Well, we are still in West Scotland and 15 minutes in to the bus journey for Inveraray and it really starts howling with wind and more rain! By now I’m getting excited because, IT’S STARTED SNOWING!!!!!! Yipppeeee, and doesn’t the landscape just look a picture. Although I am concerned about ending up on the side of the road or the bus half hanging down a cliff like it did in that Jack Reacher novel. My main concern, Jack isn’t on board to save us all from ourselves, and actually doesn’t exist (unfortunately) at all in real life.
And so we cruise along. The landscape is breathtaking. Surrounded by cliffs on either side, boulders of rock dotting the landscape, all interspersed with lochs, and village after village passes by. Small cottages scatter the land scape all busily puffing smoke from their chimneys.
At last, the grand arrival takes place – Inveraray. I hot foot it straight to the hotel for check in. This one also has issues. The TV works only just (I’m supposed to be staying in touch with world affairs) and this time the bed is very, very hard. I consider pantomiming scenes from the ‘Three little Bears’ in my room but resist the temptation.
Camera, gloves and Aztec fairy floss pink hat with pom-pom attached, (because it is seriously snowing now and so cold I no longer care how I look.) I take off for Inveraray Castle. But, not before the local lass from the tourist bureau grabs me in the street and tells me in all seriousness, “Now, don’t go to Oban now luv, it’s a right mess there. And with the roads being cut of an all, you know love.” I get told about how awful it’s been, she’s had no TV for the entire day until moments ago and just turned the news on to hear of Oban. (I don’t bother telling her that every TV should be shot and put in a grave, she won’t understand.) I mutter about the tragic turn of events, assuring her that as I don’t have a car, there is no bus and that as the roads are now cut off, I am highly unlikely to go to Oban. I certainly don’t intending running there to give it a quick once over.
Finally, I get to Inveraray Castle. And what a beautiful, beautiful castle this is. Flanked on four corners by its circular turrets, the feel is very French. The exterior almost reminds in some ways of a miniature ‘Chateau De Chambord’. I might also add that Rapunzel would be perfectly at place here, her long flowing golden hair fluttering around and out the turret window as she looks below for a means of escape.
A fort and castle have stood here since the early 1400s when The Campbell clan moved from Innischonnell to Inverary. The family motto: “Ne Obliviscaris” – Latin for, Do not forget. So, this probably isn’t the family to have a back yard tiff with, ok.
But that said, the original sketches for Inveraray castle that you see today, were made by Vanbrugh. (Who’s he you ask?) The same chap that designed Blenheim Palace and Castle Howard later in the 1700s. I’ve never laid eyes on Blenheim but I have been to Castle Howard. And, I assure you I was more than happy to warm my toes by the fire there and roast chestnuts over the fireplace. It’s just unfortunate that no one invited me to stay on a while after the hordes of tourists finished traipsing through for the day.
Unfortunately the castle isn’t open & I have to be satisfied with roaming around the outside and the grounds. Let me say though, that ever the optimist I hope to meet someone from the castle and convince them to give me a personal tour. Closed, is never closed. It just means the doors are shut.
I even take the opportunity of climbing the entrance steps to see if I can peak through the front windows. Beautifully furnished, and I would like to take tea and scones inside while taking in the fine view of the outside. Can you believe this? Suddenly and without warning I find the curtains are being drawn. I am not happy, protests are considered but I make my escape before they call someone official to haul me off.
All this walking makes me thirsty and hungry. (And it’s now night and very dark.) Back at the George Hotel, I am served one of the best Gammon steaks that I have ever had in my life. My poor waiter has a slightly worried air as I call him over for interrogation and questioning of the chips. But his face eventually broadens with a large grin as I congratulate him, explaining that these are the best chips I have ever had in my life – yes, they are hand cut. (Which is just like it was done in the very, very olden days when I was a small wee lass.) And to top it off, they are fried in beef dripping just as your grandma use to do.
Eventually I find myself back at the bar of the B&B, a red wine in hand, reading. Just as suddenly, I’m interrupted and find myself chatting merrily away to a local who it seems is also stuck for the night in Inverary. (and he’s stuck, along with all the other people that are now stuck here.) Because as we all know by now, all the roads are closed off from the snow.
