A Travellerspoint blog

Oban

The Little Bay of Caves

sunny 12 °C
View Fall 2008 on rwills89's travel map.

Oban, the perfect end for our highland trek - just like a good book, it leaves you still yearning for more. Now that we are here, in the picturesque, friendly port town known as the "gateway to the islands," I realize how much more of rugged Scotland I want to see. The trip from Fort William set the mood - the setting sun started to break through the clouds and reflect off the hills and lochs, and I think I've gotten some of the most amazing pictures I've ever taken here- from a bus! We also passed Stalker castle, the venue for Monty Python's Search for the Holy Grail. We arrive after a short seaside walk to our hostel, a large, ancient looking brown-brick house. I walk in, and the woman at reception says "Miss Wills is it?" with a big smile on her face. As far as hostels go, this place is organized, and very clean. After picking up a couple day's worth of groceries, we call it a night and retreat to our gender-separated dorms. In the morning, we will take a tour to the isle of Mull, Iona, and most importantly the tiny island of Staffa, home of Fingal's Cave.
I woke up this morning to dark skies, wind and rain. Crap. I remember the tours saying that they are all weather-dependant. I throw on some clothes and go down for breakfast, and Ruaridh is sitting by the large bay window in the dining room, talking to an older man who I later find out is cycling around Scotland. The clouds seem to clear more by the minute, so I rush to finish my coffee and we make our way to the nearby terminal to board our ferry. The weather stayed uniformly crappy throughout the day, but I'm still glad we went. We got some wild views of the Isle of Mull as we crossed over to the other port near Staffa; it really is one of those places that pictures can't do justice. The little ferry is waiting to take us to Staffa, and the skipper tells us we won't be able to land because the weather was too rough. The ride was so much fun - no one could stand up and everyone was getting splashed since the waves we so rough.
Iona sucked a little- the wind and rain really picked up, and we hid in a little restaurant most of the time. We walked around to see the nunnery and the Abbey and the museum, which had the headstones of the 61 kings buried on the island. There we meet Tony, another incredibly well-traveled person in her late 20s. We ended up going to the bar and talking for most of the time, exchanging our travel plans. We still had an hour of waiting left when Gordon Grant came in (the owner of the Staffa tours) and told us that the last ferry was cancelled, and we *might* be able to catch the other ferry into Oban as it was running late. The smaller ferry leaving Iona was about to come in, and the 4 of us made a dash to find others from our group. We only found 2, and had to get on the ferry. The 5 of us landed back on Mull, and our bus driver, Ian, did some seriously talented driving to try and beat the ferry to the port (it was only the 6 of us on the coach.) He was a pretty cool guy - almost as cool as our crazy bus driver Yannis, who powered through windy little streets with similar ease in Athens from a couple years ago. Anyways, even though this guy, Ian, happened to be a tour guide who hated tourists, he was very nice to us and halved our travel time for the return trip. The ferry wasn't there anyway. No big deal - the company paid for a food in a little bar, and they re-routed a different ferry to stop on Mull and pick us up. We talked more, had a couple drinks, and moved on the the ferry, where we had another. (Count: 1 irish coffee, 1 half pt. Tennents, 2 glasses red wine.) We were met at the Oban port with more rain and wind, but felt pretty good and said our good-byes.

Now I am in the hostel lounge, and glad that I'm all caught up with my blog. I get so carried away with details :-P Shame I have no internet access. I wonder when this will be loaded. Tomorrow - the distillery!!

Another day in Oban, and a lot more catching up to do. A pound per 20 minutes of internet access really shied us away from the computer, except for the necessary stuff. The day was clear and sunny, so we decided to climb up to McCraig's tower, which sits on a hill overlooking the little port town. The way up was nice- we took steep, narrow stairways up a street lined with pretty white houses, most of them bursting with colorful gardens at every angle. I didn't realize this environment could sustain such exotic looking plants. The views from the tower were really great, and we started our descent, heading for the Oban Distillery. The guy directing our tour looked barely old enough to drink himself, but he was very informative. Interesting tour, great experience, but unfortunately the smell of whiskey still makes my stomach churn a bit. Afterwards we headed to the Oban Chocolate shop and wandered a bit, deciding to go to the Ceilidh house later in the evening. Ruaridh wasn't exactly looking forward to it, but he ended up having a really good time. There was a woman singing Gaelic songs and Wild Mountain Time- one I recognized from parties at the Gallagher's back in New Jersey. The house was pretty empty, so when people had to go up and do the group dances, we were more or less forced, but it ended up being really fun since no one really knew what they were doing. The bartender was another really young-looking kid, and we ended up talking for a bit after the show. We walked back to the hostel, and packed to leave for East Kilbride.

