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Achintraid-Gairloch-Carbisdale Castle [At that time County Sutherland, now part of ’Highland’]
July 15, 1974 (Monday)
The next morning greets us once again with a gray, rainy expression. We get to Shieldaig (the beautiful retiree health resort) with an English couple who have an English sheep dog, one of those white-gray shaggy-coated dogs, where you can’t find out what’s the front and what’s the behind. Its dimensions are like those of a one year old Saint Bernard. „But it’s still growing!“ the proud owners tell us. This little doggy sits on my lap for the whole trip and puts his front paws on my unarmoured foot. His blue eye (because the other one is brown) peers at me confidentially from behind a lock of hair, at eye level! At least I’m not feeling cold for once. (He is a real darling actually!)
In Shieldaig they pity us with all their heart because of the weather, but these compassionate people don’t want to change their travel route because of us anyway.
We finally have to take the bus to Kinlochewe, as there is almost no traffic at all and the weather is getting wetter and more uncomfortable. There, too, we stand for a few hours until a delivery truck takes us to Gairloch, another vacation spot popular with the Scots. Suddenly the sun is shining here by the sea and we immediately feel much better. The Scottish hills can be quite depressing in fog and rain. We actually meet a neighbour of Margaret’s in Gairloch, whom we met on a bus in Glasgow.
The Carn Dearg youth hostel is located directly on the cliffs, on a narrow asphalt road that gets lost in the sand a few kilometers further on. [It doesn’t do that anymore.] This is the first hostel we come across, where you can work for a free overnight stay with extra jobs (e.g. window painting). But we are too lazy for that, after all, we are on vacation!
July 16, 1974 (Tuesday)
The following morning the weather is sunny but cold. We visit Gairloch, about 2 kilometers from the youth hostel, and climb around in the cliffs. On the opposite side of the bay you can see the mountains we came from the day before. Compared to the grassland here they are huge and the low white clouds that cover their peaks make them seem mysterious and connected to the sky.
For me, sitting here in the sun by the water, the mountains are a symbol of the promised land, they are my brothers, big and strong. I feel one with the earth and believe in peace.
I want to:
join the mountains;
listen to the birds and the wind
who tell me their wisdom
without showing off;
let the sun give me strength;
admire the harmony of this creation
and become one with it.
[If there is any doubt, it’s mine. 😉]
July 17, 1974 (Wednesday)
When we go for a walk again the next day, a car full of girls stops next to us and they invite us to have coffee with them. The female pack consists of Margaret (17 years old) with two younger sisters, who both give me the impression that there haven’t been quite enough ingredients for them, when they were conceived, as well as a young woman who is a friend of their’s with two small daughters, whom Margaret wants to turn into fine ladies by force. They are all from Edinburgh. Margaret’s parents are both no longer alive, and now she is planning to modernize the house where we are drinking coffee. It is a former school that she bought together with her brothers. On the coat hooks in the corridor you can still see the names of the former students burned in: Gillivray, Farquharson and similar Scottish names. The young woman with her two daughters will emigrate to Australia in a few weeks.
Back at the hostel we meet a skinny, tree high cyclist, who has already caught our eye in Morar because of the enormous amounts of food that he devours. He eats at least three heaped plates full of indefinable cereals and for dessert he slaps green salad on his white bread. He doesn’t remember me when I speak to him, which he regrets very much and accordingly often apologizes. „I can’t remember faces,“ he says.
July 18, 1974 (Thursday)
The next morning we set off north again. We want to go as far up the west coast as possible. We are incredibly lucky and a short time later we are in Ullapool, a nice little fishing village with a nice little youth hostel. Ullapool is very touristy, but not as full of trinkets as e.g. Aberfoyle or Fort William, but with class. We are advised to hitchhike north with the fish trucks at night, but that seems too risky and inconvenient to us.
July 19, 1974 (Friday)
James Munro, an elderly man from Lairg on River Shin, takes us with him from Ullapool, and we will be in touch by letter for many years afterwards. “I like a good knee in the front”, he says when I sit down next to him, which in my naivety I again don’t catch. He quickly convinces us that it would be nonsense to hitchhike further north because there is almost no traffic there. We are already noticing that. Instead he takes us to Invershin** in the heart of Sutherland, where he buys us a drink in the pub. My friend gets a hot toddy (grog with whiskey) because she has a bad cold. My eyes, unclouded by alcohol, rest on her with envy.
