Sunday, 26 August 2007

Sunny Scotland

The week before last was insane: return from Tokyo on Saturday afternoon, spend Sunday washing clothes and dazedly trying to adjust to UK time, Monday off-site at a client, Tuesday and Wednesday desperately trying to recover from being out of office for a week and prepare for being out of office for another week, Thursday leave the house at 4:30 am to fly to Belguim for another off-site client visit, Friday leave the house at 4:30 am to go to Scotland.

Scotland was lovely. It rained for one day of the seven we were there, just enough to make us feel that we really were in Scotland, but not enough to inconvenience us. We flew into Edinburgh and lined up to pick up the car we had hired. We asked for a Ford Mondeo, and got a diesel VW Passat. No complaints there. We could quite happily own one of these cars. We called ours Viktor. It seemed solid, competent and slightly smug. It also purred.

We drove to Oban the first day, seeing a Hairy Coo on the way and managed to arrive at the Falls of Lora at exactly the right time to see the tide going out, purely by accident. Oban is a very busy little fishing village with a distillery and a 19th century folly commissioned by a philanthropist banker to keep local stonemasons in work over winter. It is also the jumping-off-point for the western islands, but we decided to drive up to Kyle of Localsh the next day instead. On the way we stopped off at the Scottish Sea Life Sanctuary to amuse ourselves with seals: they have a couple of permanent residents who cannot be released back into the wild, and a couple of baby orphans which they are rearing to be released.

The drive to Kyle of Localsh is lovely: lochs and mountains abound. We were staying in a little hotel just north of Kyle of Localsh which had a pretty setting and was very comfortable, but the food didn't live up to the standard it was aiming for. What's the point of having venison if you cook it until it's fibrous? The duck came off slightly better, but only because there was plenty of fat in it.

We were going to go to Loch Ness the next day and then drive back to Skye, but on realising that the weather was sunny we went to Skye immediately on the grounds that it is often overcast and we should go while the going was good. Skye is wonderful. I could live on Skye quite happily. It has craggy mountains, it has waterfalls, it has majestic headlands, it has lochs, it has sweeping vistas and it has many, many sheep. Disconcerting sheep which wander all over the road and amble off slowly if you approach them in a car, but which run like hell if you point a camera at them.

We stayed in a self-catering caravan on the edge of a loch. We spent our evenings eating dinner and drinking wine and/or whisky while watching sunset over the loch. Even the midges were controllable. And when we scrambled down to the edge of the loch, falling over on slippery seaweed a couple of times, we found an abundance of mussels. I found them too gritty, but my other half feasted on them with great pleasure.

After a couple of days on Skye and a brief visit to Talisker we drove off to Loch Ness and Inverness via Eilean Donan. I have to say I prefer the west coast: the scenery is more spectacular and because it is more spartan, you can actually see it. The country around Loch Ness is far more lush, which means that you get glimpses rather than vistas. We then drove down to Blair Altholl where we visited Edradour distillery and stayed in a lovely B&B which had a decent mattress. This was a great thing, believe me. Good mattresses are rare.

We wandered into the town of Blair Atholl to get some dinner and some milk. On the way we saw some incredibly sweet ducklings: six of them, all skittering around after insects. I never realised how fast they can move on land when they're small. There were also six adolescent ducks which seemed to be quite suicidally stupid and insisted on sitting in the middle of the road. Presumably it was warm. Cars didn't bother them, nor did horns. People had to get out of their cars and shoo them off the road, whereupon they waddled off, grudgingly.

The next day we had a look at Pitlochry, which was far too touristy for its own good, and stopped in at Blair Athol (yes, the town has two 'l's and the distillery has one) and Aberfeldy distilleries before driving down to Edinburgh. It's a very pretty city, but in August it is also a very busy city. We did wander around the town for a while, but we decided to leave the castle as it was a) crawling with people and b) had the enormous and ugly Edinburgh tattoo scaffolding up.

Our plane home was badly delayed, and I was extremely grateful for my frequent flyer privileges with BA, which meant we could use the lounge. Lounges aren't particularly exciting except when you put them in the context of an overcrowded airport (five planes were delayed). The seats are comfortable, there's wine to drink and you can read your book in peace (Bill Bryson's The Life and Times of the Thunderbold Kid, a pleasantly mindless account of growing up in Des Moines in the 1950s).

We were fairly restrained with purchases on this holiday due to luggage restrictions - only one full bottle of whisky! - but I did find some yarn.

The first is two 98g skeins of purple and one 48g skein of green-blue cashmere dyed with natural dyes from Shilasdair. Do not fail to visit if you happen to find yourself on Skye. The yarn is superb (including baby camel!), they will show you their dye-pots and the setting itself is worth the trip.


We also dropped in at The Handspinner Having Fun in Broadford. While they did have some beatiful yarns and I coveted their handdyed mulberry silk, I ended up buying a 100g ball of a brown mystery yarn from the bargain bin. I think it's probably synthetic (it doesn't feel or smell like wool) but it feels pleasant and one of the strands is shiny so I think it will knit up well. Into what, I don't know, but I have a hankering for seed stitch.

brown mystery yarn

I have to do a great deal of washing this weekend, but this is offset by the pleasant task of reading a week's worth of knitting blog entries and catching up on what everyone else has been up to!

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