Chambers at Large in the Highlands of Scotland
Updated: Sep 14, 2022
Travelling 400 miles in a day could be tough going but not with Rabbie Tours. I took the Loch Ness, Glencoe and the Highlands tour with this coach company and I was very, very impressed. Our driver, Frazer, was a mine of information and I was amazed how he could remember dates of historic events when I can barely remember my own birthday!
We set off from Glasgow, the largest city in Scotland, at 8am and made our way out of the city passing Paisley to the strains of Gerry Rafferty singing Baker Street, a throwback to my misspent youth! Paisley is the hometown of Mr Rafferty, the actor Gerald Butler and my intrepid driver.
We soon left the city behind and reached the shores of Loch Lomond, Scotland’s largest lake, where the scenery is stunning, exceptionally beautiful. Being driven at a safe, sedate pace was a real treat and Frazer pointed out various sights en route then explained the lyrics of the song, The Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond.
“you take the high road and I’ll take the low road
And I’ll be in Scotland afore you”
refers to a Scot who chose to die at the hands of a sadistic Englishman in order his brother could live and return home. Taking the low road to death, the Scot sacrificed his life knowing his soul would be in Scotland before his brother’s corporeal form. Ironically this song is sung at the conclusion of wedding celebrations throughout Scotland with great gusto, but it’s a beautiful song and there are many versions (and many interpretations!)
From the shores of Loch Lomond we travelled north, only to be diverted due to an accident involving an oil tanker. This played a wee bit of havoc with our schedule, but these things happen and we arrived in the valley of Glencoe safe and sound.
This spectacular escarpment, reminded me of the countryside of Donegal, (https://www.aechambersnovelist.com/post/chambers-at-large-in-the-gaeltacht-of-county-donegal) but has a dark and terrible past.
In 1632 members of the clan McDonald were killed by forces loyal to King William and Queen Mary. The McDonald clan had pledged their allegiance to the king too late and were massacred as an example to others.
The Glencoe Visitor Centre has built a replica of a house in which families would have lived during the 17th century when the valley would have been home to a thriving community. The house, made of wattle (basket woven timber); daub (clay and cow dung); turf, and heather for the roof, is a testament to the craftsmen and women who rebuilt it. The inside is warm with a turf fire burning and the timber roof certainly shows the quality of work done.
Driving further north, passing a number of lochs, Scotland having more water than anywhere else in Britain, I learned that the Scottish language, like many, is dying. In an attempt to keep it alive sign posts are in both English and Gaelic, which is interestingly pronounced gal-lic in Scotland, whereas in Ireland it is pronounced gay-lick. The term loch and lough, meaning lake, are pronounced the same in Scottish and Irish Gaelic (lock), but spelled differently. Such are the vagaries of language and as much as I hate to see the demise of languages it is likely that Gaelic will pass the same way as Latin and be morphed into modern languages.
After lunch we arrived at the shores of Loch Ness, which contains more water than all the English and Welsh lakes put together and could drown the world’s population three times over. I’ve no idea who calculated that statistic, but it is as dark as the lake itself. The waters appear black due to the peat that washes down from the mountainsides and visibility is exceptionally poor when diving not too far into the depths.
It is no wonder the lake was thought to be the home of a monster which remains as elusive as ever; but tales of its existence remain and scientists have said 16% of DNA extracted from the waters has not been identified.
The countryside of the Highlands is quite bleak in places and was once the training ground for commandos of the Second World War who are commemorated by a fine sculpture and garden of remembrance not far from Fort William, a seaside town, which is overlooked by the highest mountain in Britain, Ben Nevis. Even in late June it had snow on its peak, delineating it from others in the Highlands.
We returned safe and sound to Glasgow around 8pm to the tune of The Proclaimers’ famous song: Five Hundred Miles (also played at Scottish weddings). We hadn’t quite travelled that far, but a medley of Scottish songs revealed that the last two concerts I had attended had been Scottish: Simple Minds and Marty Pellow. I hadn’t realised I’d such an affinity with Scotland’s music.
Rabbie Tours is named after the writer Robbie Burns and I learned more about him in my visit to the Writer’s Museum in Scotland. (https://www.aechambersnovelist.com/post/chambers-at-large-in-edinburgh-scotland-discovering-the-arts-and-the-macabre). Both strive for excellence in their work and I have to thank Frazer (and the company) for a day very well spent; one of the highlights of my trip to Scotland.
Please check out my other blogs of Scotland: