November 11th, 2003
Subject: Straight outta Campton
On the road again. The great north of Scotland. Being as the people I knew in Scotland had to work, I rented a car to do a little trip around the country. Armed with a map and a guidebook and my little rented Nissan Micra, we set sail.
My plan was to make it to a small town called Oban and spend the night there, then head up further north the next day. Well, that plan fell apart when I stopped everywhere along the way. I spent so much time making little stops at beaches, castles, shops, bridges, churches, graveyards, farms, and sideroads that I wasnt able to make it to Oban by nightfall. I was able to make it there by 11:30am. Yes, I guess you could say I overestimated the size of the country. When you fold a map of a country out on a table, you just assume that its kind of a big place. Well, it wasnt. For all the stopping I had done, I was way ahead of my scheduled arrival. Whats more, when I reached Oban it was a little like a retirement village. A lot of tour busses as opposed to the backpackers crowd. I got out the map again, looked at the scale that says "nine miles to the inch" and ventured that I could make it the extra 10 inches to Inverness, driving at the same rate. This route would take me right past Loch Ness, which for reasons that should be painfully obvious, I needed to see in the daytime. You cant spot monsters in the dark, y'know.
It was acutally cloudy and rainy this whole day of driving, which for some might be dissapointing. But to be honest, when I think of the countryside of Scotland, thats how I pictured it. If it had been sunny, I would have thought something was wrong and perhaps even felt as if I was cheated something. I saw Seattle one summer for 2 weeks and it never rained once, and I still feel like I've never known the real Seattle. So, I was pleased at this weather. Fogs filtered over lakes and lochs, around farms and clouds hung low over centuries old castles. Yes, just as I pictured it. In fact, so much so that it gave off an eerie feel that perhaps it was all just a show. Like a bunch of Hollywood set-makers got together and decided what Scotland should look like and built it here, then left it when they were done filming. It was really very beautiful, almost too perfect to believe.
I was rather perturbed upon reaching Loch Ness. I did get there in the daytime, but the Loch is about 25 miles long, and rather narrow. With this type of layout, there really is no good vantage point for watching the whole thing at one time, which caused me to drive frantically back and forth along it hoping to catch a glimpse of Nessie. I guess I must have been in the wrong place.
I made it to Inverness by about 4pm, which is just before dark. This far north, it gets dark about 4:30 in the wintertime. And it gets midnight-dark really fast. So by 6pm you feel like its way past your bedtime. I found a hostel and checked in and started talking to the people staying there. They had told me that they had seen the Northern Lights just a couple nights earlier, clear and bright. I was jealous. Its been one of my dreams to see them for a while, and I just missed it. Well, as Inverness was as far north as I had originally planned on going, but I was already a day ahead, I decided to go as far north in mainland Scotland as I could to improve the 0.01% chance I had of seeing the Northen Lights at all.
Thurso is as far north as you can go without going to one of the islands. The ferries for the islands leave once a day in the winter, so Thurso was as far as the Micra and I were going to make it.
The drive up that way was much the same, except it was sunny - a fact I could accept having seen the rain yesterday. I stopped at the most impressive castle I have ever seen. It is right on the waterfront, overlooking the sea, majestic gardens in the back and huge wooded fields in front. The castle itself is just amazing. There really wasnt anyone there saying you couldnt walk around it, but there was no ticket office either. There was a gravel patch for parking cars, and 2 spots marked for the handicapped, so it looked like visitors were allowed. As I was leaving, I found a lady who was walking out and asked her if she worked here. She did and I asked what the castles' use was, as it didnt look like a tourist attraction. She told me it was a families house, and they just let the public walk around it. They also give tours of the inside during the summer. Wow. http://www.highlandescape.com/index.html
The other neat thing I stopped at was a tiny little graveyard up on a hill. By the looks of it, no one has done any upkeep in a few years. I dont even think that many people probably stop at it. It was barely noticable from the road. With about 50 tombstones ranging in age of death from 1812 to 1942, it had a magnificent view of the sea and countrysides. Really sort of cool.
