Chapter 15 Scotland
The Kinny family had come originally from Scotland, and Dad had talked a lot about going one day to climb the Cuillins on the Isle of Skye, so one of the highlights of our year in Britain, was our week in Scotland in June.
"This time let's go through the Dartford Tunnel," said Peter. "It always takes hours to get through London and I'm sick of it."
I agreed that it was worth a try, although only the night before I had been talking to Alan who believed that straight through was the lesser of two evils. We had been talking at a noisy 'wine and cheese' party. He had recently returned from a golf tournament in Scotland. His image travelled with me as we circumnavigated London... blue eyes, fair wavy hair, shy, even reticent manner, a ready appreciation of my friendliness, the warmth and animation as the evening progressed, the promise of further contact on my return.
He was right. Our route did not reduce the time required to reach the Motorway. Three hours later we set our course for Berwick and our minds to endure the long tedious hours to the border.
"Be thinking about what you want to see. Look at the tourist map and decide on what seems interesting."
"Let's go to this Preston Mill," suggested David. "It's an old water mill and they have been getting it in working order again. I'd like to see how water can grind grain."
With Peter's competent navigation, we found the picturesque mill and oast house beside a brook, in a field behind a small village. Jacqueline fed the ducks and geese while the boys examined the still solid but rough brick work, and speculated about the water wheel outside the mill. When the caretaker arrived at two o'clock, he opened the gate, which allowed the water to flow past the huge wheel, which slowly slowly began to turn.
Within the mill, the caretaker engaged the machinery and the maze of cogs and pulleys creaked into action. The heavy grindstone turned and various husking and sorting devices began to agitate, with mighty vibrations.
"What happens if you pull this," asked David, fascinated by all things mechanical.
"That works the conveyor belt that brings the oats over here," explained our patient guide, who was obviously as attached to his mill as if he had invented it.
Later in the afternoon we entered Edinburgh and were drawn toward the castle overlooking the heart of the city; standing above the famous Royal Mile, Princes Street with shops and business houses on one side and a large park on the other, which ends at the foot of the cliff on which the castle stands. From the castle walls we observed with surprise, the high Gothic monument to Scott, somewhat incongruous to us. The castle's origins are very ancient. Later a fort was built by Edwin, from whom the city takes its name. The oldest building still standing within the walls is St Margaret's chapel (eleventh century).
Viaduct somewhere in Scotland
It was overcast but fine as we explored the walls, canons, chapels and museums. Suddenly great spots of rain began to fall and then it was coming down like a tropical storm, as we raced through the gates, across the cobbled square (the venue for the Tattoo) and down the hill toward the van. Completely saturated we found temporary shelter in a souvenir shop, but felt guilty about dripping everywhere without any intention of buying, so as soon as we had regained our breaths we plunged again into the street. Already the gutters were beginning to overflow, as they were not intended to cope with this sort of freak downpour, and the traffic was in chaos.
"We can't sit in the van like this or we'll all catch colds. I'd better drive on to heat up the van."
"It sounds like a million ants with wooden legs stamping on the roof," said Jacqueline.
As I was quite ignorant of where I was going and unable to read any direction signs, we were lucky to find ourselves finally on the northern side of Edinburgh. The rain stopped suddenly, the evening sky cleared. The children had changed into dry clothes; I was beginning to steam like a laundry in my still wet ones!
"Sure by Tummel and Loch Rannoch and Lochaber I will go
By heather tracks wi' heaven in their wiles,"
I sang as we headed for the centre of Scotland, and Pitlochry where a dam for hydro electricity had been built. Damming Loch Tummel would have prevented the normal migration of the fish upstream to spawn, and so a 'fish ladder' has been built next to the weir, a series of tanks, which the fish can negotiate. Further down, on the Tummel River, is the delightful village of Kinloch Rannoch; stone houses at the eastern end of Loch Rannoch, set amid green forests and spectacular mountains.
The country changed dramatically to wild moors where Alan Breck and David Balfour escaped from the dragoons in Stevenson's 'Kidnapped'; a stretch of bog and peatland, mingled with colourful heather and moss.
We were heading for Culloden Moor where Bonnie Prince Charley's hopes were shattered in 1746. The field is a stark reminder of the forlorn hopes of the Jacobites. We began to realize how much the Scots venerate the Young Pretender and how many places are haunted by his memory.
In the camping ground at Inverness, on the beautiful Ness River (which flows into Loch Ness) we met a family from New Zealand who recognized me from the meeting of the Interchange Teachers. Even casual acquaintances are always greeted warmly; experiences and plans are exchanged. I was especially glad of some adult company.
"I am wondering about going north from here or going straight over to the west coast, have you decided?"
"We're by-passing the north," they said. "It's a long way and less scenic than the west."
