Is there anything more manly than the Scottish Highland Games? Sure, they wear skirts, but you probably don’t want to mess with people who can hurl 19 foot tree trunks. The assortment of steel objects that get thrown about inspired the Olympic hammer throw and, quite frankly, make Olympians look like a bunch of whimps. So if you were part Scottish, why wouldn’t you want to try your hand at it at least once in your lifetime!?
After our day at Hadrian’s Wall, we drove up to Glenfinnan in the Scottish Highlands. It was a much smaller venue, far from Edinburgh and Glasgow, so we expected it to be less cheesy and less crowded and it was exactly as we’d hoped.
We took a few short detours. The first was a palace whose name I can’t even remember. We tried to go in the super secret entrance that nobody else knew about and ended up getting trapped, and by we I mean one particular person 😉 After that we found another super secret entrance, but a slightly more successful one where we got a photo finally.
The more memorable stop for me though was the unexpected stop at Doune Castle, the Holy Grail castle, where you can buy a silly Monty Python ale. I didn’t even realise there were so many scenes shot just using this one castle and there’s a load of commentary on everything inside.
The drive towards Fort William along the A83 was another big highlight. We knew that we had reached the Scottish highlands because the mountains were much more dramatic and it was raining heavily.
This spot at what I later learned is the foot of Bidean Nam Bian (sounds more like Vietnamese to me) was a pretty stunning spot even in the pouring rain. I’ll be back here hiking one day.
Fort William and the Jacobites
I learnt a whole lot about the Jacobites and what it’s like to accidentally drive down a pedestrian filled boulevard in Fort William. The West Highland Museum has everything you need to know about the Jacobites and their uprisings.
For me I also learned that the English were real jerks to the Scots back in those days. Calculatingly taking actions to destroy and breakdown Highland clans and culture. They were great tactics for a hostile takeover, but now you kind of feel it was a great loss for the damage it did to Scottish culture. Highland culture still seems very strong, but the missing part for me is the language. It’s a bit sad that Gaelic is essentially a dead language now, which the Scots are trying to keep alive.
The Highland Games at Glenfinnan
Despite the horrible weather, the next day turned out to be a stunner for the Highland Games. I’d never seen so many people wearing kilts before and kind of wished there was a place we could hire some.
The world’s worst national instrument was also out on display in huge numbers too (only kidding, there weren’t that many). There was a full Scottish band on parade in addition to the old chaps in their regalia.
There were a couple of odd old chaps too. Sitting next to us was a half naked guy with a massive beard and a big red face like Santa Claus. He wore a kilt and I assume that was all he was wearing.
This other guy sort of looked like a Scottish pirate. He said that he was a soldier in the Highland army as he danced about with a beer in one hand and the Scottish flag in another. They might have had a few screws loose, but at least they were enjoying the day.
Peter and I competed in the shot put (7kg & 10kg), the running (½ mile & mile) and the weight over the bar. The latter was the hardest and required you to throw a 25kg kettle bell over your head and over a bar at least 3 metres high. Out of all of those, I was probably the most competitive in shot put coming equal 5th.
We also completed in long jump, but after two out of three jumps we walked off assuming we weren’t competitive and opted to try the caber toss. Hilariously though I came 3rd in long jump and won £15 to become a professional sportsman. I had no idea how far I was jumping because all the measurements were in feet and inches.
The caber toss was an epic challenge. A bunch of the old lads showed us how it was done, nearly tossing the 19ft tree trunk into a standing position (the goal isn’t to throw it the furthest – just flip the tree back upright). I had a few goes, but it was so difficult to balance it once you picked it up. Needless to say, I couldn’t get it up.
We did a whole lot of cooking while we stayed in Glenfinnan, which was great because it meant we were home for this incredible sunset. It was just a shame you couldn’t go outside without being molested by midges.
After the games, the three of us headed up to the Isle of Skye, but what follows is a summary of what I did on the way back from Skye when solo.
The Jacobite Steam Train
You might call it the Harry Potter train if you didn’t know anything about it. This old steam train has served Fort William and Mallaig for decades, but it was used in the movies.
You might recognise the curved viaduct from movie scenes too and tons of people flock to see it pass over, but for me I think the best views are when the train pulls into the station itself. The station master cringed when hearing it called the Harry Potter train, but he can’t deny that it brings them a load of tourism.
Volunteering for the Station Museum
On the way back south from the Isle of Skye I passed through Glenfinnan again. Looking for the Station Museum Sleeping Car, I approached the museum shop. They were fully booked, but to my luck, they offered me the volunteer’s quarters for just £10. It was nothing special, but it was a private cabin in an old train carriage with its own bathroom and kitchenette so I certainly wasn’t complaining!
Given where I was staying, I figured I ought to do some volunteering and so I had a chat with John who looked after the station and he gave me a few things to do on the walking track.
It was simple physical labour and that I really enjoyed. Hauling stone and repairing parts of the track where the path had given way or gotten waterlogged.
It took me hours, but I dug out a boggy area, filled it with stones and dug a drainage channel to help fix the area. Hopefully it’s not only a temporary one, but ol’ John was never happy with anything I did. A bit of a grumpy old chap, he was.
It was just as well that I had packed food in Mallaig for a few days. I was planning to climb Ben Nevis, but with the opportunity to volunteer and the prospect of coming back to Scotland in snow season, I stayed much longer than I expected. I had almost run out of food so I went for a walk to find a shop.
As I walked around it quickly became evident that there wasn’t a whole lot else going on in Glenfinnan. So after doing what I could on the track maintenance, I figured it was time to move on.