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Whisky, Kilts, and the Loch Ness Monster

Traveling through Scotland with Boswell and Johnson

William W. Starr

Publication Year: 2012

Whisky, Kilts, and the Loch Ness Monster is a memoir of a twenty-first-century literary pilgrimage to retrace the famous eighteenth-century Scottish journey of James Boswell and Samuel Johnson, two of the most celebrated writers of their day. William W. Starr enlivens this crisply written travelogue with a playful wit, an enthusiasm for all things Scottish, the boon and burden of American sensibility, and an ardent appreciation for Boswell and Johnson—who make frequent cameos throughout these ramblings. In 1773 the sixty-three-year-old Johnson was England's preeminent man of letters, and Boswell, some thirty years Johnson's junior, was on the cusp of achieving his own literary celebrity. For more than one hundred days, the distinguished duo toured what was then largely unknown Scottish terrain, later publishing their impressions of the trip in a pair of classic journals. In 2007 Starr embarked on a three-thousand-mile trek through the Scottish Lowlands and Highlands, following the path—though in reverse—of Boswell and Johnson. He recorded a wealth of keen observations on his encounters with people and places, lochs and lore, castles and clans, fables and foibles. Starr couples his contemporary commentary with passages from Boswell's and Johnson's published accounts, letters, and diaries to weave together a cohesive travel guide to the Scotland of yore and today. This is a celebration of Scottish life and a spirited endorsement of the wondrous, often unexpected discoveries to be made through good travel and good writing.

Published by: University of South Carolina Press


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pp. 1-3

Title Page

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p. 4-4

Copyright Page

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p. 5-5

Table of Contents

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

Many people contributed in many ways toward making this book a pleasure to research and write. I’m grateful to each, including those few who said they’d prefer not to be mentioned. ...

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pp. 1-14

The plane eased through the silver sky toward the sun-swept runway at Edinburgh International Airport. “Looks like we caught a good trade-off this morning,” said the flight attendant as she herded the last group of empty peanut wrappers into her portable depository. “We’re three hours late, but it’s usually pouring rain when we get here. ...

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1. Stirling

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pp. 15-22

After a brief exchange of pleasantries with the rental car agent and reminders of the differences between American English and Scottish English (the luggage goes into the boot, not the trunk, and the engine is housed under the bonnet, not the hood), and armed with directions to a nearby mobile phone store, I departed Edinburgh Airport to begin my journey. ...

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2. Loch Lomond

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pp. 23-27

At breakfast the next morning, the weather was overcast and quite cold, and the remnants of a light snow were on my car’s roof (actually called “roof” in Scottish English). My host offered more eggs, sausage, tomatoes, and tea, and I learned that her mother had been a Druid. Well, after learning about Wallace and Bruce, I’m just relieved she wasn’t English. ...

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3. Inveraray

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pp. 28-34

Boswell and Johnson arrived in Inveraray, one of the most important and entertaining stops on their journey, on the evening of October 23 following a rain-soaked trip from the west-coast village of Oban. The trip, the first leg of their eventual return to Edinburgh and the end of their journey, ...

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4. To Oban

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pp. 35-37

Before departing Inveraray, I made a quick stop at the jail after the suddenly chipper desk clerk suggested it was worth a visit. She was right. An older gentleman of Inveraray, costumed as a nineteenth-century warder of the prison, escorted me around the damp, rather dismal place. ...

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5. Mull

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pp. 38-42

The appearance of the sun in the morning convinced me of one thing: it would be raining soon. And before I finished my first cup of tea, it was. Hard. Followed by blue skies less than a half hour later. I was headed to the Inner Hebrides, to the island of Mull, a trip Boswell and Johnson made in reverse on a small storm-tossed ferry, ...

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6. Iona

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pp. 43-48

Generally speaking, in Fionnphort the locals turned out to be as interested in Boswell and Johnson as just about everyone else I had encountered so far. The notable exception was the gentleman behind the counter at the local bookstore. He spoke brightly of the two, though he added a caution about some of the “not so nice” things Johnson had to say about the Scots. ...

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7. Mull to Fort William

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pp. 49-55

Boswell and Johnson then returned to the mainland, to Oban, Inveraray, and southward as their journey came to a close. I wanted to go in the opposite direction, to Coll and to see the uninhabited island of Staffa, known as Fingal’s Cave, with its giant rock face cut by the sea. My companions saw it during their trip toward Iona, ...

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8. Skye, Part I

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pp. 56-60

There were nothing but blue skies above when I climbed behind the wheel the next morning, pointing northward on the A82 and then west on the A87. I was eager to get to Skye; every time I strayed from Boswell and Johnson I quickly began missing them. The journey on this lovely morning proved spectacular: ...

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9. Raasay

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pp. 61-68

The wind was still blowing briskly and a light rain was falling when I boarded a small ferry to Raasay the next morning. My car and one other were aboard, and the number of passengers was only six, including a small child. I was weary; my back was hurting from too-soft beds, a common problem on this trip. ...

