Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The photos below are views from Tigh na Mara Guest House.

Island Ghosts

I've been back six weeks and am still processing all that happened to me. Many ghosts were laid to rest. Most powerfully, the Ghosts of Negativity that have haunted me since my last trip there in 2000 with my mother and Tom my second and now ex-husband. I didn't want to be there with the two of them. Mother who was being a pill (putting it mildly) and Tom who I knew I wanted out of my life. Tom is a very sweet Englishman whom I worked with in the Isle of Mull Hotel. He was the barman. We had a bit of a fling my second summer there. Later that year he came over to the states for a visit and stayed. We were married on New Year's Eve 1996. I married him for a lot of reasons, none of them healthy ones. The bottom line was that his drinking was a deal breaker. Lesson learned. No more alcoholics. Done.

My trip this time, nine years later, was so positive that all of my original wonderful feelings about Scotland re-surfaced. I spent the first two days in Oban, my old stomping grounds. Thoroughly enjoying exploring what was still there and what was new. All my stress was receding and Scotland was working its magic. On my third morning in Oban I caught the 8:00 a.m. ferry for the three hour journey to the Isle of Coll. Unfortunately, the weather wasn't good, so it wasn't a scenic trip. However, I was able to see the Lismore Lighthouse and Duart Castle. We sailed north and west past Tobermory and out into the open ocean. When the ferry landed at Coll, it was pouring down rain. Fortunately, an island taxi van was picking people up from the ferry. I hitched a ride and was told they were going on an island tour. Perfect. I went along and had a terrific tour of Coll. My B&B, the Tigh na Mara, was excellent. Located close to the village of Arinagour I was able to walk to the Isle of Coll Hotel for excellent evening meals. While there I had one whole glorious day all to myself in the lounge of the B&B and spent the whole day writing and looking out at the amazing sea view and watching the spring lambs frolic. The hostess of Tigh na Mara was a lovely lady originally from Lancashire. She is very welcoming and warm. James, her assistant and handyman, and Englishman from Middlesborough was very entertaining. So after three luxurious days on Coll, it was time to return to Oban and get another ferry to the Isle of Mull. I had a little time in Oban where it was raining like it can only rain in Scotland. I was able to run the errands I needed to run and have a nice lunch before getting on the ferry. That trip to Craignure on the Isle of Mull is like going home. It's a fifty minute trip. Still raining. I caught the bus for Fionnphort and it was full. It's still pouring down rain and it was like Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. It's a one lane road with lay bys, which means you have places to pull over for oncoming traffic or sheep. The driver would speed up to the lay by and them slam the breaks on. We were bouncing all over the place. At last, we arrived in Fionnphort and I may my wet way to the Seaview B & B. Just a very short walk. I would spend the night there and then catch the ferry to Iona which I could see in the murky distance through the rain. The Seaview' propietor, John, gave me a very warm welcome and showed me to my cozy room. I had an early night and slept with gale force winds singing in the background. Tomorrow if the ferry was able to run, I would take the 10 minute sail to Iona and begin the adventure of the writing retreat.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Tobermory is the colorful waterfront town below.

It is the eve of my return to Scotland. I am looking forward and am nostalgic at the same time. I've been thinking a lot about my first summer on Mull and my conversation with Mary Taylor. We saw kindred spirits in each other and she saw something in my that she thought her brother Robert would see also. Robert came in to the bar at the hotel one night while I was working. Part of my duties entailed helping behind the bar which was next to reception. Robert ordered a pint of Guinness which requires some skill to pull from the tap because it's so foamy. I remember he commented that I had the hang of it, but we were so busy that was about all I remembered except that he was very handsome. Oh,there is so much more about Robert, but that will have to wait.

The summer went by so quickly. I made some wonderful friends. One evening I made plans to meet some of them at the Ceilidh (pronounced Kaylee) Place after I finished at 11:00. There was a band playing that we all liked. So I walked down to the village in the twilight of a beautiful evening. It never gets really dark in the summer. I walked in to the pub and all of my friends shouted my name and greeted me with hugs and ordered my usual pint of lager. It was such a wonderful experience to be in this remote village and be part of the life there. I had achieved what I wanted to achieve.

