Thursday, September 10, 2015

Day 21 - Staffa and the Ninth Wave.. and a teeny bit of Iona

Our room here at Brockville is beautiful and spotlessly clean. Our bed is comfy, though also quite firm. There’s fresh flowers, home baking and comfy sitting chairs. The attention to detail is fabulous. We have space, privacy and wonderful hospitality from Helen who is a very engaging and amusing hostess, making us feel very welcome and at home. I’m on a light brekky regime for a few days, and there’s ample options for me at the table. A nice Californian couple are staying also and we have an enjoyable breakfast conversation with them and with Helen who pops in and out.
We’re slow to start this morning. It was a long day yesterday. And we’re just doing things as we feel like it. Up to a point. We do have a trip to Staffa booked this afternoon and as Hubby says, the weather is good today – so we have to do it. Who knows what tomorrow may bring. If we’d had the energy we were supposed to head out towards Ardalanish and Fionnphort early and then over to Iona in time to explore a bit before getting the boat when it leaves Iona at 1.45 pm. We make no decisions but our options just drift away as our conversation continues.
Iona is a long way from Tobermory and by 10.30ish we’re thinking we’d better get a shuffle on.  We’re stupid and forgetful though and Hubby leaves me in the car to go back upstairs and take his seasickness remedy. Can’t forget that. Now, there’s something about Hubby that can sometimes cause some problems and it does so today. He’s put the car keys in his pocket and inadvertently locked the car. I’m in it. The car, not his pocket. Naturally I don’t know this. That he’s locked the car, not that I’m not in his pocket. I put the map I’ve been studying up on the dash and am somewhat startled when the alarm goes off. I try to get out. I can’t, the car is in lock down. A child’s face appears at the window upstairs then vanishes. After a while the alarm stops. I’m still trapped. I sit still. Then after a while I forget and move again. The alarm screeches. I sit in irritated impotence awaiting rescue. Evenutally Hubby comes sauntering slowly over to the car not a care in the world. Sigh. We head out. I try to minimise the extent of my complaining about the accidental activation of alarms habit. I don’t know anyone else who does this, let alone regularly. Sigh. 
Time is such now that we need to take the quickest route so that means back via Craignure. The sun is out and the colours have come with it.  We’re just enjoying the drive looking about us. I’m scanning the shore for any sign of life when opportunity arises. You never know your luck.
I’m told that Fionnphort is pronounced "Finnafa" and means white port or harbour in Gaelic. The sand is white and the water in the bay is a gorgeous blue that has been picked up in the roof of a nearby house and the creels stacked by the parking area. In this environment of constantly changing weather you really notice colour when it comes out.  There’s a long parking area and quite a few cars and coaches are parked. There must be a lot of day trippers on Iona today.
We muck about, not keen to rush to the ferry that’s just leaving. We’ll wait the next one. This means we hang about for a while. Get our tickets. Waste some time. There’s a little stand near the wharf that’s selling seafood and Cullen skink to go. It would make sense to get something there wouldn’t it? Maybe not enough time. We don’t. We’re really mismanaging our morning.
The Calmac ferry to Iona is an interesting variation. No cars are allowed over without a special permit. It’s people who walk up the vehicle ramp once anyone or anything coming off is out of the way. We clamber up to the Upper deck for the very quick crossing enjoying the views of the Abbey from the water.
It’s hardly any time at all before we are walking up the wharf at Iona and looking for something to eat. We’ve only got half an hour now so we head into the joint just by the wharf opposite the shop. They have a self serve food arrangement and we grab a couple of sandwiches, some new varieties of Tyrell’s crisps and drinks and an apple slice and wander over to the nearby tables, intent on bolting our food.  We won’t be hungry on the boat at any rate. A quick comfort stop before departure and we’re making our way quickly down to the boat.
On board the Iolaire we have an international group of eight passengers. It’s a sweet little boat and very photogenic.  It’s a beautiful day for an outing to Staffa, although I have a confession. I’ve heard of the Giant’s Causeway and I’ve heard of Staffa and I know they are both ends of the same geological feature and highly regarded. Geology bores me to tears, so I’m taking this trip on faith really. If it was that inspirational for Mendelssohn that he wrote the Hebridean Suite after visiting and inspired my good friend Gayle to rave with enthusiasm when she visited the Giant’s Causeway, I’m thinking we'd better go take a look.
On the outward journey we’re going against the wind and it’s pretty chilly. We pass pretty close by some seals on the rocky islets in the Sound of Iona. This is by far the closest we’ve got to the seals we’ve viewed and aren’t they cute!
It takes about an hour to get out to Staffa. I watch gannets flying past and some other anonymous birds bobbing in between the waves but mostly just chill out watching Staffa grow slowly bigger ahead, huddled in my hood and with my neck thingy providing that extra layer of snuggly warmth.  Hubby lies on the raised back deck having a rest in the sun, warm and protected from the wind by the sides of the boat. The excitement builds and I nudge him awake as we near the island. Our crew starts with some more commentary about the island and the three visible caves on our approach while passengers crowd the side of the boat with views pointing lenses long and short.  Advice is provided about the walk around the rocks to Fingal’s cave and a wishing chair that’s along the walk there somewhere. 
