Tuesday-Saturday, 3-7 October 2006
This is my ninth trip to Scotland. As always, I've tried to mix in some new places with a few old favorites, and have two weeks
of Ron's company to look forward to. Last year,
I was scheduled to spend a few days in Isle of Whithorn, on the Galloway coast in Scotland's deep south, but had to cancel
when I was called home (see MF2MoG 2005). This year, I booked my
first five nights there.
Tuesday We flew almost directly over Glasgow on the way to Amsterdam, and I'd have had a fine view of the Machars, the broad peninsula on the Galloway coast that was my destination, had I been sitting on the other side of the plane.
At last I arrive in Glasgow and pick up my rental car. I find, to my consternation, that itís a Fiat Punto. I hate Puntos! ďBut itís the new Punto,Ē the agent tells me. In my mind thatís like saying ďBut itís a fresh cowplop.Ē But it doesnít take me very long to realize that he has a pointĖthis new model is as comfortable and up-to-date as any economy car Iíve had here. It even has a CD player, which Iíve rarely gotten from this agency before. Of course, theyíre still one step behindĖIíve ditched the book of CDís for an iPod now.
Itís a two and a half to three-hour drive to Isle of Whithorn, but it takes me four and a half hours. I stop no fewer than three times to nap in lay-bys, and once in Maybole to buy stamps and Jacobís Cream Crackers to go with the Dutch cheese I bought at Schiphol. A short stretch of the drive is along the Ayrshire coast, with a view of Ailsa Craig. I arrive in midafternoon, check in to my B&B, and take another nap. Isle of Whithorn, at the tip of the Machars on the Galloway coast, actually was an island once, but a causeway was built in 1790, connecting it to the mainland and forming a pretty harbor. The village extends from the mainland out along the causeway to the edge of the island. My B&B is on the mainland, looking out over to the isle. I nap until 6:00pm. Looking groggily out the window when I awake, I see a rainbow leading directly to the Steampacket Inn over on the isle. I can take a hint.
The Steampacketís a nice place, with Cambridge Bitter and Theakstonís XB in the cask, a small handful of malts, and some culinary pretensions. But frozen swordfish is frozen swordfish. I am about falling asleep in my pint, and so decide to head for bed. The night air is invigorating, though, and back on the mainland, I decide to spend some time in the Queens Arms (hope Prince Philip doesnít find out). This is more the townie pub, complete with obligatory Old Gent who comes in every night. There is beer from a local brewery, but Iím afraid it isnít very good. Thereís also a bottle of Bladnoch, of which there was none at the Steampacket. Bladnoch is just up the road; I will visit tomorrow. The friendly bartender gives me a bottle of beer from the local brewery, gratis, as I am on my way out. I drop it into the trunk of my car and forget about it.
Wednesday Wake up cranky this morning, full of gloom. Decide I must go take the tour at Bladnoch right away and
get a dram in me. I just miss the 10:00 tour, so walk around the small but pretty village, taking pictures. At 11:00,
I get a one-on-one tour, which is usually okay, but I am still groggy. If there is anything special to be got out of
this tour, I am not the man to do it.
At the end, I am taken into the hospitality room and shown five bottlesĖfifteen-year-olds at 40%, 46%, and cask strength (55%); a rum-cask finish at 56%; and Aikenís Dram, a vatting of six highly evaporated casks, 46%. All are unchillfiltered, and the 40% is as cloudy as a weissbier. I figure Iíll start with the 46%. The guide pours my dram, puts all of the bottles away, and leaves me alone in the room. Robbed! I take my time with my dram and then buy 20cl bottles of the cask- strength and the rum finish, and a 35cl of the Aikenís Dram. I will use them as roadies, and take the empties homeĖthey will be useful sample bottles.
After, I drive to the Mull of Galloway and promptly take a nap in the car park. Then I walk out past the lighthouse and gaze at the Isle of Man, invisible in the mist last year. Puffy little clouds scud by like a vast armada on a sea of sky.
Up the western side of the Mull, I pass through the village of Port Logan. A sign outside the Port Logan Hotel indicates that Timothy Taylor's Landlord is being served inside, and I cannot resist a pint. It's a nice little pub.
On the way back to Isle of Whithorn, I have a look at some minor antiquitiesĖa hillfort, some weathered cup-and-ring marked stones, a couple of standing stones. The latter are at Drumtroddan, in a cow pasture--one of the hazards of visiting these sites is that the cows think you've come to feed them. They are docile, but they are big.
