Monday, June 21, 2010

Sir Lumix the Resilient

After a few drinks in the local pub, we spent the evening in Oban drinking in the hostel where we tried to turn Trivial Pursuit into a drinking game. As it was a 90's themed English version, not many of us knew or remembered the answers, so our thirsty attention turned to the pool and poker tables.

The first stop of the morning brought with it a back-handed treat as the bus pulled up at an old Castle set on top of a hill. Carnasserie Castle sat above us on the hill looking down at us with its non-descript but slightly disapproving stone cold eyes. From the carpark a small road led up to the top of the hill where the castle perched itself in the kind of way that a castle does, menacingly. I decided to call her Cassie.

The back-handed treat came as the first person stepped off the bus and went arse over tit on the ice covered road. The bastard castle didn't want to make it easy for us to breach its walls and we all shuffled very slowly to the top of the hill randomly chuckling as one person would start to slip and then take another person down with them as they reached out to grab a supporting hand.

A few bruised arses later we reached the end of the path and trudged through the snow to the interior of the castle. Cassie Castle was in pretty good nick despite its age, a renovators dream I suppose you could say. But Cassie had another evil trick up her sleeve. An icy path might be comical slippery fun, but when you mix a stone spiral staircase and ice, you get a lethal death trap.

It was exactly this point that we were glad we opted for the shock proof and waterproof Lumix camera. Prue lost her footing and slipped down the stairwell painting her legs and bottom with bruises with every stone step she hit. So too the camera bounced and fell like a slinky, hitting every step along the way only to come out the other side defiant at Cassie's wrath and with no more than a tiny scar. A proud war wound to show its grand-kids.

Prue on the other hand was mortally wounded in the assault on Cassie. She died a few hours later in the arms of a Prince and was buried in a hero's ceremony on a mound overlooking the castle. Cassie was disassembled stone by stone and rebuilt with soft rubber block. Ok, so it didn't quite happen like that but it sounds better than saying that Prue hurt her bum.

Had I known of the lethal brutality of Cassie Castle's icy steps of doom (not unlike the Astor Hostel's Death stairs of doom, a little colder though) I probably wouldn't have climbed all the way onto the top of the Castle. But I did, and of course I claimed Cassie in the name of the little known Clan Elmer. Instantly I was besieged by a volley of snowballs, but a comrade in arms aided me with the return fire until a garrison could be sent to the second watch tower... And yeah, I do love Castles....

Coming down from Cassie the Castle was for some as difficult as climbing the path up to her. But with the adrenaline of war and a fond nostalgic love of the movie 'Cool Runnings' I threw myself busward and horizontal on the world's roughest and coldest slip and slide. I didn't work that well, and I still ended up as wet and cold as the people who tried to descend the normal human leg walking way.

Our next stop along the journey back to Edinburgh was a grassy field home to the Kilmartin standing stones. Scotland is littered with Standing Stones and ancient Druids can face fines of up to £75.00 if they are caught. I don't know if anyone really has a confirmed reason for why the standing stones are placed where they are or how they are, sure there are lots of theories, navigation, worship, football goals.. etc.

But when faced with a giant ancient rock sticking out of the ground in the middle of a field, you couldn't help but feel a sense of importance and power. Yes modern technology is much better than the perplexing crap they did back then, but giant stones that seem to serve no purpose are pretty cool and kinda makes you feel like sacrificing a virgin or drinking goats blood or at the very least dressing up in a cloak and singing the chanting bits from Enigma.

Nearby were two more ancient sites, one a circle of stones with a small square pit in the middle and the other was a man made cave that looked like a small hill with two holes in it. Naturally Prudence Gael, avid adventurer and archaeologist was able to lend her expertise and once checked for booby traps we explored the nearby sites that were either used for burials or possibly a bus shelter.

Our next stop was Inveraray which has a really cool looking Castle. Unfortunately we didn't get to see this castle but we did get to have lunch. With only 30mins allowed for our lunch stop and everyone going to the same cafe, this became a little complex. Most of the good stuff was sold out before half the bus was fed, leaving a few late arrivals the option of pea soup or beans.

After Inverararararary we wound our way back through the hills and found our self at a small carpark nestled in a glen between more picturesque snow covered highland hills. The name of our stop was the "Rest and be Thankful" we were thankful for a short break, but we did not rest as the snow on the ground was Grade A+ snowball quality, and an epic snowball fight ensued.

As we headed east toward Edinburgh we found ourselves coasting along the banks of Loch Lomond. Prue couldn't help but find herself bursting into song with Neil, the only two occupants of the bus who knew the words to the archaic number one hit of 1841 - The Bonnie Banks o' Loch Lomond. The Loch was beautiful, the song was as sad and depressing as an Emo kid's thoughts, funny how styles go around in circles.

The road along Loch Lomond was obviously the low road and not the high road, otherwise we would have drowned. Instead of this we found ourselves with a few minutes to spare to explore a very cute and obnoxiously quaint town called Luss. The weather was becoming very cold and bitter and we braved the elements to reach the banks of the Loch to find a few Ducks bobbing up and down on the waves, laughing at us in their thick duck down jackets.

I almost found myself stranded in Luss, as I found that Scotland has a strange law that won't let you buy cigarettes on a credit card and the ATM in the local general store wouldn't talk politely to my Australian debit card. To this day I'm not sure if Prue bothered to mention that I hadn't returned to the bus, but I found myself running across the carpark and jumping through the buses closing doors like an action hero.

As our bus continued East toward Edinburgh we found our self at our last scenic stop, the town of Stirling. Stirling has another awesome looking castle, but again we didn't get to see this, we did get something better. A modern castle (well if you call 140 years old modern). Ok, so it wasn't so much a castle as it was a tower that looked castle like, and granted it was really just a tourist attraction. But it was also the William Wallace monument, "cool" we all thought in unison.

I think we would have enjoyed the William Wallace monument a little better if we hadn't actually gone in, firstly we got hit with a pretty steep entry fee, but this was almost saved as they had free public toilets. Then after a climb to the top of the hill we found that the bitter ice cold winds we met at Luss were a lot more bitter and ice cold higher up. I should probably add that visiting a museum with someone that studied museums at university can also impact on the experience.

I was a bit dissapointed by the monument. Prue however, was mortified. "How would disabled people climb the stairs?" she asked as we climbed the narrow spiral staircase to the first of four levels. "How would big fat Americans pass each other on the stairwell?" she asked as we squished ourselves against the wall to allow people to decend the stairs past us. "Holy crap look at that" I said as I pointed to a large glass case holding what is alleged to be the actual sword of William Wallace.

The sword itself was probably the only part of the monument worth seeing. Firstly it was bloody huge, and if it actually is his sword (yes there is sceptisism) then it meant he would have to have been over six and a half feet tall. Much, much taller than Mel Gibson. But the really cool thing was that the leather hilt was said to be made of the skin of English soldier. That is some cold blooded gangsta shit right there.

We boarded the Macbackpackers bus for the last time after making good use of a rare free public toilet in Scotland and headed homeward. Neil broke out a few more good stories for us, but there was a hint of a somber tone in his voice, so we listened to him telling a ghost story and recounting the tales of his lost loves as though it were his dying breaths.

As we hit suburban Edinburgh we all knew that we were on the home stretch, shortly we unloaded again at the Castle Rock Hostel where we said our goodbyes to Neil and thanked him for his fantastic stories and his deep yet comical insight into the beautiful history and landscape of the Scottish Highlands. Then we thanked ourselves lucky that a Scotsman can remain sober enough to drive a bus.