After about 15 minutes and only one car speeding past us, I was rethinking this euphoric hitch hiking adventure. It’s dark. Winter. Scotland. Wet jeans. Cold hands. All of it didn’t add up. Two old broads with backpacks and waning enthusiasm. On a desolate island . You have heard of the road less traveled? Well we were on it and it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. I shouldn’t speak for Heli. She’s not old…and she such a free spirit she probably was invested in the adventure, maybe even having fun. But not me. I had one foot in and one foot out. I felt like I was in a Woody Allen movie and I was playing Woody himself. Neurotic, worried, skiddish about what might or might not happen next. Where were we going to stay if and when we got there? Would we even see the Xmas tree lighting.? We’d called B and B’s and none answered. Shut down for the winter. The same was true for the hostel. Shut down for the winter. Eek, there was no limit to the amount of conjured scenarios that could possibly go wrong. But look, up ahead, that car that sped past came to a holt and the driver jumped out and cleared his tools off the backseat and we were on our way once again.
We made it to Tobermory in time for the lighting of the tree and the harbor. Every shop was opened and was serving wine and beer and cookies and other hors d’oeuvres. It was quaint and simple and seemed just right. Kids were running everywhere. There was a choir singing under the clock tower that later roamed from shop to shop. The choir was roaming, not the tower.
We found a room at the Mishnish Hotel,that much to our surprise,had a gigantic tub with very hot water! This had been on our wish list of accommodations away from the hostel (which only has a weak little dribble of a shower).
We stayed two nights, took lots of baths, and had the time of our lives. We met the lady who owns the Tobermory Cat. Three books have been written about this comical local cat. She owns a very curious shop filled with hardwear type merchandise and old Chinese artifacts, vintage guitars and ukuleles and various antique lamps. One could spend hours milling around finding unusual things. I was able to buy things I couldn’t get on Iona. Shoelaces for my hiking boots. A crochet hook. A kilt pin. A full set of gorgeous Faber Castell pastels in a tin case, and of course,the Tobermory Cat book that showed the cat out and about in Tobermory. It’s very funny and added much to our adventure to see this silly cat lounging around town in all sorts of predicaments and scenarios. We laughed our heads off at his antics.
We also visited the coop as Heli calls it, and now everyone at the hostel calls it the coop. Heli has a thick Finnish accent and is very creative with her English. The coop is the co op to the rest of us. But we liked her version so now it’s the coop for all of us. Gathering enough affordable groceries is always a priority for all of us. The small store on Iona called the Spar is expensive and limited in its variety.
We especially enjoyed our visit to the art center up the hill . There was a lovely show about ice and snow with many scenes I already recognized. Ben Mor was depicted in a few of the landscapes. It’s a beautiful snow capped mountain I see daily on my walk. Looking across the Sound of Iona over to the large island of Mull one only has to find the what looks like an island itself called the Berg. Just behind that , one sees Ben Mor standing like a chocolate dusted in powdered sugar. The ice show had some lovely contemporary pieces as well as some wonderful abstracts represented. The center is also a bookstore and cafe, so it was a great place to hangout. It had a gift shop also,where I was able to get some Xmas presents.
The second night was completely different than the night we first arrived with all the festivities that had been going on. The town was dead. Streets empty. After an uneventful Chinese dinner, Heli really wanted chocolate cake. We were told to go to the far end of the pier to a restaurant that was painted red. We had the best, biggest piece of fudge cake you could imagine all smothered in custard and ice cream. It definetly made up for the ho hum Chinese we’d just eaten. Both of us were ready to leave. Tomorrow was Sunday. Buses don’t run on Sunday. Hitch hiking may prove to be difficult. Not much traffic this time of year. Just as the restaurant was about to close, in walks Mike from Mike for Hire Transportation. There was our ride for the last leg of our trip. On to Dervaig!
Dervaig is a small village of less than 100 people. It has a row of very neat little white Croft style houses all facing each other. The Inn was closed for the winter. Heli came to see the church there with its beautiful stained-glass windows. Even though it was cold we sat inside for a long time. We took pictures. We turned on the lights. We sat in many different pews. We read captions and brochures. We took it all in. We would be back for the 2:00 service. But by now we were hungry. The restaurant at the Inn wasn’t open. The bar was only serving drinks. Scotland closes down in winter. So we walked through the village to the Spar/post office and ate huddled on an old leather sofa watching the locals come and go as they bought groceries. We were happy to be out of the weather. We had cucumbers and cheese and bread with hot chocolate from a vending machine.
The congregation of about 12 was so happy to have visitors. They chatted at us like a brood of hens. There was one male in the group. He told me the church was an arts and crafts building built at the turn of the century. But the bottom half of the building looks older because it is built out of stone like older structures. The walls were very thick. One could see this by looking through the window wells. We felt very welcome. We were chosen to light the Avent Candle at the appropriate time in the service. The minister gave a very meaningful sermon about advent. She wore a green outfit , a dog collar ,
she called it and was a minister who travelled around to various churches fulfilling her duties as vicar to these small communities. She had a dog tied to a pew who was friendly and well behaved. I was glad we went to the service. It felt appropriate and advent felt meaningful for the first time in many years.
When we left the church it was dark. Oh no, not another scenario of uncertainty! So I went over to the Vicar as she was loading her dog in the back of her car and asked her if she was going anywhere near Craignure. That was her destination. Can you hear my sigh of relief! It amazed me this young women travels these desolute roads all alone and such long distances. Perhaps that’s why she has the dog with her. She said if we couldn’t find shelter for the night, we could stay at her Croft with her husband and herself. But it is very cold and said we should see if we could find someplace else to stay, and she’d be a backup.
Now it’s really dark and the cold has made me a little crazy. I have visions of my fingers turning purple and dropping off. I wonder if I will die of exposure. The nice minister with the polite dog is gone down the hiway and is now out of sight. Heli sensing my woe walks along way to an Inn which she comes back and reports has a room. She encourages me to go warm myself by the fire.I do. But I feel guilty about her out there in the cold trying to get a ride for us. So I go back along the road and find Heli. Almost immediately a car pulls up along side us.
What are the chances of getting a ride to Fionnsphort? It’s the end of the road. The ferry to Iona is there. But as fate would have it she was going to a place a mile from our destination! She lived at Finnhorn and was giving a workshop on a small island nearby. We had a chance to talk since we were in the car over an hour. She’s a therapist, leads workshops, is
a follower of Byron Katie who wrote Loving What Is . I love Byron Katie ! Who are these people out here on the roads of Scotland that are so interesting, educated and creative? It looks so bleak and unpopulated. ( I’m tired of writing now, but coming over on the ferry the other day I met a film maker who does set designs and lives in Tobermory but does work for a London-based company and the there was the photographer who lived on Mull ……