Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Scotland, Last Days: Beauty and the Beasts

Some Mull memorables:

The charming mushroom road signs that are impossible to see as you whip by on the one-lane roads.

The Spar stores that are virtually the only place to buy food on the island.
At least our part of the island.
We thought they were gas stations at first, thus explaining why we went ten miles out of our
way on the night we arrived looking for a grocery store.

FYI, in Scotland, gas comes in cans and is for stoves and the like,
petrol is what goes in cars, as I was informed in no uncertain terms by a stern Scottish lady. 
Silly American!
That was just one of my many unsavvy errors, like continually saying
"Excuse me" which apparently is akin to spitting in someone's face.
One says, "Sorry," not "excuse me." 
The latter is considered, what, a wee bit hoity toity, perhaps?
Aaron said people were glaring at me right and left.
Well, at least one woman glared at me.

(Did I already rant about this issue in an earlier blog?
Well, if so, then, excuuuuussssse meeee!)

This place has the best bread in the world.

What could be more fun than Fairy dishsoap?
It's like you can just wave it at the dishes and they magically get clean!
I found out from my friend Haifa that I can order this on the internet,
so I didn't have to slip it into my suitcase
and risk getting deported to Australia for theft or end up in some dank
Scottish dungeon.

I'm going to get one of my own and decant dishsoap into it forever.

And lets not leave out the fun road signs, this one telling you to pull over
if someone's tailing you, as they might be voluntary emergency vehicles
which aren't allowed anymore to blink lights or honk like crazy,
which apparently they once were,
to let you know who they are.


Here's a coke can growing on a bush.
Even here on the magic isle, litter.

 We see a lot of creatures crawling and flying around the island.
No wonder dragons are big here - they're everywhere.

Dragons in the lochs,
dragons in the sky.

Dragons in the hills.

This one turns into the rare duck-billed dragon of yore.

And beyond dragons, dinosaurs crawling along the hillside!

And here a hairy troll hides behind a big rock.

The first night we arrived, after our stressful search for the place,
Aaron and I spent a long time watching cloud-sky creatures 
change and morph.
The shapes below turned from dragon to lion to bear to bull to 
sheep to turtle to rabbit to man in a top hat to man in a cowboy hat.

Well, you had to be there.
And we were glad we were.

I only had my iPhone camera - I didn't want to risk running back into the house
to get my Nikon and miss the whole show, so as a result, we have a less than
stellar record of this event.

But all good things must end.
Or so they say.

We take our last walk over bogs and tussocks and hillocks.

This terrain may look smooth, but it's actually covered with uneven lumps of spongy grasses
surrounded by water-saturated ground, so one has to step very carefully
to avoid the annoying sprained ankle.
It's extremely slow going.

These are the only shoes that Aaron brought with, but they have served him
well on all the cliffs and hills and valleys and pastures.

This trip has afforded him many opportunities to
 climb many mountains, fjord many streams, follow many rainbows
searching for his dreams.  And Hal's dreams also.
 But every hill climbed reveals one behind it, then one more, then one more.
So like life.
Then again, sometimes a metaphor is just a metaphor.

 A couple of last looks on the last night.

The next morning dawns as still as glass, with blue and white moving skies.

We are so very sad to go, but helping us move quickly along are the swarms of tiny
insects, much like the "no-see-ums" of my Minnesota youth, except these Scottish bugs 
have a nasty bite.
Fortunately, these little devils have only appeared in the last twenty four  hours of our trip,
thank the Mull spirits for that!
Note Aaron's back is covered with them.
(After research, it appears that they are called "Scottish midges"
and can be quite troublesome in damp areas.  Our two days of rain
has contributed to that, plus the calm conditions.)

As my packing/cleaning up frenzy draws to a close,
Aaron exhorts me to sit on our glassed-in porch for a quiet last five minutes,
 to set the view permanently in our minds,
and as we sit, a rainbow appears and slowly turns into a double rainbow...

Our first five minutes on Mull and our last five minutes at the house
are marked with rainbows!

