Sunday, October 08, 2017

Iona to Skye

candles at farewell servic
This is a posting of my trip to Scotland from back at the end of June and early July.  This picks up where I left off on my "week on Iona" post.

I wake up dreaming.  It’s my last morning in Iona and in the dream, I’m returning to the bakery to work. It has been many years since I worked there (in reality, I left that job over 30 years ago).  I was dropped off by the 13th Street entrance. I rang the bell, but then remembered that I had a key.  I was sure it wouldn’t work, as it had been so many years, but discovered it did work. I stepped into the plant and then woke up.  Of course, I haven’t had a key to the plant since I left and the bakery closed in the mid-90s.  When I woke, I looked out the window at the gray dawn.  I dressed, brushed my teeth, and finished packing up before going down to the dining area for breakfast.  I left my pack in the foyer, where it was to be picked up and taken to the ferry. Today’s breakfast is early, at 7 AM.  We eat quickly, in time to walk down for a 7:30 AM chapel service.  The ferry leaves at 8:15 AM. 

             The ferry is filled with folks with whom I’ve spent the past week.  Many of them came over on the same ferry the previous week.  We didn’t know each other then.  Many are now returning home, but I have another week to travel in Scotland.  As we gather our luggage and load aboard the ferry, the Iona staff gather to tell us goodbye.  We wave as the ramp for the ferry is raised and soon we’re racing across the sound.  It is drizzling but the water is calm.  There’s a bus waiting for us at Floonphort and we quickly stow our luggage underneath and are soon on our way across the Ross of Mull and Glen More, back to Craignure.  An hour and a half later, we arrive and the ferry to Oban is waiting.  There is no time to explore.  Most of those who’d been in the poetry group sit together on the ferry.  Knowing there won’t be time in Oban to eat lunch (which is a shame as it’s known for its seafood), several of us have lunch on the ferry.  I have a breakfast roll with bacon and egg (essentially a large yeast roll split in two with the bacon and egg stuck in between the two halves).  The talk is light as we know our time together is coming to an end, but that we’ll still have a train ride ahead.

A view of a loch from the train
We leave the ferry in Oban and walk across the street where the train is waiting.  It’s just two cars and quickly fills up and minutes after boarding, pulls out.  Most of the group is heading to Glasgow and begin making plans for dinner, but I’m getting off the train after about two hours, at Crainlarich, where the Oban branch connects with the West Highlands line.  I depart at the station and realize that there is not much of a town, but there is a small restaurant on the other end of the station.  I order a bowl of soup and some coffee as I wait in the dry room for the northbound train for Mallaig.  There’s perhaps fifteen of us, who’d come in from Oban, waiting for the train.  It arrives about thirty minutes later.  After they separate coaches (one set goes to Oban), we board.  There are not enough seats and ten of us find ourselves sitting on our packs between cars.  The conductor complains that they were supposed to have four coaches, but were given on two.  For the next hour, we sit uncomfortably and crouch a little tighter as it seems more passengers are getting on than off at each stop.

Crainlarich station 
What I could see from my perch on my pack, the train was passing through some incredible scenery with tall mountains and rivers.  At Tulloch, we picked up a group of four Germans who are spending twelve days hiking in Scotland.  They are about my age, three women and a man, and had decided to jump ahead.  As they board, they bring with them some of the dreaded Scottish midges (a biting gnat).  The next thing I knew they are biting me. The woman sitting next to me tells me that they had only been bad for the last mile or so of their hike. As we couldn’t really see scenery, we spend the time talking about our favorite hikes in various parts of the world.  One of them had hiked in the Sierras and seems impressed when she learned that I’d hiked the John Muir Trail. 

Glenfinnan Viaduct 
At Roy Bridge, a number of folks get off and the vestibule on the train where I’d been crowded in was pretty much left to me and the Germans.  They and about half the train gets off at Spean Bridge and I’m finally able to find a seat.  The mountains are spectacular as we head toward Fort William.  The train pulls into the station, then backs out several miles to where the mainline continues to the east, running along streams.  Between Lock Eli and Glenfinnan, we slow as we come around a bend before crossing over the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct. This stone arched bridge is truly a work of art and was featured in the Harry Potter movies.  The tracks kept heading east, through Lochailort and Beasdale, running through a number of tunnels.  At Arisaig, which boasts a harbor filled with sailboats, we can see the ocean again (or at least the Sound of Arisaig).  Off in the distance are the steep cliffs on the Isle of Eigg.  Leaving here, the train heads northwest to Morar, and then on to Mallaig.  The hills are grassy and heather populates the rocky ground with ferns in the low places.
Glenfinnan Station
South of Mallaig
Mallaig from the ferry
The train pulls into Mallaig late.  Across the platform from us is the Jacobite train, a tourist railroad featuring wonderfully restored dining cars and pulled by a steam engine.  They make daily runs between Mallaig and Fort Williams.  I wish I had time to check out the train, but have only a few minutes to make it over to the ferry terminal for the ferry to Skye.  In no time, we’re sailing.  I’m sad I didn’t have time to spend in Mallaig, but am curious about Skye, a place where my ancestors supposedly sailed from when they headed to America in the mid-18th Century. 

