Holiday PS

Aug. 21st, 2016 05:43 pm
shewhomust: (bibendum)
One last post - a post-script post - to the last photo of the holiday.

Skirting Glasgow on the drive home, we passed through Port Glasgow, and the traffic whisked us past a piece of sculpture before I had time to say, "Wait, what was that?" It looked like the prow of a ship, composed of vertical poles. Luckily, someone else liked it enough to post some pictures, which enabled me to identify it as 'Endeavour', by Malcolm Robertson (who seems to specialise in this kind of public commission).

And that really is the last holiday report from our 2016 Scottish trip. Now to catch up on some earlier travels...
shewhomust: (bibendum)
On our first evening in Tarbert, we ate at the Starfish. It's the obvious choice: well recommended, inviting white exterior with blue shutters, local artwork on the walls, good seafood... Not cheap, but I'd happily have gone back there.

After spending the day in Skipness, we were back in Tarbert quite early. [ profile] durham_rambler had had enough, but I didn't want to waste a minute of the last day of the holidaym so I went for one last walk round the harbour, one last inspection of the shop windows - there was some sort of promotion going on which included a competition for the shop window which best illustrated the theme 'space': lots of Star Wars models, some very fine planets, but why had the ships' chandler chosen to put three monkeys in their window? I had hoped to find the gallery listed as along this street, but instead took the steps up to the castle, which gave me some fine views over the town, took me through a belt of midges - only the second time of the trip when I was seriously bothered by them, and no more than an incentive to climb that little bit higher:

Tarbert Castle

Steps led down the other side of the hill into woodland, and I was tempted, but it was time to return, and make plans for the evening. We decided to try the Anchorage Restaurant: the reviews were very mixed, but the positives were the sort of thing that appealed to us. The restaurant is next door to the Islay Frigate pub, and not as distinct from it visually as it should be: we had walked past without really noticing it.

Inside, it's a tiny space, with a bar at the back and the kitchen behind that. The décor is best described as 'quirky' and has too many fishing nets for my taste, but the general effect reminded me of a French family-run restaurant - except that it wasn't busy: in all the time we were there we saw three tables occupied, ourselves included. Yet it was reasonably priced - cheaper than the Starfish - and the food was terrific. My seabass with fennel risotto and smoked mussels had slices of fennel in a creamy golden sauce with telltale strands of saffron. The homemade soda bread was packed with flavour: I tasted cumin, caraway, seasame - the chef told us there were ten different seeds in it. The cheese plate (actually a cheese slate, set carefully on the slate table mat before me) held five Scottish cheeses: Highland Chief (cheddat-type with whisky), smoked cheddar, Dunsyre blue, a ripe and flavourful Brie and an organic goat's milk log, plus an assortment of oatcakes, chutney and a heap of walnuts. I complimented the chef on the walnuts: "Just lightly toasted." This attention to details made his cooking really special.

I had the opportunity to talk to the chef because as well as cooking he was waiting at table: he explained to us that the waitress had called in to let him know she couldn't make that evening, but he hadn't picked up the call until too late. Over breakfast the following morning we explained this to our host at the Knap Guest House: "Oh, he always says that. He hasn't got a waitress..."
shewhomust: (bibendum)
On our second day in Tarbert, we headed south, to Skipness: back into the top of the Kintyre peninsula. We seemed to have come a long way since our stay at Saddell, but we weren't really so very far away.

What is there to see at Skipness? )

And that was Skipness.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
Back when I was planning our Scottish holiday, I was looking for an overnight within easy reach of the ferry on our return from Islay, which would put us within a day's drive from home. Tarbert was the obvious place - not the Tarbert on Harris, which we visited last year, but Tarbert in Argyll (the name means 'isthmus' and tends to recur) - in fact it looked too good to rush away after a single overnight. Surely we weren't in that much hurry to be home? We booked ourselves two days in Tarbert, and spent the first one exploring northwards.

Kilmartin Glen )

The Crinan Canal )
shewhomust: (bibendum)
The boat trip to Ailsa Craig was such an experience that it seemed very strange that the day wasn't over, that it was only lunchtime - time for a late lunch, admittedly, but lunch was still being served. We returned to the Bluebell Café, now much less busy than on our first visit.

