Trip To Scotland
Friday, August 06, 2004
Somebody wrote me asking about gas prices. I'm not sure that I want to ask someone to figure this out or not, but I have a sneaking suspicion that I am single-handedly funding a pipeline from Iraq to Britain. The cheapest gas on yesterday's trip was right here in Stirling, where I tanked up before leaving. The cost of gas was 79 p. per litre. Given that the exchange rate seems to be almost $2 for every 1£, it seemed like it might be comparable...but then there's the whole litres to gallon thing. Since I only got half a tank in my little car and it cost me about $30, I'm guessing that the price of gas is way higher. I could fill my Jeep from empty for about $32 at home, and unless my little Puegeot is hiding a massive tank somewhere...
While we're on the subject of roads, a brief word about roads in the highlands. I haven't done much of the single track stuff yet (except in Fortingall), but the other roads don't have all that much more room. Each lane is about the width of the car with nary a shoulder to be found. More, there is not a straight bit of road between here and the Kilmartin Glen...at least not the way I went, which a guide told me later was the second longest way to get there.
Anyway, if you're not currently on a treacherous, potentially-life-ending curve, there is one coming up within a few feet. I felt like I was barrelling along at 50 mph, but it was much too slow for the other traffic, including big huge trucks that have no business on such roads. Add to this that you are driving through gorgeous scenery. Not only can you not pull over to take a picture because there is no shoulder on the road, but should your sheep viewing cause you to stray ever so slightly from the given path, you are fodder for the missile coming round the next blind curve. And should you slow down, the grill of the truck behind you will move you along.
And in case you should get complacent, there are frequent signs like this one.
Great. I risked my life for this picture, by the way. I actually stopped in the middle of the road.
I have not yet been able to snap a shot of my favorite road sign, however, the one that reads: Heavy Plant Crossing. This appears before some industrial complexes, but I keep imagining a giant begonia lumbering across the road.
But on to the events of what is now yesterday. The trip to the Kilmartin Glen. Occasionally there were spots along the four hour drive out (northwest to the ocean at Oban and then south) where you could pull over. There are little curved parking spots...that typically hold two or three cars...in a lot of places. They just don't generally coincide with lovely views. So I took some pictures in places where I did pull over, just to give a feel of the place.
There was a stunning view of the little town of Oban...looking down from the mountain I was descending on this little port town nestled in the place where the mountain meets the ocean. The view was perfect...except I was flying down a mountainside with treacherous curves piled one on the other and no parking places or road shoulder. I'll be heading back to Oban by train on my way to Iona in a couple of weeks, so maybe there will be a chance then.
Once through Oban, the road curved south and I headed toward Kilmartin. Cill (prounounced Kill) in Gaelic means church, and Kilmartin indicated the Church of St. Martin. It is a place where much of the pre-history of Scotland is evident. It is only just beginning to become known, and much remains unexplored. Like this for example.
Looks to me like this is a standing stone by a cairn, except there are no indiactors that anyone has paid it the first bit of attention. I didn't walk out there since it was in somebody's field and I didn't want to climb the fence, but there are many such things. An archaeologists paradise. More on this a little later.
About an hour south of Oban I came to Kilmartin and stopped at the Kilmartin House Museum. An audio visual presentation showed the history of the valley and then a great museum gave a more detailed view. Right next to the museum is St. Martin's church. In the church yard there are stones both old and new. Some of the oldest had been set apart...the stones anyway...because of the stone carving.
Each of four walls in a covered crypt was covered with these stones.
Below the graveyard proper is the valley which contains what is known as the linear cemetery.
I thought I had a picture that showed some of them from here, but apparently I don't. Anyway, there is a line of 5 or 6 cairns down in those fields, stretching for about 2k. The cairns themselves are a mound of rocks that covered a group burial. Apparently the history evolved. The one closest to the museum (which I couldn't find a way down to see) has been partially excavated. What they found was that underneath the cairn was a stone circle. The theorize that the usage of the stone circles changed over time...from perhaps an active place of ritual, to a sacred site deemed proper for a burial. It seems that at first the burials were outside the stone circle and then finally within the circle proper.
You can see that clearly in another of the cairns in...
Temple wood contains two cairns. This is the largest.
Right where that group of people are standing in the middle is this...
On the northernmost stone in the circle you can see this carving. None of the other stones appear to have carvings.
