After having been on some of the smaller islands, Arran feels big and a bit like the mainland. You can get up to 30mph on some of the roads and of course there are several small towns with shops … and everything. We arrived on the Claonaig ferry at Loch Ranza with the intention of driving round the southern half of the island and ending up in Brodick. The day was breezy with bright sparkling sunshine so the scenery was fantastic and driving through places like Dougarie and Machrie was a real pleasure. By the time we reached Blackwaterfoot, however, it was scone time so we pulled up at the Best Western Kinloch Hotel, the biggest and most obvious place in town … however big and obvious is not necessarily the best. The place was going like a fair so definitely not an intimate coffee shop ambience however service was efficient and friendly enough and our fruit scones arrived in double quick time. Fruit, turned out to be cherry, which I suppose is fruit, but not what we had been expecting. Nevertheless they were quite good, though it was a shame about the scooshie cream that quickly dissolved into something more akin to milk. Arran is big and does not feel as remote as some of the smaller islands .. but, you are quickly reminded that it is very much an island .. hardly any mobile reception .. wifi, what’s that?? Also, like many of the west coast islands everyone here seems to be English, though some have been here so long they could probably qualify as locals. Scotland wants to encourage immigration so it is great that so many feel they would like to settle here and leave the fast pace of life in London and the south behind. It is not difficult to see why they choose Arran, it’s a very beautiful island.
The Boathouse is a great spot near to the ferry terminal at Ardminish Bay on Gigha. It has a wide range of food on offer and is open into the evening for dinner and drinks. Unfortunately when we visited it seemed to be in a state of chaos with staff doing headless chicken impersonations. Although it was not busy we waited a long time before having to ask to be served .. not good! The situation only seemed to be resolved with the return of the manageress or owner, not sure which. It has won several awards and people we spoke to praised it quite highly so hopefully this was just a temporary blip … Gigha is not exactly bristling with fancy eateries so we sincerely hope so. When they eventually arrived, our tea and scones were quite good and it was great to be sitting outside with the sun on our backs. They were nicely presented on a small bread board with a wedge of butter but it was a pity the cream was not quite up to the ‘clotted’ standard. Standards are not quite up to the mark in that disgrace of a place, the House of Lords, where the honourable Lord in charge of standards has reportedly been found snorting cocaine off the breasts of prostitutes .. all paid for by you and I. They set the bar that high so they can then decide what is good for the rest of us! The Boathouse, on the other hand, is a far superior House and, if time had allowed, we would have tried an evening meal because the menu looked very enticing .. next time!
God must be bemused at the shenanigans of the Labour party seemingly intent on ripping itself apart in it’s leadership elections, both in the UK and Scotland. He must wonder how on earth they could get themselves into such a mess. So it is that we find ourselves heading for God’s Island, Gigha, not in search of answers, because we are sure even He does not have any, but simply to get away from it all because it is too painful to watch. Tayinloan, on the Mull of Kintyre, is the jumping off point for Gigha and so we find ourselves in Big Jessie’s tearoom, waiting for the ferry and having a scone. There appears to be some confusion about the name of this place .. it is either Big Jessie’s tearoom, or the Ferry Inn .. think we prefer Big Jessie’s tearoom. It is a great wee place that someone has worked hard to create and maintain in its spotless condition with a wide range of goodies on offer. We just had a few minutes so it was one of Lorraine’s home baked scones while sitting outside in the sunshine. Very friendly staff and the scones were brilliant, well done Lorraine .. topscone award. No idea who Big Jessie is, or was, but she sounds like the sort of woman who could sort out the Labour party! If she can, then maybe she could move on to the Tory party and sort them out as well .. or is that too much to ask, even for Big Jessie.
Tarbert is not exactly overburdened with café-culture type establishments and that’s a shame because it could do with some. Of course it is easy for the likes of us to swan in to a town like this and be super critical simply because we are used to something different .. we don’t have to maintain a place through the winter when visitors are few and far between .. if not completely absent, otherwise Starbucks or Costa would have set up long ago. However, if there is a really good coffee shop in Tarbert, you need to shout louder because we could not find you. The town itself is built round the harbour which is not nearly as busy as it once was with fishing and now features an extensive marina which you would think would bring in a fair amount of money but in fact, the whole place looks a wee bit run down and tired. It does not help the overall impression when you eventually find a coffee shop situated in a building that would not have looked out of place in the old Soviet Russia … if Argyll has a town planning department it has some very serious questions to answer! Anyway, Lite Bites has a certain utilitarian feel to it as well, probably inspired by the building, but it is busy busy, so the hard working folks running it are doing something right and seem to get on well with the local people. Our scones were okay but as you might expect in a no-frills kind of place, presentation was a touch on the austere side. Hopefully Lite Bites and Tarbert itself will get a bit of a facelift before long.
