Back to Fort William
The final leg of the day’s trip would be the drive back to the Premier Inn in Fort William – I’d learnt from the pick-up experience that it would be best to drop dad at the hotel with the luggage then sort out the drop-off myself. We headed back over to Loch Duich near Eilean Donan Castle, then along the loch-side on the A87, past the five-sisters range, Loch Cluanie and Loch Garry to meet the A82 at Invergarry. Much of the route is above 200m (600ft) in altitude, and it peaks near Loch Garry at 350m (about 1150 ft). All surrounded by stunning lochs and mountains, but adding to my anxiety – mainly as the first real snow shower began as we were still at sea-level alongside Loch Duich, and the snow immediately started to settle on the road surface.
Fortunately, this flurry was relatively brief, and didn’t last, and the ascent through the Kintail range was to clearing skies and on ice-free road surfaces – nothing the little Fiesta couldn’t cope with.
We stopped for a couple of photo-stops along the way – including seeing some large red deer, and some lovely snow-topped peaks.
A little further on, as we neared Spean Bridge, the clouds lifted further, giving great views towards some of Scotland’s highest mountains – Ben Nevis, Aonach Beag and Aonach Mor. We decided to stop at the Commando memorial (E), where we braved the incredibly chilly stiff breeze to get a couple of photos – dad even tried to pretend that the freezing wind was worth it, and that he was having fun really!
The memorial has an excellent car park, and easy paths, so is a good spot for a short stroll after time in the car. And, as you can see, the views are well worth it.
After this, it was back to the hotel to drop dad off, and then I took the hire car back – which was as quick and easy as the pick-up (in terms of the formalities). I then walked back to the hotel in the evening chill, snapping a couple of photos on the way, including of the new traction for the Caledonian Sleeper train (in fact very old traction from the South East of England, and looking very out of place this far away from its usual locations!).
A hint of what used to be
As we sat down for our dinner in the bar/restaurant of the Premier Inn (F) (we’d booked the meal-deal to keep things simple), there was a moment that in many ways was the highlight of the trip for me. With the aphasia alongside the dementia, as I’d mentioned at the start, this wasn’t a trip full of conversation and witty repartee, but just for a minute over dinner there was a hint of my dad of old – I’d had some wine with dinner, and dad had had a beer, which wasn’t yet finished. We have a long history of stealing each others’ food and drink (often accompanied by practical jokes or other messing about), and I jokingly reached for dad’s beer as my wine was gone. And, just for a moment, his eyes lit up, and the quick-witted banter was back – “you wouldn’t do that to me;” “I would”, “you wouldn’t be so mean … oh, go on then!!”, and his full-hearted laugh. Just this minute of “old dad” back was worth all the harder bits of the trip (and there had been some really hard moments that had made me question whether I was out of my depth!). There was no stumbling over words, no struggling to understand the situation – just the quick-fire back and forward that had been such a part of our relationship for the first 35 years of my life. Happy and sad all at the same time.
After dinner, we turned in early, as we had a reasonably early start to our journey back to York the next morning. One final installment to come – and a lot more snow!