Setting off rom Ullapool about 1100 despite my seeing down low in front of the steering wheel, a small screen sandwiched between the rev counter and the speedometer, a sign which flashes intermittently, telling me that the left back tyre has low pressure. Even though I paid 20 pence to access the Ullapool garage air compressor and pumped it up. It still shows ‘low pressure’. And this Ikea franchise built car has minimum sensible basic safety technology. No parking sensors, no rear view camera, no folding side mirrors, no trip meter, no side airbags, but it has got tyre air pressure monitors which do not seem to work. Or do they?
Its a lovely day, and we motor through a canopy of green the roadside glorious with thick luxuriant leafy shrubs, trees, weeds, bracken and as there is little traffic, its all very pleasant. All too soon the green fades away and we are on a hillside road, bare brown looking moorland stretching away slightly uphill then more sharply up the mountain side. Away to our right, a railway line snakes and weaves alongside a slowly flowing stream with a rocky bed, bigger boulders here and there set against a backdrop of round topped mountains. Its nearly the end of the northern summer and its been a dry year. The rain, albeit of the annoying drizzly sort, awaited our arrival. As did the school holidays, bank holidays and Scottish people getting their motorbikes, jalopies, Audies, BMW’s and their mother in law out of storage and hitting the roads. Kids in the back squabbling with mother in law.
We’re on the A835 and as roads go in the Highlands, its OK. No sharp corners, sweeping bends instead, polite traffic, a few trucks as we approach Inverness then the road transitions into the A9 and this is where those smarty pance Audi and BMW drivers let their gelled hair down and roar up into our exhaust pipe as we toddle along at a sedate 100kph, 60mph. With a screen showing low tyre pressure on back left rear, Mister and Ms Audi want to go zoom zoom at 130kph, thats 80mph. A terrifying speed in an Ikea car put together with one of those Allan type keys.
A problem for tourists like us, who like the less used roads and want to see village life and yes, village pubs where the characters are, is that they are difficult to access off these major Scottish roads which invariable by-pass the villages. Whereas in Ireland, 10/10 for the Irish, their main roads go through the villages, past the pub front door where Paddy has parked his tractor and nipped inside for a ‘quick one’ he not overly concerned with causing a major traffic jam. Love it. Scottish road signs let you know that a village is just off there, but there’s no distance leading us to refer, or rather Navigator Sue, to juggle her electronic devices including Ms Daisy Trump Google, an old fashioned map and my terseness as we approach a turn off at Terminal Speed an Audi’s grille stuck in our exhaust pipe. I have a propensity to be terse, grumpy, sooky and even snaky occasionally all traits inherited from my dear ol’ Dad Joseph who invented and had a lifelong franchise on the words. Over the years, and I know that time is running out, I’ve tried to negate or submerse these traits but they spring out of my mind via a communication device known as a mouth. Before I know it, theres a terse, grumpy, sooky or snaky word spoken and floating off into the ether and the ears of my lovely Sue. If it was not the fact that she, the Susan, is sorta Smitten with me, then, wow. Settle down Des.
And we do see a sign to the village of ‘Moy’, Susan, the Smitten One, has it on her Daisy Trump device, her hand held folding 15 pound printed map device, the Audi has zoomed off into the stratosphere or the emergency ward and we gleefully turn off the A9 onto a mystery road towards Moy. Love it. We’re on the B1954 looking forward to a cuppa of the doin’s and perhaps a warm scone at Moy. Its a far more pleasant drive via a winding road, trees about, lovely rolling hills where bees buzz, birds tweet, farmers plough, cows and sheep add to global warming and we see a sign. MOY. Ahh we think, U bloody bewdy, as our gastric juices start to salivate and we pass two nice houses, the road twists, turns, continues on and on and theres no Moy. As Billy Connolly would say, Whee da ferkin jaysus his Moy. Moys gone Billy, sucked up into a Black Hole by Intergalactic Viking Forces. We park up, have a bit of a sook, a sip from our water bottle, Susan makes a Ryvita Biccy sanga with vegemite from a tube. These are great for Aussie travellers going O/S. Our sook goes away and we re-connect with another Audi driver back on the A9.
