Sunday, 31 July 2011

Scotland, day 2

Sunday 17 July 2011

We had a good lie in; down to breakfast about 8.30am. Smoked haddock and poached egg – as good as I’ve tasted anywhere. I couldn’t get a signal on the wi-fi this morning and when I checked with the front desk, the receptionist said it was only available in the lounge and foyer on the ground floor. She was amazed that we had got a signal on the second floor.

Oban Harbour

We set off for Oban but had to wait until noon for most of the shops to open. Weather cool, windy with rain blowing in. We looked around the shops avoiding the rain, bought a map of Mull and booked passage for Monday to Craignure. Marea particularly wants to visit Tobermory.

McCaig's Tower over Oban

We thought of visiting Crarae Garden near Inveraray but the rain was rather persistent so we drove into Inveraray itself. I bought some Loch Fyne whisky – one that I particularly enjoy. Marea bought another French necklace like the ones she bought last year. We were pleased to see that the Parisienne lady who owns the shop was still in business – it can’t be easy, even in a tourist spot like Inveraray. We checked where the Highland Games were (for Tuesday) and went back to Portsonachan for dinner and The Apprentice final.

Smoked haddock is a real treat here – it’s undyed very fresh and juicy. The only problem is that it’s a long way to Oban so deliveries could be more frequent. When available, it takes away the temptation to have a ‘full Scottish Breakfast’ with bacon, egg, sausage patty, white pudding, beans, toast and jam... etc.

Rain is a constant hazard in Oban – i don’t think we’ver ever been there when it hasn’t rained, though it rarely stays; clouds pass relatively quickly leaving the streets warm and damp with that Victorian seaside town feeling familiar from childhood holidays in Southport, Skegness, Cromer, St Leonards, etc.

Wonderful old-fashioned toilets near the ferry terminal in Oban

Inveraray doesn’t seem to have any real reason for being where it is at the top end of Loch Fyne – though it is the traditional county town of Argyll and ancestral home to the Duke of Argyll. The present town was built in the late 1700s after the then Duke moved the population of the existing village to improve the view from his rebuilt castle. This is one of the most prominent features of the place – the Duke and Duchess (new ones of course) are still in residence – together with the gaol, now a museum together with the floating maritime museum, neither of which I have to confess to not having visited. This is not because I don’t like museums but because the majority simply don’t come up to my ideas of what a museum ought to be; I have, unfortunately, been trained on the best.

Inveraray is a place that most people visit. (I’ve only just discovered that much of this is due to the regulation that bus drivers must take a rest after 2 hours driving. Inverary is exactly 2 hours drive from Glasgow so all services connecting Campbeltown, Oban and Fort William to or from Glasgow stop at Inverary for a 20 minute break. The real giveaway that it’s a real tourist trap is the fact that the public toilets cost 30pence rather than the Scottish norm of 20pence.

North of the border down Inveraray way

Wow! A whole month with nothing written. Just goes to show you have less time when you are retired than when you were working.

Also, holidays get in the way and, as usual, Scotland beckoned...

Saturday 16 July 2011

I had left the sat nav in my car over at Toby’s so we went over to collect it and eventually got away at about 8am in the rain. It was a pretty awful journey – heavy showers and spray.
We stopped at Tebay for lunch. This is one of the most beautiful locations for a motorway services overlooking the Vale of Lune. I got my first Scottish money in my change and the weather brightened a bit as we came into Scotland.

View of Loch Awe from the hotel terrace

We arrived at Portsonachan about 4.30pm – not bad; about 7 hours driving plus stops. Last time we came up, our room wasn’t ready and we had to wait on the terrace overlooking the Loch – the hotel has a reputation for being a bit like ‘Fawlty Towers’- see but we have a real liking for the place and its location is simply stunning. There’s no doubt they try hard but the hotel is a bit isolated on Loch Awe so they find it difficult to get and keep staff. This time, all was ready and the whole place seemed more efficient – a real improvement. Marea insisted on doing the unpacking while I went to sit outside in the sun with a malt whisky and my book (Water for Elephants – unputdownable!). It was warm, dry and very pleasant.

Across the loch to Ben Cruachan

Eventually when Marea came down, we sat in the sun with a glass of wine (I had forgotten how big their glasses are). Had dinner early and, in spite of good intentions (having had a good lunch) had langoustines followed by chicken with lime and coriander. The food at Portsonachan remains probably its best feature. Back in the room, we turned on the laptop to see if there was a wi-fi signal (not advertised) and found there was a good free signal. We fell into bed after watching The Impressionists – very good.

Normally, the run up to Scotland is very pretty and, despite the distance, quite enjoyable. On this occasion, the weather was so awful that it was something of an ordeal. Tebay is one of the best services on the whole motorway system , not just because of the location, overlooking the Vale of Lune, but because the food is good, the staff are friendly and you might get your first Scottish money in your change. Everyone seems to want to meet here.

Onward into Scotland via Gretna where people used to get married in a hurry.

"Gretna's famous 'runaway marriages' began in 1753 when Lord Hardwicke's Marriage Act was passed in England; it stated that if both parties to a marriage were not at least 21 years old, then parents had to consent to the marriage. This Act did not apply in Scotland, where it was possible for boys to marry at 14 and girls at 12 years old with or without parental consent. Many elopers fled England, and the first Scottish village they encountered was Gretna Green. The Old Blacksmith's Shop, built around 1712, and Gretna Hall Blacksmith's Shop (1710) became, in popular folklore at least, the focal tourist points for the marriage trade. The Old Blacksmith's opened to the public as a visitor attraction as early as 1887.

The local blacksmith and his anvil have become the lasting symbols of Gretna Green weddings. Scottish law allowed for 'irregular marriages', meaning that if a declaration was made before two witnesses, almost anybody had the authority to conduct the marriage ceremony. The blacksmiths in Gretna became known as 'anvil priests'."

The road goes through Inveraray to the Portsonachan turn and we take the rather lengthy and winding road along the south side of Loch Awe – the longest freshwater loch in Scotland and ancient stronghold of the Clan Campbell.

Main Street, Inveraray