Trip Journal - Isle of Arran




Isle of Arran -- 13 July 1998

We had planned to get up early and catch an early train to Ardrossen, from where we could catch the ferry to the Isle of Arran. We had the best of intentions, but then the alarm didn't go off, and we woke to the sound of Gordon starting his morning routine. So wequickly took showers upon consulting our timetable we ascertained that we could get the next train at 10:30. Gordon warned us to take a taxi, as the busses are not reliable at rush hour. So we walked out to the road and into a little shop and asked how we could get a taxi. The shopkeeper told us to call from a phone box (he gave us the number) but not to say we were calling from a phone box, because they wouldn't come. Instead we were to give his addressx, the Juniper Green Candy Shop. Now that's pretty impressive taxi service if they can find you with no street, just the name of the shop. We didn't get a chance to try it out though, because as we came out of the shop, the #45 bus came by, which we knew went to Princess Street, or at least to St. Andrew's Square, which is just around the corner from the train station. We ran to catch it and cursed our hast the entire way, as we discovered that the bus takes a leisurely tour of most of Edinburgh before it finally gets to St. Andrew's Square. We raced pver tyo Waverly Train Station only to miss the train by 2 minutes. It was heartbreaking. We got the next train to Glasgow Queen Street and then walked over to Glasgow Central Station just to see if our connecting train to Androssan had been delayed. It was already gone, so we spent a couple of hours in Glasgow looking around before we caught the next train. We went first to the Willow Tea Room. We sat downstairs and didn't have the "full" tea in the upstairs room, but it was still quite nice. We decided to find out what toasties were, and discovered that they are a grilled cheese sandwich, but with other chooices of fillings, and the cheese is grated. We also had a pot of tea each. After we'd revived ourselves with tea, we went out into the street. We were on the hunt for a Hungarian phrase book for use in Budapest, which we didn't find, but we did get a field guide to Breitish birds which we later mailed to Kaj in Sweden, so that the next time he went to England he'd know the names of all the birds. When we came out out of the bookstore, there was a little group playing Scottish folk songs on tin whistle, guitar and drum. I was enchanted by the tin whistle. We'll have to get one when we get back. We spent the rest of our time just walking around, and then made a leisurely stroll to our train. I confess I didn't see much of the scenery until we got to the coast, we just wanted to read our books and realx.

When we arrived in Androssen, the ferry was scheduled to leave almost immediately, so we bought our tickets and trotted up the gangplank. It was so funny to see dogs on board, but I guess the locals must use this ferry alot to get to the mainland, so you can't really have restrictions. We went up on deck where it was extremely windy but sunny. But almost immediately after we set sail, black clouds rolled in and started spittind a whipping, stinging, cold rain. Paul seemd to be relishing it, but it was not my idea of fun. The decks cleared out and soon we were the only ones left. We scampered down to the lower decks and took refuge under the stairs. The rain didn't last long, although the wind stayedf up. We walked to the bow of the boat, with the wind, and the occasional wave, whipping our faces, and watched as the island gradually approached. It was bracing cold and exciting, being out on the water, feeling wild and free; I wouldn't have wanted to come in any other way.

We came into the dock sideways, which was interesting and we had a good view on the men throwing down the huge ropes used to secure the boat to the pier. After we and the 40-odd dogs disembarked, we went immediately to tourist information, which was right next door, and got a map of the island and a bus schedule. We planned to stay the night at a youth hostel in Lochranza, on the northern tip of the island, and there was a bus leaving immediately, but we decided to skip it and look around Brodick first. The next bus was in 2 1/2 hours, so we had some time to look around. We went to the Co-op and got cheese, Hob-nobs (a yummy digstive biscuit), rolls, apples and the obligatory chocolate (Cadbury). Everything in town was shut down after 5:00, so we didn't see much. We'd been hoping for a nice little tea room, but everything was closed down except the minigolf cafe. It started raining again, so we went in there and ordered coffee and tea and packaged biscuits, which is all they had. We read for a bit and watched the little kids negotiate the go-kart course.