The man from the AA advised, "All the attractions are in the west. The north is bleak, and people don't think it is worth the effort if time is limited. The roads are very poor and narrow, and travelling is very slow. You could expect a long delay if you break down."
"I want to go to John O' Groats," said Peter."Because we've been to Land's End, and all the big races here go from Land's End to John O' Groats."
We turned north.
Not far along the road was a young couple with Australian and New Zealand flags on their packs. In this inhospitable country it was unthinkable to drive past fellow Antipodeans.
"Where are you going?" I asked as they settled into the van.
"We're going to the Shetland Islands we hope. If you could take us to Wick, we have heard that there is a ship across from there."
"That's on the way to John O' Groats, is it?"
"Yes. The usual way is by plane, but we can't afford that, so we may have to persuade some fishing boat or someone to take us."
"I hope you're not in a hurry?"
"No. But people tell us we're a bit optimistic."
"Yes, the same with me," I said. "They told me the north is practically uninhabited, but here we are. I think it is rather grand. And I'm fascinated by the stone houses and stone fences everywhere."
"Certainly no shortage of stones. I wonder where they all came from."
"I believe they were deposited all over the north during the Ice Age. The crofters cleared their fields and collected their building materials at the same time."
"There's one house with the roof off," noticed the children.
"Yes, during the 1800s the peasants were turned off their holdings by the landlords, and their homes ruined so that they had to move on. A lot of them ended up in Australia."
At Wick the young couple enquired about transport at the wharves, but they were told that only one boat from there would go in about a month, when they had repaired it. "Try Thurso. Further on."
At John O' Groats we inspected the souvenir shop and sent some postcards from the diminutive post office. The only other building was a strange eight-sided house said to have been built by a man with eight sons who could not agree with each other.
Nearby Dunnet Head with a small lighthouse is the most northerly point. The Queen Mother has a castle in this almost uninhabited region. And then we came to Thurso where our friends departed, still determined.
Did they ever reach Shetland?
Peter and David were most disappointed to find that the atomic power station was not open. It seemed such an extraordinary thing, so far from anywhere. The road, not exactly a highway up until now, became more and more deserted. It wound round the hills and into the valleys, wide enough for one car only, except at the regular passing places. If the driver looked well ahead and noticed an approaching vehicle, he pulled into an area and waited, rather than risk having to back up. Occasionally after waiting for a while, one realized that the other driver, out of sight around a bend or over a crest, had also pulled into a passing place... and then there was a dilemma!
Late in the afternoon we came to the Kyle of Tongue, a handful of houses and a couple of shops (milk, we were told would come in at two o'clock the next afternoon) and a miniature camping area perched precariously above the narrow inlet. It was a misty evening, but still daylight in this region at ten o'clock. Ben Loyal, at the head of the Kyle, stood out clearly, lit by the late evening sun, shining through the clouds. It was entrancing, and almost unchanged since the glacial days, apart from the gradual weathering of those jagged rocks. Protected by the surrounding mountains, the water lay peaceful, the colours as soft as a watercolour painting.
Sitting in our van, eating our evening meal, we gazed over the Kyle of Tongue, from the eagle's nest of a campsite and knew why we had made the long journey so far north.
On the way down the west coast, the road follows around many deep inlets, over which there are no bridges. Other inlets are crossed by small ferries. Because it was so unusual to see more than one or two cars together, we realized when we saw several cars approaching, that we must be near a ferry. One of these ferries consisted of a platform to hold five small cars, which drove on in the normal fashion. To our amazement, two men then turned the platform with nothing but muscle power. The ferry backed out, turned and proceeded across the inlet. On the other side the cars could drive off instead of having to reverse, and no doubt the ferrymen developed mighty muscles.
The only town of any size for hundreds of miles is the beautiful resort of Ullapool, a fishing town on Loch Broom, colourful and a welcome sign of civilization. The worst was past. In case of breakdown we could now expect help within twenty-four hours. Here we had our first experience of Portaloos... a van which could be towed to places where the need was most urgent. This one was a little unstable and rocked every time someone entered from either side... right for gents, left for ladies.
As it was a fishing village, with rows of fishing boats moored in the Loch and the fishermen and boys lining the wharves, we decided to look for fish n chips for dinner. This was a luxury we had not often encountered. Ullapool, we found, was not the place for Australian style fish-n-chips. We learnt our lesson upon being given the bill.
"I hope it doesn't cost too much to get to the Isle of Skye. We're getting rather short of money."
"You are always talking about Skye. When will we get there?"
"Tomorrow, I expect. We can camp on the mainland and be ready to find out how to get there first thing in the morning."
A cuckoo woke us early next day, and we looked around for milk for breakfast, but could find no shops open at that hour. The ferry was easy to locate and the island blue and beautiful just across the Lochalsh. This was it... my dream.
