So the weather really screwed me over on Wednesday. I was supposed to go to the three islands of Mull, Staffa and Iona, which included a boat trip to see the puffins and to see the Iona Abbey. Unfortunately, high winds were forecast for Wednesday so Staffa Tours cancelled the trip. I almost wanted to cry when I received the notification. Not only was the trip going to be really interesting, I was finally going to see the puffins. But no! Cancelled again. And I say again, because my tour last year to see the puffins in Iceland was cancelled as well. I could not believe my bad luck.
So with no plans on Wednesday, I ended up walking around Oban, did some shopping and had lunch at the outdoor seafood stand. It turned out I could not do much more anyway because the weather was sh*t with rain squalls and high winds. Yuck.
Anyway, Thursday morning came and I was off to Fort William in a one and half hour bus ride north. The ride took me along a number of lochs (lakes) including Loch Creran and Loch Linnhe, through a some rugged forests and past a handful of tiny villages.
Once we arrived in Fort William, a driver met me at the bus station and drove me a couple miles down the road to the Inverlochy Castle, a 19th century castle where Queen Victoria once stayed for a week and where I would be staying for the next two nights.
My room wasn’t quite ready when I arrived so I was offered tea with some lovely shortbread cookies, which I was happy to munch on while I sat by the fireplace in the foyer of the castle. About a half hour later I was ensconced in a rather large room overlooking the back gardens and just beyond that a field filled with cows. And if my eyes did not deceive me, I was pretty sure there were two hairy coos in the field with the other cows. YES!
So when I planned my trip to Scotland, there were two things I absolutely wanted to see: puffins (so much for that) and the highland cow, aka hairy coo, the tan or red coloured mop top cows that are synonymous with the highlands of Scotland.
I immediately changed my clothes, pulled on my hiking boots and made a dash for it outside to see if I was right. And … yep two hairy coos were in the back field. Unfortunately, both were lying down so it was hard to get a good picture of each of them, but eventually the coos moved enough for me to get some good shots. I was thrilled to see these unusual looking animals.
Anyway, by now it was 1:30 and I had ordered a cab to take me back into town for a little walk around Fort William, some lunch and a two hour boat ride on Loch Linnhe. The cabbie dropped me on High Street (every town in Scotland seems to have a “High Street”), right by the 19th century St. Andrews Church. I wandered down the street and ended up at a restaurant on the dock where I had the most delicious broccoli soup along with three langostines. Delicious.
Now fortunately, I did not have to go far to check in for my boat trip as the boat was literally a stone’s throw from the restaurant so once I was finished with lunch, I checked in and ten minutes later we were boarding.
There were only about 20 of us on the boat, but it was the weirdest conglomeration of people you have ever seen. Two couples with baby strollers for each of their children (four kids all together who were under the age of 3 and who the staff had to constantly remind not to climb on the railings), an elderly couple who refused to sit and just kept standing in front of the stairwell preventing people from going to the upper deck (unless you asked them to move like I did), and the pièce de résistance, a woman carrying around her dog like it was a baby … she even had a stroller for it. I kid you not!
Anyway, we set off around 3:30 in very windy conditions, although the lake was surprisingly calm. The Captain announced that he was going to increase the speed of the boat slightly to get us to the other side of the lake so that we could see the Jacobite Steam Train (aka the Harry Potter train) pass by on its way back to Fort William. I will be on the train tomorrow, so it was fun to see it in advance.
The Captain then turned the boat north and we passed little islands full of gulls as well as only lonely little cormorant hanging out on a “dolphin” in the water. We also saw a single sea lion who had apparently left his traditional perch on Seal Island, which is further north on the lake.
We eventually reached the deepest part of the lake at 165 meters. And it was in this area that we saw a large salmon farm with upwards of 40,000 fish in each enclosure. We also saw a mussel farm, which explains why there are so many mussels on the menu in seafood restaurants.
About an hour and fifteen minutes into the trip, we reached Seal Island, which is a small outcrop inhabited by common seals aka the sea lion as well as the Atlantic grey seal. And lucky for us we saw both breeds as we quietly circled the island. Apparently the seals only recently returned to the island after a non-native seal began attacking the pups on Seal Island. In fact, one of the Atlantic grey seals even had some visible wound marks on it likely from tangling with the interloper.
Once we had circled Seal Island, we made the ½ hour journey back to Fort William. It had been a cold, windy (and a tad drizzly) trip, but entirely worth it. Tomorrow I am off on my Harry Potter train trip to Mallaig and back. Should be fun!