We try again to visit a nice wee Scottish village and drive into and out of Little Wee Garvie then Big Wee Garvie but everybodies asleep or has terminal hypothermia as they were not wearing their compression socks to bed. Back onto the A9 and off again on a whim and a surprise. A real find in the quaint village of Carrbridge population of 708. This place is a ‘sleeping beauty’, don’t tell anybody as its relatively tourist free at the moment although I see the signs where tourist buses pull in and disgorge hordes of ‘Dodderies’. Thats old people of which I am not one. I aspire to. One day.
Carrbridge is great, nice main street, flowers about, all clean, tidy, a bubbling stream tumbling over rocks through a shallow gorge crossed in ‘olden days’ by the ‘Packhorse or Coffin Bridge’ built in 1717 making it the oldest stone bridge in the Highlands. All that remains of this stone bridge is a skeletal arch supported by God and Gravity. Excited, we are into the Cairn Hotel which was ‘Pub of the Year’ in 2011 to 2014 in some contest but seems to have missed out after that. The usual local characters are at the bar waffling on, their dogs chasing fleas on the floor and we sit with a 10 year old Glenmorangie, Me, and a warm coffee, She.
Carrbridge rates 8/10. The Packhorse or Coffin Bridge was erected as the village was on one side of the village creek and the church and graveyard on the other. Pre bridge, the funeral procession with dear old Bertha having a lie down in a wooden box, had to wait until the creek subsided to go across to church and the graveyard. And so, a well to do Scottish man of the gentry class, built the bridge as his house close to the crossing point, smelt of decaying bodies spoiling his evening Haggis served with Neeps, Tatties and Baps. The ‘Carr’ in Carrbridge comes from, or means ‘boggy area’.
We chug on, the Grampian Mountains to our left, passing Dalwhinnie Distillery off to the right set in a nearly pretty valley but I’m over Distillery Tours, not their product. Seen One? The free tastings at the end of the tour are OK but they should do that at the start for time poor people like Moi. So that I can go off and do something really interesting like visit an Inn and chat to the characters breasting the bar. Or their dog as the case may be. I like dogs. They are friendlier than people, don’t drink whisky, wear clothes or use an electronic device.
The road come highway now has many long ‘passing lanes’ so that built up traffic hopefully clears. The beginnings of these passing lanes, are an indication to Rory MacDuff, in his big red tractor towing a long trailer packed tight with hay, holding up a ten mile long line of banked up traffic, to speed up to near regulation speed, whereas before. good ‘ol Rory was toddling along listening to the radio with Fraser Kirkpitbull playing the Robert Bruce lament in E Flat Minor on the Bagpipes. Rory’s new speed and that of the doddery driven camper vans, make it difficult for a tiny Red Ikea Vauxhall with a low pressure rear left tyre, to overtake. But we do as I morph into Daniel Riccardo.
The bride, lovely Susan, has led us off onto a curvy bypass road and I am much pleased to leave the busy road traffic. We enter a leafy laneway leading into the delightfully quaint, very touristy, loved to death village come town of Pitlochry. Here, we have two nights at Fishers Hotel smack bang on the main road, Athol. And centre of the town. Yeehar. Fishers started life back in the 18th century as a coaching inn and has developed into a fairly nice Victorian edifice of three stories albeit outside looks like Dickens Bleak House. Inside its thickly, stickily, overbearingly overlaid with antiques, Scottish and Victorian era wallpaper and carpets, small and large paintings of Scottish country scenes, stags, misty hills, Lochs, streams, coastal islands with here and there a a picture of the Lord of the Manor about to go hunting in a kilt. The lounge, with just there a ‘Whisky Tasting Room’, has those large plush sink in and disappear leather chairs with low tables such that one needs six cushions under and behind them to reach. Never mind, its sumptuous. I could get to like Sumptuous. Curtains in the restaurant and lounges are in clan tartans and even some of the light fittings have dinky little clan tartan shades. Gladstone and Carnegie have stayed here as did Robert Louis Stevenson the author whilst awaiting renovations to be finished on his cottage. Robert wrote ‘Treasure Island’ and ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’. Poor old Robert only lived for 44 years dying in 1894.
