Tobermory and Iona

Yesterday I talked a lot about driving on single track carriageways and not a lot about why we were so determined to do so.  The original reason was that we wanted to see Iona Abbey on The Isle of Iona.  But having mentioned this to my friend Frank who grew up just outside Glasgow, he suggested we stop in Tobermory.  This turned out to be an excellent suggestion, since we needed a stopping point to spend the night. Tobermory is a quaint fishing village on the northeast side of the Isle of Mull in the Scottish Inner Hebrides.  It is a visually stunning place with store fronts painted in bright colors, and boats dotting the harbor on a very blue ocean. There aren’t a lot of choices for accommodations in Tobermory and you need to book fairly far in advance for a summer stay.  Since I booked late (in April for a July visit) there weren’t a lot of choices.    We ended up at the Tobermory Hotel on Main Street. The room we had did not have a view of the harbor but it was clean as was the ensuite bath, albeit very tiny with a price of $98.00US/night for two twins.  But all we required was a place to sleep, so it was fine.  We walked through every shop, and climbed a quarter of a mile or so up a steep hill to the Western Isles Hotel where we had dinner in a dining room that looked out over the water. The next morning we got up and continued on our journey, this being the day we started with the near head on collision I mentioned in the last post.  After we extricated ourselves from the pasture, I was certain I heard strange noises and rattles coming from the car–convinced I had damaged it in some way–something my imagination persisted in hearing for the next three days.  Robyn assured me it was all in my head and that she didn’t hear anything unusual. We arrived in Fionphort in a steady rain, found a car park and walked to the ferry.  This was a rather uneventful ride, lacking the excitement of the previous ferry ride, my enthusiasm having been swallowed for the morning by thoughts of car crashes.  I must admit, I rather soured the mood, and Robyn tried valiantly to cheer me up.  Once on the Isle of Iona there was sufficient scenery to take my mind off of what was ailing me. Iona Abbey is said to be the seat of Christianity, and the place where Saint Columba came in 563 and founded the Abbey after being exiled from Ireland.  The Book of Kells, which contains the four Gospels of the New Testament was thought to have been either produced or begun on the Isle of Iona.  

You can also see the original remaining pieces of Saint Johns cross in the abbey museum (first and largest cross to be carved on the Island in the sixth century or so), and it’s replica outside the abbey entrance.

On our drive back to Craignure, we wanted to see Torosay Castle, so we stopped on the way to the Pennygate Lodge where we were staying.  Torosay Castle is young, built in 1865, but owned by the same family for five generations.  The property consisted of 10,000 acres.  Three days after touring it, we ran in to another tourist who said it had been closed due to theft of books from the library.  I don’t know if it ever reopened, but the castle and 900 acres are now on the market, the remaining acreage having been sold separately.

I find this a sad turn of events, but feel lucky to have been able to take a tour.  Thus ended our time on the Isle of Iona and the Isle of Mull.  The next day we would board the ferry again to go back to the mainland and head up to Inverness by way of Inveraray, which, if you are wondering is not a direct route.  But I had promised to return to Rudha-na-Craige in Inveraray to retrieve the portable wifi and I couldn’t just leave it there.  As it turned out, we ended up touring Inveraray Castle, which was well worth the miles out of the way.  But for now I’ll leave you with the last photo of Torosay Castle Gardens.

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Driving on the Left, Part II

More Driving Lessons

Last we left off, we had reached Inveraray, having driven through Edinburgh, not without incident. I believe we encountered a flat tire, having rudely been accosted by a curb while I was minding my own business, and narrowly saved by the rescue men who regularly change tires for the Americans and Canadians who seemed to have a love of contact with the curbs. A quick stop at the Kwik-Fit tire place, and all was well.
We were told to avoid Glasgow, but again the best laid plans…well, you know the saying. We rolled into Inveraray late and exhausted . I didn’t want to drive again, and neither did Robyn.

We had a good nights sleep, and our host gave us some fatherly advice about roundabouts, including a story about telling his daughter to avoid the one outside London that consisted of the main roundabout with eight satellite roundabouts around the perimeter.  Robyn and I both must have looked horrified, because he hastily assured us that we would encounter no such monster in Scotland.  Thank God for small favors!

It was also here that I thought my portable wifi would catch up with me.  When I called the company to tell them I had left it at home, they told me they could send another to the place I was staying.  Since we were on our way to the Isle of Mull, our host agreed to take the delivery for us, and when we came back from the Isle of Mull, we could pick it up.

We took off with me driving this time, Robyn having had her fill the day before in Glasgow’s rush hour.  It was a beautiful drive from Inveraray to Oban which is on the Firth of Lorne on the West Coast of Scotland.

We passed the most amazing church that I stopped  to take pictures of, but sadly cannot remember the name of.

Once in Oban we drove our car onto the ferry that would take us to Craignure on the Isle of Mull.  Foot traffic can purchase tickets the day of, but if you want to take your car you must make a reservation for day and time rather far in advance.

