Europe 2008 (Manchester to Fort William) Day 6 – May 30

30 05 2008

We woke up at 0700 and had the usual artery clogging "Full English breakfast".  We got out of Sale around 0900.  First destination: Lancaster Castle.  I had heard it was a magnificent castle and being  in active use, it would be quite well kept.  Good old Tom Tom brought us there at about 1000, and surprisingly found parking relatively easily.  After walking around the castle looking for the entrance (which would have been about 200ft if we walked the OTHER way) we were greeted by a gentleman finely done up in a mourning coat as well as two constables.  We told them we’d like to visit the castle.

"Sorry.  Not this morning.", said the gentleman.

"Uhm… Why not?", said I.

"Today’s the day of the hanging of the shield of the High Sheriff"

"Uhmmmm…"

He and one of the constables went on to explain what was happening.  Every year (3 years in advance) the Queen is given a list of candidates from which she is to choose who her representative in the county will be for a period of one year.  That happens at a ceremony called "The pricking".  Once chosen, the soon to be Sheriff gets to start saving up his/her money, as it will cost them about $80000CAD to hold the position (entertaining magistrates etc) for a position of one year.

We had arrived at the day of the handover of office.  As bad luck would have it, the constable explained, the last High Sheriff passed away on Tuesday of this week, so there was a bit of a damper on the occasion.  On this day though, there would be a short gathering at the castle, and then a small procession to the Lancaster Priory next to it.  We watched various guests arrive and  head to the church.  The women were done up in their best dresses and hats.  Very stylish!  The men were all stiff and proper, some with hats as well (one with a bowler!).  While we waited and got a bit more history his worship, the mayor of Lancaster arrived in all his finery.  The ceremonial mace came out and the glittered beautifully in the filtered late morning sun.  After a bit, there was a small procession of the mayor, the new Sheriff, and the district and regional magistrates with the mace toward the church.  We got some pictures of the procession.  They disappeared into the church and their entrance was heralded by trumpets.  The horns sounded magnificent reverberating off the stone walls of the church and then back again from the stone of the castle. 

A few moments after the trumpet fanfare had settled down, we found our way to the back of the church to participate in a bit of the ceremony (time dictated that wouldn’t be able to see the whole event :(   The ceremony in the church is a complete Anglican service and there is a blessing of the new Sheriff.  We stayed until after the Lord’s prayer had been completed as it was an opportune time to slip out without disturbing the service.  Wow!  how’s that for a trade off.  Instead of going into a castle and paying some unknown ransom to see what a bunch of dead people did, we got to see real live history, as it has been carried out for centuries at this very location.

We beetled out of Lancaster around 1130 and headed up, up and away towards Scotland.  The national heritage book we had with us indicated that there was a cool ruin of an Abbey (Shap Abbey) along the way so we went over to check it out.  We ended up going down some VERY narrow, single track roads that led us onto some farmer’s sheep field.  Uh Oh.  We could see the Abbey, but it didn’t seem very likely that we were going to be able to get anywhere near it :(  From the hillside among the sheep we took a few pictures. Both Tom Tom and Autoroute seemed to indicate that there was a road, but I didn’t fancy driving down a grassy, sheep poop filled hill only to find out that "You can’t get there from here".

The drive out was interesting since the Motorway doesn’t have a lot of entrances.  We wound along on some side road crossing over the Motorway probably about 5 or 6 times before we got to rejoin it.

It was getting on for time, and it was about 1500 when we hit Glasgow.  Another timing issue:  Friday afternoon and we were heading through town up to the highlands – where many other Glaswegians were heading as well!  The route "through" Glasgow consists of driving about 3/4 of the way AROUND Glasgow in a big counter-clockwise circle and then continuing up north.  It took about an hour or more to skirt Glasgow.  The road above Glasgow ran through some very lovely countryside and the mountains around us were getting craggier and craggier.  Interestingly, most of the mountains were covered in grass all the way to the top making them look like someone draped a green cloth over them.  Only the highest had snow.

The last 50 miles of road were a mix between beautiful driving in various glens and white knuckle turns around corners that didn’t seem to fit all of your vehicle in your assigned lane.  The speed limit was 60mph!  Oh. My. God.  Mrs D is sure that her expected lifespan is a bit shorter now.    The problem is that the road is cut into the hillside, right along the loch (Laggan?) and on the other side is the hill.  Not much room for width.  The locals have petitions to have the road improved.  Good idea!  When Mrs D wasn’t having her heart stop I made sure she took some pictures from the car.  The scenery is very dramatic.  I can imagine a highlander  walking through the marshy areas herding his livestock and fighting out an existence against the elements (think Braveheart).

We arrived in Fort William around 1800 and started looking for the "Inverlochy Villas" as it had sounded like a great idea when I tried to book it on the Internet.   Despite the fact that they didn’t get back to me, I thought we’d give it a whirl.  Well… wouldn’t you know it – we couldn’t find the place, and had no reference to find it.  Thank God for the BB.  I emailed back home and got the address and phone of the place.  Address:  "North Road".  No street number or crossing :(  We called the number – no answer.  Hmmm.  We decided to driver FURTHER North up the road, and finally found it!  We pulled in and went in to reception…. Nobody there..  Called out.  Someone answered back.  It turned out to be the tradesman in to do some work.  The owners whereabouts?  Unknown. 

With that hope quashed, we decided to head back down the road and look at what was available.  Many of the B&B’s and hotels had "No Vancancy".  Apparently there is to be a wheelchair climb of Ben Nevis, two cycling events, and something else.  All occurring in Fort William on OUR weekend!  We managed to get the LAST room at the West End Hotel.  It was a triple room, but the lady at reception offered to let us have it at the double rate of £70 instead of £85 for the triple.  Since it includes breakfast it ended up with a cost the same as the Amblehurst Inn in Sale.  Funny how things work.  We gave the lady a Canada Flag pin to thank her and she was quite appreciative.  Since Saturday night would have more rooms available, we wouldn’t be able to have the same room again without paying for the triple rate, we are planning to move on Saturday night.  Apparently we’re getting a room with a view of Loch Linhe!  Sweet.

Well – No Internet again tonight, so no actual posting… just another draft tonight.  Perhaps ONE day we’ll get more Internet time to get pictures up and more than just draft postings.

Tomorrow:  Oban and Inverlochy Castle!

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