November 19th, 2005

Scotland, Part 4

We left the Isle of Skye in the afternoon to keep an appointment with a fisherman at Stromeferry on the shore of Loch Carron, just north of Kyle of Lochalsh. The early Vikings made their mark on this area, and it also has the obligatory history of violence between the clans.

A small group of us went out onto the saltwater loch with our fisherman guide in his boat. The afternoon was sunny and calm, and the scenery was beautiful. Way out on the loch, and using a winch-and-net mounted at the back of the vessel, our fisherman brought up a shellfish catch from the deep and we helped him sort the pile into two different sizes. The biggest ones we kept and the smaller ones we put back over the side.

We were amazed at the many large starfish and other creatures like crabs that came up in the catch, which we handled and examined before putting them all back in the loch. Our fisherman was mainly after scallops, but there were also mussels and various other types of shellfish. With a little knife he deftly opened up scallops for us to eat. They were delicious raw, and I had quite a few. The girls, it must be said, seemed to be squeamish, so he cooked them some scallops with butter in a little frypan right there on the boat. I, too, became squeamish when it came time to eat a freshly-opened raw mussel. Never again. The fisherman also brought up a separate catch of very large red crabs.

This was one of the highlights of the whole trip, and we were sorry to leave the boat. While the second half of our party went out with the fisherman, the rest of us had hot drinks, played pool, and read books in the nearby lodge.

With night approaching, and all back on dry land, our guide bought some of the huge freshly-caught crabs from the fisherman for our dinner that night. We were headed for Loch Ness, but we stopped on the way to have a look around the famous Eilean Donan Castle which is illuminated at night. The castle sits on a small island in Loch Duich and is joined to the mainland by a footbridge.

The castle, destroyed in the 18th Century by English warships, is now beautifully restored. Back in the day, the Jacobites I mentioned in Part 2 enlisted the help of the Spanish in their plan to overthrow the British government and take the throne. The Spanish force that was supposed to invade the English mainland limped home with its tail between its legs, while the Spaniards sent to join forces with the Jacobites in the Highlands established a garrison at the castle. The government sent frigates and made short work of them.

The 20th Century restoration of Eilean Donan Castle had a strange twist: Farquhar MacRae had a vivid dream, a vision, of what the castle had once looked like, and it was this vision that guided the rebuilding. The old plans for the original castle, later discovered in Edinburgh, confirmed his dream was pretty much spot-on, so the castle we have today looks like the original.

We stopped at a late-night service station to stock up on a few things (mainly beer as I recall), then it was on to Loch Ness and our backpackers hostel for the night, situated in the general vicinity of Lewiston. Our half-crazy guide had got it into his head that he wanted to let off fireworks, but none were to be had in the village, so he went for a drive to buy some. (I later found out he'd been all the way up to the city of Inverness and back!) We walked away from the hostel across a field in the dark and, for a short time, disturbed the nighttime repose of the villagers with our fireworks.

We went to the pub with a few of us staying on till closing time, then we went back to the courtyard at the backpackers and drank beer and talked till the wee small hours. Three of our number then went for a walk to go skinny-dipping in Loch Ness. I decided to get two or three hours of sleep before we headed out later that same morning. We had a thing or two to learn about the famous Loch Ness, and we also had to spend some time at a revered battlefield where the doomed Jacobite rebels under Bonnie Prince Charlie met their awful fate.

(More later...)