We are back from a weekend in the Highlands, grateful that there was no rain yesterday. Three people in a tin-roofed shack for three rainy days would not have been much of a getaway.
We were my brother Quadrophonic (so-called because he is a fourth child), my husband Benedict Ambrose and myself. B.A. and I had reserved all train tickets and a minute bothy we found on the AirB&B website. The bothy (hut) is the village of Taynuilt, which actually has a village Catholic church and a weekly Sunday Mass. This is never a guarantee in Scotland, so B.A. and I were stoked.
On Friday morning, carrying backpacks of descending sizes (mine was biggest), we walked to our local railway station, changed trains at Edinburgh, got to Glasgow ten minutes late for the Oban train, and so went to one of the Starbuckses on Glasgow's Buchanan Street and then to M&S to get some sandwiches. We caught the next Oban train and alighted two hours or so later in Taynuilt.
Taynuilt has a village hall, a post office, a grocery story (open until 10 PM!), a butcher's shop, a hairdresser, a teashop that is closed until November 22, a primary school, a Church of Scotland church and cemetery, the preserved remains of an 18th century ironworks, and a Catholic Church. That's about it---besides Loch Etive and some amazing views of mist-wreathed orange-and-green hills.
Once we had some biscuits and coffee in our new-to-us two room bothy (no shower), we went for a walk towards the surprisingly pretty Catholic Church and were amazed to discover there would be All Souls Mass at 7 PM. One forgets that Catholicism hung on in the Highlands even after the Lowlands went thoroughly Calvinist. Naturally we turned up again at 7PM, doubling the congregation. The priest had a lovely Scottish voice and a solid grasp of the doctrine of Purgatory, upon which he preached.
After that there was nothing whatsoever to do in Taynuilt except buy groceries, eat supper (made by B.A. on the two-burner hotplate), drink wine, warm ourselves by the wood stove and read our books or the internet. (B.A., who brought his computer, is officially addicted to Twitter.) My book was A Long Way Down by Nick Hornsby. I found it amongst the bothy's collection of paperbacks.
On Saturday we awoke to rain. The orange and green hills were sodden and the sky was the colour of putty. I put on my wellies and went for a scenic walk before turning towards the village, where I bought eggs, pork sausages and eggs from the butcher shop. Then I continued to read Nick Hornsby until we set off in the drizzle to the train station. A perusal of a guide to local restaurants revealed that there was nothing within walking distance. Thus we traversed 11 miles by train to Oban and ate in a highly overrated pub--thanks for nothing, Trip Advisor--before trudging through the tireless rain to Oban Cathedral. We had ten minutes of Oban Cathedral with the lights on, but then a sacristan or priest turned the lights off, so then we sat in the dark and gloomy Cathedral, feeling rather too full of overrated pub grub--thanks for nothing, Trip Advisor.
Alas, that was it for Oban. Had it been sunny, I am sure we would have seen and done a lot more, but as the shops on the high street looked suspiciously like the shops in other Scottish towns, and as it was pouring, and as our bellies were none so happy, we got right back on the next train to Glasgow, alighting (naturally) at Taynuilt.
We had another evening by the wood stove with books and Twitter, and having finished A Long Way Down, I started Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones. We had markedly less to eat for supper.
On Sunday we awoke to sun, which was nice. We had bacon and eggs and crumpets for breakfast and got it together soon enough to walk around the remains of the ironworks (mostly stone sheds) until the church bell summoned us to Mass. There were 30 or so people at Mass, which was rather heartening, and everyone but us sang the post-V2 hymns with edifying joy and devotion. The priest gave another solid homily, I thought, although upon what I cannot remember.
Then we bought some more groceries--the grocer is most definitely one of the world's workers--and got on a Glasgow-bound train to Loch Awe, where we were going to spend 2 hours looking at an amusing church built in all mediaeval periods, from Saxon to High Gothic, by an aristocratic Edwardian enthusiast. We ended up staying by Loch Awe until the 8:45 PM train, so beautiful was the loch, and so charming its hotels. As soon as B.A. and Quadrophonic laid eyes, not on the Victorian hotel right on the loch, but the modern glass-fronted inn down the road, they decided we would stay for supper.
Our Loch Awe visit can be divided into various sections: walking to the amusing St. Conan's Kirk; viewing the amusing St. Conan's Kirk (which is really great fun, and which of us would not build his or her own faux-mediaeval church if he or she could?); walking along the road looking for an off-road path; walking along an off-road path admiring the stupendous view of Loch Awe and its sublime hills and its ruined castle; clambering adventurously down the hill into a boggy back garden in which we inadvertently left boot holes; continuing down the road to the Victorian hotel for drinks by the fire; and then supper in the modern glass-fronted inn. The food was very good and kept us happy until 8:30 PM when we crossed the dark and empty road to await the Oban-bound train back to Taynuilt.
It was a splendid day. Needless to say, I enjoyed best sitting in a Victorian hotel (spacious oak panelled lounge, high ceilings, thick wall-to-wall tartan carpet) near the roaring fire reading Scottish Field while drinking coffee (and later Drambuie) after our hours in the open air and the inglorious squelch near the end. Benedict Ambrose and I were both in tweeds, so we matched the decor.
This morning we got up reluctantly between 7:40 (me, to make coffee) and 8 AM to pack, tidy up and catch the 9:20 AM train to Glasgow. We were home at about 2 PM, so the journey was shorter than the family trip from Montreal to Toronto, and less onerous, too, as it was enlivened by changes of train. Also, the view out the windows from Montreal to Toronto are very dull, and the view from Taynuilt to Glasgow involves some of the most glorious mountainsides and lakes in Britain. Between Glasgow and Edinburgh there are also some very pretty stretches of green hills and white sheep lolling about, and my father once said it was the most beautiful airport commute (there being few direct flights from Toronto to Edinburgh) he had ever seen.