Kyle of Lochalsh

Kyle of Lochalsh is a village situated at the mouth of Loch Alsh, ten or so miles from Dornie and Eilean Donan Castle.

It is perhaps most famous for being the terminus of the Kyle of Lochalsh Railway line, which nominally runs from Dingwall but the trains go on to Inverness.

Kyle of Lochalsh Railway Station:-

Kyle of Lochalsh Railway Station

The Station is effectively on the pier. Handy for goods traffic:-

Ship at Kyle of Lochalsh Pier

Part of railway line:-

Lochalsh Railway Line

Signal Box, Kyle of Lochalsh, taken from same bridge as above:-

Signal Box, Kyle of Lochalsh

The village is quite small but as I recall represented the big bad wider world of fleshpots and the like for the inhabitants of the Applecross peninsula in His Bloody Project

The most impressive building in Lochalsh is the Lochalsh Hotel which has minor Art Deco leanings:-

Lochalsh Hotel

Only a mile (or less) away is the Skye Bridge. (No need now to take a boat – bonny or otherwise – over the sea to Skye.) Skye hills in background:-

Skye Bridge

In the village there is a memorial in the form of a defused mine:-

Mine Memorial, Kyle of Lochalsh

Mine memorial inscription:-

Kyle of Lochalsh Mine Memorial Inscription

Dornie, Ross-shire, Western Highlands

As I said in my posts about it Eilean Donan Castle is situated very near to the village of Dornie in Wester Ross.

Below is a photo of Dornie from the castle. The bridge goes over the entrance to Loch Long and cuts a fair few miles off the trip to Kyle of Lochalsh:-

Dornie from Eilean Donan Castle

Dornie from the bridge over Loch Long:-

Dornie from Bridge over Loch Long

Part of Loch Alsh and hills from Eilean Donan Castle. Dornie is to right here. You can just see where the water was disturbed at the junction of Loch Long and Loch Alsh:-

Loch Alsh from Eilean Donan Castle 1

Loch Alsh from Eilean Donan Castle, looking seawards, Isle of Skye in middle distance:-

Loch Alsh from Eilean Donan Castle 2

Loch Duich from Eilean Donan Castle looking inland. Dornie is behind and slightly to the left of the viewer here, Loch Alsh off to right:-

Loch Duich from Eilean Donan Castle

Raw Spirit by Iain Banks

In search of the perfect dram

Century, 2003, 368 p.

I bought this mainly for completeness. I’ve read all of Banks’s fiction and so his only non-fiction book kind of rounds things off. It also qualifies for the Read Scotland Challenge.

Raw Spirit cover

It is strange to be writing about this in the wake of the referendum. While the book is ostensibly about whisky it is in reality a hymn to Scotland, in particular its landscape, its “Great Wee Roads” and its inhabitants, not forgetting the West Highlands’ voracious midges and prodigious rainfall. Banks’s liking for fast cars can’t be missed and the numerous inns and hotels he frequented as well as the distilleries and their visitor centres (there is, it seems a whisky “experience” look) will be grateful for the exposure. Had the book been solely about whisky I would not have been the best person to appreciate it as I have never taken to the stuff.

That said, the history and processes of whisky production are described in extremely accessible terms. While Banks attempts descriptions of the single malts he samples in the course of his travels (for which he had no shortage of willing companions) this is perhaps an impossible task – in the way that descriptions of music are often lacking – but the word “peaty” does appear quite often.

Parts of Raw Spirit read like Banks’s non-SF fiction. The verbal interplay between the author and his friends is just like the conversations encountered in say Espedair Street, The Crow Road or Complicity, the asides and digressions – his journeys were undertaken and the book written around the time of the (second, the illegal) Iraq War, occasioning familiar Banksian rants – typical of his mainstream work.

As a book Raw Spirit is barely ten years old yet so much has changed since it was published. Banks himself is sadly no more, as are the Inverleven Distillery at Dumbarton and (not so sadly) the Forth Road and Skye Bridge tolls. The landscape, the Great Wee Roads, the whisky, though, remain – at least those bottles as yet unconsumed.

A delightful addition to the Banksian œuvre.

Alternate Generals III Edited by Roland J Green and Harry Turtledove

Baen, 2005

I’m a sucker for this sort of stuff. Alternate History, as it’s called, is where historical events are re-imagined as they might have been, but weren’t. Here the focus, as in Alternate Generals I and II, is on military matters.

The main interest in tales like these is on the speculation. In this volume we get; Joan of Arc not burned, but re-tried, and inadvertently starting her own religion; Mark Antony winning at Actium but suffering ever more attempts to restore the Republic, MacArthur captured on Corregidor and, in a different story, it is Eisenhower who is charged with defending the Philippines; Gengis Khan converts to Judaism and instead of a Pleasure Dome is building a new Great Temple to hold The Ark Of The Covenant; Robert E Lee, victor at Gettysburg, is ambassador to Britain when a second existential crisis hits the Confederacy; a US Special Forces team is sent outside the chain of command by President Nelson Rockefeller to assassinate Ho Chi Minh in his cave hideout near the Chinese border.

Enjoyment of a story is not necessarily related to how much background knowledge of the situation the reader already has. In The Burning Spear At Twilight Mike Resnick has Jomo Kenyatta use propagandistic methods to gain Kenya independence. I’m afraid I didn’t know enough about the Mau-Mau “emergency” to be sure where all the speculation lay but the story succeeded on its own terms.

Harry Turtledove’s Shock And Awe needs some comment. He has Jesus of Nazareth – biblical quotations and all – as a rebel leader (of “ragheads”, to their opponents) against the Romans (who are “western imperialists”.) The conceit of using modern day language like this, and in the Roman soldiers’ mouths, in order to point out the parallels quickly wears thin and is a rather heavy handed way of eliciting sympathy for the underdog. And did Turtledove really intend to invite comparisons of Saddam Hussein with Christ? At one point we could have had an “I am Spartacus” moment but in the end Turtledove sticks too closely to biblical outcomes for the story to be satisfying.

Brad Linaweaver’s A Good Bag features the theosophist Madame Blavatsky but is extremely lightweight and really no more than drivel.

Coming from this side of the Atlantic I always find it amusing when the British are the enemy. In Roland J Green’s It Isn’t Every Day Of The Week the war of 1812 follows a different course. The story culminates in a British invasion of Georgia. Due to the tale’s epistolary nature we are told the events rather than shown them and as a result the story doesn’t quite cohere. In this history the British don’t seem to burn the White House.

As a Scot, I found Lillian Stewart Carl’s Over The Sea From Skye more interesting. A defeated Duke of Cumberland flees Bonnie Prince Charlie’s followers and ends up on Skye where he encounters Flora MacDonald. The story itself is superfluously topped and tailed by extracts from Boswell’s journal which seem to be there only to shoehorn in a reference to the still loyal American colonies, and also has an unnecessary afterword. The author also suggests the original Union Jack incorporated bits to represent all four constituent nations of the union. This would have been highly unlikely. In reality the Irish cross of St Patrick was only incorporated in 1801 and the gold and black Welsh cross of St David (whose colours would clash with the red, white and blue) never has been.

Esther Friesner’s First Catch Your Elephant, about the reasons for Hannibal abandoning the Alps crossing, is meant to be humorous but is tonally askew, psychologically unconvincing and, in the end, succeeds only in being annoying.

Not so much a good bag as a mixed bag, then. Too many of the stories strove for relevance in the actual world, but on the whole the book was diverting. Don’t pick up Alternate Generals III if you’re looking for literary excellence, though.

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