Oban to Stirling

Where to start for today, how about with breakfast? Don’t mind if we do! This morning we were ready and loading up our chariot by 8am, we didn’t need to be on the road by any specific time, we had no grand appointments to keep, but rather than hanging around staring at the ceiling we opted to make our way down to the harbour and a lovely not-so-little restaurant we’d noticed on Saturday afternoon. Corryvrecken turned out to be a rather nice gastro-pub and did a really mean Scottish Breakfast of a fried egg and potato bread, serve of bacon, Lorne sausage, beans and black pudding for under £3.50, with a bottomless filter coffee – that didn’t look or taste like watered down bitumen – for an £1.15, so that was both of us fed and watered for under a tenner. Throw in the free parking we found, because it was before 9am, and we were feeling pretty chuffed with our start to the day. We didn’t need to worry about driving into any fog or mist this morning, if there had been any earlier in the morning it was certainly gone by the time we were heading out of town. We crossed over the bridge to the northwest of Oban and set off along the various lochs (Loch Linnhe for one) and into Appin and mountains of McDonald territory, and the ever picturesque Ballachulish, and no, we didn’t go up it, we weren’t that invigorated by the coffee! Pressing on through the area we crossed into Argyll again and followed the road through Glencoe – infamous for the massacre of McDonalds several hundred years ago – and paused for a moment to peer into the Glen before pushing onwards on the A82 through more of Glencoe, Glen Etive, passed the Black Corries and Rannoch Moor before dropping down into Loch Lomond and the Trossachs.

I haven’t been through the Trossachs before, despite the number of times I’ve been up into and back down from the Highlands, I’ve been up around the top past Aberdeen and in through Inverness, circling around via Oban and back down through Rest-and-be-Thankful, but as yet the famous scenery of the Trossachs had eluded me, well, no more! After the barren wastelands of the previous big Glens, it was hard to stop blinking from all the ‘green’ of these valleys and minor glens in this part of the country, and I can easily see why it’s so popular with those who like to hike/bike and families with young tikes – was that too far? Too much? It’s a lovely region, stone bridges that cross wee burns who’re guarded by birch and larch forests, like sentinels keeping watch as we mere humans come and go. Unfortunately we weren’t able to stop and capture any of this beauty with the camera due to the comedy of Murphy’s Law. All through the bigger Glens we had ample opportunity to stop and freeze-frame the moment, and as you can see we did, there was little traffic, or when there was there were equally plenty of opportunities to pull into a parking/passing bay and relieve the more speedily inclined travellers of the burden that is us tourists. Coming through the Trossachs however we had no such luck. Every picturesque moment was briefly – and by brief I mean .5 of a second – enjoyed before a glimpse in the rearview mirror showed 10 or more cars behind in equal rapture or rampage, all the parking/passing bays were filled to capacity with road maintenance crews, or other tourists who had left their cars and gone wandering. Not that I could blame them, but unfortunately that did tend to cause a few problems for everyone else – not to mention it’s actually not allowed, these are temporary spots meant to relieve traffic flow, not all day free parking – and given the number of trucks/lorries and horse-floats on the road you can well imagine the state of some of those drivers who were trying desperately to break the sound barrier. Kind of amusing, kind of.

Eventually we left the leafy green of the Trossachs and found ourselves in Bannockburn, like many towns in Scotland it’s seen its fair share of bloody battles, one in particular taking place in 1314 which would change the face of Scottish history. We came through here when I was 16, stopped into the Robert the Bruce memorial before heading off around the area, so today with a hint of nostalgia we sought to return and see if it had changed much. It has. Although the brass memorial statue is the same – though I could have sworn they’d moved it to allow for the placement of a new and bigger effort – they, whoever they are, have built a new cutting-edge technological wonder, also known as a Visitor Centre with interactive exhibition. When we visited Culloden a few years back I was treated to their cinematic display, and quite frankly if I hadn’t know what was coming via the display I would have needed a quick trip to the nearest bathroom and a change of underwear afterwards. Although very clever in its design it did tend to literally put the visitor between the two combatants during the exchange of fire, and somehow I don’t think too many visitors are going to get a lot out of the sensation of having cannon balls and musket fire whizzing past their heads. Bannockburn’s however was much more educational and interactive, toned down the actual violence – obviously to help appeal to families with younger children – and has explored more of the personal motivations behind the individuals there, not to mention the differing class portrayals of several key figures. ‘To be fair’ seemed to be the catchphrase of the experience, rather than only focusing on the victor’s or vanquished’s point of view, the creative team have built a display from both sides, they’ve designed and created an interactive screen-projection of these key figures who tell you about themselves, what they were doing and why they took part in the battle, there are on display most of the common weapons used and you can handle them to a degree – all the swords/spears/axes etc are fixed and cannot be removed for safety reasons, it is kid friendly after all – and they do of course have the cinematic experience and 3D animated introduction/explanation of the event as well. It’s not cheesy or overly ‘Hollywood’ – though there is an impressive gift shop – and given what we’d seen at Culloden I was expecting it to be much worse, instead I found myself thoroughly enjoying the exhibit and would be more than happy to take friends there as an afternoon’s outing.

For tonight we’re staying just out of Stirling, having driven close to 150 miles today, and with a similar distance to come tomorrow. Given we’re just of the M80 we’re expecting to hear/see a lot of the Bank Holiday traffic heading home, and on the off chance that we do, that’s okay, there’s a Costa’s just next door, so we’ll power on through tomorrow anyway!