Thursday, August 4th–Fort William, Lochaber/Highlands & Islands

Back to the phone store one last time; a Scottish walking stick; Duncansurgh Mackintosh parish church; through the town center and out the other side back towards where I stayed last time; St Mary's Catholic church; lunch at the Hot Roast Company Café; local buskers; dinner at the Crannog; Lochaber Schools Pipe Band; a night cap in the hotel's bar

Best Western Imperial

Black Toyota Rav4



Today was another quiet day and an early evening.

It was grey and cloudy and, to me at least, rather chilly for most of today with the temperature never getting much past the lower 60s Fahrenheit. That, combined with my not wanting to try and find a parking space in the hotel's very small car park if I drove anywhere, made me decide to save going to the Glen Nevis gondola until tomorrow when I only have to drive as far as Mallaig from here. According to Google Maps, the gondola is a 15 minute drive from here, then from the gondola to my hotel in Mallaig is just over an hour. From hotel to hotel would be only 45 minutes, since I wouldn't have to retrace the trip from the hotel out to the gondola.

I realized today that some of the reasons I like visiting Fort William are very similar to why I love going up to St Augustine back home. Although there is quite a bit more to do in the area surrounding St Augustine, such as a couple of golf courses and a movie theater or two and the nearby beach suburb, the historic paved areas in Fort William and in St Augustine are very similar in size and they're not that different in population. St Augustine had 13,679 at the last census and Fort William had 10,459. Fort William gets a lot of its appeal for people who are a lot fitter than I am and a lot more athletic because of its proximity to hiking and skiing areas. It is also at one end of the West Highland Way, which runs for 96 miles from Glasgow to here. Although a surprising number of people do the whole walk, many simply do parts of it, kind of like the way my family would cross country ski on parts of much longer trails and leave cars at each end of our projected trek.

Mallaig is even smaller, with comparatively less to do there, and gets most of its appeal from being one of the hubs to the Inner Hebrides, with a ferry to the Isle of Skye directly from there and being not far away from the only vehicle bridge to the Isle. I haven't been able to find anyone running tours of Skye from Mallaig, and in fact was told at the local tourist office here that there aren't any, so this morning before I went wandering off I booked a return ticket to and from Skye on the Calmac ferry for this Sunday.

Yesterday afternoon and today were much like how I spend my usual day in St Augustine–go for a wander around sometime about lunch time and try and find somewhere I haven't eaten yet that looks good for lunch and possibly dinner and maybe a pint, come back to the hotel and relax for a couple of hours, then wander around again about dinner time, and if I'm feeling unusually ambitious or restless possibly go out again for a pint later in the evening.

This morning I went back to the phone store where I was supposed to be able to pick up the two 128 GB USB flash drives that were going to be ordered for me. They hadn't come in, but he had a 64 GB drive and a 64 GB memory card, each of which were large enough to back up all the pictures I took last week.

I was still thinking about possibly going to the Glen Nevis visitors centre then, not having quite made up my mind that I would go tomorrow on the way to Mallaig instead of today, so I kind of hung out around in the town center checking the weather forecast on my home iPhone, turning on roaming only long enough to do so, then turning it off again immediately after.

I then decided I'd just take a bit of a walk before lunch, but I did make one other stop in the town center before doing so. After I went to London last year and bought three new walking sticks/canes, which gave me a different usable one for every day of the week (I have two that aren't as usable as the others due to the handle on one making my hand hurt, while the other is too rustic and just crooked enough to actually be a bit disconcerting to use) that I wouldn't buy any more of them–unless of course it was somehow artistic or carved or something like that. I had seen one with very nice spiral carving along the shaft earlier at one of the souvenir shops and since it was still there and not expensive (25 GBP) I bought it.

Until I fly out of Edinburgh for London, I'm pretty much traveling from place to place by car so I don't have to do as tight a packing job until then as I had to do when flying out of Dublin for Glasgow. That means, for instance, that I don't have to try and squeeze my dirty laundry bag back into one of my suitcases and can just put all my electronics (cables, adapters, plug in clocks, charger for my camera's battery etc) in their own bag. Yes, I'll need to ship one of the canes I now have back home before I leave Edinburgh but that should be no problem (I hope there isn't a holiday that week).

When I opened the back door of the car to put in the cane I was using after I bought the new one, I was delighted to see my Irish Android smart phone which I'd dropped in the car after I got here and couldn't find. It was quite easy to see in what daylight there was today.

