My letter for today in this April A to Z challenge is V.
If you thought the letter V is one of the less used words of the alphabet then you’re likely to be inclined to vomit after reading this post as I use it heavily to describe a short vacation that I took just last weekend.
I live in the village of Kintore, Aberdeenshire, north-east Scotland (marked with the neon green X on the map) and the main venue for my 4-day trip was the island of Mull, off the west coast of Scotland, accessed by ferry from Oban.
I’d like you to visualize the shortest route that could be taken between the two mentioned places.
There are lots of mountains in between so taking a route directly south-west between the green cross and Oban isn’t possible- there are no direct trunk roads. There are some very minor roads, many of which are forestry tracks, but none that can be used without adding considerable time onto an already longish journey. I’ve often gone north to Oban via: Elgin; Inverness; Loch Ness (waving to our famous Nessie monster); Ben Nevis (not climbing the highest mountain in Scotland, though I did that many years ago); and on to Oban. That route is just short of 200 miles and at best a 3+ hour journey, though more likely 4 hours since the roads are single carriageway (one lane going in each direction) for most of that route. However, my trip last week was a guided coach tour and the route was a bit different.
Can you visualize the approximately 270 mile trip as the 22 tourists joined the coach last Friday?
My husband and I boarded the coach at 6 am in Aberdeen, after a 4.30 am rise. From Aberdeen, we headed south to Forfar; Perth; Dunfermline (not on the map but ‘sort of’ close to Kircaldy (pronounced kir-kaw-di); Edinburgh; Glasgow and north to Oban. A 50 minute ferry took us over to the Isle of Mull, the arrival at our hotel around 6.15 pm.
Twelve hours on a coach might seem like a very boring journey, with only two ‘toilet/quick sandwich and coffee’ stops (the coach did have a toilet but, call me fussy, I prefer to use non-moving facilities) but it was a fantastic journey. It meant a sore backside but a lot of viewing! What made it a spectacular journey was the tour guide, Alistair Walker, who was a veritable mine of information. Alistair pointed out – historical buildings and historical data about the clans of yesteryear who inhabited the areas; geological features; farming and pastural information (like how old the new lambs were likely to be in the fields as we passed by); roadside sculptures (part of the regeneration of ex-industrial areas); new industries; railway information; with special emphasis on bird life to be seen from the coach – virtually everything of interest along the whole route.
I’m not at all religious but if I were I surely would have felt very blessed because the weather was so favourable for April during the whole trip. A solid blue sky and no Scottish mist or rain makes such an incredible difference to a visit anywhere!
The high level of entertaining and useful commentary continued as we visited the tiny island of Iona on Saturday. It was so easy to visualize what a great vantage point St. Columba had when he chose to build his monastery and abbey. The views down the sound of Mull are very impressive. St. Columba’s early wooden buildings, and the subsequent Benedictine abbey, eventually fell into disrepair, but by Victorian times it was noted as an area of great historical importance – for secular and ecclesiastical reasons. A little reconstruction work was started to secure the area and it’s stone treasures for the future. However, the main time of restoration came after the Second World War when the ruins were assessed and rebuilt as close to the Columban/later Benedictine originals as possible. The abbey buildings now available to the public are great to wander around. The abbey graveyard is said to be the resting place of many early ‘Scottish’ kings- though actually how many remains shrouded in the mists of time. What is excellent is that definite records exist for the burials of various Lords of the Isles- highly important people during their eras.
There are a number of good sites on the internet for more information in addition to this one:
In the original state, St. Columba’s monastery and abbey buildings; gravestones; and impressive stone crosses were protected inside the vallum. This was two high earthen banks with a deep ditch between, similar to the type which would have been used in early Celtic hillfort construction and ancient Roman encampments. On the island of Iona, the vallum also created the distinction between the monastery and the secular world beyond the grassy banks.
It’s interesting to add that a nunnery, an Augustinian convent, was established inside the vallum sometime after the foundation of the nearby Benedictine monastery in 1203.
The Abbey Museum boasts a wonderful collection of carved standing stones as well as the outside huge, carved stone crosses – their Celtic designs being the originals that are readily copied in many contemporary crafts.
In ecclesiastical circles, there is some dispute over who created the famous illuminated Gospel ‘Book of Kells’ manuscripts. However, what is less in dispute is the fact that it is certain that the Book of Kells was produced by Columban monks closely associated with the early monastic community at Iona. The Book of Kells manuscripts are based on a “Vulgate text (late 4th Century Latin translation of the bible which became the official Roman Catholic version), written on Vellum (prepared calfskin), in a bold and expert Version of the script known as insular majuscule”. If you want to view the original Book of Kells, you’ll need to take a different trip over to Ireland, to Trinity College in Dublin.
(image from Wikimedia Commons)
I think that’s enough Vs for today.
When I get some more time I’ll be writing on my own blog about the quick trip on Sunday to Tobermory (only 2 hours to wander) where I met up with another Crooked Cat Publishing author for a quick cup of coffee. Yvonne Marjot’s excellent contemporary women’s fiction novel is called ‘The Calgary Chessman’ and is set on the island of Mull. It’s hard to see but there’s a copy of her book in the local Tobermory shop that’s behind us in the photo, Yvonne living not far away from it. (Calgary in Canada is named after Calgary Bay on Mull) Till last Sunday, Yvonne was only a virtual Facebook friend so it was excellent to meet up with her ‘in the flesh’!
I’ll also be writing about my sail to the Island of Staffa – the origin of Felix Mendelssohn’s overture The Hebrides, Fingal’s Cave in particular. The Scottish Gaelic for Fingal’s Cave is An Uaimh Bhinn meaning ‘the melodious cave’.
The sail was wonderful, the waters out to the Atlantic Ocean very calm…to start with. I acquired a lovely sun tan during the 3 hour sail but unfortunately by the time we reached the island the surge of the waters around the rocky island were too high for the boat to berth safely. We had hoped to walk along the pathway and into Fingal’s cave but I didn’t fancy being stranded overnight on an island that’s only inhabited by puffins and guillemots.
My trip involved a lot of coach travel, the estimate being 800 miles in 4 days but it was so worth it. I totally recommend ‘brightwater holidays – quality garden & Special interest holidays’ to anyone who might like to visit the sights of Scotland.
BTW- we also managed to pop in to Duart Castle, on Mull, before heading home on the Monday. Like many other Scottish castles Duart fell into disrepair but Duart was restored to a habitable condition by the Clan MacLean owners in the early twentieth century.
I love the area around Oban so much that I wrote about it in my contemporary humorous mystery novel Take Me Now which is being republished by Crooked Cat Publishing in ebook format on June 5th 2015. Look out for more information on the launch!
Wishing you all a great weekend!
Phew! I thought I was going to have a rest this present weekend but a fun family weekend is planned.