Sometimes a metaphor is more than a metaphor.
It's magic.

We leave the house at 8:30AM so we can visit Duart Castle before catching the
Craignure ferry to Oban at 10:55.

The drive back is even more spectacular than the drive here, if that's possible.
And this particular road isn't considered to be the official
"scenic drive" - that's another road altogether that we don't have time to take.

We pass a lone pig - the only one we've seen among the hundreds of sheep.

This drive is an endless visual delight.

This is, of course, tempered by my understanding of Scotland's complex history
regarding its treatment of land.
Long ago, Mull was an isle of much ecological diversity, filled with forests and wild animals
like Aurochs and wolves.
Deforestation and sheep have reshaped the land into this more environmentally
minimal but still beautiful world of light and shadow.

Here's an interesting blog that mulls (sorry) over some of these issues, 
how it can seem vastly empty here at times, how raw and naked it can appear:

We finally enter the grounds of Duart Castle, down a road that features a green tunnel of foliage.

Our first view of the castle is just a wee bit spectacular.

The castle has a complicated history full of Mackinnons, Macdonalds, Macleans,
the latter at one time owning much of the entire Isle of Mull.
Duart Castle fell into ruins for a couple hundred years
until purchased by Sir Fitzroy Maclean in 1910.  He began the monumental (sorry if that's a wee bit punnish) task of renovation, which still continues today.

It's too early for the castle to be open, and so it's being guarded by this fierce creature,
who looks suspiciously like a Scottie dog.

I gaze up in wonder.

Aaron walks amidst the big guns.

On the roof are chimneys that look like chess pieces.

I'm wearing my Hal Thompson shirt, in memory of our good times with Hal.

I actually designed this fabulous logo some time ago.

Here's one of the many spectacular views that the castle-dwellers gaze upon.

After the ferry ride to Oban, we wait for the train to Edinburgh at a nearby Olive Garden,
where the menu includes several dishes with haggis, something one
doesn't often see in the USA.

There was a haggis in the depths of our freezer at the house,
which we used in a Hal skit, one of Hal's questions being,
"How do you chase down a shiny haggis?"

But we placed it carefully back in the freezer after the skit was filmed.

(internet photo)
Had we eaten it, it would have looked like this, a foodstuff defined as a "savoury mix of sheep's pluck (heart, liver and lungs) encased in the animal's stomach" which is
combined with various other less disturbing ingredients like oatmeal and spices.

(internet photo)

Another strange (to us Yanks) food was "Tablet ice cream" - evidently "Scottish tablets" are
not pills but instead a kind of caramel-ly candy.  Who knew?

The train back to Edinburgh shows us beauty and blight - there are many clear-cut areas
where trees have been cut down and not replanted.
Many of the trees on the Isle of Mull are this type of plantation pines, 
which I'm assuming will be clear cut one of these days, leaving this ugly sight behind.

This is a website that sheds light on current thinking about trees
in Scotland - Trees for Life, an organization that is looking
beyond trees as wood products and pulp and considering the complexities of their relationship
to the larger environment, which includes the human spirit.  

"Trees for Life's vision is to restore a large area of wild diverse forest, which would include a wide range of habitats, to over 1000 square miles in the Highlands. The aim is not to recreate a forest of the past. Even if we knew what past forests were really like, forests are ever-changing ecosystems. The goal is to restore the key elements in the forest to allow evolution and natural processes a freer reign. There is no doubt that the presence of wild forests nourish the human spirit, as well as being essential to the health of the Earth."

In Glasgow, we change trains in the gracefully designed station.

In Edinburgh, we catch a last glimpse of the great castle on the hill.

And then it's all over.

The plane lifts up over Edinburgh
into popcorn skies...

...and comes down over Canada...

...into Toronto, where the big boxes rule...

...and back to NYC, where Central Park looks pretty paltry after the
green hills of Scotland.

Nothing wee about this town, except maybe the green spaces!

1 comment:

  1. I want the Fairy dish soap!!! So many gorgeous photos, Jeanne!