They say that Scotland has only one season, with barely perceptible variations. It essentially consists of cold, driving rain, occasionally punctuated by spells of what seems like God’s grace but is, in fact, sunlight. So it rains in the spring, it rains in the summer, it rains in autumn, but it doesn’t rain in the winter. Much. It mostly snows.
Lake eerie: Urquhart Castle, on the northern shore of the famous Loch Ness.
And so, after much rumination on paradigm shifts and into each life some rain falling (and that is a bad thing if you’re in Britain), I decided to do the things that everyone does in Scotland. Other than get sozzled on whisky, that is. I decided to go take in some history, and maybe go home with a piece of Nessie as well.
So we took off on what appeared to be a par-for-the-course Scottish morning (not really raining but threatening to do so just as one sat back, took the shoes off and said, “Ah!”), made good time over the Firth of Forth, and passed on to one of the numerous well-proportioned highways that wound themselves through the Scottish landscape and drove northward.
And then, just as the gloom was threatening to deepen and the clouds, mercifully silent, were threatening to unleash, we found, through the trees on one side of the road, that we were driving parallel to a river. As we tried to figure out where exactly we were, one extremely perspicacious Polish friend pointed out that this was, in fact, the mythical Loch Ness. We’d found it—or, more appropriately, it had found us.
Gloomy waterfront: There are hardly any signs of civilization near the shores of Loch Ness. Sandeep Vasudevan
We then decided to stop and take a look at the lake that I had flown almost halfway around the world and numerous time zones to see. It was a narrow strip of water, bounded on either side by dark, forested hills, with nary a sign of human touch except, perhaps, the road that we were standing on. The gloom intensified this feeling, and the lightly fallen rain had made things wet, primordial. We scrambled down the steep bank for a closer look. And then discovered the Loch Ness monster.
We got down to the water’s edge and dipped a metaphorical toe into the waters. It was magical, the experience. Nowhere else, except maybe in the misty heights of the Himalayas, could we have felt more intrusive. It wasn’t a place for frolic or frivolity. It wasn’t even a place for quiet contemplation. The loch just didn’t want us. She ignored us at a cosmic scale, displaying a complete indifference to the shenanigans of mere mortals.
Acknowledging that, we decided to frolic anyway, and a few of us broke into impromptu jigs. I went further, rushing in where fools feared to tread, and called out on Nessie to come out and say hello. Which was when I discovered how stupid I really was. Because she did.
See, the monster does exist at Loch Ness, but the reason people haven’t really found it is because they misjudged the scale of the entire thing. The real monster at Loch Ness isn’t a prehistoric gargantuan, it’s actually white, winged and probably six-legged. Apparently, during the wars with Spain many centuries ago, sailors inadvertently brought back these species of flies from the south. Once here, the flies settled down nicely and went forth and multiplied. And then some. So now, there were gazillions of the rotten things all over the loch and the forest that surrounded it.
In 5 minutes, we were haring up the bank and back into the cars, waving our hands around like our heads were on fire. The flies had descended upon us in their amorous millions, trying to enter our bodies through every orifice that was available to them—nostrils, ears and mouths.
Chastened, we drove on. And that’s when we discovered Urquhart Castle. We’d been seeing the signs along the way, and decided to at least check this last place out before we went home. So we drove into a practically deserted parking lot and grew even more weary when we saw that the information booth-cum-tourist centre was shut. We got off in the parking lot and paced up and down, trying to catch a glimpse of the castle through the surrounding foliage. Then, suddenly, we saw a couple of women get into a decrepit old saloon, the only other car parked in the lot. One of them saw us trying to catch a dekko of the castle and yelled: “Oh, there’s nobody there. Just climb over the gate, that’s what we did!”
So I went, soon followed by the others, and walked the short distance down the path, which gave us our first view of the castle.
It was rather disappointing, whatever there was—and it wasn’t much. There were a few walls standing here and there, a small wooden bridge over a small, dry moat, a trebuchet (one of those catapult thingamajigs that they used in the olden days to bung heavy rocks at the bad guys) out in front, and that was it. We went in. Which was when it hit.
The sense of hoariness, of a past buried, of events that had lost even the memory of their happening—the castle was an echo from the depths of history calling faintly to us. The walls that stood, looking over the absolute stillness of the lake, whispered to us in endless silence. The lake, reflecting only the leaden grey of the tumescent sky, ignored us, as it had done so far. And we stood at the end of a promontory, the last witnesses, the final observers of the end of time itself.
It was like the world was ending, here, in the gloaming at an ancient castle whose memories were lost, a mere dot in the darkness of the forested hills and the glassy silence of the loch. We stood, hearing the whisper of the sands of time running out, staring over the lake, into the beyond, where there would be no apocalypse, no tumultuous last trump, just a gentle weary sigh as the world laid itself to rest and darkness fell.
We stood, unable to go, as time inexorably held us, softly wondering, asking us to remain till the day ended. With an effort we freed ourselves and left, not wanting to go back to the intentness and purpose of human life, the inevitable scurrying, the vice-like grip of having to live and make a good thing of it. We left, bearing the gentle burden of the ending. We left, but we left a bit of us there. To wait for us when the end came.
Trip Planner / Loch Ness
Apply for a visa at the British High Commission in New Delhi, or its consulates in Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai. Visas cost Rs5,700. Loch Ness is about 40km from
Inverness. Travel to Inverness from Bangalore, Mumbai and Delhi on British Airways (round-trip fares from Rs36,000, Rs37,000 and Rs38,000, respectively), with one or two halts at London and Edinburgh. From Inverness, take the B852—the quieter option—or the busy A82 to Loch Ness, which passes through Drumnadrochit,home to several Nessie exhibitions.
Ahmed Raza Khan / Mint
In Farr, near Inverness, try Farr Mains (firstname.lastname@example.org;+44-1808-521205), a B&B with twin rooms for £30 (around Rs2,400) per night. In Inverness, try a one- or two-bedroom service apartment, available in Victorian or contemporary styles, from £80 per night (www.highlandapartments.co.uk). Culloden House Hotel (www.cullodenhouse.co.uk) is a Jacobean castle with 28 unique bedrooms, a Michelin-rated restaurant and tariffs upwards of £175 per night.
Apart from investigating the Nessie lore, try a cruise on Loch Ness. Jacobite (www.jacobite.co.uk) offers tours for upwards of £10. The Culloden battlefield, 3 miles (4.8km) from Inverness, changed the course of history in the mid-18th century. Exhibitions and tours bring you up close to history. Visit www.nts.org.uk/culloden for more details. Play golf: This part of the Scottish Highlands has some extremely beautiful courses. Choose from Inverness Golf Club, Torvean Golf Club, Loch Ness Golf Club and Fortrose and Rosemarkie Golf Club.
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