Thursday A cross-border raid today, to Carlisle in England. I skip breakfast to get off early. Itís a dreich and
dreary morning, and the day will not improve much.
I pass by Carlisle at about 9:30 and drive out on the flats around Bowness-in-Solway, looking for traces of the western terminus of Hadrianís Wall. I am still jet-lagged and do not feel much like tromping through the mud in the rain, and so see only some bits of the vallum, or ditch, that ran alongside the wall. I suspect most of the wall itself has long ago been pilfered and built into nearby farms and villages. I am not alert enough to investigate this idea further.
Back in Carlisle, I park in a garage above The Lanes, a shopping-mallified section of old Carlisle, and have a look around. Itís pretty enough, but the weather and my mood leave me unimpressed with the cathedral. Itís of a lovely red stone, and actually must be quite something on a sunny day, like St Magnus in Orkney. The castle is also of sandstone, and both buildings must have been constructed in part with stone pilfered from the old city walls, which in turn had been built of stone from Hadrianís Wall.
My membership in Historic Scotland gains me free entry to the castle, courtesy of English Heritage, and I spend about an hour there. I learn about Carlisleís role in centuries of warfare and squabbling between Scotland and England.
After wandering around town for a little while longer, I head back north across the border. I intend to stop in Gretna Green, the town to which, for many years, young English couples eloped, the marriage laws in Scotland being more lenient at the time. There is still quite a marriage industry there, but a quick drive through gives me the impression that there isnít much interesting for me to see. Itís not unlike a Las Vegas wedding chapel, I guess, if considerably more tasteful and quaint. I do get a glimpse of neighboring Springfield.
I drive through Annan on the way back, and stop at Caerlaverock Castle, which has been on my list for a long time. Itís a peculiar and picturesque structure, triangular with a moat. I bemoan the lack of sun and take the best pictures I can. Maybe I should have held off on this trip until the weather cleared. Well, you never know what youíre going to get around here.
I have monkfish for dinner at the Steampacket. I havenít dared try monkfish since getting one the approximate consistency of a gumboot in Torshavn, in the Faroe Islands. This is miles better, but Iím still not crazy about it.
Friday Iím human again! Not bad, only three days of jet lag.
This morning I go have a look at Kirkcudbright. Itís a nice enough town, on the water, lots of art galleriesĖthey say everyone here is either a fisherman or an artist. The sun plays hide-and-seek, mostly hide. I visit Gatehouse of Fleet, and the sun wonít come out at all as I try to photograph the restored mill there.
Back up the road are the remains of two chambered tombs called Cairnholy I and II. These have been on my radar screen for a long time. They remind me more of tombs seen in Ireland than anything Iíve seen elsewhere in Scotland. The sun gives me but a few tantalizing seconds to work with.
Up the road toward New Galloway, I visit Bruceís Stone. Supposedly Robert Bruce rested against this boulder after a successful guerilla action against the English. Mr Tattie Heid has always been partial to the Bruce, since that is his own given name.
Returning to the Machars, I have a look at the Torhouse Stone circle. The signboard compares it to the recumbent stone circles of Aberdeenshire, but I donít think the comparison is validĖitís quite different. Interesting enough, though, and the sun cooperates just long enough for a few photos.
Saturday I visit St Ninianís Cave this morning. Itís a ten- or fifteen-minute walk through the woods
from the car park to a shingle beach, then a few hundred yards to the cave, a crevice in the cliffs. I pick over the
multitude of smooth round stones along the way. The surf rattles them as it washes in and out. Many of the stones
have interesting veins, and I pick out a smallish one to take home. Itís reddish with a darker red stripe through it,
looking like a wet streak.
I arrive at the cave and notice that visitors have constructed various little shrines of sticks and stones, and have jammed stones (but not the usual coins) into various crevices. Feeling some sacrifice is called for, I leave my stone on a narrow ledge. (Of course I will find another on the way back.)
There are supposed to be some carvings on the wall of the cave, but I cannot find them. The legend is that Ninian, who brought Christianity here before Columba, and whose church was a few miles away at Whithorn, used this cave as a retreat. Historians doubt it, but it remains a focal site for the cult of St Ninian.
A blanket of cloud spreads over the sky, and I spend the rest of the day browsing bookshops in Wigtown (ďScotlandís Book TownĒ), and having a look at the ruined Priory in Whithorn. Dinner is at the Queens Arms, for a changeĖunpretentious pub food. Tomorrow I must be up early to meet Ron at the airport.