Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Easter in the Inner Hebrides

Running on Ulva
Walking a trail on Ulva, showing snow on Ben More
     I think it can be safely said without fear of contradiction from my wonderful partner that large lumps of our eight day Easter holiday in Scotland are best forgotten. For starters, we worried about ever reaching our planned destination. A petrol shortage due to a threatened strike by tanker drivers had precipitated panic buying so many of the pumps were empty. Garages that still had petrol were 'making hay while the sun shines' and selling at vastly inflated prices to needy holiday motorists, i.e. at £1.43.9 for a litre of Unleaded.      Notwithstanding, we reached the ferry terminal in Oban with time to spare and three hours later were setting up a wild camp at Loch na Keal on the west coast of the Isle of Mull. At night it rained, and rained, while thick clag descended from Ben More almost to sea level.
    The following morning, still swathed in mist and drizzly rain, we packed and moved to the island of Ulva for a couple of nights, farther away from the high hills where we assumed there'd be less precipitation.
At Whale Bay - before the snow
    We were right, and enjoyed a sunny 4 mile walk from the ferry to our 'secret camp' by the south facing shore only feet away from the sea. As usual, the seals were there to greet us, a solitary heron stalked the seaweed covered rocks on the opposite shoreline while greylag geese bugled back and forth across the bay.
    Out of the sunshine it was bitterly cold, in sharp contrast to the unnaturally warm temperatures of the previous couple of weeks. Instead of shorts and t-shirts we were back to winter thermals under various other wind-stopping layers. On a 4 mile morning run we were amazed to see Ben More, just across the water, plastered with fresh snow.
Beasties sheltering from the wind at Fidden Farm
    On a subsequent walk to Whale Bay hunting for otters we too were caught in a brief but vicious little snow flurry. And if that wasn't enough it showered us with stinging hailstones. But patches of primroses, a trail strewn with early violets and a thrush singing from the ruins of an old croft cheered us on our way.
    After three days we moved to an official campsite at Fidden Farm opposite the sacred island of Iona and once again pitched our tent in a delectable grassy spot only yards from the sea. But apart from another short run and a few bumbly walks very little got done due to wild, wet and windy weather.
Iona Abbey before the arrival of the pilgrims
    Unlike last Easter, the campsite was almost deserted, causing the lady owner to complain bitterly of the lost revenue. Lambing time had not yet begun so the lucky wee creatures were still tucked up in warm wombs. A herd of cows, along with their calves and a huge lumbering bull, spent an awful lot of time sheltering in the lee of the old farm cottage.
    Our last day was spent on Iona where a host of pilgrims had crossed the water for the annual Easter Day service in the Abbey. Between hundreds of Allelujas the leader of the Iona Community, Rev Peter MacDonald, preached a relevant message on the meaning of the resurrection, how it was so totally unexpected and how it dramatically changed the lives of those who witnessed it and all those, including us, who later came to hear and accept the astonishing news of the risen Christ. They were never the same people again, nor ever could be. We came away refreshed, uplifted and renewed in faith.
Sunset from our wee tent
Early birthday for 'Yours truly'
After the service we moved back onto Mull for an early getaway on the first ferry back to the mainland the following morning. That evening I was treated to a mouthwatering seafood meal and fruity wine at the Mediterranea restaurant in Salen which, I'm told, marked the start of my 80th birthday celebrations. My daughter, Sue, recently began her 60th birthday celebrations with cards and presents many days prior to the actual event. "I'm having a birthday week, it's brilliant" she said on Facebook. With a month to go I suppose the same can be said of mine.
    So, in spite of inclement weather, a soggy tent, chilled bones and other inconveniences we'd rather forget, I suppose it can be said that all's well that ends well. What can also be said, and agreed upon, is that we'll never take our tent to the Hebrides again so early in the year.


  1. Sorry you had such bad weather--the pictures are spectacular. What a place to celebrate the Easter holiday!

    1. The island of Iona is a very special place at Easter time with a great atmosphere inside the old Abbey.

  2. looks like you had better weather than us here in cape Town over Easter... 1.43 for a liter of petrol!!! here it works out to just less that 1.00 and we think it's bad...

  3. I am forever marveling at your adventures and the beautiful landscape you run in. I don't like roughing it at the best of times :) so you're my new hero.
    Hope you're feeling warmer.

    My Running Shortz

    1. Thanks Barbara, but I don't feel like a hero. Should be running at a Track & Field meeting tonight but still thawing out!

  4. What a way to spend the holiday. Your pictures and writing are inspiring.

  5. My husband tried to convince me to go camping in Derbyshire this week, but I thought it might be too cold at night at this time of year. You are very hardy!