Thursday, November 02, 2017

When I bask in your light

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Raasay

It had been a long day the previous day, travelling from Islay to Skye and then the concert that night. I enjoyed the show immensely, and the venue was lovely, at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig. So we had a more relaxed start this day, took a while to find breakfast, and ended up at Sconser waiting for the next ferry to Raasay, a bit after noon.

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Approaching Rassay on the ferry. The weather was amazing, one of the best days the whole time we were in Scotland. No cardigan required. We even broke out the sunscreen.

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We just picked a direction and started driving.

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Heather! (Heatherrrrrrrrr)

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We pretty much spent the whole afternoon this way, driving around, stopping often, in this gorgeous, mostly empty landscape. We met some sheep, and very few other vehicles. We passed through a few little villages or groups of houses.

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Ruins of Brochel Castle. A MacLeod one. Sadly you can't get too close - apparently it is quite unstable.

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Back nearer to the port we found Rassay House set in a different, more genteel, sort of landscape. We also came across a new distillery which is still being built (which clearly suggests a plan of going back in 10 years or so for a taste).

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And the return ferry to Skye offered this stunning view of the port town of Sconser with the hill Glamaig in the background. Apparently it's a corbett, not as high as a munro. It is also by all accounts a heck of a thing to climb. Seeing slopes like these give me a terrible urge to stop the car, jump out and sprint right up. It really feels like I could just do it! Funnily enough I didn't try that. Just went for a semi-successful jog along the sea shore later, after we checked in to our rather lovely BnB in Broadford. Later we went to a pub recommended by our host and had an amazing dinner - lobster for K and the most incredible macaroni cheese for me. I don't think any other macaroni cheese will ever match it. It was huge and we'd had a late lunch at Raasay House. I was so sad that I couldn't finish it. (I always clean my plate). I don't really understand the UK thing of serving garlic bread with mac'n'cheese but even that was good.

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Thursday, October 26, 2017

Don't stop me talking about love

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This day was wonderful and excruciating at the same time. Our itinerary was a bit tight - I had found a concert on Skye that I really wanted to see, but it meant that we needed to catch the 7am ferry from Port Askaig on Islay and spend much of the day driving up through the Highlands to get to Skye, either via the ferry from Mallaig or the bridge from Kyle of Lochalsh.

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Port Askaig

The reason I was so determined to get to the concert was because I was chasing Scottish folk and traditional music, and we had originally planned to go to a new festival with a great lineup, on our arrival in Scotland. Unfortunately a few weeks before our trip, the festival was cancelled. Annoyingly, that was the only part of our itinerary we had already planned. We got the ticket price back but not the hotel we had booked for that night.

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Loch Melfort

So I was keen to get there but I also torn because I knew this bit of the country was somewhere I wanted to spend more time. Even when we locked down the itinerary a few weeks before, I knew that driving through in one day was almost certainly not going to be enough. Just one of those compromises you make.

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Loch Melfort

We weren't in a tearing hurry though and were able to stop pretty much at will to take photos.

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I don't think I got any photos that came anywhere close to recording, or even eliciting, the feelings I feel when I actually look at these landscapes.
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Though most of the most amazing "guh" and "argh" moments happened later than this point, and usually when I was driving and unable to stop. Mountains always give me a thrill, (it happened in New Zealand too). Where I live you just don't have that experience of coming around a bend and suddenly the earth just rises steeply away. Right there next to you. And to add to that, when driving in the Highlands, at least half the time the land falls away into a beautiful loch on the other side of the road.

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Oban

We stopped in Oban. It was a bit of a grey day, but even so, Oban begged for lots of photos. I think we both really wanted to have more time to explore here. It would have been nice to stay a night - and next time I'm there, maybe board a ferry for an island visit or two as well. I'd like to go to Mull, as my little sister lived there for a winter when she was 18! (Chambermaiding, I believe)

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Oban

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Oban

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Oban

Another stretch of incredible scenic driving and the next stop was at Fort William, where we had to decide whether to divert to Mallaig and try for the ferry or to go the long way to the bridge. We already knew the ferry was booked up and now we learned that stand-by wasn't a good risk to take. We were disappointed, and annoyed we hadn't booked ahead. We had been hearing stories about how Skye had been mobbed with tourists, because Game of Thrones did some filming there.

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Fort William

I had heard that Fort William is very 'touristy' - it sure was busy with cars and people, and felt a lot (superficially at least) like Queenstown (NZ) with all the outdoor/adventure activities available. Can't really judge though as we were there for a very short time. Once we realised it was the longer drive for us, we had to get going.

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Off the A82, near Invergarry

We still stopped once or twice to take in the views.

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Is this a boring photo? I think I might print out a large copy to stare at when I need to. It's medicinal.


Loch Lochy

Monday, October 16, 2017

So used to laughing at the things in my heart

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After our lovely evening introduction we woke up with one long day to spend getting to know Islay.

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And we managed to see quite a lot of it, more than I had expected. This is Kilarrow Parish Church in Bowmore, unusual for its completely round shape.

