Avast, ye landlubbers, w’ a wannion. Aarr. Me hearties, see us a pint of rum and I’ll tell you the tale of Lang Jimmy and the sandbar pirate horde. Chuck in a packet of salt and vinegar dry roasted and I’ll sing a shanty.
Yes, us old sea dogs can tell a tale of our holiday voyage on the good ship Osprey 2. Our plucky little vessel took us from Fort William to Loch Ness, where we battered up to Castle Urquhart just daring that monster to pop her head up.
It turned out the monster was the least of our worries.
Loch Ness, you see, and this is information I could have used earlier, is not really a loch. It’s so big it’s more of a landlocked mini-sea, really. In fact, it’s Scotland’s answer to the Med, only far colder, far darker, and far more sinister.
We reached Urquhart Castle at a good clip. It looks as if it’s under constant attack by hordes of tourists, but being a grim Scottish Castle doesn’t seem to give a hoot.
Then we turned back for the safety of Fort Augustus. And that’s when the loch decided to show her teeth.
We took a 40-year-old shallow drafted cabin cruiser that had been built to potter about the Norfolk Broads right into if not an angry sea, then a fairly miffed one. In fact, we found out later it was “gusting to Force 8”. I’m not sure what that means, but I do know how it feels.
Imagine driving a 1970s caravan through a series of high-speed car washes, over Edinburgh’s potholed roads. That’s it.
As the waves crashed over the bow for the 411th time, and our boat corkscrewed about, I thought, “jeez oh, we might make Reporting Scotland”.
I could just imagine Jackie Bird putting on the BBC Scotland Approved Bad News Voice over images of us being hauled off the upturned hull of the Osprey 2 by the lifeboat crew. The RNLI better come and rescue us, I thought. Jings, given the number of pencils, sharpeners and gonks I’ve bought at lifeboat open days over the years I think I’ve paid for at least one inshore rescue attempt.
I need not have worried. Good old Osprey 2 has handled this sort of thing before. She might have taken a bit of a battering, but she got us back to Fort Augustus safe, secure and in one piece, which is more than can be said for the glass fruit bowl . . .
Lock-keepers one, midgies nil
Would we do it again? In a heartbeat. Despite the grim weather – oh yes, heatwave, where were you when I needed you? – a battle with Loch Ness and constant attacks by the fearsome Midgie Squadrons.
And if there’s one bunch of Scots who should be nominated for some sort of tourist award, it’s the lock-keepers of the Caledonian Canal.
It’s worth the trip alone to watch them deal with everyone with patience and good humour, whether you were an ocean-going Swedish yacht crewed by serious sailors or first timers like us, puttering up and putting the lock into pandemonium by trying to tie up the wrong way round.
They are outstanding secret ambassadors for Scotland.
It’s all go for the clan McMonster
We did, however, manage to get to Drumnadrochit. Now, if you are believe in the beastie of the loch, you might want to skip this bit, but having peered into the murky depths now at least three times, I seriously doubt the existence of said tourist attraction.
And that, my friends, is the sort of flippant throwaway comment that can get you escorted to Drumnadrochit village limits and told by the law to get well clear of the place by sundown.
The village can boast not one but two competing Nessie centres, one of which is called Nessieland, complete with fibre glass monster.
Both appeared to be bung fu’ of tourists, taking pictures, eating scones and buying the most outrageous tat – Nessie tartan scarves? Really? What clan lays boast to this big girl? McMonster? – from folk who know a good thing when they see it.
People admire the ingenuity of the Americans for creating a tourist industry from a cartoon mouse. We did it with a ripple on the water and some frankly dodgy photos.
No stopping the bus beasts
Of course, the monster that really lurks in the Highlands is not some great water borne beast, it’s the midgie. Or so they say. As we found at Urquhart, it’s not. You can spray away the midgies, or swipe them with your hand, but hell mend you if you get in the way of a bus load of tourists from Shanghai/Mumbai/Anywhere in Texas determined to add yet more Nessie tablet to their Scottish bags o’ booty.
Seriously, these people will stomp you into the welcome mat for a See You Jimmy hat.