Saturday, April 18, 2009

Inveraray at last



I know this is the post you've all been waiting for.  I've been talking about it for months. So I'm finally here to tell you about the trip that Aaron and I took to Inveraray, just before Christmas.  As it happens, it is the only trip, besides our day trip to Edinburgh in my first week here, that we have taken together here.  And it was really lovely.

Inveraray is a little town on Loch Fyne which is a "sea-loch", meaning that it is technically a long inlet, like a fijord. It is about a two-hour bus ride to the north-west of Glasgow, a rather hilly area.  On our way there we passed Loch Lomond, and climbed up to a high pass with rocky waterfalls streaming down the hills, known as Rest And Be Thankful.  I think who ever named that place is one of the people I'd like to meet in the afterlife.  

It was raining for most of our bus-ride, and by the time we arrived, Inveraray was in the midst of a monsoon.  We were a few hours early to check in at our B&B, and with the inhospitable weather putting a damper (sorry...) on any sightseeing, we found the nearest tea-shop and squished in for tea and scones.  I'd been avoiding caffeine up until that morning, but under the circumstances, I just asked for hot tea and didn't get into "do you have any herbal?"  The roof of the shop was low and the walls were thick plaster.  It must have been a real local, because the next person who blew in after us, was a thin little old lady in a mack and plastic rain kercheif, and everyone in the place knew her name and sang it in friendly banter. 
"Windy, isn't it, Isobel? Toast and tea, Isobel? That's two pounds, Isobel."    

After we'd made our stop for tea last about as long as we could manage, we headed back out into the rain and down the street along the water's edge, to our B&B - "The Old Rectory", to find two big boxer dogs and our host Chris enjoying a roaring fire in the lounge.  We were perhaps a bit surprised though not dismayed to see that much of the common area seemed to be... under renovation.  Chris was really casual, and seemed a bit more the type to be running a hostel than a B&B, with his work shirt and boots still on from hauling and chopping wood for the fire, which seemed to be his favorite chore.  He didn't mind us putting our bags in our room before he'd finished making it up, and we didn't mind the rustic nature of his hospitality, or the lack of a shade on the lamp in our room.  We took the opportunity to change out of our wet things and get an extra sweater on, then headed back into town to have a look around.  

This only took about an hour given how tiny the town is, basically only one street and a few lanes.  We were getting hungry and so went to a great place called Brambles for lunch, where Aaron had lentil soup, salad and rollmops, and I had an Orkney Cheddar Ploughman's lunch.  Lots of pickles and cheese. Perfect for pregnancy. 
 Then we poked around in various shops including a gallery, the whisky shop, the boot shop (where I got some psychedelic Wellingtons, out of great soaking necessity) and then the Woolen Mill, which sold everything from kilts to cookies, and where we sampled some amazing strawberry wine.   
After exhausting the shops, we walked out onto the pier, even though it was still raining and blowing, to check out the clearly closed Maritime museum, which was on a boat, moored up and battened down.  We stood there getting soaked like dumb tourists, before heading back toward the B&B, stopping in at the George Hotel on the way for a drink and to dry off a bit.  We fell in love with its low ceilings, fire places, rough-hewn wood and stone, and came back in dry clothes after a nap, for supper.  Fish and chips and breaded scampi, by candles and mini-Christmas lights. 

I woke up the next morning, unsure if the scampi had become a gas bubble passing through my gut or if I was feeling our baby doing the backstroke. ( As it turns out, it was a baby blorp which was absolutely amazing, and which in coming days I would be able to discern more clearly.  )
We got up around 7:45, and looked out our window at the water.  The sky was lightening and cloudless over the exposed low-tide pebble shore.  We could actually see the hills on the other side of the water, and all around.  

Aaron went down to the lounge to see if we could have breakfast, which on the website said it was served between 7:30-8:30.  Apparently, Chris was asleep on the couch, and when he heard the door open, sat bolt upright and barked "Ach. Breakfast!"  Then he asked Aaron what time it was and went into the kitchen.   There was still a glass and a mostly emptied bottle of red wine on the floor beside the couch. 

I went outside to get some air and check the weather, and once I had walked across the road to the water and down some steps to the shore, I caught my first real whiff of sea-smell as my pink psychedelic Wellies crunched down on some sea-weed.  It was a gorgeous morning, kind of warm, mild and calm.  Aaron came out too, to tell me breakfast was on the way.  
And after our breakfast, about 30 mins. later, we agreed we wouldn't have to eat for hours and hours. There was cereal, juice, tea and coffee to start, and THEN came the full (and I mean full) Scottish breakfast of eggs, sausages, rashers of back bacon, fried mushrooms, fried tomatoes and toast.  We were absolutely stuffed, and fully prepared for a day of walking.