Oban to East Kilbride isn't exactly a frequented route- we had two bus times, and opted for the afternoon. After checking out of our hostel, we hopped on one of those silly bus tours (because it was free with our departing bus ticket) and it ended up being pretty cool. It stopped in this impossibly tiny town called Seil Island, and I'm pretty sure there were a few houses and then a tourist store- that was it. We got out, and were greeted at the door of the shop with free tea or coffee, and then a girl handing out shortbread, and later on a woman passing around samples of Scottish butter tablet (which is basically a block of slightly caramelized sugar and butter.) The both of us were pretty taken aback by the friendliness of the people working there. We tried some whiskey-flavored cheese, which is awesome by the way, and got back on the bus into Oban. I think, during the circuit, we saw like 30 churches. When we got back we just wandered in and out of the little shops, and walked up and down the town center for a while. Next- East Kilbride to meet more of Ruaridh's family!

Posted by rwills89 11:53 Archived in Scotland Comments (0)

The Highlands

Inverness, Loch Ness, Jon O'Groats, Fort William

semi-overcast 15 °C
View Fall 2008 on rwills89's travel map.

Today I write from the couch of Abbe, Mark, and Chris, our hosts for Fort William. My head is throbbing and, at 2 o'clock, I haven't yet changed out of my jammies. Other than Ben Nevis, which we would need ideal weather for, there is definitely not much to do here - Ben Nevis is the highest point in the UK, and the biggest attraction to this very little town. It's gray, windy and rainy - the perfect weather for updating my blog!

Last I left off, we were leaving Clydebank/Glasgow for Inverness. We took a morning train in, and had some pretty amazing views - it was really cool to see the transition from the lowlands to the highlands. After about an hour, we found ourselves surrounded by huge green hills on either side, shrouded in mist - herds of shaggy, orange Highlands cows (actually called "folds" if they are highland cows for some reason) herds of sheep running away from the train, rabbits, little deer, hawks - I can't believe how much wildlife we saw. Side note - I know it's a Scottish stereotype, but I've never seen more sheep in my life. If there is a plot of grass here, there will be sheep on it. I think there are more sheep than people.

But anyways, we finally got into Inverness, and first sought out to find our hostel. Inverness is a lovely little city - there is a castle, of course, and there was some sort if small festival, where food vendors, jewelry makers, and performers, that we passed through on the way to Eastgate Backpackers. Wow, we thought - what a great location, right in the middle of the action. We climb up the flights to the reception, where a girl who spoke very poor english told us we were only booked for the next night. It took a while to get everything sorted, but they found a place to squeeze us (quite literally). We walk up another flight, and notice the hostel is very colorful - funny paintings on the wall, etc - and finally get to our room. It's very cramped - two full beds on the bottom with twins on the top. There are groceries covering the only countertop, and other people's stuff on our bed - not to mention 40s tucked into a few corners of the room. The first roommate we meet is very friendly - he tells us in broken English that he and the rest of the bunkmates are from Hungary, and are there to work. The girl from reception comes back in to change our bedding, and we notice that the changed bedding is still a little dirty. Well, we decided to get a cheap hostel, and we did. The last straw, however, was the lack of security - all the 4 lockers were occupied, and we didn't exactly feel welcome. Two of the other hungarian bunkmates were leaning in the doorframe, rolled cigarettes in hand, staring at us and talking in their native language. Every time I looked up, this one skinny little creep was staring back. We went for a walk to get some fresh air, silent from our obvious disappointment. I see another hostel - Highlanders hostel - and we brighten up, deciding to take a look. We explain our situation to the guy at reception, and he laughs when we mention Eastgate - "Dodgy fawkin' place, in't it?" He promises to match their very cheap price, and we move our stuff right in. Everyone is very friendly - even the loads of French hostelers. We decide to wander around town, and end up walking around the Ness Islands, cheery from our improved situation and the lovely natural scenery.

