Sunday, August 09, 2009

Highlands and Islands

Yesterday saw only my second trip to a Scottish island (the other being the now legendary trip to Gigha) - this is a rather paltry number of islands for having lived in Scotland for seven years. The new island I went to was Arran, which is one of the closest and most accesible from Glasgow.

To get there you can take the CalMac ferry from Ardrossan. We got the first train from Glasgow to Ardrossan that supposedly connected up with the 9.45am ferry. However, on arrival we found a massive queue that meant there was no chance of getting on the ferry we'd planned. There were at least 300 slightly annoyed people left with us at the ferry terminal, at which we weren't allowed to use the waiting room, and so had to brave the elements outside. Because there was a Highland Games in Brodick (one of the main villages on Arran) there were a few extra ferries on, so we waited for the 11.30am crossing. Again this was filled before we made it on (in fact it was mainly filled with pre-booked car passengers, so hardly anyone from the queue got on). After this we had to make the decision as to whether to bother waiting for the 12.30 crossing (it was to be the big 600 seater ferry) and thought that given we'd already waited 2 hours we may as well sit it out for another hour. We did however get given a boarding card for the ferry that we were told would guarantee us a place on it, and were allowed to actually wait inside in the waiting room (in which, for some reason, they'd decided to not open their cafe despite apparently being their busiest day of the year). When the ferry arrived everyone rushed to get on, but we thought we'd let the queue diminish a bit before we attempted boarding, safe in the knowledge that we had our "guaranteed" boarding card. However, on getting to the gang plank the CalMac employee who had guaranteed our place on the ship and told us we could go off and wait inside decided he'd refuse us boarding and told us we should have been there earlier (we'd been waiting for 3 hours by then, so I don't think we could really have been any earlier!). We started arguing our case and fortunately the guy from on the boat decided to let us on. Needless to say the first few hours of our trip did not give me a good impression of CalMac, especially as while we were queueing we were given no information about what was going on and just had to rely on hearsay and chinese whispers from other, equally irate, people in the queue.

Anyway, we did eventually make it out to Brodick by about 1.30pm. Our main plan was to climb Goat Fell and this is exactly what we did. We walked passed the Highland Games site, most of which had taken part in the morning and we'd therefore missed. The base of Goat Fell (and Brodick) was alternatively sunny and overcast, but the summit was completely hidden in a cloud, which we hoped would clear by the time we reached it. It didn't clear. Due to the cloud we had no idea of how far it would be to the top (our visibility was about 20-30m, which enabled us to see the path, but not much else), but had many false dawns when we thought we spotted the peak only to find it to be nothing of the sort. We passed one group who were on the way down and asked them how much further it would be and they looked quite dejected and said it just kept going on and on - I didn't believe them, but they proved to be right. Despite this it was still a fun climb though and we made the top in just over two hours - there was obviously no view! They way down was a less dispiriting experience, but was quite harsh on the legs and knees. It only took about an hour and a half to get down and it was glorious to get out of the cloud and see Brodick harbour again.

The other plan we had, being on Arran, was to have some Arran Blonde beer. We didn't want to miss our only chance of a ferry home (the last one being at 7.15pm), so instead of heading straight to the pub we dragged ourselves, on tired legs, to the ferry terminal to check on the length of the queue. It wasn't too large, so we risked a brief trip to the pub. Around this time there were a few pipe bands marching down the main street who'd been there for the games. After our pint we went back to the ferry terminal where all the pipe bands had gathered and were playing for the queueing crowds. Now I don't mind the odd lone piper, but I didn't find that the pipe bands sounded very pleasant. That's maybe just because I'm English, or it could be just that the pipe bands I heard weren't very good, or were drunk (I think a lot of the pipers had been drinking most of the day), but really it wasn't something that could be listened to for any great length of time - unfortunately we did have to listen to it for a considerable length of time as they all boarded the ferry and continued playing (there are also only so many times you can hear Scotland the Brave and Flower of Scotland!)

As we crossed the sea and made it back to Ardrossan the sun came out and everything looked lovely. It was good to get out for the day and was a fun walk, but I hope my next trip to an island goes slightly more smoothly.