Have to say, Oban was fun, even though I didn’t get to see Fingal’s Cave. The Old Manse was delightful, and Simon and Anna were fantastic. They really went out of their way to make everyone feel welcome, and to encourage breakfast conversations amongst their guests. I was sad that I only had two nights there.
The train ride back to Edinburgh was in brighter weather, so I got a better look at the very striking scenery on the trip. Honestly, a lot of the terrain was right out of story books. Absolutely gorgeous.
I have to say, though, that the Edinburgh train station was the most perplexing I’d been in. I wound up leaving the station through the wrong exit, and my phone directions were kind of messed up. I wound up having to climb up through a steep but interesting alley called Fleshmarket Close.
It rained off and on for my walk to the hotel, including when I had to walk down a slick flagstone street. It was so steep, it actually had a handrail.
But I made it. Tomorrow, I go on the city sightseeing bus, and I’ll start actually seeing the city.
Well, the seas were too rough for my tour to land at Staffa so that I could see Fingal’s Cave1. The boat captain took us out past the shelter of Iona, and the seas pitched us around pretty well, so we all got the point about it not being safe. It reminds me a little of my attempt to visit the Skelligs in Ireland – one chance in an out-of-the-way village for a boat trip that is dependent on the weather. And the weather just didn’t co-operate.
So, Fingal got no visitors today.
Anyway, here are some pictures from the adventures I did have.
The Mull portion of the Three Isles Excursion I was on was essentially riding on a bus for 70 minutes to get from the harbour nearest Oban to the harbour nearest Iona and Staffa. Some very pretty scenery and interesting bits2, but it was all through the windows of a bus.
The next stage was supposed to be the boat ride to Staffa, but we all know how that turned out. Instead, the boat took us across to Iona3, where we had a few hours before catching the ferry back to Mull. So, I went to look at the very cool stuff on Iona.
Iona is a special place in the history of Scotland and Ireland. St. Colomba built his abbey here, and this is where the Book of Kells was written, before it was moved to Ireland to keep it away from the Viking raiders.
So, after the abbey, I caught the ferry back to Mull, and the bus back to the other ferry, which took me back to Oban. By the time we docked, it was pouring rain. I had a nice dinner at a restaurant called Piazza, then walked back up to the Old Manse. I took the less-steep way that Simon had told me about, and it was much better.
Iona was cool, and I’m glad I got to see it and spend the time there. I’m disappointed about not getting to see Staffa, but that’s the way it goes.
Since I didn’t get to see Fingal’s Cave, I’m leaving this here.
The YouTube video I linked here doesn’t seem to be available outside of the UK. So, here’s an attempt at linking in an mp3 of the same tune. This is Natalie McMaster and The Chieftains playing a set that starts with Fingal’s Cave, an old Scottish tune, either a march or a strathspey depending who you ask and how it’s being played. It’s off the Fire in the Kitchen album.
Listening to the folks on the tour, I was surprised to find that pretty much everyone else wanted to land at Staffa to see puffins. Only me and a music teacher from Washington really wanted to see Fingal’s Cave. [↩]
Okay. Our guide pointed out a standing stone in the middle of a cottage garden. He said that the power of this standing stone was to allow cell reception, which was otherwise lacking on the island. You had to stand out in the garden and touch the stone, and it only worked if you had a Vodafone contract. His delivery was so wonderfully deadpan that I actually heard some folks saying wow. [↩]
We were slated to visit Iona after Staffa, anyway. [↩]
Leaving York this morning, I had a really nice talk with Al, one of the folks who runs the guesthouse where I was staying. He asked what it was that I liked about York. I thought for a bit, then said, “London is awesome. It has everything. But it’s kind of overwhelming – you know you’re never going to be able to see and do it all. Oxford is fantastic, full of cool history and architecture, but it’s all kind of one flavour – University. York has a little bit of everything, including stuff you can’t get anywhere else, but it’s a manageable size.” He liked that, and it kind of sums up how much I like York1.
It was shortly after 9:00 that I caught the train in York up to Edinburgh. It was a nice ride, past some lovely scenery2, especially after Newcastle, where the rails start to follow the coastline. I missed spotting Lindesfarne, which I was told to look for, but saw lots of other very cool stuff.
Also at Newcastle, a group of young people3 got on, heading to Edinburgh to celebrate a birthday by hitting some bars and music shows. One of them wound up sitting across from me, and was a very entertaining conversationalist, mainly talking about the difference between Canada and the US.
I had to race a bit at Edinburgh to catch the Glasgow train, but I managed to catch some glimpses of the city as the trains entered and left the station. It got me all excited for going back there on Monday.
By the time I got to Glasgow, it had cooled off a fair bit from the very nice morning weather, and had started to rain. While the Glasgow Station is very nice, it doesn’t offer enough amusement to fill the three hour wait I had there. But finally, I got on the three-hour, whistle-stop train to Oban.
