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Trip to Scotland and northern England June 2014

Trip to Scotland and northern England June 2014

Old Jul 9th, 2014, 07:14 AM
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Day 5, part 2: Tarbet to Oban

After leaving Tarbet, we headed to Inveraray, which took us on a slightly longer route, but also one that promised to be more scenic. Anyway, all the guide books said that Inveraray was an attractive town, with a beautiful castle set in lovely grounds. The scenery was indeed spectacular. Some of the peaks still had snow on the top, and the occasional cloud produced beautiful contrasts of color on the hillsides. I would have loved to see the hills covered with heather, but I had to balance that desire with the fact that June is statistically much rainy, less “midgey”, and has very long daylight hours. As far as the weather went, we hit the jackpot.

When we got to Inveraray, on scenic Loch Fyne, it was getting a bit late to tour a castle, but we walked up the road to the gate of the castle and had a look at it through the gate. While driving through a narrow arch in Inveraray, I encountered a delivery van, and ended up partly on the sidewalk trying to stay out of its way. My husband said, “I told you you were too far to the left!” No harm done, and it's good to let husbands feel vindicated now and then.

I had also hoped to stop at Kilchurn Castle, on Loch Awe, but despite finding it on Google Street View, and making a note of exactly where it was, I couldn't find the entrance.

We got to Oban in the late afternoon. Our hotel, the Alltavona Guest House, was right on the esplanade, overlooking the bay. I'm sure there are some brilliant sunsets there, but the sun sets very late in that part of the world in late June, and we didn't manage to stay awake for it.

We took a walk to the ferry terminal to see where we would be going in the morning, and then looked for a place to eat. Every place near the bay was fully booked. We asked in one restaurant whether they had any other suggestions for a place to eat, and host told us that we'd have better luck on the high street, which was one street back from the shore. He suggested Coast as a good possibility, and indeed it was. I had mussels cooked with white wine and shallots, and my husband had salmon cakes. We liked it so much that we returned the next night. No view, but excellent food and friendly service.

One of the things I most appreciated about the Alltavona Guest House was that they actually had a sheet along with the inevitable lead-filled duvet. The decor had a bit too much chintz for my taste, but the room was comfortable and not terribly small. There were also usable electric outlets. They had a very good breakfast, but we were leaving too early in the morning to have it the next day.

We noticed a youth hostel in a very nice old mansion along the esplanade. It was obvious that some of the guests were families with children, and others who stretch the definition of youth. It would probably be a great budget lodging. I often stayed in youth hostels when traveling with my kids, and my husband and I stayed in one on our trip to Ireland.
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Old Jul 9th, 2014, 07:27 AM
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Following along, bvlenci, and loving your report. Cheers!
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Old Jul 9th, 2014, 08:00 AM
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>>I couldn't find the entrance.
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Old Jul 9th, 2014, 08:08 AM
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No sign, though? We tried again on the way back to Edinburgh, and I'm convinced that it there had been a sign, we would have seen it. I got a glimpse of the castle from the highway, and from that point on, both my husband and I read every sign that came along until we were sure that we had to have passed it.
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Old Jul 9th, 2014, 08:15 AM
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Place names - part of Maryhill was rechristened "North Kelvinide" by estate agents.
Tarbet/Tarbert - always denotes a place where boats were dragged from one loch to another, a place of portage, so the name is common.
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Old Jul 9th, 2014, 11:04 AM
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[[ Place names - part of Maryhill was rechristened "North Kelvinide" by estate agents. ]]

That makes sense. It's a universal phenomenon.
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Old Jul 9th, 2014, 11:30 AM
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I have travelled far and wide.

Your next day is one of my favourite anywhere.

.....and it's on our doorstep.

I love Mull.
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Old Jul 9th, 2014, 01:53 PM
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A very enjoyable report, thank you! I am looking forward to the next section..

