Part II: Inverness, Loch Ness, and Booking-less
This city connects Loch Ness (yes, that one) to the Atlantic Ocean.01
We were using cities, including Inverness, more as sleeping spots than actual destinations, so I don’t have many thrilling stories to tell. However, I will use it as a chance to talk briefly about “bookings.”
Interlude on Bookings
“British people love their bookings,” my friend Chris would later tell me. And boy he is right.
Let me tell you about our attempts to go to a single pub in Inverness.
This isn’t even a fancy, happening, or famous joint. This is just a humble bar and grill on the north end of town, the only establishment walkable from our AirBnb up in the hilly suburbs.
We walk down there, famished after a long day of looking at grass and rocks. They have no food because a cook got the 'Rona. They said they’ll be open again in a couple days.
So we do what any self-respecting global citizens would do in our situation, and buy beer and frozen pizza and cereal from the only other remotely local establishment: a gas station. Both to savor lax public drinking laws and out of general angst of our circumstance, we drink beers on the way back.
A few days later, we’re growing tired of takeout sandwiches from Tesco’s value meals and frozen food (hey, the UK is expensive, OK), and we’ve gotten really hyped up about finally visiting said pub. We make a whole evening plan around it, and arrive early—it closes at 11pm, and we arrive between 6 and 7.
At the door, pub not even that full, we’re told, sorry, fully booked for the night.
I’m not sure whether this is as surprising to you as it was to us, but the concept of what could only be called a local dive bar even taking reservations, nonetheless being fully booked for 4+ hours on what I think was a Thursday, was flabbergasting. Had the old farts in there downing pints really all called ahead?
This would happen to us repeatedly at all kinds of food joints from here on out. If you’re the entrepreneurial food type, let me tell you, the Highlands gets a lot of travelers, and they could really use some more places to eat.
Glenmore Forest Park
One of the handful of hikes on which we got relatively drenched. The weather in Scotland seemed to be utterly forecast defying. I eventually understood why it seemed like they didn’t even really try. The sky seemed to frantically alternate between somewhat cloudy and seriously rainy, but with a patchiness that made the individual acre you happened to be standing on instrumental for your fate.
The hike itself: nice variety of stubby landscapes on the wandering hills.
The misty summit seems like it would be a bit anticlimactic as you realize you’ve ascended one of umpteen similarly stubby mounds, and—given the moisture—you have limited views to the others.
But it was actually still quite satisfying. The advantage of all the water is you get to see mist boiling up from hills beneath you, or a sun-illuminated discrete downpour in the distance.
Finishing the hike, the nearby Loch Morlich Beach was decidedly too cold to enjoy any water sports. But putting fifty degree shirts off Seattle guy to shame, dozens of families had donned full wetsuits and were rowing around and flying off paddle boards. Respect.
Brief Interlude for Some Ruins That, To My Surprise, Also Had “Forbes” Engraved Somewhere On It
Hope it was for something good.
We showed up here and I spotted a strange creature I hadn’t seen in a longtime. A Seahwaks fan.
I almost couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the neon green + dark blue jersey wandering by me on its usual body type (mostly bald, somewhat bearded, tube-like white male human). Apparently you don’t get a lot of American football bantering around here because after yelling “Go Hawks!” to the man it took some serious gesturing and keyword-mentioning on my part to communicate that I wasn’t hallucinating and wanted to discuss the reasons behind his outfit.
To my further disbelief, this wasn’t a traveler, but indeed a local Seahawks fan. We are way out in the boonies here, I mean like some serious distance from the nearest city anybody reading this has heard of. He said, yep, he’s been a fan for decades, and started referencing players / coaches before the era that I first started paying vague attention to the team (which was the Holmgren / Hasselbeck / Alexander period). He said there were a handful of folks locally into football, and informed me of some European leagues and their various pools to/from the NFL, at which point I was way in over my head sports wise and desperately resorted to vague but enthusiastic communication sounds.