The rest of the drive up the eastern shores were majestic cliffs which the sea would smash in to. Unfortunately, there really was no safe place to stop and take a photo, and as the road was windy with blind curves, I didnt take any photos while driving. (Aren't you proud, mom?)
Making it in to Thurso, I felt like I hit a metropolis. Perhaps its the fact that the past 25 towns I past had populations in the double digits, or the fact its surrounded by fields. It looms in the distance as you approach, but in reality is a tiny little place. Not much to do there, but I did manage to rent a bed in a hostel which was empty, so I had the place to myself. Its fun to sprawl out and enjoy it sometimes. I read through my books peering out the windows from time to time to see if the clouds had lifted. A couple times they had lifted slightly, so I went out for a drive. On one of these occasions I saw fireworks. I drove around to see if I could find where they were being shot off at, but they were too sporadic. As I drove out in to the countryside further, I saw a location that was doing some rapid firing, so I headed towards it. The town was Halkirk, one of those little double-digit places. Barley on the map. Well, they had a rather big turnout for this fireworks display and a huge bonfire. I asked a couple kids there what the display was all about and they said it was Bonfire night. When I asked what it signified, they said they didnt know. Just that it was bonfire night. It was as if the forces of fate had thought that since I was denied my Northern Lights they would give me this fireworks show. Thanks.
I later learned that Bonfire night stems from Guy Faulkes day. Way back in history a man by the name of Guy Faulkes set a bunch of explosives all around Parliment with the intention of killing the Queen and bringing down the government. Well, before he hit the switch he was caught, captured and burned at the stake. So, now they celebrate his death with bonfires and fireworks. Slightly odd, but cool.
The next day I headed out to make a straight shot for Edinburgh. None of this stopping at every scenic bridge. I wanted to make it to Edinburgh before nightfall. This is a good a time as any to educate you, the reader, as to how you should be reading these names. Feel free to read aloud at your computer. Edinburgh. Ed-in-bra. Not like Pittsburgh. I was made to learn this before I left on this little tour of mine. And for reference... Glasgow = Glaz-go. See, now you're all set to travel Scotland.
So I got in to Edinbra about 3ish. Driving around trying to find the hostel, I came upon a group of people jammed so tight on the sidewalk they were spilling in to the street, and jammin me up. See, I never got the full hang of the driving-on-the-other-side thing. I got better, but the congested cities still gave me a bit of a panic, and these people werent helping. On top of that, the MTV European Music awards were being hosted in Edinburgh that night, the only night I was there, so traffic was heavier and roads were blocked off in many areas. (My mom has noted that I seem to hit a lot of cities on their biggest event nights of the year. Not sure how that works, but it does seem to happen that way.) In any case, I found the hostel, checked in, returned the car and walked back to the hostel. All was well.
I went out for a walk and ended up walking through the huge crowd of people that jammed up my driving earlier. As I got through the masses, I stopped and asked people what the fuss was all about. Aparently Justin Timberlake was staying at that hotel and people were waiting for him to walk out the front door to his car waiting. This event would take about 6 seconds, and these were the people here 2 hours ago when I drove through. Just then screams of delight and disbelief are heard. Heres Justin. But what gives - he's using the side door. 80% of the people around the front cant even see him. He walks, waives, and drives off, and inadvertantly I had a better vantage point for this event than 80% of the people there and I'd been waiting 2 seconds. Suckers. This would have been a slightly more life-altering moment had I been a 16 year old girl.
I walked through the town listening to the Chemical Brothers concert in the park (sold-out tickets were needed to actually enter the park), and getting some things I needed. As I walked back, I encountered the same throng of people outside another hotel. Has Justin checked in here too? Well, my curiousity got to me again and I asked someone who we were waiting for this time. Sean Paul. Who? Oh, the jamaican rapper guy. Well, the cops thought that I was one of the people waiting and pushed me back. Sir, you'll have to stand back there!! Well, officer, I acutally just want to get to the other side. He didnt believe me. I am standing amongst a crowd of pre-pubescent girls, do I look like a Sean Paul fan? Alright - but walk right to the other side, no stopping!!! I will, I will. But I didnt. You see, Sean Paul was being picked up by this real phat 2003 titanium Audi A8 with a really amazing video-nav system in the dash. I forgot completely about the promise I had made less than 2 seconds ago and stopped to check out the car. All of a sudden I hear "What did I tell you!?!?!?" The officer would have hauled me off had Sean Paul not walked out at that very moment and the officer suddenly had bigger issues to deal with. I bolted off just as the 16-year-olds closed in. As I walked away, I heard one girl exclaim "Oh my god, I think I touched his hand. I'm not sure, but I think I did!". I wanted to walk back and say "Yes, but I saw the inside of the Audi". Being as I was a marked man by the officers on site, I decided against it and turned home.
