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Biking from Canterbury to Belfast
Bob Moen's Tour de U.K. 1998
Friday, June 19th, 1998 - Dispatch #6

Edinburgh, Scotland
Yesterday was the end Tour de U.K. and Ireland, 1998. I'm quite pleased with how well everything went. There was a bit too much rain, but on the other hand the people have been wonderful. Not once have I had to "cop an attitude" to get me through an unpleasant situation. Not once has a driver honked at me in anger, nor did I have any close calls with cars or otherwise. My bike performed perfectly, as did my weary body and legs. I had only one flat tire.

Altogether, I traveled 975 Bob-miles from Lands End, where I started Twenty-five days ago, to Inverness Scotland. Bob-miles are not as-the-crow-flies miles nor do they include train or ferry travel. Yesterday I rode into Inverness, boarded a train and am now in Edinburgh sitting in the Web 13 cyber cafe. (My first cyber cafe of the day, Cyberia, had such bad equipment I had to relocate after losing about an hours' work.)

As you probably know, I had planned to make it to John O'Groats, the most northern part of the UK. Sorry to let you down, but I decided I'd rather see more of historical central Scotland and less of its northern moors.

As with England, Wales and Ireland I found Scotland a lovely place for a bike tour (gee, I starting to speak like a Brit -- "lovely" is the most often used word here). Like Ireland, glaciers scored deep valleys through the mountains, making Scotland ideal for bicycle riding, since there are few long, steep summits.

Scenery in Scotland is spectacular. I would not surprised if it has more coastline than the U.S, given its many islands and lochs. Even more so than Ireland, the mountains in western Scotland soar upwards from the ocean. Plus, unlike the other areas I cycled through, Scotland is not cut-up with a patchwork of hedgerows or stone fences, so it has more sweeping views.

While here, I made it a point to visit Oban, where my great grandfather was born. I had the faint hope I could learn more about him, but mostly I just wanted to commune with the ghosts of ancestors past. I had little to go on, other than he was born in Oban in 1852 and was a member of the Glenshellach branch of the Campbell clan. But I found much more than I had expected.

Upon arriving in Oban I first visited the old church cemetery. There I found many Campbell headstones. I also discovered the founder of the church, John Campbell, died in 1852. Was my great grandfather named after him? I'll probably never know. Still I took comfort in knowing that I was probably related to some of those long dead Campbells.

Next, I went to the tourist office and asked if "Glennshellach clan" meant anything to them. Unfortunately, I was speaking to a 20 year-old kid who was too young to understand the "ancestor" thing, plus he seemed too focused on that afternoon's match in the World Cup, Scotland vs. Norway. At least he didn't have his face painted blue, as some fans do.

He did manage to give me a lead: There was a road name Glennshellach Road, which I quickly found. It led me out of town on a one-lane road up into a small, grassy valley inhabited by grazing sheep. There, I figured it out: I was in a glen named Shellach, hence the name, Glenshellach. Duh. At about that time a car came down the road. "Do you know anything of the Campbells of Glenshellach," I asked.

"Never heard of them. But in the farmhouse up the road a lady lives who has been here all her life." Within a few hundred yards I found the farm house. An 80-year old lady with clear, sky-blue eyes came to the door. "Yes, I knew a Mary Campell who lived farther down the road, but she died many years ago and the Campbells no longer own the place."

So down the road I rode to the next farm house, except now rather than a farm, it is a commercial camp ground. There, Mr. and Mrs. Tye, the owners were friendly and extremely helpful. They had purchased the property in 1966, twenty-years after it had been sold by the Campbells to someone else. I learned that originally it had been a small crofter (farm) cottage, built of stone probably more than 200 years ago. Today, after many additions, it is a lovely, modern home. I couldn't believe it. I was probably standing in the house where my grandfather was born!

Then I really hit pay dirt. About five years ago a married couple from Edinburgh dropped by, just as I had. The man had been related to Mary Campell and, in fact, for part of his life had been raised in the cottage. Perhaps, he was my cousin, several times removed, I wondered. The couple had sent to Mr. and Mrs. Tye photos circa 1940 of an elderly Mary Campbell and her sister, Kate, standing in front of the cottage. The Tye's gave me the pictures along with a sketch of the original floor plan of the cottage and its outbuildings! With the sketches I was able to stand in the court yard and visualize how it used to look.

Last night I called my mother in the U.S. She dug out a family tree drawn by her cousin had many years ago. It showed that John Campbell had two sisters, Katherine and Mary. Could it be? Were the pictures in my hand, my Mother's grandfather's sisters? Unfortunately, we'll never know. Today, when I tried to call the man who had been raised in the cottage, I found from his widow that he had died several years ago. But she did give the phone numbers and addresses of two of his cousins, so the search for my Campbell ancestors has not yet reached a dead end.

As long as I am discussing the Campbell clan, let me mention one other thing. And that is: I didn't do it. Don't blame me. I know nothing about any missing rings. Get over it.