Ferry to Skye
I hiked here for a late dinner
I have reserved a spot at an Eco-Camp that is just off the ferry dock.  I hike in and am given my choice of several spots, picking on that seems best for a hammock.  I realize there is no place to eat (there is a coffee shop/ice cream parlor by the ferry terminal does breakfast and lunch, but it closed at 6 PM, before my ferry arrived.  I’m told the Ardvasa Hotel has a good pub and is only a mile or so away, so I head down that direction.  I sit outside and enjoyed a wonderful burger (I wouldn't normally order a burger, but this was made with local beef and I'd been mostly vegetarian during my time on Iona).  Rounding out the meal were fries, a salad, and a bottle of Skye Red beer.  The total came to 18 pounds, but as I learned, things are expensive on Skye.  I enjoyed the meal while watching the soft light of the northern latitudes in summer. It was 10:30 when I got back to my hammock.  It had been an exhausting day.  I was in bed by 10:45 and asleep shortly afterwards. 
View while walking back to camp


  1. Hi Sage - certainly travelling around can be exhausting ... one sees a lot yet misses much ... pity you couldn't stop in more places - but understand that one needs to set the Itinerary. Iona must have been a treat, while now you're in Skye - from where you believe your ancestors sailed from .. some history.

    Fascinating to read your journey ... cheers Hilary

  2. I think I told you my wife and daughter were able to visit Scotland for a few days early in the summer. They were with a tour group that then went south into England but my wife is even now planning another trip to Scotland.

  3. I did a lot of car traveling this weekend and am very tired on this MOnday

  4. Still enjoying reading about your trip!

  5. Traveling those Hebrides on the ferries is such a treat. Love reading about your experience. As to your question about the Vacation Approval Stamp. . .I stole it from my former employer. :-)

  6. So nice. Reminiscent of some of my memories from Greece - ferry rides, hotels by the water. I see why that spot was chosen for Harry Potter. It looks beautifully green there (much more so than Greece). You make me think that I need to visit Scotland.

  7. I can remember a ride on an overcrowded coach, sitting on my suitcase.

    Love the photo of the viaduct - it's an impressive structure!

  8. Skye was one of the very first places that had a regular tourist season and will have a grade to suit all pockets. But you might need more than a week if you were going the backpacking way so you had a grip on the places that fit the trampers.

  9. I like having dreams of places I miss or haven't been to for years...memory dreams. :)

  10. Sounds like a wonderful trip. I'd love to go to Scotland, especially Skye. Thanks for sharing!

  11. See it all now Sage, travel and sail, hike and climb. Make the memories that I guarantee you will carry you through those day when you are a senior pastor. Although my oldest friend a Catholic priest who lived & worked in SA during the Apartheid era is now 83 and that man still get's around like a 40 year old. (Fr. Cas blog on my list)

    It's good to read a first hand account of Scotland, my grandpa was from there. He passed before I was old enough to ask him about his time there so I will with vicarial imagination pretend he saw some of these same places.

    1. I don't know that I still get around like I did at 40, at least not since my quad tendon rupture, but I'm not that far behind you, Old One, as I have moved into my 6th decade.

  12. Such wonderful scenery.
    Good to read about your journey.

    My good wishes

    All the best Jan

  13. The scenery is magnificent there. What a lovely trip! I would love to see Skye. I went to Edinburgh 20 years ago - I long to go back and see the less touristy parts of the mother country.

  14. that's a wonderfully scenic train journey and it's a shame you didn't get to spend time in Mallaig, which is a very pleasant wee place

  15. I enjoy hearing the accounts of your journey in Scotland. One of my great grandmothers was from Skye. Maybe we're distantly related!

  16. First off, your photos are really great as they are. When enlarged they are even better! It's the combination of your photos and narrative, that make your travel posts top rate. Easily magazine material. Great post Jeff.