31.8.09

A Highland adventure pt 1


Tea
Originally uploaded by fred pipes
I've been spending a week in August during the Edinburgh Festival for 12 or 13 years now, and every so often I try and do some travelling while I'm up there. The last time was many years ago, pre-blog, when I took the sleeper up to Fort William and rode the steam-powered Mallaig line. That was the furthest north I'd ever been (apart from a flight to Gothenburg in Sweden in the 70s). So this year I decided to buy a Freedom of Scotland Rover for £73.25 (with Senior rail card discount) and go exploring. I probably could have got away with the cheaper Highland Rover plus a single to Edinburgh at the end, but hey! who's counting? It would give me 4 days' travel out of 8, which I thought was a bit mean, but also 10% discount on the sleeper. The trouble is, you can only buy a rover a month before you travel, so makes juggling sleeper and B&B bookings etc for an itinerary rather precarious. So, with sleeper to Inverness booked, I headed up to Euston on Monday 17 August for the 21.15. Luckily I had a berth to myself (you sometimes have to bunk up with someone the same sex) and as there's not enough room to swing a small cat in there, spent some time in the spacious lounge drinking Deuchars IPA at £2.50 a can and playing iPod games.

After a night watching orange lights go past my window, and passing through Edinburgh at about 4am, we arrived at Inverness and I searched out left luggage. Unfortunately it didn't open until 9.10, after my train to Kyle of Lochalsh had departed. It's one thing having a rover, it's another having to lug cases about! So, it's onto the train for what Michael Palin described as one of the Great Railway Journeys of the World. It didn't disappoint - straight away we were by the sides of lochs and firths, with misty mountains in the background. We passed the point at which the Caledonian Canal enters the Beauly Firth, but then there was a problem! At Dingwall we had to de-train, as the smell of the loos had become unbearable to some passengers. This unsheduled stop allowed me to explore this lovely station in which 134,864 thirsty men were supplied with tea 1915-1919. Outside was a war memorial made from a thin twisted tree trunk brought from the battlefields of France. Unfortunately the Mallard Bar wasn't open yet, but we got a complimentary cup of tea from the trolly, before we had to lug our cases over the footbridge to the relief train. So, on the move south-west again, the scenery was getting more and more spectacular as we reached the west coast. At the end of the line I even got a certificate.

I had theoretically three hours in Kyle of Lochalsh and the plan was to pop over to the Isle of Skye on the bus. I'd just missed the 12.30 bus so grabbed a bag of chips and hung around for the 1.30, which gave me half an hour to grab a half at the King Haaken bar and a view of the Skye Bridge in Kyleakin. Then is was back to Inverness where Robert from the Rossmount Guest House was waiting to give me a lift. This B&B was booked from the internet for £25 a night, so I had no idea what it'd be like - it was rather lovely. Not en-suite (they supply bath robe to wander about in) and the tiny telly was perched high on top of the wardrobe, but everything you'd want in a B&B. I went for a quick recce of the town to see how long it'd take to get to the bus station (I was booked on the Orkney day trip, setting off at 7.30 the next day) and thence to the Castle Tavern (also found on the internet) for a pint of Three Sisters and a plate of Finnan haddie rarebit.

Train view
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