As we secure the boat to the pier, another group is waiting to board their boat to go home. We excitedly clamber out of the Iolaire and onto the encrusted pier. Concentrating on keeping moving despite the almost overwhelming urge to just stop dead and snap photographs in ridiculous numbers, we walk up the path of hexagonal basalt column tops painted with inconspicuous non-slip paint. The extraordinary architecture of the toppled stands of basalt crystal columns is truly something that photos and descriptions cannot do justice to. Look basically it’s just really really nifty and we’re really glad we came.  We have an hour ashore, so first things first. We head for Fingal’s cave. I lag behind the rest of our boatload and Hubby lags behind me. I’m distracted by a sweet little bird that is pecking away at food among the weedy rocks. I understand this is a pipit and my guess is it’s a meadow pipit. Not even the midges along here put me off my quest to get a decent photo of it.
I catch up with the others at the cave and wait patiently for an opportunity to get up the front for some pictures. I’m quietly leaning back against the rocks. Unobtrusive. I’m not always the quietest person but I’m glad I have been just now because the American lady begins to sing. Quietly at first and then the lady’s mother-in-law joins in and sings in harmony. They are both skilled and have beautiful voices. It’s almost enough to make me hold my breath and brings to mind the comments of Joseph Banks who visited Staffa in 1772. Banks said
Compared to this what are the cathedrals and palaces built by men! Mere models or playthings, imitations as his works will always be when compared to those of nature.
They end their song and the lady turns, startled to find me still there. She actually apologises but I have only effusive thanks for the privilege of having heard their performance here. Simply glorious.
Apparently just me and Hubby here at the cave I decide to have a go myself. If only I could remember all the words of the Skye Boat Song. We learned the song in primary school and I listen to it often enough lately but only a verse or two comes to mind. It’s such a beautiful tune and this seems the place to sing it.
We’ve loitered around here for probably longer than we should. Time to go up to the grassy head of the island and see what’s doing up there. Hubby just ventures as far as the donation box and view decoder plaque. I’m intent on getting up the hill to the top and checking out the view.
The ground is spongey underfoot but dry. It’s an extremely enjoyable surface to walk over. The views are stunning even from the top of the stairs and they just get better as I gain height. At the top is a survey marker and a small cairn of rocks. I spin slowly around 360 degrees. I repeat with video recording on the camera. What a view! There’s wild flowers blooming here and there in the grass. Sweet little buttercups and scabious alongside the heather and the dainty seed heads of the grasses.  
A snow white sailboat moves along at a fair clip driven by the wind. Just a dot in the enormity of the seascape below. Birds twitter and hang on grass stems. Small brown birds fly high and away with a sweet song and undulating flight. Gannets are feeding out on the water. The sun shines a bright spotlight on a cluster of white houses and moves along sweeping over green fields. The gannets shine in a burst of sun, whiter than white, a streak of sunlight as they plunge into the deep and rise, webbed feet slapping on the water as they fly away leaving short lived little puddles of foam fading behind them.
I see the Iolaire leave her mooring and manoeuvre into position to pick us up. I check my watch and drag myself away, slowly heading down the hill in no particular hurry and just soaking up the scenery.  I catch up with Hubby and we walk down to the boat, among the first of our group, which gives me the luxury of hanging about on the pier trying to capture the beautiful details of shells and weed, or daisies growing in surprising places.
All aboard we head around the island and much to the surprise of our crew, there’s a very young seal pup sitting on the rocks. They estimate it can’t be more than 2 weeks old judging by the size of it. Seals always look sort of sad, but this one looks absolutely heart-broken.
The trip home is warmer as we run with the wind back to port, we’re quiet and I amuse myself trying to photograph the plunge of the boat into the swell and the foaming wash driven back by the bow.
After a while I spark up a conversation with the singing lady, her Hubby is from the Black Hills and they live in Kansas. So it’s a stroke of luck that I have done some trip research on the Black Hills area and have been to Kansas. Kansas is a nice place with a big sky and awful souvenirs.
We have an hour or so until the last ferry so I’m keen to see what I can of Iona. Surely I can do the walk to the other side of the island and check out the lovely speckled beach. I really fancy a look at that on this lovely day. But I don’t know the way to go and the information centre isn’t open. I check out the map by the pier and photograph it.  Hubby hangs about and has a quick look at some of the accessible ruins and then adjourns to the pub for a leisurely pint of The Red Monk of Iona, amber ale.  I head up over the stile and up the hill following a path in the grass, carefully picking my way among the sheep poo here and there and taking care not to turn an ankle or something. It’s a very steep track and it seems to go forever, every crest reveals another section of valley and further incline. I turn to watch the tourists return down at the harbour and up I go again, watching my watch all the while.
