Hillock, Mountain, and Moor.

The first impression I get of the Western Highlands, and also the most impressionable thing I forget each time I leave them is the vibrance of the greens in that place. You see the same color intensity of foliage in the cities here, of course, but less of it and certainly not of the same magnitude. And that really is the word to use when describing this particular strip of mountainous terrain in the west of Scotland, somehow amazingly bleak and mouth-wateringly lush both at the same time. Sheer magnitude. Magnificent. Majestic. Every time I cross the blasted, sucking pools of bracken and heather that is Rannoch Moor, winding up the A82 past the Three Sisters into the massive formations of rock and vegetation at Glencoe, it never fails to take my breath away for a moment. Can one ever tire of this place?



Clouds over Loch Lomond pier.

Evan noted that the moorland was very much a greener version of Mordor, and I had to agree. There was more than one time we expected to see pale, sylvan faces staring back at us from beneath the muck and fetid water, but nothing menacing appeared other than a collection of stunningly impressive caterpillars. A single tree, valiantly defying the endless, dead landscape was our target for some Dynamophone video footage, and we pulled off the road at one point to carefully tiptoe through the moor and try to get some filming done. If you think of intermittent lily pads made of spongy, brainy moss afloat on a vast field of quicksand, you might get a sense of how Rannoch Moor feels to walk across. More than once I found myself up to my calves in bog, and that was with a probing walking stick to assist. At one point I lost my left shoe for a spell, and I remember squeaking like a schoolgirl when my legs slipped out from under me and I landed arse up in the muck. But we made it to the tree undamaged, which spanned a hidden burn, bubbling and babbling through the vegetation from and to who-knows-where. Getting back was easier, sticking to the higher ground and making sure to place more stable feet upon the tufts of lilac heather that grows on hillside and deadland alike.

Two of the Three Sisters of Glencoe.

Evan offering some fresh glenside brambleberries.

A leisurely day spent in the Glencoe area is a genuine pleasure, with time to carefully eye-trace the ridgelines of every formation, remembering their Gaidhlig names and how those names were chosen. Beinn Fhada (Long Mountain), Gearr Aonach (Short Ridge), Aonach Dubh (Black Ridge). It was how locals would see the mountains, and how travelers would navigate, and now, after six years of repeated trips there, I’m only starting to get an inkling sense of shape and form, looking down on a satellite level if only in my mind. Maps help, of course. The Three Sisters are both sexy and demure, and one gets the sense that they stand guard at the southern entrance to Glencoe, an incredibly resonant, imposing, and grave place where a terrible massacre took place in the winter of 1692. My favorite patch of woodland in Scotland is An Torr, a primeval forest of entirely moss-green larch, oak, and fern. Whether in sun or rain, I always love looking for faces in knots and tracing the mazes of roots as they flute the dirt path winding through that copse. Soft, dead, orange and brown needles cover the ground, and striking red clumps of rowan berries burst forth from the ceaseless layers of green that An Torr insists upon. At the end of the path lies Signal Rock, where the government troops under Robert Campbell lit a fire to commence the slaughter of the hospitable and trusting MacDonalds of Glencoe. You can stand upon the massive boulder and look out over the valley, knowing that nearly forty innocents were murdered while they slept, and many more died from exposure after their homes were burnt. I have taken many people to this forest, and each time is a first for me.

The Pass of Glencoe and a delicate stretch of the River Coe.

Our dwelling high above Kinlochleven served well for two nights, and we enjoyed the luxuries of an old hunting lodge that has served as a hotel of sorts since 1905. Our room was named for Lord Belper, undoubtedly a part-time resident, just down the hall from Edward VII’s room, and thoughts of his visions out the window onto the Pap of Glencoe and Loch Leven filled my head before I nodded off to sleep at night. Evan and I took to coming back to the lodge early during our time there, sitting around a coal fire in the lounge whilst drying our moor-soaked shoes, playing gin rummy for blood and drinking beer, whisky, and tea until we were both ready to burst. Two days in these environs was good, revisiting old places I love and exploring them a bit more each time. What was familiar became more familiar, and in that exploration, a thousand avenues of unfamiliarity and adventure reared their heads.

The Mamore Lodge, perched high on the side of Am Bodach (The Old Man).

The cozy fireplace in the bar of our lodgings – scene of many bloodthirsty games of gin rummy.

View from the breakfast neuk onto Loch Leven and the Pap of Glencoe.

Evan explores the head of Loch Leven, mossy and calm.