Pitlochry was just another quaint small country village until ol’ prune face, Queen Victoria came for a visit in 1841. She spread the word amongst her courtiers, she had a captive audience mind you, they gossiped, told their hubbies, the upstairs and downstairs maids, butlers and the village of Pitlochry gradually took off. Thankfully, the villages ‘Patriarchs and Matriarchs’ retained the villages cute aged stone commercial and retail buildings, the row housing, olde world country cottages, public buildings, gardens, squares and refused to allow any garish KFC’s, McDonalds or the like to enter. But there is a very small, tiny frontage Subway – grr grr. Its all geared for the ‘day tripper’, the short and long term tourist with numerous shops where purveyors of sugar, sweet and icecream poison people, cafes, restaurants, several comfy warm Inns, gift shops, whisky/wine merchants, tartans, woollen wear, kilts, scarves, Scottish memorabilia and the like. We like. The place is being loved to death much like Hahndorf in the Adelaide Hills. But not like Margaret River whose main street, has lost its Mojo as crass commercialism in its shops and new buildings takes over. Trust me. Go to Gin Gin or Coorow instead.
Pitlochry has a population of 2,776 when its not tourist season. But as its always tourist season, the population hovers between ten and twenty thousand. Even in winter, those suburban mountaineer lunatics in ‘I Climbed the North Face’ Anoraks, knickerbockers and thermal underwear, go hiking out in the snow and stay in Kathmandu Tents shivering their willies off. They try hard to remain cheerful whilst eating Navy Seal dehydrated food and drinking their wee wee’s. They are here now getting the lay of the land.
Theres lots to Pitlochry and the surrounding area other than its picturesque village. Its situated adjacent, well nearly, the River Tummel which salmon love. So you can fish. With a licence. In or about 1951, they built a dam across the river, plugged in a Hydro Electric plant and a 34 pool salmon concrete ladder, to give the salmon a bit of exercise as they head upstream to their place of birth.
There, the males die and the girls spawn and go off back down the river to the ocean to get eaten by a bigger fish. Maybe. Its just amazing how those salmon know their individual river and place of birth. I only know because of a birth certificate although I do not know the particular delivery room. Theres golf courses, two distilleries, castles, boating on the Loch created by the dam, the Old Mill Inn, where a water wheel some three metres in diameter is still pushed around by a gentle flowing Burn – a Burn’s a stream. And, its recommended that you go on a pub crawl before you put your North Face anorak on and go spend a night freezing your orchestra stalls off. But if you do, your wee wee will taste of beer. Maybe.
Nearby in the village of Fontingall is the oldest tree in Europe, perhaps the world. Its a Yew, dated to between 5,000 to 9,000 years old depending on which arborist and his cobber the ‘Tree Ring Reader’, have the loudest voice. AND, under this very tree, Pontius Pilate was supposedly born in AD 00 give or take when his dad, with his wife, was on a mission from Caesar to a Caledonii King . Maybe. A village in Spain and one in Germany also claim that dubious distinction. Or, another spin on this, has Pontius’s dad wandering around Fontingall and was lying under the Yew when his ear trumpet rang with news of the birth of Pontius. Great story and it drags Catholics to plunge nails into the tree mumbling Novenas and Atheist’s to sprinkle fertiliser around its base giggling and laffing.
We select the Auld Smiddys Inn for dins on the basis that Susans hubby has a delicate gut orchestra and he had spotted that they, the Auld Smiddy Inn, had Lambs Liver on the menu. Having been raised on offal, Golden Syrup, Molasses, porridge, suet, fat from the dripping pot, the revolting South African Fillet it having passed though the Orange Vat at Dulux’s Johannesburg factory, and the dregs from empty beer bottles, thanks Dad, it was like coming home. Served up in thin slices, a tad reddish on the inside, laid on a patty of mashed potato loaded with mustard seeds, caramelised shallots patrolling the edges, chefs market vegies which turn out to be two small pieces of carrot and a green leafy thing that had been boiled to death. It looked marvellous when it left the kitchen and the plate headed for my mouth. Next day my stomach kitchen disagreed. I took notes in case I needed a doctor.
Late the next day, a brisk walk uphill to the Moulin Inn/Hotel in the village of Moulin this village pre-dating Pitlochry. Comfy Inn, a malt of the month, ‘Strathisla’, a twelve year old on special. I do and Susan a coffee. Two old codgers sitting drinking pints of beer just over there, their black dog chewing whole carrots provided by the young barman who does not seem to have much to do. Its a lovely village Moulin as is Pitlochry. As are their surrounds. Lots to do and see. Make sure you have a healthy bank balance.
Ooroo from Des.