I’ll just go to the top and look over and head back. Ultimately biology betrays me and I figure I’d better head back to the harbour, defeated. Iona will need to be yet another treasure to tempt our return.  
Nothing to do now but watch the sparrows have a dust bath by the information sign, check out the lovely war memorial, relax with hubby in the bar and watch the birds around the shore until 6.15 when the next ferry leaves.
Back on Mull we set out to find The Ninth Wave. We all know that we need to allow ourselves plenty of time for that. We’ve got no phone reception or data access, so Dr Google is no help. I know it’s around here somewhere. We just set out to hunt for it. Luckily Hubby spots their sign by the road and it’s still daylight. We follow the road and it just seems to lead to private residences. We head in half expecting someone to come out and ask us what the hell we’re playing at, pass a fabulous fabricated Calmac ferry, over the cattle grid, encouraged by a second sign, down the dirt track, past the house and voila! A restaurant in the backyard with a pretty garden and a really spectacularly attractive sign. Well who’d have guessed that!  
We amuse ourselves until the restaurant opens by heading back down the track and photographing the signs. Meanwhile other people, casually dressed, are arriving. We had better head in. The entry way is decorated with photos of John out fishing and such. Feature walls in the interior are a pretty teal blue that picks up the similar colour some of the glassware. The whole effect is very tasteful.
The Ninth Wave is a small restaurant with only a half a dozen or so tables. Looking after us all we have just got John who is dressed beautifully in a kilt and is equipped with a beautiful Scottish accent to match. He greets and seats us and makes us welcome, bringing us menus and in due course, drinks. Hubby has ordered the Highland Fling cocktail which features Scottish Gin. We have to have some Gin sometime on this trip and this seems a good opportunity!  I opt for a non-alcoholic beverage the making of which involved the squashing of many red or purple berries. Our first offering is a lovely small loaf of bread with knife for slicing and a pretty dish of butter, then we have a four course duel. Hubby kicks off with the Langousitine and Crab Won Ton Soup: delicate dumplings filled with Fresh-caught seafood, served in a Spicy Thai Coconut Milk and Kaffir Lime Leaf Broth. He’s up against my French Onion Soup: Classic red onion soup flavoured with port and roasted pigeon broth and served with Mull cheddar and a puff pastry top.  It’s a hard call but Hubby takes the first round.
Second round: Hubby pulls out the big guns going for the Mull Scallops: pan seared local scallops with garden spinach pernod, Argyll ham and two caviars.  I’m fighting back with Sound of Iona Crab: Warm soufflé style cheesecake of white crab meat, dill and smoked Applewood served with garden greens and a whole crab claw for which a claw cracker and crab pick has been provided. Hubby claims this round too, if only for the ease with which he can eat his food. I am consumed in battle with the monster crab claw who was clearly the Arnold Schwarzenegger of the crustacean world. His shell is like Ned Kelly’s armour.
Round three: Hubby – Mull Lobster: fresh caught (by John’s own fair hand this morning) Lobster served with Keralan-spiced Ghee, local free range duck egg and mull smoked plaice kedgeree with peas. This also comes accompanied with some detailed instructions for how to eat this local species of lobster.  Me – Argyll Hill Lamb: a mini rack of roasted lamb served with our garden beetroot, pickled beetroot, potato latke and Dunsyre Blue Cheese Choux.  I’m claiming this round. I didn’t need a claw cracker or a flesh picker… though I have to point out that Hubby’s dish would have won it on flavour for us tonight. The Asian style spice in the rice was unexpected and brilliant as a combination with the lobster. Oh well, OK I guess he wins this one as well then. We’re at 3-0. Can Hubby take a clean sweep or can I pull my dignity out of the fire?
Hubby – A Scottish Duo: An iced Drambuie parfait with a mini sticky toffee pudding and vanilla pod caramel. Me – Lemon Meringue-outang: a wild mix of flavours.. Lemon custard cream served with almond and lemon pastry, Amalfi lemon and kaffir lime meringue and Lemonbalm and borage jelly, which melts at room temperature.  My dessert is very good and reminds us very much of a deconstructed pavlova we had in Auckland years ago.. but yes, Hubby takes it with a clean sweep tonight.  Quite a feat.
We share the complimentary hand-made chocolates, have their book signed and copy of the menu obtained and we’re off into the night for the long drive back to Tobermory driving carefully to avoid wildlife or livestock who may be about the road.
Now it may seem a bit ridiculous to be taking this night journey but it worked out brilliantly. There were bats and night birds flying up off the side of the road regularly or crossing in the beam of our headlights and, drum roll please, we saw two hedgehogs crossing the road, one in time to stop and hop out and check him out. Fantastic!  Hubby saw a deer on the side of the road, but I missed that. It was good fun the whole way.

A very enjoyable first day on Mull. 

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