And now my journey begins again. I will be in Oban the first three days, staying in the Caledonian Hotel on the waterfront. I plan to walk, write, read and breathe in that wonderful sea air whose scent I can conjure up even here in landlocked Indiana.
Next I will take the Calmac ferry for a three hour trip to the Isle of Coll, an island I haven't visited before. I am staying in an ocean facing guest house. (I've already posted a picture of that view on my blog. It looks like a wonderful place to get some writing done, walk the beach and maybe just stare at the ocean. After three days there, I will travel on the ferry back to Oban, catch another ferry across to my beloved Mull, docking at Craignure where I used to live. From there I'll take a bus for an amazing ride across the island to the little village of Fionnphort (pronounced Finnafort). I've been to Fionnphort many times, but only long enough to catch the ferry. I will spend the night at the Seaview Guest House and then spend a little time exploring the village. Perhaps check out the Columba Centre or take a whale watching trip. In the late afternoon I'll take the 10 minute ferry ride to the Isle of Iona and meet up with the writing group for the dinner that initiates the beginning of the retreat. The retreat lasts five days. Five luxurious days devoted to writing and exploring mystical Iona. When the retreat is over I'll travel back across Mull to the town of Tobermory, the capitol of Mull. Where I'll stay with Joan and Angus Milne and meet their son, Angus James, for the first time. Joan is the wonderful lady who was managing the Isle of Mull Hotel and hired me to work there. Angus and his father Jimmy entertained in the hotel lounge singing and playing the guitar and accordian. I am so looking forward to seeing them again. I'll be with them for two days and then it will be time to return to Bloomington. And though I know it sounds like I've got a lot packed in this trip, even as I write it all out, I know it will go way too fast. And I will be thinking about how soon I can get back to Scotland.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

I served as a house maid in the hotel for the first three weeks I was there. It was a tour hotel which means coach tours came in once a week on the Friday night 5:00 ferry. This meant that the previous tours left on Friday morning and all of the rooms had to be stripped and cleaned. It was some of the hardest work I've ever done. The hotel was long and narrow and on several levels separated by five or six steps, no lift. One of the hardest things was getting around with your supplies on a cart. The beds had heavy woolen blankets to stave off the damp sea air. By the end of a day of stripping those blankets my fingers looked like they had been shredded. But I loved it. I took pride in my work. And met some very interesting people. Each morning we would report and get our room list with kind of action each room needed. We would get our supplies organized and then come back to the staff room for our tea. One morning I was at a table with a woman named Mary. She took a drag on her cigarette, squinted at me through the smoke and said to me, "You know things, don't you?". I smiled and said, "Yes and so do you." From that moment on we had a psychic bond and a special connection.

After three weeks there was an opening to work in reception. I asked Mrs. Milne if I could be switched to reception. She agreed and I work behind the front desk and helped out in the bar for the rest of the summer. I got to meet a lot of people and hear some amazing music from the acts who entertained in the lounge at night. We all worked six days and a week with alternating shift times with my day off being Thursday. It was ideal. I would finish a shift on Wednesday at 3:00 and didn't have to report again until Friday at 3:00. So in effect, I had nearly two days off.

On my day off I would sometimes catch a ride with a coach tour and visit Iona or catch the ferry to Oban and shop for more books and have a nice meal out. A few times I took the coach to Tobermory and explored that charming town. When weather permitted, I would take a walk to Torosay Castle and explore the gardens and have tea on the veranda.

One day a young waitress from Australia asked me if I wanted to take a walk up to Java Point north of the hotel. I went with her and was amazed at what I saw when we arrived at the top of the bluff on Java Point. I looked north first at the fishing boats and the hills of Morvern across the Sound of Mull. Then I looked south and saw the lighthouse on Lismore, shining bright white against the dark water. It was the same as in my vision. I was home. Mary was right. I know things.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The castle appeared like a ghost image in the mist. Little did I know that I would have a lovely view of Duart from the Isle of Mull Hotel for the next three months. The ferry soon docked at the tiny village of Craignure. I could see why Mrs. Milne didn't seem too worried about me finding her when I got off the ferry. As promised, she was waiting to take me to the hotel for my interview. She seemed quite young to be managing such a large hotel. Luckily, I had experience cleaning hotel rooms for a friend of mine a few years ago back in the states. She hired me. showed me around the hotel and introduced me to my co-workers and had Irene Parker, house maid and wife of the head chef, show me to the staff block. I had lucked out. The staff were housed in a separte building behind the hotel. Everyone had his or her own room with a shower room and bath and each of the two floors. I really didn't want to live in a dorm-like setting as many of the hotels had. So I was very pleased. I was to return the next afternoon, which was a Friday, the very busiest day in the hotel when the coach tours arrived. I was to get settled in and start work Saturday morning. Success at last! I would be making £95 a week plus room and board. Perfect! I couldn't wait to call home and let everyone know that I had finally found a job.

