Saturday, 21 June 2008

A Happy Tour

Should I stay or should I go?

I could either take the train up to the mountain top restaurant for the wonderful views, or hit the cycle track to Newtonmore thereby getting back to Inverness in time for "The Ghost Tour"I opted for a spot of ghoulish entertainment. Besides, I'd fallen out with Aviemore. In the two bus waiting hours yesterday evening, I could have taken the mountain train if the last one hadn't left at 4.15pm!

So, legging it fast and furious down the High Street (checking first I was walking in a southerly direction) it wasn't long before I picked up the familiar little blue cycle signs.With no time to linger in Kingussie, pleasant as it was, I stepped up the pace to power walking levels to reach the bus stop in Newtonmore.And an interesting place it turned out to be. What with "The Wild Cat Walking Centre of Scotland" and the intriguing "Waltzing Waters Experience" billed as "The worlds most elaborate water, light and music experience"

On a beautiful Summers Evening, what better place to dine than down by the river at the "Riverside Restaurant" With good food, wine and interesting company, this was an improvement on last night's Caff. Striking up conversation with a couple of avid coach tourers from Nottingham, as they left for dinner at their hotel, I headed for the Ghost Tour which on arrival was "Cancelled Tonite"-Now what? Luckily, across the road, I spotted a jolly looking chap in a tartan waistcoat, surrounded by a huddle of tourists. Quickly, before they left, I dashed across. "Can I join in?" "Of course" he beamed "Welcome to the Happy Tour!" took my money, slapped a smiley sticker on my chest, and we were off.

First stop was the "Mercat Cross" Originally at the crossroads in the centre of Inverness, in the days before media and the world wide web, this was the place to get the daily news. It was also the site for public humiliation, mostly of the womenfolk of Inverness. While the men were away fighting, the women got restless, and started fighting each other. For punishment they were dragged through the streets, flogged and tied to the cross where in front of a jeering crowds their ultimate punishment was decided upon, which strangely enough, didn't seem to fit the crime. Murderers were packed off on a boat to Canada. Now, it may not have been a cruise ship, and probably some didn't survive the journey, but those that did, escaped to a new life, in a new country.

We strolled on through the streets admiring the views, marred only by the ugly buildings, some short sighted town planners decided to erect in the 1960's and ended up at Inverness Castle where we heard our final tale of Scotland's most famous feisty female, Flora MacDonald.

She'd had a pretty tough start in life. When her father died her mother was abducted, to be married off to somebody else. Brought up by the chief of the clan, we all know the story of her bravery in helping Bonnie Prince Charlie escape to freedom in France. What I didn't know was that she later, married, had a large family and emigrated to America. When her husband was taken prisoner during the American War of Independence, she returned to Scotland, family in tow, on a merchant ship. Attacked by pirates, and seriously wounded, she still refused to leave the deck. She'd certainly had a hard life, and well deserved to end her days happily and peacefully on the Isle of Skye.

Old Bonnie Prince Charlie meanwhile, kicked out of France, tried to stir up momentum for another rebellion, but nobody really wanted to know. Skulking miserably back to Italy, where he was born, he died a dissolute, depressed alcoholic and sadly, in the end, not quite so good looking.

On a recommendation from "Mr Happy Tour" I went for a nightcap at "Nico's Bar" a cross between a Gentleman's Club and a cosy parlour. Curled up in a vast armchair, with "Rubber Soul" playing softly in the background I nearly nodded off...