Monday, July 17, 2017
After a quick breakfast of porridge with Ewan, we head off to the train station where we say goodbye. I walk down the ramp and board the waiting 7:15 AM train for Glasgow, the first of a multiple leg journey to the Isle of Iona. Minutes later, the train rolls through the countryside, stopping every so often at a station where an automatize voice of a woman encourages folks to “Please mind the gap when alighting this train.” As it’s a Saturday morning, the train isn’t very busy and the conductor spends time with me, telling me where the best to get coffee in the Glasgow Station (which he recommends over the coffee they serve on the train). I ask him where I can find a bank machine (they don’t call them ATMs over here) and we talk about the West Highland Line which I’ll be taking to Oban.
I only have fifteen minutes in Glasgow. I grab coffee and then head to the bank machine. My card is denied. I try again and it’s denied again. The conductor is making a call to board the 8:21 train north. The next train is two hours later and I don’t want to wait. I have some cash on me, maybe 50 pounds, but know that once I get to Iona, I will need cash as I’ve been told most places won’t take plastic and there are no bank machines. Thankfully, I’ve prepaid for the week. At least I will be able to eat.
The train pulls out of Queen Street Station and soon we’re leaving the city behind as we race along the north bank of the Clyde River. I try to reach my bank by cell phone. This isn’t a local back, it’s a rather large regional Midwestern bank, but even their call center has “banker hours.” Its 3 AM back in Ohio. I hope I will have time to get things straightened out during my short layover in Oban. I want to kick myself for not calling them before leaving the country. I try to put the worry behind me as there is nothing I can do about it at this time. I look out the window. It’s rainy and gloomy.
At Dulmuir, a group of five women get on. They’re loud and keep jumping back and forth from seats. I offer to trade with one of their party who is sitting at a table with a couple from Glasgow, so they could all be together. Furthermore, I can be on the side of the train with the water. The train is now moving northwest, running alongside Gare Loch and Loch Long, both salt water lochs open out into the Firth of Clyde. The couple tell me there’s a naval base along here for submarines. Their son has spent his life at sea, mostly as an officer on a merchant vessel. The woman tells me about his ship being at Newark, New Jersey on that fateful day in 2011. As it was mid-day in Scotland, he called to talk and was on the phone when the first plane crashed into the World Trade Center. He has since given up traveling the world and today is a captain of a buoy and lighthouse tender. His ship is in Oban for the day, so they’re taking the train up to have lunch with him.
|A view from the train|
The train leaves Loch Long and passes over a short bit of land before coming into Talbert, on Lock Lomond, one of the more famous lochs in Scotland. We run alongside the loch for ten or so miles before climbing into the hills north of the loch. At Crianlarich, which appears to be just a train station in the woods, the train splits. I’d been informed in Glasgow to be sure to sit in the front two coaches. We’re bound for Oban. The last four coaches are bound for Fort Williams and Mallaig (a line I plan to ride next Friday). After a few minutes, we’re riding through the woods. After Dalmally, we come alongside Loch Awe (what a wonderful name). In the middle of the lock are the ruins of a castle. We are heading west now, and soon pick up Loch Etive, which is open to the sea. I’ve recently read that the furthest you can get from the sea in Britain is sixty five miles and looking how these salt water lochs reach so far inland, I understand how that’s probably the case.
After having worried about my bank card all morning, it dawns on me that I have another bank card with me, from a bank that we don’t use as often, mainly as a place to hold cash. As this was a local bank, and I had made a deposit into this bank a few days before leaving home, when I informed the teller that I was going to be out of the country. She said she’d make a note on my account. I have this bank card in a belt under my pants, along with some extra cash and my passport. I’m more than a little relieved as I’m not sure I’ll have time to contact the other bank when in Oban.
|Lighthouse/Buoy Tender at Oban|
The couple's son is the captain
After Connel, the train turned south and we’re soon in Oban, an old town built around a harbor. The couple point out their son’s ship, docked just behind the ferry terminal. I bid them farewell and wish them a wonderful lunch and walk out of the train station looking for a bank. It all falls in place. There’s a Bank of Scotland with an ATM just across the street from the train station. On the other side is the ferry terminal. I have nearly an hour before it leaves. I withdraw 200 pounds from the bank, then walk across the street and buy lunch from a vendor (a tuna and cucumber sandwich and an apple) and then get into line to board the ferry for a fifty minute trip to Craignure on the Isle of Mull. With spendable cash in my wallet (my American dollars aren’t much good), I’m at ease. I find place on the upper deck, where I’m sheltered from the weather, but am able to be outside. I sit down and enjoy my sandwich as the boat pulls away from the port and makes its way through the harbor. There are a number of sail boats moored, and another makes it way in the harbor as the ship pushes off from the pier. It’s a stormy day and I’m wearing a rain jacket. The entrance to the harbor is rather narrow. The ship slows to let a small passenger ship (or a large yacht) make its way into the safety of the harbor. As we go outside, the waters are rougher. I can’t imagine sailing in such waters in the small boat as had just made for the harbor. As we leave the mainland, I think about my destination. I’ve wanted to visit Iona for a long time and now am able to achieve this goal.
