October 22, 2019
It’s Tuesday and we are motoring along the western bank of Loch Lomond, heading up into the foothills of the highlands. Carved out by glaciers at the end of the last ice age, the loch crosses the Highland Boundary Fault bridging the lowlands to the highlands of Scotland. 23 miles (36 km) long, the loch becomes narrow and deeper as it moves out of the lowland sandstone and cuts into the bedrock of the highlands. The day is misty and grey which helps to give the loch and surrounding hills a dramatic, atmospheric feel. We’re sitting in the back seat watching quietly as the hills, the mist, and the water merge into a beautiful mosaic that can only be the landscape that is Scotland.
We arrived in Glasgow the day before, our train only about 30 minutes late. We navigated our luggage across Glasgow Central Station and met up with friends and hosts for the week, Glenn and Maureen. We met Glenn in 2017 at the Big Big Train concert weekend at Cadogan Hall and instantly hit it off. The following summer he and his wife Maureen both came to Sankt Goar, Germany for the Night of the Prog Festival and the friendship deepened. When the band announced they would start their UK tour in Edinburgh, they kindly invited us to come and stay with them a few days before the tour, an invitation we readily accepted! Even after a year and a half, we picked up where we left off, staying up into the wee hours talking and laughing. The evening included a fabulous pasta dinner followed by an amazing crumble made with apples, berries and wonderful spices, all cooked up in the famous Codere Prog Kitchen. Feeling fat and happy, we headed out after dinner to catch the train into downtown Glasgow for our inaugural visit to the world renowned pub and Glenn Codere favorite haunt, The Pot Still.
As a pub, The Pot Still dates to 1867 but the Murphy family has owned it since 2011. A favorite among Glasgow residents and tourists, it is also famous on the Big Big Train forum as Glenn’s regular evening haunt. They have some limited pub fare (savory pies mostly) and good beer on cask, but they are most famous for their wide selection, and deep knowledge of, excellent Scotch whisky. Mike’s not a big fan of whisky, but Carol, far from being a connoisseur, still enjoys the taste and decided to go for a dram. The bar was slammed and not wanting to be a bother, she simply ordered a Dalwhinnie single malt, something we have at home and that she knows she likes. Collum, the barman, however, had other plans. He said there wasn’t quite a full dram left in the bottle, and wouldn’t she like to try something new and different? Well, if you’re going to insist! Collum brought three bottles down and talked through the nuances of each, offering up a sniff to catch the nose. Carol settled on the Cardhu malt, a Speyside 12 year old single malt. Clean, crisp and very approachable (especially to a Scotch novice), it went down nice and smooth.
The pub was packed and full of both locals and tourists intermingling filling the rooms with the sound of multiple accents from all over the world. We enjoyed a couple of pints and a few more drams of whisky before heading back to the train to take us home.
The next morning, feeling only a wee bit hazy from the night before, following a restorative breakfast of coffee and bacon sandwiches, the four of us pile into Glenn and Maureen’s car and head up towards Loch Lomond. The geology of Scotland is fascinating. The Highlands were once part of the same alpine mountain range that today form parts of the Appalachian mountains, formed over 300 million years ago when the continent of Pangea was formed. Even in the very southern foothills the landscape is dramatic. We veer off west from Loch Lomond and after following many twists and turns on the narrow road, we stop for photos at a bend in the road that boasts dramatic views looking back the way we’ve come. Or would if it weren’t raining with a thick layer of fog!! Still, we managed to get a couple of shots through the mist. “Atmospheric” laughs Maureen.
After the photos, Glenn and Maureen take us to the village of Lochgoilhead, situated, strangely enough at the head of Loch Goil. They had fancied a cottage there once and considered it as a retirement destination. Looking over the calm water with the boats bobbing on the waves, and the misty hills and small buildings dotting the edges of the loch, we can see why they like it. Beautiful and peaceful.
Anyone who knows us knows that sampling good beers and ales is a favorite pastime of ours, and the UK is one of our favorite places to indulge in our passion! We’ve had many good English brews and now came a chance to sample some of Scotland’s finest. The Fyne Ales tap room is just a short hop from Lochgoilhead so we stop ff for a short visit. A farm brewery founded in 2001 to help bring commerce to the area, Fyne Ales brews about a dozen year-round beers, plus varying seasonal offerings. On tap this day is a range of styles ranging from a session blonde (Jarl) to a spiced latte stout (Basic). We try a sample of five, with our favorite being the Highlander, a Scottish amber. The brewery sits in the Argyll valley at the head of Loch Fyne surrounded by misty hills and we can’t help but stop to admire the view before piling back into the car.
The next stop is the lovely town of Inverary on the western shore of Loch Fyne. Strolling up the main road, we duck into a few shops, including one where Mike tries on a flat cap for grins, only to learn that he actually looks great in it! Can’t convince him to buy it though…. We hadn’t planned to eat yet, but it’s after noon by now and the day has been chilly and damp. The Hotel George, right on the main street in town, boasts a fisherman’s stew that we decide we just can’t pass up. Thick and tasty, full of smoked fish and seafood, it warms us up and gives us just what we need to continue on our way.
The views of the loch from the edge of the village are simply stunning. Fishing boats glide across the still water, framed by the hills in the background. If it weren’t so chilly, we could stay here for hours!
Continuing our journey we head north and find ourselves truly in the foothills of the highlands. Conversation in the car drops off as we listen to music and watch the landscape going by. We know this is only a peek at what Scotland has to offer in terms of natural beauty and we know that taking a trip to explore the rest of the highlands and the islands of Scotland is high on our list. For now, we are enjoying what we are seeing and looking forward to the last stop of the day which will involve late lunch/early dinner at the Drovers Inn in Inverarnan, just above the tip of Loch Lomond. The Inn dates to 1705 and, while it has changed ownership many times over the years, it looks like it is little changed since the early 18th Century! We get a table near the bar and next to the fire. The eclectic décor is further enhanced by cobwebs strewn about in honor of Halloween. We order three pints of Guinness and peruse the menu. Standard pub fare – Steak & Guinness Pie, Hunters Chicken, Venison Casserole, and, of course, Scotland’s national dish, Haggis, Neeps and Tatties.
Haggis is one of those things that, if you’ve never had it, and only read about it, sounds like something you never want to eat. But everyone who tries it seems to love it and those who grew up on it swear there is nothing better. We had determined to try it before we even got to Scotland, so we ordered the appetizer portion, which turned out to be a hearty helping. Haggis traditionally comes with Neeps (Swedes/Rutabagas) and Tatties (mashed potatoes) and ours is no exception. The fisherman’s stew from earlier is long gone, and quite hungry again, we dig in. And the haggis is delicious. For all you naysayers, try it before you bash it! The only problem is that by the time we’re finished, we’re already full and we still have our entrees to eat! The rest of the food is delicious, however, and we manage to consume it all.
The day ends with a group of tired but happy campers on a quiet drive back to Glasgow. (Maureen has taken the wheel now so that Glenn could enjoy that pint of Guinness at the Drovers Inn.) What an amazing day with wonderful friends, and our trip is only just begun. We have a few more days of sightseeing in Glasgow and Edinburgh before the Grand Tour begins. So much to look forward to!