May 16, 2007

Scotland: whakapapa and Hurricanes rugby

The Scottish National Party this week won the Scottish parliamentary elections, promising a referendum on independence and Tony Blair finally said the first of his goodbyes to make way for Gordon Brown. Maybe things are starting to look up for Britain.
So we took the Flying Scotsman train to Edinburgh for a short tour of the Western Highlands, looking for some ancestry stuff for Ewen. It was good to get out of England, but in an unsurprising turn of events, the rail company threatened to put us on buses between Darlington and Newcastle because a goods train had derailed. Luckily the tracks had been cleared when we approached and we could continue to Edinburgh with some slight delay.
Scotland will need a bit more than chocolate box scenery for tourists to make it as an independent country in the world. Surely the oil and gas will be a great help in the next 100 years if the Sassenach companies can be persuaded to pay a decent return to the Scottish treasury, like they do in neighbouring Norway.
So up to the Morvern peninsula, off Oban, where we stayed at a tiny harbour village called Lochaline. Marvellous barren scenery, pine forest plantations and fjords you just can imagine Viking longships sail through. In the 19th century all the inhabitants were cleared off the land by landlords keen to get a higher economic return by running sheep than having crofter tenants. All very nasty stuff ensued: burning of houses, assisted emigration and so New Zealand got its entrepreneurial agricultural class in return, now giving the Brit farmers a large run for their money by selling better quality lamb to British customers.

Lochaline has a pub and a social club where we got talking to a very cute redhead who happened to be a Hurricanes rugby fan. He spurred us to come over to the Isle of Mull for a local rugby 7s tournament. Unfortunately we weren't able to due to the history tour we were on.
Again, as in Belgium, the locals were far less interested in the historical details than the occasional overseas visitor looking for his roots.
What we can recommend is the local restaurant called The White House, gourmet food at incredible prices but just simply sublime for a one-off indulgence.
A highlight of the peninsula is an abandoned early 19th century village that has only been unearthed early last century, called Inniemore.

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