When last I wrote, my occasional traveling companion, Ed, was kayaking solo on the River Spey while I was studying Scotland bus schedules to get myself to the point where he would reach the sea and we could reunite.
You could say that I spent Tuesday on the regional buses of Scotland.
At 6:30 p.m., I am in Garmouth. It’s home to the closest b&b I could find by the mouth of the river. The price is up there (L50 per person) by b&b standards, but I'm glad they have a vacancy. This, after all, is the high season for the English tourists who travel to Scotland to watch birds (it’s a national pastime!), play golf (bluejeans not allowed!), hike trails (with sticks, like me!) and basically enjoy the north as best they can before returning to their staid lives south of the border.
I get off the bus and I understand that I am in the middle of nowhere. Which may not be a bad thing. I like nowhere.
The inn looks like it is of another era. Which, too, may be alright. Quaintly old. Us tourists, we always want the quaint, the local, the undiscovered, as if our own discovery is so masterful, so magnificently private! Here’s mine, from the outside:
I open the door and I know right away, by the smell, the peeling wallpaper, the lack of staff, that I have walked into a hole.
I’ve done that before. In Great Britain and elsewhere. It used to be quite common to find places like this – old, neglected, unloved – places that are there for no reason at all except to lure the occasional weary traveler who has no where else to go.
Places that thrive on the pub business rather than inn-keeping.
There is no choice but to dump my bag and settle in. And ignore everything that is offputting – the smell, the cold, the dirty window that doesn’t open. It’s only for a night. Or two. Or three. Waiting for my companion to finish his adventuring on the water.
I take stock: food. Let’s take care of that. I go down to supper (I have to: there’s nowhere else to get food in the wee village). Hmmm – Mexican beef, chicken Normandie, or fish pie. On the inn's website, there is language about regional menus, organics, etc. I ask about that. The waitress shrugs. Don’t know, luv...
I like pies here (they’re a stew, with maybe a few carrots or peas thrown in, baked with a cover of mashed potatoes) and so I order the fish pie.
On the side, additional potatoes and peas. It is, at the very least, regional.
Inn-hopping is never predictable. And in Britain, price doesn’t necessarily determine value (our inn at Inverness, the Avalon, was cheaper than the Garmouth and I would say it is the nicest b&b I have ever visited). The only way to tell what’s worth a stop is to read up on what people say about it. My advice on the Garmouth: stay away!
After dinner, I get a message that Ed has just called. They were too busy working the pub crowd to locate me. That's okay. I know he's movin' along. I go across the hall to the pub where I am told I can retrieve WiFi. I see that I need a password. I ask for this. I wait until the poor, stressed bartender/waitress/hotel receptionist has a chance to find this out for me. Much time passes.
A helper comes in (good! There are so many people in the bar now! Men, mostly men from villages high and lo). She is told that her first assignment is to walk over to my table and tell me that it’s all a mistake – there is no WiFi.
I’m thinking: the Internet is many miles and (infrequently circulating) buses away – in Elgin. The room here is dirty, smelly, cold, overpriced. With a picture hung crookedly on the wall. (The picture almost certainly is cut from the pages of a magazine.) Why on earth am I here?!?
To wait for my old man to come in from the sea.
Except, in truth, I know that my old man on the water does not care if I am here or elsewhere.
I hike out to explore the river’s run to the sea. It looks magnificent. In either direction.
And confusing. I’m not sure that Ed will dock here. There’s no road, no place to pull up – nothing. Just the footbridge that I’m on.
I try to imagine how he can land, how we can meet up, how his kayak can be hauled to a spot where it can then be transported and I realize – this is for my man of adventure to figure out. Not for me, here on the shore.
I put aside my maternal instincts, return to the Garmouth and consider my options. One thing is clear – I am out of here in the morning. [Valerie, my friend, you are called upon once again – relay the message to Ed that I am no longer where he thinks I should be!]
But where should I be? In the morning, I pay my inflated bill and take the bus back to the regional center of Elgin (you Chicago people, you’ve been saying it wrong – it’s El-ghin!). There I find an open pub (a pretty reliable source of WiFi, even as the local Starbucks lets me down – no, sorry, we expect to have it next month). I scour the area for b&b’s. No vacancy, no vacancy.
Finally, I decide on Aviemore. It’s close to the drop off point for the kayak. It’s a well known tourist town. Surely I’ll find something.
Back on the buses. One connection, leading to another. Through towns that have the old blending so well with the new…
(my favorite confection!)
...past hills and vales on twisty roads that make my stomach turn.
And now I am in Aviemore. With a reservation at a most congenial b&b – the Corrour House. For L5 less than the hole up in Garmouth.
(view out the front room)
I don’t know where Ed is, but I’ve left messages in good places. Time to think about a decent way to finish off these solo days. I ask my b&b hosts about possible calming long walks. They suggest the Rothemurchus Park.
How right were they? You decide.
After several hours of walking (no heavy backpack – indeed, I have nothing with me even at the b&b – only my computer, my shampoo (!?), my tooth brush and my rain jacket), I feel like a whole person again.
Late in the evening, I walk down to the River Spey – that same bridge where I had paddled just two days back, where the lads jumped off the side – and I settle in at the Old Bridge Inn Pub for supper. The salmon is simple but wonderful, the salad provides a boost to my ebbing vegetable consumption – life is good.
Back at the b&b I learn that Ed has called. He’s found me and is on his way. Sometime tonight. Valerie called as well (How's that Ed doing? Where is he?). She cares about the ending of a chapter. (We'll have to travel together someday... you, Ed, Kevin and I) And the beginning of another.