Iona has been a destination for pilgrims and the curious for nearly 1500 years. In 563, an Irish abbot named Columba and a group of twelve disciples (sound familiar) land on Iona, where they find a religious community. At this time, sea travel was easier than traveling overland on non-existent roads, and the small island becomes a center of faith and learning that extends throughout the British and Irish mainland and the islands that surrounded them. The Book of Kell's was supposedly produced here, and some think the practice of carving large stone crosses which are prominent on Ireland and on some of the Scottish Islands, also began on Iona. The community thrived until the 10th Century when Viking raiders began to pillage the islands. Although a few monks continued to live on the island, the center of learning was moved to Ireland where it was safer from these raids. In the 12th Century, after the Viking threat had waned, the island began a new period of importance as a Benedictine monastery was founded on the site of Columba’s monastery. About the same time, an Augustine nunnery was also founded on the island. These two continued until the Scottish Reformation in 1560. Afterwards, the site slowly begin to crumble, but became a place for artists and authors to visit (a who’s who of British literature in the 18th and 19 century made journeys to Iona). Eventually, the site became property to the Duke of Argyll, who allowed it to be used as a place of worship for all denominations (Church of Scotland/Presbyterian, Roman Catholics and the Scottish Episcopal Church). In the late 19th Century, he turned the site over to a Trust who worked to restore the ruins. In the 1930s, a new Iona Community emerged and continues to this day.
|Passing a ferry returning from Mull|
|Rough seas off Fionnphort|
Coming into Mull, at Craignure, we pass the ruins of the Durant
Castle. This country feels old. Soon, we pull up to the pier and those who
have cars below are asked to go below and prepare to disembark. Along with maybe a hundred or so others, I
disembark down the gangway to a line of buses. I find the bus for Iona and stow my backpack
in the luggage compartment and pay the 15 pounds (for a round trip as I’ll be
returning this way next Friday) and take a seat in the back. It’s nearly fifty wet miles across Mull,
mostly on one lane roads (with turnouts so that vehicles can pass one
another). The bus runs across Glen More
in the center of Mull, and then drops down to the Ross of Mull, where we run
along Loch Scridain. The driver is a bit
of a maniac, gunning the engine where there is nothing ahead and at times
stomping on the brakes in time to pull into a passing place. It’s still raining but the countryside is
beautiful, with lots of rocky hills, plenty of wildflowers, fields covered with
ferns, and interesting varieties of cows and sheep. The distant hills and mountains are shrouded
with fog. After nearly an hour, we pull
into the small town of Fionnphort, where we unload.
|Waiting on ferry to Iona|
|First View of the Abbey|
Everyone on the bus is headed to Iona, with most spending a week as a part of the Iona Community. Some. I began to introduce myself to folks who have been on the same train and ferries going back to Glasgow. We all stand at the ferry terminal, with our packs and suitcases beside us, watching the ferry bounce around in the water as it makes its way across. Iona is easily seen in the distance. This ferry is a lot smaller than the other one. There are just two cars going across (you have to have a special permit to take a car to Iona). Most of us are going on foot. We board and I find a sheltered place up top, where I can watch the island approach.
The Iona Abbey is easy to spot. Soon, I’m on the last leg of my journey, a fifteen minute ride across the Sound of Iona, in which I gain my sea legs. The ferry pitches and rolls and struggles to dock against a strong wind and tide. Once we arrive, we have to time the waves in order to get off the ferry’s loading ramp to solid ground with dry feet. There are vehicles waiting to take our luggage, while it’s up to us to walk a third of a mile to the Abbey and the MacLeod Center (I’ll be staying in the later). I find my bunk and unpack. It’s an hour before dinner, so I lay down and watch through the window the grass blow in the wet wind. I love the sound of the wind, and soon am napping to its calming presence.
