Scotland - Land of the Gods (Part 1 Oban)
From Iceland, I flew IcelandAir to Glasgow. Once cleared of Immigration, with my luggage I cleared customs and soon purchased a ticket for a bus into Glasgow and the Queens Street Train Station. Deferring Glasgow, and after collecting all my prepaid train tickets for Scotland, I set out on the 12:22 train (4 hours earlier than I'd planned) to Oban, up the western coast. Bonus for me, as I thought Id be chilling in the train station.
ScotRail was efficient and after numerous stops, including a split to head to Mallaig and Fort WIlliam, the train pulled into the end of the line in Oban. (Pronounced OH-bin, unlike I'd been saying.)
Out the station doors and walking (pulling luggage) along the ferry quayside, I made a double right and rolled my gear down to the Hotel Kelvin. Arriving just before the 3pm check-in point, I was greeted by Louis, who not only welcomed me and gave me my key, but hauled my bag up a flight of stairs to my room! While a small room (#17) with an adequate en suite bath, I was able to quickly organize and was soon back out on the streets of Oban.
Returning to the rail station, I found myself looking out into the harbor, and viewing a thriving town (city, actually, as there is a cathedral) ready for exploration. First, however, I wanted to check with the ferry folks, as I'd be making several trips and wanted to make sure I had the proper paperwork. My trip to Lismore was easy, but for the Mull/Iona trip, I needed to secure two sets of ferry tickets, needing my printout.
Onward up the harbor, I stopped in the tourist bureau to get a map and advice. Great talking with a Peruvian woman, who had many suggestions. I then headed to the Cathedral Church of St John the Divine, the Anglican (Scottish Episcopal Church) cathedral in Oban. My initial reaction was that it felt incomplete - in need of love - with its exposed I-beams shoring up the vault.
With a double peaked roofline, the interior is a bit awkward. Brilliant use of natural light with skylights. The altar is stunning, there is some rather special stained glass, and the sculpture of an eagle (symbol for the Evangelist) on the wall is awesome. Still, the space felt incomplete; lacking a cohesiveness for a place of worship and prayer.
Down from the high street, I headed towards the Cathedral Church of St Columba.Directly facing the water of the harbor, it is monolithic as far as I felt, a large brick block of masonry, stolid in its appearance.
The large central tower, the narrow windows, the smaller side entrance all felt unwelcoming. Once inside, the high vault and dim lighting reinforced the unwelcoming essence of the church. The altar has an interesting reredos, set into the back stone wall, while dark, somber dampened any spiritual feelings. Only the wooden ceiling in the vault and under the tower felt alive.
Returning to The Kelvin, my lodgings, their bar was open and I had a beer. After asking for dining recommendations, I took a dram of Bunnahabhain to my room #17, as they were short of staff and might be closed post dining.
With a recommendation fo The Lorne, I headed away from the downtown tourist options, and was able to get a single table in the bar area. Starting with a delicious seafood chowder (creamy with small shrimp, potato, mussels, bits of fish,) I had a Jura 10 whisky, and then with my parmesan haddock, a Tomatin 12. The fish was rather tasty, prompted by the melted cheese and baby arugula, served on mashed garlic potatoes, with carrots, stringed beans and broccoli. The cheese was a brilliant accent.
After dinner, I headed back to my room, enjoying my whiskey while I backed up the photos for the day and attended to emails. I made sure I had my ticket for the following days' tour, did a tad more organization, and tucked into a cooler room (than usual) for a relaxing night's sleep. I'd lost an hour with the time difference, so an early night was called for.
Oban Day 2
Up at 8, and once I figured out that the outside-the-bathroom switch activated the shower, got cleaned and dressed, heading out before 9. Armed with a cup of coffe from Costa, I visited the ferry to validate my tickets for Sunday, and then visited the tour center to collect ferry tickets for Monday's trip. Off to the front of the Tourist Office, to meet with a local woman guide (of Hungarian origins) who took me, along with a couple from London, on an hour-plus walking tour along the waterfront, explaining bits and pieces of Oban. After a brief visit to St Columb's (better picture of the altar), we walked through rain forest (witch's woods) to the rock where the Irish giant Fingal had tethered his dog. Ending in the shopping district, I decided to join the midday sea tour, a 2 hour ride in the harbor. First I grabbed a hot chocolate - a seasickness preventative.
Rough seas while underway got me a bit wet, but the journey was great and I got a better understanding of the islands off the western coast as we circled Craigsmoor. Several lighthouses (including the one at the end of Lismore) and several castles, as well as seals and sea birds caught our attention. My stomach was a bit quesy at the end, so I opted to have lunch at Oban Fish and Chips, haddock with a side of ginger beer. That left me comfortable and ready for my next appointment.
Oban Distillery, a small whisky producer now owned by Diagio, brought a dozen of us through their production. Milling, mash, distilling, spirit safe and off to barrels, it would be a process I'd seen before and would see again. Three tastings, including an exclusive sold solely in the distillery, which I brought back (and started sipping on once I arrived in Ireland.)
