possibly one of the most beautiful and melancholy places on the planet
Our time on Islay – the whisky isle – has come to an end. We promise that we will return. It is easy to see how people come to this magical place and fall under its spell. Putting aside the hardships of surviving on a small island that is often impacted by economic forces beyond its control – Islay offers a simple life in a beautiful landscape within a community of beautiful people. We promise to be good ambassadors for Islay – in many ways promise to be ambassadors for the Islay brand.

To leave Islay we return to the ferry terminal.

Once again there are plenty of cyclists. I strike up a conversation with a young couple from the U.S. and they tell me that they have been cycling and camping in Scotland for a month. It turns out that Scotland is a bit of a favourite with their camping-cycling friends as it has an outdoor access code – this gives travelers camping access to most land and water as long as you stay within the boundaries, respect the rights of others and leave no trace. The cyclists tell me that every once in a while the splurge and stay in a B&B and get a little luxury and talk about the pleasure of a warm bath. The couple are about half way through their adventure and took the time out from their engineering jobs, when they return they will be ready to start a family. I asked the couple whether they believe this investment in time, effort, and money will be a defining [seminal] moment in their lives and they believe it will be, and anticipated it would be when planning their trip; they added that in many ways it was also a journey ‘in search of self – otherwise it would not be worth the pain’. When I looked at their faces reddened by the elements and their eyes full of enthusiasm I wondered what would be their memories in 30 years time – and speculated whether they would return to Scotland as Anna and I had. We will never know – Clifford Geertz, the anthropologist, observed that “One of the most significant facts about humanity may finally be that we all begin with the natural equipment to a live a thousand kinds of life but end in the end having lived only one.”

The ferry was a simple process marked by a clunk on, a visit to the restaurant, a wander around the ship, and a clunk as we headed off. Although the journey from Islay was very similar to the journey to Islay, we had chosen a different ferry route and this time we would get off in Oban. Sailing into Oban was a little like a homecoming for Anna and I, we had stayed there in 1986 and had a very memorable time. The town is very much the same except for a few large national supermarkets. We had elected to stay in Fort William, for 4 nights and had intended to have a good look around before heading off, however, the weather was foul and the Ford Focus was warm and we gave it a miss but we did return a few days later.

We were following the GPS but the weather was inclement and being unfamiliar with roads we took a wrong turn. One minute we were 34 miles to our destination the next we were 77 miles. Something kept us on the longer road and it was really a blessing as we entered Glencoe from the most scenic route.

I have to say Glencoe is one of the most stunning places that I have ever experienced. Glencoe is also a favourite of Anna’s and over the years she has tried to describe it to many friends. As we travel through the Scottish country side she is reading the Lonely Planet description to me.  I could sense Anna’s excitement as we approached. At times the clouds were low as squalls came racing towards us, then the squall would pass and suddenly a whole new world would appear in front of us – the road winding into the distance, the mountains, striped with vertical waterfalls, shafts of sunlight spotlighting the landscape and creating areas of sunlight and shadows.

In many ways Glencoe is like a summary of Scotland – beautiful, rugged, and yet often a place of suffering.

We leave Glencoe behind and continue on our journey towards Fort William. Fort William is a major tourist centre. Many people visit Fort William because it is convenient to many well known landmarks of Scotland and has accommodation to suit most budgets. Fort William is also known as the outdoor capital of Britain, it attracts walkers as it is at one end of the West Highland Way a trek between Glasgow and Fort William and the Great Glen Way a trek between Fort William and Inverness.  Climbers find Fort William convenient due to closeness of Ben Nevis; the tallest mountain in Britain – Ben Nevis hangs over the town. Mountain bikers find Fort William attractive for the number and variety of world class tracks. For the less adventuresome there are many scenic drives with a number of shorter and less arduous walks. It should come as no surprise that many of the shops on the main street are in some way connected to meeting the needs of tourists. There are plenty of shops supplying equipment for the adventure seeking tourist.

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