After browsing the brochures in the Tourist Information center, we sign up for a tour of Jon O'Groats for my birthday. Jon O' Groats is the northernmost point of mainland UK, right below Orkney. It is known for having some brochs - ruins of villages and homes from 5,000 years ago - and really incredible scenery. The tour leaves at 9AM, so we tuck in early and get a good night's sleep. We get up, groggy from a typical hostel night's sleep, and depart with a group of adventurous old people, one awkward kid from Hong Kong, and a very stuffy tour guide. As usual, we saw like 10,000 sheep, a bunch of cows, and hoards of "common seals" basking on the coast. The trip was amazing - the broch we saw was on a cliff above the sea, and with a very grand-looking castle off in the distance. Jon O'Groats was incredible - we could've easily spent a day there. The cliffs we like fancy high-rise apartments for all the birds, the water was bright blue, and from the pictures you would've thought it was some exotic locale in the Carribbean. We saw a bunch of grey seals playing far below in the water- they kept popping up their heads to look at us. Later that night, we went out to a take away place and these sketchy-looking locals started chatting us up- they were actually hysterical, and kept us there for a while. One of them was missing his two front teeth, and kept doing vampire impressions. The second told us that while we were in town, we need to visit Skye, where he and his family live, and we would be welcome any time.

The next day was our last in Inverness, and we wanted to see the infamous Loch Ness. It was a beautiful day - sunny and 70s, actually- and the Loch was really beautiful. We decided our "starting point" would be Urquhart Castle - I put it in quotes because it was our only point. We gave ourselves several hours to explore the area before our bus left for Fort William, not yet realizing that Loch Ness is bordered almost completely by sidewalk-less road, and there's no way to leave the castle grounds further along the loch once you're there. Still, the castle was incredible, and we had a lot of fun.
Our next stop was Fort William - the views of the different lochs and hills on the way was pretty crazy. Ben Nevis looms over us as we enter a now-drizzly Fort William, and we realize that other than the nature trails, there-is-nothing-to-do. Around 6 we meet our next host, Abbe, and her roommates, Chris and Mark. There are about our age, and are students in Boston working abroad. They all were really hysterical, especially because the way they bantered and picked on each other reminded me of my friends at home- Mark was incredibly friendly, and Abbe seemed to be much more withdrawn from us, but we felt very comfortable there in the american bubble that was their home. Still, the morning brought nothing but more wind and rain, so we decided to pack up and head on. After scrambling for accommodation and trying to find *anything* leaving the little highland town, we run for last-minute bus to our next stop, Oban.

Ahh, its nice to have that all down. I just have to load the couple hundreds of pictures now, heh.

Posted by rwills89 06:18 Archived in Scotland Comments (0)

Loch Lomond

Here comes the sun... doodoo doo doo...

sunny 12 °C
View Fall 2008 on rwills89's travel map.

What a beautiful day! I really don't think I've ever appreciated blue skies so much. It's one of those things you don't notice much until it's gone.
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Today we saw Loch Lomond, and what a pretty area. This was the Scotland I was excited to see- Ruaridh said it's a glimpse of what the highlands will be like. We got into town around one, and immediately I noticed this was one of the towns seriously into tourism - the street is lined with cute little B&Bs, and every store seems to have a stand with postcards and visitor information in the front. But lucky for us, spots like this tend to be very well marked, and it was. Less than a minute's walk from the Balloch train station, we saw a little marina leading into the loch. Everything is so.. easy going. Even though I really wanted to hike around the area, it immediately puts you into a slow-paced, ambling, feed the ducks kind of mood. We didn't walk along the water for long before it opened up into the huge sparkling loch, shadowed by rows of vast rolling hills with Ben Lomond at the forefront.
After exploring the waterfront, we stumbled into this crazy fairy-tale field, lined on both sides with tall pink and purple flowers. Masses of the fluffy white seeds were whirling around the field, and (I'm not kidding) this field led up to the lawn of Balloch Castle. Very fairy-tale like indeed. We explored a little more, but realized it's been a few hours and decided to go back and find food.
We went a 10-minutes walk to Loch Lomond shores. We kept hearing about it as a nice area with cafes and stuff, but it was an over-hyped shopping center strategically placed on the water. The center consisted of a department store, small upscale shopping mall, restaurant and over-priced aquarium. I notice the tour buses, slowly pouring out groups of very elderly people. The restaurant, Kilted something or other, is decently priced (according to our stomachs) so we sit down for food and then hit the road.