Wow, what an amazing place this is! On our way back from Edinburgh airport we decided to visit the EICA at Ratho. Having spent most of my youth hitchhiking to Glencoe every weekend in order to do silly things on rock faces it was both fascinating and slightly disturbing to see what was going on here. Fascinating in the sense that there were loads of people doing all sorts of climbs in absolute safety, and disturbing because this, for me at least, seemed to detract from the essence of rock climbing where there was always an element of risk .. sometimes quite a big element. The complete absence of risk was all a bit strange and I wondered how transferable the skills learned here would be to a relatively unstable rock face covered in creepy crawlies in freezing cold rain. Perhaps they are not meant to transfer and remain steadfastly within environments such as this magnificent arena. I guess it is whatever turns you on. Anyway, in the interests of indulging my risk taking tendencies, a scone seemed like a good bet. They only had orange scones left .. now that is risky. Maybe not as risky as the youngest MP (only 20) to enter the Commons for over 100 years delivering a first class hard hitting maiden speech only to be largely ignored by the media .. what a shame. Turned out that the orange scone was not that risky after all because it was actually rather good and a new experience for both of us. The EICA has loads of facilities for toddlers to pensioners .. a wonderful discovery .. we will be back.
Today the European banks and the EU seem to have arrived at some sort of agreement over the Greek problem which you might think would be cause for all round celebration, however, no one looks happy about the outcome, both sides are uneasy and jittery! No wonder, it seems incredulous that they can bring the country to its knees, completely wreck its economy, and then see it as a good bet for another £50bn loan .. it would make me jittery. To get the loan Greece has to transfer £50bn worth of assets to the Institute of Luxembourg which is owned by a German company chaired by none other than Wolfgang Schauble .. the German finance minister who has been leading the negotiations. Meanwhile, back in Scotland on a day like today, even in picturesque South Queensferry where there are a lot of cafés, you just want to get in out of the rain and we chose the Jitter Bean Café & Barista simply because it was the closest to where our car was parked .. not because the name reflected in any way the situation in Europe. There is a slightly utilitarian look about the café interior and when we arrived we had to go and look for someone to attend to us .. not a great start. All was forgiven however when the scones arrived, they were delicious and homebaked by one of the ladies behind the counter. Coffee was also good and there was lashings of jam and cream with the scones. The service was very friendly and cheery in the end. The staff try very hard and there’s lots of community involvement as well which is always a good thing. If anything the Jitter Bean just needs to pay more attention to details .. only one ordinary towel in the single toilet .. our table needed a wipe, etc. No website so link below is to FaceBook. At the end of the day it gets one of our ‘topscone’ awards and there aren’t that many of them around .. well done.
What a find this turned out to be. We have been coming up this road for years and Taynuilt is not a place we have ever stopped .. until now. Having left Oban with the express purpose of finding a scone on the way home we had been disappointed by several places that either did not do scones or were closed .. or whatever. So we were happy to see the sign for the Robin’s Nest Tearoom and decided to give it a try. Taynuilt is actually bigger than we imagined with quite a few houses tucked away off the main road. This is an old established tearoom though it has existed in various guises e.g. a doctors surgery, at various points in its history. When we arrived it was very busy and it did not take us long to find out why .. it is a little lost treasure. Now Taynuilt folks will dispute that it is lost but it has certainly been lost to us as we have driven past many times not realising it was there. It is a little bit of a throwback with nothing pretentious or flashy and we got the feeling that they just specialised in what we would call “good old fashioned service’ with lots of local arts and crafts and community information. When we asked if they had wifi the answer was “oh no”, and somehow that response seemed perfectly fitting. In spite of this however we did manage to discover that we were to get a fifth granddaughter in January and that news may have made us look at the place through slightly rose tinted glasses . Unfortunately, even rose tinted glasses can’t help with the media which is full of stories about Scotland’s economy being a complete basket case, unable to sustain itself without the beneficence of England. Does it ever occur to those making the argument that if it were true , which it patently is not, then presumably that state of affairs must have been brought about by the very Union that they feverishly seek to preserve. It does make you wonder at their logic. However, everything in the Robin’s Nest was rosy and logical .. our scones were fantastic and so was everything else .. great place.
