There are many things I want to record about this trip that I am finding that I am allowing some to pass into obscurity rather than take the time to write about them. Part of being on vacation should be about the doing and not the chronicling. I am using that as my guiding principle so some things will not be mentioned.
I did want to mention our day trip to Inverness. I got it into my head that my birthday present this year would be a trip to Inverness for the afternoon (from Edinburgh) and a lunch at Sam’s restaurant (warning–link to facebook page). There was no long and intriguing story behind my desire to do this other than I wanted to go at least a little northward (as much as could reasonably be done in a day) in Scotland and the Dalmore distillery within an hour of the city. There was a time when I considered Dalmore one of the finest liquids on the planet. Thus, a tour of the distillery and a visit to the north-ish of Scotland was my desire.
The distillery was not offering tours on my chosen day or any of the days were were going to be available for touring. This left me with the somewhat simplified plan of going to Inverness for lunch. The ride in the train was spectacular. This trip began early in the morning and layers of mist and fog surrounded the journey for its length. The scenery was absolutely beyond compare. But, if I were to compare it to other scenery it would do very well, indeed. Mist, waterfalls, streams, hills, outcroppings of stone, autumn colours; it was [insert superlative here]. If the cliche about the journey becoming the destination needs proof, the morning train ride from Edinburgh to Inverness stands as evidence that at least some journeys are worthy in and of themselves.
Inverness was a fun place as well. It is relatively small and positioned on the side of a hill near a river (the River Ness the tributary of its less famous relative the Loch Ness, home of the elusive monster). The city has its share of cobblestones and small alleys and even a castle, which is being used as a courthouse. It is not open to public viewing and visiting usually means you are on one side or the other of the law.
We spent our time wandering about the city and dropped in on a tourist information centre where the kind lady took a good deal of time pointing out nearby features and potential tours of the countryside. We elected to stay in the and wander. Our first real wander was to Sam’s restaurant for a very tasty lunch at a reasonable price. Curry was had by all. After lunch we took a short walk about the city, across the river on a bouncing footbridge, walked up some long and narrow stairs, loitering in a pedestrian mall, and relaxing in a cafe / pub for a bit before heading back to the train for the trip home.
A short footnote about the cafe / pub relates to the paying of the bill. I had viewed the cafe as catering to the professional or hipster crowd and we stopped in for a dry spot (yes, it was raining again) and a warm coffee. The girls each had a drink and a scone as did Janet and I. When Janet paid our tab before leaving we were quite pleased to have it come to just under £15. Just before leaving (we were considering the complexity of tipping–the appropriateness of leaving a gratuity is vague and we usually just ask these days) the waiter came over and apologized for giving us the incorrect bill. He then proceeded to return more than half of the original bill and ask us if we thought we were being skinned. In his words “you must have figured this place thought it was pretty posh at those prices.” We left a tip.
The ride home was less impressive as it was dark when we left the station. Sunset happens very close to 4 pm these days in Inverness and the train was leaving at 4:51 pm. The good part of the nighttime ride was the date. My birthday happens to fall on bonfire night and being in the UK on this night meant bonfires (well, yeah) and fireworks shooting into the darkness. I saw fireworks three times on the trip back.
I also saw the interior of the train car for about an hour and a half more than we had bargained for because of an electrical fault in the line approximately 30 km from our destination (my estimation). The result being that only one line was running between us and Edinburgh and there were four trains ahead of us waiting to use the line and an unknown number wanting to go in the other direction using it as well. Many people were left at intermediate stations as trains heading out of Edinburgh were rerouted and these people joined our train as it inched into the city. What might have been unpleasant, and it did have some of those overtones when people realized that they would be missing connections, ended up with people chatting and dancing in the isles to iPod-ed music. Most of the dancing was by an well-dressed couple who had missed an event of some sort and, after some early complaints, made the best of their situation. One of the more romantic things I have seen (certainly under the circumstances) was an older–and here I mean not (much?) older than me–couple dressed very well dancing together on a train, each sharing an earbud from the pair plugged into a common iPod. As awkward as it may sound, it was surprisingly sweet. It is now among my visions of romance in a modern age.
We did not take any pictures of the train journey. The majority of the trip was viewed from rain-streaked windows and we spent most of the trip talking and enjoying the view. We did take a few pictures in Inverness and these are below. I believe that this birthday was the first time that I have acknowledged my bald spot. So, for me, Inverness equates to modern romance, beautiful scenery, lovely food, quaint (in a good sense) city, and hair loss.
Oh, and I almost forgot, when the lady was helping us in the tourist information shop she muttered “crivens” under her breath and this made the day even more wonderful. We have been listening and reading the Tiffany books by Terry Pratchett and one of the phrases that is used to great comedic effect by the Wee Free Men is “crivens.” Like many others, I had assumed that this was a slang, and borderline fictional, word and I would not likely hear it. But hear it I did and it was all I could do to keep a straight face. I had to look down and cough. I also heard a couple of lads talking on the train from Stranraer. One mentioned an encounter with the local law and told his mate that he and his brother “had to do an offski.” Similar context in the Tiffany books and me grinning like an idiot.