I discovered this by accident when trying to figure out the cost of the ferry on the internet back in February.  The cost was reasonable–right around 75GBP for two adults and car roundtrip.  You can find the schedule and prices here.  The Caledonian MacBrayne was amazing, with a cafeteria that had food ranging from snacks to meals for even the most picky person or child.  Check in was a breeze, and driving onto the ferry was easy as pie.  The ferry ride was smooth, passing Duart Castle on the sound that was a great photo backdrop.

We drove off the ferry into Craignure, and couldn’t have been happier.  We didn’t know the hard part was ten minutes down the road.

The Isle of Mull has what are called one track carriageways.

This means that cars going in either direction share one lane. How does that work, you ask? Well, I drove on it for two days, and I still couldn’t tell you. What I can tell you is, I’m sure I now have a bleeding ulcer. My knuckles will be white for the rest of my life, and the moment of true understanding came when we rounded a curve that on the left side had a sign pointing in the direction that we were going that said, CEMETARY. I know now that they chose to put a cemetery seemingly in the middle of nowhere for the head-on collisions that happen at that point. Saves time, you see. They can just drag the bodies out of the car and up the hill and bury them. No muss, no fuss. In a country that has seen so many civil wars, what’s a few more drops of blood on the soil?

I was surprised at the speed by which cars traveled. Where I was going 30, they would easily be going 50. I decided that the trick to surviving on these single track roads was to follow someone who knew what they were doing. That way if a collision happened, I could watch from behind, thus allowing me time to escape. Unfortunately, this didn’t work very well because every time I found someone to follow, they would pull over and let me pass, quite unlike Americans who would do anything to prevent you from passing them. At one point I frantically waved the person to go on ahead. He did, but eventually pulled over again to let me pass.  I just don’t think I looked that confident.

We managed to make it to Tobermory with nary an incident. We made it to Iona the following morning with only one incident.  Americans always pull to the right to let someone pass.  On a single track carriageway in a country where you drive on the left, you should pull to the left to let oncoming traffic pass you.  All I can say is, old habits die hard.  And if I pull to the right, and someone coming at me pulls to the left, well, we are eventually going to occupy the same space at the same time.  Suffice it to say, Robyn and I went flying into the pasture, which was the result of me realizing I’d better go WAY FAR right to avoid a head-on collision.  When we finally came to a bouncing stop, she got out to talk to the people in the other car while I tried unsuccessfully to erase the image of the passenger in the other car looking like she was certain death was imminent.  By the time I exited my vehicle to go throw up in the nearby bushes, I heard the other driver saying quite cheerfully,  “Great Driving! You avoided an accident! Well done!”  Apparently they didn’t hold a grudge.

I became grateful to see cows, sheep and goats meandering on the side of the road. That meant I had to slow down, so that when they leapt unexpectedly into the road I didn’t slam into them, throwing their furry bodies into the ditch.

It took two hours to make it to Fionnphort (pronounced, I am told, Fen-a-fert), or, for perspective, a distance of 48.6 miles. But we were alive, and as Robin pointed out, undamaged in any way, shape or form.

In Fionnphort we caught another ferry–this one only for foot traffic–to get to the Isle of Iona, home of Iona Abby.  We toured Iona Abby in the misty, driving rain after which we took the ferry back to the Isle of Mull, got back into the car, and proceeded to drive back to Craignure on the other side of the island, or 34.8 miles. We must have done better (we did have more people to follow) because we managed that in one hour and 15 minutes. I refused to drive to the gas station after we parked at the Pennygate Lodge, and told Robyn if she wanted to fill up that bad, she could drive. On the way out, the proprietor of the Pennygate Lodge where we were staying informed us that if we needed diesel fuel, we wouldn’t get any because somebody had run over the only diesel pump in town. We stared at her.

“Are you kidding us?” we asked.
“No, I’m not.” She said grinning.
“What happened?”  We asked.
“Ooch, twas an American, backing up and not looking where he was going!”
At least I left the curb in working order.

Driving on the Left

28 July 2010

Driving in Edinburgh

I’m the adventurous type. So I was undaunted by the prospect of driving in Edinburgh. My friends from the UK assured me it was easier than driving in the U.S.  Now having had my first lesson driving on the wrong side of the road and the wrong side of the car,  I beg to differ on this point.

Finding the Rental place in Waverly station wasn’t a problem—the cab driver knew just where to go. Checking out, was fairly smooth. The attendant wanted to know if I wanted insurance. I said I already purchased insurance. She agreed, but said I had a 600.00GBP deductible. Hmm…I did some quick calculations, and realized that was almost 1000.00 US dollars. She smiled charmingly at me.

“Would you like to purchase additional insurance for 6 GBP/day? It would relieve you of any responsibility should anything at all happen to the car.”

More calculations. 42.00 GBP, roughly 70 US dollars for no liability. “O.K.” I say.

