Out of the Fog…Into the Cold

I ventured out of my sanctuary today, to head to Inverness and Culloden Moor. I was a bit nervous leaving on a whim, but I decided that it was time to be brave. Usually I am well prepared, and by that I mean, Eagle Scout prepared!  However, in an effort to step out of my comfort zone a wee bit, I decided to wing it. As I type this, all that keeps coming to mind is a quote that is circulating around social media. The quote starts out, “I’m going to wing it!” It is then followed with the definition (and punch line), “Me, about something I, most definitely, should NOT wing!”

That punch line was my day in a nutshell.

Purchasing bus fare to Inverness was pretty straightforward.  I asked the driver for a “day return” ticket and, aside from a small increase in the anticipated cost, everything was normal.  I paid, collected my ticket (which had an open-end return), and had a nice ride to town.

I wasn’t sure what I was going to do while I was in Inverness, but one of my goals on this trip was to visit Culloden Moor. I hopped off the bus and, resigning myself to my ignorance as a tourist, went to the information stand and asked for help! I received pity from the desk agent upon confessing that I had no idea what I was doing. I explained that I needed to find the best way to reach the battlefield and she promptly informed me of the bus I would need to take, how much I would need to pay for a day pass, and where I would need to go to pick it up.  I was also informed that I had about ten minutes to catch the bus, so I thanked the lady and hurried on my way.

At home, I have a keen sense of direction and impeccable navigational skills.  They were definitely put to the test when I stepped out of the bus station!  Until this trip, I had never been this far north (in latitude) and the sun does not rise or set as it does in Colorado.  Other markers for navigation were also missing. Certain characteristics of landscape had changed. In general, the mountains I am used to run in a north/south direction. In Scotland, the ranges run in a north-easterly/south-westerly direction. Another characteristic change is that, in Inverness, it is almost impossible to gain bearing from the landscape as the buildings obscure the skyline. That said, my bearings for east and west were completely off.  Luckily, I snagged a map from the apartment and was able to chart my route to Union Street.  Upon locating the street, I saw my bus at the other end and something in my head said, “You had better run!”  It was a good thing I did, too. As I approached the door, the last person in line was paying their fare.  I had just made it!  I paid my fare and took my seat.  The door closed and we began our journey to Culloden Battlefield!

On our way there, I was getting nervous about the return ride.  I was having trouble making out the exact return times.  But, the guide indicated that there were buses running (at some minute interval) every hour, so I reassured myself that I would be able to get back to Inverness, I may just suffer a wait.  At the time, getting back to Inverness was my only concern.

When we reached Culloden, I stepped off the bus and looked at my watch.  It was a little past one o’clock.  I thought, “Keep a close eye on the time! Don’t want to get stuck out here.”  It was windy up on the moor, but it wasn’t too cold. I had thought about doing a quick run through, intending to be back at pick-up location around 13:27.

From the guide, I had deduced that the hourly run times were on a 27-minute interval.  I would come to realize, later, that I had absolutely no clue how to decode the bus schedule, a.k.a. cipher!

When I got to the field, the wind died down and I began to feel warm.  There was more to see than first appeared, so I decided that I would take my time and stay until the 14:27 bus.

I wandered around and got to take some lovely pictures.  I learned a bit about the battle and came across offerings.  The feeling was somber.  As the clock approached 14:00 I made my way back to the entry point and decided to use the remainder of my time for more photography.  A ramp way offered some elevation and a good vantage point so I wandered up.  While I was collecting artistic shots of moss, I noticed a bus leaving the parking lot.  I looked at my watch and it was only 14:06!  “This couldn’t be my bus,” I said to myself, “it’s too early!”  Worried, I made my way down to the pick up location.  I rationalized that it was probably another bus and that I should wait there until 14:27 pick up.

As the sun started marching its way to bed, the wind started to pick up – not an unusual meteorological condition. I started to feel a bit of a chill, but wasn’t concerned. The bus would be there shortly. At about 14:15, a couple that had ridden the same bus as me, approached to ask about the pick up times. I confessed that this was my first go at public transportation and that I would probably be of little help. I expressed that I recognized them from the trip in, and that it was nice not to be standing there alone. We shared a bit of small talk and the minutes fell away. I started to notice the feeling you get when the skin on your thighs goes numb from the cold. Still, I wasn’t alarmed. This was a normal feeling during winter running season in Colorado.

I looked at my watch again. It read, 14:28 and there was no sign of a bus on the horizon. Again, I rationalized that buses are not always on time, so I told the couple that I would wait a bit longer. They agreed and we continued to chat. The wind had grown stronger in that time and I started to notice the chill setting in. We feigned about walking back to Inverness. I joked, “It may be a two hour walk, but at least we would be moving to stay warm.” I looked again, 14:35. It was apparent that my interpretation of the cipher was wrong.

A day or so prior to my visit to Culloden, I came across a brochure that noted different points of interest around Inverness.  The brochure also included details of seasonal closures.  It was a damned shame that the visitor’s center was closed for the season. Without a bus stand, the signs that marked the entrance to the memorial provided little wind protection. The sun was getting lower and the temperature was dropping, but we decided to hold out until 15:00. Maybe the buses did run on the hour? Besides, what could we do? There wasn’t anywhere to go to get out of the cold.

I started shivering around 14:45. I was praying that the bus would make it. I didn’t have a backup plan and my phone had marginal service. I had been standing there for almost an hour, with a wind chill that dropped the temperature below freezing. I needed to get my body temp back up, so I started pacing. My legs didn’t want to work and I couldn’t feel my thighs. I noticed, too, that my jaw was starting to stiffen. I don’t remember a time in my life that I had ever been that cold! “Just gotta wait fifteen more minutes,” was my mantra. Let me tell you that fifteen minutes felt like an eternity. And, when the bus didn’t show up at 15:00, I wanted to cry.

I couldn’t wait any longer. I needed to get warm. My newfound friends and I decided earlier, that if the bus didn’t arrive, we would try to hitch a ride from one of the other sightseers. She continued to wait with me for the bus to arrive and he went to ask for a ride. He was standing in the parking lot, waiting, when I decided that I had had enough fun for one day. Just as I was making arrangements for a ride back, for the three of us, the bus showed up. It was 15:15. I thanked the woman who graciously offered her assistance and the three of us boarded the bus back to Inverness. At 16:45, I boarded the bus back to Fort Augustus.

When I got back to Fort Augustus, I realized that I hadn’t eaten all day. I didn’t feel much like cooking, so I ventured out to one of the local pubs. After dinner I came back to the apartment and pulled the computer out to write about my adventure. Prior to sitting down, I pulled my water bottle out of the pack I was carrying while I was out at the field. It was ice cold.



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