Saturday, April 4, 2009

More on the Scottish kings

We began our day sharing breakfast with Jim and Sheila at the Stonefield Castle Hotel. We gave them little gifts from Australia - especially as Jim has a birthday in a couple of days! We plan to call and see them in a week or two as we head south again from northern Scotland - so be warned guys!

It was lovely to be able to say hello to everyone at Gen's 21st birthday party via Skype - please download it if you haven't already and make sure we have your skype name so we can add you to our contact list. It is so nice to be able to talk to our friends and see familiar faces. You have no idea how much we miss you at times!

One thing we can't understand is the need to pebblecrete so many of the houses. Very few of them are coloured or rendered and they all look so grey and drab - they truly blend in with the colour of the rainy skies. I think that Scotland the beautiful would be enhanced by some colour on these houses - the grey stone houses however look ever so appropriate.

The Isle of Islay is often referred to as one of Scotland's undiscovered secrets and the War and Peace Museum at Oban could be regarded as one as well! The museum comprises of one large room and a separate viewing room where documentaries are shown. In essence, the museum has not restricted its exhibits just to conflicts, but has incorporated the history on the development of Oban and district. Many local heroes are portrayed with appropriate memorabilia as documentation. However the museum has highlighted one aspect of World War 2 - the flying boats. Oban was one port which accommodated the Royal Air Force Flying Boats base at at Ganavan and on Kerrera. Suspended from the museum's ceiling is a 1:10 scale model of a Short S.25 Sunderland flying boat with a wingspan of 3.8m! The model represents the type of aircraft flown from Ganavan and Kerrera.

On the day that we drove through to Oban before going down to the Isle of Islay we had passed a church called St Conan's Kirk at Lochawe. At the time, we were pushing on in the hope of arriving not too late into Oban so we did not stop. Today, we had the opportunity to detour from our journey north for about15 miles to go and have a look. And it was well worth the detour!

St Conan's Kirk would have to be one of Scotland's most interesting examples of religious architecture. Apart from the delicate sandstone carvings, mullions and wood sculpture, the interior appears to be a museum of the Clan Campbell. We were struck with awe at the craftsmanship of the building, including the stainglass windows. As we moved from one chapel to another, we suddenly came upon a tribute to Robert I of Scotland - Robert the Bruce! This exression of gratitude is in the form of a sarcophagus with an intricate lifesize sculpture of Robert I fashioned in oak. However, the face and hands of the figure are of sculptured marble, this adds uniqueness to the monument. Robert I's body was actually interred at Dunfermline Abbey, while his heart was embalmed and buried in Melrose Abbey!

We leave the church in exchange for a curtain of rain - again! Rain and mist appear to be an intergral part of Scotland's climate... did I hear someone whisper that is is Spring? Anyhow, we make our way towards Fort William via Connel. Our journey is slowed by the weather and over-cautious drivers; we wondered whether many of them were practising Morse Code with the brake pedal!

On our way towards the junction, whilst travelling along Loch Awe, we decide to stop and have lunch at Cruachan Hollow Mountain Cafe. The cafe is an eatery and information centre for the Ben Cruachan Power Station.
The power station has been operational since 1966 and was originally operated by the Hydro-electric Board. Ownership passed onto Scottish Power since the privatisation of Britain's electricity industry in 1990.

The establishment is situated along the edge of Loch Awe, providing patrons with panoramic views. With bird feeders along the lochside railings, one can be amused by the antics of Red-breasted Wrens.
Lunch was taken as:
'Haggis, Neeps and Tatties' (Haggis served with mashed turnips and potatoes.) Michael.
Toasted nan bread with chicken Korma and salad (which she had asked for to be omitted from her order - only wanting the hot food at 6 degrees outside!) Maria.

On our way north we pass through a small hamlet called Ledaig, and no sooner had we negotiated a bend we see standing stones and cairns by the roadside! The sight is amazing, regrettably we can't stop due to the traffic behind us and no place to pull over with safety. So, we continue on with the snapshot in our memory. Shortly afterwards, on an island in Loch Awe we see Castle Stalker which is presently inhabited sitting forlornly in the lake in the rain and cannot resist stopping for a coffee and a photo!

We arrive at Fort William, and as we hadn't pre-booked lodgings for the next couple of days the search was on for a comfortable bed. After an initial and unsuccessful introduction to 'The Fort', we're successful in securing lodgings at the Best Western Fort William. Unload the suitcase and etcetras, register at Reception and it's up to our room for a moments rest.

Dinner we decide to have at the hotel in lieu of sourcing out some other eatery. Choices were:
Baked Whole Smoked Trout with seasonal vegetables - Michael
Chicken in a brie sauce with seasonal vegetables - Maria. Nice, tasty but nothing to compare with the meals of the last few days.

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