Ready for some island living today?
Before you start dreaming of tropical weather and warm sandy beaches, let me remind you that we are in Scotland! Island living around here means ferries, one lane roads, and expansive watery views.
Friday, April 6, 2012, dawned as cloudy and gray...just like most our days in Scotland. Fortunately, there were always long stretches without rain, and every once in awhile we might even have a glimpse of blue sky. Of course, being lifelong Pacific Nor'westers we are more than a little used to this kind of weather.
We started our day with breakfast at our hotel. Even though there are a few B&Bs on the Isle of Mull, Andrea arranged to have us stay at the Argyll Arms Hotel because it has one of the only restaurants open on the island during this part of the year. In fact, it might have very well been the only restaurant that served dinner. The guy who checked us in last night also is in charge of the restaurant...as far as I could tell, he was the first one up in the morning and the last one to close up the restaurant. I commented to him on how exhausting his job must be, and he told us he was looking forward to the seasonal help that was arriving later in the month. No doubt.
Not having had a traditional Scottish breakfast--also called a "full breakfast"--so far on our journey, today was the day we decided to "indulge."
Hope you were hungry for protein because you'll get a lot of it! Starting from the pile of baked beans on the left and moving clockwise: fried mushrooms, sliced sausage, back bacon (what we call ham), haggis, blood sausage, a fried tomato, and an egg sunnyside up right in the middle. Not pictured is the obligatory tea and toast.
I ate the beans, egg, ham and tomato. I tried the blood sausage (spicy) and haggis (like meatloaf) just to say I've tried it. I didn't eat the mushrooms because I never eat mushrooms, and Andrea was happy to have both mine and Jason's mushrooms (part of the reason I married him: he dislikes mushrooms even more than I do).
Although I wouldn't opt for a full breakfast every day, it does keep you full for a very long time.
After breakfast we drive to Fionnphort at the tip of the island to catch the ferry over to Iona. It's a walk-on ferry because no cars are allowed on Iona except for the locals who live on the island.
Ten minutes later we were at Iona.
You can clearly see the Iona Abbey from the ferry.
Our plans for the morning are to walk around the island and see the Iona nunnery ruins and the abbey.
It was really an amazing feeling walking around Iona. For one thing, because there are very few cars, you feel as though you are walking around a huge park rather than an actual community. It's very quiet, and extraordinarily beautiful...even though it was raining.
For another thing, it has a strong spiritual feeling to it--particularly at the abbey. Iona is significant because of the ancient monastery that was built there around 563, and that monastery helped convert the locals to Christianity, which in turn allowed Christianity to spread through England.
We walked along the road to the ruins of the Iona Nunnery.
Even though there are lots of old ruined buildings all over Scotland, you know it's significant if it has a plaque out front explaining what it used to be. Fortunately, no one seems to mind if people tromp around the old ruins. Good thing, since we tromped around plenty.
We eventually wander off to see the Iona Abbey.
Two crosses stand out in front. The one on the right is St Martin's cross, and it's been there since the middle of the 8th century. Wow!
The other one--not quite as visible in the above photo--is a replica of St John's cross. The original is in a little museum in the back.
Here's a better view of it.
The building is still used as a church and spiritual retreat center, but some of the areas inside were closed off because it was Good Friday and they were preparing for Easter.
Still plenty of history to take in.
Out behind the abbey in another room, they were preserving some ancient grave slabs and monuments that had been carved, oh, about 1500 years ago. No big deal.
I have to tell you, it's a bit surreal being around stuff that is that old. Also, there's a bit of disconnect in that you want to appreciate how old it is, but on the other hand, it didn't have any personal connection to me so they sort of felt like a bunch of old rocks.
Really old rocks.
But I'm glad someone is taking the time to protect them! Important stuff.
Before leaving, we stop at the gift shop and end up visiting with some of the local residents. Trouble is, I am not good at understanding the Scottish dialect. Consequently, Andrea had to repeat some of the questions so I didn't have a perpetual blank face of confusion.
When we leave we discover it's not raining anymore. Yay!
No blue skies, but we can put our umbrellas away. We wander around a little more, and then eventually head back to the port where we'll catch the ferry back to Mull. Since we have a bit of time to kill, we stop in at a cafe for a "spot of tea."
This was one of my favorite moments of the trip--sitting in the restaurant's sunroom, sipping tea and eating scones with jam and clotted cream, watching the ferry arrive. It was just...perfection.
Our ferry finally arrived, and soon enough we were headed back to Mull.
Knowing that we won't have much time to explore Mull tomorrow (because of an early-ish departing ferry), we decide to do a bit of exploring this afternoon. No plans, just a car, a one lane road, and a "I think I saw a sign for this" adventure.
We drive from the ferry port, back towards Bunessan--where you can just barely see our hotel in the distance--and then drive on towards the rest of Mull.
Mull isn't that big, but guess what? It's big enough to have a castle.
Hello, Duart Castle! Fancy seeing you here. Duart Castle is one of those castles that people live in and open up for tours--no doubt to help offset the costs of maintaining the castle.
We didn't tour it because it closed early on Fridays, but we did wander around the grounds, much to the consternation of the little terrier dogs tied up out front.
Mostly we wandered down to the field below the castle to get a good view of the area.
Yep. Nice area.
Out across the water we saw the ferry we would be taking to get back to mainland Scotland.
Hello, ferry! We'll see you tomorrow!
Back to the one lane road for us, to see what else we can see.
Oh boy. Are you in for a treat. Are you ready?
Are you sure?
Baby cow! We watched this little guy for quite a few minutes because he had somehow managed to get on the wrong side of the fence from his mama. He kept running up and down the fence, and even though we could see the hole where he could get back inside his mama's pen, he couldn't figure it out.
Having considerably more fun down the road were some spring lambies.
Finally, we turn back towards the hotel for a late afternoon nap before dinner.
And just a bit of video showcasing parts of our day.
Fortunately for us, going back to our hotel meant we wouldn't have to drive out again for dinner since we were at the dinner spot. Quite early on, it got busy with tour groups and anybody else who wanted to go out for dinner. Since we could easily occupy ourselves with a card game up in our room, then we decided to have a late dinner to avoid the crowds. Andrea is a big fan of playing hearts, so we often played that in the evenings.
My philosophy at playing hearts is to "shoot the moon" as often as possible. ("Shooting the moon" is to collect all the penalty cards for that round, which then gives you zero points but gives everyone else 26 points.) It happened on this occasion that my gaming philosophy was working.
We had determined that we would play to 100 points, but since I had shot the moon a couple of times, both Jason and Andrea had considerably more points than I had.
It finally comes down to Andrea having 98 points and Jason has 99, and we figure it will be the last game before we go to dinner. Andrea jokes that she and Jason need to conspire together so that I end up with all the penalty cards except 1 (which she would collect) in order to keep the game going. They didn't actually set anything up, but early on I decided that I would again shoot the moon.
As luck would have it, I collected every single penalty card except the very last one, which Andrea picked up. To say we were a bit noisy in our collective response to that last card is putting it mildly.
Andrea and Jason both lived to see another game, and even though I ended up the ultimate winner they still felt rather victorious too.
I suppose that's the best way to end a game, isn't it?
And can you believe it? Tomorrow is our last full day in Scotland. We'll take the ferry back to the mainland, and drive back to Glasgow. *sigh* It's been a fabulous trip so far, hasn't it?