Norm’s Overseas Odyssey 2005 – 2006 Episode Twenty-six

Thursday 9th March 2006

Oh what a difference a day makes. I’m almost sure I said that yesterday. Anyway today is another just brilliant one and ideal for my planned round trip. First leg was SW along the banks of Loch Maree which is as spectacular as I had been given to believe though I was unable to get a snow-cleared lay-by where I could stop to record it. Less spectacular were the couple of miles of major road works immediately after Kinlochewe – the single lane mud track was challenge enough, but having to compete for road space with huge earthmoving machines was, in fact, greater. However, if what they are doing results in the just wonderful – and obviously quite recently-built – road from there to Achnasheen, it’ll be worth the mud and, I guess, the behemoths!

There’s a railway station at Achnasheen and not a lot else, but I was as predicted able to get mobile access there, collect any messages and book my Oban accommodation. Lest I sell Achnasheen short, I have to say that the village – and the station – looked just a picture, surrounded by quite deep snow.  Thanks to Wikimedia, this could almost have been the picture I should have taken, but didn’t:

Achnasheen Station, Ross-shire
27 December 2010

My route then took me SW to Lochcarron and east to Kishorn, before heading north to Shieldag. To complete the loop it was then NE to Torridon and back to Kinlochewe before heading home to Poolewe. The views were stunning – a couple of which may even appear here.

North from Loch Kishorn, Ross and Cromarty
9 March 2006
Across Upper Loch Torridon, Ross and Cromarty
9 March 2006

After a breather, I drove the eight miles to what is known simply as “Cove”, where there is a memorial to the crews of the Russian Convoys that used to assemble in Loch Ewe to the SE. From Cove it is easy to see the expanse of the Loch and why it was chosen for that purpose – as was Cove itself, as the site of the protecting gun batteries.

It has to have been some time since I mentioned food – so I will. The Poolewe Hotel doesn’t boast rosettes but does its quite short and simple menu well. The breaded haddock I had for dinner last evening was white and moist as it should be – but too often is not – and tempted me to try the smoked haddock in white sauce this evening. I’m glad I did. It too was delicious.

Tomorrow I move on to Oban where I’ll be staying at one of those Restaurants with Rooms the idea of which has considerable appeal. I’m less sure about its name though – “The Wide Mouthed Frog”. It won’t surprise you to learn that I’ll let you know!

Friday 10th March 2006

I left Poolewe soon after nine and with only a brief stop or two to stretch my legs arrived at the “Frog” a little after two. On one of the “leg stretch” stops just south of Invergarry I did get a couple of shots on the banks of Loch Oich – truly, that’s its name – which I thought were worth taking. Only one survived the cull, I’m afraid.

On the banks of Loch Oich, Inverness-shire
10 March 2006

In the “Wide Mouthed Frog’s” case, it might better be described as “Rooms with a Restaurant” than a “Restaurant with Rooms” because whilst the room is really quite nice – the bistro – which I tried this evening, was only of the OK variety. The seared scallops were fine, but the salmon steak could have done without an over-mustarded lump mash and decidedly overcooked vegetables. I might try the restaurant tomorrow evening.

Saturday 11th March 2006

One of those days that is best forgotten. In a lapse of “whatever” I left the three-pin power adaptor that I need to keep my laptop battery alive in Poolewe yesterday!! The hotel was happy to post it to me but the earliest it could be sent was Monday and it was expected to take at least three days to reach me wherever I was – and even I’m not sure of that yet.

So, the weather forecast being only fair, I opted to drive back to Poolewe to pick it up – a 380 mile round trip. I left just before 6:00 am and with only minimal stops arrived back here just before 4:00 pm. If there were any photo opportunities, I forwent them! You’ll be pleased to know that I took my overnight gear with me in the event that I was too tired to complete the round-trip but fortunately made it back in one piece – albeit a tired one. Nonetheless, I might just settle for a quick bite in the bistro this evening and have a relatively early night.

The quick bite turned out to be some of the best mussels I’ve had in many a long day. Still not up to NZ green-lipped, of course, in either size or flavour, but there’s more than a fair chance I’ll be ordering Isle of Mull mussels again before I leave here.