I somehow keep missing my chance to explore An Coire Gabhail (The Hidden Valley), surreptitiously nestled between two of the Three Sisters. That hike is necessary, but we have still so much to do yet, so it shall have to wait for another time. The Road to the Isles lies ahead, and Skye looms just beyond the horizon. This will be a first for both of us, and we have it on good authority that we will not soon forget our experiences there.

Soft and colorful vegetation in the forest of An Torr.

One of the hundreds of caterpillars dancing in the grass and lichen of Rannoch Moor.

A proper spot of tea beside Loch Linnhe outside of Glencoe Village. We were just buzzed by a RAF Tornado minutes before, and also a bumblebee.

Head in the clouds, heart in the Highlands.

30 Responses to “Hillock, Mountain, and Moor.”

  1. fragiletender Says:
    October 9th, 2006 at 1:47 am

    You might like to know that those caterpillars are called "hairy oobits" in Scotland.

  2. FunkyPlaid Says:
    October 9th, 2006 at 7:28 am

    This is a good thing to know, so that I might better address them personally next time. Thank you!

  3. blu_matt Says:
    October 9th, 2006 at 3:24 am

    Have you taken flasher lessons since I last saw you? That last photo seems to indicate that you now have such a predilection, or at a least a new occupation! 😉
    P.S. Glad you're having a ball! 😀
    P.P.S. The feather in your cap suits you down to the ground.

  4. FunkyPlaid Says:
    October 9th, 2006 at 7:36 am

    Flasher lessons: you'll find out soon enough, matey.
    Back in town for the rest of the week, and that means I need an infusion of blue again. You around in the evenings?
    Regarding the feather, it must have blown off on the ferry to Oban. Picked up a new one right here in Edinburgh, and ever on the lookout for more. 🙂

  5. agntprovocateur Says:
    October 9th, 2006 at 8:15 am

    gorgeous photos as always! we're trying for a trip next year england, scotland, france, germany? i hope…
    the kidmonkey and i like the hairy oobits!

  6. FunkyPlaid Says:
    October 10th, 2006 at 12:34 am

    A trip a year is not too much to ask. Gotta build the world community and convince folk we're not all that bad…or convince them that we are!

  7. agntprovocateur Says:
    October 11th, 2006 at 9:32 pm

    i'm sure going to try, that is, if we don't end up in China next year. My dad wants to show off the happa grandkid. hah!
    we're not THAT bad. oh wait, i'm not an american! i was planning to apply for my citizenship this year except i've been too pissed off to do it.

  8. aureliasveil Says:
    October 9th, 2006 at 8:26 am

    It IS kinda like heaven. I am of Scottish roots meself and when I visited there, it was a bit of a homecoming. I thought, oh, yeah, these are my people. Wish I could have spent more time there, it was only a week and I was 7 months preggers so didn't really get to experience ceratin aspects of the place and people I might have as a non-pregnant visitor! I took some sweet photos that you might like. I'll try to organize and post something for you.
    Enjoy the rest of your time, and say hello to the hills for me…

  9. FunkyPlaid Says:
    October 10th, 2006 at 12:36 am

    Of course I'd love to see any pictures from and hear about the experiences you had while in Scotland.
    The hills are duly notified. Replies will be forthcoming shortly.

  10. bellacrow Says:
    October 9th, 2006 at 8:57 am

    it’s just gorgeous. I hope to be able to take my mom to Scotland someday.

  11. FunkyPlaid Says:
    October 9th, 2006 at 7:28 am

    Yes yes yes. Go go go.

  12. scotis_man Says:
    October 9th, 2006 at 9:23 am

    Both the pictures and your imagery make me yearn to be there.

  13. FunkyPlaid Says:
    October 10th, 2006 at 12:38 am

    Yes, Karsten. It's been too long, I'd say – you're overdue for a visit here. B is growing up fast; soon you'll be watching her chase the hairy oobits through the moorland!

  14. mxhaunted Says:
    October 9th, 2006 at 9:38 am

    Well, that’s wetted my appetite for my visit to the highlands. Especially Glen Coe. Looks oh sooo… relaxing.

    I haven’t had a chance to really catch up with you let. The weekend I was meant to come out for a drink I was in the hold of a really stinky cold. I didn’t want to spread it around. :/

  15. FunkyPlaid Says:
    October 9th, 2006 at 7:32 am

    I'm still in town until this weekend, and I hope we'll get a chance to have a few pints. I should be pub-bound as many nights this week as I can, and for sure on Friday. You around?

