One of the benefits of getting out of a failed marriage is having the freedoms to go where you like, when you like and to drool over whoever you like. The downsides are not necessarily having the money to do it and the fact that your new object of desire may not appreciate having to wipe your saliva off their face all the time.

Anyway, I was very much in need of an affordable holiday. I'd seen the MacBackpackers tours advertised when Julia and I dodged out of the rain into their Pitlochry hostel. While I'd wanted to go in October, I didn't have the funds until November. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise since I ended up traveling with the some really cool folk: 3 South Africans, 2 New Zealanders and of course a load of Australians. Is there anyone under 30 left in Australia? I think not, otherwise John Howard would be out on his ear.

The driver/tourguide was Graham, a lad from Burntisland in Fife and so of course I continually (but enjoyably and good-humouredly) got the piss ripped out of me for being English. For example, I suggested that us two northern-hemisphere boys should stick together against the southerners. Graham's answer was simply an indignant 'fuck off english boy!'

So after a day wondering around St Andrews with Elly, Ian and Jane (friends from University [1985 to 1989: we're getting old!]) and seeing Ian and Jane's photos from their holiday in Russia, Elly and I retired to her flat in Murrayfield. (Before any of you impute that Elly would have the bad taste to let me anywhere near her, I have to add that we were in separate bedrooms.)

I crawled out of Elly's flat about 6 am on Sunday morning hoping desperately that I'd not woken her or got the time-change wrong. Random Bozo, my alter ego, wrote in his autobiography

Just picture Random Bozo! All of him has seen better - or at least younger - days: his boots are welded to his manky feet, his baggy jumper and paint-speckled fleece jacket hide a growing equator of middle-age spread. Gray has all but conquered the straggly beard he uses to cover a scar on his chin. His tousled hair is as unkempt as his rucsac is battered and torn. His only 'new' accessory is a 1980s apple laptop bag containing slipper socks which gave up their ghosts longer ago than he can remember.

He pulls heavily on the second of today's roll-ups and walks up Roseburn Terrace. His perennial optimism that he's ambling in the right direction is confirmed when he sees

Sorry but that's as far as he got before I had to get on the bus. I'm thinking of getting RB to write a short story of his travels. Does his character interest you at all? My working title is 'Random Bozo's fifteenth fellatric fuck-up'.

Anyway I eventually found the High Street Hostel and took in a much-needed cup of tea and a few more rollies. Edinburgh's faint sun dawned. (Rosy fingered dawn? Nah, this isn't the Oddessy so we'll have no lesbian sex just yet [but see later].)

A bus rolled up and we pootled off to Castle Rock Hostel to pick up the rest of the crew. The assembled trippers were

  • Brad and Melanie, a couple of Okkers working in Arran
  • Mike from Melbourne
  • Alicia, a mangrove-hugging marine biologist from Brisbane
  • Melissa, from I forget where in Oz, now working in Edinburgh
  • Dale and Sally, a couple of SAzzers from Cape Town. Sally runs a business called Festive Food: Sally: what's the URL of this company so I can put a link here?
  • Lou, an irrepressible Okker who was using this trip to get to Inverness as the first stage of her jump-on, jump-off tour of Scotland
  • Shushu Zhao and her mum (also on stage 1 of the jo-jo tour). Full marks to Mrs SZ for touring a country where she doesn't speak a word of the language
  • Have I missed anyone or stuffed up their origins?

    OK, here's what we got up to: you can jump to any day by clicking on its name:
    Sunday 31st October: Edinburgh to Inverness
    Monday 1st November: Loch Ness
    Tuesday 2nd November: Inverness to Kyleakin
    Wednesday 3rd November: Skye
    Thursday 4th November: Skye to Oban
    Friday 5th November: ancient Scotland
    Saturday 6th November: Departing the highlands


    Sunday 31st October: Edinburgh to Inverness

    This bod was in the High Street Hostel. I wonder if he'd been waiting for a quiet (k)night?


    Hallowe'en decorations in the entrance

      Just across the road, the site of the former italian embassy
      I kid you not: this sign says 'property of the Italian Government'.
      First sight of mountains! I think this must have been after we'd passed across the Forth Road Bridge and been ticked of for not having visas to enter Fife
      I have no idea why I took this photo - maybe it was the beautiful autumnal colours. It's somewhere along the A9 in Perthshire. Wow, we got out of Fife quickly - no bad thing!