After lunch, [ profile] durham_rambler and I continued our wanderings around Campbeltown. It has a very fine cross, of which this mermaid is the crowning glory:


I left the "Wee Toon" feeling that, down-at-heel though it is, it still has more to show us: another time we might visit Springbank distillery, or walk out to Davaar island (accessible at low tide). They might even have unveiled the cinema, completely hidden behind hoarding while we were there.

Back to Ferryman's Cottage, and there was time for one last walk round the bay before dinner. Here's a picture from the very start of that walk: this was my first glimpse of the bay on the day we arrived, so it seems a suitable picture to say goodbye:

Farewell to Saddell

The figure is one of Antony Gormley's, one of five commissioned by the Landmark Trust and intended to be temporary: he should have been gone by the time we arrived, but we were happy to see him.

Our last evening as a foursome was a sociable one, punctuated by bouts of packing, and the following morning we went our separate ways: D. and [ profile] valydiarosada returned the way we had come, heading south, and [ profile] durham_rambler and I headed north to the ferry for Islay. Arriving in Kintyre we had followed the slow road down the east side of the peninsula. Now we planned to take the fast road up the west side, but to join it we had to go south almost to Campbeltown, and our satnav was not pleased: we tried to cajole her into regarding this as a diversion in our route, and got the message: "Leave road and navigate across country," with a graphic showing the highlighted route heading straight out to sea. Having a satnav is like having a pet or a young child, supplying an endless stream of anecdotes which are fascinating to us, and probably of little interest to anyone but fellow-parents.

Persevering on the main road, we made good enough time to stop for coffee, which we found at the shop in Glenbarr: what looks like a very ordinary village shop opens out into the lushly floral courtyard of a garden centre, and beyond it a café with local artworks on the wall, good coffee and clootie dumpling, light, spicy and fruity, not to be resisted. And we were still in time to stop at a rise in the road and watch the ferry far below sailing along the loch to meet us.

And then we were on Islay, and I've already written about that.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
Speaking - as we were - of seabirds, that boat trip to Ailsa Craig:

The trip - in a RIB, which is a Rigid Inflatable Boat - was certainly an experience, and I'm glad to have done it. It's quite a palaver, though. The boat is open, and goes fast, so they wrap you up in generous quantities of waterproofing, as much, I suspect, against the cold as against the wet. The overtrousers were a snug enough fit that I was not entirely confident that I would be able to sit down, but I wasn't called on to put that to the test: the saddle seats carry you as much standing as sitting. This is never exactly comfortable, and the two and a half-hour trip was close to my limit (I was quite surprised how quickly after disembarking I was walking more or less normally!).

Our destination

Ailsa Craig is 18 miles out (if I've got that right) which is 40 or 50 minutes fast going each way. Outbound, particularly,we seemed to hit the waves head on, and I was reminded of riding lessons, and learning to rise to the trot. Once there, we made a leisurely circuit of the island - though just one way, and I was sitting on the 'wrong' side of the boat, so my view onshore was always obstructed (all my photographs feature a knitted hat, as worn by the lady between me and the island).


But the gannets didn't care, and soared above us in considerable numbers (though we didn't see them diving, as D. had from our cottage). The puffins were nothing like as numerous, and it feels rude to say "is that all you've got?", so I didn't like to ask whether their numbers are down here, as elsewhere, or whether the rocky island is not actually prime puffin habitat*. I did, all the same, see several puffins in flight, including one pair who did an obliging fly-past close to my side of the boat.

Puffins and gannets are clearly the A-list celebrities, and the birds our driver made much of. We also saw large numbers of guillemots (including at least one black guillemot which passed us when we had barely left Campeltown harbour), and I could hear the kittiwakes yelling 'kittiwake' from their cliffs, though I couldn't make out which of the carpet of white dots were kittiwakes and which were gannets**. Plus one or two razorbills, and a shag or so.

*The internet suggests that although there are fewer puffins than other birds, their numbers are growing.

**Blowing my photos up as far as they'll go, I can see mostly gannets!


Jul. 14th, 2016 09:31 pm
shewhomust: (bibendum)
Today being the quatorze juillet, the fête nationale, I ought by rights to be posting about France - and there are still things to say about last summer's trip, not to mention plotting the next visit... But today being the fête nationale, I opened a bottle of organic Jurançon to accompany our dinner, so instead I'll take the easy option, and post something I wrote while we were offline in Scotland, staying at Ferryman's Cottage on the Kintyre peninsula.

