The castle trail with a difference

Simon and Nev are two Scottish guys.

Simon lives in Inverness, one of Scotland's top spots for travellers and backpackers.

Nev lives in Aberdeen. No travellers ever go there.

Their mission is to persuade travellers in Inverness to go and experience Aberdeen - with one surefire way to tempt them.

Free accommodation with Nev. In a castle.

This is their story...

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Thursday, November 06, 2003
 
Ahem.

Yes, its November. And that last post was July. Well to be honest the excuse is that the trail is over. So rather than leaving it hanging in a state of limbo like the end of the Italian Job, I thought I would wrap things up and try not to shed a tear at the same time.

The grand headline is, of course, that we did it. We succeeded in directing tourists to Aberdeen due to the lure of the castle. Those three Danish girls made it, although Sarah the Canadian does not count because she did it in reverse. Neither did four drunk, middle-aged Germans I met in a bar in Inverness, who were - I think - rather scared of me when I told them about the castle. Niall never heard from them. Perhaps for the best.

The facts that our Danish people were going to Aberdeen anyway, that they were scared of the castle, that the purpose of The Castle Trail was to get people to go there who weren't already going, and that my success rate considering all the tourists I met was pitiful, are all irrelevant. I'm claiming victory. I have few enough moments of glory in life without missing out on this one!

Well, so it is at an end. The tourist season is winding down here as winter sets in, and I can only look forward to the masses returning at around Easter time. I wonder what I could do with the ones I meet next year? Niall is applying for teaching jobs in Korea at the moment. Now there's an idea forming...

Goodbye, dear readers.

Thursday, July 31, 2003
 
Good god Simon, I take a short break from writing due to a busy schedule (albeit one that perhaps involves extreme drinking sessions) and find Simon has posted vicious vitriol on this website. Anyway, I'll forgive him and make up for it with by putting a short update on.

There's been an abundance of castle news as always, so much so that it's impossible to know where to begin. The massive June party I suppose. To give it full justice would involve pages of fabulous writing which I have neither the time nor the actual unblemished memory for, but I think everyone can agree that it was the biggest party most people have ever been to. It was more or less an unqualified success, I'm glad to say, with only a few minor injuries despite the treacherous cliffs and virtually no damage to the castle.

The party was more of a festival actually, as it stretched from Friday to Sunday, had live music as well as DJs for the entirety, and all around the grounds were tents thoughtfully brought by people intending on getting some rest during the event (including the Aberdeen drug cartel who camped up promptly on Friday afternoon). Much of the event is a big haze but thanks to an exhaustive collection of photos I do have some recollection of the structure of events.

Anyway, I'm tired of writing suddenly. Yeah, good party, and the one last week was good too. Simon sent some Danish girls to me but I think they were a bit scared, as me, Mike and Heta unintentionally intimidated them. But the Canadian, Sarah, was far less intimidated although Simon says she called me insane. Apparently this was because I started talking about voices in my head. This isn't quite the case, but I did have a voice in my head last week telling me to "teach English" and as a result I'm applying to teach English in Korea for a year. Everyone moves out the castle in September so I've decided that if I can't stay in the castle then I'm moving to a different continent.

Bye!

Friday, July 25, 2003
 
Greetings again from sunny and tourist-ridden Inverness.

Before I continue with the update, yes I know what you're all wanting to say. I can hear your questions ringing in my ears already.
1. where the heck have you guys been for the last month? This is no way to maintain a gripping and quirky blog!!
2. why has Niall not actually written anything on here for what seems like decades? Has he been run over by a bus or kidnapped by ETA?
3. would you recommend circus clowning as a viable career move?

Well, on the third one, I can only suggest talking to your local careers information office. And if you can't juggle or look stupid, then perhaps stick to insurance.

As for the first two, well (this may sound like a weak cop out) blame Niall.

My comrade-in-blogging has been a little bit lazy lately, to say the least. He would maintain he's just been too busy but he's not been too busy to get wasted virtually every evening, and there has been enough happening both with the trail and more generally in the castle for him to make an update. Perhaps if I slag the git off sufficiently he will be shamed into writing something. Although that said he has probably given up reading this too.

Which is a shame, really, because after an admittedly quiet period, this week past has been one of the most dramatic and exciting in our madcap adventure. The headlines are that CT2 has hit the town, and also someone has actually completed the trail!!! Yeee-haaah!! Our first trailers!!

I'd better start at the beginning. Which was, like so many of our encounters, the consequence of my Canadian friend Scott and I hitting the town. This was on Saturday night past. Things started off well in a couple of really nice bars, but we ended up going to an utterly atrocious bar which is everything I hate about going out. I think you can already imagine the place - crowded, deafening and totally cheesy tacky dance music playing so loud you can't hear what people are saying even when they shout right down your ear, poor range of drinks, awful decor, and the usual eclectic bunch of Invernesian nightouters - everything from the 16 year olds to the 60 year olds, and all too few in between.