    Our first stop was at the Hermitage in Dunkeld. Apparently, this beauty spot was brought to attention a couple of centuries ago when people claimed they'd discovered the writings of Ossian, a 3rd century figure, here.

      Shushu Zhao and her mum missed out on this because the path was too muddy for Mrs SZ.
      So poets and painters came here to smoke opium and feel the muse. This place has always been beautiful, with or without drugs, and especially without poxy installation art.
      You see why we all love Graham
      Lunch at Garry Bridge. I think this was after stopping at Pitlochry to buy food.
      I've tried to make a panorama of the last two images.
      Mike and Alicia enjoying the view
      The real highlands start here, wherever here is!
      First view of Ruthven Barracks, one of 4 forts built to hold the Highlands after the 1715 rising
      The following 4 pictures are a panorama of the view north-west (?) to the stables and Kingussie, across the river Spey
      And here's the panaroma.
      Graham asked us to come up with some scary stories - the only one I could think of was when I was given no painkillers to take home after a outpatient surgery....
      No-one else could come up with one so he got us to all try his squeeze box. Mrs SZ got a tune out of it!
      Culloden - a spooky place where the cream of Scotland's youth died for the ambitions of a would-be king
      Someone called my cell-phone just as Graham was talking about it - unfortunate timing. It was bad enough the English trashed Scotland without a latter-day English-boy interrupting their memory.
      Dores - first sight of Loch Ness
      So clear, so calm, so cold! Oops, I said a forbidden word!
      According to Graham, there is a whole family of monsters living in Loch Ness. Mummy and daddy are called 'Happi Ness' and 'Eyewit Ness'.
      Graham's mate runs the 'totally nessie-sary research centre' here.
      Even my camera got the shivers!
      At Inverness hostel, they'd organised a massive Hallowe'en party. Here's Dale as a vampire's victim
      Lou wrapped me in kitchen towel to make me up as a mummy: here's me, Lou and Graham
      Mummy with a bum-bag! (or is it a colostomy bag?)
      We heard that someone (not me) got friendly with two Swedish women (this may be one of them) who are also friendly with each other. See I promised you lesbian sex!

    I seem to remember slagging the US election system to a young lady called Erin, having forgotten that she's from Michigan. Oh well, that's what 4 bacardi breezers and 3 large budvars will do to me. Amazingly, I wasn't hungover the next day.

    One of the many brilliant things about the hostels was the way they named the beds. Here's my ticket from Saturday night.


    Monday 1st November: Loch Ness

    The party went on well after midnight...
      At Inverness hostel, someone had grafittid 'I realised I was dyslexic when I arrived at a toga party dressed as a goat'
      The closest I got to Lou ... and my camera strap got in the way
      I've just realised I've had that sex change I always wanted. Too bad I had to become a parent too...
      Well, who wouldn't lurch out of their pyramid to be in this situation? The young pixie on my left is Erin from Michigan.
      Well, 7000 years of being interred in stone, followed by a wild night has left me rather dehydrated!
      Somehow we all surfaced and started a trip around Loch Ness. The first stop was back at Dores
      Loch Ness: so atmospheric, so beautiful
      Our first coffee stop was at the Falls of Foyers. I really liked the fungi growing out of this tree stump.
      More pretty-patterned fungi
      Sheepseses... cuteness!
      In a field near Whitebridge were some Shetland ponies and 1 arab stallion. I asked Graham if shetlands and arabs could interbreed.
      Graham asked why I'd want to do that. Mike just pointed down at the tiny shetland pony and said 'I reckon it'd be a bit difficult fitting his donger into there.'
      We had lunch at Fort Augustus. It's a town at the south-western tip of Loch Ness and was originally the site of another English stronghold created after the 1715 uprising.
      All the lochs along the Great Glen are connected by the Caledonian Canal so you can sail, canoe, punt or swim right across Scotland.
      After lunch, we were shown how 15th to 17th century highlanders would traditionally dress.
      The philamore (big cloth) is folded...
      then wrapped around the wearer...
      leaving a bit that could either dangle down behind...
      or be wrapped around the upper body as an extra layer.
      Alternatively, the two corners could be held together in a brooch.
      A small waistcoat completed the outfit. Typically, highlanders had two such cloths: they'd wear the heavier one in winter and the lighter one in summer. When the family changed outfits in autumn, they'd put all the old cloths in a barrel, piss on them to kill the bugs, then rinse and store them until the seasons changed again.
      Women dressed similarly.
      Most fighting was with basket-hilted swords, spiked shields (targes) and daggers (dirks). You'd try to stick your opponent with your targe, rip them up with the dirk and do serious damage with the sword. Properly angled targes could deflect musket balls.
      About 8 basket-hilted sword bearers would fight as a unit along with someone wielding a long sword (claymore). The claymore fighter would come forward, lop off a few heads to make an opening in the opposing group, then retire while the basket-hilters exploited this opening. Then more claymore head-lopping....
      Groups of men armed with Lochaber axes, organised into groups called shiltrons, could make like animated armoured war-hedgehogs.
      Of course I had to go wild with my chopper!
      Our last stop that day was Urquhart Castle on the north-west bank of Loch Ness. My camera batteries ran out...
      On the way back, we were buzzed by helicopters. Graham thought they contained rich english or americans but I reckon Ness is twinned with Saigon