The nearest village - it has both a post office and a shop, though the shop is for sale - is Carradale. [ profile] durham_rambler and I spent a morning exploring these retail possibilities, then followed the road which was alleged to lead to a good fish restaurant. We found a pretty, almost circular bay, and the adjacent hotel, which does not serve lunch.

Which is how we ended up at the Network café, and if I'd known we were going there, I'd have taken my notebook. Never mind. Words I never expected to write: I recommend the veggie burger (the beetroot and quinoa veggie burger). And to follow, good coffee and a litany of cakes, beginning: "Angus made Rocky Road this morning..." and going on from there. I could have ordered one of each.

Then walk it off with a hike through the woods. We chose the Deer Hill Trail, 3 miles long and allow 2 hours, says the leaflet. We allowed three: it marched us up to the top of the hill, and it marched us down again. When we were up there were extensive, if hazy, views across to Arran, the whole length of the island spread before us; when we were down there was a long return along the Kintyre Cycleway; and when we were only halfway up - or rather, halfway down - it was like climbing a neverending staircase, but with added midges. At one point, inevitably, I swallowed a fly - and we all know what that leads to, don't we?

Carradale view

Back home, D. and [ profile] valydiarosada told us about their day (they had visited the Springbank distillery, and recommended it) and I had a bath. That's a day well spent. Next up, boat trip to Ailsa Craig.
shewhomust: (bibendum)

Getting up for the second time on the morning of the solstice observed, we set off for Campbeltown. But first we stopped at Saddell Abbey, a ruined abbey - two part walls in a pleasantly overgrown graveyard - in the care of Historic Scotland (though their care, as D. points out, does not extend to removing the sycamore seedlings from the masonry). But a small stone shed at the entrance shelters a collection of magnificent carved stones, full length effigies, decorative foliage, even a small mermaid. We saw more of these throughout our holiday, but these were our first, and we were greatly impressed.

The lost industries

I liked Campbeltown itself, too. My Lonely Planet guide describes it as 'blue collar' and suffering from the decline of its whisky and mining industries, but it has some fine old buildings: the cinema was undergoing restoration, and hidden behind boarding, but the Christian Institute (now council offices) was splendid, and the museum even better. Elegant houses front onto a little green, and cliff-like tenements have a classical severity.

That 'decline' has spared the town the invasion of the High Street chains, and there are some entertaining independents. We had arrived at Ferryman's Cottage to be greeted by a note from the housekeeper: "Sorry, your predecessors broke the kitchen scissors, and I don't have any in store," which was an excuse to visit Nickels'n'Dimes on the harbour front, where I bought a card of three pairs of scissors, a small knife and a lifetime supply of emery boards. A variety of kitchen wares were available in a choice of colours: we could have bought colour-coded kettles, toasters, cafetieres, breadbins, one for each member of the party, including [ profile] valydiarosada's special pink. We resisted, and we didn't buy a CD player in the shape of an electric guitar, either.

On the advice of the Tourist Office ("I'm not allowed to make recommendations, but I can give you pointers") we lunched at the Bluebell Café. Despite the 'Business for Sale' sign, it was very busy (much busier than on our second visit two days later) and good. Also at the Tourist Office, I had picked up an irresistible (free) booklet about the museum: serious money had clearly gone into preparing this, and it contained excellent photographs of selected items (Hooray! It's available online!). Some of these had been chosen by the public at an open evening, and the descriptions included the remarks of local schoolchildren: a piece of rose quartz was "bling", and a penny-farthing bicycle was "very old" - this in a collection which included a neolithic jet necklace, and a beautifully polished axe-head in pale grey stone striped as if with a wood grain. One or two items from the booklet were mysteriously not on display, and I was sorry not to see the metal tags handed out to beggars in the nineteenth century, each bearing an identifying number which allowed the bearer to beg on one specified day of the week.

Behind the museum is a little garden, part of the original design of the building but now renamed the Lady Linda Macartney Memorial Garden. (We discussed that 'Lady Linda' but came to no conclusion*.) The bedding plants had obviously just been removed, presumably to be replaced with something else, and the statue of Linda sat a little forlorn among the bare earth beds. At the gate, a lady from the American tour group was asking their local driver, "Angus, has that song about the Mull of Kintyre been recorded?"

