|Scotland, Part 5: Friday to Sunday
||[Nov. 20th, 2005|03:47 pm]
I was the first one up as usual, drinking coffee while looking at a grey and drizzly dawn. Two of the skinny-dippers I mentioned in Part 4 were hard to shake out of bed, but we were soon on the road again. |
Standing at the water's edge of the famous Loch Ness we learned about the largest body of fresh water in Britain. In fact, this loch contains more fresh water than all the lakes and rivers in England and Wales combined. It looks long and thin on the map and it is: about 37 kilometres long and somewhere between one and two kilometres wide. At its deepest it's an astonishing 230 metres or more, with the bottom of the loch being pretty much smooth and flat. Because of its massive volume of water, Loch Ness never freezes over. The top 30 metres or so of water changes temperature according to the prevailing weather conditions, but down below that it never alters from around five or six degrees celsius. If the water at the top approaches freezing point, it sinks and is replaced by the warmer water below.
A few in the group went wading, but I was content to cup some water in my hands and look at pebbles.
Then it was on through Lochend and into Inverness where we had a brief stop before arriving at the Culloden Battlefield, where the last military battle on British soil took place, and which is something of a national shrine. Culloden is where the Duke of Cumberland (Prince William Augustus, the son of the King), leader of the British forces, faced Bonnie Prince Charlie (Charles Edward Stuart, the man who wanted to be King) and his army of Highland rebels.
The Duke was a gifted and very strict military leader, highly respected by the men under his command. He prepared for the coming confrontation with the Jacobites by giving his men several weeks of special training. His army was very well equipped, in contrast to the Jacobites who had a motley collection of weapons and barely any food. The Highlanders, however, had no lack of courage or aggression. Unfortunately, their usual method of fighting, the Highland charge, ran into terrible difficulties, not the least of which was Bonnie Prince Charlie's choice of battleground, a boggy and uneven moorland. Growing dissatisfaction with some of Charlie's tactical decisions, leading to temper tantrums and infighting amongst the Jacobites, didn't help the situation.
The Duke made short work of the enemy, while Bonnie Prince Charlie made his escape from the disaster. In the aftermath of the battle, the Duke had practically all the enemy survivors -- including the wounded -- killed in cold blood, a decision that earned him the nickname The Butcher. The Battle of Culloden sounded the death knell of the Jacobite uprising.
Our guide wasn't his usual self during the time we spent exploring the battlefield and looking at the monuments. He became almost solemn and I don't think the significance of this place could be overstated.
From here we headed southeast to Tomatin and the Tomatin scotch whisky distillery where we attended an interesting tour given by a very deadpan girl who explained how their scotch is made. I really enjoyed the visit to one of their many warehouses which held wall-to-wall barrels of scotch. A row of barrels in front of me contained scotch dating back to 1965! The inside of the warehouse smelled faintly of whisky fumes; a small percentage of scotch is lost from the barrels every year due to evaporation. The 1965 barrels, although full 40 years ago, are now only half full because of this evaporation. I didn't leave the distillery without buying a couple of bottles of 12-year-old single malt. (Perhaps I should have stuck around to get a bottle of the 40-year-old, which was soon to be bottled.)
We had a leisurely stop for lunch at Aviemore then a long drive back to Edinburgh. We made a brief stop or two on the way and our guide pointed out some things of special interest, including the incredible Forth Bridge.
That evening in Edinburgh we said our good-byes to our guide and to the tour. I don't think there was anyone who wasn't sorry the trip was over and that the group was breaking up. Most of the tour group (including me and V.) came together again that night for drinks and dinner at one of the pubs in the Royal Mile. Over the next couple of days a few of us spent some of our time in Edinburgh together, sightseeing and meeting up for dinner, etc. I also used the famous black cabs a few times in Edinburgh and I was no less than impressed.
On Sunday afternoon we took the train back to London. During the journey I read and enjoyed My Life by David Lange.