Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Logbook: Highlands Hold

Img_4860When I got back to my hotel room after dropping my Mom off at the airport last Thursday, I found myself sitting on the little desk chair in a bit of a daze. Because I had been so engrossed in our Hadrian’s Wall walk -- and off-line -- for two weeks, I had a lot of catching up to do. The problem was that I didn’t have much energy or concentration going for me, and I found myself trying to triage the email, Skypes, logistics, chores, etc. that lay before me. In typical fashion for me -- and I think most of us do this -- I chose the quickest and easiest first, spending the rest of the day on-line with email and Skype. It felt good to check in with folks and by the end of the day I at least had a sense that I was up to date and ready to tackle the bigger issues.

I got up on Friday and started hustling. I had recently heard from my good friend Captain Adam that our beloved Polar Star had suffered some major mechanical problems and was at anchor in Svaalbard undergoing repairs. I was sorry that he and the crew were basically marooned in that remote Arctic outpost for so long, but there wasn’t -- at the time -- overly much concern about the ship being ready for my upcoming cruise late next month. While I was away, however, the repair efforts were deemed to be ineffective and the ship was towed to a dockyard in mainland Norway for more extensive work. More to the point, during a Skype call the previous day the Captain informed me that he was skeptical about the ship being ready for my cruise after all. I told him that I had planned to spend the next few weeks transiting from Scotland to Norway, and that if the ship was not going to sail I had no compelling reason to go to Norway at this time. He suggested I postpone my transit for a couple of weeks to see if repairs would be effective, and promised to keep me posted. I thanked him for the information -- and his candor -- an we signed off.

At that moment, The Voyage was officially “on hold” and I had to figure out what to do. I spent most of the morning checking out how fast and reliably I could get from here to there and found that there is a three times a week ferry from Newcastle to Stavanger. Doing the math, I concluded that I could postpone my decision to transit until the 14th which would give me three shots at catching the ferry last minute and still make it to Norway on time. This coincided well with the fact that I have been promised a definitive “go/no-go” decision from the company by the 11th, so I figured I had about two weeks of completely unplanned time in Scotland on my hands. One option would be to stay in Edinburgh for a while longer, but as much as I like the city I was ready to get out of it. So, I spent the afternoon making arrangements to rent a car on Monday, got a road map and started thinking about where I might go. With all that logistical stuff behind me, I spent the entire weekend catching up on this website -- it really does take a long time to write and post the Photos and Logbook -- and doing chores like laundry and getting supplies.

By Monday morning I was pretty much caught up, so I packed up, checked out and walked a few blocks to the car rental agency. A little while later I was sitting behind the wheel of a right-hand-drive car, trying to remind myself how to drive on the “wrong” side of the road and burning the mantra “stay left” into my brain. As I was doing this, looking down the street in front of me, I had an especially good chuckle: There I was, in a car with the engine running, with all my worldly possessions stowed in the “boot” and with absolutely not idea where I was going or how I would get there. Another fabulous moment on The Voyage! You see, although I had spent some time looking at the map, I had failed to decide on a destination. I could go west to Glasgow and the Isles, northwest to the moors and the Hebrides, north to the Highlands, northeast to the North Sea coast and the Orkneys or anywhere else in between. It’s a strange but good experience, by the way, and I recommend it.

Img_4864At the moment, however, I had in-city left-hand driving in front of me and I was a little nervous about it. I decided the best thing was to just get out of town, so I started on my way, simply following the path of least resistance in whatever direction seemed to head out of town. With less stress than I had feared, I soon found myself heading north on the M90, across the Firth of Forth and on my way into wide open spaces and beautiful scenery. After an hour or so I pulled into a service area, caught my breath, got a cup of coffee and wandered into the on-site tourist information center. I explained to the nice lady on duty that I had two weeks of unplanned time in Scotland and asked her advice about where to go. She gave me a ton of books, pamphlets, etc. and suggested I continue north on a scenic route to Pitlochry, the “Heart of the Highlands” and a placed where I would be able to find plenty to keep me occupied for a few days. So, off I went on a fabulous two hour drive into the Highlands and arrived in the lovely little town of Pitlochry. I cruised through town to give it a quick glimpse then back-tracked to a nice little inn that had a sign offering rooms available at a reasonable price. The charming woman behind the desk checked me in and showed me to a perfectly good little room and made my day when she explained that I would have free wi-fi internet! Color me happy!

Img_4817To make things all the more perfect, Monday is “Highland Night” in Pitlochry and after a nice dinner I strolled into town and attended the bagpipe, singing and dancing show at the town’s recreation fields. I got some great video that I’ll try to put into a Report, but for now I’ll just say it was a fun show and an excellent welcome to the Highlands. This morning I fired up the car and went for a drive around a nearby Loch, took a hike up to some falls and goofed around in town. I can’t tell you how happy I am to be here, “on hold” in the Highlands. The area is just spectacular and the people are warm, witty and welcoming. There is a lot to do here, so I have informed my hostess that I will be staying for at least a few days and using this as a base of operations for exploration of the Highlands on The Voyage of Macgellan!

1 comment:

Sarah said...

Great news that our dear Polar Star is better again and on its way to Ushuaia.
Sarah- Polar Star Doc for first `stranded` month in Longyearbyen.