As to the GPS leading one astray, after one rather tedious experience, I have started noting down the postcodes of the places I mean to visit in my travel notes. Then instead of entering a place name, I just enter the postcode - most GPS systems will accept both. This works very well, I am happy to say.
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Old Jul 9th, 2014, 02:25 PM
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>>No sign, though?
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Old Jul 10th, 2014, 02:04 PM
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I didn't see any signs for a car park, either. In fact, it must be what you would literally call a hidden gem.

I'm afraid all of Mull that we saw was from the window of the bus, and waiting for the bus in Fionnphort and for the ferry in Craignure, as you'll see.

=====================================

Day 6

This was actually one of our favorite days of the trip. We took the earliest (7:45) ferry from Oban to Craignure, on the island of Mull. We traveled as foot passengers; Janisj had encouraged us to take the car on the ferry, but we were hesitant to drive on the very narrow roads on Mull. A car might have given us more flexibility, but we didn't have enough time for flexibility, anyway.

We left too early for breakfast at the Alltavona Guest House, but we had a decent breakfast on the ferry, which has several places to eat. We got the self-service (cafeteria-style) breakfast; they fixed eggs to order with your breakfast. I had scrambled eggs and bacon, while my husband had something more Italian. When we got to Mull, we immediately got on a bus for Fionnphort. The bus ride is over an hour, mostly very scenic, and on roads that are one lane the entire way, with turnouts so that you can pull over to allow oncoming vehicles to pass. This doesn't always work smoothly, especially on curves, and sometimes one or the other vehicle has to back up to the nearest turnout. The bus traveled at a fair clip, and once he met a van on a curve, also traveling at a fair clip. They both braked, the van backed up to a turnout, and both proceeded.

We once had to wait for some Highland Cows (or Hailan Koos, as they're called on the souvenir t-shirts) to get off the road. These are a reddish, long-haired breed; I took some photos of them for my brother, who raises cattle. Other times we had to wait for sheep, or delivery vans having difficulty passing buses, even when one was in a turnout.

All in all, we agreed that the car would have been a nuisance. We mainly wanted to see Iona, and we couldn't have taken a car there, anyway. I usually find bus travel interesting. Several times the bus picked up things from someone on the route and delivered them to someone else further along the road. On the way back to Craignure, the driver had a bag of groceries which he handed out the bus door to a woman in a small town.

In Fionnphort, we immediately caught a ferry to Iona. We arrived there a little after 10, so the total trip was about 2 1/4 hours. We had very short waits for buses and ferries, so this is about the minimum amount of time the trip from Oban to Iona would take. It's definitely worth it!

Iona is very beautiful and peaceful. It's hard to describe the tranquility there. The day was warm and sunny. (I actually got a bit of a sunburn.) There were flowers everywhere, include large fuschia bushes (as in Ireland, also), thistles, and a great variety of other flowers.

We really enjoyed exploring all the medieval buildings, including the abbey. Iona has been an important center of Christianity since the 6th century, when St. Cuthbert founded a monastery there, from which missionaries traveled to Scotland and northern England. It's believed that the Book of Kells was produced on Iona, and later taken to Kells for safekeeping because of Viking raids. There are no buildings remaining from that early monastery, although there are some very early high Celtic crosses.

Most of what you can see now remains from the 13th century Benedictine Abbey founded there, when the island was already a pilgrimage center, where many kings of Scotland, Ireland, and Norway were buried. (Some believe Macbeth was buried there.)

We also explored the graveyard near the abbey, which has both old and modern graves. No Macbeth, though.

My husband had been wondering how people coped with snow; I told him that so close to the ocean, they probably didn't get much snow. We later asked a young woman at the abbey information desk how often it snows on Iona, and she said that in her lifetime, she thinks it's snowed only once, and that she had missed it because she was away at the time. That was a lot less snow than even I had imagined! I'm sure they get a lot of other heavy weather in the winter, though.