**[Something should flow into something else at Invershin, should it not? And it does, about 1 km north of Invershin, the river Shin flows into the Kyle of Sutherland.]
The way to the youth hostel is quite unusual. We go to a disused train station, on the driveway of which it says ‚SNP‘ in large, white letters (Scottish National Party. We have reached the arch-patriotic part.) From there it goes on a railway bridge over the ‚Kyle of Sutherland‘, over various fences, through a hole in the wall and up an endless hill. This hostel is housed in a large castle, Carbisdale Castle. Some English nobleman had sidelined his wife here. The adventure trail is recommended, if you don’t want to hike 5.5 kilometers to the next bridge (Bonar Bridge) and then 5.5 kilometers back on the other side.
[Unfortunately, the Scottish youth hostel Association had to give up Carbisdale Castle, because it was too costly to maintain. It is for sale now.
Carbisdale Castle was built in 1907 for the Duchess of Sutherland (the sidelined lady) on a hill across the Kyle of Sutherland from Invershin in the Scottish Highlands.]
Since the weather is tolerably warm, we later lie down on a meadow near the hostel. I feel so good that I fall asleep without further ado. So I’m a little confused when a boy calls out to us a little later and asks for directions. I explain it to him in detail, including the hole in the wall. I can’t have made a very reliable impression, because he doesn’t take the route, as he tells me later. He takes the long way over the next bridge. He has only himself to blame! [The railway bridge situation is still the same.]
July 20, 1974 (Saturday)
The next morning I spot the long cyclist again, who this time comes straight up to me with a wash tub full of cornflakes with the words: „This time I recognize you!“
In the afternoon I go on a walk to the nearest tiny village because my best friend needs to be alone. On the way I meet an old lady who tells me that the salad is wonderful this year and offers me sweets from a giant bag. Such a lovely lady!
In the evening we go to the pub (we have to cross the railway bridge again), where we get to know the artist soul of the area, Joe the painter, with his beautiful collie. One of the Scots at our table keeps telling jokes about the Irish, but I only understand half of them. He is the first, and perhaps only, Scotsman to speak at a truly Italian pace. Meanwhile, my friend is talking to a young, drunk and broken guy who she feels sorry for. He wants to get married the next day, but doesn’t seem very enthusiastic about the idea and asks my friend to stay with him. Again and again he shows her cartridges that he is holding in his hand and predicts that in three years there will be no more castle and no more pub, since both belong to English people. “We’re going to kill them all, everyone, with women and children! We have to annihilate them ”, are his words. The others are embarrassed and they declare him crazy and say that he can only talk like that because he doesn’t know how terrible a war is.
Finally my cyclist arrives. After some time of conversation, he asks me if I would come for a walk with him, to pick up his friends from the camping site. That’s the last thing I need, no desire to do so, so I say „no“. As soon as one has left, the next comes: Keith the tooling engineer, the boy who asked for directions to the hostel. He is accompanied by a bearded young man who turns out to be Australian, but only after, I, of course, ask him if he is American, about which he is quite offended (scandalo, scandalo). Keith asks if they can sit down with us and without waiting for the answer he is already sitting next to me and squeezing me between himself and my friend’s chair in a way that makes me stare at her with my mouth open and I am speechless over his cheek. The cyclist comes back, sees us with the others and drowns his grief in whiskey. He also goes home early while his so-called friends make fun of him because he can’t tolerate alcohol. Great friends!
July 21, 1974 (Sunday)
The next day we hike to the Shin Falls. The road that leads up to them is wonderfully laid out: quiet, mountainous, grand! At the wayside we find wild strawberries that I see and eat for the first time in my life. A surprise awaits us at the ’summit’, because there is a lunch stall, a souvenir shop and a large number of cars. I feel reminded of the trip to Loch Kathrine last year. People flock to the falls on the weekend (it’s Sunday) to watch the salmon jump. In any case, the Shin falls are spoiled for me. I don’t even look at them. [That was very stupid, girlie! It is not the fault of the falls … ]
My friend bought a postcard, with a salmon jumping on it, of course. It’s such a clumsy trick shot, however, that it just makes me grin. The salmon is not only almost as big as the whole waterfall, but it is also clearly visible that it is painted on (the salmon). But the card has an absolute kitsch value.
There will be a few more posts about this, as we are only half through the trip … ;-), among others we spent a few interesting days in the pretty county of Fife.