Norm’s Overseas Odyssey 2005 – 2006 Episode Thirty-seven

By popular (?) demand, brief details of what we have partaken each day will be included in a new “Foodie News” section. If there appears to be a reduction in the number of courses at dinner, and an increase in the number of salads, put that down to a marked improvement in the eating habits of one of the partners involved!

Thursday 15th June 2006

Today we reluctantly left Mackays Rooms and Restaurant in Durness. After a breakfast that included a house specialty – porridge with a wee touch of whisky – we headed south. Unlikely as it may sound, the porridge was absolutely delicious – being not unlike a crème brulée in that it had been topped with a combination of whisky and brown sugar which was then caramelised. Wow! Norm added his usual crispy bacon and poached egg on brown toast with lashings of Highland butter to keep his strength up for the drive ahead.

Our route took us down the A838 through magnificent scenery – Highland mountains, some of which still had drifts of snow on their summits, and the expanses of Lochs More and Shin.
We took a coffee break at the excellent visitors’ centre at the Falls of Shin.
The last time Norm was there, in March, it was surrounded by deep snow. Today it was rich with new green foliage and the falls were fuller than they had been then. October and November are the prime times for salmon leaping, but we were surprised and delighted to witness at least three salmon making the attempt. It was an experience that will long remain with us even if our attempts to capture this on film were regrettably unsuccessful.

Falls of Shin, Lairg, Sutherland
15 June 2006
Falls of Shin, Lairg, Sutherland
15 June 2006

Foodie news: Back in Inverness and the Lochardil, Norm dined on grilled sole with toasted almond, new and roast potatoes, green beans, diced neaps and carrots, whilst Carol enjoyed a grilled tuna steak with olive oil and lime dressing plus a fresh green salad. We shared a rather scrummy sticky-toffee pudding to round out the meal. Yum!!

Friday 16th June 2006

An early morning start – no breakfast – for the two hour drive to Fort William in order to be in time to book seats on the Jacobite Steam Train. We had hoped that we might be able go today. However, with very low cloud we’d be unlikely to see much of the scenery for which the rail trip is famous. This being the case, we booked for Monday next. The service doesn’t run on Saturdays or Sundays. All of this has meant a change to our very loose schedule resulting in an extra night in Inverness and a booking for Sunday and Monday nights in Fort William.

For the foodies, two cups of hot chocolate (each), a bacon butty for Norm and fresh raspberries and ice cream for Carol sustained us for the next step of our journey.

Returning to Inverness, we stopped at the world famous Commando Memorial which stands high above Spean Bridge on a magnificent hilltop site overlooking Ben Nevis. The three gigantic bronze figures stand proud in battledress, woollen caps and climbing boots looking across the Great Glen. The 17 foot high Memorial was designed by Scott Sutherland from the Dundee College of Art in 1949, and unveiled by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother in 1952.
Hundreds of veteran Commandos make the annual pilgrimage to attend the Service of Remembrance and Wreath Laying held at the Memorial in November. A very moving sight!

Commandos Memorial, Lochaber
16 June 2006

Four miles south of Invergarry, we came upon the Bridge of Oich. Designed by James Dredge in 1854, this splendid suspension bridge was built using a sophisticated patented design of double cantilevered chain construction with massive granite pylon arches at either end. Despite these technicalities, it really is most attractive.
Our quiet admiration of the bridge was shattered by two very low-flying Harrier jets which had zeroed in on us as likely targets. Alas, the surprise of their attack was such that the photographic opportunity it offered was over before they had disappeared down Loch Lochy.

Bridge of Oich, Aberchalder
16 June 2006

Passing through Fort Augustus we were halted by the movement of a single-masted yacht through the swing bridge on the Caledonian Canal. We subsequently made a brief stop to view the locks.

Foodie news: It was a bit different tonight. Norm ordered smoked haddock which came out thickly battered, with chips and mushy peas. Although he ate it – but shouldn’t have – it was nothing more or less than a disaster!!
Carol’s cold cuts and salad (with two servings of balsamic vinegar, one in a delicate jug, the other in a gravy boat) was really quite good. The ham portion of Carol’s cold cuts was passed to Norm to assist in balancing the nutritional value of his meal. The Pinot Grigio, however, was excellent!

