down to Elgol. The grazing animals have to fight as they get continuously stuck in the bog that’s painting their legs peat-black as if they would wear heavy army boots. From the small Elgol harbour one’s got a tremendous view of the massif of Alasdair and Dearg piling up at the horizon. At the Fairy Pools again one can see the north side of those mountains.
Our time on Skye literally flies and we have to drive back to Edinburgh. This time we go through Oban, a harbour town in the south and Scotland’s self-proclaimed number one seafood place. The giant seafood platter being offered at the famous Green Shack is huge indeed. Since it’s being served cold the fun is half though also because the one or other langoustine might be not cooked well enough. The scallops coming with melted garlic butter are nevertheless a corker. So much seafood deserves a whisky from local Oban distillery. Its 14-year-old single malt is a Scotch classic, but also the limited distiller’s edition with only 6.000 bottles convinces easily with a splendid melange of smoke, caramel and sweet-fruity flavours. Further out on the islands, for example on Islay, whiskies are usually more peaty making them so smoky that it’s more fun to lick out a furnace.
Castle ruins and Craft Beer
Having reached the Edinburgh area again, we head to the two lovely coastal towns of South Queensferry, where the large bridges span Firth of Forth, and North Berwick. Latter village is home to impressive Tantallon Castle, a typical Scottish abandoned ruined fortification standing on a cliff edge.
The premises are neat as it is a museum. It is most imposing when being watched from far away as bold Bass Rock island forms a dramatic backdrop. The island is home of a gannet colony; a wonderful bird species that I was allowed to witness at the gannetries of New Zealand’s Cape Kidnappers as well as South Africa’s Lambert’s Bay.
Our trip unfortunately comes to an end as we reached Edinburgh, where we indulge ourselves in the local pub culture and enjoy a typical Monday evening pub quiz. The day after we stroll through the roads of old town, admire the classic Scottish architecture as well as the sounds of a lonely, but well-dressed bagpiper before we head back to rainy Berlin. Scotland, we’ll see us again for sure! :-)