We intended to stay in Oban for a few hours to see an old castle and one or two other places of interest, but it was raining so hard after breakfast that we decided to move on. For a few minutes now and again the sun would appear and the rain would stop so that I was able to get a few photos of the very pretty bush and lake scenery. There were many spots which were truly beautiful even in the rain, but of course they could not be photographed.
We were struck again with the wild flowers on the roadside and in the bush. Rhododendrons of the same puice colour as we had seen in England were very plentiful. Some fields were almost white with daisies. These were not the little short daisies we see growing in grass in New Zealand, but the daisy with the long stalk and the large flower. There were also thousands of yellow irises. Apparently it was just the season for these to be in bloom and they were very pretty.
What we were very pleased to see was the royal Scotch heather. This had a mauve and also a white flower. It was found on the moorlands where it grows profusely and is mostly mauve. Lois gathered some to send to her friend Buster, while I was taking a photo of a waterfall going down a steep hill. These waterfalls were to be seen on almost every hill as there had been so much rain lately. They were not large falls, but they made the hillsides pretty and interesting. There were more hills in the country we passed over to-day than previously and we now seem to be in more rugged country generally, although I do not consider it really mountainous.
We also noticed that there were not nearly so many places on these roads where meals could be obtained. Up to the present we never had to worry about meals as we always found a place when meal time came around. It was 1.30 to-day when we passed a railway station which showed a sign of “Teas and Luncheons for tourists” so we stopped in the hope of getting a good meal. It was about the worst meal we have had and it was nearly one hour from the time we went into the station room until we came out again. The London Midland and Scottish Railway Company is noted for its meals on stations but to-day we appear to have found one small place (Kentallen) where the meal and service left much to be desired.
Up to the present we have found that almost every country farmhouse of any size displays a sign of some kind inviting tourists to spend their money there. These signs are rather amusing, as they seem to try to get something different. For instance, there is the usual “Bed and Breakfast”. This is the general one and is on the majority of places. Then we see “Tourist Accommodation”, “Board and Residence”, “Night Accommodation”, “Over night Accommodation” and many other similar signs. To-day we came across the definite invitation reading “Stay here for the night”. These farmhouses have been a great boon to us as we have not worried about meals or beds, knowing that there would always be what we called a B & B somewhere awaiting us if we could not reach an hotel.
In the late afternoon we arrived at Fort Augustus at the top of Loch Ness. We passed over a bridge where there were several water locks on the canal between the lakes and I thought I would take a photo. Imagine my pleasure when I got out and went to the locks to find the canal keepers just in the act of putting two boats through the last lock. I watched this with great interest and took the photo. There are six locks at this point and it takes three quarters of an hour to put a boat through them. The boat steams straight into the first lock and the gates are closed behind it. Then water is allowed to flow in from the next lock until they are both the same level. Then the front gates are opened and the boat goes into the next lock where the process is repeated. In this way the boats are lifted to about 30 feet to the higher water in the six locks.
It takes a boat 13 hours to go from one side of Scotland to the other through the canals and lakes instead of going out on the ocean around the north coast, which is fraught with danger to the small boat. The principle is exactly the same as that used in the Panama Canal, but of course here the water gates are operated by hand.
Just a little further along the road after leaving Fort Augustus we crossed a bridge over one of the rivers feeding the lakes and on account of the rains lately the river was a splendid sight as the waters were passing over very large rocks. I spent a little time here getting some photos. and then drove in to Inverness as quickly as possible, as it was now time for another meal. The road was much better and we kept a steady 45 without any trouble.
At the hotel in the evening I was trying to decide which one of several drives I would take the next day so that I could see more of the bush and lake scenery around Inverness. A man was writing in a corner of the lounge and he must have heard what we were talking about. In the end he came to our assistance and told us just what we wanted to know. As he was here on holiday I invited him to accompany us to-morrow as there is room in the car and he knows the road so well and will be able to tell us about the various spots we will see.
Friday, the 1st July, turned out fine. Our friend of last night gave me his card, which showed that he was Mr. G. Henderson of Oxford. We left the hotel at 9 a.m. and he proved an excellent companion and guide. He knew all the historical parts and kept us interested all the way. The drive we had selected was from Inverness to Gairloch, a small village on the western coast and to return along a different road further north. Although, the trip would be 160 miles and would require ten hours.
Just as we were leaving Inverness we saw a large boat in one of the canal locks and I stopped to take some photos. This was the first of the locks from sea level.
Mr. Henderson had been right through to the other coast by boat through the canal and the lakes and told me that during transit the boats were raised a height of 100 feet and were lowered again to sea level during their trip through the 29 locks at the various lakes. The distance between Fort William on the western side of Scotland and Inverness on the eastern side was 66 miles and 23 miles of this distance was through the canal built by Telford, a great Scotch engineer.
It was very interesting to see this boat raised to the level of the lake on its journey to Fort William for a load of herrings. It was a Dutch boat which just filled the lock and in all probability was especially built for this trade.
Shortly after we got started again we passed the beautiful estate of the late Sir Robert Peel. Although I had heard policemen called “bobbies” many thousands of times I had completely forgotten the reason for it until this morning. Sir Robert Peel was the man who was responsible for the founding of the police force in Great Britain and they had been called bobbies ever since.
