The Timberbush-Tours pickup point is a most painful uphill trek up to the very top of the Royal Mile, and I nearly boarded the wrong bus in error after that horrendous walk.
We started the trip……with The Famous Grouse’s Finest Scotch whisky. All 8 passengers in the 16-seater minivan each received a small bottle of whisky, is now sits next to me as a form of insurance against cold winter nights.
“This is what we give our children in the morning!” announced Marty, the guide for the day with Timberbush Tours. Clad in a kilt, a sweater and a green windbreaker, he cut a strange figure with his flowing locks, glasses, and sharp teeth.
“Anyone did any tours of Scotland? Loch Ness tours? Loch Ness…oooch that’s rubbish,” he scoffed. “Are you excited? Me too! I’ve never driven a bus before,” he added as an afternote.
Like all drivers that I have come to observe, he smokes, had rather bad teeth, and believes that haggis and whisky were made for each other. The Oban and the West Highlands tour was predictably less popular than the iconic Loch Ness weekend ones, and with the arrival of winter, nature’s colours have never looked more astoundingly vivid.
Driving out of Edinburgh, Marty passed Murrayfield stadium, giving a scathing commentary on Scottish sport.
“The largest stadium in Scotland. 76,000 Scots regularly come here to watch rugby and humiliate their country. We’ve invented many sports in Scotland; now we can’t play them anymore,” he laments rather jovially.
As a tribute to the recent cold spate that Scotland has been experiencing in the past 2 weeks, snow has already sprinkled several mountainous peaks, its white overlaid with grey matter, cut by the jagged treetops and bottom ferns of startling autumn deciduous reds.
Typical tales of Scotland’s past through the (dis)enchanted lens of tourism of course followed in tandem.
“Before Braveheart the movie, 30,000 people came to visit the Wallace Monument every year. After the movie, it was 130,000 people who came every year. God bless Mel Gibson and his family,” Marty said with relish. “Braveheart the movie did wonders for Scottish tourism.” The mini-van darted through the strategically positioned Stirling country, and sudden outpourings of praise for that movie but like Stevie, he could not help pointing out its inaccuracies.
“I saw Mel Gibson twice when he was filming the movie in Stirling. He’s tiny, 5 ft 5! The website says 5 ft 10. If that’s the case, then I must be 7 ft 39 inches. But he is handsome, with bright blue eyes. I nearly fell in love with him myself.”
“This is Rob Roy county. That film was historically more accurate. But he certainly didn’t speak with an Irish accent (Liam Neeson), and Jessica Lange sounded like a Russian.”
The rather familiar route through Stirling, Doune and the Trossachs came into view again, passing Callander, a popular retirement village.
“This is Callander,” said Marty. “A very popular place to retire. As the bus passes through, you will notice that we are the only ones with our teeth.”
I found out under dubious circumstances that Robin Hood is none other than the corrupted version of William Wallace. “Robbing” Hood was simply a misnomer for 6 ft 7 inch Wallace who apparently wore a green hooded tunic and green trousers who had his peasant army, or later known as the outlaw band of ‘merry thieves’. The sparsely populated Highlands had a chilling reason behind it – because of the British Government’s deliberate exile of the Highlanders in the 1700s to their colonies.
A quick ‘hi again’ to Hamish (I got to feed him a part of a pumpkin!), and the scenery turned unfamiliar as the bus turned westward towards Oban – known also as the gateway to the Scottish Isles. The town’s noticeable port-feel however, paled in significant comparison to hearing people converse in Gaelic – I am finally sufficiently convinced that Gaelic’s status as a living language grows the more remote it gets.
Marty waved us off the minivan in a hurry, saying that fish and chips would be an excellent choice for the cloudy and cold weather.
“Little Bay” – translated from Gaelic, is what Oban means, its smallness evident from the one single main street that appears to be the artery of the fishing town, and it seemed as if the male population town spent its entire saturday sitting along the water’s edge as the female population thronged the shops as many times as they could go.
After the lunch-hour in Oban, the next stop lasted a mere three-minutes that permitted a snap-and-go moment of Kilchurn Castle.
The ‘wee’ village of Inverary bordered by the sea-loch Fyne was the penultimate stop, whose castle was closed for the winter, but as Marty urged, had yet another tourist sightseeing option which was the Inverary jail.
The imposition of the serene and picturesque surroundings made me a trigger-obsessed visitor intent on capturing the extraordinary interplay of light caused by the sun, mist, and cloud, but also a violator of this tranquility.
The last stop at Luss village provided the rather disappointing cheap thrill of a tiny stroll (and for the brave, a dip of the shoes/toes into the water) along the banks of Loch Lomond. Daylight faded more quickly than I would have liked, and the burgeoning darkness welcomed the suddenly sleepy tourists back to Edinburgh’s Waverley.