The effects of what we have been told by weather girl Carole we must refer to as ex-hurricane Bertha have been dramatic. Our wonderful pitch is less than wonderful in strong gale force winds and we are grateful for the Isle of Mull that protects us from the Atlantic breakers. We survive unscathed, although several others on site suffered damage to awnings.
My history friends will appreciate that, despite immersing myself in Scottish heritage, there is no substitute for actual research when one is experiencing withdrawal symptoms. We have been tasked with finding out more about an RAF station near Oban, where Catalina sea-planes were based during World War 2. We have seen no signs of a Museum in Oban but drive in to investigate. I was heading for the Tourist Information Office but Chris is tempted to ask about the whereabouts of a museum at the Post Office. He decides that the twelve year old behind the counter is unlikely to know and is saved from making himself seem unobservant as we spot that the Museum is next door! Better still it is a) free and b) dedicated to war-time Oban. We gather some useful information and set off for nearby Ganavan Sands, where the aircraft hanger has recently been demolished in favour of a housing development that looks very much like another second home owner haven. So now historical research lands me on a deserted Scottish beach in heavy rain and conditions that can best be described as ‘bracing’. It was satisfying to be able to take photographs to add to someone’s family history though.
We drive north to Fort William through rain and mist. We do spot some strangely orange sheep, looming through the drizzle, on the way. With a bit of an effort we find Morrisons in Fort William for supplies and skulk in the car park so I can tap in to the Scot Rail free internet. As I have a train ticket in my possession I do not feel too bad about this. We locate a car park more suited to a longer term stay and then go to board the ‘Jacobite’ steam train to travel along the Glenfinnan valley to Mallaig; we are situated in Sir Lancelot carriage. The train contains tourists of many nationalities and possibly the loudest Scottish people in the world. I blame the on-board champagne. Even the five year old opposite us complains about their volume. As they were too stupid to book in advance their party have been allocated random spare seats that are not adjacent to each other. This makes matters worse and encourages them to stand in the aisles blocking people’s view.
I am a sucker for a steam railway and this is obviously a lovely route. It is just a shame that the weather means we can’t see much of it. We pass ‘Neptune’s Staircase’, a series of eight locks in very quick succession over the Caledonian Canal. Sadly Ben Nevis is another iconic Scottish site that will elude us, as it is hidden from view by the heavy cloud. Here we are close to Glen Coe where, in 1692, the Campbells, whilst staying with the MacDonalds, massacred thirty eight of their hosts. The MacDonalds were, incorrectly, thought to lack the necessary paperwork attesting to their loyalty to new monarchs William and Mary.
The Glenfinnan valley is notorious as the spot where Bonnie Prince Charlie raised his standard to herald the start of the ’45 Jacobite Rebellion and we see a monument to the ‘Young Pretender’. This line was extended to Mallaig in 1901 thanks to a feat of engineering by ‘Concrete Bob’ MacAlpine who constructed the twenty one arch, 1248 foot long Glenfinnan Viaduct, a location that famously appears in the Harry Potter films. We look over Loch Shiel, alias the Black Lake. The stop at Glenfinnan station is just long enough for us to be deprived of fifty pence each in order to be herded through the small museum on the station. Sadly the crowds mean that we cannot take this at our own pace and it is little more than a walk through. Rumour had it that a horse and cart met its fate in one of the viaduct arches during construction. Recently, x-rays have identified remains, not in this viaduct but in that over Loch Nan Uamh, further along the line.
We stop briefly at Arisaig, the most westerly mainland station in the UK. Then we have a two hour stop at Mallaig. Normally we would have spent this looking at the town. The Heritage Centre are clearly missing a trick as they close at 16.30 and the train arrives at 16.40. We do brave the wind and rain to briefly inspect the harbour. Even the most dedicated fishing boat observer in our party isn’t keen to prolong this longer than necessary. Fortunately we are soon allowed back on the train to eat our yummy ‘serve it yourself’ salad that we acquired in Morrisons. We nearly went for pre-packed salads but these lacked accompanying implements with which to eat them. Pasta salad doesn’t really lend itself to being eaten with fingers. We then spotted handy plastic forks and realised that we could become entitled to one of these by creating salads of our own choosing. Needless to say this then became a challenge, endeavouring to cram as much as possible into the receptacles provided. The downside is that pasta salad probably isn’t the menu of choice when one is cold and wet.
We narrowly manage to avoid the noisy fellow passengers on our return trip. One couple have chosen to sit in the wrong seats. This has a knock on effect on other passengers as they search for their allocated seats. We have obediently sat in the seats designated on our ticket, how difficult can that be?