The tiny island of Easdale once had a population of over 500, all of whom were employed in the slate mining industry which exported as far as Australia, Canada and New Zealand. The last slate was cut in the 1950s and most of the houses are now holiday homes with a steady population of around 60. Easdale island lies off another island, Seil, but you can reach Seil via the Bridge over the Atlantic.
There is no bridge to Easdale however so to get there from Seil you have to press two buttons simultaneously on the jetty at Ellenabeich village to summon the little ferry boat which only takes a couple of minutes to do the crossing. Once on Easdale the whole island is car free … so peace and quiet reigns supreme, just the sound of the sea and the birds, what a great place for kids to play. However this idyll is broken every September when hordes of enthusiasts descend on the place for the annual World Stone Skimming Championships which takes place in one of the old quarries. You have the choice of one pub, the Puffer Bar and Restaurant, take it or leave it. Luckily it is a wee gem and on a wonderful warm day it was like a little bit of heaven sitting outside in the sunshine with our homebaked scones and homemade jam .. ours was bramble and lime. The scones were wonderfully light and the tea delicious. As we read that the new euro is to be printed on Greece proof paper this really does seem like another world.
The Isle of Luing (pronounced Ling) is not one we have ever been on before so we were not only excited to be visiting but also to find that in the capital, Cullipool, there was the Atlantic Islands Centre .. with a café. When we got there it had only been open a couple of weeks but was already proving to be a major hit with both islanders and visitors. Having been many years in the planning and construction it now provides a community based cultural centre for the island with loads of local history and genealogy information. Most importantly, of course, it has the only café/ restaurant on the island .. prior to this, going out for a coffee would have involved a ferry trip so it is not difficult to understand why it is popular. There are two main population centres on the island, Cullipool and Toberonochy which together amount to 90% of the population of about 200. There are no street names the houses are just numbered e.g. 17 Cullipool, and so on. As always in these ‘out of the way’ places the staff were extremely helpful and friendly and on our first visit we were served by a lovely girl on a two week holiday from Poland visiting relatives.
We were impressed that she could come over to somewhere like Luing and end up with a job .. especially when everyone on the island seems to have at least three or four jobs. Okay, like most of the jobs in the restaurant, it was on a voluntary basis, but admirable nevertheless. Unfortunately our scones were not so admirable .. seemed like they had been deep frozen or something. Despite this it is a great place and we have no doubt that it will develop into a fantastic resource for the island. The island is probably best known for its now defunct slate mining industry but it is also the place where Luing cattle were first developed by the Cadzow family in 1947 from a cross between Beef Shorthorn and Highland cattle. These hardy beasts and are now found all over the world in areas where the climate, like Scotland’s, can be less than balmy. The climate in Parliament today may be less than balmy as MPs discuss EVEL (English Votes for English Laws). Earlier this week the Scotland Bill was agreed by 58 of Scotland’s 59 MPs but failed because it was voted down by English MPs .. almost enough to make you choke on your scone.
We stopped off at Port Appin for a break and of course the Pierhouse Hotel is the place to go for any kind of refreshment. It is a beautiful spot with the little ferry running back and forth to the Isle of Lismore so there is always something going on .. though in a peaceful kind of way. With so many horrendous things going on all over the world this little oasis on the west coast of Scotland seems like it is on another planet … where everything is just fine. Grexit, Syria, Tunisia are all far far away. And yet, even here, little niggles creep in. They tell us that Scotland cannot survive on its own, that we take more than we give to the Union. So why oh why does the party that refuses to subsidise a disabled person’s spare bedroom so desperately want to continue to subsidise a whole nation .. perplexing! You will be happy to hear that this conundrum did little to disturb the relaxed atmosphere on the shores of Loch Linnhe. Our scones were fantastic and came with lots of jam and cream, and a big pot of coffee. The Pierhouse is a few miles off the main road but is well worth the detour. It has a superb seafood restaurant with beautiful views over the loch towards Castle Stalker, Lismore and beyond .. the place just oozes quality.