Which explains why Im sitting in a hotel room at 6am in rainy Vancouver catching up on blog posts from earlier on in the year. When I say Jet Lag its probably more to do with not knowing what time zone im in and if I do get to grips with it by tomorrow, I’ll be changing time zones again. More of that later.
For now I’ll skip back to May this year and I trip I took to Scotland.
I cant say Ive had a love/hate relationship with Scotland as I used to go with a girl from Glasgow and spent some time there and did come to genuinely hate the place. Except for trips with my football team (playing not watching) before that time and trips to see the ice hockey after that time, I honestly dont have any good memories of the place. That does say more about me than the place so with trepidation I booked a few days in Glasgow on the way up to the highlands to join a stag weekend in Glencoe. Yes, I know, I should know better but it seemed a good idea at the time….
The trip didnt start the greatest as in an effort to save a few quid I thought Id book the 3am ferry. Yes I know now how stupid that was and yes I really should have tried it out before booking the same ferry on the trip to the wedding later in August….
..but you see my plans made sense, if only in my own head, I’d drive over, find the first parking space, pull in , get the sleeping bag out, kip down in the van and the jobs a good one.
Well thats the theory….
and relied on finding a parking space handy, away from the road, away from people walking their dogs and away from primary schools, police stations, no stopping zones, car parks and laybys with ‘no overnight parking signs’ etc. As you probably have already gathered it wasnt the easiest task in the world. So after two hours of driving, an hour of which was busting for a piss….
…so a couple of hours later I woke up in a car park where the local womens group had decided to descend to take part in a sponsored walk. Now my van does have blacked out windows but I thought Id wait until they set off before climbing out of my sleeping bag, wearing only my boxers. FFS ladies, get a move on!
full scottish breakfast in a cafe
On to Glasgow and parked up at the hotel. The hotel was reasonably cheap and just across the river from the financial district, somewhere I wouldnt even have stopped the car 15 years ago when I used to frequent the place, never mind walk alone, day or night.
Oh how Glasgow has changed, I thought as I walked across the hotel car park, then again maybe not as I saw clothes and broke open suitcases strewn about the hedges outside the hotel. I thought Id just go back and recheck nothing could be seen in the car.
The rest of the day was a bit of a blur to be honest, that fear of being recognised by relatives of the previous ‘next ex-mrs fox’ was tempered by that ‘Im too tired to give a shit’ feeling. That and the continuous drizzle reinforced my record of never being in Glasgow when the sun shines. If indeed it ever does shine on it. Any wonder Ive long thought of Glasgow as a dirty dreary hole of a place.
3 days in Glasgow in the rain now seemed like an eternity (unlike the last 3 days in the rain in Vancouver but again more later).
Photographically very poor so the best idea was to wait until check in, get back to the hotel and get some sleep and see if the mood changes with a good nights rest.
It didnt… well not really.
Rain was heavier in the morning but it did clear up in the afternoon and the sun even came out at times. What a difference it made, lightened the mood and gave me the opportunity to walk around the city centre in the redeveloped areas.
tradeston footbridge over the river clyde glasgow
Im bring unfair on Glasgow, yes I still think its a dirty hole but like Belfast, like Liverpool, its a victorian industrial city and you have to expect that. Its not an Edinburgh or Rome or Paris and you cant expect that, but like Belfast, Liverpool etc its the people that really make the city. People have time to talk and will generally help out strangers. Thats not to say the city doesnt have its share of problems, like every big city but people will share a laugh and take an interest. Give me that over beautiful sites every time.
That night I did something which wasnt even conceivable the last time I regularly visited Glasgow. I set out at night with tripod to go down and take some photos by the river Clyde. 15 years ago walking along the river through the Gorbals and Govan would have been a death sentence back then, only marginally less so now. A lot of the area has been redeveloped including some private areas which restrict access to the river walkway. Not that that would put me off but I have to apologise to the lovely young lady lying on her sofa in her pyjamas eating ice cream when I just walked past her window. Now I have to elaborate on that a bit, I hadnt just walked past her window but stalked past it. I had noticed as I left the hotel (other than being followed by the biggest urban fox I had ever seen) that people crossed the road before coming up to me. I didnt pay it much attention until I caught a glimpse of myself in the previously mentioned young ladys window. Black combat boots, black combat trousers, puffa bomber jacket (black), black stealth rucksack and carrying a tripod bag which the way I had the strap looked more like a rifle bag. I dont think I need to add in the black hat and gloves. Im sure shes stopped screaming by now…
The only thing that would have rescued the situation was probably a box of milk tray.
Expecting sirens, helicopter searchlights and a full armed response team at any minute I thought Id better just get a few photos and get out of there… just as they turned a lot of the lights out. Brilliant!
The River Clyde at Night in Glasgow
The next morning I saw something Id never seen before, Glasgow in full sunshine, so it was a bit of a mad scramble to drive around and get as many photos as I could in the time left before driving North to Glencoe. It does look a very different city in sunshine but I think the tourism board still have their work cut out for them. It has changed significantly with more upmarket shopping, good range of galleries and theatres but I think they are still being sold short by pitching themselves as 2nd only to London in terms of x or y. So why go to Glasgow, if London isnt full?
