Country 27: Scotland – 2nd visit, April to November 2011

October 2010 was the moment I stopped travelling and started job hunting, and I admit I was nowhere near as prepared as I should’ve been for a difficult job industry where it seemed like hundreds of people were applying for the same positions, or positions were being filled as soon as they became vacant. Apart from a few day trips and weekly trips here and there, I spent most of my time going to interviews in London, stubbornly hoping I would only be a week or two away from starting a new job. By early April 2011 I had almost given up to the point where I just needed to get as far away from London as I could. So I headed up to Edinburgh looking for jobs along the way, but by this point I was becoming quite disillusioned by months of job hunting and interviews without any success. I worked my way up to Fort William, then to Oban. It was here by pure chance I met a reception girl from Adelaide who suggested I contact this local job recruiter called Dee, and she assured me Dee would have a job for me within 24 hours. I was pretty sceptical, but before I knew it I was being offered a job the next day. Little did I know with the 2 hotel (restaurant and bar and housekeeping) jobs I had from April to October would be with managers who were exploiting their staff and squeezing every last pound out of them, but the benefits of living in the Scottish highlands for 7 months far outweighed all the annoyances I came across under those work conditions.

From mid April to mid June I was working in a hotel that was 6 miles away from public transport at the town of Invergarry (which was no more than a pub and a petrol station with a store), which meant relying on the manager to drive me to and from the local bus stop. The hotel itself was surrounded by the beautiful Loch Garry, hills and mountains that were just as lovely, and a road that only saw about 5 cars on it a day, all of which I was more than happy to explore on foot whenever I had free time. On my days off I was able to explore the larger towns of Fort William and Inverness, joined by a road that passed by the world famous Loch Ness, and small towns like Fort Augustus which had a river running through town with man-made and operated locks. Although after being stranded in that place for 2 months, I was happy to get out.

whisky at my hotel, April 2011

I headed back to Edinburgh in mid June, and about 2 or 3 days later I took a day trip to Stirling, famous for the William Wallace monument and Stirling Castle. I’d been here in early April on a day trip from Edinburgh with a company named The Hairy Coo (who are wonderful by the way), but this time I caught a train and did it alone which I quite like having the freedom to do. After contacting Dee about any other jobs going around, around early afternoon while walking out around the countryside I got a phone call from a manager of a hotel in a town I’d never heard of, but he was happy with me and said I could start immediately. I headed back to Edinburgh that evening, and I was on a train to Fort William the next day. From there I caught another train to the town of Morar, and the hotel was right at the train station. My new manager was just as tight with money as my previous one. I was shown my room which had not been prepared as I was told I wasn’t expected to arrive for a while. There was a hole in the ceiling, no bed, and a mess of rubbish on the carpet. I had to vacuum my own floor, grab a mattress and a base from the storage shed, and was told the ceiling hole would be fixed. When I left 4 months later the hole had not been touched. I also had no TV, the kitchen was in an atrocious state, and I had to go sit in the hotel or the next building over to get internet access. For this I was docking 35 pounds a week, but I learnt to deal with what I had as upon a visit to the UK Citizens Bureau to complain I was advised I had no legal options if I had not been employed for 12 months.
Ignoring that, I met some lovely staff members mostly from Scotland and Australia (one Kiwi girl, one English guy, and a South African lady) who were great to hang out with, I was only a 5-minute train ride away from the larger town of Mallaig with 2 supermarkets and a few restaurants and about 3 or 4 pubs, and the major hub of Fort William itself was an hour away by train or bus, so I was happy to have several choices of places to visit on my time off. Then I found out Mallaig had a ferry port to the Isle Of Skye, and a few islands just offshore with names like Eigg, Rhum, and Canna. Believe me, I definitely took advantage of all those options. In those 4 months I visited Skye about 5 or 6 times, I went to Rhum twice, I climbed the highest point of Eigg, I visited Mallaig so many times I got used to the 45-minute walk which took me past the islands on the way (some days I would just walk to Mallaig for something to do or a bag of chips with curry sauce), and I got out to Fort William a few times to relax in the local pub and stock up on luxuries and toiletries at the huge Morrisons supermarket. At one point I even took 3 days off in a row and headed all the way up to the , a trip of roughly 110 miles with several bus and ferry changes, but with so much amazing scenery along the way the hours of travel just flew by. My hope on that trip was to visit one of the most elusive and remote, the island of St Kilda, well known for being an abandoned settlement visited by puffins and other not usually seen on the mainland. I was told the only way to get there was by ferry from Leverburgh (of which there was a backpackers hostel in town), but if the weather forecast was for that the tour would be cancelled. Unfortunately this is exactly what happened, but for all the places I visited along the way and the travel I took to and from Leverburgh, it was more than worth the trip. I stopped overnight in Kyle Of Lochalsh on the northern edge of the Isle Of Skye in a lovely backpackers by the sea, enjoying a yummy bag of hot chips with curry sauce, and something called a king rib which was a battered piece of meat in the shape of a rack of ribs, and to this day I could not determine what meat was inside it, but it was tasty.
Another highlight of my stay in Morar was visiting the highland games in the nearby town of Arisaig. It was only held at a small local field, but I got to witness events like the hammer throw, the tug of war, a marathon run where runners disappeared up a hill off in the distance and back, and the world famous caber toss. Locals of all ages participated, and it was a great representation of the friendly nature of the community.

Come October 31, I found myself on a 4-hour train ride from Morar back to Glasgow, and onto a hostel in Edinburgh. I went to a local gig, wandered round to my favourite Edinburgh places including the Brewdog pub and the White Hart pub that played traditional music in the nights, had my final meal of haggis which I had eaten many of in the past 7 months, went for one final walk up the Royal Mile to the Edinburgh Castle and climbed again up Arthur’s Seat, and I was on my way back to London. I had a flight in a few days to Malaga, Spain. In the space of a few days I’d been from Mallaig to Malaga. Little did I know this would be my last time in Scotland. I vow to return, especially since I never go to the Shetland Islands or St Kilda as planned, there’s just too many reasons not to go back.

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