I'm getting tired of hearing about the Glencoe Massacre every time I mention that I am a "Campbell." Frankly, I think the Campbell clan needs the same PR firm the handled that Pearl Harbor problem the Japanese used to have.

As I understand it, in many ways the massacre--well, known, but not well understood--is Scottish to the core, involving not just betrayal, oppression and suffering, but also survival.

Here's the unvarnished story from the book "Scottish Clans" by Pitkin. Let the pieces fall where they may: "In 1692 it was decided that all clan chiefs should take the oath of allegiance to the King not later than January 1. Those who refused would be met 'by fire and sword and all manner of hostility'."

"All the clan chiefs, but McDonald of Glencoe, took the oath by January 1. He took it on January 6. At last King William had someone to make an example of. So 120 men from the Earl of Argyll's (unfortunately, a Campbell) Regiment under the command of Captain Robert Campbell (oops, another Campbell), went to Glencoe to be billeted in the cottages there. The troops were received with the legendary Highland courtesy and for 15 days they shared friendship, food and drink with the Glencoe MacDonalds. Captain Campbell particularly enjoyed playing cards with old MacIan and his sons. Then on February 12 the Captain received an order authorizing the massacre of the MacDonalds, 'putt all the sword under seventy, you are to have a special care that the old fox and his sones doe upon no account escape you hands.' The slaughter was to begin at 5 AM, the following morning."

"That evening Captain Campbell played cards with MacIan's sons and said how much he looked forward to dining with the chief the next evening. But as the long dark night of February 12 gave way to the morning of the 13, the soldiers began their work. MacIan was shot in his bed and his wife had her rings wrenched from her fingers by a soldier's teeth. Then 39 clansmen were attacked in their sleep, bound hand and foot, and murdered in the snow. Their cottages were put on fire as fresh snow began to fall. As the other clansmen realized what was happening they tarted from their beds and ran towards the caves. Many died in the snow; about half the clan survived. Not only was this hideous crime, but it was a deliberate mockery of that Highland tradition whereby hospitality was offered even to an enemy."

So what does it all mean? Given my blood lines you'd better think twice about inviting me over to spend the night.

I've got to find a B&B for the night, so let me make a few quick points:

  • Castle Campbell in Dollar, Scotland is the best. It is not a large mansion as are so many castles, but a real defensive stronghold, perched high on a rock. Dollar is a neat-as-a-pin village situated at the foot of a mountain range. It's my new "wish I lived there" location in the U.K.
  • The town of Oban is lovely, too. Worth a visit. But Fort Williams, down the road, is ugly and a waste of time. Perhaps, my best day's ride was between the two. The road was fast and essentially level as it followed the coast. Traffic was extremely light, due to the big match (which ended up in a tie -- leaving Scotland still in the running. Go, Scotland).
  • Glasgow surprised me. It has many architecturally impressive 19th century sandstone buildings. But if you have visit only one city in Scotland, visit Edinburgh.
  • Too many tourists go to Loch Ness. The roads are crowded with tourist buses. Frankly, I wished I could have avoided it.
  • The hundred year old Forth Railway Bridge is HUGE. It may not be as graceful as the Golden Gate Bridge, but it is just as impressive.
  • Haggis tastes pretty good. Just don't tell me what's in it.
  • I didn't much care for Stirling. Maybe it was the rain?
  • The studies are in. British football (and the World's Cup) is more spectacle than substance. It is not as interesting as American football. Study #1: The 95% male pub audience stand around visiting until someone attempts a score. Only then do they focus on the game. Study #2: The expert commentators almost exclusively discuss scoring attempts, too. I heard very little discussion of offensive/defensive strategy or mid-field plays. Study #3: The nightly news' replays show only the scoring attempts. Never, do they replay a mid-field pass or whatever else that happens there. Here's my suggestion to improve the game: Shorten the field so every play is a potential score. This will increase the scores and make the game more interesting.
  • I had the "treat" of hearing three high school bagpipe bands warming up for a parade. Whew! Even the birds were leaving the area. But of course not everyone agrees. According to the Highland Music Museum in Inverness (, "The Highland bagpipes using only nine notes, a simple drone, and no variation in volume, its subtlety and refinement represents a triumph over limitation."
  • I averaged £22 a night for lodging and about another £18 pounds a day for lunch, dinner, snacks, museum fees, etc. Roughly about $60 a day or $1800 altogether. When you add, the $600 plane fare and another $600 for train and ferry fares and bike box shipping, I spent $3,000 for the trip (excluding cyber cafe and film costs). Be your own judge, but I think that is quite reasonable for a one-month foreign country vacation.
Its time I sign off. I hope you've enjoyed these dispatches. They've certainly added an interesting twist to my bike tour. Perhaps, when I get back to the U.S., I'll have the time to do a wrap-up type dispatch. Cheers.

1999 Bike Tour
Back to the start of 1998 Tour

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