July started off with a bang, although here in Scotland there were no Independence Day fireworks (sadly). Instead, Barb, Laurie and I piled into Laurie's little Ka to head out west (sounds pretty All-American when I say it that way, ha!). Barb and I caught the bus out to Banchory and met Laurie at her church, and loaded up to head out. Our plan was to get over to Tobermory (on the Isle of Mull) that first day... but things rarely go according to plan, of course. We got stuck because of a car accident on a small mountain road, so we had to go back and then around by a longer route-- we missed the last ferry out of Oban by ten minutes. Bummer! Luckily we could transfer our hostel booking from Tobermory to Oban (with SYHA), and spent the evening there on the coast. We hiked up to the big Colosseum-like park on the top of the hill overlooking the town and the coast. It was pretty cool, and nice to be there at sunset.
(I must say, I can't remember for sure exactly what we did on each day, so Barb or Laurie, feel free to correct me if I'm wrong! And I don't have any photos handy from this first day, so... sorry.)
The next morning, we had to catch the first ferry out to Mull. It was cold, windy, and a bit wet... but by the time we got to Tobermory at least it had stopped raining. Tobermory is a very picturesque fishing village, with a colourful waterfront. Sadly, we were there so early that nothing was open. We just walked along the harbour, then walked back and drove away again. We headed straight across to catch the ferry over to Iona... and left Mull behind the same day we got there. Going to Iona was Laurie's big part of the trip, and Barb and I were glad to be along for the ride... literally, since she was driving, ha! Well, not driving to Iona, because you can't actually drive there unless you live on the tiny island. So we left our car and most of our stuff on Mull and backpacked it across on the ferry. We went to the abbey there, which is the cradle of Scottish Christianity-- Saint Columba came over from Ireland, and from Iona went on to evangelise Scotland. It also was the first place that the iconic 'celtic cross' showed up... and funnily enough, it was out of architectural necessity and not theological design-- the crosspieces were too heavy for the post! And yet from that we have one of the most beautiful and meaningful symbols. Nice. The abbey was very cool, as was the graveyard (where many Scottish kings are buried) and the ruins of the nunnery.
An example of a celtic cross
Barb and I mainly just wandered around by ourselves for a while, getting soaked in a downpour before it finally let up, and then headed out to the hostel, which was a good mile and a half away. On the way, Barb made a friend:
We got out to the hostel and made some dinner, and then headed out to the sea to watch the sunset. It was gorgeous, and I took as many pictures of the light on the water as anything else, I think.
Me, out at the coast. Notice the wet cuffs? They never seemed to dry.
The sunset off Iona
After all that walking (which might not sound like it, but sure was a lot!), we went back to the hostel for a relaxing evening and early night. It turns out we needed it... the next morning we were getting up early to catch the ferry back, and book it back over to the mainland and Glenfinnan viaduct.
The view from the ferry
One of the big things Barb and I wanted to do was to see the steam train on the Glenfinnan viaduct, which is perhaps better know to most people as the arched bridge the Hogwarts Express steams over in the first two Harry Potter films. We had to hurry a bit to get there, but we ended up being there in plenty of time. Barb and I hiked up to the overlook, and staked our spot. Laurie hiked off somewhere else, as the HP stuff wasn't so much her thing, but Barb and I waited half an hour for the train. We were joined by loads of folks, and we all tried to get good shots. It was so cool, and even cooler to be there with a fellow HP fan!
Actually, from there I get a little fuzzy, but I think from there we headed on over to the aisle of Skye, where we spent the last three nights. We stayed in three different places-- Carbost (home of the Talisker distillery, and on the lower western side), Uig (up around the tip), and Portree (right round the bottom again). The Old Inn in Carbost was great-- wonderful views of the loch and really nice folks. The SYHA hostel in Uig was pretty run down, and the *hosts* were far from hospitable. Portree was pretty average-- neither exceptional nor horrible. Anyway, between the three, we saw most of the island-- small B roads, plenty of Munroes (how our tallest hills are categorised), sheep, water large and small, lighthouses (to which we hiked miles and miles... uphill... both ways!), gardens, and my favourite-- the Faerie Glen! This is supposed to be the castle of the faerie queen, and we hiked all over it.
I hiked up this... and back down... to get to the lighthouse and our picnic lunch
The Faerie Glen
A very usual sight... even though they quite often were ON the road.
On the sixth day we drove back over to the mainland via the Skye bridge, which is a nice big ole bridge. We stopped on the way briefly, to take pictures of the most photographed castle in Scotland, which you might recognise from the recent film Made of Honour: Eilean Donan. It was cloudy and rainy for most of the trip, and the hills never *came out*, as the saying goes. But still, the clouds make for great atmosphere:
We also stopped off at Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness, because Laurie had never been there. I love that place, but I had been there before and didn't want to pay to go back in. I waited in the carpark while they went in, but I got some good shots anyway.
After that, Laurie drove us back home. It was great fun, but exhausting. And we learned that Barb and I travel well together... and having a friend who was willing to drive and go with us was great (thanks, Laurie!). Barb stayed with me overnight, and then moved out the next day to stay with the friend who would take her to the airport a couple of days later.
And this is just the first week of July! More to come....