"Look at the ruins of that castle on the island. It is like a tooth with the roots sticking up in the air."
Castle Maol, close to the pier, is said to be the site from which a Norwegian princess extracted toll from passing ships, by stretching a chain across the narrow Kyle, and a stone may be found with a deep indentation to prove it.
"Did people ever live here?" Jacqueline asked.
"Yes, but it is hard to imagine. They wouldn't have built anything like this without reason."
"When you look at the well preserved castles it is easy to imagine knights in armour and things in them," observed Peter.
This was true. In some castles it is possible to step back in history and picture yourself in that period of time. With castles like Maol, where the stones are slowly wearing away, becoming loose, falling to the grassy slopes below, one is much more aware of the many years that have passed since it was peopled, since the days when the Hebrides were dominated by Norsemen.
On Skye our priority was to find some milk. Eventually we ate breakfast by a quiet beach, with a view of other islands across the water. Behind us rose the most challenging and treacherous peaks in Britain, the Cuillins. Does the name come from Cuchullin, an ancient hero, or the Celtic word meaning useless for grazing? Whatever the origin, the jagged silhouette dominates the island and can be seen from many directions. The mountains called to us but we could not answer, so had to content ourselves with driving to the tiny village of Glenbrittle, on an inlet near their foot, and then around the coastline to a beach and camping area, the point from which many walkers and climbers set out. The Cuillins rise straight from the sea and in the northern light are touched with some of the magic of this island long associated with fairies and the second site.
In Dunvegan Castle we were again reminded of Bonnie Prince Charley, who sheltered here after Culloden. Because of this, nearly every house on the island was destroyed, boats sunk and animals slaughtered.
Once, Dunvegan could be entered only by a small gateway from the sea; now there is a moat and a bridge. Inside, as well as the furniture still used by the McLeods when in residence, there is a museum of relics, including a lock of Bonnie Prince Charley's precious hair.
In 1846 Skye became the property of an Edinburgh man who turned over ninety families from their homes to make way for sheep. Eventually there was an uprising, which led to the Crofter's Holding Act, which protected the tenants. There are very few old cottages left. The one we saw had an old distillery hidden among rocks behind it. The stone cottage was furnished in the original style and a peat fire burned on the dirt floor in the middle of the main room.
Skye was romantic, not yet spoiled by tourism. I decided that if I could choose the site of a second honeymoon (had Alan given me a thought during this week?) it would be within view of the far Cuillins.
Tea that night was eaten by the shores of Loch Ness, the children eagerly scanning the tranquil waters for signs of any monsters, without success. In the morning there was still no disturbance... it was far too peaceful and sunny, so we moved on to Fort William, once an outpost, and still the only sizable town in the district. Its main attractions are Ben Nevis, rising over 4000 feet behind it, and a secret portrait of BPC painted on a tray. When a highly reflective cylinder is placed on a particular spot, the face becomes discernible, reflected in the cylinder, from the otherwise meaningless splotch of colours. His adorers would use this during their clandestine meetings to arouse feelings, and raise money for their cause. Over two hundred years later he is still revered as a hero, and advantage taken of him as a lucrative tourist attraction.
Late in the afternoon we came to the delightful town of Dumfries, celebrated as the last resting-place of Bobbie Burns, but more important to me as the birthplace of William Kinny in the year 1824.
"This is where my great grandfather was born a hundred and fifty years ago," I told the children.
"Why did he leave? It's such a nice place. I like the little farms all round," said Jacqueline.
"It's hard to imagine really. I don't know much about him except that he was a shipbuilder on the Clyde River and later went to Coraki on the north coast of NSW where he married Jane Yabsley from Plymouth. There were terrible famines here about the time he left, and many people were turned out of their homes by the landowners, who became sheep farmers. He was luckier than the crofters who kept a cow and grew potatoes. I think he may have heard tales of adventure and opportunity in Australia, and decided to see for himself."
"Did they mostly go for the adventure or because they had to get out?" asked David.
"I think they were very attached to their own country in those days. It took a mighty long time to come back if they got home sick; that is if they had the money of course, so they mostly stayed home. They weren't even used to going far from their own villages."
"What happened then when he got to Australia?"
"At that time Coraki was just a tiny place along the Richmond River, about thirty miles from Ballina. The most important man there was William Yabsley."
"You told us about him when we went to Plymouth."
"Well his eldest daughter, Jane married William Kinny. They had thirteen children, my grandfather, and his brother were the only boys."
"What was your grandfather's name?"
"He was William too. William Henry Charles, and my dad is Harold William."
"And Uncle Bill is really William?"
"Yes, Bill is short for William, and Roderick's second name is William."
One of the reasons for coming to Europe was to show them places and spectacles, which would help them to understand history and geography. My own family's part was of course of vital interest to us. Speculation and fact helped to fill the hours of our homeward journey.