Have you ever come face to face with a mountain? I don’t just mean a big hill; I mean a fucking big, continent smashing mountain. Have you ever been so high up that you can see a lake, from bottom to top? And not a small lake at that, a lake measuring tens of miles. Have you ever experienced so much rain that you seriously considered evolving in to some kind of exotic marine creature? And not just the ordinary straight down rain, but the sideways stuff too? Welcome to the Scottish Highlands.
We went to the highlands because we could drive there. It wasn’t a cost thing, it was a having-a-small-child-who-we-did-not-want-to-take-on-a-plane-yet thing. I suffer from some seriously poppy ears when it comes to altitude. When I am in a descending plane it can be very painful. I didn’t want to inflict that on someone to whom I couldn’t explain what was going on and why. My daughter was only eighteen months old at the time – just learning to walk – and she could barely understand what I was telling her. Plus the fact that her mother finds flying utterly unnatural. We decided to drive.
Just as a point of reference, we live in the North of England, so Scotland isn’t exactly a trek for us. Well, Edinburgh and the borders aren’t a trek for us. For the most part we use Edinburgh Airport as a local airport, because it has a better range of flights than any of the ones near our house. Getting up to the top of the country would take a lot longer. What I didn’t realise until then was that children in car seats should only be in them for a short period of time. We had a ninety-minute window for driving.
I’m not kidding when I say that we had maps and compasses out (albeit in electronic forms), looking for the ideal place to stop between where we were and where we wanted to end up. The process of planning the route there and back was arduous and fairly fraught, with every potential brilliant idea scuppered by some minor detail. Like the journey being six hours out of our way or some such thing.
I’ve already documented the parochial insanity of the hotel on the way up, and the rock solid liver they served me (I will never learn), so I’ll spare you that. The place on the way back was so off the beaten path that I can’t remember where it was. I know that they are famous for their first class restaurant, but that we chose to cook packet pasta in the kitchen of our rented apartment.
And that was part of the issue: we only wanted to book somewhere to sleep for one night at a time on the way there and back, because we wanted to maximise our time in the highlands. The places in the borders and their surrounding counties where you can book an apartment for only one night are few and far between. On the first leg we ended up going for a hotel room. A big mistake, I may add.
Although the situation has changed since, our daughter was never going to have a good night’s sleep sharing a room with her parents. There is simply too much to distract her. With an apartment she can have her own room and her own bed; her own space with her own toys. Sharing a space with us two meant that she would continue to talk to us and be disturbed by our talking for as long as we were both awake. I say it is better now: we went on an over-night ferry trip earlier this year where we all had to share a room. She slept like a log both there and back. Oh, how the times do change.
Either way, when we pulled in to the torrential, horizontal rain of Glencoe we were all a little sleep deprived, and not in the mood for frivolity: We wanted to find our cabin and we wanted to get dry.
We had rented a cabin on a loch for a week. That was the bit of the holiday we were certain about, and the bit that worked best. The idea of having a home from home as a base would be the starting point of almost every holiday to come. There were no restaurants in the vicinity – although we did brave a drive to a couple of restaurants in Fort William and on Loch Leven – so we were cooking for ourselves. And that included our now ubiquitous picnics, although mostly supermarket sandwiches.
The view from the main room of the cabin was across Loch Linnhe, towards rolling mountains. I made a few of my colleagues jealous with pictures of what I was waking up to, compared to the drudgery which they were enduring. I had never been so far North, and had failed to realise that a holiday in the Scottish highlands could be such a beautiful thing, rather than just a jolly time.
We scoured our guidebook every night, planning the following day’s itineraries. We made it as far north as Castle Urquhart and as far west as Mallaig. We chased boats everywhere we went, and took cable cars up mountains. The weather was consistently glorious throughout, which was very rare.
The reason I’m bringing all of this up – and you may have thought it was just a blog about a holiday I have already told you about – is that we will soon be having another small child to take on holidays with us. Two children! I remember when we were planning for a holiday with only one, thinking that it must be some hell beyond imagining to plan for a holiday with two of them. So we deliberately got pregnant again, just so we could look our younger selves in the eye and say “Challenge Accepted”.
I never thought I would get the hang of travelling with a child, never mind two of them. Thinking back to the planning and learning we did makes me realise how so much becomes second nature.
I’m not sure we’ll feel so limited by air travel this time: we’ve travelled with a child so many times now that the only thing we’re worried about is being separated by aeroplane seating. We’re not all Kirstie Allsopp, remember. While our soon-to-be eldest could not have handled being held for the duration of a flight, who knows what the next one will be like. Although, if she hates trains she can stay with her grandmothers while the rest of us zoom through the Swiss and Italian countryside.