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Europe » United Kingdom » Scotland » Argyll » Oban
April 25th 2016
Published: June 8th 2017
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Duart CastleDuart CastleDuart Castle

Isle of Mull
Geo: 56.4104, -5.46972

(quote from Thomas Crawford)

I sat with Martin at breakfast this morning. He's been guiding for around 35 years. Before that, he was an archeologist for a while, and he owned a restaurant. He's an interesting guy, but I wish he would talk linearly (is that a word?). He'll start lecturing on a subject, then it's like he gets distracted by something shiny so he'll start going on about that, and then it's back to the original subject but the reversal was so quick you don't even realize what's going on. When we're walking around a town or whatever, he'll stop to talk about something and then abruptly, "Follow me!" And he darts off. It's like following Willy Wonka through the chocolate factory, only there are no snozzberries.

James, on the other hand, is almost taciturn. He smiles not with his mouth but with his eyes, and I don't think anything would ruffle him. He also says things like "Good morrow." Fortunately, he wears a bright blue parka when we go out; otherwise, I think we'd barely notice him. He's got a great voice, though, and was once the lead singer of a band and has also done voice-over work.

Today was our Hebridean day. We took a big Caledonian MacBrayne ferry to the Isle of Mull, roughly a 45-minute trip. The scenery was to die for, but the water was really choppy. Once again, it was very windy and cold, but the sun was shining. After sailing by the ruins of Duart Castle (13th century), we landed at Craigmure on Mull. From there we took a bus driven by Richard — from Leicester but now a Mullian (Mullite?) — across the island to Fionnphort. That took close to an hour and a half.

Richard was entertaining and full of information about the island. There's loads of wildlife, including owls, golden eagles and white-tailed eagles, and otters, none of which made an appearance for us. The most exotic animals we saw were a field of black sheep and a hen harrier flying around. (While the female hen harrier sits on the nest, the male goes out to find food for her. When he returns, the female will fly up to meet him and they do a little aerial dance. At some point, she will fly toward the male and just as she's about to go underneath him, she turns upside down. The male then drops the food to her, and she catches it.) We did see a few wee hairy coos (Highland cows), two of which were just ambling down the road straight toward us.

There are only single-track roads on the island, so drivers have to be very polite and turn into regularly spaced lay-bys to let each other pass. We had a couple of close calls and had to back up once or twice, but island drivers seem to know what they're doing. As they pass each other, the drivers wave. Richard did a fair amount of waving, and nearly every time he would say something along the lines of "That's Rob. He's the island's telephone technician." He seemed to know absolutely everyone we passed.

At Fionnphort, we took a small ferry across even choppier water to the Isle of Iona. Fortunately, that was only a ten-minute ride. St. Columba formed a monastery on the island in the 6th century, so Iona is known as the birthplace of Christianity in Scotland. It has a regular population of around 150, though that swells to 2,500 in summer. The big attractions are the relative peace of the island and the Abbey.

Martin walked us up to the Abbey via a ruined medieval nunnery. Meanwhile, the wind was going crazy; we could hear it whistling around our ears. I tried to run my fingers through my hair to get it out of my eyes, and all I encountered were knots. Despite the wind not being all that unusual, flowers still poke up from the stones of the ruin, and we saw daffodils all over the place. Granted, they were being blown almost horizontal, but they were still pretty.

The Abbey dates back to the 13th century; the Book of Kells (now at Trinity College in Dublin) may have been written in this spot. The Abbey is very well preserved, but there's quite a bit of 19th-century restoration. At least it's well done. The monks' old dormitories are still used today by pilgrims wanting peace and quiet to contemplate their faith.

Struggling back out into the wind, Margaret, Paloma and I went to the St. Columba Hotel to have lunch. I had the soup of the day (wild garlic and vegetable) with homemade bread. It warmed me up enough that I felt I could go back out in the wind. But I cooled right down again when the wind
Iona AbbeyIona AbbeyIona Abbey

That's James in the blue jacket
hit. Thank God it wasn't raining! The whole thing would have been unbearable.

Browsed one of the town's two shops (plus a grocery store), then took a quick peek in the other shop (so much beautiful stuff between the two of them, but none of it particularly affordable), and then we all got back on the ferry to return to Mull.

Richard was our driver again, and he told us how the NHS at some point decided to close down the maternity hospital on the island. Pregnant women would plan to go over to the mainland to the hospital of their choice two weeks before their due date. They'd try to pick a hospital near relatives or friends so that they would have somewhere to stay while waiting. Occasionally, though, an inconsiderate baby would come early, and because the ferries only came once every two hours the mother would have to call for a lifeboat to take her to the mainland. Richard said he knows at least seven people who were lifeboat babies, i.e., born on the lifeboat.

Recently, a woman called for a lifeboat but they were both taken up with other emergencies. So a helicopter was called. It picked her up and was flying over Loch Awe when the baby came. People back on the island knew that she had given birth, but they didn't know if she'd had a boy or a girl. So they bet on what she would name it. The bets for a girl were Skye and Ellie (short for 'elicopter), and for a boy the bets were Huey and Blade. She named the boy Ewan. On the birth certificate for place of birth, she didn't know what to put. In the end, she put "Over Loch Awe, 4000 feet up." Imagine putting all that on your passport application.

While we drove, there was brilliant sun, dark clouds, rain, and snow. By the time we got back to Craigmure, that had all stopped and it was mostly sunny — but still crazy windy — again. I nearly fell asleep on the ferry. It's hard work walking in the wind! Every time I got my camera out and had a shot lined up, the wind would about blow me over. I haven't looked at the photos yet; I'm sure they're all blurry and crooked.

Back in Oban, we all went to Wetherspoons to have dinner and to thank Roddy for his service. Tomorrow when we get back to Edinburgh, he'll pretty much have to kick us off the coach, dump our cases on the sidewalk, and take off. Rene is still my favorite driver, but Roddy's been pretty good.

I finally need to use the expansion zipper on my suitcase, and I think I'll need to do the same to my backpack. It's amazing how much room a few little purchases can take up!


Additional photos below
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Iona's harborIona's harbor
Iona's harbor

The water looked tropical but I'm sure it was freezing
Wee hairy cooWee hairy coo
Wee hairy coo

He and his pal walked right by our bus


25th April 2016

Another adventurous day. Thanks for sharing.
25th April 2016

I would love to see the harrier ritual! Hope your evenings are warmed with hot toddies or cocoa.
25th April 2016

I can see his smiling eyes!
25th April 2016

Look, a baby sheep!

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