Well it finally happened this afternoon it started to rain. It is the west coast of Scotland after all; and the rain makes it deep green and lush. It is Sunday and we have been biking since Thursday. On Arran we had a short visit with my cousin who lives in a idyllic spot under a spreading sycamore tree that almost dips into the gentle sea. Then the biking fun began. Our lastest purchase Dahon folding bikes were put to the test. The hills are short and steep here in the west. Thusday began with a heavy sky that slowly improved throughout the day.
It was on the shores of Kildonan with vistas of the Islands of Pladda and Alisa Craig I came for my family holidays. Dare I say more than fifty years ago. Here on Arran I camped as a teenager with the Scripture Union. We biked up and over cow pasteurs to the standing stones. These are over 5000 years old. The afternoon was spectacular. A funny thing happened - I began to feel warm and strip off the layers of fleece that I have been covered in since I landed in the motherland. There I was soaking in sea views, smells of seaweed, hawthorne, fresh cut grass listening to cuckoo, hoo hoo of wood pigeons and the high shrill call of the skylarks. It was the kind of day you dream of when holiday planing and never quite think it will occur. The locals commented, 'Its not normally like this here.'
It was easy to understand this as the trees and ground ferns all along the west coast had been blasted by last weeks storm. The foilage brown and withered. Fallen trees scattered into shards on the ground.
Believe it or not we sat outside in the colourful garden of the Lochranza pub as Clive eyed up the boat floating idyllically in the harbour. The ruined castle and yes the midges left us in no doubt that we were actually in Scotland. It was as if Scotland was out to seduce its wayward emigrant children with her natural beauty.
Friday morning we biked onto the ferry north to the Mull of Kintyre, the rugged hills of Arran strident in the cloudless sky. Our legs, as if lubriacated with premium oil propelled our small wheels up and over the moors to Tarbet, a quaint old seaside town looking lovely in the sunlight. After filling up with a scottish breakfast, delicious coffee and mailing some of our excess belongings back to Edinburgh to lighten our load, we took a side road through old gnarled oak trees, bluebells, red fuchia and banks of pink campion. A cyclist John from Seattle chatted to me up a huge hill! What goes up must come down and the downhill was worth the uphill slog.
Once in the white houses of Lochgilphead we found the bike track along the side of the peaty brown Crinan Canal. We humed along the flat trail glad we had left the hills behind. In a while the bike trail turned north and just when I thought I couldn't go any further we popped out on the main road in the ancient hamlet of Kilmartin and there was a Bed and Breakfast. My knees told me I had been biking all day and the friendly proprieter suggested I looked exhausted. When we reappeared showered and in clean clothes he did not recognise us.
The fields around Kilmartin have been cultivated for over 5000 years. People have left their burial mounds and standing stones. In the graveyard there were more recent stones only 200 years old carved with knights and spirals. The pub was a lively place where tourists mingled with locals talking about round up the sheep and cutting the hay. The sea harr rolled in and cooled the land.
Saturday morning we had a fifteen mile ride up and over hills, (it was a fifteen minute car ride) to a small marina where we took a water taxi to the island of Luing. The islands of Jura, Scarpa in layers of grey still have not lost their magical apeal. Once at Seil Island we visited a garden jammed with plants of all colours and a small bower dedicated to the God of wine. We had lunch of local seafood chowder on the pub patio that looked out to the Island of Easdale and the wild cliffs of Mull.
Our next ferry ride was from Oban to Mull. I remembered my first trip there when I was 14 on the old ferry, not a car ferry in those days. My sister Ruth and I travelled all the way up to Tobermory in the bridge. It was a dull overcast day and we were mesmerized by the unfolding scenery. That trip was the beginning of a long assocation with Mull. A few years later my sister worked as a teacher in the two room school in Salen. I visited her every opportunity I had. I remembered the day I purchased a ticket from the purser, walked on to the deck and the wind snatched it from my hand and it dissappeared into the water depth.
Oonce in Salen the School has been transformed into the offices for Social Services and a new school has been built. There are many more holiday cottages and a new mediterranean resturant. After a delcious meal we walked along the quiet road up into the deciduous woods where I had first seen bats. The evening sun bathed the green trees, orange seaweed, black rocks with a warm glow. The oyster catchers shrieked from their post on the seashore, barnacle geese herded their young family into the water. I loved Mull then and I loved it now, and still crazy after all these years.