Can you see the spiral just above and to the left of the hole? There are also lines coming out sideways from the hole. As you'll see on the information panel below, at one time some horizontal stones were placed through the vertical ones...that's what the hole is for.
Here's the scene again with some children helping to show the depth of the center tomb.
I never knew children liked to sit in tombs.
Just to the north of that cairn is this one
In the picture at the top left on the information panel below you can see that this mound used to be much higher than the other one. The tall mound in the background of that picture is the mound above. The other is the one with all the standing stones.
Here are some information panels about these cairns in the Temple Wood.
Then, just a little walk further down to the Nether Largie Cairn. You can see it here in a field of sheep.
Let's go a bit closer.
Note the lovely sheep.
Here is some information on this cairn.
Here is the opening to the chambered tomb as it looks now.
And me without my Indiana Jones hat! One should never go into a chambered tomb without the proper hat.
Here is one of the tombs surrounding the larger cairn.
And some others under rocks.
Those rocks mark other burials...both in the foreground and background.
These are the cairn guardians. Try entering the tomb without the proper hat, and you will feel their wrath! The grass is fertilized with the remains of their victims.
As I was standing back outside St. Martin's church cemetery, I was approached by a man in a kilt, wanting to know if I was interested in a tour. At the appointed hour, I showed up to join my bonnie guide, a woman from Luxembourg and a couple from Australia, to hike up to the hill fort known as Dunadd. We all piled in the car of the woman from Luxembourg and drove a few miles down the road. Here is the approach.
Perhaps it doesn't look like much to you, but Dunadd is one of the most important sites in Scotland. Dun means fort in Gaelic. Add is the river that runs by. Fort Add it would be in English. Atop this hill was the site of the coronation of the earliest Scottish Kings, including my mother's ancestor, the first King of all Scotland, Kenneth MacAlpine. It was here that the Stone of Destiny was brought before it ever went to Scone, the stone needed to crown the king.
That is why Edward I of England stole it...so that Scotland couldn't crown any more kings. It was given back to Scotland just in this century, after centuries in Westminster Abbey, and it now sits in Edinburgh. However, our guide up Dunadd claims that is not the real Stone of Destiny. He says the true Stone was jet black, having come from Egypt, and the one that Edward stole is Perthshire sandstone. The bardic tradition says that the true Stone was hidden by Robert the Bruce and was lost. I'm guessing it's in that warehouse with the Ark of the Covenant.
The further legend of the Stone, which I remember from Magnusson's book, is that the Stone of Destiny was a relic of sorts...supposedly the pillow Jacob used that night he had his famous dream at Bethel.
In any case, the true Stone was here at Dunadd, before it moved to Scone and then passed into mystery or into the hands of Edward Longshanks...depending on who you believe.
It was a steep climb up, but the views grew ever greater.
That river in the picture above is the Add.
Guess which one is the guide? We're about to go up the last bit to the summit. Between those rocks, where the path goes, there would have been a huge door...the second door one would have to break through to take the fort. This looks back toward the other.
The walls at this level are rubble now...
...but they were once 10 ft. thick.
And when you get to the top, there isn't even a placard to tell you about one of the most important spots in Scotland. Perhaps you think this is merely a photograph of my right foot.
Okay, it is a photo of my right foot, but if you look closely, you will see that my right foot is in something. It's in this...
Every one of the Dalriadic kings put his foot in this foot as part of the coronation ritual, facing out over the lands he was swearing to protect.
On the same stone and just next to the foot is the carving of a boar. It is very faint...see if you can pick it out.
The head is on the right with four legs coming down as it walks. This was the sacred animal for the King. To the right and below the foot are some other carvings that you really couldn't make out even looking at them. It is an ancient Irish script (these early Kings came here because their people came from Ireland...settling here just across the water. We are on the west coast). The script has been transliterated but not translated...that is, we can pronounce it, but we don't know what it means!
The guide didn't tell us this, but Magnusson's book claims this is not the real stone. The real one was getting worn away by stupid tourists like me putting their foot in the imprint, so they made an exact replica and put it over the real stone. So it is identical, but the true stone and carvings lie underneath.
Just to the left of this stone is this basin...
This is the real basin...probably used in some way associated with the coronation ritual. No one is exactly sure how it went, and whether the basin was filled with water or with boar's blood is a matter of speculation.