At 7:00, we boarded the #324 and headed North along the coast to Lochranza. It's a very small island with a very good bus system. The locals apparently use it to get to school and church. We left the lowlands of Brodick and started into the Highlands. Arran is apparently called "Little Scotland" because is has all the same featues of Scotland (lowlands in the south, Highlands in the north, moors in between) in one little place. The Highland part of the journey was quite spectacular, as the climb was swift and steep. It didn't sound like our little bus could make it. Paul was worried that we'd miss our stop, but I figured the hostel would have a big sign, and they seemed to stop to pick up or let off at any point in the route. So I sat and watched the scenery while Paul ran around asking where the hostel was. In the end, several other people go toff there too and it was east to spot. And it was in a beautiful location. Right outside the door was Lock Ranza, a very small Loch where it intersected with an inlet from the sea. The ruins a a small castle, with disapointing scaffolding in front, were also visible. Sheep were grazing and roaming freely. There was a sign as you came in the front door taht said "Take off your boots! Remember the sheep!" which made sense after you walked anywhere a sheep had already been. This island has no fertilizer worries for the forseeable future. The hostel was very crowded, but we got spots. The woamn at reception inadvertantly put me in a 6-bed room which already had 6 inhabitants, but it got straightened out after I mentioned the possible dilemma. We settled in, which didn't take long because all we'd brought were the daypacks with a change of socks an underwear. Reception had only Cokes for soft drinks, but we got tea and sugar as well. While we were eating the supper we'd brought in the common area, a strange British TV show was on. Apparently you enter to be selected to appear on the sho, and if your name is picked, they come and surprise you at work, hand you three envelopes and ask you te select you "dare". The woman we saw was a hairdresser, all she knew was that her dare was in Australia. She brought her father with her and when she got there, she found out that she had to walk a tightrope (with another rope above it to hold on to) over a lagoon filled with alligators. She made it without loosing any limbs, while the game hosts blathereed incessantly about how dangerous it was, and how scared she must be. There didn't seem to be any prize except the glory of victory, getting to be on TV, and of course a free trip to Australia. After supper, we went for a walk, had tea, and then sat around reading. I figured I'd be the last one in bed, but the two California girls, whom I'd met earlier, we up talking and laughing, much to the annoyance of the other two women who were trying to sleep. One of them was a Scottish woman whom I'd earlier displaced. She was very strung out when I met her and explained the situation about the room being over-booked, but I liked her. She spoke very rapidly. I thought she'd be fun to hang out with, but she said "Well, I got up at 5:00 am, so I'd like to go to sleep now." (It was 8:30) "Don't worry about waking me up." She slept right through to the next morning too. Since the Valley Girls seemed unready to sleep, I got out my book and got up on the bunk to read. But the second I got comfortable, they turned out the lights, so I got undressed in the dark and slept.

Isle of Arran -- 14 July 1998

I woke at about 6:00 and by 7:00 was surprised that no one was up yet. Just goes to show you shouldn't make assumptions based on one experience. Paul was already downstairs when I came down and we had berakfast (same as last night). There was a large group of school children there with 2 teachers, on a bike trip apparently. It was fun to watch then in their little cliques and fighting over chore duties. It would have driven me insane to take a group like that.

The husband of the husband-wife team who ran the Youth Hostel was very friendly and knowledgeable about the plants in the area. He had a very nice garden out back. When we had first arrived on Arran, we'd been very surprised to see palm trees, adn they weren't in pots. We asked him about these. They are called cabbage palms, but they aren't true palms; they're originally from Australia. They can survive a bit of a frost, but not a hard one. There are several on the island, which rarely gets a frost, and some are over a hundred years old. They can really only survive on the coasts in Britain. The man also lent us his Wildflowers of Scotland book over breakfast so that we could look up a flower we'd seen on the West Highland Way. He made an interesting observation in narrowing down the possibilities for us. He said that if we'd seen this flower on the Way, it must be toxic to sheep and deer. Which it was, for the flower was Foxglove. It was just strange to consider that any plant we saw was toxic to cloven-hooved animals, and that they had eaten everything else in sight.

We went out an walked up the road, past houses surrounded by 8-10 foot high deer fences. I guess everyone was afraid their gardens would get eaten. Just a little way down the road was a little store and post office combined. We got cokes and chocolate and the key to the castle ruins. How funny that they lock it up, and then hand over the key to anyone who asks for it. The ruins were much nicer on the inside than you would have guessed from the outside. The little castle was initially built in the 1300s and then renovated in the 1600s. Fortified I guess. A lot of the lower windows were blocked up then. There was a tiny prison, a single lightless cell really, and a dark spooky staircase in the outer wall that became disused after a spiral staircase was put in. Paul sat up in a window an played the recorder there, but pretty soon people started coming in. When we left, we passed to key on to a young German couple, telling them to return it to the post office.

We checked out the graveyard next to the town's lone church, and then walked around to the other side of the loch. There was a small golf course, and in it were eight red deer, all antlered. We made our wayt around to the other side of the field for a better look. They were bigger than I'd expected red deer to be. We approached quietly, took some pictures and then were on our way. We followed a sign advertising pottery for a ways up the hill, but it seemed to go on and on, so we decided to skip it and sat out on a bench instead looking out over the morning snu playinfg across the bracken. There was a path there that the sheep used to get through it, but we couldn't negotiate our way more than a few meters. After that we went back to the store/post office to wait for the bus which would take us around to the West shore of the island. While we were waiting, the mobile bank came by. It was very cute. It was a small truck with a little wooden door set in the back where the customers could enter. All the shop keepers came out and did their banking for the day. I can see how this would be really necessary. Probably lots of people there don't have cars. The store owner can't leave his store for an hour and a half while he get the bus to the bank and back, but he can take a couple of minutes to go to the road, make his deposit and shoot the breeze with the driver. The butcher also has a truck and takes his business around the island.