Saturday 17th June 2006

Being a wet and miserable day, it seemed to be an ideal one for such mundane things as shopping, mailing and, for Norm, a well-overdue visit to the barber!
Foodie news: Healthy food tonight. We both had the most succulent seared salmon accompanied by a large side salad, and finished with a platter of Scottish cheeses – and, of course, the obligatory Pinot Grigio.

Sunday 18th June 2006

We awoke to sunshine and 23° – and, after some shopping in Inverness, headed off to Fort William. The clouds rolled in, the temperature dropped and the rain progressed from a fine drizzle to steady heavy downpour!!

Nonetheless, we braved the elements to take the 30 minute return trip on the Nevis Range Mountain Gondola system. This, the only such system in Britain, carries visitors from the car park 100 metres above sea level 650 metres up the mountain of Aonach Mor, which at a height of 1221 metres is Scotland’s eighth highest mountain.
Any hope we had of obtaining stunning photographs was dashed by a complete “cloud-out” half-way up the mountain. In light of this, rather than stay at the top, we continued back down to the Nevis Range Mountain Centre. For all that, it was an enjoyable experience – and one we’d be pleased to repeat under more favourable weather conditions.

We also paid a brief visit to what was left of Inverlochy Castle. All that remains were the foundations and walls of what must once have been a substantial fortress.

Inverlochy Castle, near Fort William – Entry
18 June 2006

The weather continuing unpleasant, we opted to check in to the “Imperial Hotel”, our base for the next two nights, somewhat earlier than would otherwise be the case.

Foodie news: For reasons we need not go into here, we chose the Alexandra Hotel restaurant in preference to the Imperial – and weren’t we glad we did. Carol had dressed Mallaig crab with salad, Norm had masses of Arsaig mussels with garlic and white wine cream sauce and crusty bread. Absolutely scrumptious! Accompanying wine – Pinot Grigio, of course.

Monday 19th June 2006

This morning we boarded our pre-booked trip on the Jacobite Steam Train to Mallaig. The trip from Fort William, with a short stop at Glenfinnan for morning tea, takes approximately two hours. It has to be said that, the weather was such that our lunch at Mallaig will remain longer in our memories than the trip itself. That has nothing to do with the scenery, but rather our inability to see sufficient of it for our enjoyment under the weather conditions that prevailed.

Jacobite Steam Train at Glenfinnan
19 June 2006
Steps below Glenfinnan Station
19 June 2006

For the foodies, that memorable lunch, comprised for Carol, oven-baked haddock and green salad and for Norm, local langoustines and salad. How could we adequately describe a meal that probably outshone last night’s? Having acquired a taste for Highland seafood, we indulged ourselves again this evening at the Alexandra Hotel, but both settled for a main dish only of steamed fillet of salmon, peedie new potatoes and salad!! Life’s tough in the Highlands!!

Tuesday 20th June 2006

Today we left Fort William under lowering skies towards Stirling. We had the choice of two routes, but decided on taking that which enabled us to explore the “Hermitage” walk. Norm had been there before, loved it, and thought that Carol would feel the same – and she did.
It was better the second time around for Norm, first because of Carol’s appreciation of its natural beauty and, secondly, the changes the new season had wrought since Norm’s previous visit. We spent some time there trying to capture on film the beauty of our surroundings. Some examples follow:

Hermitage Walk, Dunkeld, Perthshire
20 June 2006
Hermitage Walk, Dunkeld, Perthshire
20 June 2006

And there are more:

Photos: Our visit to and walk at “The Hermitage”, Dunkeld, Perthshire – 20th June 2006

Our accommodation in Stirling was at the “Park Lodge Hotel” – a most attractive ivy-clad Georgian country house set in a leafy and quiet residential street close to the centre of the city.

Foodie news: For entrée Norm had venison terrine with onion marmalade and Carol had thinly sliced avocado set on a bed of crisp salad leaves and cherry tomatoes but without the egg and the olives shown on the menu!!
We both had grilled halibut with a red pepper and white wine cream sauce, Carol’s with salad and Norm’s with new potatoes, snow peas, mushrooms and corn. This was followed by a shared cheese platter which rounded out an excellent meal served in an informal but gracious setting.