Next we planned on attending the Braemar Highland games, but it's proving to be much to hard to get to- it's this tiny little town with no train station, and neither of us are old enough to rent a car. Sadly, we have to give up. I'm so sad!! I was really looking forward to seeing that. Ah, well. Next stop is Inverness and Loch Ness. I plan on riding Nessie over to Ireland afterwords =)

Posted by rwills89 12:33 Archived in Scotland Comments (1)

Glasgow and Edinburgh Fireworks

Catching up on a few days!

semi-overcast 17 °C

Back at the aunt's house today, and taking advantage of sweet civilized internet before we get to roughing it. We went back to Edinburgh for the castle fireworks on the 31st, and they were incredible! I wish I got pictures, but my camera died just as it got dark (of course.) It turns out Romanian orchestra goes very well with crazy explosions and fireworks. Graham met us there, bringing the last of his Carlsberg 40s as he gets ready to leave his flat for a crazy backpacking world-quest. The music was beautiful and energetic, and the fireworks were so creative - some lit the castle up in eerie green light, like from an old Dracula movie (no explosion) some made the castle look like it was burning, and some looked like a white waterfall was cascading down the castle walls.
We stayed at the Castle Rock hostel for 30 pounds in a 12-bed dorm room. It's situated literally right below the castle- I could've seen the fireworks from my dorm window. The weather was Ok... I've had Goodbye Blue Sky stuck in my head a lot lately, just to hint. Ruaridh stared me awake at 6AM (he slept on the bottom bunk, i was at the top) and pointed out the Australian couple one divide over was "making a lot of noise," at which point he decided to go back to sleep and leave me wide awake, listening to the impossibly loud couple next to us. But I think everyone in the dorm was up- I looked around at the other top bunks, and people had their comforters and pillows pressed tightly against their ears.
Well that at least got us out of bed early, because we were up in time to grab coffee before touring Mary King's Close. The guide was costumed up like a moron, but was pretty funny, and it was an interesting site, apparently featured on shows like "Most Haunted." Regardless of your interest in the supernatural (I can't get enough of that stuff, and Ruaridh can't stand it, heh) it was really cool to see firsthand the awful living conditions of 16th century Edinburgh and learn about the plague there. We got out and it was raining, so we just booked it back to Glasgow, where I napped.
For the past couple days we've been touring around Glasgow, and taking it much easier than I would've liked, but I'm assuming that's just how things work when you stay with family. Glasgow has a much different feel than Edinburgh - it seems to be a much more business-oriented, Scottish city. Edinburgh seemed mostly based on tourism and was very international. I really like them both, feel like there is more to do in Edinburgh but Glasgow is very friendly. By the way, travel tip: don't knock the extremely-tourist-y tour buses, they get you around all the interesting points in the city with a little information too. Our ticket was valid for 2 days, so today we just used it as free transport.
Glasgow isn't all business though, as we've been very busy seeing the sights - Ruaridh took me to Kelvingrove park after we saw the museum yesterday, as it was one of his favorite spots as a child. He mentioned it's much more fun when you can feed the squirrels, but I thought it was very pretty, especially since the sun finally fought through the clouds. Today we saw tons - The Glasgow Cathedral (beautiful) the Necropolis, the People's Palace, the Willow Tea Rooms and Babbity Bowster's for lunch (another childhood fave of Ru.) The tea room, designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, was beautiful, and the set-up was so proper. Being in a tea room just makes you want to be more elegant and civilized.
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Well that's all my catching up - more photos soon. I don't know how Ruaridh gets his photos up so fast - I guess I'm more of a pen-and-paper girl.

For Ruaridh's take on the trip (and his nifty Mac website) http://web.mac.com/ruaridh.gallagher/Europe/Welcome.html

Posted by rwills89 13:42 Archived in Scotland Comments (0)

Staying home in Clydebank (Glasgow suburb)

And I'm all caught up with my blog!!

overcast 21 °C
View Fall 2008 on rwills89's travel map.

Yes!! I spent all of today creating this blog and writing down everything that's happened. I don't know how I ended up putting it off for so long!

So.. that should hint at what an eventful day it's been.
The weather, as usual, crap. I don't think I have to say it anymore. We've been hanging out, Ruaridh fiddling with his glitchy .Mac blog, and me creating this. Now we are upstairs, I'm having a glass of wine and preparing for going back into Edinburgh tomorrow. We are going to go in a little early to do some of the tourist-y things we missed, and will later meet Graham on the Princes St. Gardens to see the fireworks/ music show that blow off from the castle. I can't wait to get some amazing pictures!!!

That's all for now - I realize I may not have a chance to update my blog every day like I have done (just did, really) but I really wanted to get this started up.
Until tomorrow!

Posted by rwills89 13:39 Archived in Scotland Comments (0)

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