We drove on to the very south of the peninsula, to Southend, where the rocks are apparently popular with seals, though we only saw two, and where Saint Columba left his footprint in the rock, helped by a nineteenth century stone carver. Then round, on a narrow and winding road, to the Mull of Kintyre itself, the rocky headland from where we had views across to Antrim, and to Rathlin Island (been there! there were puffins!) and to the lighthouse, a mile down the steep road below us.

*It's right, apparently: he was knighted in '97, she died in '98.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
Back to the holiday report, second pass, from the top: We set off, and reached Arran on the first day. We spent a weekend there: one evening, one morning and the two days between, of which one sunny, one grey and rainy. For once, though, this had been accurately forecast: we made plans, and they worked.

Saturday )

Sunday )

Monday morning )

Farewell to Arran. The next morning, midsummer was observed - but I've already reported on that.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
And we're home! Here's the last picture of the holiday:

Leaving Tarbert

taken at quarter to ten this morning, watching the little boats sail out of Tarbert Harbour, while we waited for the first of the day's three ferries. Technically this added another island to the trip's tally, but since we skidded across Bute from one ferry to the next without even stopping to visit Rothesay's Victorian toilets, it probably doesn't count.

Bedtime now; things to do tomorrow.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
Now back in Kintyre, this time in Tarbert at the very north of the peninsula. But this is what I was doing yesterday, mostly written yesterday and completed on the ferry back from Islay, but without wi-fi:

I take back what I said about the cheapest dram on Islay: it turns out that you can walk into a distillery and ask, and they will pour you free whisky. Who knew? There are three distilleries within three miles of each other (and four of Port Ellen) on the east coast, connected by the Three Distilleries Path (a walking / cycle path) and also by a bus that runs several times a day: take your pick.

Our original intention was to take the bus to Ardbeg, the furthest of the three, take the morning tour, lunch at their Old Kiln Café and then walk home. The morning tour was fully booked, so we reversed our plan, setting off on foot from Port Ellen, walking on the hard track alongside meadows full of sheep and buttercups, with glimpses of the sea beyond. Laphroaig )

Lagavulin )

Ardbeg )

This morning we drove the same road, but much further, made a detour to Kildalton where a 1300 year old stone cross stands by a ruined chapel, called in at Ardbeg for coffee and at Laphroaig so that we could each buy our whisky of choice (I'm beginning to think I should have bought the Ardbeg Uigeadail: oh, well - another time) and back to Port Ellen for the ferry.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
What do you do on Islay, on Sunday, when it's raining? No, that's a silly question: you can always visit a distillery - there are eight of them, and not all are open on Sunday, but some are. But if you visited a distillery on Saturday, plan to visit more on Monday, and would prefer to take a break from distilleries on Sunday, then what do you do?

Well may you ask... )
shewhomust: (bibendum)
We couldn't buy a Guardian in Port Ellen, where we are staying: the lady at the shop says she thinks she should increase her order, she could have sold another four copies this morning. And we bought a copy easily enough in Bowmore, along with some other odds and ends - though not the Islay Monopoly set that made such a fun display in the Celtic House bookshop. The Tourist Office was a bit of a disappointment, but the round church is impressive:

War Graves at the Round Church

The regular stones in the foreground are Commonwealth War Graves, many of them unidentified sailors, often from the Merchant Navy - though I also spotted a Greek and a Canadian.

From the nineteenth century regularity of Bowmore (a planned town built to replace the earlier village which was spoiling his lordship's view) we drove to Finlaggan, the seat of the Lord of the Isles. If you buy into all the Celtic glamour of Scottish history, this ought to be a major significant site; it isn't managed by a national heritage body, but by a local trust, and you have to be passing pretty close before you see the sign posts. So thankyou, Lonely Planet, for telling us about it: there's a visitor centre, and a walkway down to the loch and through the wetlands to the island dotted with medieval ruins:


with interesting grave slabs glassed over in the chapel, and at the far end of the island traces of a causeway to another island beyond where the lords held council. It's a peaceful place now, surrounded by flowers, orchids and meadowsweet and waterlilies growing among the reeds.

