"Grand Designs"

Trip Start Sep 22, 2012
Trip End Oct 19, 2012

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Where I stayed
The Highland Hotel

Flag of United Kingdom  , Scotland,
Monday, October 8, 2012

Today we leave Edinburgh and it's grand terraces. It's another fine day but the forecast for our next and final stop in Fort William in the highlands is worrying... a temperature range of -3° to 2° with patchy snow. Will our clothing cope with this? Our hostess, Cath (wearing a short-sleeve blouse), gushes with excitement for us at the prospect. It will be just a dusting, she assures us. I extract my merino Icebreaker from my case...

The trees along the M9 show more and more signs of autumn colours as we make the one hour trip west and north to Stirling. Smooth FM plays ELO, Carly Simon and the Beatles on high rotation. In fact, Geoff Lynne and ELO have also featured in two TV shows over the past week and we wonder if he has passed away.

We pay the obligatory stop at Stirling to see the castle but only from the outside. We are all castled-out after yesterday. It's not long after that we meet the highlands. Bare, craggy peaks appear and Hilary spots the first Highland cow of the trip.

The scenery is spectacular and the religious would imagine this is their god's perfect design effort - apart from maybe tropical islands! The soaring mountains above the snowline are a mix of grass green, slate grey and shades of cinnamon. Lower down, there is a fantastic blend of yellows, oranges and red in the birches, blue-green spruces and brown bracken. We follow the A85 along Lochs Lubnaig, Tulla and Linnhe into Fort William.

The reliable booking.com has failed to come up with accommodation that offers the ideal blend of facilities, standards, postive reviews and prices this time, so l had turned to TripAdvisor last night and started emailing. Within an hour, l have a reply from The Highland Hotel which offers two twins at £179 per room per three nights for not only bed and breakfast but dinner as well! At £30 each per night, it's an unbelievable bargain for a place that looks spectacular on their website. (In fact, Ian meets some backpackers in town while walking later and discovers they are paying £60 at the Travelodge for just a room.)

"Do you do just bed and breakfast?" l ask. "Yes... but it's dearer than DBB." When l express amazement, he explains that they cater mainly for coach tours and their DBB option is the easiest arrangement for all. The sale of alcohol for dinners is also undoubtedly an enticement...

When we arrive, the hotel is a grand Victorian mansion high on the hill overlooking Loch Linnhe. The larger timber-decorated foyer is imposing and our rooms are well furnished. My suspicions that coach tours wouldn't use tragic motels are confirmed.

At dinner, three of us are easily the youngest in the large room. The air is thick with Scottish and Midlands accents and the wait staff are largely Eastern European. With my eyes shut, it could be Peter Cundall of ABC fame at the next table. We count one wheelchair, one oxygen cylinder and numerous walking sticks. The three course menu is simple and delivered swiftly, remininscent of the reception rooms l used to waitress in, but is tasty and sufficient. Ian tries haggis - we girls are more conservative. Hilary has developed a head cold and sticks to vegetables and an early night.

Meanwhile, the night is warming up... there is nightly entertainment!
Tonight is Carl Wilson the "Comedian and Singer of Anything and Everything"! The oldies have staked out their seats in the dance lounge and, primed on whiskies, are vocal and waiting for the 9pm start.

We hold back in the large club lounges in reception and contemplate whether to try and keep up with them or not. Deep into "The Summertime Blues" and some Elvis, they are singing, the disco lights are spinning, the corny jokes have begun, the quiz results are being announced and Grandma has ventured in to investigate.

Ian and l decide to stay put outside... As the "Hokey-Pokey" hits full volume at 10.35, we retreat!
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