We woke up the next morning and were quick to realize we had no idea when we were supposed to be out of the house. After getting dressed and packing away most of our things, we found Bill downstairs and asked when they needed us out of the house. Check out happened to be about two hours before our bus left. Instead of leaving and having to come back for our luggage, we decided to try our luck at storing it at the bus station during our last few hours in Inverness. Once we were informed it would cost us to stow our things for a while, we re-evaluated our departure time.
We had scheduled our bus to Fort William for later in the day for some forgotten reason so we had no problem leaving on an earlier bus. We had left Jean and Bill’s with enough time to stop into Charlie’s Café for breakfast first, where we both enjoyed nice big bowls of porridge. Before we knew it we were back on a bus driving down the edge of Loch Ness once again. Our stay in Fort William would allow us a bit more flexibility when it came to check out and arrival time. We had an entire holiday cottage to ourselves and as long as we arrived before eight we were in the clear.
This was the first and only place we would be renting a car while we were in Scotland. It was partly because the place we were staying was about a 20-minute drive south of Fort William and we were pretty sure there weren’t any buses that were going to take us there. The other part of necessity was we had plans to drive down the coast to a place called Oban. From there we would be taking a ferry to the Isle of Mull to see some brightly painted houses that had been photographed for a calendar we had back home. We’d become rather fond of them before our trip, and this excursion also validated our decision to bring our hiking boots.
The Fort William bus station was in the same building as the train station. This was fortunate for us, as we would be coming back to the train station later in our stay. I won’t say for what though just yet. When we booked the car we had the option of picking it up from the station, which was convenient. But once we had arrived, it was not obviously apparent where the office for the rental company was. We asked at the ticket booth. What we found out was that there was no actual office there. Instead someone from the company was supposed to meet us at the station with the car. The problem was we had not told them we would be arriving early.
The man at the ticket counter kindly gave the rental place a call to let them know we had arrived. Several minutes later a tall blonde man was helping us load our things into a silver sedan and whisking us away to the office. We parked just out front of a small gray building marked with the words ‘Easy Drive’ printed below an image of the Scottish flag. Our driver pointed to the small, black four-door car beside us and asked us if we were alright with this one. We had no objections. It had wheels and was tiny, which meant it took up less space on the road where there would be other cars that could hit us. He helped us transfer our bags into the boot then directed us into the office where we could get the paperwork taken care of.
The gentleman behind the desk was very friendly but still new at the job. Everything went smoothly but he wasn’t sure how to refund us the fee we were charged for scheduling a pick up time outside of business hours. He said he would leave a note and have someone help him take care of it the next day. We told him that was just fine. With everything signed and paid for, we left the office and got into the car, feeling a bit backwards. I was stuck being passenger the whole stay. There had been an additional fee for drivers under the age of 25, so in the interest of saving money mom agreed to be the solo driver.
We hadn’t even made it out of the Easy Drive parking lot, hell, we had barely made it to the exit of the parking lot, and mom was already driving on the wrong side of the road, something I was sure to tease her about and we both had a good laugh being overly dramatic about the whole thing. Lucky for us no one else was picking up a rental car at that moment in time. Mom pulled out onto the left side of the road and went back in the direction of the bus station. Before driving south to the cottage, we went back to the Morrison’s grocery store that was also conveniently located by the bus station.
It was the roundabouts. That was the toughest it got for us. The lanes were not marked quite as clearly as they are on the roundabouts at home, probably because they actually use roundabouts in Scotland and we barely seem to know what they are back home. Our roundabout intuition was lacking. Working together to identify the right exit kept us from having to drive around in a circle and look like lost and confused tourists, thankfully. When we turned into the lot of Morrison’s mom parked as far away from any other cars as she could.
Navigating grocery stores for the first time is almost as overwhelming as driving a new car in another country for the first time, only the consequences if you do something stupid aren’t quite as severe. No one is going to sue you if you crash into their shopping trolley. We didn’t know it then, but in the end we wound up buying more food than we needed for our stay. That didn’t stop us from eating it all, mostly out of refusal to carry it with us or waste it. Now came the real driving test. Finding our way all the way down the peninsula to a place called Onich.
The trouble wasn’t finding the road to take us south. There was only one that would do that. It was finding the right turn from there, and you bet your bottom we drove by it the first time. This made it easier, however, to find it on the way back since it was now a left turn instead of a right (remember, everything is backwards from what make sense to you). After that we still got lost a bit, but at least we were already in the ballpark. We bounced through the little village on an uneven dirt road, keeping our eyes peeled for a gravel driveway. Then we drove down the wrong gravel driveway. The one we picked first took us across a grassy field spread out in front of a large stone manor house. We let ourselves entertain for a second that this was the humble cottage we were staying at but quickly changed our tune, deciding it was better to turn around as soon as possible before someone came out and shot us.
Our turn was just before the driveway to the manor house on the right. It took us around to the end of an L-shaped line of cottages. Number 11 was the last unit in the last row. Mom swung into the extra wide spot out front and turned off the car. I looked at her and shouted, “We made it!” She let out an exaggerated sigh of relief. The worst of it was over. We got out and began schlepping all of our stuff down the short flight of stairs and into the house.
The front door opened to reveal a small foyer area with stairs straight across from the entrance. The kitchen and living room were off to the left. At the top of the stairs was the bathroom. The first bedroom was to the left of the stairs and the other was at the end of the hall. It was a very nice place, just big enough for two people to move around in and share comfortably. But the best part, by far, was the view from the back deck.
Onich is right on the edge of Loch Linnhe. The rocky beach was not even a five-minute walk from our cottage. Across the water were the hazel and forest green hills of the Highlands. The clouds overhead were a churning cluster of grays and whites accentuated with shadows cast by the pale yellow rays shining from somewhere amongst the muddled mass. The whole scene was idyllic.
Once we had put our things away a snooped through all the kitchen cabinets, we walked back down the gravel drive to the beach. There wasn’t a bit of sand to be seen. This was a Scottish beach after all. So we carefully picked our way across the expanse of gray stones, finding flat land where we could. There was an occasional lump of vegetation strewn across the rocks. Our eyes were fixed on the ground, not only to keep us from breaking our ankles but also to spot any shells that might have been washed up.
We hadn’t gone too far from our starting point before I had at least three or four shells worth saving cupped tenderly in my hand. The light was steadily slipping away so we left the beach from where we were and walked back to the cottage on the road. We passed a pasture filled with some cows so of course we had to stop and try our luck at enticing one or two over so we could give them a pat. But it was no good. The grass in the pen was the same, if not better, than what we had from along the fence line. We gave it up and went home.
Back at the cottage I began to fuss with the cable box. We didn’t have anything else to do, why not enjoy a little telly while we had the chance? Once everything was switched on I began flicking through channel after channel until I found Doctor Who (which really isn’t that surprising)! I know this seems silly, but I was abnormally excited by the idea of watching Doctor Who in Scotland/the UK, especially since Peter Capaldi is the current Doctor (he’s Scottish). I was equally as excited when I came across Top Gear the following night. It just felt decidedly British to watch those two shows. But I digress.
After we had finished a light dinner of pasta and watched an episode of Doctor Who we climbed up the stairs to get ready for bed. The next day would bring new adventures and new things to see. And you can’t do much exploring if you’re half asleep.