She adds it on in the computer, prints the paperwork, and has both myself and my friend sign. She then hands me keys and tells me, “You have a blue Mercedes.”

I blink, sure she couldn’t be talking to me. Taking the key fob she is handing me, I see that it is indeed a Mercedes. You have to understand. I’ve rented many cars. Never have I gotten one that was, well, beyond the mere necessity of having four wheels and a minimum of two doors without asking. My smile broadens. She gives me directions for finding my rental, and away we go. The car, was a tiny four door model I’ve never seen before, but nevertheless was very cute. We loaded the luggage and proceeded to drive out of the train station with a heading of Rosslyn Chapel in Midlothian.

It was the second round-about.  On the backside of Holyrood Palace, the curb jumped out in front of me. I know that is what happened, because I was certain I was hugging the inside curb and going so slowly that people were honking at me. I knew immediately that the passenger’s side tire was flat.  I ignored my exit out of the roundabout and continued to the nearest building with a driveway.

“What are you doing?”  Robyn yelled.  “That was our turn!”  She didn’t seem to notice the weird thumping noise coming from her side.

“I’m pretty sure we have a flat,” I say in a flustered voice.

The driveway I navigated to turned out to be the Scotland Standard Newspaper building.

After coming to a rather bumpy stop we got out,  in the rain, of course, to inspect the damage. Left passenger side tire flat as a pancake.

Thank god for insurance. I look on the insurance paperwork and find a number devoted to flat tire problems alone.  This should have been an omen.  I called the number, cursing the minutes I was using, and wondering what the phone bill was going to look like.

Within 45 a gentleman showed up in a bright orange van with RAC Rescue written on the hood.

I had vowed I would not say I hit the curb, that I would play the innocent, “I have no idea what happened!” card.  To my dismay there was no need to. He took one look, and said, “Hit the curb, did you?”

I smiled dolefully, holding my hand above my forehead with my thumb and forefinger in the shape of an L.

“Do you know what this means in America?” I asked him.

“No.” He replies starting to grin. I suspect he has an idea.

“It means I’m a big loser,” I say jokingly.

He laughs at this, while my friend asks him if this happens a lot.

He gives us a Cheshire cat grin. “Every day or two there is at least one American or Canadian who hits the curb and gets a flat.”

I breathed a sigh of relief, feeling very much less a loser while he changes the tire with the admonition that we must visit the Kwik Fit, or some such place, as the spare is only the temporary type.

As we drive into Kwik Fit, we share an ominous feeling that we might be there all day.  I check in at the counter, and explain the situation.  The guy takes my paperwork, and in less than 45 minutes they have us on our way again.  I must say, it was amazing service.

We continued our drive to Rosslyn Chapel, with me insisting that Robyn drive.  I don’t think she was very happy about this, but my confidence was shaken to the core.  We encountered a few roundabouts on the way, but navigated them well. We toured Rosslyn Chapel about which I can only say, it is truly amazing. You can get information on it here.  No photography is allowed inside, and the outside was being restored, so the only photo I have is the following of the front door.

Afterward we walked to a local pub and ate, then headed toward our new destination, Inveraray. Now, we have a GPS, but the owner of the next B&B told us to stay East of Glasgow.  But how exactly, do you tell the GPS that?  I had no idea, so we just did what it told us to–or tried to anyway.  We were about to embark on lesson number 2 regarding roundabouts.  Ever see the movie, European Vacation with Chevy Chase?  Remember the scene with the roundabouts and getting stuck going round and round?  We spent roughly 20 minutes or so going between two roundabouts that were about a half a mile apart, trying to take the right road, but always ending up on the wrong road. There is only a finite number of times one can take hearing that annoying voice say, “recalculating”. I think it must have been the fifth try (that would be 10 times through each one) we got it right, and were going the right direction, which sadly was towards Glasgow. You might be thinking to yourself, how can anyone get lost using a GPS? I’m not sure, but we managed to. I do now know however, that after at least 15 roundabouts, we learned that when the GPS says take the second exit, it really means stay on the same road you’ve been on, essentially going straight through the circle. Better the lesson learned late than not at all.

When we hit Glasgow, it was like D.C. rush  hour.  I called the proprietor of the B&B to tell him we’d be much later than we expected because we were stuck in traffic.

“I thought I told you to go East of Glasgow!” a fatherly tone came over the line.

“We tried,” I stammer.  “I’m really sorry.  We didn’t know how to tell the GPS to take us East.”  There’s some grumbling on the other end where he finishes by telling us exactly how late we’ll be.  I smile, because I can hear underneath the grumbling, concern about the fact that we don’t seem to know what we are doing.  I apologize again, and hang up.

We eventually made it to Inveraray, where there was a wonderful room with a wonderful view waiting for us.

By the time we got settled and in bed it was 11:00 PM and finally dark.  Even with the adventures of the day, I was having a wonderful time and couldn’t wait for more.