The ride to Oban reminded me of my tour of Connemara in Ireland. Rugged hills, hidden lakes and inlets, very dramatic scenery. We stopped about every 15 minutes throughout the three-hour trip. On the bright side, I had been wondering if I should have bothered to bring the external battery to charge up my phone – today’s trip showed that it was, indeed, worthwhile.
The walk to the Old Manse guesthouse was up some very steep hills. I was met partway by Simon, one of the owners, who told me that there was a less lethal way to get to the place, and I will be very glad of that tomorrow.
I kind of missed the food options by getting to Oban late – most non-pubs were closed, and the open ones, I am told, stop serving food at 9:00. I debated running out for something to eat, but decided I am more tired than hungry, and am making do with one of my emergency Clif bars for dinner.
The breakfast menu for tomorrow looks great, though.
Things have been kind of quiet here as I’ve slowly been booking stuff for my trip. Now that I’ve got a significant portion of it fleshed out, I’ve updated the itinerary page, and am writing this post so the few people who follow the blog1 can see where things stand.
Now, on the trip, London and Edinburgh were pretty much no-brainers. I wanted to start with London2, and finish up with Edinburgh, winding my way north over the three weeks of my trip. I had originally intended to take in some stuff in Cornwall, but the research I did showed me that it would be pretty time-consuming and expensive, taking me well out of the way, and leaving me less time for a lot of other things.
Side note: the UK is significantly more expensive than Ireland. Like, 50-100% more expensive, at least for accommodations. I thought things would get cheaper outside of London, but that did not turn out to be the case. I’m paying for as much of the accommodations and tours as I can before the trip, so that I don’t need to worry about that part of the trip ON the trip. It’ll give me time to pay off the expense before the actual trip.
Anyway, the days between London and Edinburgh. I kind of wanted to see Oxford – it’s full of neat history3, amazing architecture, and is centrally located so that I can take a couple of day trips to interesting places like Bletchley Park and Stratford-upon-Avon. Maybe even Blenheim Palace.
A little more research convinced me that the next stage of the journey should be York. Again, a lot of very cool history and architecture4. I don’t have a lot of solid ideas of what I want to see there, yet – I need to do some more research. But I’m convinced that a few days there will be well-spent.
Now, the next stop is a little more problematic. I really want to see Fingal’s Cave, which is off the west coast of Scotland. It’s off the beaten path, and it’ll take me pretty much a whole day to get from York to Oban5. Then, the actual boat tour may not land on Staffa6 if the weather is not co-operative. So, I may be taking two days to go out of my way to see something that I may not, in fact, get to see. Sounds a little like my abortive attempt to see the Skelligs, doesn’t it?
But I really want to try and see Fingal’s Cave, and I’ve got a couple of days to spend. I figure it’s worth a try.
And from Oban, it looks like another full day of travel to bring me to Edinburgh. And from Edinburgh7, I take the train down to spend my last night in a hotel near Heathrow before flying home the next day.
I’ve booked a few tours, etc. already. Here’s what’s officially on the books:
I’m staying in Whitechapel while in London, so of course I need to take a Jack the Ripper tour. I’ve found one that looks pretty good and booked it.
I also booked a tour that takes me to Stonehenge, Bath, and Lacock. It’s a bit of a pricey tour, because it gets me8 a private viewing of Stonehenge at sunrise. Inside the inner ring of stones. I’m sure Bath and Lacock are cool and all, but INSIDE STONEHENGE!
I found that one of my favourite performers, Derren Brown, has a new show that will be playing in Edinburgh while I’m there. The morning the tickets went on sale, I went online and snagged on in the front centre of the stalls. I’m very excited about this!
There are a number of other things I want to see and do, but haven’t finalized yet9:
Avebury. There’s a massive stone circle and a long tomb there. It looks easy enough to get there from London on the train and bus. I should be able to pair it with the next item for a full day trip.
Salisbury. Lots of cool history here, including Salisbury Cathedral with it’s Magna Carta.
Shakespeare’s Globe. If they’ve got a Shakespearean production on, I pretty much need to get a ticket.
Bletchley Park. WWII codebreaking museum! Looks to be an easy day trip out from Oxford. And very, very cool to see.
Stratford-upon-Avon. This is all about the Shakespeare, of course. Another easy day trip from Oxford. Maybe I can even combine it with Bletchley Park into one full day.
Rosslyn Chapel. Okay. I’m gonna go all conspiracy hipster. I thought Rosslyn Chapel was weird and interesting long before Dan Brown got his mucky fingerprints all over it and Da Vinci Coded it up. So, I’m gonna take the bus out from Edinburgh to see it. Maybe I can even find a tour that will take in the chapel and some other interesting sites in Scotland.
The Highlands. I think it’ll be fun to take a bus tour for the day through the Scottish Highlands. Why wouldn’t I? If it stops at Loch Ness, bonus!
So. Many. CASTLES! They’re everywhere! And I wanna see them all.
Ghost tours. No, I’m not credulous enough to think I’m going to see a ghost10, but you get such cool stories and hidden history on the tours!
There’s probably other stuff. I’ve got more than six months to keep planning and researching. It’ll flesh out.