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Loch Ness, legendary home of... ?
Our last days in Oban were fairly uneventful. After two days in a row of cruising to the islands, we took a long overdue "down" day on May 27th. Everyone except for Russell was at some stage of a cold, and our chores were catching up with us.
At breakfast on the 27th, we met Bill and Jane, a couple visiting from Illinois. They were fascinated by our world trip, and got so involved in chatting with us that they ended up checking out late. We have discovered that when people hear about our adventures, they inevitably ask the same questions and in the same order:
After breakfast, Gail and Russell walked over to the only laundry in town, recently taken over by an ex-patriot American. We thought it would be a self-service place, but learned on arrival that the man would only take drop-offs. We have been extremely wary of trusting our few precious clothes to anyone else, but we decided to leave them there. When we returned for them later in the afternoon, we discovered that everything white now had blue stains on it (apparently the man had heeded Gail's request to wash whites and colors separately... but then dried them all together), and three of Russell's four socks had literally melted. The man was apologetic but offered no compensation. Needless to say, Gail has now decided to resume hand-washing all of our laundry in the sink.
While Russell worked on Web site letters and photos, Gail walked Cameron and Joss down to a playground on the outskirts of town, but there wasn't much there and they didn't stay long. In one of the souvenir shops, Joss found his stuffed animal for Alba: a fuzzy "heilan' coo" (we're having to keep it in a plastic bag to stop it from "shedding" all over the other stuffed animals). We had lunch in the rooms, but went out for dinner to the Studio Restaurant -- one of the nicer places in town and a Rick Steves recommendation (we walked in without reservations, and were extremely lucky to get the last table for four). At the end of our meal, a woman walked over especially to complement Cameron and Joss on how well-behaved they were.
After a night where Cameron was so congested that he could barely sleep, we finally checked out of the Tanglin B&B on May 28th. Russell parked himself at the only Internet café in town (in the basement of the Café Na Lusan, which sells vegetarian meals and independent music CDs) and made a long-overdue update to the Web site. Gail, Cameron, and Joss went searching in vain for a stuffed puffin, but succeeded in finding small puffin figurines. They also bought a variety of cold medicines for the road. It was after 11:00 AM when we finally drove out of Oban and headed further north.
Alba is cut in two by the Caledonian Canal, which runs from Fort William in the southwest to Inverness in the northeast. In the early 1800s, British engineer Thomas Telford was assigned the task of creating a waterway. He chose to connect the Scottish lochs of Oich, Lochy, and Ness, using the 20 miles of lochs and digging another 20 miles of canals to move ships to 106 feet above sea level. Our route on the A82 ran roughly alongside the canals, and we stopped to visit the Caledonian Canal Heritage Centre at Fort Augustus. Here (in the pouring rain) we were fascinated to watch the locks in action at the point where the canal hits Loch Ness.
Watching the locks at the Caledonian Canal
Loch Ness is also the home of the mysterious and fabled Loch Ness Monster. Like good tourists, we made a point of stopping at "The Official Loch Ness Exhibition Centre" (not to be confused with "The Original Loch Ness Monster Visitor Centre" a block up the road). We were expecting something very cheesy, so we were surprised when the exhibit turned out to be well-done, educational, and thought-provoking. Designed by naturalist Adrian Shine (also leader of the Loch Ness Project), the 40-minute program walked us through seven "stations" (simulating boats and submarines) where multimedia films described the entire history of "Nessie." Rather than feed the sensationalism, the narrations actually did their best to de-bunk most of the mythology.
The Official Loch Ness Exhibition Centre, housed in an old stone mansion
Our arrival at the souvenir store at the end was a different story. We were amused to see entire walls filled with Nessie souvenirs of every kind... from plush Nessie stuffed animals of all different sizes... to Nessie paperweights, t-shirts, kilts, etc. (We didn't buy any Nessie souvenirs, but Gail discovered more Pocket Dragon figurines.) On the last leg of our drive to Inverness we drove alongside Loch Ness, and although we had three-and-a-half pairs of eyes on the loch (well, one eye had to be on the road) we didn't see any sign of Nessie.
Discovering "Nessie" in the souvenir store
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