I went out that night with some other Americans I had met in the hostel. In the year-plus I've been on the road now, I havent met many Americans. We decided to make our own tour of the Edinburgh bars. We went bar to bar having one drink in each until we just couldnt be bothered to make to the next one. A fun night and a real fun crew.
I had tried to meet up with a friend of mine from a previous trip, Rochelle who lives in Edinburgh, but with some miscommunications, the best we got was to share a coffee 15 minutes before my ride came along Friday morning. It was great to catch up, even if just for a few minutes.
My ride southbound was Archie, who I had met the previous weekend at Heidis place. He was also headed for the girls' welcome home party, driving the full 6 hours. I asked him if I could get a ride with him and we could make the trip together. Just as we got on the road, he mentioned something about a TR7 convertible that he owned. I asked with excitement if he was a car guy, and the way he said "oh yeah", I knew it was going to be 6 hours of car conversation. Its like traveling in a foriegn country and finding someone who speaks your native language. Talking cars. It really was an awesome trip, and by the time I arrived people at the party could tell we were feeding off each other in that silly way. We were both known for being the silly one at a party, but now we had paired up and the sum was greater than its parts.
Heidi and Fiona had a small pre-party on Friday with just a limited number of people. It was great to be able to meet a good number of their close friends so that when the majority arrived on Saturday we knew a little core of people and didnt feel overwhelmed. There were a few people such as myself that they had met along their travels who had come for the party as well.
Saturday afternoon, looking for an excuse to see daylight, Archie and I headed to the Cadbury chocolate factory for a laugh and a dose of sillyness. It was an interesting little tour, but dissapointingly one that had a severe lack of Oompa Loompas or chocolate waterfalls.
The Saturday night party was great as well, with all of Heidi and Fionas friends coming by to welcome them back. Both nights I seemed to stay up until about 5:30 and both nights woke up way too early, before 10am. Actually, I guess I fell rather fast alseep on Saturday night as Heidi was able to remove my camera from my jeans pocket, take a picture of me passed out, then return it, which appeared by all accounts to be magic to me when I woke up the next morning.
Sunday I had plans to return to London, visit some friends and get a car to go around and see other friends who lived just outside of London. One of them, Jane, was actually on my way and said I was welcome to stop by. I caught the train and arrived in Campton about 5pm. Campton is a metropolis in the middle of the English countryside. Ok, so its a one-road town that no English person outside of Campton has heard of. Its a secnic, rustic little place. Janes house is 170 years old, and actually sits about a mile from Campton, making her actual town a population of about 6 if you count the house next door. Jane and I had met at Burningman and she told me to stop by when I was in England. Whether or not most people think I actually will, I dont know. But I love to surprise them. I usually get some sort of remark upon my arrival to the tune of "Um, its like really weird to have you standing in my kitchen". But it was really great to see Jane, and it was eerie to find out that our lives have actually been rather similiar in many ways. Right up to a fact we learned when we went to the only pub in Campton, when I ordered my standard drink and so did she, and we both remarked almost simultaneously that the other used to be our standard drink before we became sick on it in college and have never touched it since. For the record: Hers=Southern Comfort / His: Rum and Coke.
Sadly, Jane had some family coming to stay with her as there was a funeral, so to free up space and give them some family time, I headed back to London.
I have a few more things to do before heading back to the states. My trip home is going to be catching up with friends and family, so this will be the last update for about a month. Yes, you can finally expect a little bit of a break in the travel updates for a while. Maybe I will do some re-runs if you get lonely. Travelheads greatest hits or something.
Rock on with your bad selves,