Journey to Mull

The next morning I caught the 8:00 a.m. ferry to the Isle of Mull. As you can see in the picture, it is quite a large ferry, holding 1,000 passengers and 100 vehicles (both cars and buses). It has a dining hall, coctail bar and upper viewing deck. It was cool that morning, but I rode on the upper deck for the entire forty minute journey. I didn't want to miss a thing. We sailed past the small island of Kerrera and out into the open water of the Sound of Mull. I could seeMovern on the mainland to the right and Mull through the mist on my left. After about 30 minutes, I could see a headland jutting out into the sound. On the edge of it sat the brooding Duart Castle, home of the McLean clan.

Monday, February 2, 2009

The train trip northwest from Glasgow to Oban was an auspicious beginning to my sojourn in Scotland. The train passed through a region called the Trossachs and legendary Loch Lomond. As we headed toward Oban, the "gateway" to the Highlands, the hills turned into dramatic mountains with misty tops. I willed my eyes to become sponges that could soak up all of the beauty, forever stored in my mind's eye. After about two hours, with stops at the depots of tiny villages with names odd to my tongue like: Tyndrum Lower, Taynuilt and Dalmally, the train made its descent into the old Victorian fishing village of Oban. And there was the bay with the little fishing boats bobbing in the waves, the ferry and train terminals and the beautitul old Victorian buildings circling the edge of the bay, then stretching toward the Esplanade were hotels and B & Bs waiting for weary travelers. I had booked ahead at the Thornloe owned by another wonderful hostess named Valerie Bichener who got me settled in and sent me immediately to the Job Centre. I got registered at the Job Centre, everyone was so helpful, but no jobs they had available seemed to fit. I needed a job that also provided living quarters and most of the hotels had done their hiring for the season. I spent about a week on the job trail in Oban at the Thornloe and then at the Roseneath, at that time owned by a wonderful couple, Gwen and Peter Tate, who also helped me in my job search. Since I was on a very tight budget, I made the most of the full Scottish breakfast complete with broiled mushrooms and tomatoes and robust coffee to stave off the coldness from the daily rain. I had brought a rain coat with me, but it turned out to be a wimp in the downpours that blessed Oban. I can only describe that rain as feeling like someone was standing over me with a huge bucket pouring water down my neck. I went to a local department store and bought a wax coat. It was made of heavy canvas with a tartan (don't ever say plaid to a Scotsman) fleece lining and a wax coating. Now THAT is a rain coat. I would skip lunch, still full from breakfast and for dinner would purchase a packet of crisps (potato chips) and a can of juice ( a soft drink). I was beginning to get discouraged when the job search produced nothing and was thinking of going back to Edinburgh where my chances of getting a job might be better. I decided to take the train back there the next day and that night went to the Hungry Mac for a dinner of fish and chips. It had rained all day and I just wanted a cooked meal. I walked into the restaurant and a lady was sitting there with her two young children. She looked at me and smiled and asked me if I was an American. I said yes, but how did she know?As I hadn't spoken yet. She said she had seen me at the newsagents (newspaper stand) that her husband ran in the train station where I had gone to make a call about a job I had seen posted. Her husband had very kindly helped me use the phone to make a long distance call. I think she sensed my lonliness and said that she had to take her kids to their scout meeting in a few minutes, but would I like to have lunch the next day? I could have kissed her! We made plans to meet at the Hungry Mac for lunch the following day. I had a wonderful meal of fish and chips and looked forward to having lunch with this lady named Maragaret. The Scots are such a naturally friendly, helpful people. They truly modeled how I would behave in the future to people who were strangers in my hometown. I spent the rest of the day making one last fruitless trip to the Job Centre and trying to call my friend Michael who was taking care of my finances while I was gone, to have him transfer some money from my savings to my checking, but his phone was uncharacteristically busy. I never reached him. That evening I made