Tuesday, May 11, 2010

And I am an Immortal!

Skye-kylarkin on the Isle of Skye is a tiny town facing a bridge and most of the town centres around a giant carparking area surrounding the seaside/loch. the bridge leading to the island splits into two paths. One path leads into the centre of the town. Though it would be accurate to say the road leads through a carpark past a pub with a grocery store connected to it which also acts as the local postoffice and there just happen to be a few houses along the road.

The other path leads off into the mystical world of the Isle of Skye, an ancient land deep in the bowels of winter, frozen and covered in thick snow and shrouded in a mysterious thick fog, luminescent in the sunless morning light and like the icicles hanging from the mountain streams it drips with aeons of faerie magic from an age where a murderous barbarian could be a hero if not for the shame of defeat at the hands of a cunning and voluptuous warrior queen. But Neil's stories would have to wait, as now we had to get Hemorrhoid off us.

We opened the door to let the cat out and it lazily picked itself up and left the room as if it had decided on its own accord to leave the room. We found Hemorrhoid a moment later downstairs cutting circles on the kitchen floor while feigning affection in a ploy to get someone to feel obliged to feed him. Cats are smart like that, and also somewhat irritating, so naturally it works. There was a sense at breakfast that everyone was hesitating to finish their breakfast and head out of the cosy hostel to explore more Scotland.

That is because it was fucking cold outside.

We wound our way through the windy Skye hills around windy roads and wound up at Sligachan, a small frozen river ran from the mountains until it tucked itself neatly under an ancient stone bridge that was built wide enough for a car to pass over, proving great Scottish forethought as the invention of the automobile would have been stamped as witch craft in the days of the bridge's construction.

Neil gathered us on the bridge and we stood hand in hand in a giant circle as he switched over to "bard mode" and told us the legend of Sligachan. Enriched with more fairy magic than the Sydney Mardigra, the river below us was said to have magic healing properties, and if one were to fully submerge one's face in the icy waters for seven seconds, one would find oneself blessed with the fountain of youth. Sensing our scepticism, Neil promptly ran down to the water's edge, dragged himself carefully to a gap in the ice and face planted the water, while we counted to seven.

Despite fact that Neil didn't look any younger when he emerged from the frozen water, a few of us decided to give it a whirl after Neil said with sincerity that he was actually in his seventies. Dipping your face in a frozen river might seem like an easy way to attain immortality, however the remuneration for the prize is a strong kick in the face with the mother of all ice-cream headaches. My theory on the "icy river of youth" is that it works because all of the skin on your face stretches back towards your ears in a desperate attempt to flee from the ice-cold water.

Having attained immortality we fought off the urge to spend the next thirty or so years wandering the earth trying to figure out the meaning of life or grab a sword and decapitate our fellow immortals while listening to Queen. Instead we got back on the bus and headed south towards Oban, our second night's rest stop, while Neil continued his Barding ways and told us a fantastic story about a race of Giants who inhabited the hills and had a tea party on top of a mountain. With outstanding comic timing he finished his story by pointing to a road sign of a picture of a man holding a child's hand and said "see there are still giants in these parts today".

I guess you had to be there...

Our next stop was Glen Sheil where other than the pretty view from the car park across a loch, the highlight was a public toilet (which we had to pay for) that was decorated in Scottish history and had a clan map with all the locations and clan sheilds from Scotland. After finding the clans from my ancestry I decided it was a little weird to be taking photos in a public toilet. Then I remembered that I paid fifty pence to use the loo, so it was my right to snap out a few shots.

After passing a Loch with the imaginative name of Lake Lake, we arrived at the banks of Loch Oich. Another beautiful panorama spread out before us, a picture of absolute tranquility. We decided we should smash the peace with a rock and stood at the waters edge skipping stones across the silver surface of the Loch. Of course the Loch objected as best it could by denying us the perfect skipping stones, which it had frozen to the waters edge as if they were cemented in place.

Our next stop was the confusingly named Spean bridge, which wasn't a bridge at all. As far as I could tell it was a monument to a bunch of Commando's which I'm sure had a glorious and bloody tale to be told, one that probably involved a bridge, probably involved some fighting and most definitely involved drunken Scotsmen. Alas, I don't know the story, maybe I wasn't paying attention to Neil, or maybe it was just a crap story, maybe there is no story... Either way, if you really care you can Control-T and Google it.

From Spean-Bridge we had our first glimpse of Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in all of Britain. At only 1,344 metres above sea level, it is slightly underwhelming, but it does look quite impressive covered in snow and ice with massive bare rock faces sticking out the sides. I like its name, no one bothered calling it Mount Hardcore or Mount Doom, just Ben. Actually, Ben Nevis means "Venomous mountain" or "Mountain with its head in the clouds", and yeah, I Wiki'd that.

Our next stop was in the uninspiring town of Ft. William where we ate lunch in a supermarket cafe. Which as you can imagine was crap, but they served eggs and baked beans for lunch and it came with chips. Ft. William is a bit of a nothing place, primarily used as a place to stay when you want to do interesting things in the nearby area. With that in mind we headed back to the bus to do some interesting things in the nearby area.

One such interesting thing was Glencoe. I think I missed the point at Glencoe. Glen means a valley, however I think I spent most of the time staring at the hills on either side of the glen as Neil told us the grim story of the massacre at Glencoe. In my defence I shall relate Glencoe to a pair of breasts, where men tend to enjoy looking at the sticky outy bits, and not so much the gap between them.

After a long days driving and stopping and looking and sitting and looking some more we finally arrived in the sea-side town of Oban. We took a short tour around town on the bus, which was mostly due to the fact that the roads were narrow and Neil missed the parking so we had to drive right into town and back again to find a place to turn-around. This turned out to be quite helpful as we were given a quick preview of the town's collection of pubs. Eventually we parked illegally directly in front of our Hostel and unloaded ourself upon it.

After picking up keys to our room, we took a quick stroll into town before deciding to head to our pre-determined pub of choice. It was at this pub, in the highlands of Scotland, that I had my first experience at not understanding someone speaking English. While doing my business in the urinal of the men's toilet a couple of locals came in speaking fluently in some kind phlegm derived language. Eventually I figured out they were actually speaking English, but to this day the only two words I have been able to translate are the ones they used between every other word, "fook" and "coont".