We caught the bus and it took us to the Machrie Moors, where the standing stone circles are. Double bonus: it was our first time actually on a moor, and we got to see lots of standing stones. The sign said they were a mile up the path through the sheep pasture, so we started walking the muddy, sbeep-dungy path. We came to a little enclosed area with small standing stones in it and white sheep lounging around everywhere. They were very put out when we came in and disturbed their rest. There was really nothing to the circle and I was afraid that was it, but then we realized that we couldn't have gone a mile yet. So we continued on, and presumably the sheep re-draped themselves around the stones after we left. There was no need to fear disappointment: there were no less than three big circles above ground, and more below the peat on which we walked. There was once a whole village there, adn the remmains of houses, etc. have been found in the area. Apparently, no more excavation has been done because the soggy, marshy peat makes it too difficult. We first came upon a very respectable stone circle, and had lunch on one of the stones. Further on, there was another circle, and two very large stones from a third. The largest stone was eighteen feet high. Most researchers agree that these stone circles, unlike Stonehenge and Ale Stenar, are grave sites made by the families of the deceased. So the stones had more in common with Birka. They were made so as to be easily visible to anyone passing by, so that the person passing would know how revered the dead person was in life.

We headed back to the road and turned South toward Blackwaterfoot. We figured we could pick up the bus anywhere along the road. The man at the Youth Hostel had told us that there were cool caves along the coast in the general area, but we decided all the climbing that we would need to do to see them would be too hard on Paul's knee.

We made it all the way to the parking lot for the caves and decided to wait for the bus there. We were soon besieged (I do not use this word lightly) by a horde of black flies. It was like a locust plague and the only thing that kept them at bay was the constant swatting at them with a stem of bracken. Blackwaterfoot was indeed a very small town. There seemed to be only one place to have tea - at the bar in the Blackwaterfoot Hotel. No scones or biscuits, just tea. A woman who came in after us asked for scones, and the man behind the bar said, "I don't have any just at the moment", but if he doesn't have them at 4:00 in the afternoon, then just when does he have them? My guess is never.

We wanted to take a bus around the South end of the island so we could see the whole thing. We went out at the right time, but there was no bus. Our guess was it was one of the ones that only runon school days, and that school was out for the summer. So we went back into the hotel, on the pub side this time, ordered up a couple of pints and played a game of cricket (darts, not that silly business with the wickets). Eventually our bus came, and we got a tour of the South end of the island, which turned out to be much less dramatic than the North, though more heavily populated. We were sitting in the back of the bus and that Guiness was running right through Paul. The bouncing of the bus was just aggravating the problem, so we moved up front. It was turning out to be a very long, slow ride, and we had almost an hour to go. Paul went up and asked the Bus driver where ther was a bathroom at one of the stops, and the driver said not until Whiting Bay, which was quite a ways. So when the bus stopped to let an elderly couple off, Paul bravely said to the driver, "Just one minute" and dashed off the bus into the bushes by the side of the road, and a minute later he leapt back on to the bus glowing with relief. It was great. We finally got the bus station, where I discretely used the facilities. We caught the ferry back to Androssen, sitting inside this time, and then hopped the train back to Edinburgh.

Chippenham -- 15 - 17 July 1998

We took the train to Chippenham and spent the next couple of days with Irene. They have a wonderful little house, built int the 1700's. There is no door on the street side. You have to walk around to the back, which is really the front, to get in. The whole row of houses is set right up against the street facing away, with their enitre yards in front. The neighbors in the three other houses in the row are Jane, Joan and Jeanette. This had nothing to do with anything, I just think its funny. The house itself has a living room and kitchen on the ground floor, a bathroom, bedroom and office on the next, and then there is a little spiral staircase into the attic loft, where our bedroom was. We had a real double bed, unlike Gordon and Irene downstairs, who had the more usual two twins pushed together. I was very happy to sleep next to Paul. The town is very cute, with a very nice pedestrian zone, Monkton Park and the river Avon flowing through (every other river in England seems to be named Avon, as that in the old Celtic word for river). We loafed around a lot, worked on the journals, I became addicted to a British TV show about rescued animals, and we watched a lot of TV. Irene made some great meals for us, and it was great to see her again. She's lost weight, is painting, and has a job with the District government, so things are going well.

Stay tuned...