my way back up the steep hill to the Roseneath and sat in their common room on the top floor and enjoyed the spectacular view of Oban Bay and the Isle of Mull. The first night I had sat in that room shortly after my arrival in Oban, after a few hours, I finally realized that it was 10:00 p.m. and it was still daylight. We were on the same latitude as Iceland and the summer nights never got completely dark, more like a twilight. The next morning after breakfast I headed to a hotel where I had a lead on a job. No luck. I then went to the train station and checked on the timetable for the train back to Edinburgh. I was feeling pretty low when I went to meet Margaret for lunch. I loved the area and the people and really wanted to stay there. I arrived at the Hungry Mac before Margaret and got a table. I waited and waited and she never arrived. I walked back to the train station to ask her husband, the newsagent, if he knew where she might be. She hadn't told him about asking me to lunch, no help there. By this time I had missed the train I was planning to catch. I was near the Job Centre so I thought I might as well give it one more try. They had been trying to reach me at the Roseneath all morning. They had a job listing for a housemaid at the Isle of Mull Hotel in Craignure. It paid 90 pounds a week and included room and board. Perfect! They called the manageress, Joan Milne, we spoke and made an appointment for an interview the next day. I was to take the first ferry and she would pick me up at the dock. I retrieved my suitcase from the locker at the train station, called Peter and Gwen to book a room for one more night. They were very excited for me. They said Mull was lovely and the hotel was very nice. A pattern was emerging for me in Scotland. People seemed to appear who sped me on my way. I never saw Margaret again, but she kept me off the train to Edinburgh and put me on the path to a summer on the Isle of Mull.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Before I arrived in Scotland, I "saw" two images. The first was a room with tiny pink roses on a delicate patterned paper. The second was a lighthouse viewed down a narrow body of water from a high bluff. I didn't know what they meant, but I kept them tucked awayf for further reference. I had had such a busy semester that by the time I finally arrived in Edinburgh on the train from my BUNAC orientation in London, I was exhausted. I went to the Tourist Centre just outside Waverly Station. They booked a room for me at a B & B and I caught the bus to make my way to The Knolls and its amazing proprietress, Allison Fairbairn. She was waiting outside for me, wisked me and my suitcase into her lovely home. Settle me into the conservatory with tea, fresh scones and red raspberries from her garden. I was in heaven. I read for a while and she showed me to my room upstairs. And there was the rose wallpaper! I knew I was on the right path. I showered and slid under the downy duvet and slept without moving until morning when the aroma of rich coffee wafted up the stairs. After a full Scottish breakfast, I returned to my room and read and slept and read and slept. I don't think Mrs. Fairbairn knew quite what to do with me in the house, she was used to her guests being out and about. I just I had to get my energy renewed. Later that day I took the bus downtown and booked a day tour through the Kingdom of Fife for the next day. I walked around Edinburgh and visited the oldest pub in Old Towne, met a couple of chaps from Glasgow with thick Glaswegian accents. They told me their stories and we had a few lagers and lots of laughs. The next day I'm on a bus to the Kingdom of Fife, where there were villages with wonderful names like Pittenweem, Ainstruther and Crail. Also the ruins of Linlithgow Palace where Mary Queen of Scots was born. We also made a stop in the Village of St. Andrews where I had no luck obtaining a job. But it was all so beautiful and a day well spent. The following day I told Mrs. Fairbairn I was going to take the train to the west coast and make my way to Iona. She kept asking me what my "plan" was. When I told her I came to Scotland to look for a summer job, she didn't seem to think that was much of a "plan". She offered to drive me to the train station and made me promise to write or call when I got settled so that she would know that the "crazy" American was alright. Next stops... Glasgow Queen Street Station andthe train to the fishing village of Oban, my home for the next week and my base of operations for the Job Search.