We did, however, get talking - or more accurately shouting and lip-reading - with three girls from Denmark. Two of them were actually Belgian and were living in Denmark. Mind you, if I was unlucky enough to be Belgian I would call myself Danish. Especially if I spoke Danish as well as they did. Very nice all three of them were too - lively, cheerful, a little bit crazy, and with a disturbingly accurate knowledge of dance music lyrics. The three were camping their way round Scotland and were in Inverness, leaving the next day for a trip up round the north highlands, followed by a visit to - of all places - Aberdeen.

I think you can imagine what I asked next.

After a trip outside to phone Niall and introduce one of the trio, Eva, to him, it was all arranged. To cut a long story short, the night then descended into chaos, and the five of us ended up crashing at my flat before they departed for their journey north.

That Monday night I had to phone Niall, to invite myself to a party at the castle I had heard rumour of (oh yes, and that one back in June was mental. Absolutely great fun. But maybe - just maybe - Niall will tell you more about it). The Danes were there, and so I spoke to Eva on the phone too.

"It's um... not quite what we expected," she said, somewhat hesitantly and nervously. I admit it is not technically a castle, more a house built on the site of one and completely gutted by the lifestyles of Niall and four students, but how can such a building miles from anywhere, with two private beaches and a 270 degree sea view, plus all the wild birds to make any ornithologist's eyes pop out, not exceed your expecations? I think Niall was scaring her. Can't blame her really.

But anyway, I was just happy to speak to her again, because it was proof that we had succeeded - with three new people, CTs 8, 9 and 10. After weeks and months of trying, we had finally directed tourists from Inverness to the castle.

I'm ignoring the minor detail that they were going to Aberdeen anyway.

Next, on Wednesday, CT2 turned up - Sarah from Toronto in Canada. After her initial approach through that website I was telling you about (see earlier post) we had been in touch by email loads while she planned her trip round Scotland and Ireland. She arrived in Inverness, and it was great to meet her at long last, but the whole visit was completely ruined. She had already visited the castle.

This was bad news, and really brought me down after the Danish success. Knowing fine well that our challenge was struggling, Sarah most unhelpfully organised her holiday so that she went to Aberdeen to the castle first, and then to Inverness. What sort of way is that to go from Inverness to Aberdeen? Honestly, you just can't depend on some people. What a complete failure.

Never mind, she had a fun time seeing Inverness, and then we went out at night to see the sights of Inverness's nightlife, calling out Scott, who was delighted to find someone to talk to about ice hockey after months of being among ignorant Brits whose idea of hockey involves grass. She arrived in somewhat of a state of shock after her visit to the castle. She'd completely loved it, but Niall was... well, just being Niall.

So that is all my news. One reverse trail, and three completely successful trailers!! The task has been done. Now we just have to see if there are any more. The clock is ticking, because Niall and his housemates are all moving out of the castle in September. Just as the tourist season ends.

Well, while we wait in vain for Niall to perhaps get his arse in gear and write something about his perspective on the last week, I am going enjoy one last day at work before heading to Aberdeen tonight for another fun weekend at the castle.

Friday, June 06, 2003
 
Hi there, Simon again, here in Inverness. Well, off to Aberdeen this evening for the party - should be quite, quite mad, I'm really looking forward to it. It is going to be big - live music (bands and DJs), people coming from abroad, and of course me in the middle of it.

I spoke to Niall the other evening to check out details about the party. He apologises to you all for not giving an update this week in advance - as you can imagine organising a party for 300 people takes a wee bit of time, especially on top of all the working and drinking he needs to do, so he hasn't had a chance to get anywhere near the computer. Next week maybe, after the dust settles.

Oh yes, and CT6 and CT7 never turned up. They were meant to phone Niall on their way over to Skye, so they could spend last Sunday night before flying to Dublin the next morning. However they did not. Niall reckons it must be because they didn't fancy too much of an evening before catching their early plane. Ah well, and we had such high hopes...

I hope we get someone to complete the trail soon, otherwise we will both feel like total failures. I'm not yet resorting to leafletting youth hostels, but it is at the back of my mind...

Monday, June 02, 2003
 
It's all quiet for ages, and then everything happens at once! Not only have I found two more folk here in Inverness, but I am also looking forward to what should be a hippopotamic (yes it is a word!) party at the castle this coming weekend.

While out on Friday night I bumped into a couple of thoroughly decent American blokes, spending 3 or so weeks packing as much of Europe as possible into the shortest possible time. I'm often rather against whistle-stop tours as you often don't even have enough time to stop a whistle, let alone take in the cultural delights of an entire continent. However, needs must when you are time-pressed students. And it has to be said, these two guys, Gaby and Jason, were doing an admirable job of squeezing as much of Scotland as they could into just a few days. At least I think it was Jason. Jason, if you're reading this and you're not Jason, I apologise for Jasonising you.