    We all went out to a pub called the Blackfriars in search of a ceilidh but it had been canceled, so we ended up drinking in a modern czech-style bar. Yo that pepper vodka! I really needed to sleep well that night but was called at 130 in the morning and spent the next hour responding to it....


    Tuesday 2nd November: Inverness to Kyleakin

    The morning was misty but clearing, giving rise to rivers of mist in the valleys. Berti Voghts had been sacked from managing Scotland's soccer team. From Inverness, we headed, northwest into the Black Isle. It's black because a young dragon burnt it.

    Highlanders are very superstitious. This place is called the clooty trees. If you are ill, dip a bit of clothing in the spring, then tie it to a tree. You'll leave your illness there.
      Of course the local authority want to remove it but the local workers won't touch it because they believe that if they remove the clothing, they'll get the illnesses left there.
      The clooty well was originally blessed by the Brahan Seer (Kenneth Mckenzie), originally from Lewis. It's said he could see the future through holes in stones.
      We then headed to Rogie Falls (near Strathpeffer),
      I was taken by this tree growing out of a cliff.
      ...and by the remains of the previous bridge.
      We saw some female and juvenile deer just before Achanalt, then 4 males not far after.
      Then we traveled along the A835 to Garve, then along the A832 which follows the river Bran. I love the mist following the river....
      ...and these beautiful meanders
      I think these are crannogs (artificial islands: easily defended homes) on Loch Duich
      Graham told us the story of the 5 sisters of Kintail
      The above four pictures add to yet another panorama.
      down below us is Eilean Donan castle.
      People were working on a telecoms mast high above us
      This postcard shows the sorts of roads nearby.
      The bridge to Eilean Donan castle
      After an impromptu 'rest of the world' V Australia footie match (I coughed up bits of lung and my legs are still bruised), we crossed over the hated Sky Bridge to Kyleakin on Skye (the Isle of Mists). Kyleakin is named after King Haakon IV who tried to take over Skye but lost when one of his men trod on a thistle and gave their position away. Hence Scotland adopted the thistle as its emblem.
      After picking up Ross (a young SAzzer who is working in Abberley school in Worcestershire and Regan and Charlotte (two kiwis) who were all doing the 5-day tour, Melanie, Brad, Mike and I cooked a huge meal for all of us: £1·40 each! We didn't stay in the main MBP hostel but in a guest house that had been hired for the overspill
      Then we had a rude sing-along-a-Tim. (Tim drove Ross, Regan and Charlotte to Kyle of Lochalsh but didn't drive across the bridge because it costs £50.) Here's an mp3 of Plastic Jeezus, one of the many songs we tried to sing.

    I think I actually got to bed before midnight!


    Wednesday 3rd November: Skye

    George Wanker Bush had been re-elected to the presidency of the United States of America. A little disheartened, we set off on a tour of Skye. We were joined by Angie, (a wee very mad SAzzer), Lou, John and Selina (another okker), Justin, a trainee MBPer. Regan and Charlotte went to visit Eilean Donan castle - apparently Regan is related to the family who hold that castle.

