Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Newtonmore, Scotland: Part 1

I have nothing to blog about so am forced to resume posting vacation pictures. After Windermere we went to Newtonmore. Newtonmore is smack in the middle of Scotland in a mountain range called the Cairngorms. The Cairngorms cover 5% of Scotland, but less than 1% of the population lives in the region. I forget where I heard that. I hope it's right. It is the farthest north I have ever been in Scotland. We passed the previous record-holder, Stirling, on the train ride up. Stirling is the "gateway to the highlands." North of it, the landscape gets very . . . glacial. It's like stepping back a couple billion years. There's simply nothing there but brown, rocky, treeless land formations, some so big you couldn't see the top from the train window. I'm told they're teeming with life, but you wouldn't know to look at them.

The Cairngorms

Here's what's in Newtonmore: one street worth speaking of, one tourist shop, more rabbit warrens than you will ever see in one place again, a war memorial (all towns with more than three residents have one), two or three cafes with eccentric opening hours, a used books shop, and a very small grocery store.

Main Street, Newtonmore
The Strathspey Mountain Hostel is where we stayed.

But let's back up and talk about the grocery store. In every other place we stayed (national capitols aside), grocery stores opened at seven if you were lucky, and closed at five or six. But this store, in a one-street town in The-Middle-of-Nowhere, Scotland, opened at SIX IN THE MORNING and stayed open until TEN AT NIGHT. We were so happy, so delighted, so tickled, that we immediately bought everything they had. When you've spent a week never entirely knowing where your next meal is coming from, and being unable to rely on grocery stores opening at normal hours, you start to get greedy. Scones? Check. Crumpets? Check. Jam and butter? Check. Scottish cheddar? Check. Nairn's Oatcakes? Check. Milk, orange juice? Check. Fruit 'n' Fibre? OH YES, CHECK. Best cereal I have ever had that didn't involve chocolate. I took a picture, that's how good it is. Don't worry, I'm not going to make you look at it.

The reason we could buy all this food was that our hostel was basically a house with a lot of bunkbeds in it. It had a full kitchen, a fireplace, and lo! a television. And aside from one hiking guide who was rarely in, we had it to ourselves.

Behold the kitchen!

Behold the living room, by which I really mean, behold the magical moving picture machine!
Unfortunately all we ever saw on the tv were soap operas and reality shows. The man and woman shown here were about to get married when the woman's mysterious chronic/fatal disease, which had no symptoms other than making her faint moments before her wedding, caused her untimely but dramatic expiration shortly thereafter. It was one of the stupidest things I have ever seen. And the other soaps were actually worse.

Behold, while you're at it, Travel Buddy's amazing sheep slippers.
It was wise of her not to mail these home until we left Newtonmore, because it was extremely cold. We thought it was unnecessary when the hostel owner showed us how to make a coal fire in the fireplace, but we ended up having a fire every night. Otherwise we would have died of exposure indoors, which would have been embarrassing and inconvenient.

I haven't actually covered anything we did yet, but this seems long so I'll stop here. Well, no, I will stop after I warn you against the evils of Irn Bru (which is "iron brew" spelled in a more manly way, I guess). Irn Bru is a Scottish soft drink. It is orange. It is everywhere.

It is utterly disgusting. It tastes like carbonated bubblegum with a twist of licorice. It gives me the same feeling that drinking orange-flavored Triaminic used to give me, which is a desperate desire to scrape all the taste buds off my tongue and then drink a gallon of water. Maybe you do have to be extra manly to be able to stand this stuff. I'm not sure whether my opinion of the Scottish people is raised or lowered by the fact that they can drink large quantities of it without puking.

P.S. A picture of Fruit 'n' Fibre, for those of you, like Ivan, who are deeply interested in cereal.
I didn't say it was a very good picture. This picture makes it look like Raisin Brain. But it is so much more than that, my friends. So much more.


Ivan said...

I for one would like to see the fruit n fiber photograph

Anonymous said...

Do I have to go all the way to Newtonmore to get a pair of those adorable sheep slippers?

Simon said...

Ivan, I have granted your request. Weirdo.

Anon, no, of course you don't have to go all the way to Scotland. Only to the Lake District!

Ivan said...

oh god, RAISINS. what a cereal turn off.