We had a very nice lunch at the St. Columba Hotel, on some picnic tables on their lawn. My husband had potted crab, and I had the cheese board, with local cheeses. We followed up with dessert, ginger cake for me and chocolate mousse cake for my husband. If anyone is thinking of spending some time on Iona, I can't imagine a nicer place to spend it, with beautiful views over the bay.

After lunch, my husband sat in the lounge of the hotel admiring the view from their large window, while I made the rounds of some gift shops. (My husband breaks out in a prickly rash at gift shops.)

On the way back to the ferry, we passed a small school, where the lessons were being held outdoors, probably to take advantage of the lovely day.

The trip back to Oban took a little longer than the trip out, because the connection times weren't as close. We left Iona at around 5 PM and got back to Oban after 8 PM. The ferry arrived in Craignure late, and the number of people waiting to board was tremendous. We got into conversation with someone who visits Mull almost every year, and he said he had never seen such a queue. Probably the bright sunny weather increased the number of visitors.

When we got to Oban, we headed straight to Coast for another lovely meal. I didn't make a note of what we had that night, but it was definitely delicious.

I had originally planned to drive on to Glencoe after returning from Mull, but I began having second thoughts shortly before the trip. I called the Alltavona to see if we could stay another night, and then canceled the reservation in Glencoe. I'm really glad we did, because we would have had to rush away from Iona if we had stuck to the original plan. Since Iona was one of our favorite spots, I would have hated to feel rushed there.
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Old Jul 10th, 2014, 02:50 PM
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Glad you enjoyed Mull and Iona. One of my favorite trips from Oban. There is a tour bus with excellent commentary but sounds as if the local bus gave you a feel for the local scene.

It was St.Columba that founded the monastery at Iona. St Cuthbert is associated with Melrose Abbey and Lindisfarne. Not easy to keep all the Celtic Saints straight. IMO the St. Columba Hotel is the best place for lunch on Iona. If you get back to Iona, there are several beautiful walks around the island, and you are almost guaranteed not to see another person.
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Old Jul 10th, 2014, 03:11 PM
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Sorry, I slipped on that. I even knew it was St. Columba; after all, who was the hotel named after? Later in the trip, we were in Durham, and St. Cuthbert crept in from there.
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Old Jul 10th, 2014, 05:15 PM
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Still following your trip and enjoying your adventures. It has brought back many happy memories of trips to that part of the world. Thanks for sharing! Can't wait for the next installment.
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Old Jul 11th, 2014, 01:11 PM
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There are four places in the world where the humidity is low, the sun high and with it the colours just incredibly vivid, they are :

Rottnest Island, Perth, WA
St Ives, Cornwall
Exumas, The Bahamas

And...Iona.

The view from the St Colomba hotel is beautiful.

Bvlenci

Did you come across the story of St Colomba and St Moluag. Legend has it that both wanted to establish a monastery and learning centre on the Isle of Lismore near Oban. They agreed to race to the island by rowboat, the winner would take the island. Colomba was huge and was winning easily, until Moluag took an axe on his boat, cut off his own finger and threw it onto the island. He claimed his finger landed first and thus claimed Lismore.

Colomba went on to establish his base on Iona.

I met the current "Lord of Lismore" who claimed to still own St Moluag's walking stick from 600AD!
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Old Jul 15th, 2014, 01:40 PM
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Loving the report
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Old Jul 18th, 2014, 12:14 PM
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" ... it's good to let husbands feel vindicated now and then."

So true.

Loving this - lots of wonderful information and I love the feeling of your trip.
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Old Jul 18th, 2014, 01:17 PM
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Thanks for the report. Next time, simply take the duvet OUT of the cover and use the cover as your sheet.
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Old Aug 4th, 2014, 12:18 PM
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I'm just coming back to this report after a hiatus, due to family visits, including a child who got appendicitis while here.