It was shaping up to be a beautiful day, and we went out the back gate into the muddy lane that took us into the centre of the town.  We walked right through and out the other side and along the highway in search of the trail that would take us up to a stone watchtower we could see from the town. We are always climbing hills on our trips, Aaron and I.  
It turns out we overshot the entrance to the path by a mile down the highway, but our mistake took us for a great seaside walk in the sunshine and to a very old graveyard, which was absolutely amazing - enchanted.  It was overgrown and mossy, and some gravestones that weren't completely crumbling bore dates from the late 1700's.  Lots of Campbells there.  This is Campbell country after all and we were thinking of Tim all day.  
Though we were glad of our mistaken discovery, we turned around and went back to Inveraray Castle grounds and found where we were supposed to be.  We weren't as awed by the castle up close, as it seemed a bit drab and ungainly in its design. (Listen to me - the castle critic...) But maybe it was just the season.  It was certainly very closed.  But the grounds were quite lovely in that they were open sheep pastures with big old gnarled oaks and lots of wooly sheep.

We found the trailhead and started a beautiful walk through a beech grove that had mossy covered foundations of old buildings throughout.  This gave way on to a meadow which we crossed to get to the edge of a thick evergreen forest - fir, pine and huge fragrant cedars, almost reminiscent of coastal BC cedars.  We came across some more ruins, and they were much more than foundations, and we puzzled over what kind of building it was.  Then we started a long climb that continued through beautiful lush forest.   

Being a pregnut, I needed to rest, so we sat down on some moss and ate apples, before continuing on at a slow pace, but eventually I told Aaron to go ahead without me and I would see how far I could get.  My hip flexor was seizing up, making the climb painful and slow for me, and the only relief I could get was to actually grab the front of my leg by the jeans and lift it.  In this somewhat ridiculous way, I actually made it up the rest of the hill, and Aaron who was returning to get me found me almost at the top.   I was so glad I made it because the views were spectacular.  And I had no pain on the way down - using different muscles I guess- thus I was able to enjoy the trail more on the return.  There were some gorgeous sections of the path where we were surrounded by emerald green mossy tree trunks that seemed to sprout from what would have been a solid carpet of moss, were it not occasionally broken up by a mini waterfall or creek burbling down the hill.  And the footpath often was a rusty soft carpet of dry pine/fir needles,  a stunning contrast to the lush green on either side.  

Once down at the castle again, as we were heading back out along the epic driveway towards the town, Aaron stopped by part of the hedge where there was a little wren-like bird with a rosy breast  perched quite close to us.  A robin.  Unlike our North American robins, the ones here are much smaller and fatter, and bolder we learned, as this one actually flew right up to us at the edge of the hedge to size us up and cheep at us brashly.

Back again in the town, we were finally really hungry and went to Brambles again for lunch, and the George Pub again for a drink.  We also got a few souvenirs, including a whisky Aaron thought would be a nice Christmas Day treat.  We found ourselves (surprise, surprise) back at the George Hotel for dinner, and as it was a very busy night with all kinds of Christmas Party bookings, we were given a little table in a different room that had a sign outside that said "Public Bar" left over from a time when there was a private bar, I suppose.  And some carolers came through (soaking wet, poor souls, but very lively) and sang some Christmas carols in the bar, making me all choked up.   

Although something that also could have been choking me up was the coal they were burning in the fireplace.  We made the fearful discovery earlier in the day in a small gallery/craft shop, that people here do indeed burn lumps of coal in open fireplaces, and the vile smell I have noticed at times in Glasgow and noticed a lot here in a small town, is the smell of burning coal.  I have to say that I was always under the impression that coal is a terrible pollutant (and certainly smells like something that should not be burning) and I'm really surprised that people still use it.  But apparently it is much longer burning than wood and cheaper, and there certainly is a lot of it here.   

On another note, when we returned to our B&B after dinner, our host had a lovely smelling wood fire burning in his faithful quest to never let it die.  And the next morning, prepared us another great scottish breakfast, which I suspected he made so big that we couldn't finish it and he could give our leftover sausages to his dogs.  The rain was back, so we were especially grateful for the glorious day we'd had the day before, as we clambered on to our bus back to Glasgow.  

1 comment:

dancingword said...

Dear Rebecca,

So nice to hear your news. I feel great guilt in that I either spaced a coffee date with you before you left, or failed to confirm a time. Nevertheless, I think of you guys quite often, reminded by various bits of memorabilia you've left about the place. I hope all goes well and congratulations on the upcoming wee one!

All the best,

Daniel

PS I'm at www.dancingword.wordpress.com