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10. Skye, Part II

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pp. 69-77

Boswell and Johnson departed Raasay in good spirits with the aim of traveling across Skye to the northwest coast and Dunvegan Castle, home of the MacLeods. They found no roads, no paths. “A guide,” wrote Boswell, “explored the way, much in the same manner as, I suppose, is pursued in the wilds of America, ...

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11. The Outer Hebrides

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pp. 78-93

I was now separating myself from Boswell and Johnson for several weeks. I was going where they and hardly anyone else in the eighteenth-century could have imagined going: to the Outer Hebrides, known as the Western Isles, the farthest western reaches of Scotland. Actually not that many people in the twenty-first century go there, either. ...

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12. The High Highlands

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pp. 94-101

After the experience on the ferry getting to the Outer Hebrides, I was prepared to rock and roll back across the Minch. But the crossing was uneventful under sunny skies and mild breezes coming up from starboard. It was a lovely scene when I arrived back on the northwest Scottish mainland at the town of Ullapool. ...

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13. The Orkneys

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pp. 102-111

I had left behind my friends at CalMac because Northlink provided ferry service between Scrabster and the Orkneys and Shetland Islands. Northlink’s ship was large and very comfortable, and I crossed in a quick ninety minutes. I had now traveled from one vast, sparsely populated area to the sparsely populated archipelago ...

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14. Inverness and Loch Ness

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pp. 112-122

Back on the Scottish mainland for the first time in a week, I welcomed the sun, and though I didn’t realize it at the time, I was heading into one of the seasonally warmest and longest rainless periods in recent Scottish meteorological history. It would rain exactly once over the next fifteen days (and that was only a passing shower), ...

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15. Culloden

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pp. 123-128

It was now the middle of April, and it felt like mid-spring in the Highlands. The sun shone brightly in a cloudless sky, and by early afternoon the temperature was hovering near seventy. If anyone in the Highlands actually owned a swim suit, I’m sure they would have had it on, soaking up some rays. ...

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16. Northeast Scotland

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pp. 129-138

After a comfortable overnight stay nearby, I ventured out on yet another sunny morning to see something else Boswell and Johnson missed: Clava Cairn, prehistoric burial chambers that date from about 2000 B.C. The site is reached by a narrow road flanked by farmland along the River Nairn. ...

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17. Down the East Coast

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pp. 139-145

Boswell and Johnson came to Elgin after a trip along the coast, through the small towns of Banff and Cullen, as they had pursued a path up the east coast of Scotland from Edinburgh to Dundee, to St. Andrews, Arbroath, and Aberdeen. At breakfast one morning in Cullen they encountered “dried haddocks, broiled,” ...

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18. Arbroath and Beyond

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pp. 146-151

Boswell and Johnson were in only the third day of their journey out of Edinburgh when they stopped briefly at Aberbrothock (Boswell) or Aberbrothick (Johnson), now known as Arbroath. They didn’t spend the night—I would stay there for four nights—and their visit was beset with rain and confined to the ruins of the cathedral, ...

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19. Pitlochry

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pp. 152-155

My base for the next few days before rejoining Boswell and Johnson was the tourist town of Pitlochry with the attractive River Tummel winding through it. The town, however, isn’t especially attractive. It is filled with stores catering to visitors, and unless you drive well off the main road into the residential area, ...

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20. To Edinburgh

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pp. 156-162

Now that my anticipated worst moments were over, I was eager to meet up again with Boswell and Johnson at the place where all this started: Edinburgh. I picked up their trail again along the east coast at St. Andrews and Dundee before driving into the Scottish capital. Actually Dundee got pretty short shrift from both men. Johnson ...

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21. Edinburgh

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pp. 163-179

On August 18, 1773, Samuel Johnson wrote in his Journey, “we left Edinburgh, a city too well known to admit description.” Without Boswell—who thankfully wrote thousands of words on their time in Edinburgh—that is almost all we would know of the three days and four nights the two men spent in that ancient capital. ...

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22. Auchinleck

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pp. 180-192

The next morning dawned cool and overcast with light rain, perfect Scottish weather for a drive into the country. The road toward Auchinleck, south of Glasgow, passed lovely countryside, mostly well-tended farmlands occasionally interrupted by small, bland hamlets. Lanark was an exception; a very old town on hills above the River Clyde, ...

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23. The Last Days

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pp. 193-199

And so Johnson returned to London, and Boswell returned to his home in Edinburgh. This was hardly the end of their relationship, nor did it mark the final time they would be together. They would meet in London on other occasions; Boswell always needed an infusion of the city’s exuberant life, ...

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Afterword—Back to the Twenty-first Century

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pp. 200-206

I hated to leave Boswell and Johnson and Scotland. If their journey to the Highlands and Islands represented the happiest days of their lives, I could with reasonableness claim the same. Immersed in the eighteenth century and alert to signs of its evidence, I could easily have fantasized my way around the country. ...

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 207-212


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pp. 213-222

E-ISBN-13: 9781611171228
Print-ISBN-13: 9781611170702

Page Count: 232
Publication Year: 2012