It was still early, so I took the climb up to the bluff overlooking the city, to MacCaig's Tower. Incomplete as the namesake died before it could be turned into a museum, the large circular walls offer great views out to the Irish Sea and Outer Argyll Islands.
I strolled down an alternate route, aarriving near where I'd eaten dinner the night before. Not hungry, I headed to the hotel and was going to work on my notes. Continuing my sampling of whisky, I had a Highland Park and Old Putney before an Australian gentleman sat down with me and we started talking. He bought me a Glem Moray and a Balblair. Then Toby, a resident of Mull and frequenter of the bar felt I needed to try the whisky from his town, so a dram of Tobermorey appeared. None the worse for weat, I headed up to my room.
Up and out before 9, I thought to get my Sunday coffee at the marina building, rather than from the Costa chain at the train station. Not open, I skipped. Down to the small ferry to Lismore, perhaps 4 vehicles queued up along with a dozen foot passengers. Forty-five minutes later, we were walking off, and I began heading to the Cathedral Church of Lismore , as established by St Moluag in the sixth century. Passing a red phone booth, I found it full of tourism information (hiking, in particular) and took a map.
The previous building on the site, a 13th century cathedral, had been abandoned, and the Church of Scotland had erected a church there. I dropped into their history center, and still I arrived on foot ahead of the minister, but stayed for the hour-long service in a quaint small church.
I tried to return to the port by taking the coastal foot path, but was unsuccessful in finding it, so returned to the single lane road and walked back. I figure I walked about 9 kilometers on the island. Once the ferry returned to fetch us from the Achnacraigh harbor, we were back by 6pm.
While passing the open air fish market on the pier, highly recommended by many local folks, I took back 2 orders of scallops in garlic butter sauce, only to find that the bar was closed for Sunday evening. Tired, and nothing but water to drink, I slept well.
This was a four ferry rides day. I'd converted my tour reservation into tickets for the ferry, however there is a roundtrip bus ride that is involved, and the tour company didn't have anything tangible for the bus load. Boarding the ferry with cars and other tourists and locals, we set off for the hour ride from Oban to Craignure. There, we found the bus (among about a half dozen) and the driver had a narrative patter of places along the route to the ferry to Iona. Taking about an hour, we rode up and down green hills, near lochs and rivers.Taking photos through the bus's double-paned glass while moving was chancy, so quality of those shots isn't up to my par. Logging, with parcels of the hills being clear cut, hurt to see dirt and stumps, with the pine logs stacked for moving to paper pulp mills.
Our second ferry ride was much smaller and shorter. In the near range, the abbey church was a bit down the shore, and I got excited to visit one of the oldest Christian sites in Scotland. St Columb had established a monastery in the sixth century, and it had served at the cathedral for the Diocese of Argyll and the Isles. Past shops and around a bend, we first came to the ruins of the nunnery, and then walked past the sacred burial place of kings, including Macbeth, if legend holds.
Then into the cathedral church proper. Still actively used for services by the resident monks, the thick solid walls and dark interior are filled with mystery. Gravestones are leaning against the walls of the vestibule, and a huge square carved marble baptismal font is at the top of the stairs down into the nave. Seats face the arch dividing off the quire, where choir stalls and the abbot's chair are placed closer to the altar. Much of the glass in the windows is clear, as the small openings limit the natural light. Carvings, of both wood and stone, can be found everywhere, and I kept discovering more as I ambled from entry to main altar, in the side chapels, just marveling at the craftmanship.
As the clock was ticking, I exited and began with the well and the reproduced Celtic crosses placed out front as I walked around the buildings. A small side chapel, reached from outside, marked the original burial place of St Columb. (Viking raiders pillaged the site several times.) Around in back, opposite the museum, is the chapter house, where the monks met to govern their community. In the museum, the original surviving pieces of the standing crosses are displayed, along with many carvings found during excavations.
A covered walk around the cloister garden looked out on an abstract sculpture in the grass square. More tombstones line the walls, and the capitals on the columns were intriguing. Getting last shots of the restore/reconstructed former cathedral, I headed back to catch the ferry ahead of the "last call" run. Once back on Mull, I went down to the beach by the ferry ramp and picked up a stone - the red granite that famously comes from that end of the island. Hungry, I got a prepackaged smoked salmon salad sandwich, with cucumbers, and a bottle of water.
Back on the bus, the journey was reversed, and I got a view of the waterside of the island from the front of the bus. Learning to click when the bus slowed down, there were fewer blurry shots, although the reflections continued to bug me. Once back in Oban, I headed to The Lorne after I'd had two snorts at the hotel: LeDiag from Mull and Glenkinchie from Edinburgh.Mussels as a starter, and seafood linguine, with a pint of Belhaven ale. Leaving, I stopped for a shot of the stream bed, its colored lights catching my eye. Back to the room, I packed up the big roller and had the small one prep'd to go.