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Not fishing Scotland

Al Agnew

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When the idea of a trip to tour Scotland first came up, Mary just knew I'd want to do some fishing while there.  Twenty days in England and Scotland, how could I not?  But from the first, I wanted to try something different and not make fishing a part of the trip.  There have been very few places we've ever visited where I didn't spend at least a day fishing.  When we went to Australia and New Zealand a few years ago, it was understandable that I'd want to fish New Zealand, but Australia?  Yep, I found some trout fishing and some warm water river fishing in Australia.

But this time, I wanted to visit a country without fishing, just to see what it was like.  Sure, I probably won't go back to Scotland again, so it could have been a once in a lifetime fishing deal.  And for a long, long time I've made it a goal to fish in as many different states and countries as I could.  But that goal isn't as important as it once was.

So although I looked into the fishing possibilities upon more urging from Mary, I opted not to make any fishing arrangements.

We flew from St. Louis to Chicago, then from there to London Heathrow.  We had enough miles to fly business class, which is pretty luxurious, but I would rather spend the money or the miles to do it than be crammed in coach.  The plan was to fly out of St. Louis late in the afternoon, then fly overnight to London.  But we never made it out of St. Louis.  There were such heavy thunderstorms in Chicago that all flights coming into there were delayed or cancelled, so there was no way we could connect to the London flight, which was leaving on time.  They rebooked us for the next morning flying to Chicago, then a long layover in Chicago to make the next evening's flight to London.  But flying business class gave us free access to the international United Club in Chicago, which meant we could lounge around the whole afternoon drinking free beer and eating free food while reading and messing on the internet.  Not too shabby.  Finally we were in the air, heading for the UK.

We got there early in the morning on a Friday.  Mary was spending five days, starting Sunday, studying at the Arthur Findlay College for Psychic Studies, and the plan was to rent a car and I'd be able to drive myself around the countryside exploring while she was studying.  We had hired a driver to take us to the airport in the vicinity of the college, where I'd rent the car.  We'd spend a night at a little rental by owner cottage in a little town nearby, then check into the rooms at the college the next afternoon.

There are things that the UK does as good or better than the US.  Roads aren't one of them.  The GPS took us the 20 miles from the airport to the cottage over one lane wide roads that had two way traffic.  On the wrong side of the road.  With no idea of traffic laws or how traffic works.  With roundabout after roundabout.  Through towns that had absolutely no rhyme or reason to the way the so-called streets were laid out.  And when we got to the cottage, there was no parking except for a public lot a half mile away.

We also needed to get some UK cash.  After we finally got settled in at the cottage, which, like most everything in the UK, was older than dirt and though refurbished at some time in the recent past, was tiny, with floors and ceilings that sloped like one of those fun houses,  we headed to the nearest postal service, which would have an ATM that we could use the Visa debit card that we had set up for use in the UK.  The card was denied.  They told us to drive to a different town the next morning, where we could find a good bank that could handle the transaction.  So we were basically moneyless the first evening, until we tried a regular Mastercard at the little pub close to the cottage.  It was accepted.  As it turned out, the entire Visa system in the UK was down that day, which was why the debit card didn't work.  But we didn't know that.

I was a nervous wreck after driving that first day, but we had to drive another 20 miles to the bigger town the next morning.  Got there.  No available parking without paying.  Coins only.  We had no coins.  Finally found a space in a tiny parking lot close to the bank we needed to get to.  Half hour parking only.  We ran into the bank, and found out what the problem had been the day before, and got our cash.  British bills are wider than American dollars, and didn't fit well in my wallet.  And there are no 1 pound bills, only 1 pound and 2 pound coins.  Along with 1 pence, 2 pence, 5 pence, 10 pence, 20 pence, qne 50 pence coins.  Which makes good sense, really, but trying to learn which was which while trying to pay somebody with a long line of people behind you is a real problem.

We tried to relax and enjoy ourselves.  Parked at a pay lot once we had the coins.  Walked back into the main part of the town to roam around the shops, and an old guy was coming out of the bank, down three concrete steps, just as we walked by it.  He slipped and fell, cracking his head and messing up his hip and shoulder.  Sounded like a melon hitting the concrete.  Mary, who was once a nurse, immediately told him to stay still while help was called.  He kept trying to get up, and sinking back down.  People gathered.  Somebody called an ambulance, but got the word that it could be up to three hours before one arrived!  He told us his wife was having her hair done a block away.  Somebody went to get her.  We finally walked off as another woman who said she was a paramedic appeared.  

We came back by the bank an hour later.  The guy was still lying there, though at least there was this little emergency vehicle there and he was surrounded by medical-looking people.  We asked the woman who was the first paramedic what the story was, and she said she didn't know, but his wife had told the people who found her that she'd be there when her hair was done, and she wasn't there yet!