As usual, on the drive North the words of my good mate Peter were ringing in my head ‘lets get the fuck out of dodge’.
I drove up loch lomond and was meeting a friend in Fortwilliam before a night in Glencoe and then back to Fortwilliam. In all the time Id spent in Scotland previously, Id never really spent any time in what I now refer to as ‘real Scotland’, the highlands. Id been to Loch Lomond for an afternoon once and briefly drove through Glencoe on the way to one night on the Isle of Skye so what a missed opportunity.
I think somewhere on the road past Loch Lomond, my love affair with Scotland began…
Loch Lomond Scotland
I spent the night drinking with an old friend in Fortwilliam, the rest of the night is a haze. We then moved to the Clachaig Inn in Glencoe and realised that Id seen the place before on a lot of tv programmes. The guys had picked it for the stag night because they were going to go on a hike around Glencoe to work up a thirst. My hiking days are long gone so I had a couple of hours to drive around the Glen and get some photos. It was one of those mad days where the sun split the trees then there was a snow blizzard then rain and then sunshine again. Magical!
The Inn is famous because it is near the site of the Glencoe massacre where the British led by Campbells massacred 38 of the MacDonald clan who had accepted them in and gave them hospitality. All to do with allegiance to the new king or lack of it, although as usual miscommunication and inter clan rivalry played more of part than any plan or design. The entrance to the inn still has a ‘No hawkers or Campbells’ sign.
no hawkers campbells sign clachaig inn glencoe scotland
The bar apparently has a selection of over 200 scotch whiskeys. I dont think I went through them all but bearing in mind I went to bed that night with the light on so that when I did open my eyes I could focus on something and stop the room spinning. I wish I could say I dont remember a lot of the night but I do remember promising my friend I was there for him on his stag night before escorting two ladies from Liverpool off the premises with not so much as a backward glance.
I could leave the story there but as usual there is more to the story. Thinking I was on to a sure thing I made the fatal mistake of asking ‘how do you know each other?’. The straight out of a bad porno film line came back ‘shes my daughter’. Now, not that Im familiar with porno films you understand but Im told that usually leads to exploits that for me anyway would induce a number of muscle strains, ligament tears and perhaps the possibility of a light bone fracture. In this particular instance it was more like that needle scraping across the record moment when everything goes silent. Better rejoin the guys in the bar then.
selection of whiskeys in the bar
The next day is a bit of a blur as I returned to the same hotel in Fortwilliam Id left the previous morning. They didnt recognise me returning but to be fair by this stage I was a pale shadow of my former self.
The next day I took the opportunity to visit an old photographer friend down near Oban. He lives in a Castle. No really, he does. On the phone the driving directions were, turn left at the castle, go through the archway of the courtyard and park next to the stables, I’ll meet you there and we can go out for a tour of the estate in the landrover…
..I hate him.
That night it was off to Stirling and a walk round the old city before retiring to the bar to befriend some chinese students watching a champions league football match. Weird.
I like Stirling, Id actually been to a wedding in the castle a couple of years ago. A really posh do with a lot of society type folk at the table I was at. No I was invited, I didnt just sneak in. During the meal one of the gentlemen at the table asked why I wasnt wearing a kilt. Who would have guessed that not being Scottish wasnt a valid enough excuse! Looking back years later I sort of see the point, it would have been good, more getting into the spirit of the thing to get kilted up. So would I be wearing a dress to the wedding in August, hell no!
Stirling Castle Scotland
After the meal at the wedding another gent remarked on how good the champagne was. I said it wasnt champagne it was sparkling chardonnay. It was another one of those needle across the record moments, with noone more incredulous than my date for the night, who just stared at me with a mixture of ‘what the f*** and shut the f*** up’ looks that women learn in primary school. I of course took it a step further, tasted the wine and said ‘If I had to guess it would be 1991 or 1992’. So someone decided to call my bluff and call the waiter over and show him the bottle. The bottle was unwrapped and to everyones surprise it was sparking chardonnay 1992. Silence. I didnt even gloat.
Later that evening my date did say she was impressed but knew I must have had some sort of angle. Maybe she knew me quite well after all. After some bullshit about how you can tell the difference by the size of the bubbles, I said it also helps if you take a nosey wander through the castle and see them unloading the crates from the van!
Back to present time and it was time to go home, well it wasnt really but I decided not to wait for the late ferry home and race for the early evening one. Certainly sir but that would be an extra 50 quid. Hmmm let me think about that, 7 hours in Cairnryan or 50 quid. Shit, 150 quid would still have been a bargain!
So my first extended trip to Scotland in over 5 years had come to an end, I still dont like Glasgow and probably wont be back, but I exorcised some demons there and now have neutral rather than bad memories of the place and I’ll take that all day long. What this did introduce me to was the Scottish Highlands, a harsh, bleak, remote environment which is a truly magical place, filled with friendly welcoming people. Its a beautiful place to spend any amount of time and if you can manage to spend time with magical people there, theres very few better places on earth.
lochan na h-Achlaise Lochaber highland scotland
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