August 14, 2008

Kintyre, Oban and Iona

August 12

The northern hills of Arran were wild. It seemed that I’d fallen into a 19th century Scottish wilderness. We came upon an old seaside cottage shortly after breaking camp. It was white washed and boarded up. The solitude was both fascinating and unsettling. We climbed over the ridge and down the wet way to Lochanver, a quintessential Scottish island village. There were sheep everywhere (get used to it) and white washed cottages. When the ferry arrived a backpacking couple got off. It looked as if they were coming to the end of a tour that we were just beginning. The ferry was small and the crossing was somewhat rough. The wind was fierce.
Kintyre is a mixed memory – dear, perhaps, because it was a trial, one of the low points in the trip. We walked all day, with a a constant mist. We stopped in a very dense grove of spruce trees to eat and rest. I made a pathetic biscuit to eat. I had little choice. We were nearly out of food and I could tell Ian was not enjoying himself. With a 16 hour wait for the next ferry and no food to speak of, I tried to sleep the misery away. It was a dreadful place to camp, but we made due. Though it was constantly wet, we had few options for drinking water. Here follows the depressed entry for Kintyre.

“Sun at dawn; mostly cloudy; mist all day
6:30 AM 61°, 10:45 PM 63°
Rose at 6am. Five miles to the Lochanver ferry. Just missed the 9:30. Had to wait in the building until 10:45. Had to stand outside on the ferry. Got to Claunaig at 11:15. Hiked until 12:45. made biscuiuts in the shelter of a spruce forest. One hour break. Hiked to Kennacraig. About five miles across the peninsula. No ferry until 7:45 tomorrow. Set up camp at 3. Slept until 7 or 8pm. made potatoes for supper. We’re pretty much out of food.”

August 13

“Clouds and sun
6 AM 54°, 11:30 PM 58°

Rose at Kennacraig at 6am to catch the 7:45 ferry. had a little breakfast on the ferry. Rode to Port Askaig, Colonsay and then Oban. No grocery stores until Oban. Got in at 2:10. Very pretty town. Lots of tourists. Found a grocery store and ate a big lunch. Got groceries for Mull. Found a place that sells international phone cards for only £5 for 500 minutes. Started looking for a campsite. Walked a mile or so south but no campsites and no water. Returned to the terminal and paid 20 pence to get warm water from the faucets. Found  a little coastal park outside of town to camp when it gets dark. Made two pizzas for supper. Two French girls asked if it was free camping at the park. Said I didn’t know but we were. Saw them put their tent further down. In bed at 11:30. It’s warm, calm, and fairly clear. Still being attacked by slugs. First set up the tarp then had to add the slug hut when they started to slime.

Groceries: £4.67; Water: 20p; Phone card: £5″

Our vista during supper that night

Most of my memories of that day involve food. I was hungry when I woke up, I ate yogurt and watched Ian eat various Scottish sausages while on the ferry, and we ate and bought a lot at the Oban Tesco. I also remember being thirsty and not being satisfied at day‘s end. Regardless, the ferry rides were enjoyable and Oban was a very pretty little town. Camping wasn’t all that great, but we did what we had to. At least it was flat and close to town, perhaps too close.  It wasn’t that dark. I recall overhearing a group of people walking by after midnight. One asked if camping was allowed there. This was the last time we tried to camp without the hut.

August 14

“Lots of sun; some clouds; rain at night
12:30 PM 69°; 10:30 PM 63°
Rose at 6:30 to catch the 7:45 ferry to the Isle of Mull. Took the bus from port to Fionnphort. Arrived at 9:45 and took the ferry to Iona. Spent a few hours walking around the abbey. Had lunch in front of the abbey. Walked around the nunnery. Went down to the beach to wait for the ferry. Cleaned my pants. Took the ferry, bus, ferry back to Oban. Arrived at 5:30. Went to Tesco for some groceries. Went to the park to camp. Cooked spaghetti. Way to much pepper in the sauce. Made fudge but not enough chocolate. Called Dad and Mom this morning from the terminal. Slept on the bus ride back. It started to rain while we were in the hut in the evening so we tarped up for bed.
Bus: £10
Abbey: £4.70
Groceries: £…”
The abbey cloister

I had originally planned on walking the Isle of Mull. I think the £10 fare was worth saving my feet. The island of Iona itself was idyllic. A tiny little piece of rock across a narrow channel. It was an island unto itself and seemed appropriately set apart, an authentic sanctum sanctorum. Walking from the pier to the abbey felt like a pilgrimage of sorts, albeit the kind only 21st century westerners have been fortunate enough (or slothful enough) to get by with.

The abbey itself was more of a memorial than a relic. Much of it had been rebuilt for tourists such as I. One could easily distinguish between the old stone and mortar and the modern concrete. Even so, it had its own rewards. As a life sized memorial, it gave me more of a sense of early Scottish Christianity than any city museum might have done. It was interesting to find that a small, ecumenical congregation meets regularly in the abbey. I stopped briefly in the gift shop. We waited at the pier for a while. It looked almost tropical. It also gave me a chance to wash off the mud that my pants had picked up on Arran.

When we returned to Oban we walked around a little more. We picked up a bottle of Scotch and spent some hours relaxing in the park before retiring.

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