|Subject: : Scotland Travelogue, Part 2|
On Monday morning, we left Windermere enroute for Scotland
at last. But wait, there's a standing stone circle just
outside of Keswick, called Castlerigg. As I'd come to
expect, the attractions are well-signed on the main roads,
but once you head off on the smaller roads, you're on your
own. However, I'd picked up a Phillips' Road Atlas of
Britain, and for half-price! Once you've a good detailed map
at your side, your chances of getting lost diminish rapidly,
& we found the site easily. It's situated among stunning
mountains, with 32 of the original 42 stones; Burl estimates
the largest at about 16 tons. Keats didn't like the circle,
referring to it as "a dismal cirque of Druid stones upon a
forlorn moor", but I could easily imagine it as a center for
long-ago seasonal activities. It dates from about 3200 BC,
older than Arbor Low.
If I get standing stones, Donna gets shopping, and where better than at the touristy Moffat Woolen Mills just over the border north of Glasgow. Glasgow, spruced up & ready for business, always calls for me to stop, but not today. Breezing through town on the Great Northern Road, I even passed up the Botanical Garden, which I could see was bursting with color.
There were only six coaches at Moffat, so shopping was accomplished relatively painlessly, even the required post-shopping cuppa.
Our accommodations for the night were at the Loch Lomond Hostel, overlooking the loch in a great old manor house. It' s lambing season, so no tramping across fields for me this time, but the views from the hostel are sweet in May. Hosteling is such a great way to meet other travelers in a safe setting, & since we are so obviously grandmothers, we are generally treated very courteously. One of our roommates this time was a young German girl, whose brother lives in Jacksonville OR, about 3 hours from my home. Hosteling also gives travelers the option of self-catered meals in the communal kitchen, which means lots more flexibility in meal times.
It was wonderful to be in Scotland finally.
Tuesday morning found us dashing to Oban, the CalMac ferry jumpoff point for the Isle of Mull. Since there were no good or easy stones to visit along the way, & getting there in time for our pre-reserved ferry was mission #1, we opted for the route via Crianlarich rather than Inverary. Oban is an attractive little town, but it can be pretty crowded at high tourist season, which apparently had not yet arrived. The ferry dock is located at one end of the town & when holiday-makers with caravans choke the narrow streets, it can be slow. We actually made it in record time, so were able to book ourselves on the next-earlier ferry departing at 11:15am. It was so different to the last time we were here, at the height of the hoof & mouth outbreak when we had to drive on treated straw before boarding the ferry & step in basins of citric-acid-laced water.
Duart Castle, visible from the ferry on the way to Craignure, is worth a look, even on a day of gale-force wind spiced with rain. Some scenes from the movie Entrapment were filmed here. Built in the 12th century and abandoned until about 100 years ago, the ancestral home of the Clan MacLean has been partially restored & is a magnet for MacLeans the world over. Visitors can wander the battlements if they're not afraid of being blown off, or enjoy the rooms with family memorabilia. Of course there's a cozy tea room, & thank goodness the walls are easily two feet thick to keep out the wind. I think it'd be a fine bike ride from Craignure on a decent day & the birding is reputed to be excellent. Not this day, however; any birds out in this weather were doubtless blown to Denmark. Willy-nilly sheep were even hunkered down behind rocks.
Like finding Beatrix Potter everywhere in England, in Scotland this kind of theme is represented by Mary Queen of Scots: it seems every place can say "Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned here", but since she was kept prisoner for 19 years & moved constantly, I guess that's not too surprising. Anyway, she was kept at Duart for a bit.
It's about an hour's drive west to the little harbor town of Tobermory, one of my favorite places in Scotland. Draped around a wee sheltered harbor like a strand of fat colored beads, the waterfront homes & businesses are all painted different colors. And since this is where the popular BBC children's program Balamory is set, the main street is really all spiffed up. Filming was in progress morning & evening, adding to the lively mix of visitors.
The hostel, right at the harbor's edge, is a delight. And wonder of all, we grandmothers were in full charge! Besides us, there was a Women's Walking Club from England, all 10 of them widows & easily of an average age of 75, an artist from Arran there to hang her artwork for a show at the Art Center, a lady from Gimpy, Australia, three hours north of Brisbane, on a four-month holiday, an Irish nurse semi-retired after 40 years, & several other older women travelers we didn't have time to meet. The ladies walking group was amazing: they'd been caught out in the rain squalls & weren't even complaining, although the drying room was awash with wet & dripping gear. Normally they'd fix dinner together & visit about the day's adventures, but once they got a whiff of the fresh fish & chips Donna had retrieved from the fish & chips wagon at the harbor turnaround, they sent emissaries out for takeaway feasts for all, filling the dining room with their chatter & energy.
We were booked on a whale watching & wildlife viewing boat trip with Inter Island Cruises for the next day, but after the gales of the day, I had little hope. Sure enough, when I called next morning to confirm departure from Dervaig, skipper Jeremy Mathews said trips were cancelled due to more gale-force winds. Ok with me; I don't want to be out in a little boat in towering Atlantic waves! No wildlife with any good sense would be out & visible in such weather either. We had also hoped to stop at Staffa for a look at Fingal's Cave, but that'll have to be another trip.
So we opted for a slow wander around Mull, starting with the old standing stones at Loch Buie. One of these days I will indeed see this ring, but it was not to be this time. Since they're in a farmer's field & it's lambing season, it's not worth my life to disturb the sheep! There's a five-mile walk around the edge of the loch from Loch Buie to Carsaig & there were caravans parked on the shingle overlooking the loch, birders or perhaps walkers enjoying the wild scenery.
We decided to take the walkon ferry to the island of Ulva for a ramble & of course, a tea shop stop. The young ferryman, all redfaced from the wind & outdoor living, skipped us across the Sound of Ulva to Ulva House. There's a nice walk around the island, a restored shieling, or summer house, & some fine views back over to the Ross of Mull, Iona, & Little Colonsay. The wind was only blowing half-heartedly, which meant we could stand up, & for the moment it wasn't raining. In sheltered glades & out of the direct wind, the bluebells were blooming in vast carpets of violet. I've read about the bluebells of Scotland, but aside from the aggressive bunch that won't quit in my own garden, I've never seen the vast drifts of blue as I've seen all over the Lake District & Scotland.
What I love about the Inner & Outer Hebrides is how often & how rapidly the weather changes at any time of year. Cloud watching could become a full-time obsession if you're not careful.
>From Ulva, we went round Mull's Atlantic side, with waterfalls splashing down to the sea, windy hill tops & protected little glens. The roads are single track with turnouts, & at this part of the island, quite terrifying because of the distance between turnouts. Someone will have to back up. And we played dodge-the-willy-nilly-ewes-& their-silly offspring at every blind turn just to make it more exciting.
At Calgary, there's a wonderful protected bay with one of those glorious Hebridean beaches that will take your breath away, if the wind hasn't done that already. The water is a sweet azure & the caravan & camping park here must attract hard-core campers in high summer when it's light till almost 11pm. Next time, Gail, next time. But I was thankful not to have met a car pulling one of those caravans on that itsy bitsy little road.
Joy to climb into my cozy little bunk after dinner, & wonder of all wonders, everyone in our room wanted windows & curtains open all night! And with hot water in the showers, who could ask for more?
Well, a main street just a wee bit wider would be nice. With cars parked in the street, two way traffic & lorries scrunching by, it's no wonder we took a little paint off the car's exterior rear-view mirror.