Festive excursions

Festive excursions

It seems like we’ve been doing a lot of travelling lately. Actually, that’s because we have: twice to Glasgow and back in the space of a week, and that’s no mean feat considering it’s a five-and-a-half hour drive each way.

The first time, we went as a family. We set out on a Friday and did what we had to do in Glasgow (a hospital appointment) then turned around and headed back again, but not before doing some city stuff: a stop-off at Intu, Braehead where Joe went down the giant slide and we treated ourselves to pizza. We’d booked into the hotel at Crianlarich for the night to break up our journey, so after our little taste of urban life we left the bright lights behind and drove alongside Loch Lomond in the darkness.

The hotel is a favourite of ours. It holds some good memories, especially as we stayed there last winter on our move to Skye. It was magical back then in the snow, and we ate in the restaurant warmed by the fire and observed by the taxidermy. The family rooms look out to the railway line and the mountains beyond, and there’s a little green tin-clad house with a red roof which always makes me think Father Christmas lives there…

The plan was to go home the next morning (following a hearty breakfast) via Fort William, to pick up a few provisions. We also surprised Joe with a secret plan: he and I would travel there by train, and meet Jay once we arrived. So that’s what we did. Kind of.

We got on the wrong train.

We were rattling along nicely, looking out at the water and forests, the mist and the cosy little cottages with their smoking chimneys. There’s nowhere quite like Scotland for that Christmassy feeling… Then I noticed the digital display above us. Apparently we were travelling not to Fort William but to Oban. I had several missed calls on my mobile from Jay. Oops. Fortunately the ticket inspector was very kind and didn’t charge us. He saw us safely off the train a few stations down, and Jay set off to collect us in the car.

So, we found ourselves in Dalmally: snow-topped mountains in the distance, and the quirkiest of stations. We had a little explore. Initially I thought it had been converted into a shop selling antiques and curiosities but it turns out that the original station has been divided up into holiday accommodation. There is a shop at one end which sells handmade knitwear, and further down the platform there’s a shepherd’s hut where chickens peck about. A lovely man in a kilt came out to say hello and I realised I’d been taking pictures of his garden. Awkward. But he was very helpful and reassured us that it wouldn’t take long for Jay to arrive from Crianlarich…

We took a new route homewards and passed a Christmas tree festival at St Conan’s Kirk. It looked inviting, and the church was very pretty, so we pulled over and went to have a look. Who can resist a lochside church adorned with fairy lights and the promise of tea and cake?

I’d never heard of the place before, but it was beautiful. The architecture and all those Christmas trees (62 of them!), all decorated by various schools, charities and local businesses. My favourite was by an orchard community group and was dressed with mosses and berries, crab apples and rosehips.

The place was absolutely freezing, but Joe enjoyed himself and added to one of the trees. So our Glasgow trip turned out to have a few surprises thrown in and the journey itself was lovely.

I did the whole thing alone the following Friday, and stayed at the hotel again on the way. I took some books, a magazine and made the most of it. A hot bath (so very, luxuriously hot - and it didn’t cool down rapidly like our steel tub at home). People-watching and reading down in the restaurant whilst eating a bowl of cullen skink and thickly buttered bread. And an early night.

The hospital appointment was done by 12.45 the next day, and I did the trip home in one go with only a brief stop to pick up something for lunch (a prawn salad containing three whole prawns, if you’re interested). It was a long drive in miserable weather but even that had its highlights: the heavy rain resulted in spectacularly tumultuous waterfalls tumbling down the mountains through Glengarry and Glencoe. I somehow got enough reception on the radio to listen to Gardener’s Question Time in its entirety as I wound my way along the desolate and seemingly endless roads. And the Christmas tree by the shore at Dornie, where the buildings are painted in bright colours and the village climbs up the hill behind.

By the time I reached the Skye bridge, the daylight had gone. Rain was coming down horizontally and I could barely make out the edges of the road (there aren’t many places on the island where we have street lights). The wind was howling. I didn’t even get to admire the house lights reflecting on the water, as the waves were crashing so hard. Another hour of navigating my way home with the radio tuning in and out and the car jerking about alarmingly in the gusts. But I arrived safely and ran through the downpour into a cosy, twinkly kitchen. A warm welcome and a hot cup of coffee, and everything began to feel normal again. I was so tired I was actually dizzy but the journey was done.

And now we’re looking forward to a Christmas spent at home. Maybe one more trip to Inverness but that’ll be it. Adventures further afield can wait until the New Year. Or perhaps a little bit later…