Dinner is simple but delicious: carrot and turnip soup, good chewy bread, raw vegetables, fruit and desert with coffee. Afterwards, we spend a few minutes getting to know everyone, learning our duties for the week (I’ll help out at breakfast and chopping vegetables for the lunch and evening meals). At 7:30 PM, we all walk in the rain down to the Abbey for the welcoming worship service. The place is beautiful, as the stone walls are lighted with candles. It’s still light after the short service, but I decide to go back and get to bed early. It’s been a long day.
|Evening Service in the Abbey|
Thursday, July 13, 2017
My second day in Scotland begins early with a standard breakfast (porridge) with Ewan. As he has some things to tend at work in the morning and both he and Hilary had a funeral for a friend in the afternoon, I’m on my own. I take the bus downtown into Edinburgh with plans to see several things I’d missed during a previous visit (I've done the National Gallery, the Castle, St. Giles and some of the other sites). My first stop is the Writer’s Museum. It’s located near the castle, which meant climbing the royal mile from the bus stop. Although early, the street are teeming with tourists and the bagpipes are out. I stop to admire the statue to David Hume, the great Scottish philosopher I once had to read. His bronze statue is all grey and tarnished, except that he is barefooted and his big toe is bright and shiny, as if someone has a toe fetish and his been polishing it (Or rubbing it). I don't touch the toe and soon the bagpipes are encouraging me to make my way on up the hill.
After wandering around, I finally ask for guidance and find the the narrow street that leads to the Writer’s Museum. It’s small, mostly dedicated to Sir Walter Scott, Robert Lewis Stevenson and Robert Burns. Although the home in which houses the museum had no relationship to the authors, its architecture is interesting and there’s a collection of artifacts for each of the big three. There are also a few other authors who get recognized including J. K. Rowling who completed her Harry Potter stories in Edinburgh. While there, I discovered the answer for the Ayn Rand nuts who have the bumper stickers asking, “Who is John Galt?” He was a Scottish novelist in the early 19th Century, long before he became one of Rand’s characters. I come away with even more admiration for Stevenson. He once said, “To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive.” I agree.
|Trains approaching Waverly Street Station|
|Rev. Dickson--19th Century rival of Jesus?|
Then I head on to St. Cuthbert’s Church, which a friend recommended me to check out. Sadly, the church is closed but I’m able to loiter a bit in the graveyard. At the church’s front, there is a statue of a 19th Century pastor whose piety, according to the words on the monument, must have rivaled Jesus. This “accomplished scholar and theologian,” served the church for 40 years. He was “sound in doctrine, earnest in exhortation, in labor unwavering, accuse in argument, expert in business, affectionate, generous, affable and accessible to all.”
Leaving St. Cuthberts, I walk through the lower level of the Princess Street Gardens, which was filled with flowers, pigeons, war monuments and the distant sound of bagpipes. There was even a monument for the Scots in America who signed up in 1914 to fight in the Great War. There was another of a Polish soldier and his “pet bear.” This guy had made his way into Persia after the fall of Poland (and adopted the bear along the way) and then fought with the Scots in World War II. Gunfire didn’t scare the bear as he would haul ammo to the front lines. At the far end of the garden, there is a clock done in flowers.
|American Scot Volunteers of 1914|
|Wojac the bear|
|Princess Street Gardens|
|Photo from top of Scott Monument|
I duck into the Waverly Street station to get a quick bite for lunch, as it was already 2 PM and I’m famished after climbing the monument. Then, as I make my way back over to High Street, I pass a number of Indian restaurants and am bummed. The best meals I’ve enjoyed in the UK have always been Indian, instead I had a salad from a fast food restaurant.
My next stop is what is referred to as John Knox’s House. I quickly learn that Knox may never step foot in. The house was built by a royal goldsmith and whose son was one of Queen Mary’s men who tried to restore her to the Scottish throne. While he and his fellow conspirators were held up in the Edinburgh Castle, Knox made his final return to Edinburgh (where he died). If Knox did end up in this house, it would have been where he died. Knox died not knowing if the Reformation of Scotland was going to succeed, but after the fall of the castle, when most of those supporting the queen were hanged for treason, the Reformation was secured. This house was purchased by the Church of Scotland in the 19th Century because of a possible connection to Knox, and has been a museum since. It is also one of the few homes remaining in the old part of Edinburgh that would have been there during Knox’s life. One of the upstairs bedroom has a fairly risque painting on the ceiling. I chuckled at the thought of John Knox, on his death bed, having to look up at it.
I'm sure he's rolling in his grave!
