After two weeks in Ireland, we headed to Scotland, because as Mike Meyers would say, “If it’s not Scottish its crap!” While the people are just as kindhearted as Ireland, they are definitely more reserved and measured in their responses. We parked ourselves at the Loch Ness Clansman Hotel with the ability to see Nessie from our room.
Our first stop was the 13th century castle Eilean Donan. It was renovated in in the early 1900’s and is absolutely exquisite. You may have seen it in the Highlander movie (There can be only one!) We were not given permission to photograph inside, which appears to be a consistent restriction in Scotland. However, we were told that we could shoot on the island grounds after 6PM. We decided to leave our hotel at 12 and have a leisurely countryside drive and lunch in route. We arrived at 3PM as planned, toured the castle and had a snack as we waited until 6PM.
However, we failed to plan for tidal waters. The water was already low when we arrived and would disappear at low tide around 7PM. In addition, we had zero light, just mushy, gray skies. Sadly, we also had a communications failure. We didn’t know, who would even think, that the grounds would be completely accessible all night. Basically, after 6 PM anyone can walk up on the grounds. We falsely assumed we would have to shoot at 6PM and have a limited window of opportunity. Given the extra time, we decided to roll into a pub and kill as much time as we could. The problem was we got up really early, the sun rises around 4 AM here and we had a long drive back on roads I wasn’t exactly comfortable on. Further complicating matters, we had to leave early the next morning for a tour of Castle Stalker. We decided to wait until after 9 PM and then shoot with the best light we could. I would have loved to wait for blue light, but if we did we would have been obliterated for the next day. Given our challenges we weren’t disappointed with what we pulled off.
When we got back to our hotel, we were both feeling run down and not sure if we could rally the next morning. However, when the sun shines in your room at 4 AM it’s a little easier to get moving, even if it was a slow crawl. We headed out for the predicted 2 hour drive and were making good time until the swing bridges started to literally swing. It seemed like we hit boat rush hour and had to wait for a few bridges to be put back into place. We eventually made it with a few minutes to spare, but had a little difficulty finding where we were supposed to pull in. When we found the right spot, a few other cars pulled in behind us, apparently equally as confused.
We were greeted by a Scottish gentlemen and told to wait as they brought the boat around. The tour was limited to about 10 people and given by Alasdair Allward. He is the current owner of the castle whose father purchased the ruins of Castle Stalker and completely renovated it. We didn’t know what to expect from the tour and were completely blown away by the next two hours.
Some of you may recognize that this isn’t just the Castle Stalker, but the Castle Arrrggghhh from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It’s in the last scene where the grail is kept. Those that know me know I can recite every line of the movie down to the inflection of voice. The question was, would Alasdair be into the fact that the movie was filmed there or resent it? As it turns out his father, hated the troupe, but didn’t recognize the film company name when they asked for permission to use his property. Alasdair, being of college age at the time, was a huge fan and jumped at the chance to help out.
Alasdair filled us in on a few juicy tales of the day’s filming. Whether it was production tidbits, like how they built the decorations for the boat King Arthur rides from drift wood and scraps found around the shoreline or how Eric Idle drained the battery of the police car running the flashers and siren all day, Alasdair had our complete attention. He even appeared in the film as one of the French guards.
However, his delivery didn’t end with just movie trivia. He had an endless knowledge of the constant turmoil and ping pong ownership of the castle and delivered it with wit and pacing that invoked intrigue and curiosity. To a non-Scottish individual this could get old quickly, but it didn’t. I was enthralled by his description of the history. The Hatfields and the McCoys had nothing on the hundreds of years of turmoil between the Campbells and the Stewarts. The castle changed hands many times through a colorful series of conflicts including drunken gambling, marauders and murders! I won’t go into detail, you need to hear it firsthand. Let’s just say if you own land you should think twice before you accept a dinner invitation in Scotland.
If that were the entire tour, it would have been enough, but there is another facet to the experience. Alasdair, his dad, his entire family, their friends, and almost anyone they could hassle into a summer escape to the castle restored the castle themselves as an incomprehensible DIY project. If there were reality TV in the mid 1900’s, this would have been the bomb. The comical tales of how they solved the challenges of transport, construction, and improvisation appealed to the engineer in me, but would Jennifer feel the same? The answer was a resounding yes! As two people that prefer to be outside instead of in a building, we couldn’t have been more pleased.
Our course, there was still the work at hand. We needed a photo shoot. Alasdair seemed quite approachable and since he had some replicas of shields that he let kids try, we decided to ask if we could use on in the photo shoot. He kindly agreed and it helped make the shot. Again, we had little light to work with. A night shot, the luck of a sunset, or blue light would have been the way to go, but having the shield made a highly unusual accent for us.
For our last day in Scotland, we decided to hike around the hotel. There’s a wonderful trail right out the back called the Abriachan Wood. We only hiked a few kilometers to get breathtaking views of the loch, but then scurried down to make it to our hotel just before the sky dumped again.
Totally exhausted we arrived in Birmingham England for one last, but easy photo shoot. The bride at rest… but for how long! We just finished 250 photo shoots since our wedding over 8 years ago. Here’s to the next 250!