Their trip even included an overnight to Aberdeen, and given that they had no planned accommodation, I popped the question. Now hang on, you might say, surely if they are already going to Aberdeen that defeats the purpose of the challenge? Well, true, this project is about getting folk to go to Aberdeen who would not otherwise go, by tempting them with the prospect of staying in a castle. So in that sense, I was flogging a dead horse. But then if Gaby and Possibly-Jason go away with a more unique and exciting perspective of the Granite City, then they are more likely to send more of their countryfolk there. It's all about advertising, you see...

They were dead up for the trip, and so realising that it was 11pm and Niall would have just finished work, and given that they were only an overnight trip to Skye away from going to Aberdeen, I called Niall up and put him on to them. The deal was arranged, and the trail began. And indeed it has probably already finished, given that it was last night (Sunday night) that they would have been in Aberdeen. So Gaby and Might-have-been-called-jason-but-I-am-not-100%-sure, CTs 6 and 7, should become the first people to complete the trail! I wait for confirmation from Niall with baited breath!

I also wait with baited breath to see if they made it to their 8am plane to Dublin this morning. I think Niall had a couple of drinks in mind for last night...

Hopefully Niall can tell us more about the party at the castle this coming weekend. All I know is that it is about celebrating the end of university exams and the start of the summer, and it involves two nights of bedlam, over 200 people, and camping on the north beach. Should be quite an event...

Monday, May 12, 2003
 
Bingo!

Allow me to introduce you to CTs 3 - 5.

I have to confess I was getting a little worried, it being a long time since any previous encounters here in Inverness. Not that there is any shortage of tourists - indeed, the city is crawling with Italian campervans, very tanned looking backpackers, and elderly Canadian couples (you can tell by their bad hair cuts and moustaches... the men, that is). No, the problem is I have simply not been out very much in Inverness - call it what you will, no social skills on my part, a lack of friends, home comforts... I like to put it down to being extremely busy and to being on holiday this last week.

My holiday, camping and hiking in the wind and rain an hour west of Inverness (just one of the many opportunities that makes it Scotland's Medina), was cut short and I had a couple of free days in town. You can imagine my surprise when browsing around a bookshop on Friday (today being Monday) when I bumped into Karen, a friend from university back in Aberdeen. OK, fair enough, I am sure you can't imagine it because you don't know me and you don't know Karen. Well let me fill you in quickly. Karen goes out with Martin, another friend from university, and in fact Niall/Nev went to school with Martin in Dingwall (a town just north of Inverness). Martin works in IT in Aberdeen, and had a job to do in Inverness, so Karen came through for the trip.

It was good to see them after so long, and with them staying at Martin's parents for the weekend barely twenty minutes out of Inverness, I suggested we go out that night. We did, and went to a very cool pub called Harlequins. Not only does it have nice decor, and a nice, cosy feel to it, it is also right next to two of Inverness's most popular hostels and was where I met CT1. Coincidence, n'est pas?

Well, sure enough we found ourselves at a table next to three people with clearly Antipodean accents. I usually pride myself on knowing the difference between Australian and New Zealand accents, but decided not to jump to any immediate conclusions this time. My opportunity came about when one of them leaned over and asked how much television licences cost in Britain.

Well, it beats "you have beautiful eyes", I suppose. Mind you, it also shows the fascination most foreigners have with our quaint custom of buying a licence (around £110 per year if you are interested) for the privilege of watching TV in your home. That and driving on the wrong side of the road, having funny and diverse accents, and queueing - endless hours of amusement for visitors to this land. Oh yes and you get a discount on the licence if you are blind.

I digress. I seized the moment and got talking with the three - all from Melbourne in Australia, one girl who had been working in Dornoch (north of Inverness, where Madonna got married), and had now moved down to Inverness, and a couple, friends of hers, who had come out to join her for a couple of years. They were staying in Inverness and working for BT. I was impressed - not only was I talking to Australians who had plumped for working outside London, Edinburgh and Dublin, not only had one of them already worked in somewhere very off the usual track like Dornoch, but - get this! - she'd even been to Aberdeen! And liked it!

And so the logical thing to do was to pop the question. "How do you fancy going back to Aberdeen to stay in a castle for free?"

There then followed the usual astonishment (from them), explanation (from me), curiousity (from them), encouragement (from me) and agreement (from them). Clearly helped by having two extra friends there to back me up, Martin and Karen.

I was a bit more organised this time - I gave them one of my business cards, with Niall's email and phone number, plus this website, for reassurance. Although given the latest update from Niall, I'm not sure how much reassurance Bo's antics might count for. In any case, it will be a few months before they are able to make it - they have all just started work and are a bit skint. Not sure how soon that means they will be in touch with Niall - soon, hopefully, so we know they believe me!

