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.