I find ideas and inspiration in quite a few different places. Very often, it’s through the social network Twitter. So it proved with this post, inspired by a Tweet from the ferry company Caledonian MacBrayne, which appears below:
Now it isn’t fair to show a photograph like that. (It shows the village of Portnahaven, on Islay, incidentally, a place I hope to visit at some point.) It just makes me want to plan a day trip some place. For a while, VisitScotland (and indeed CalMac) took to showing adverts at tea time, which is when I’m weak. Of course it doesn’t take much to tempt me to plan day trips but it is especially cruel in January when it’s cold, dark and not really ideal conditions to go north of Loch Lomond or Perth.
One of the best day trips I have ever been on was when I still lived in Dunbar. I stayed one night with a relative in Glasgow and left early the next day, heading to the bus station. I took the 976 to Oban, a place I had been to once or twice, bound for the islands. That day I was heading for the islands again, planning a day trip to Mull, specifically Tobermory. I had never been there and had a notion to try. The bus trip north passed through Arrochar, the Rest and Be Thankful and Inveraray before turning up by Dalmally and Loch Awe to Oban, a Victorian seaside resort I have never quite taken to. It’s a pleasant enough place but I couldn’t imagine living there. I walked the short distance from the bus terminus to the ferry port where I stood in a long queue for a ticket. At Craignure, I boarded a bus, turning right along single-track roads to Tobermory, where I spent two hours before heading straight back south again.
That’s the short version of a day that was fifteen hours long. Tobermory is a nice town, very peaceful on a warm April day, and I enjoyed just wandering along the front, finding quiet spots to sit, read and look at the still, clear waters and over to Kilchoan and the Ardnamurchan Peninsula. Tobermory is famous for brightly coloured houses and a distillery. I liked it as a place to sit, almost feeling like at the end of the world, many hours from home but not so bad for that.
I like Mull. It is almost like Jurassic Park at some bits, very rugged, wild and almost prehistoric, particularly on the road to Fionnphort and Iona. Other parts are more gentle, lined with trees with inlets and abandoned boats on the shore. Plus it is where you go to go to Iona. What more do you need?
The ferry ride back to Oban was on a calm, glorious night. I remember it because I had my tea sitting on the ferry, eating a curry, which was pretty nice, as I recall. I was particularly glad that in that touristy of places that I had escaped haggis and more stereotypical Scottish scran. I have a habit of eating curries on ferries, for some reason. I was coming back from Belfast a few years back, tucking into a Thai green curry as the Stena crossed the North Channel.
Another memory of that day was that the bus up from Glasgow was full of elderly people, using bus passes to get a wee jolly to the coast. These being good Weegie women, there was invariably a wee dip into the handbag for a snifter of the drink contained therein. At 9 in the morning, passing through Argyll. It was, naturally, an eventful journey and I was glad to step off the bus in Oban with a little bit of my goodwill chipped away by three hours of loud, raucous cackling and chat.
I know the islands only vaguely. I have been to only a few so far – Orkney, Iona, Staffa, Mull, Bute, Arran and the Isle of May. I have ambitions to go to quite a few more, particularly Skye and the Western Isles, to follow in the footsteps of Sorley Maclean in the case of Skye and Raasay and to see Calanais and Barra. Barra has a particular interest because of Kisimul Castle, the TV series An Island Parish, which looked at the Catholic priests on the island, and a community paper I read once which had as its main story the installation of an ATM, which has tickled me for years.
This year probably won’t be the year of islands, as much as I would like it to be. I have other places to be first. The most I’ll get will probably be Arran, reached within just under two hours from here, including the ferry from Ardrossan to Brodick. I would like to see Brodick Castle and sit looking back across to the mainland, as well as going to Lochranza Castle and to see the Machrie Moor stone circles. It’s possible in a day and with a minimum of planning. It may not be far but it’s always exciting because it involves a ferry, which always feels like it’s an adventure, even if it’s just the Renfrew ferry. You can be assured it will be further than that.