During our drive we went through some beautiful avenues of trees. At one time there was an avenue of nothing but Larch trees, then there were several avenues of beech and another of spruce trees. These were the best avenues I have found up to the present time. We also saw more of the briar roses to-day. Previously those I had seen were white or a very pale pink, but to-day we saw them almost red. Mr. Henderson told us the colour was due to the particular soil in which they grew in this district.
In the ordinary course, if we had been driving alone we would have missed quite a lot of spots of interest. For instance, we stopped on the road and walked a couple of hundred yards to a very nice waterfall.
These falls were seen at their best to-day as there was a large volume of water on account of the heavy rains. They were called the Rogie Falls and were well worth the half hour which we spent in seeing them.
Some of the country we went through was heavily timbered and other parts were without a tree of any kind. Once again we passed several old castles and of course these grounds were just beautiful, although the old castles were now out of date and even in ruins. It was easy to understand the revolt of the people against all the money being held by one or two people. In the old days those in possession of castles must have been tremendously wealthy to keep them going.
We passed by several deer forests, but strangely enough there was no forest but simply moorland. The country was very hilly and Mr. Henderson promised to show me the deer in their native haunts if I agreed to walk to the top of one of the hills. I took his word for it and was content to go without seeing the deer. What was very interesting in these places were the very high wire fences around all these places on which crops were growing and he told us these were necessary to keep the deer out of them. In the winter they get very hungry and would jump any ordinary fences to get food.
We passed on through good land to poorer and then at last when we reached Gairloch we saw land which was very poor indeed.
This part was scarcely inhabited, for here were only a very few farmhouses and I understand the country will only carry about one sheep to ten acres.
It was also interesting to watch the telegraph lines as we went along. Near Inverness there were scores of them. As we went out to this sparsely populated part they gradually dwindled down until the last one ended at a little store in an isolated spot. It was not until we were well on our return journey in the other direction that we picked them up again. We certainly got out into the backblocks of Scotland.
At lunch time we pulled up on the side of the road and boiled our billy and had the sandwiches we had brought from the hotel. At this spot we had an opportunity of seeing something more of the peat industry.
Out here in the wilds it is impossible to get wood or coal and so the few people who live here burn peat. We had seen quite a lot of this peat being dug on our way there, but just where we had lunch there were some heaps freshly dug and I examined it more closely. It is just like soil to the eye and the touch, but actually it is the fibres of the roots of heather and mosses which were growing very many years ago. Once it is started burning it will not go out if it is fed and as it is quite difficult to get started again the people never let the peat fires go out in their houses.
After having lunch we struck some very bad road as it was being reconstructed. It took a lot of hard driving to get along and several times we had to wait some minutes to get through. Also, where the road was so narrow we had to wait at a passing place when we saw a car coming. These little passing places were provided at frequent intervals, otherwise it would have been impossible to get past another car.
To-day we saw some of the full white sheep again. These were the Cheviot breed and were very much like our own sheep. They came originally from the banks of the Tweed river and their wool is used for making cloth which was and is called Tweed. We thus got an explanation of how the word tweed came to be used.
Mr. Henderson told us of the most unusual manner in which the Inverness farmers sell their wool. In no other place in the world is the method adopted and they are very proud of it as it speaks well for the integrity of the Scotch people. A farmer gets his wool prepared for sale and leaves it at his farm. He then goes to a wool sale in the city and gives particulars to the auctioneer. The auctioneer then tells the buyers that Mr. so-and-so has a consignment of wool weighing so many pounds of such and such a quality. “Last year this wool was purchased by Mr. John Brown at 4¾ d. per pound. Mr. Brown, what are you prepared to offer to-day for the present year’s clip?” Mr. Brown is therefore given the first offer and he makes his bid. If there is no higher bid it goes to him, but of course other people may be prepared to pay a higher price. When the wool is sold the farmer has to deliver it at the city where the sale takes place and the new buyer is given the opportunity of making the first bid next year. This method has been in vogue for over 100 years and there has never been any serious dispute or disappointment.
Several times we had noticed families camping close to the road side, but we had not taken much notice of them. Mr. Henderson pointed out four or five parties to us to-day and told us they were travelling tinkers. These people are very much like gypsies. They are the descendants of a roving ne’er-do-well race who will not work and who will never stay for more than about one day in the same place. They have a standard type of tent which consists of painted walls in a semi-circle driven into the ground and pieces of canvas thrown over the top. They resemble the Indian’s wigwam. They are so low that they almost have to go down on their knees to get inside. It is a mystery how they manage to get enough food to live.
At the close of the day we had to travel fast to get back to the hotel in time for dinner at 7.30, but we managed to do so. Everyone enjoyed the day and we were very thankful to Mr. Henderson for his company and information. During a conversation after we returned it leaked out that he writes travel articles for the papers and magazines so it is no wonder that he was able to tell us about our trip. To-morrow he is flying to the Shetland Isles where the sun sets at about 11 p.m. and it is never dark in the summer time.
At 11.30 to-night it was still sufficiently light to see our way about the house without a light.
Next morning we did a little shopping, as we had been told that the Inverness shops gave very good value. We proved this to be correct, but it meant that we did not leave the town until nearly midday.
We then drove out to see the field of Culloden, the place where the last battle was fought in Scotland in the year 1745.
On the field the large cairn of boulders which had been erected just after the battle was still standing in good order. About the field were other rough boulders with the name of a clan engraved thereon. These mark where the various clans fell and were buried. It is to be hoped it will be the last battle which will ever be fought in Britain.