I walked from the hotel back through the town center and was very pleased that the church right on the lovely park at the end of the pedestrian area, the Duncansurgh Mackintosh parish church, was open then and went in. I'm pretty sure I hadn't been able to do so when I was here last, because I think I'd have remembered such a lovely place.

I then continued out the other side of the town center, up to where the B&B I stayed in when I was here five years ago is, right across the street and up the hill from an old graveyard. The church right below the B&B, St Mary's Catholic church, was also open and I went in there as well. Once again I'm pretty sure I didn't go into it the last time I was here because I think I'd have remembered it also.

I wandered back into the town center, ready for lunch which I wanted to eat earlier than I've been doing since I had a dinner reservation at the Crannog at 6 PM. I'd passed a small place called the Hot Roast Company Café (they don't seem to have a web page) several times (well, you know, every time I've been up and down the town center). Although they do have a different breakfast menu, it seems what they're best known for is their very basic lunch menu, which focuses on some of their three different roast meats (beef, turkey, or pork) between a freshly made, soft bun, about as basic as a sandwich can get. I had the special with roast beef, with a very nice cup of potato and leek soup (this time not creamed but made with chunks of each in a very good broth) along with some quite good cole slaw.

The weather was OK then, if a little chilly for me since the sun hadn't broken through the clouds much at all. There were some buskers out–one guy who seemed to be playing and singing Simon & Garfunkel songs at the time; a fairly young kid who played the bagpipes quite well and must have started on them very young because he said he'd been playing for six years when I asked him; and a little further down the lane but still well within earshot of the other kid was a much younger kid tootling around on his practice chanter.

After lunch I came back here to my hotel room for the rest of the afternoon, and just hung out and relaxed while backing up the pictures I'd taken last week and had already uploaded to my laptop before I left Dublin.

I got to the Crannog a little early for my 6:00 PM reservation and was given a table where I could look out one of the windows at the very lovely view of the mountains/hills across the loch. I have to admit that when I was here five years ago and took the boat trip on Loch Linnhe from but didn't eat there, I might not have known then what a crannog is. It might not have been until I started watching "Time Team", the BBC archaeology show that ran for 20 years but I didn't find until last year when I started looking for videos about London I could stream, that I learned that a crannog is a small artificial island, usually fortified and connected to land by a short causeway. I've actually seen reconstructions of crannogs at the Heritage Parks I visited in Ireland on this trip.

Dinner was very good. I had some tasty and well prepared fish cakes (well, more like balls than flat cakes) and some very good scallops with an equally good slice of black pudding and some of the best roast pork I've ever had–not too dry or stringy.

By then it was time to head on back to the town center for the performance of the schools' pipe band. While I had been eating I had been trying to figure out what the weather was doing. It hadn't been raining when I went to the restaurant, but while I was inside looking out the windows I couldn't decide if it was or wasn't raining. When I got back outside it was the very fine drizzle that's like a mist but it actually stopped before I got to the square where the band was going to perform and before they came out.

The band did the same length set and much the same tunes as they did Tuesday night, but it was still a pleasure to hear them. Afterwards I went up to their piping instructor who is the same woman who'd been with them when I was here last (she's been with the group for seventeen years now). I told her I'd remembered with great pleasure hearing them when I was here five years ago and that I thought then and still think now that she does an excellent job with the kids. If you only listened to them and couldn't see them or knew how young they all are you can't tell it's only a bunch of kids, that they're as good as any of the youth and many of the adult pipe bands I used to hear back home.

After I got back to the hotel but before coming back up here to my room I finally went into the hotel's small but very charming bar for a drink. There were several families there having dinner. I had a coffee with some cream and brandy which was very nice.

As I said earlier, it won't take me very long to drive from here to Mallaig, even if I go to ride the Glen Nevis gondola first. I don't want to be in Mallaig too early since I might not be able to check in so going to the gondola first is a good idea. I still want to have one last breakfast here in the hotel first (probably porridge and scrambled eggs again). Since I want to avoid having to climb the stairs between my room and the ground floor as much as possible I need to have packed before I go down to breakfast. I can take my smaller stuff down in one trip and leave my two heavier bags up here for someone to bring down for me.

It's now about 11:30 PM and I think I'll close this down for the night.

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