Wednesday, September 2, 2009

3 Ferries

I have a bit of vacation coming up and when I get itch to travel, my mind wanders to maps, places, and trips of the past. Sometimes, when I try to pack too much into a single day, it becomes more tiring than fun. On a rare occasion, it turns into a beautiful day of challenge, adventure, and surprise as I discover what's around each new corner.

One of those rare days happened a couple of years ago. After a 3 week work trip to northern England, I decided to rent a car and take a quick blast around Scotland to see what it was like. Actually, being the hermit that I am, I had always fantasized about retiring to the Hebrides where life was quiet and peaceful. It turns out that I was probably thinking about the Outer Hebrides. The Inner Hebrides, the subject of my day in question, have some quiet corners, but are too connected to modern life.
Norman Church

The day before, I had arrived on the Isle of Skye, early enough to do some exploring. I spent the afternoon and evening hiking around the ruins of a Norman church, a currently occupied castle, and windswept headlands standing proud against the ocean. Oh yeah. And dodging sheep dung.

Dunvegan Castle

Skye Headland

Having worn myself out hiking around, I was ready for an early dinner and an early bed at my B&B. The Lodge at Edinbane is one of the oldest coach houses on the Isle and was built in 1543.

The Lodge at Edinbane

My room was directly above the pub, which put an end to my plans of an early night as a bunch of rowdies kept the place rocking until after midnight.

The next morning, I needed an early start because I needed to get to my hotel in Oban, far south on the Scottish mainland. That trip included 3 ferries, one from Skye to the mainland, one from the mainland to the northern end of Mull, and one from the southern end of Mull to Oban. If I was going to drive 200 miles on the one lane Scottish country roads and manage to meet the ferry schedules, I had to hustle.

View 3 Ferries in a larger map

If I had to use a single word to describe Scotland, it would be changeable. One minute in a tourist area with tour buses, English business owners, and Polish workers, a few minutes later and you are by yourself in nature, far from another human being. One minute the sun is shining and you can see across 30 miles of ocean to the islands of the Outer Hebrides, then next its raining and the clouds have dropped to the ground.
Sgurr nan Gillian
When the sun shines, the world is very green.
Skye Green

On the ferry to Mallaig, the mainland seems magical. I can see giants living in those mountains.
Ferry to Mallaig
The road from Mallaig was challenging as it keep changing from one lane with turnouts to two lanes and back again. It followed the the ocean shore through a forest of gnarled old trees. Just when I thought that I was as far away from civilization as you can get, my borrowed company cell phone rang. There, in the middle of nowhere, I had the strongest signal and the clearest call you can imagine. This, on a phone that constantly dropped calls when I was at home. It only goes to show that modern technology is inescapable.
Ockle Cottage
I used this picture in a previous post about the simple life. This little cottage on the road to Ockle is definitely on my fantasy list. I wish that I had more time to explore this area, but I was hustling to meet the ferry to Tobermory and the road down the peninsula was one of the most extreme I had seen yet. The road followed the land with twists and turns and yumps and sinks. All on a one lane road about 10 feet wide. When another car came from the other direction both cars had to slam on the brakes and come to a stop in the road, then figure out who is going to back up to the nearest turn out. All this while getting the tires off of the ground at 30 mph on the yumps.
Kilchoan Castle
I made the ferry with a few minutes to spare. I like this ferry the most of my entire trip. Of course, it was beautiful country with castles and lighthouses along the way. The ferry was quite small and at least half of the people on the ferry were clearly locals. I had finally gotten beyond the tourist traps and into the land where the real people live. Of course, landing in Tobermory through me back into the world of tour buses.
Tobermory Harbor
I like the idea of visiting Tobermory because I had previously visited its namesake in Canada. Of course, Canadian Tobermory doesn't look anything like this. The local cow is called the Highland Cow. It has long shagy hair that falls down in its eyes. I looks more like dog than a cow, so I was surprised to see this butcher's shop advertising meat from the Highland cow.

Mull Butchers

Leaving Tobermory, I was surrounded by buses on a very busy road, but soon was able to turn off and leave the humans behind. Along the west coast of Mull and Loch Na Keal is one of the wildest places I've been. This little road along the cliff is the only sign of human occupation, but in the meantime you are surrounded by birds and fish and rock. This was the narrowest road I found it was 6 feet wide from edge of pavement to edge of pavement. The way the road clung to cliff pulled part of me to drive aggressively down the path, but the other part of me was awestruck at the beauty of the land and I ended up taking my time and stopping along the way.
Loch Na Keal

Finally, I my adventure came to an end and I lined up with the rest of the cars for the ferry to Oban. I found the west coast of Scotland fascinating and would like to spend more time poking around in the back corners and I'll always remember my day of the 3 ferries.
Last Ferry to Oban

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