Day one, January 1st, turned out to be not very indicative of what this following year will hopefully hold for me - I stayed inside rugged up on the couch all day and watched 3 movies and an entire season of the British comedy The In-Betweeners, stepping outside only once to get Indian food from down the road at 9pm. Lee had worked all day. She worked the following day as well whilst Susie, her friend Annie and I went ice skating in the Winter Wonderland. I hadn't been ice skating in years and years and I just did not want to stop. Annie, on the other hand, was not quite willing to let go of the wall. Once they managed to drag me off the ice, Susie took us to see one of her friends in Portobello, a seaside suburb of Edinburgh, and we had a bit of a stroll along the beach in the middle of the Scottish winter - I couldn't help thinking that there was something not right about that....
Lee and I decided to hire a car for 3 days to see some of the Scottish countryside. We left a little later on Sunday morning than we had planned and headed north towards a university city called St. Andrews, famous for its historic connections with the game of golf. The city is also famous for its enormous, all-but-collapsed church, and a virtually unrecognisable castle ruin. It was raining and we decided to push on, especially since we were in the approximate vicinity of the shortest day of the year and we suspected our sunlight wouldn't last for long. We were right. We still had a couple of hours left of driving to reach our destination and the huge lochs we were passing already had started to blend into the mountains and sky as one big dark, yet slightly phosphorus blue-hued blur, like some sort of luminescent deep-sea creature spotted at a distance of 10 metres.
Finally we arrived. Inveraray: the small loch-side town near the west coast where my cousin and his wife had spent the majority of their 2 years abroad. And what a lovely town it is, and very typical of the old towns we were to come across along our route. Every building square and whitewashed. It was now pitch-black outside and we decided to pop into the George (the pub where they worked) for some dinner. We got to meet Donald and a few of the rest of the gang and they were extremely friendly and hospitable. Donald even bought us a round of drinks for new years. Now, we had planned on spending as little as possible on this road trip so we had brought sleeping bags and a large duvet to rug up in the car, but they wouldn't have a bar of it. They instead insisted we could just stay in one of their lovely hotel rooms. Awesome! After an early rising and a long day of driving we were buggered and so hit the sack about 10:30pm, awakening early the next morning ready to do it all again.
We packed up our bags and stepped outside about 0730hr into the dark and into the minus 4 degree temperature. The road was sleeted, our car was iced up and the windscreen washers had frozen over. As dawn broke we stood in front of the majestic Inveraray Castle, which I could imagine having been taken directly out of a fairy tale, before taking a very mountainous scenic route up north. Keeping an eye on our in-car temperature gauge, we noticed the outside temperature fluctuating throughout the day between zero and minus 8.5 degrees. That fact was evident in the lakes, rivers and waterfalls that we came across - all frozen - including huge stalactitic ice formations sheeting the carved out rock to either side of the road. Along the way we also spotted some of Scotland's rugged up hairy cows ("herry-coos") going about their business amongst a multitude of lochs and bens (lakes and peaks).
As we approached the largest city of the north, Inverness, we drove along the shore of the UK's largest and most famous lake, Loch Ness. Did we see the great beast that I have dubbed "Nelly"? We thought so.. But then realised it was just a small cutout of a marine dinosaur stuck to the car window. It was very convincing though...... honestly... After a quick visit to Inverness we made our way up to the seaside town of Ullapool by nightfall, which is the closest to the North Pole we've ever been. Again, the architecture was in the typical Scottish style and the harbour was lovely. We ate some fish and chips in the car (it was way too cold to be standing outside) before bunking down early also in the car. I woke up about 4:30am due to discomfort and the cold, and before I knew it the sun was rising and it was time for breakfast and to start heading back south again.
We decided to take an even more scenic route through the central highlands (as if it wasn't scenic enough) on more local roads. This took us through the Cairngorms National Park and the Grampian Mountains, ski fields, icy pastures, the lovely but quiet town of Braemar and then onto the town of Scone and Perth city. We decided we had to stop in Perth (1) because I've never been to Perth in Australia, and (2) because it has some stunning architecture. Then it was back onto Edinburgh, and our short but remarkable tour had come to its conclusion, with about 30 miles to spare from our 750 mile limit.