One last look at the River Add as we prepare to descend
The area surrounding Dunadd is an archaeologist's paradise, currently in conflict with the concerns for a unique environment. Most of the area at the bottom of the hill is peat bog. It is home to many endangered species of dragonfly and plant. Peat is also the perfect preservative for artifacts, since oxygen cannot get to it. If you have read about the finds in the peat bogs of scandinavia where they have found ancient human remains...with even their skin still intact...you will know this. Scotland would allow for archaeological excavation here, but only with strong evidence of what will be found. Again the peat thwarts all efforts. The normal instruments that use principles of geophysics to locate underground structures like walls and roads, are useless in peat. And so whatever lies at the base of this important site remains hidden. Perhaps the Stone of Destiny was returned here...
And we say goodbye to our bonnie guide, Scott, as we look over the peat together.
One last bit of standing stones that were not a burial. Again, out in a sheep field, these were apparently used for astronomical purposes. They form a long line...sets of two stones at either end and one center stone.
The young woman was taking a picture of her brother between these stones.
This is the stone in the center.
And now for a word from our sponsor. These photos are brought to you today by Heather, the Scottish flower just now beginning to blossom throughout the highlands. Here is one variety.
And here is another.
Scott, our guide, told us about this brighter colored heather. He said, "There is a kind of heather that looks like this, and then there is something else that looks like this but is not heather." "Which is this?" we asked. "I don't know," he said. "They look just alike."
Now back to our program.
The last real stop was at some rock carvings at a place called Achnabreck. Here is the description.
Here are some of the carvings...
No, not the white blotches...above them and slightly left.
I met some folks from London, Ontario up here (and I do mean up...it was quite a climb to get here). One of the men was hesitating by this rock with his camera. "I'm not sure this will come out," he said to me...unsure about clicking the shutter. "Well, it surely won't come out if you don't take the picture," I replied. "Good point," he said, and did the deed. I count at least eleven rings and circles above. Can you find them?
Here's more information about them.
I must confess my sins. The last point in the picture above was one I truly meant to follow. Except that this big huge rock that they said was covered in carvings was fenced off and you couldn't see a single carving from outside the fence. I felt this was inherently unfair and could not have been the true intent of Historic Scotland and the Forest Enterprise. So I climbed the fence. Kyrie eleison.
These circles are a bit easier to pick out, because of the stuff growing in the circles.
Here's a last bit of information.
By this time it was about four thirty and I had seen everything I had come to see in the Glen. The trouble with sightseeing over here is that even though it is light well into the evening, everything closes down between 5-6 pm. I had passed a castle just north of Oban that I wanted to return to see, but I couldn't get there before closing. Plus, Scott had told me that going through Oban was the long way round and that I should go home via Loch Lomond. So I got back in the car and set off south.
I did stop off to see Inverary Castle...one that is still home to the Duke and Duchess of Argyll (read Campbells). But I was too late to go inside. Here's the outside.
I couldn't get any further back, since I was up against a pasture fence...the white markers in the field mark where the old castle used to be...this is a newer one...from the 1800's.
And a lovely little view off to the right
Of course the Campbells of Argyll were Hanoverians and the Robertsons were staunch Jacobites...so we found ourselves on opposing sides most of the time. And there was that blot on the Campbell name when they massacred the MacDonalds in Glencoe while enjoying their hospitality...and the land of the standing stones was the land of the McPhee's until the Campbells took it...but we won't go there.
The way home through Loch Lomond was about an hour shorter, but by the time I reached the famed loch, it was raining, so I didn't stop for pictures. When you've seen one foggy loch, you've seen them all! So I spent 7 hours driving (using only half a tank of gas) and 5 hours climbing around...and now almost four hours telling about it!
Today (Friday) I will be spending here at the University, working on the first edit of my book, which my editor sent last night. It's all done on the computer, with her notes on top of my text in Microsoft Word. So I've got to figure out some sort of tracking feature on Word (which isn't my word processing program of choice) and send back any changes. I expect it will take me the rest of the afternoon. Thank goodness it's quiet here, and I'm not displacing anybody in the office. It's been raining so far this morning, so there wasn't much else I would be doing anyway. If the weather is good tomorrow, I will be heading out to Fyfe and doing a walking tour of some of the towns there. Perhaps a trip to St. Andrews as well.