North to the Scottish Highlands

Looking out the window of the train from Glasgow to Inverness. Is Jamie out there somewhere, hiking along in his plaid? (Obscure reference related to a character in the popular books/series Outlander)

When I received word from Lisa Grant, way up north in Scoraig, that I would be welcome to help care for her farm while she’d be traveling, the last piece of my trip fell into place​. I could almost hear the tectonic plates of my trip shift and rumble, then resolutely settle themselves. Bam! 
I heard from Lisa just before panic was set in. Millie had asked about my plans, as two WWOOFers were scheduled to arrive at Castle Creavie on July 1st. I doubt she and Charlie would have thrown me out. But with Phil, the two  new WWOOFers and the renewal of guests in the rental cottages, things were going to get full again around the farm. Her question kicked me into gear. “Get your next gig lined up, Suzie!” I thought. And wonderfully, I was able to procure an invitation to the Scottish Highlands at last. I can’t imagine heading home, having to tell people that yes, I’d been in Scotland, but no, I’d not been to Edinburgh or to the Highlands. I can hear the responses in my head… “Uh, you really went all the way to Scotland and didn’t go to either? What the heck were you doing all that time in Scotland? And no, Dumfries and Galloway doesn’t count because we’ve never heard of it!”

I think I can get off the hook about Edinburgh by saying that I spent time in and around Glasgow and that was all I had time for. But not going to the Highlands? That’s like spending time in New Mexico and never getting to Santa Fe! As in “Well what was the point of that?!?!?”

Yeah, yeah, New Mexicans. You and I both know that Santa Fe is just one city in a huge state full of mountains, forests, sand dunes, amazing drives, hot springs, happening cities and cool little towns and amazing landscape and about a zillion great places to eat. But the name Santa Fe! It’s romantic! It’s unusual! It’s exotic! And frankly, everyone’s heard of it. 

So too, the Scottish Highlands.

I use a capital “h” when writing the words because many, if not most people, equate that word with the northernmost area of Scotland. It’s famous for fierce clans and bloody battles, plaid kilts and white crofters’ cottages. Handsome men are running about in skirts, right? At least we’ve seen Mel Gibson, Liam Neeson, Sam Heughen and that young guy from Monarch of the Glen do so. It’s all about whiskey and misty rain and heather. Who wouldn’t want to go there?!?!

So now I would get my chance. Charlie and Millie expressed great enthusiasm for my opportunity to spend time up north. They assured me it’s beautiful. They’d even considered buying a farm up there once. The thought of my time ending at Castle Creavie was sad; the possibility that the next part of my trip could be good allowed me to say goodbye without teary eyes. 

The venture north started with an early morning drive to the train station in Dumfries. I’m so accustomed to air travel in the States, for which you have to arrive eons early and be prepared to wait around forever. But here, most folks arrive at the train platform just minutes before their train is supposed to arrive. Makes me, with my American travel sensibilities, so anxious! However, since Millie once missed this exact train due to morning traffic in Dumfries (I didn’t see anything that looked remotely like traffic, but I guess it’s all relative), we set out with plenty of time. Castle Creavie is about 40 minutes away from Dumfries. We drove and chatted. A nice way to spend my last bit of time with this lovely lady. (Did you pronounce that correctly? Loo-VLEE.)

At the train station, Millie parked and came in with me. It was comforting having someone accompany me to make sure I could get my ticket and that all was well. Since the hiking group ran off to catch their plane in Birmingham, I’d gotten used to just getting on with things by and for myself. It was one of many moments on the trip when I felt so well cared for, sometimes by an acquaintance but often by a complete stranger — like the instance of the woman walking with her dog in Aberfoyle  that helped me find Loch Ard. Human caring for human. It has a huge impact  on how you experience your moments.

Millie also walked me over to see the beautiful gardens along the train platform. Volunteers have built and maintain big beds of herbs and flowers. After we hugged goodbye, I went over to gather some lavender, sage and rosemary. I tied them into a little bundle and attached them to my backpack. Vivid scents to take along with me.

The train station at Dumfries.
Luggage, herbs, and my scarf. The pin is a wooden Highland cow, wrapped with fiber -a gift from my friends at CastleCreavie. That and a very sweet notecard and another pin let me know my efforts while there had been much appreciated.

I chose a seat with a table once I was on the train. I was planning to write, write, write. I was weeks behind on my blog. I had hours of travel ahead of me. Perfect! Instead, I took out my knitting.

Been slowly working on this simple, cabled scarf. Hand-dyed wool by Amor at Crave Yarns in NM. You can also see the second gifted pin, a lovely Celtic knot.
 I knit for twenty minutes then promptly fell asleep. When I awoke, we were not far from Glasgow. Since the route was the reverse of one I’d already taken (though by bus), I was not spending much time craning my neck, trying to see the countryside. I recognized as we reached the outskirts, then the center of Glasow. This time, however, I was getting into and would have to find my way around Glasgow Central. The central station of the city was much larger than the Ueen Street station I’d navigated into and out of on my way to Ardunan Farm.

Big. Really big.