Sunday 12th March 2006

We had what I’ve been told was 4 inches of snow overnight – which might not have dissuaded me from visiting either Iona or Dunstaffnage Castle (just up the road from the Frog) – had the snow not turned to sleet and then rain. A good day to stay in bed with a good book, that is if you had a good book – something I didn’t have, at least not an unread one.
Anyway, having discovered that “free” WiFi access was available I kept myself out of mischief until mid-afternoon. But a book I had to have, so I drove into Oban, found a bookshop – one of only two or three stores actually open – and acquired my paperback. I also came close to acquiring frostbite, which was all the incentive I needed to retreat to the warmth of my room. If it’s like this for the next couple of days, I don’t see me venturing far at all.
But with a comfortable bed, a power-shower (though I could do without the embrace of a very forward shower curtain), bacon and black pudding for breakfast and seafood for dinner, I guess I could manage to survive here for some little time.
And if I find time on my hands I can always start working on an illustrated composite edition of the Global Updates. With close to a hundred pages already, that’d certainly keep me occupied for an inclement day or seven!

Monday 13th March 2006

Wet and cold with more heavy snow falls predicted. So nothing for it but to batten down the hatches.
Despite the weather which kept me indoors and has left me square-eyed from being in composite Global Update editing mode, the entrée of pan-seared scallops and a main of mussels (of girth-blowing if not mind-blowing proportions) went a long way towards compensating for what could otherwise have been quite a miserable day – and it wasn’t!!

Tuesday 14th March 2006

Although the morning started as it has so often this week – wet, there was the promise of a drier if not finer afternoon which might just continue into tomorrow.

Anyway, before I became completely stir crazy I was able to break out for an hour or two and visit Dunstaffnage Castle. This was another of those ruins which from the outside looked like the fortress it was but, on the inside, couldn’t make up its mind whether it was a castle or a residence.
The original castle built around 1220 has the most forbidding walls of any I’ve seen rising sheer up to 6 metres above the summit of a rock outcrop that is itself 9 metres above ground level.
It is much less impressive from the inside, partly because there is not a lot of the original left and partly because of a more than unsympathetic modification to the gatehouse in the sixteenth century by some of those Campbells!

Dunstaffnage Castle – but not its most photogenic side
14 March 2006

Photos: My visit to Dunstaffnage Castle and Chapel, Argyll and Bute – 14th March 2006

One of the castle’s so-called claims to fame is that Flora MacDonald was imprisoned here briefly before being sent to the Tower of London. If the copy of the portrait (courtesy the National Galleries of Scotland) displayed in the castle’s visitors’ centre is to be believed, Flora’s hair is not as red as that of the actress (whose name I’ve long since forgotten) who played her in one of those “historical” epics from Hollywood.
Given that the forecast for tomorrow, at least in this part of Scotland, is for similarly “benign” weather, I’ve elected to stay an additional night and have a full day visiting Mull and Iona. To do so, means catching the 8:00 am ferry which, in turn, means missing breakfast. Oh, woe is me!

Wednesday 15th March 2006

Away before 7:00 am this morning on what promised to be a fine dry day to make sure I could get one of the limited parking spaces next to the ferry terminal in Oban. The 45 minute trip on the sparsely passengered ferry was smooth, but the wind was chilly and brisk enough to keep me off the outside decks. There were even fewer passengers on the coach across Mull to Fionnphort to catch the smaller ferry to Iona – three!
I am glad I took the advice of the Historic Scotland staff at Dunstaffnage Castle yesterday to take the coach and not the car. Apart from the £41.00 cost, I’d have missed a lot of magnificent scenery on the very narrow 35 mile route.

I am not sure whether my expectations were too high – heightened perhaps by having to wait out the weather – but Iona was a disappointment. There’s no doubt that the Abbey’s setting is beautiful, as is its importance given its association with St Columba, but for me the 20th century restoration, however well done, looks just that – restoration.
But as much as anything, because of the discreet but obvious presence of members and guests of the Iona Community, an ecumenical movement, who live and worship here, I felt somehow or other to be intruding. That’s not in any way a result of being made feel unwelcome by anybody – but just a feeling I had that I have not experienced elsewhere.
That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy aspects of the visit – the High Crosses, the early Burial Slabs, and the Nunnery (perhaps because it’s still a ruin) – but Iona didn’t “grab me” as I thought it would.

St Martin’s Cross, Iona, Inner Hebrides
15 March 2006
Sculpture in the centre of the cloisters – “Descent of the Spirit” Iona, Inner Hebrides 
15 March 2006
Nunnery Church, Iona, Inner Hebrides
15 March 2006

Tomorrow I head south to Dumfries and Galloway from where I may, after two or three days, take the short route to Northern Ireland from near Stranraer.