We’re north of the wall, one built by the Romans to keep the buckfast binging, bagpipe bashing, tartan totting, kilted claymore wielding clansmen and painted Picts at bay. This is the wild frontier of “auld enemy”, visiting our geographic Celt cousins and waving to the half-naked highlanders in the rugged highlands, luscious lochs and gorgeous glens, we’re taking the high road to the highlands on holiday in Scotland and another saga in our UK and World Tour. We’ve based ourselves at Bunroy at Roybridge in Lochaber, living in a lodge where the River Roy and River Spean meet and the perfect place to be based to while away our time to the wilderness from Skyfall to Skye, the West Highlands and the Great Glen.
To get to the here, we’ve taken the scenic route, in reality the motorway, and there’s been some arguing along the way on which road to take…cue spontaneous singing in a thick Scottish accent “Ohhhhh, ye’ll tak’ the high road, and I’ll tak’ the low road and I’ll be in Scotland before yeeeee.” I’d best be careful though, my wife is giving me some murderous looks from arguing and I’m nervous that her ancient lineage of Scottish ancestry (surname Fyfe of the Macduff clan) might start stirring and she’s mulling over the murder of this slow Sassenach. It wasn’t helped when I accidentally tuned into BBC Gael with the car suddenly sounding like we’re extras in Rob Roy film, I involuntary threw my haggis crisps on the floor and started doing a highland fling around them. Lord Nelson, or McDog as we are calling him on this road trip, just looked on puzzled, salivating at haggis crisps within sniffing distance.
Its taken 7 hours to get and we’re keen to use the remainder of the light and investigate the local area. We head to the Parallel Roads of Glen Roy, a world-famous landscape formed in the last Ice Age with historical importance which developed ideas for the role of glaciation in the evolution of the landscape of northern Europe. Not really parallel roads but horizontal ridges of ancient shorelines of a huge loch, lochterraces, held by a glacial dam that filled Glen Roy 12000 years ago in the last Ice Age. The shorelines are at heights of 260m, 325m and 350m. 20,000 years ago the landscape of Lochaber was covered with an ice cap 1km thick with the last glaciers leaving Lochaber 10,500 years ago. This is exactly the kind of geological geekiness I drag Clan Cook to come and see and exactly they type that will drag me back here in the future. You can find more information at www.lochabergeopark.org.uk. The Scottish Highlands know how make an impact.
Following this same road back, we pass by a cairn that marks the Battle of Mulroy that took place in 1688 and the last inter clan battle fought in Scotland. Fought between highlanders from MacDonalds of Keppoch (MacDonells) defeating the much more numerous Mackintoshs. The two sides met at Maol Ruadh with the Macdonalds on the high ground executing a classic highland charge down the slope towards the Mackintoshs, firing a volley, charging with drawn swords and Lochaber axes down towards the Mackintoshes where the two sides battled bitterly for an hour. A soldier from the Mackintosh side, Donald Macblane, immortalised the exploits at Mulroy when he wrote:
“The McDonalds came down the hill upon us without either shoe, stocking, or bonnet on their head, they gave a shout, and then the fire began on both sides, and continued a hot dispute for an hour; then they brok in upon us with sword and target, and Lochaber axes, which obliged us to give way, seeing my captain sore wounded, and a great many more with heads lying cloven on every side, I was sadly affrighted, never having seen the like before, a Highlander attacked me with sword and targe, and cut mt wouden handled bayonet out of the muzel of my gun; I then clubbed my gun and gave him a stroke with it, which made the butt-end to fly off; seeing the Highland men to come fast upon me, I took to my heels and run thirty miles before I looked behind me, every person I saw or met, I took for my enemy.”
This chap then went to fight on at Killercrankie, running away again. Clearly we’ve chosen the right area for some action, this is an important historical battle site and I’d be dying to drag a metal detector around if I had one, but I’m just hoping we don’t get a Glaswegian kiss from the locals, which is quite possibly what will happen if I keep on stereotyping.
The Commando memorial at Spean Bridge is dedicated to the memory of all Commandos who gave their lives during World War II and at the most appropriate spot as this country was their training ground while based at Achnacarry. It looks out over the mountains of The Grey Corries to the left made of quartzite and The Ben Nevis Range to the right, which is the remains of a Devonian volcano. The footpath behind us and to the right leads to High Bridge, the site where the first shots were fired in the 1745 Jacobite Uprising.
With light fading we head to Inverlochy Castle at Fort William. Built in 1280 by John Comyn, the castle had a strategic southern entrance to The Great Glen and controlled the River Lochy. It’s the site of 3 battles including one naval engagement and with its 10 metre high angled walls and deep moat, attracted many Victorian tourists to its once romantic ruins. Queen Victoria visited here in 1873 but was left unimpressed “there is little left to see” she complained. She’s right and like us, we are not amused. There are better places to be on our road trip. Tomorrow there’ll be a full day of taking the high road to Scottish Highlands…