Dukey: someone else suggested that. It sounds like a lot of work, and the duvet cover would be considerably narrower than a top sheet, but I'll certainly consider doing that in the future.
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Old Aug 4th, 2014, 12:39 PM
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Dickie, I didn't encounter that legend, although I seem to remember a similar legend about someone else. Or maybe I encountered it long ago and forgot who it was about.

We saw a plaque at the abbey on Iona, which quoted a monk as writing that he didn't know a finer place to live or die than Iona. I didn't make a note of it, but it may have been an early disciple and biographer of Columba. In any case, based on that one glorious day we were there, I certainly couldn't disagree.
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Old Aug 4th, 2014, 12:58 PM
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Day 7

Much as we loved Iona, we were tired by the time we got back to our guest house, so we got a relaxed start the next morning, with a good full breakfast at the Alltavona Guest House, and then we hit the road again.

We were heading to Edinburgh airport to turn in the rental car, with planned stops at Inchmahome Priory, (perhaps) Stirling Castle, and the Falkirk Wheel. (My husband is an engineer, so this interested him.)

Since the first part of our trip was over the same road as on the way to Oban, I thought we had a second chance at Kilchurn Castle. I did get a glimpse of it from the highway, but once again, even though I drove slowly and we both looked for signs, we missed the entrance again. I really believe there is no sign at all on the road. I did see one drive that resembled what I remembered from Google Street View, and there was a small tour bus parked at the side of this driveway. Maybe that was the entrance, but by the time I saw it, I would have had to turn around, and there really was no good place to do it. Well, one castle more or less on a trip doesn't make a big difference.

We found Inchmahome Priory fairly easily by programming Port Monteith on the Tom Tom. There is a little motor-boat ferry to take you to the island (in Scotland's only lake) where the priory is located. As my husband says, these monks always manage to find the very nicest places to build their monasteries. In a beautiful wooded spot, full of wildflowers, you can see the considerable remains of the priory. There weren't many people there. We had a nice chat with a local family who had brought their little grandson with them. (The boat ride impressed him a lot more than the priory did.) They had brought a picnic with them, but they recommended a restaurant on the lake shore, called the Lake of Monteith, warning that they hadn't eaten there in over ten years. They needn't have feared; it was an excellent recommendation. I had the delicious fish cake, and my husband had a steak sandwich. I'm very wary of steak in most places, but this was excellent. We shared a lemon tart for dessert.

I asked the waitress what the difference was between a lake and a loch, and she told me that she had read that it was just a linguistic difference. So Lake Monteith's claim to be the only lake in Scotland is a bit specious.

We decided when we left Lake Monteith that we would skip Stirling Castle, and go directly to Falkirk Wheel. I knew what street it was on, but it's a really long road, and I couldn't find the exact address. I programmed the name of the street on the Tom Tom and hoped that we'd see signs when we needed them. Actually, the Tom Tom probably told us to leave the highway one exit too soon, and was sending us on a convoluted route all over the not very scenic, but very spread out, town of Falkirk. I stopped to ask someone, and learned that we should be going in the opposite direction. We didn't see any signs for the Wheel until we were practically on top of it. Maybe there would have been signs if we had got off at the right exit.

We also didn't see any signs for the Kelpies, the giant horse head sculptures that are on exhibit in Falkirk. I had thought I would like to see them, but it was getting late. Later, we saw them from the highway, and my husband thought they were trite, so it's probably just as well we didn't drive all over Falkirk another time looking for them. As it was, time was inexorably moving on and we still had to get to the airport and then into downtown Edinburgh.

The Falkirk Wheel, though, was worth the visit, even if you're not an engineer. I'm not sure what the real utility of it is, because all the boats we saw being lifted were full of tourists, who presumably would have had no need to get from one canal to the other if the wheel hadn't existed. Rather than ride one of the boats, we preferred to watch them being lifted, almost as in a giant ferris wheel, from one canal to a higher one, or lowered from the higher one, as the case may be. I really hoped to find a book about it or a model of it in the gift shop to bring to our grandson, who's the son of a university professor of engineering, and the grandson of an accomplished and gifted engineer, who quite incidentally may happen to read this over my shoulder. (I should add that he's handsome, just in case.)

