I’ve mentioned before that Scotland is so stunningly beautiful that the entire country is a movie set–Skyfall, Braveheart, The Da Vinci Code, etc. It’s also been used by some TV series like Monarch of the Glen.
Ruth and I had never heard of this series when John and Trish, our Aussie traveling companions, began talking about it. Broadcast by BBC One in 64 episodes between 2000 and 2005, Monarch was somewhat based on a series of novels about a young man trying to restore his childhood home in the Scottish Highlands. It was well-received in Australia. In fact, it was its most popular BBC drama in 2002 and 2003 according to Wikipedia.
After seeing well-hyped Loch Ness, we doubled back toward the town of Fort William to see the historic Caledonian Canal and Neptune’s Staircase, a series of locks. Afterwards, John suggested we try to track down the very old chapel that regularly appeared in Monarch as Glenbogle Church. Somehow he knew that it was connected to the town of Roy Bridge near Ben Nevis, Scotland’s tallest mountain, so we headed up A86.
We searched Roy Bridge looking for the hill overlooking the River Spean valley and didn’t spot it. Without a plan we drove down a side road, found a resort, and asked the couple running it if they knew about this church. Sure they did. They told us to go back to the main road, make a right turn and travel about 2 miles outside of town where we’d spot a sign on the left that read Cille Choirill, its Gaelic name. A church door key would be hanging under it.
We found the sign easily but the key was not there, so we walked up the road to the chapel and graveyard and found some hikers inside. They had the ancient key.
Cille Choirill, aka Monarch‘s Glenbogle, was a serene place. Inside, the church was simple, cool, dark and clearly well-tended to and loved. Outside in the sunshine, storytelling tombstones from ages past marched up the Scottish hillside and caused lingering. Trish, avid photographer and acute observer, noted a coincidental connection. She discovered a plaque noting that forebears of Mother Mary MacKillop were buried here. MacKillop, patron saint of abuse victims, was an Australian whom Pope Benedict XVI canonized in 2010 as Australia’s first saint.
Sometimes the best travel experiences aren’t the result of visiting the famous and popular, like Loch Ness. They’re often unexpected, hard to find, and quietly rewarding places. I’ve already become a bit familiar with Monarch of the Glen thanks to Google and YouTube. Ruth and I are intrigued enough to want to see more of this BBC Scotland series.