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Scotland, more than Haggis and Bagpipes

There was a wedding in full swing at Gretna Green as our coach pulled in for a “compulsory” stop. The piper was playing the bagpipes and everyone was happy and applauding the bride and groom.

Thirty-five years earlier, having got married in Germany two days earlier, my new wife and I had by-passed Gretna en route to our honeymoon destination at the tiny hamlet of Ardfern just outside Oban on the west coast of Scotland so this year’s nostalgic return to Scotland was to bring memories of mountains and beautiful scenery flooding back.

Scotland in September this year was true “bonny”. Throughout our week based in a splendid “castle” hotel on the banks of Loch Awe, we enjoyed fantastic weather, warm sunny days, and cold nights but there were big roaring log fires in the three lounges and well-stocked bar at the Loch Awe Hotel.

We had decided to travel to Scotland by coach with the holiday firm – Lochs and Glens – rather than driving as the itinerary gave us more choice and flexibility than we could ever achieve “doing it alone”.

Our first day took in the small, town of Inveraray on the shores of Loch Fyne. The town had been planned but took 100 years to complete but was worth waiting for.

Another day it was an early start as we had to be at Oban for 9.00 am to catch the ferry for the 45-minute crossing over to the Isle of Mull. Once on the Island, it was a coach journey of over an hour on a single track road (fortunately with passing points) to the far end where there was another 15-minute ferry ride to the Isle of Iona.

En route, our lady coach driver – named Dizzy Lizzy – told us it would be roast lamb on the menu that evening, mainly because of the large numbers of sheep on the road! But she managed somehow to miss every one of them.

Perhaps one of the highlights of our Scottish visit was to go inside The Hollow Mountain (aka the Big Hole). Here the hydro-electric power station at Cruachan is 1000ft beneath the mountain top reservoir and at least half a mile inside the mountain.

The turbine house could easily accommodate the Tower of London at 120 feet tall and 300 feet in length. Ben Cruachan mountain is 3,689 feet high and a dam was constructed to hold the water which is fed down in a series of tunnels. Indeed, nearly 12 miles of tunnels were carved out of the solid granite rock. Visitors are taken inside the mountain by minibus and you then walk through humid tunnels to the huge turbine house. Plants grow extremely well in the humidity but are lit by lamps generated by the electricity.

At Glencoe and Fort William we saw the spot of the infamous massacre and were told “do not mention the Campbell’s” but then learned the current Manager of the Glencoe Visitor Centre was himself a Campbell! How times change!

We also did Fort William at the entrance to the famous Caledonian Canal which then passes through Loch Ness and on up to Inverness. We did not have time to go “Nessie” hunting but I could have sworn that I saw the “monster” shortly after leaving a local distillery having enjoyed several “tastings” of some aged single malt!