The shops were slightly interesting.  Slightly more interesting was an old church we could go in...old as in dating from the 1600s.  And a maze, which was made of raised, rock-edged paths that dated to the same time as the church.  Did I mention that everything in the UK is OLD?

Somehow we made it back over the one lane roads with crazy people driving them to the college, where we checked in to our room and home for the next five days, after which our friends from Australia would meet us for the rest of the tour up to Scotland.  I had already decided I didn't want much more of that driving, so I basically spent most of the next five days sitting around the beautiful grounds of the college reading and writing on a book, while Mary studied.  I did have to go out and try to find a grocery store one day.  GPS showed groceries in several different places, but they all turned out to be little shops no bigger and no better stocked than the average gas station in America.  Finally found an Aldi that was like a real supermarket, 10 miles away, after driving 30 miles looking.  

Finally the studying was over.  The last evening, I drove the car back to the rental place at the airport, and took a taxi back to the college.  The next morning our friends picked us up.  The original plan was for me to share the driving of their rental car with Mike.  But he decided that it was cheaper to not put me down as a driver, so he'd do all the driving.  I can't tell you how relieved I was.  I was beginning to get used to driving on the left side of the road, but the car he rented was a manual transmission.  It had been years since I'd driven one, and the real problem was that with the steering wheel on the right, that meant I'd have to operate the gear shift with my left hand, which I'd obviously never done before.

We headed up from the college, just northeast of London, toward Scotland.  Stopped in a coastal town for lunch and groceries.  Beautiful cliff-lined coastline.  Highways mostly four lane for a while at least.  Then two lane.  Then back to the one lane with two way traffic stuff, getting to the cottage along a river in the hills where we'd spend the night, near the Scottish border.  Highlight of the afternoon, though, was a visit to the remains of a Roman fort on Hadrian's Wall.

If you don't know your ancient history, Hadrian's wall was built most of the way across Britain by the Romans, to keep the Picts of Scotland from raiding down into Roman Britain (the romantic part, the more prosaic part was to control trade with the northern tribes as well).  We're talking about 2nd Century AD.  A 73 mile long wall, up to 20 feet high and 6-10 feet thick, built of stone with some parts of turf.  Punctuated by 80 milecastles (the Roman mile was a bit shorter than the English mile, and in Roman miles the wall was 80 miles long) and 17 larger forts.  It was in use for 300 years.  You see bits and pieces of it all across the way, but the spot we visited had a long stretch of nearly intact wall, though down to about 6-10 feet high.  1800 years old!  It ran along the top of a long ridge, and you could imagine the command it had of the countryside to the north, and Picts charging up the hill to be repulsed, whether it actually happened there or not.

At the cottage, we walked to the nearest pub, but couldn't get served.  The waitress said they were "chockablock" with customers and couldn't take any more.  We found another little restaurant a mile or so away.

Into Scotland the next morning.  In a small town, we stumbled upon one of the oldest and largest abbey remains, a huge stone structure that was extremely impressive.  Built originally in the 1100s.  What would strike me so strongly about all these old ruins we visited was the effort and expertise put into building them at a time when the rest of the people in Europe were living the mean life typical of commoners in the Dark Ages.  The nobility and clergy had plenty of power and money to pay to have these massive monuments to their own narcissism and supposed piety erected, while everybody else was living in thatched huts at best and working daylight to dark every day when they weren't starving or dying of plague.

I won't go into all the various castles and churches we visited...they were either in ruins but still impressive, or had been refurbished enough to be museums.  The nobility whose families had built them or acquired them from other nobility had long since sold them or abandoned them as keeping them up became too expensive or, in the case of some of the ruins, they had abandoned them because some duke had been convicted of treason against the king and banished or executed, or they'd been half demolished in some war or clan dispute.  Big stone castles with walls three feet thick were pretty impregnable until gunpowder and cannons, then they became death traps.

There were older structures than the castles, though.  Stonehenge is famous all over the world, but there are stone circles all over Scotland in various states of decay, dating from the stone age or the bronze age.  Not as impressive as the castles, until you realize how old they were.  We visited several.

We drove north to the northernmost tip of Scotland, then across the northern coast to where we would take a ferry across to the Orkney Islands.  The ferry trip was a bit over an hour, vehicles in the bottom of this thing that looked like a cruise ship, upper decks enclosed with restaurant, bar, lounge, and plenty of seating all over the place.  Mary gets motion sickness, and though the swells on the North Sea were barely noticeable to the eye, they rocked that huge boat just enough that we spent a good part of the crossing on the open deck area, breathing fresh air and gazing at the scenery of distant and not so distance cliffs and islands.