So that's it - the story of the third, fourth and fifth potential castle trailers. Lovely people, and worthy of much credit for finding a base in Inverness rather than Edinburgh. Let's just hope they complete the trail and make it to the castle.

I really must start getting people's names... very rude of me...


Sunday, May 11, 2003
 
I thought that, whilst we wait for random travellers to visit the castle, I could do the occasional castle update of news about it and the residents. So here goes Castle Update no. 1:

As usual, it's been an eventful time for the castle and those associated. Mostly centering around our resident wayward Spaniard Bo who has been very busy. He began the week very constructively with him and a friend (whom Bo was allegedly paying, strangely) becoming highly pro-active and utterly clearing and cleaning the loft of the old part of the house, the garage, the shed and the laundry room. Do not underestimate the magnitude of this task. The loft was just full of crap, with only a small amount of useful or interesting items. Since we've moved in it has remained uncharted territory. But Bo, for our grand party in June, wants it as a chill-out zone so has begun work transforming the grim and filthy den into something more pleasant. The garage was rammed full of furniture - mostly mine - which we've now either relocated to somewhere more constructive in the castle (I now have a sofa in my bedroom) or stacked neatly thereby giving much more space. The shed, which is part of the building of the old part of the house, was a dank pit of despair - rotting rubbish and debris. It's now cleared. And the laundry room has been head high with dirty clothes since before Christmas, due to the fact that our washing machine broke in September. Not only is it clear of clothes, but we now have a working washing machine, which I bought off a woman for £90.

So Bo started the week grandly and positively, but alas this couldn't be sustained and his birthday on Wednesday kicked off a 36 hour drinking marathon which culminated in him being arrested on Thursday evening.

Wednesday was both Bo's and a friend of ours - Becky's - birthday, and Wednesday is also £1.50-a-drink-night in Estaminet, our regular bar. This could therefore only call for a large session. The place was rammed with people, the majority between drunk and utterly wasted, and afterwards everyone headed either to Becky's flat or somewhere else. Most of us called it quits by 8am but not Bo, as I was soon to discover.

I wasn't working at the Cafe (I work in the kitchen at a great little place called Cafe 52 in a pleasant area of town) till 6pm but I was there most of the day as the owner, Steve, had called me to help move furniture and kitchen goods from a nearby bar which had closed down. We had first pickings and Steve took heaps for the Cafe and I now have for the castle two industrial microwaves, lots of big plates and a hatstand. Anyway, Bo and an inconceivably wasted friend of his stumbled by just after noon and Bo launched into his whisky and cokes, becoming louder and louder with the progressing hours until Steve got angry and threw him out. I started work and a couple of hours later Steve had to ask me to get Bo to leave again, as he'd returned and was even more trashed. Steve was too angry to do it himself because he thought he'd end up punching Bo.

Anyway, it was after work when I got a text message from Allan (newest castle resident) saying "Bo has just been arrested". I visisted Allan in Estaminet, where he was DJing, and the story emerged that Bo had stumbled in after having being thrown out of about 7 pubs (and, of course, the Cafe twice) and after some cavalier obnoxious behaviour had been asked to leave by the asshole manager. Bo pushed the manager away and it seems like there may have been some chase which ended in the manager catching Bo and beating him up before getting arrested. One reports suggests that Bo bit the manager in the arm.

I haven't seen Bo since, although he was out at 4am the next morning, and I've been in phone contact. He's apparently a bit bruised and is keeping a low profile at the moment, having managed to be barred from his two regular haunts, Estaminet and the Cafe.

I haven't been back to the castle since leaving on Friday morning, it being Sunday evening now, but I'm heading there very soon. I've had a very full-on few days. Up at about 7am since Wednesday, I've had less than four hours sleep every night, and my days have been filled with moving heavy furniture, working in the very busy Cafe kitchen, and hardcore drinking. I've been helping a friend, Emily, finish her dissertation which was rewarded with a lengthy drinking session on Friday. I was out last night too. Tonight I'm being peaceful, sorting out my room and relaxing in the castle. Tomorrow, as is every Monday, is castle night and a number of people have expressed an interest in attending.

Mike's been quiet of recent - he has a friend up visiting. Heta I've seen quite little of but I'm going charity shopping with her tomorrow. And Allan has had quite a weekend which I'm afraid there is no way I could print it on this website, but it did involve the castle, gingerness and an epileptic fit. You'll simply have to use your imagination. Bo definitely takes the lion's share of headlines this week.

That's the castle news. Simon says he's found three more people interested in visiting the castle but I don't have details yet. The girl Sarah that Simon contacted from that website, has been in contact and will visit in July, if all goes to plan. I since put m details on the website too and got an email from an Irish girl, but she hasn't responded since.

That's all for now.