With school finally wrapped up by the end of June, July was our time to hit the road for our Tour de Scotland. While we still plan to make other trips, including directly north towards the Orkneys, July’s trip covered much of the the Highlands and Inner and Outer Hebrides.
The trip was full of things Scottish. We got very far away from the standard tourist, which always gives me confidence that we’re experiencing a real, local Scotland, and not a manufactured image of it.
Local point of view
We had several conversations that were better than educational. One old fisherman chatted with us at a cafe. He spoke of recently selling his boat, and moments later, in walked a slightly younger fellow who, we learned, was the man who’d purchased the old fisherman’s boat. The old fisherman said something to the effect of: “Well ya don think I’d sell my boat if I didn’t know I could keep an eye on it, do ya?” So he’d handed over the title, but in spirit, the boat was still his.
We learned that on the Isle of Mull, the population is so small, that after primary school the students must be shipped to the mainland for schooling. As of middle school the government pays for the students to be boated to Oban where the children board in a sort of hostel from Monday – Friday in order to attend school. They return by boat on Friday nights. Essentially, a public boarding school arrangement. The 20-something university graduate we spoke with (as they say here “chatted to”) said she appreciated the experience as she felt she set her educational goals earlier, and higher, because of the extra effort it took to achieve her pre-uni education.
We drove to the far southwestern end of the Isle of Mull, in the portion called the Ross of Mull, at Fionnphort. It was a heinous drive (read: thank God we had wine in the boot as a reward once we finally reached our destination). The path offers only one real petrol station (we think we saw another small, rusty one at a car repair garage) and the entire drive is bumpy, dirty, and one-lane. You end up driving at a crawl through many mountains because as you cruise around corners you won’t know if a car is coming directly toward you on the same path until you hit it. So you proceed, constantly ready to pull off the road. (Steve did the white-knuckle drives.)
When we spoke to cafe keepers in Fionnphort about how hard it must be to get groceries in the winter, they said “Naw – It’s not bad at all. We just call Tesco! Tesco delivers you know.” Well yes, we knew Tesco, a large grocer, delivers. But we assumed they deliver to easy-to-access places in major metros. How is it that Tesco makes it easy to get food to the western edge of the Isle of Mull, when mere humans can barely get there? “They come by boat” the cafe workers explained.
What a marketer’s dream: Tesco to the rescue! Through wind, rain, snow, mountains, seas – to islands and isthmuses … we’ll deliver your cottage pie before your tummy grumbles. You can’t make that stuff up.
A Wee Room with a View
We recently had dinner with a doctor who, during his summer holidays, does some work in another hard-to-reach area west of Fort William. He said it’s a really tough gig out there for doctors because they are on call 100% of the time and they do make house calls. So it’s a lot of work with almost no backup resources. Life in the more rural areas is truly different. In the US and in many countries around the world, with a Target/Walmart/Big Box grocers in every town and a Starbucks on every corner, it’s hard to really see a different way of life when you travel. Nice that we saw something different by getting off the beaten path, even if we had to sleep for one weird night in the ‘Wee Bunk House,’ a bunk room built out of a garage that sits in the middle of a parking lot.
From the goofy little–‘wee’–bunk house we had these views all to ourselves (and the little blue fishing boat wasn’t there for show. A fisherman took it out on the loch.).
So whether you are at the Waldorf Astoria or the Wee Bunk House, soak up something delicious around you – life is short. We send our love to everyone at home – somewhere on Earth.
Pictures: 600 or so of them…
View the full set of Tour de Scotland pictures here. If you are a fan of the outdoors, you’ll enjoy the show.
You can also browse pictures from The Open golf champions here.