He tells me he is a diver. I resist the urge to ask why he chose a career requiring him to spend most of his time dressed as a cross between a dolphin with flippers on his feet and a character from ‘Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea.’ I feel such a statement might end the conversation instantly. Instead my diplomatic response is. “And, what made you decide to take up diving for a career.” My new friend’s response is, “Ah, I always wanted to dive. I just knew it was what I always wanted to do.” Well that answer’s as good as any, I guess. However, these people that have known what they want to do from birth worries me. I mean, who manages to live such an organised life, knowing exactly what it is you wanted to do, from the moment you were born!
The conversation is abruptly stalled – another blackout. We all get little candles but my new friend is waiting for food as are all the other customers that had piled into this bar. There are mutterings, whispers more mutterings around the room about the lack of hot food now no longer available and – well, it’s freezing! People want a hot meal, not the offerings now being made of a piece of bread with cheese and a cold tomato tossed on the plate.
I take to arranging everyone quite nicely, because it’s obvious no one else is going to. A couple of loud claps on my part as I say, “All is well guys, just toddle on over to The George Hotel. They have their own electric generator. Food’s still on there.” Suddenly, like a pack of rampaging bulls the entire bar is up and gone, and I find myself entirely alone. The response from the barmaid is a terse, “Aye, I don’t know that’s necessary, we can do up salads still.”
I now find myself back at The George as well, (and find a corner to hide in) because it’s now the only place in town with light. Reading by one tea light candle, whilst quaint and reminiscent of yesteryear is not practical.
Eventually word has it that the town has light again and I find myself back at the B&B with my red wine again. (Is everyone keeping up with this back and forth business……it’s getting a bit much for me as well.)
Suddenly my new little friend comes back to chat, and I find we have common interests. We chat, and chat and chat. Here finally, is a man not obsessed by gadgets, televisions, computer games, cars etc. I’m almost embarrassed – I think this guy has probably read more books than I have and quite possibly traveled to more places (and, I do applaud the person who wants to travel and has a sense of curiosity about the world. Remembering of course, that too much curiosity, killed the cat.) What is even more gob-smacking – he can cook! (I should have hauled him into the kitchen to test this, but resisted.) I consider that maybe genetic cloning should be permitted after all and end the evening really quite satisfied with the conversation that has been had.
Not a lot of sleep was had that night, every single truck, that traveled up and down, up and down (you get it, ok) the roads clearing snow, trundled right past my bedroom window full to the brim with snow. And on, and on, and on, and on it went………… All night long!
And what a busy night was had, because the next morning the entire town is caked in a layer of snow. A word for the novice snow walker here, don’t wear running shoes and trundle along in the snow. It turns to ice, it’s slippery and the shoe has no grip. Nose down in the ground is not a pretty sight. Especially when you’re wearing your pink Aztec pom-pom hat!
Yes, I had to go back to the castle again……. Didn’t I. Because, now I needed more pictures with the grounds and castle caked in snow. This time around I meet the gardener who tells me not to go in the gate that’s opening, because it’s private property. Well, I know that. Suddenly, I’m standing there at the castle gate kicking myself. I should have found my my little friend from last night and forced him to walk the grounds with me this morning. You’ve got more chance of getting into a closed castle when there are two of you ganging up over one lonely head gardener. As well as an opportunity lost, I finally had the perfect chance to ask someone, “Would you care to take a turn about the garden, I see a prettyish kind of wilderness off there in the distance.”(Only pride and prejudice fans understand this line.)
Finally, I’m back on the bus, leaving this beautiful, peaceful township. As we make our way through the Scottish countryside, past lochs, and towering cliffs, I’m reminded of the song made so famous by The Proclaimers:-
“I would walk 500 miles, and
I would walk 500 more,
to walk a 1000 miles and
fall down at your door.”
I decide that the man walking through these cliffs, hills, molten rock, lochs and streams is definitely going fall down at your door. He’ll fall down dead. My advice is to make sure you have 911 ready on your speed dial for when he turns up. A speedy response by emergency services is his only real chance of survival and your future together.
Notwithstanding that the man who walks a 1000 miles to your door in this bitter wilderness, is well, putting it bluntly, stupid. That, after all is what a car is for!