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Island at Lake Menteith, © Susan Wallace

July 1 – Day of the Midges
Inchmahome Priory
Inchmahome Priory photo gallery

Inchmahome Priory was near the very top of my "must see" list. Even when my dream became reality, and our weekly online discussions turned to serious chat regarding scheduling, I wasn't sure we could make this happen. A visit to Inchmahome would stretch the limits of a day trip if we were to include any other sights, and being situated in the midst of a lake, we would also be at the mercy of the weather.

Luckily, (such luck we had with the weather) it is another wonderfully sunny day. We set out directly after breakfast heading northwest, skirting the Gargunnock Hills, with Ben Lomond and Ben More rising regally in the distance.

During our drive, I tell Robin and Dana one of the tales I'd read about Inchmahome, which had made it so appealing to me. According to legend, the monks who resided here would slip a sort of leash around the neck of a swan, tie a baited line to its foot and then sit quietly in their boats, waiting. When the swan squawked (trumpeted?) or gave some sort of indication that all was not right with its world, the monks knew that they'd caught a fish. The mental pictures that came to me while reading this always made me smile.

Lake Menteith, which is cradled on the northwest by the picturesque Menteith Hills, is apparently still a bit of a fishing haven. There are docks stretching out into the lake and boats sliding quietly across the glassy surface. There are also huge flying things dive-bombing us through the swarms of midges gathered in the car park.

I feel as if we've taken a wrong turn and ended up in the Florida Everglades. Swatting with one hand, I strip out of my jacket and sweater, sling my camera around my neck and tuck my pass into my pocket. Dana and I both light up, in defense of the insects, and it seems to work. I can almost hear them wheezing as they join the swarms that are tormenting a man and a woman waiting on the dock for the ferry out to the island.

Human presence has not gone unnoticed by some other winged creatures. A swan family – male, slightly smaller female and two downy cygnets – paddle over. The water is so shallow near the shore that the adults' feet brush the bottom as they approach. I'm happy to see these swans here and imagine monks slipping a noose around their necks. The male seems to be a bit aggressive though, coming as close as he can to the dock; making sure we keep our distance from his offspring.

Soon the ferry arrives, which is a very small boat that seats probably no more than ten people. This is the first and only time on this trip that I see Robin lose her composure, if only for a few seconds. Stepping from the dock and down into the boat is something that makes her very nervous as she can't swim. I step in and hold out my hand to her. She take a firm grasp of my arm and steps in.

The boat sways too and fro as Dana and the other couple board. Robin rolls her eyes and gulps great gasps of air with a nervous smile on her face. The male swan has come calling and stretches his long neck out, nipping at my back as if to hurry us along our way. We are joined by our ferry captain who has made a quick trip to a utility shed near the car park. He's carrying a fire extinguisher and raises his eyebrows as he stows it under the seat. "Makes ye feel nice and secure aye?" he quips.

We glide out across the lake, leaving a rippling wake behind us, passing a rowboat with two shirtless fisherman enjoying sandwiches and tea (or perhaps something a bit stronger) from a thermos.

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