Luckily I could follow other passengers getting off the train to find my way back to the main waiting area, shops and restaurants and large displays with all the train arrival and departure information. The central waiting area was huge! Tall, electronic boards notes the departures of the various trains with their interim stops, arrival status and platform number. (“Excuse me. EXCUSE ME! Could you tell me where I could find Platform 9 and 3/4 please?” Yes, I so wanted to say that to someone working there. But I refrained.) I couldn’t find any information on my train though. It was leaving at 1:25 pm. I arrived in Glasgow at noon. I used my ticket to go through the turnstiles and then asked a train attendant staff how to find my platform. He looked at my ticket and then looked at me like I was crazy. In the thickest Glaswegian accent I’d heard yet, he let me know that train was usually in at Platform 6 but there’s be three or four trains coming and going before mine arrived. Best to go get some lunch while I waited. He probably said some other things as well. In fact I know he did. But the platform and the lunch thing were mostly what I gleaned from his words. He ushered me back through the turnstiles and sent me on my way. I suspect he was laughing and shaking his head. 

I wandered, found food, watched people and went to the bathroom. Oh, have I mentioned that in public places like train and bus stations you have to pay to pee? Yep. Usually 40 pence. Best to have change with you at all times. In Glasgow Central, I had to carry my bags down two flights of stairs, fish through my coin purse for the right change, maneuver my bags through the turnstyle with me, then carry them back up two flights of stairs. There were handicapped accessible bathrooms on the main floor but they were locked and you had to call a train attendant to come open them for you. I shouldn’t complain though. The whole business of going to the bathroom took up a good bit of the time I needed to pass waiting for my train.

Finally my train to Inverness came up on the board. Arrival status: On Time. Departing: 13:25. But no platform number. I asked the woman sitting next to me. “Oh, it will go up right there, next to the departure time, just about 15 minutes before you’re set to go.” 

“Ah! Thank you”.

Every bus, every train station, every point of information as you go along in unfamiliar territory is a new experience. Now, if I go back to Glasgow Central, I’ll have the whole process well in hand. Arrive, go to the central waiting area, relax and grab some food, ask someone to keep an eye on your bags so you don’t have to lug them up and down the stairs, have 40p always counted out and ready in your pocket, check the boards for your train only shortly before you are supposed to be leaving… Grat! I’ve got it now. Probably never be back in Glasgow Central to show off how easily I can navigate the place, darn it!

I sat, watching the boards, waiting for the platform designation to show itself. And waited. And waited. 13:20 and still no platform number. I noticed people beginning to gather, standing in front of the turnstiles and looking up at the board. It occurred to me that once the platform number was up there, we’d have to sprint to our train. They are only in the station for a few minutes. They load and unload and the, within about ten minutes, are off on the next leg of their journey. 

13:25. Still no platform number. Arrival status: On time. I looked around me at the other standing passengers. They looked around at each other. I made sure I was ready to do whatever they were going to do, just as soon as they started to do something.

13:30. No platform number. If the place wasn’t so noisy already, I’m sure I would have heard the sound of polite but nervous voices talking with each other.

Finally I saw someone go talk with a train attendant. Together, they went to talk with another train attendant. Two more train attendants walked over to see what was going on. Someone made a phone call. Someone else dashed over to a computer station and started typing on a keyboard. Platform 4 appeared on the board! There was a great rush of people as we ran to get through the turnstiles, out onto the platforms and to our train. Thank goodness for rolling luggage, I say! Onto the train, bags smooshed into a holding compartment and plunked down into a seat, I heaved a huge sigh of relief. I think two minutes passed before the train doors closed and the engines started moving us away from Glasgow. I had a three hour ride ahead of me. I wrote, I knitted, and I strained to look out the windows, wondering what the Highlands would reveal.

Rolling green hills, sheep, grass. The lansdscape north of Glasgow looked much the same for the first hour or so.
Then suddenly, it changed completely. The mist moved in, the rolling hills lost their grass and transformed into taller, rugged mountains covered with low gorse and heather and stones. id seen these bare mountains and valleys in many a movie!
Any clan members out there, hiking the hills, on the run from the British army???? Not today, I’m afraid…
Huge relief. And excitement. Made it to Inverness!

We came over a rise

and I could suddenly see the city. Not large, but plenty of beautiful stone buildings with newer neighborhoods climbing up the hills. Out of the train, onto the platform and whoosh(!) out into the bustle of the center of Inverness. I got my bearings and foundthe way to my bed and breakfast. Whew! It’s always a joyous relief to get to your room, plunk those bags down, stretch out on your bed and contemplate that you have hours and hours of free time until you have to stress over your next travel connection. My room had a lovely window overlooking the street. I was well pleased.

Old Inverness, just a few blocks feom the train station. My bed and breakfast was on this street.
A room, a window, a bed, a bathroom just down the hall… heaven!

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2 thoughts on “North to the Scottish Highlands

  1. Now you know why we now take guided tours. The kind of activities you talk about trying to figure out a train schedule, getting there, making pit stops, etc. would drive your Dad nuts and in turn would have me jittery as a butterfly. Love you….. Mom

    Like

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