Disappointingly, ex-hurricane Bertha means that today’s planned sea-fari to Iona has been cancelled. I was looking forward to learning about St Columba and hopefully experiencing a turn around in our wildlife encountering fortunes. After discussing various alternative options, we decide that the conditions really aren’t conducive to any kind of sea voyage, or indeed anything else much. We decide to go to Seil Island to see signs of the slate quarrying industry. This is where we would have picked up our vessel to Iona had we gone. It is accessed by the humpiest bridge I have ever seen. It is single track and as you reach the apex it is completely impossible to see whether or not anything is coming in the opposite direction, fortunately it wasn’t.
Just as we are beginning to wonder if our intended destination has disappeared into the same Brig a Doon like black-hole as the ospreys et. al., we arrive at Easdale. It is an interesting settlement and we were surprised to see so many tourists, given its remote location. The closely packed, eighteenth century, two roomed slate workers’ cottages are fascinating. The village boasts a free heritage centre that manages to keep going despite being reliant on donations. There is also the emporium that is ‘Highland Arts Exhibition’. Yes there is ‘art’, some of which is of dubious quality, there is also on sale every bit of Scottish related tat one can imagine. I think who ever is responsible for buying stock must hoover up any remaindered merchandise featuring tartan, sheep or highland cows. Seil’s other claim to fame is that it was the home of Lady Diana’s mother for some years.
On our return north the sat-nav directs us via what I dub the ‘Oban by-pass’. Given the amount of traffic in Oban on our outward journey this is a good thing. This route is my sort of roadway, single-track and twisting with occasional passing places. In the interests of obtaining free wi-fi we travel beyond our site, looking for The View & co.. Again it proves elusive. It is said to be in Appin. We investigate Appin to no avail then try Port Appin. Anyone choosing to site a café in Port Appin would be able to place no reliance on passing trade and there is no sign of our destination. Back to plan a) and this time we travel beyond Appin and are successful. This is a lovely café and does indeed have a view, even in bad weather. From here we can see Castle Stalker, built in the fifteenth century and belonging to the Stewarts of Appin. It has nine foot thick walls and was used as a hunting lodge by James IV. In 1620 the castle was lost to the Campbell family. We sink into comfy settees and I try to make a cup of coffee last as long as possible whilst I access the internet. It seems one can make a small cup of coffee last an hour, although I am aided by my fellow traveller who is consuming a generous portion of apple pie and a whole pot of tea. I am there so long that said companion is in danger of dozing off. We decline the opportunity to pay for entry to the Mini Imax wildlife cinema. To be honest we don’t even know what an Imax cinema is. There are in theory live nest cams. On current form, on our arrival all these nests would have been inexplicably vacated and we don’t want to ruin anyone else’s experience.
Having inflicted the Commonwealth Games on my travelling companion, he is now enduring the European Athletics Championships and is probably hoping for impaired television access on future sites.
The next day, we are loath to leave our sea-side site, with its invigorating smell of ozone. It is a shame that our stay coincided with the even more invigorating ex-hurricane Bertha. We see the sun for the first time in four days and on our journey to Fort William mountains are revealed that had been invisible on Monday. I take a picture of where I think Ben Nevis ought to be. We drive past Loch Lochy and over the swing bridge that spans the Caledonian Canal. The Cluanie Dam is part of the necessary infrastructure for the nearby hydro-electric power plant. The scenery in Glen Shiel is dramatic. The Saddle on our left towers 1011 metres above sea level and there are other peaks of a similar size on the other side of the road.
Our new site at Kintail is nestled between the mountains, some of which are the five sisters but I am not sure which ones. Once pitched we head off to visit Eilean Donan Castle. Eilean is Gaelic for island and Donan was a sixth century Irish saint. It is sited at the conjunction of Loch Long, Loch Duick and Loch Alsh and was constructed in the thirteenth century to defend this strategically important location against Vikings who it seems were still raiding Scotland at this point. Protection from hostile warring clans was also needed. In 1539, fifty Birlinns (sixty foot, clinker built boats resembling Viking longships, requiring 12 pairs of oarsmen) crewed by the MacDonalds approached the castle, which at the time had only three residents to defend it. The owners of the castle were the related families of MacKenzie and MacRae. The castle was captured by the Jacobites of Kintail in 1715 and became a Catholic stronghold. Locks of hair from Bonnie Prince Charlie and his family are on display. Eilean Donan also had a role in the little known ‘Little Jacobite Rising’ of 1719 when it was the supply base for the Jacobites and a garrison for Spanish mercenaries. The castle was destroyed and it was not restored until 1912, when the then owner, John MacRae-Gilstrap, began a twenty year programme of renovations.
Six coaches disgorge their German passengers into Eilean Donan Castle. The advantage of this is that they are getting a special commentary from one of the guides. We do have to listen to this in English and then wait for the German translation but we glean additional information.