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Our first distillery was the mighty Laphroaig.

Driver's dram

In the visitor's centre we were greeted and offered a free dram each. I declined with a sad face, saying "I'm the driver," and the bar server produced this with a flourish. The driver's dram, to take away and drink later. Happy day!

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Sure, this historically important bottle is not at all drinkable, but maybe wipe out the display case? Ew.

Non-drivers

No such luck at Lagavulin, where K scored my free drink instead.    P8210354 (2)

We also stopped at Ardbeg, which had a very impressive forecourt. (No free dram though.)

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This celtic knot design is not painted on - it's actually made with white and black/grey stones. The skull sculpture below, I can't explain. There was also a large copper still displayed outside, which made a bit more sense.

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We went through Port Ellen twice, on the way to and from the distilleries.

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St John's Church, Port Ellen. I didn't nail the kind of shot I wanted but there was something appealing and fascinating about this blocky brown church.

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A good chunk of our time in Islay was spent driving on single-lane roads, which we shared with sheep at times (just go slow, eventually honk the horn and they get out of the way). We stopped often to admire the views or the coo.

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After lunch we cruised quickly past another distillery, Bruichladdich. And later in the day we wound up visiting one more, Kilchoman. Here they had a malting floor you could peer into, which was interesting. The particularly malty smells are different at each distillery too. I thought we might visit one or two distilleries in our whole trip and not bother with many more. But they are all over the place and it was easy to make a quick stop and kind of fun to collect them. (I didn't have the luggage space to collect too many bottles though). There are still four or so Islay ones we didn't go to.

Kilchoman

But the highlight in the Kilchoman area was the church. These colours in the stone and the surrounding landscape make me feel such good feelings. (See also the top photo in this post).

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It was a great day and we managed to get around most of the island, down to the Mull of Oa and over to Port Charlotte as well. Of course there was more we could have done with more planning/time - we took a long drive to the carpark and then didn't actually go for the walk to the American Monument at Oa. We also drove around quite a while looking for and failing to find the Ballinaby standing stone. I didn't really mind in either case though as there was so much beautiful country to enjoy, sheep to dodge and cows to photograph.

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Finally we went back to the very comfortable Ballygrant Inn for the evening and enjoyed the good cooking and impressively-stocked bar, as well as the two dogs and a three-legged cat who liked to keep the guests company. I spilled a little bit of whiskey on my knitting. Only a little bit, thankfully I didn't waste too much. (Nevermind the knitting, it was perfectly washable). This was more or less the end of our Islay visit as planned to take the 7am ferry back to the mainland the next morning, because we needed to get to Skye by the following evening.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Heart beats like tomorrow

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Islay cow

K and I recently travelled to the UK for around four weeks. We decided to spend the biggest chunk of time in Scotland. In part we were inspired by Iain Banks. We didn't feel the need to obsessively search for the 'perfect dram', but we do like a dram all right and the idea of driving around Scotland sounded like great fun. My love for Scottish folk music was also a factor, and I had a Scottish great-grandfather so there was that connection to explore too.

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Glasgow

After a couple of nights in London we took the train to Glasgow, and spent a lot of the afternoon and evening walking around trying to stay awake. We also had a great vegan meal at the Hug and Pint and then also struggled to stay awake for most of a gig downstairs there. Don't know if I've just forgotten, but I don't remember struggling with arrival jet lag like that on previous trips. However, with a nine-hour time difference (on top of a 25 hr journey with not enough sleep), it's hardly surprising.

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Glasgow, Gallery of Modern Art

The next morning we collected our rental car and headed first west and then south, for the island of Islay. I was a little bit nervous that on my first day of driving I would still be falling asleep at the wrong time of day, but we seemed finally, after two days and a night in the UK, to be operating in the right time zone. We had a ferry to catch but also wanted to see as much as we could on the way, so we had a few short stops...

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At Tarbet, for a squizz at Loch Lomond. First of many beautiful lochs.

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Inverary, which a big group of motorcyclists were also breaking their journey.

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Still Inverary
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A really large window

Finally we reached the ferry terminal at Kennacraig, secured a spot in the queue of cars and trucks, and watched the ferry approach. I was a bit apprehensive about driving into that gaping maw, especially manoeuvring an unfamiliar vehicle. To be honest I was also a bit apprehensive about the journey itself, not being so big on boats and the open sea. It turned out to be no big deal on either count. It was a very smooth crossing, and the sun came out during the two hour trip.

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The neighbouring isle of Jura, seen from the ferry.

It was a gorgeous evening and so nice to have light later at night, having come from the short days of winter at home. So even though we arrived on Islay in the late afternoon, after we checked in to our accomodation in Ballygrant we went out to have a look at nearby Finlaggan.

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Crossing to Eilean Mòr

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The visitor centre was closed but we were able to walk the bridge out to the main island, where the only other occupants were the midges.

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Eilean na Comhairle (council isle) 

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It was a fascinating place to explore, and with the perfect weather, a beautiful introduction to Islay.