However, all of the children's books were in English, and the only model that could be assembled (quite attractive, I must say) was very small and had no moving parts. It was also very expensive, and looked as though it might last no more than two hours in our grandson's hands. Probably it's intended as a work of art. I recommended that they get a moving model for children, and suggested that some children's books in other languages would be useful. They told me they would look into those suggestions.

Actually, I've noticed that most museums in Italy usually have children's books in multiple languages, but I didn't see much of that in Scotland or England. English is the world's foremost second language, but children are the least likely to be able to read a book in a foreign language, so I think it's more important to have children's books in other languages than adult books. Usborne has some excellent children's history books, which we found in several museums, but always only in English. I would love to see some of them available in Italian.

We got to the Edinburgh airport with no problems, and turned in our rental car. Arnold Clark in Glasgow had given us a little map of the airport which showed two filling stations. One was on the wrong side of a roundabout, so we decided to stop at the other, which looked to be right on our road. However, it turned out to be on the opposite side of a divided highway, where about 2 km of rush hour traffic were backed up. We decided to pay the 20% premium to have the rental agency fill it up. The very nice agent knocked a bit off the amount we were low, which was kind of her. All in all, I can highly recommend Arnold Clark. When leaving Glasgow, we inspected the car for dings, and after we had finished, the agent pointed out one we had missed. We saw cars with the Arnold Clark name everywhere we went, so they must be very popular in Scotland. We asked them to call a taxi for us, because we had had a long day and didn't want to deal with the bus. As my husband always says, we can live on bread and water when we get home.

In Edinburgh, we stayed at the Richmond Place Apartments, in a convenient location near the Royal Mile. They have a staffed front desk, so it really has the advantage of an apartment without the disadvantages. It was supposed to be a serviced apartment, but if that means cleaning the bathroom and making the beds, it wasn't. It's near the university, and there seemed to be a lot of students staying there, including a large number of young Chinese women. I was afraid it might be noisy at night, but it wasn't at all. My husband thought the neighborhood looked a bit dodgy, but I didn't get that impression. Some of the students had a rather outré sartorial taste, but I assume that under the tattoos, nose rings and purple hair, they were good wholesome young people.

The room was mostly a kitchen, with a desk and a table, and the sleeping area was in a loft above the kitchen, reached by a cross between a stair and a ladder. The bathroom was on the lower level, which is a bit of a pain if you have to get up in the night. The loft was really too small; the bed was wedged into a space about 5 cm wider than the mattress. There was no place for a bedside lamp, so they had one central lamp above the bed, unnecessarily bright, which could be turned off only by whoever was sleeping on the left. Of course, nature's laws decree that this would always be the person who fell asleep first. On my side, there was a glass panel overlooking the kitchen that was flush with the mattress, so I had to crawl into the bed from the bottom end. My knee hit the panel several times during the night, when I was flinging off the leaden duvet. There were of course no electrical outlets in the loft area, because there would have been no room for one, so we had to charge our phones, Kindles, and tablets down in the main room, which meant that we could either read the tablet in bed or charge it overnight, but not both simultaneously.

The loft area was also very hot and stuffy, but several people told us that this was considered a rare heat wave in Scotland, which an Italian would find incredible.

After checking in, we went out to find something to eat, and hit upon Biblos, which I think is a chain, but they had good and reasonably priced food. I had a Thai curry, and my husband had a Caesar salad. We ate there again the next night, when we broke down and ordered pasta: spaghetti alla carbonara for each of us. We usually never order Italian food outside of Italy, because it's often a big delusion. This was OK, but not an authentic carbonara. They had ham instead of guanciale, and there was cream in it.

All in all, another splendid day, and our driving adventure turned out not to be adventurous at all, except for the small incursion onto a sidewalk in Inverary. It was much easier than driving in Ireland.
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