I arrived at Mallaig off McBrayne’s ferry Loch Nevis, about 5.30pm on a hot sunny evening. I bought such things as I might need were I to have to camp, and set off south at ten past six. Lovely motoring through delicate evening light – or perhaps late afternoon sunshine. It would have been nice to stop, but I couldn’t really spare the time. I was hampered in places by motorists “pootling”, particularly on the Mallaig to Fort William section, in Glen Coe, and on Rannoch Moor. The practice of pootling is deplorable. It is the practice of not driving as fast as the road will safely allow, and not a mile an hour slower. That this may be faster than the national speed limit is neither here nor there. As an aside to the once delightful road across Rannoch Moor, I can see the authorities have found a very cost-effective way of restricting the speed of motorists on that stretch: Failing to maintain the road. A road that as recently as ten years ago was quite safe to take at 90 or even 100 mph is now so rutted and pot-holed as to be literally – not metaphorically – a white-knuckle ride at 75mph.
I got to Crianlarich at 8.15pm and I had every intent of staying in the Crianlarich Hotel, which I know had rooms available. The restaurant was heaving with the Grey Pound, but the reception desk was abandoned. I rang the bell. I waited. I left. Distinctly unimpressed, I pushed on down the Stirling road towards Lochearnhead. I’d never driven this road, and it is over thirty years since I was taken along it in a minibus. Lochearnhead itself has no licensed premises or hostelries of any form whatsoever. Slightly further on, and growing a little edgy as evening wore on, I saw and drove past “Mhor 84”. I stopped, three-pointed and came back. It was 8.45p.m – the edge of the reasonable time for supper. I could have ended up in some Travel Lodge in Stirling, or camping rough in the lowlands in some farmer’s field – this is not the wilderness of the Great Glen.
Mine host – a pleasant mannered and rounded Antipodean lady – said she had a room, for which the booked clients had not yet turned up. On the basis that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, she promised the room to me, even as I stood before her. Somewhat relieved, I went into dinner, and started a much-needed pint. This meant that I wasn’t driving any further even if the Australian lady wasn’t good for her word. But she was.
The room was small and white, with Venetian blinds which at this time of year at this latitude are not a lot of use. There were some great vintage signs on the walls – an RAC sign on one wall, and a training display of the Norwegian alphabet on another. Some antlers had been salvaged from elsewhere. I loved the fact that they had been wrenched by main force from a wall panel of that now lost building. A little scrap of panel remained on the white wall. A nice touch, was a flask of fresh milk to make tea in the morning.
In the morning I sat down for breakfast and it became clear to me that I had not paid £90 for B&B, only for the bed. They wanted another £12 or so for my breakfast. I left on the instant, perhaps not with the greatest grace, and checked out. Nice place, arguably over-priced.
Ten miles down the road in Callander I stopped in a little cafe – the Deli Ecosse – for a first rate Full Scottish with coffee, for a little over £6. Lovely atmosphere, great service. That’s why I love the free market.