I continue down the road, stopping next at the Canonsgate’s Church. According to the agreement tying Scotland and England together is the stipulation that when in England, the royal family will worship with the Church of England and when in Scotland, they will worship with the Church of Scotland (Presbyterians). Canonsgate is the church just up the road from their Hollyrod Castle and their place of worship when in Edinburgh. The graveyard around the church houses the remains of a number of notable deceased from Edinburgh, including Adam Smith, the economist. Even more interesting, to me, was the grave of Clarinda, the wife of the Honorable Lord Craig. Although Craig has a nicer monument and a title, Clarinda is better known due to having had a relationship with the poet Robert Burns. Nobody comes to see Craig’s grave anymore, but Clarinda is remembered in Burn’s poems and continues to have flowers brought to her grave. I’m pretty sure Canonsgate isn’t the only church in Scotland that holds the remains of a lover of Bobbie Burns. According to legend he got around.
Hilary has an engagement that evening, so after the play Ewan and I head to the Barrel House for dinner. It’s a local establishment, within walking distance of their house. Ewan and Hilary’s son works there when he’s home from college. The evening turns out to be an international experience. The proprietor is from Australian, but loves New Orleans cooking so they have Jambalaya, Gumbo and Southern Fried Chicken on the menu, along with a lot of American beers and bourbons. I stick with Haddock, Chips and Peas and a bottle of a local IPA called “Loaf of Life.” While eating, a very good Scottish country-rock band takes the stage. Among the songs they played were Cab Calloway’s “Minnie the Moocher” along with the blues tune, “Train, Train.” At least I’m not having to suffer more bagpipes!
Afterwards, I hit the sack early, humming “Train, Train.” In the morning, I’m catching the train for Glasgow and then on to Oban, as I head to Iona for a week.
Monday, July 10, 2017
Thanks to a nice tailwind, we landed in Dublin half an hour early. It was 4:30 AM and the sun was rising. I walked through the terminal, checked through immigration as flights from Ireland to Britain are no different than from one state to the next. The terminal was nice and looked new—or at least they’d updated the lighting for everything was bright. Too bright. They’d be no sleeping while waiting After two hours, I boarded a prop plane for Glasgow and sat next to a delightfully talkative principal from Texas who was meeting her son and daughter-in-law in Scotland. It was 8 AM when we arrived in Glasgow and in no time I had taken the bus to the train station in the city centre and was on a train for Edinburgh. I was met at the station by Ewan. We threw my bags in his car, dropped them off at his house.
|View from Arthur's Seat|
By 10:30 AM, we were off climbing Arthur’s Seat, a volcanic outcropping in Edinburgh. It was cool and the wind was blowing and soon we were huffing and puffing as we climbed toward the rocky crest. It was also humid, but the wind and cool temperature made it very comfortable. Ewan pointed out the sights of the city. Although I’d been in Edinburgh, this was the first time to climb this hill. After climbing down, it was time for a late lunch, which we took at a seaside restaurant in Portobello, eating outside while looking out into the Firth of Leith.
At lunch, I asked about the local beers and ordered one. Surprisingly, Ewan ordered cranberry juice. Then I learned that Ewan wasn’t drinking this year. He’d decided to go dry every fourth year as a way to bring awareness to Scotland’s alcohol abuse problems. I was a little dumbfounded, for in my luggage I’d brought him a bottle of Savannah bourbon. He graciously accepted the gift and promised that on his birthday (the day he stops his fast) he’ll enjoy a drink and think of me.
|With Ewan, On Arthur's Seat|
After a rather late lunch, we walked along the Portobello Beach, a community that Ewan represented when he was on the Edinburgh Council. Later, we went up on Calton Hill, where he had more good views of Edinburgh and we continue to talk and catch up with each other. He then too me to a park in Leith, a part of Edinburgh along the water, which in its day had warehouses holding casts of whisky. There, Ewan showed me Leith Links, where golf was played on a seven hole course years before St. Andrews (or at least that’s what those in Edinburgh claim). After photos, we drove back to Ewan’s home. He had a formal engagement that evening (he was wearing his formal kilt). I had dinner with Hilary, his wife, and as I had only a few hours of sleep the night before, was asleep soon after laying down.
Tomorrow is Friday. I'll spend the day exploring Edinburgh on my own, catching sights I missed when I was here in 2011. On Saturday, I'll be on my way to Iona.
Friday, June 23, 2017
I am going to be away from the internet for the next ten, with little access, in a place that will look as different from the photos below as you can imagine. They'll be salt water there, but craggy rocky islands. I'll be in Scotland. Until I return, I'll share some photos I took on Friday, June 16, when a friend and I paddled from Skidaway Island to Ossabaw Island and back, with stops at Raccoon Key and Green Island. Enjoy the photos:
|Old Civil War embankments on Green Island|
|My kayak on Raccoon Key, looking at Hell's Gate|
The Intracoastal Waterway runs through here and there are terrible shoals
|Looking out on the Sound|
|My paddling partner for the day|