We lunched (late) on cullen skink at the café at Kilchoman, and lingered over the paper until it was time to tour the distillery. It's a good tour, with plenty of opportunities to taste things, starting with the malt:

Malt shovel

I'd thought - I can't remember where I heard this - that no distillery makes its own malt any more, and had been surprised when D. and [ profile] valydiarosada told us about malting at Springbank in Campbeltown. They were told that this was the sole survival. But it seems that there are six distilleries in Scotland who still malt their own barley, three of them on Islay (including Kilchoman, who are a farm distillery and also grow 20% of their barley). So we were able to handle the grain, and watch the sparrows flying onto the malting floor for their share. Later we got to taste the '100% Islay' whisky, which uses their own barley, and is subtly peaty (and very expensive) and the Machir Bay, which uses barley malted and smoked at Port Ellen, and is less subtle and I didn't like it as much. Was that the stillman I saw in the café afterwards, drinking a can of Irn Bru? (I often wonder what the vintner buys...)

We took the back roads home, and had to wait to let a mother pheasant lead her brood of fluffy chicks across the road.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
We are in the Islay Hotel, in Port Ellen, and for the first time in four days I have wi-fi. Ferryman's Cottage, our house on the Kintyre peninsula, is one of a group of Landmark Trust properties strung along a private road round Saddell Bay. It is resolutely without internet access, making an old-fashioned virtue of it, and of its lack of television - we even had to bring our own radio on which to hear - and curse - the result of the referendum this morning. So there is catching up to do, about our four days at Saddell and about the weekend we spent on Arran en route. but first, the important thing, the solstice:

Almost the first thing we did when we arrived at Ferryman's Cottage was to walk back along the bay, past the Antony Gormley figure who stands alone gazing across the sea to Arran, as far as the bridge that crosses the stream by the little beach. Nowhere cried out demanding that we observe the sunrise there, right there, so there seemed no reason to do anything but step out of our front gate and cross the track to the shingle beach.

By the time we went to bed the sunny evening had clouded over, and we had little hope of seeing the sun clear the horizon, but we set the alarm anyway. Here in the very south of Scotland we were south of Lindisfarne, so the day is shorter, and west of just about everywhere, so the day is later - also west of Arran, so the horizon is higher, but you can't calculate for everything. If it comes to that, we may have been a day late, too: we were observing the dawn of the day after the longest day, but it couldn't be helped, and it was at least the dawn nearest to the moment of solstice...


Regardless. We got up, we dressed, we went out into the dawn. The sky was echoing with the shrill whistling of the oystercatchers, the air was still and the midges were malevolent. I walked up and down, but couldn't escape them. The moment of the dawn ticked over, and I could see a few faint streaks of light in the sky opposite the sunrise. My face was stinging with midges. Was I going to wait until the sun had failed to appear above the hills of Arran? I was not. The ritual had been observed, the sun had failed to appear, the days were getting shorter. I went inside, combed the midges out of my hair and went back to bed, leaving the curtains open so I could see across to Arran, and the sun still not rising - Until I fell asleep for several hours and was woken by the sun hot on my feet, ready for another day.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
I meant to post about how busy we were getting ready to come away, and where we were going, and why - but in the end I was too busy getting ready to come away, and it didn't happen. So here we are on Arran, on our way to Kintyre and beyond:

Across the bay

Midsummer on Holy Island won't be the same without R. Last year was different, in a good way, with Bears and also lots of people who wanted to say goodbye. But this year, we thought it was time to go somewhere else, and D. found a Landmark Trust property on the Mull of Kintyre (so, on Scotland's west coast, but looking east across the sea). That's far enough away - or, more to the point, tricky enough to get to - that we thought we might as well make a virtue of that necessity. So here we are on Arran, with a couple of days to explore, before we take the ferry from the far side of the island to Kintyre.

[ profile] valydiarosada and D. spent last night with us, and if the spare bedroom was not completely ready (it contains many empty bookshelves and no bedside light) it was at least habitable. We set off this morning and drove, in our several vehicles, to Ardrossan ([ profile] durham_rambler and I took the scenic route through Wanlockhead, which was very pretty), which feels like a longer drive than it is, on account of other people on the roads, some of them driving tractors. Then a 45 minute ferry across to Brodick, and here we are. I have been for a short walk, just the length of the village,and acquired some tourist information and some postcards, and am thinking about what we might do tomorrow and after. Durham and Northumberland were rainy and cold, but Ayrshire was brighter, and here on Arran we have soft sunshine, which I am taking as a promise of pleasant weather to come.

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