A Travellerspoint blog

May 2020

Scottish Islands

all seasons in one day 13 °C

Lockdown Reading

Lockdown Reading

Earlier this month I was looking for books to buy and found Scottish Island Bagging. Click, click, click and it was on its way to me from the publisher (in Sheffield, oddly enough).

Apart from a summer job in an Arran hotel in 1972, for most of my life the Scottish islands were a blank spot on my travel map. I remember a couple of day trips to Stornoway for work, and an overnight business trip to Shetland when we worked for 16 hours out of 24.

I woke up to this a few years ago and started to put things right.

Vatersay/Bhatarsaigh

Vatersay/Bhatarsaigh

In the space of 5-6 years I have visited Gigha, Islay, Tiree, Colonsay, Mull, Iona, Staffa, Ulva, Lismore, Seil, Kerrera, Luing, Easdale, Eigg, Barra, Vatersay, Eriskay, Lewis and Harris.

I have been back to Arran a few times in that period, and to Orkney (which I first visited about 10 years ago).

St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, Orkney

St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, Orkney

From my home in Fife, just across the water from Edinburgh, all these places make for quite a long trip and careful planning is needed. If a ferry is involved, often it means getting to Oban first and that is a 3 hour drive. Mallaig - for Eigg - is a good bit further. Tayinloan or Kennacraig, for Gigha and Islay respectively are also a 3 hour drive.

Usually you have to be at the ferry terminal at least 30 minutes before departure, and with building in a bit of time for toilet stops and contingencies, you have to leave the house at least 4 hours before the ferry time. You will have to make a reservation if you want to take your car on the more popular routes, and well in advance in the summer months. On the smaller ferries you just drive up and get on the next one.

Gigha Ferry

Gigha Ferry

I flew to Barra, Lewis, Tiree and Colonsay. Loganair was the carrier for most of those short hops, but I used Hebridean Air from Oban to get to Colonsay. All those flights are on small planes and lots of fun.

Waiting

Waiting

During the peak season accommodation is at a premium in these small places, so that has to form part of the advance planning. I think I have only once been disappointed by accommodation on the islands, but remember that it is a short season with relatively high demand (in normal times) so what you get may not always seem like value for money if compared with other parts of the country.

Where would be top of my list to return to? Iona. It is special. It has so much of the country’s history as well as being remote and slightly spiritual. I am not “spiritual” but on Iona I got it.

Jura Ferry

Jura Ferry

Where is top of my list to go to for the first time? Well, I will finish my book before I make up my mind, but at the moment Coll, Raasay or Canna.

Coll is a strong possibility because I loved nearby Tiree, and it is on Hebridean Air’s route map as well as Calmac's.

Raasay is easily accessible from Skye, which is a long drive from home but no ferries are involved. My late father had a long involvement with the buyout of the island from its absentee landlord during the 1970s, so I would love to see how it is now.

I loved my time on Eigg, and getting there and back by car, train and ship, so another of the Small Isles beckons. Canna seems right.

My View, Eigg

My View, Eigg

Meantime, I am staying at home and trying to stay safe. A good book helps.

Posted by IainT 23:31 Archived in Scotland Tagged beaches planes boats scotland ferries transport flights lewis airlines orkney barra lismore islay stornoway eigg calmac islandlife colonsay steòrnabhagh leòdhas na_hearadh barraigh vatersay bhatarsaigh eiriosgaigh eriskay Comments (0)

1966

France - Luxembourg Passport Control

France - Luxembourg Passport Control

When I was 13 I managed to get myself included in my high school’s established exchange scheme with a lycée in Metz. I remember some discussion about whether I was too young to benefit, but off I went.

It is strange to think back about those travel arrangements. Our group went all the way from Edinburgh by train and ferry. No planes. No Eurostar or Channel Tunnel. No TGV. As teenagers I suspect it was all an adventure but it must have been hard work for the teachers.

Metz - La Gare SNCF

Metz - La Gare SNCF

I stayed with a local family and they were super kind, but communication was a problem. I had been studying French for only 2 years. They took me on excursions to nearby Luxembourg, to the World War I battle site at Verdun, and into the Vosges mountains at Gérardmer.

Gérardmer

Gérardmer

Some memories remain vivid more than 50 years later.

Me (r) at Verdun

Me (r) at Verdun

Verdun is one. It made a lifelong pacifist of me. The key bit for me was the Ossuaire. It is the basement of the memorial building, where they place the bones of unknown soldiers which emerge from the ground as a result of weather or farming. It makes a impression, I assure you.

Verdun

Verdun

Luxembourg was great, and I have been back there several times for meetings at the EU Court of Justice and Commission. Crossing the border by car back then was “traditional” with passport and customs checks by both countries. The city is impressive, being largely surrounded by a deep ravine.

We also visited a steelworks at Longwy… Dante’s Inferno. Quite jaw dropping.

At some stage we went to visit my host’s grandparents on their small farm. The animals lived on the ground floor of the building, and the grandparents up above. The smell was quite something to a child of Edinburgh’s posh suburbs. I remember our lunch there. Tinned sardines on toast.

Gérardmer

Gérardmer

I also remember having a Sunday lunch in my hosts’ home. It was rabbit - again, not what the good people of Edinburgh’s professional classes would eat. My hosts kept the best bit for me - the head. The idea was to knock the top off the skull like eating a soft boiled egg, and spoon out the brain.

Boy, was I having an enriching cultural experience.

Posted by IainT 09:50 Archived in France Tagged trains france transport luxembourg metz verdun gerardmer Comments (0)

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