The Orkneys are mostly treeless, rolling hills covered in sheep and cattle.  We saw one little stand of probably transplanted trees, maybe an acre in size, and I said it was the Orkney National Forest.  The coolest thing we saw was when we went hiking along the cliffs, which held tens of thousands of sea birds.  But it was on the island that I came closest to regretting my decision not to fish.  The Orkneys, unlike the rest of the UK, are still governed in some instances by laws set up by the Norse who first settled them, and one of those laws was that the lakes were open to fishing by anybody.  In nearly all of Britain and Scotland, the rivers are private fishing grounds and you have to pay big bucks or know somebody important to fish them, while the lakes (lochs) are also expensive to fish.  But I could have fished the little Orkney lakes for brown trout for free if I'd had equipment, or payed a guide less than what it would cost in the US to fish them and rent the equipment from him.  Supposedly the fishing is good.

The ferry back to the mainland, after two days in the Orkneys, was a bit more of an adventure, since the wind was blowing about 45 mph and the North Sea was looking a lot more wicked.  But Mary's motion sickness medicine did the job.  We drove down through highland country with mountains and moors, classic Scotland and beautiful, and then to Loch Ness.  We drove west almost the length of the huge loch, to the western end at Fort Augustus, where we'd spend the next two days.  The next morning Mary and I took a beautiful seven mile hike up the mountain on the north side of the loch, through thick forest with ground covered in moss, then up into barren country with great views of the loch.  It was one of the highlights of the whole trip.  The next morning we visited Urquhart Castle on the shore of the loch, a famous place not only for the castle itself but because it is a good spot to watch for the Loch Ness monster.

One thing about the towns along the loch, they milk the whole monster thing for all it's worth.  

The castle dates from the 13th century, and was the site of several notable Scottish battles.  It was built upon the site of a much earlier fortification of the Pictish nobleman Emchath, who was converted to Christianity by Saint Columba sometime between 562 and 586.  I won't go into all the history of the later castle...it played a key role in the Sottish wars for independence and the Jacobite uprisings.  The MacDonalds raided it several times and took it over for years.  It struck me, visiting all these castle ruins, how bloody the Scottish history was.

We drove from Fort Augustus across much of southern Scotland, taking a ski lift to the top of a high ridge overlooking rugged, treeless mountains and hiking some there, another of the highlights of the trip.  Then stayed the last couple days in a renovated castle (not a very big one but still impressive) not far from Edinburgh, where we would fly from to get back home.  We visited a beautiful forked glen (a glen is a valley or canyon, and this one was a pair of very narrow, rock-walled canyons with waterfalls in heavy woodland).  Another ruined castle sat on the ridge between the forks.  Upper ridges were clear of trees, but completely and thickly covered in head-high ferns, a really strange and beautiful landscape.  Then yesterday morning we were dropped off at Edinburgh Airport, took off for Chicago at 11:30 AM, and arrived in Chicago at 1:30 PM the same day!  Got back home yesterday evening, and we're glad to be home.

Photos to follow.

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3 hours ago, Al Agnew said:

but his wife had told the people who found her that she'd be there when her hair was done,

Classic !    

Ma'am, your husband has taken a bad fall and is bleeding out. Emergency personnel are on the way.

"Oh for Christ sake, tell the bloke that I'll be there as soon as my hair is dry".  🙆‍♂️

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British coast, English Channel:DSCF0001.JPG


Hadrian's Wall from a Roman fort:DSCF0007.JPG


Part of the fort...this was a grainery.  The rock columns held up a wooden floor, which kept the grain off the ground and drier:DSCF0014.JPG


Another view of the fort, showing it's location on the ridge top.  Something like 200 Roman soldiers would live in this fort:DSCF0016.JPG

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I loved Scotland. The weather was crazy, but I loved being rained on in Full Sunshine. 

Scottish remind me of Ozark Natives. Always finding ways to make a buck. 

Every Saint has a past, every Sinner has a future. On Instagram @hamneedstofish

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Thanks Al for the report and photos. Brought back memories of our stay in Ireland. As with yourself I was constantly amazed the age of most things. There is dust in most houses older than our country. I also could not get over thay most "woods" at least in our part of the country had been planted. There aren't any spots on the island of Ireland that mam has not walked on or affected in some way. I also did not like the costs to fish over there and didnt fish for almost two years.

Your coin issue for parking brought a smile. I recall making really sure that when I would travel back to the UK was making sure to have 20 or 50 pence to pay for the public toilets in the train stations.

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One thing that I did notice was the lack of roofing on the old abandoned curches or buildings. Lumber is(was) always at a premium so that got repurposed pretty quickly. Rocks are everywhere. There was a sitcom where the one man told another to meet him at the "Field" which was a spot that had lesss rocks in it than the other areas😁. So the walls would remain well after the building was abandoned.

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