Before I let us both escape and continue beach wandering I asked him: why the Seahawks? “I liked the mascot.” Makes enough sense I guess, local wildlife availability considered.
At the far end of the beach were far too many people with far too many tripods, expensive cameras, and telephoto lenses.
When we got there a plaque informed us this is one of the most productive ocean dolphin watching spots on the planet. With half a dozen of them jumping around several times a minute, it did not seem to be lying.
It turns out this is something for which you do indeed need a fancy camera, tripod, and telephoto lens, else your best shot looks like this:
Fairy Glen Waterfalls
A pleasant tromp through the woods that ends in a miniscule waterfall and a dead tree that seemed convinced the laws of reincarnation take into account how much much spare change you bring with you.
The hike was worth it because on the way back we got to meet Izzy.
We spotted a woman repeatedly photographing a muddy hillside. This seemed to bring her both less and more fun than you’d expect. I asked her what exactly she was doing.
What followed was roughly twenty minutes of forest facts that I maintain was worth it despite that it caused us to miss the opening hours of a brewery on the way back. Here were my highlights:
A bunch of forests here say, via plaques, that they’re run by the RSPB. We spent the walk in honing our guess for what this stood for. Best shot: Royal Scottish Parks Bureau. Quite surprisingly, only the Royal part was right. It’s the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
Said RSPB was formed from a group of women campaigning in the late 1800s against people slaughtering birds to use to make clothing, e.g., funny hats with feathers sticking out of them. Since, it has expanded to general nature-preserving activity, incl. owning and maintaining a bunch of wild land.
These little ditches we hopped over in the hike were indeed for directing rainwater and preventing erosion during rainy season. (Note to self: it rains even more than this sometimes?) These were neat to me because I don’t recall seeing them in PNW hikes despite climate and nature looking very similar. This was also why she was taking pictures: prepping an interview question for which “dig these rain ditches” was the answer.
Most interesting one for me: she said this forest area actually wasn’t that valuable for the RSPB to own, and honestly places like it kind of just burned their resources. This felt sacrilegious somehow. I expected every nature employee to have an “every square inch is sacred” kind of attitude to nature. It turns out you can roughly quantify how valuable nature areas are to preserve. For example, do endangered species of animals live there? How would the local ecosystem survive without it? Then, consider the cost to maintain it. From these bits of information—preservation value and upkeep cost—you can make comparisons between plots of land. Some, like this, end up being mostly dead weight that they (the RSPB) own due to historical purchases, and might not buy if offered today.
We said our goodbyes as the conversation waned into increasingly distant tangents,02 and as I looked around now at the trees and ferns and little bridges, I couldn’t help but feel a bit sorry for them, like unwanted children of this nature society that wouldn’t have even saved them from bulldozing if they got to do it all over again.
Cue yet another travel moment where you ask, wait, why the hell are we here?
With Loch Ness so famous because of its Monster, it had not occurred to me that it might actually turn out to be a completely boring normal lake until we were standing in front of it.
Sole landmark of note: hut of guy with Guinness World Record for “longest continuous vigil looking for the Loch Ness Monster,” complete with newspaper clippings03 and souvenir stand. Supposedly he’s been at it about thirty years and counting. We came about noon and didn’t see him anywhere the whole time. Certainly not at his mounted binoculars. Probably not a lot of competition for the record so maybe they let a day here or there slide.
One good thing about ol’ Ness is there’s a nice little forest by it you can take a stroll through.
Onward to Skye
We left for Scotland’s most scenic zone, the Isle of Skye. It would come with lots of rain.
I guess technically at that point it’s River Ness, and it flows into the North Sea. But I’ve come to despise memorizing the names of Seas and don’t think anyone else should have to either, so I think we should just call things by their Oceans and get on with our lives. ↩︎
I got the feeling it was not often people stopped Izzy in the woods and asked about her job. ↩︎
IIRC the news story detailed how he left his job and girlfriend to move next to the lake to stare at it full time, about which he said “I have not regretted a day of it.” ↩︎