    The Skye Bridge is meant to look like two seagulls touching wingtips.  Yeah, right!
      Hairy coos!!!
      Our first actual stop had been at Sligachan. There is a stream there: if you hold your face under water continuously for 5 seconds per decade you've lived, you'll be immortal. Unfortunately, my camera failed every time folk tried to photograph me - and doing this dunk several times is meant to be fatal!
      Angie had asked if we could capture a hairy coo for a spit-roast. Go here, look up spit roast and you'll see why Graham wasn't keen.
      Masonic lodge in Portree - this is for you, dad
      View of a phallic rock along the A855. I think it might be the Needle.
      This is Kilt Rock, which is near Flodigarry, I think
      Graham took us on a ramble up a sub-peak of Quiraing
      Lou and Angie's outdoor gourmet sandwich emporium - they blagged a load of prawns from a fisherman. We had a proper lunch at a pub in Kilmaluag...
      ...before visiting Dunulm castle.. Here's a web page about it.
      Our last stop of the day was Faery Glen. It's north of Uig on Skye but the only weblink I can find is to my beloved haunt of Dunino, in Fife!
      Apparently, if you take anything from the site, the faeries will punish you with lots of bad luck. I presume this doesn't apply to sheep pooh that gets caught in your boots.
      A hardened nicotine addict!
      I was going to have an early night but Erin, Justin, Lou, Angie, an unknown okker (what is her name!!!) and Selina dragged me out to Saucy Mary's. This pub is named after a local bridge toll-keeper. (If you paid a bit more than just the basic toll she'd give you a flash of her boobs. It's also where the Haggis tour were staying at. A young woman was celebrating her birthday by playing a semi acoustic set. She was very good, even though very drunk.

    None of the Haggis mob were dancing but that didn't stop the Unknown Pigman and his harem (well, he can dream, can't he?) from bopping away.

    Andie, Lou and co had made up the Hairy Coo Song.

      It got even better when the woman took a break and the jukebox played 'Sweet child of mine'.
      Go Erin!
      Go Lou!
      Lou is glad-handing Erin and the unknown okker!
      Why is Angie about to elbow Erin?
      Angie's pretending butter wouldn't melt in her mouth. Angie: I"m talking to you: 'farbles won't hatstand with my leather suitcase. Millenium hand and shrimp.'
      One of the Haggis okkers had brought his didg - he could play!

    What can I say - two bottles of Fraoch and I'm anyone's!


    Thursday 4th November: Skye to Oban

    The day started with a race against time to catch the Armadale-to-Mallaig ferry. Here's my boarding card.

      After a shopping stop in Mallaig, Graham took us through the old roads of the Arisaig peninsula. Beautiful golden beaches, despite being north of the artic circle!
        Some of us wanted a return match but a others were too cold. Footie might have warmed them up but they returned to the bus - shame it had been locked.
        The costa celtica!
        Last view of Skye?
        This is Glenfinnan, where Bonnie Prince Charlie first rasied his standard in his claim for the British crown.
        Here's the monument to this monumental event!
        Looking south-west along Loch Shiel from Glenfinnan
        This viaduct featured in a Harry Potter movie - possibly movie 2, where Ron and his brothers hijack a magicked car.
        The museum was closed for the winter...
        I think we took the A830 east, then the A82 south-west, to Fort William (where we toured the Ben Nevis distillery), then south-west via Ballachulish and east to Glencoe.
        Graham loves this car park because it has been spary-painted 'FUCK THE ENGLISH'! Dunno about you but I'm gagging for it.
        From Glencoe, we must have headed west again along the A92, then south-west along the A828 (along the south back of Loch Linnhe to Castle Stalker. It was far too cold to avoid camera shake but you can read all about the castle here.

    At the Saifoor in Oban: left to right: Regan, Mike, Melissa, Brad, Melanie, Random Bozo, Alicia and Charlotte.

    Don't you just love how everything is on the web these days?

        I love even more how these chopping boards, which are colour-coded so you don't (for example) contaminated veg with raw meat, are jammed against each other.

    For some reason, all of us (boys and girls) were in the same room. Highly educational, methinks!