  16. kid_lit_fan Says:
    October 9th, 2006 at 11:18 am

    My favorite pic is the one with you in it. You look so at-home.

  17. FunkyPlaid Says:
    October 10th, 2006 at 12:39 am

    This is delightful to hear. Strangely enough, I had a brief dream with you in it the other night while here. I mean, how long has it been since we've seen each other?

  18. eskimolimon Says:
    October 9th, 2006 at 12:09 pm

    So beautiful (not you: don't push your luck). Is there anywhere with scenery so inspiring? I find it is almost better on grey days, this cloudy, muddy, dun and green palette.

  19. FunkyPlaid Says:
    October 10th, 2006 at 12:42 am

    Oh, don't be demure with me. 🙂
    You're right – there is unfathomable drama in the landscape here. 'Inspiring' is the perfect word, and there is a visceral fulfillment that comes along with a trip and a view.

  20. podle Says:
    October 9th, 2006 at 3:46 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing all of this. I love your long and detailed travel posts that let me feel a little bit as if I am sharing your travels. That picture of you looks as if it should be posted in a lodge somewhere or in a small, odd museum. Sort of timeless.
    Hairy oobits are absolutely one of my new favorite things.

  21. FunkyPlaid Says:
    October 10th, 2006 at 12:45 am

    I can try to bring you one back, but I can't promise it will be structurally intact by the time we return to the Bay Area.
    Thank you for saying this. You are totally with me, and one day I hope to toodle around here with you and John. I think we'd make very good traveling companions.

  22. podle Says:
    October 10th, 2006 at 8:00 am

    We would make good traveling companions! It would be great! (not that I'm excited about the prospect at all, nooooooo)
    I can absolutely see John stalking across the moors with the sort of worried but happy expression on his face.
    You should know that I just spent a full minute just saying hairy oobit to my best friend Sandra and giggling hysterically. She's going to post it as a special on the board at the inn at the Casa De Fruta faire (hairy oobit, et crouton) and has promised to take a picture.
    I'm also loving that you get to have this time being in a place you so clearly love with such good friends.

  23. velvetdahlia Says:
    October 10th, 2006 at 12:45 am

    Amazing Darren! It makes my heart happy to see these! I'm hoping on a plane, so can't write much– but thank you for this reminder of home as I leave…

  24. FunkyPlaid Says:
    October 10th, 2006 at 12:47 am

    Glad you love it, Ally. More to come, and then it's your turn as I head that way and you return this way.
    Hell, I'm dizzy even trying to get it straight! 🙂

  25. hannah_henchman Says:
    October 10th, 2006 at 8:19 am

    Wow…(That wow applies both to this post and the latter one). Have I ever mentioned that you have quite a bit of talent with a camera? Wonderful photos–I almost feel like I'm tramping along with you.
    Also good to see you looking so relaxed and generally peaceful–I know you needed it! 🙂

  26. FunkyPlaid Says:
    October 10th, 2006 at 5:17 pm

    Hey, thanks for the compliment. I really have no patience with the camera, and the one I've been using isn't anything special, but I'm glad it gets the point across.
    Thanks again for your care and support; you're right – the trip has been good for me.

  27. Anonymous Says:
    October 15th, 2006 at 11:15 am

    Once and always, thank you for posting all the online photos!! It's been so many years since I've seen a "fuzzy bear" caterpillar — they were everywhere when I was a kid — that I can't even remember which butterflies they make. The Scottish name made me think of an old Bill Cosby routine about Noah, which featured the repeated line (from the bemused boatbuilder), "*What's a cubit*??" Now, thanks to you, we know "what's an oobit"! 🙂
    I'm so glad to know you're enjoying Scotland!!

  28. FunkyPlaid Says:
    October 15th, 2006 at 12:14 pm

    Hi Kirsty! Actually, it was <lj user="fragiletender"> who revealed the names of the little eyebrow worms. I was as in the dark as you. 🙂
    Thanks, as always, for reading along and commenting throughout. Hope you're doing well.

  29. gf_ripper Says:
    October 17th, 2006 at 2:58 pm

    Beautiful Coutnry
    It looks like you are standing on a stone tire. are you? Wow what a beautiful country

  30. FunkyPlaid Says:
    October 18th, 2006 at 9:36 am

    Re: Beautiful Coutnry
    Yes, that's a two-thousand year-old lorry tire. S'been there since pre-history. We were lucky to have found it.

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