    Ross and I played Regan and Melissa at endless games of pool. Towards the end, Regan needed to put Ross off, so he did the little sparrow: got his left bollock out and dangled it in the pocket Ross was shooting for. Ross and I collapsed with laughter. When Regan did it again on a crucial black, Ross went for the shot and got it, much to Regan's discomfort. Sorry Charlotte!


    Friday 5th November: ancient Scotland

    Going back in time...

      I think this is Kerrera, an island just to the west of Oban.  
        Our first stop was Dunolly Castle.  Read all about it ! It has a namesake in Australia.
    There's something weird about it here.
      Our first stop was Dunolly Castle.  Read all about it ! It has a namesake in Australia.
    THere';s something weird about it here.
        Graham tried to cure Mike's appetite.  
        Carnasserie Castle is here. It was a Campbell castle, so no wonder Graham went in armed!  
        Brad going wild with his chopper.  
        Tombstones(?) used to repair floors in the castle  
        Dunnadd hill fort - the first seat of the Scotti in Scotland.  
        Am I king of Scots? No, I'm Brucina, Queen of FIfe. Also, being vaguely jewish, I'm a member of god's chosen tribe. Just imagine one of the US' moral majority learning that god's representative on earth might be a vegan, left-wing, jewish, bisexual atheist.
    I love little ironies like this. Thanks to Doc M for last night's conversation.
        Kilmartin, an amazing place for relics of ancient Dalriada. It has a brilliant museum. Anyone feel like buying me a copy of 'Robert the Bruce's irish wars' by Duffy (ISBN 0-7524-1974-9, published by Tempus) for solstice?  
        They had plenty of activites for 5-year-olds like me - here's a rubbing I made.  
        My ticket  
        All of a sudden I'm not so happy that I've already been in a grave...  



    The River Add
    The principal watercourse in the Kilmartin area flows from Loch Sidheannach in the hills betweens Lochs Awe and Fyne, and into the sea at Loch Crinan. The river was almost certainly navigable as far as the fort of Dunadd – a natural advantage for trade and communication.

        Nether Largie Mid Cairn
    Another element of Kilmartin's linear cemetary, this irregular platfom revealed two cists when excavated in 1929. No burial remians or grave-goods were found but cup markings and a carving of an axehead are evident on slabs used in the cairn's construction.
        I'm not sure about Charlotte's expression - was Regan about to do a little sparrow?  
        I don't know what Brad was doing here.  
          We had a competition to write the best explanation of the stone artefacts in Kilmartin. I can't show the phot of the prizes.  


    Saturday 6th November: Departing the highlands

    I was hungover and the bus had been grafittid. Both were quickly sorted.

      Hairy coo avenue at Glen Lonnan  

    A hairy coo postcard I sent my parents


    Graham took us down the A85 past the Falls of Cruachan to St Conan's Kirk.

    Here's the guidebook.

        A detail of the main window  
        It was built by a local Laird for his mum who could no longer walk to their regular church. He seems to have cobbled together many architectural styles but the whole works, rather than being a mish-mash.  
        This is part of a rail guarding the entrance to the crypt. I think it's lovely.  
        I think this is Kilchurn Castle . It's to the east of Loch Awe.  
        We stopped at The Green Welly in Tyndrum. I don't think they sell velcro for attaching your beloved's hind-legs.  
        We then followed the A84 south to Balquhuidder (on the eastern end of Loch Voil). Rob Roy is buried here. Undiscovered Scotland can tell you all about the area.  
        I think this is Stroneslany, where we saw some red squirrels. We had our last meal together at the Munro Inn (at Strathyre on the R Balvag).  
        We then passed through Callander - the only place to have a pub which is painted pink, has no front door (so you have to go in via the tradesman's entrance) and is run by two gay Italians. It's called the 'Roman Camp'!  
        Last but one stop: Doune Castle, as featured in 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail'. Alicia wan't impressed that I didn't really have an inflatable sheep.  
        Last stop: the Wallace monument at Stirling. I got soaked and my camera stopped working , probably because I took this photo of a statue inspired by Mel GIbson and the historical travesty called 'Braveheart' . You MUST read the flame war in the IMDB page.  
        So here's a postcard  
        The only way to say thank you to Scotland: watch Australia thrash her at rugby!  

    Seriously, thank you all for helping me see what a beautiful country I live in – I lost count of how many times the sheer beauty brought me to tears – and for helping me have one of the best holidays ever!


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