Soft pinks, knobbled vines and branches. Warm damp air, artificial rivers with koi and flowerless lily pads. The winds high outside the glasshouses. Hush from here on out.
D and I are back from Oban, where we spent a delightful Thursday night to Saturday morning. In the Friday pictures, there is a tinge of the delicate, low sun that never exceeded a forty-five degree angle above the earth. The waters of the bay were glassy and shallow, and the weather dry: this state of affairs is highly unusual, being that Oban is on the West Coast of Scotland, where the rain spends a good deal of its time (though I gather it counts permanent residence on the really big green island next door) pattering the soil, eating away at the cliffs, and making sure the woodlands and any feasibly-situated permanent human structures have a good coating of moss to them.
Below is a taste of the town, which wraps around the horseshoe bay, and tucks itself amongst some smaller hills. The structure at the top of the hill in view is McCaig’s Tower, or McCaig’s Folly, built around 1900 by a ‘essayist, philanthropist and banker’ as it says on the plaque on the walls of it. Mr John Stuart McCaig, wealthy narcissist, planned the design himself, but got a little ahead of himself.
From Wikipedia: “McCaig’s intention was to provide a lasting monument to his family, and provide work for the local stonemasons during the winter months. McCaig was an admirer of Roman and Greek Architecture, and had planned for an elaborate structure, based on the Colosseum in Rome. His plans allowed for a museum and art gallery with a central tower to be incorporated. Inside the central tower he planned to commission statues of himself, his siblings and their parents. His death brought an end to construction with only the outer walls completed.”
In one of his wills, McCaig tried to set up the tower as a charitable place, on the grounds that it would be leased to the stone artists who were making the statues of himself and his family meant to adorn it. But ah – “In a landmark ruling the Court of Session decided that the tower was not a charity as it was self-advertisement and not in the general public good.” So the town has this quite lovely monument to vanity, half built, sitting like a crown on top of its head.
After puffing up the hill, we walked down and through the town – too many photos to put up here – and later went to the island of Mull, but not until 4pm since we had missed the previous ferry at 12pm. Some things might do to be planned for, but we were happy just to take things with a slow spontaneity. All we had was the journey out to the island, there and back again – since the buses that were supposed to take us around the island inexplicably would not return for the 7pm ferry. Never mind, it was one of the most beautiful ferry rides I’ve ever taken. I did do them regularly once upon a time, between the isle of Skye and the mainland. That was more gloomy than not, with the sight of the crumbling Castle Moil to greet you on the way home.
The route to Mull passes not one but two castles, one on the mainland who has made good acquaintance with the rain:
And another that seems an outpost in a bleak world:
The crossing was calm, but we were told by a chatty fellow passenger that in bad weather the shallows around the islands – which even on that day were making little white horses to indicate their presence – can produce large breakers and make the going rough.
Despite the lack of time to go adventuring on Mull, and the awful weather of the following day that sent us home on the train early, it was without doubt, worth the journey.
That ghostly pink peak is
Ben Nevis, Ben Cruachan (thanks for the correction Stramash!) known as the Hollow Mountain because there’s a hydroelectric power station inside of it (one that can be toured, and I do intend to do this some time). Lastly, for now, a picture from the train southwards:
D read law, and I snapped what I could of the rain-blurred scenery, in between reading something I picked up for the ride. I had at last reached my self set two week deadline with Smollett – more of him later – and begun on what seemed an appropriate novel for a passage from Highlands to Lowlands, And The Land Lay Still, by James Robertson. Or, A Beginner’s Guide to the Case for Scottish Independence, as I like to think of it. Though the book is a light one (I managed nearly 300 pages today) it may demand I write a longer post, with a fair bit of background thrown in for those unfamiliar with twentieth-century Scottish history, the rise and politics of the SNP, devolution, stone-stealing, and so on. Warning you (or piquing your interest) now…
Despite the year creeping towards the darkness of Winter, there were still bright yellow flowers on the gorse on one of Edinburgh’s ’seven hills’ (this number, seeking to align Edinburgh with other luminous cities like Lisbon and Rome, is highly debatable). I love the heady, coconut smell of gorse flower – although it was a little more demure when I saw it, not quite the full blown experience of summer.
I went wandering with some friends who were up for a visit, and once again found myself gifted with a second sight of the city I now live in. Too easy it is to stay indoors immersed in other worlds and to forget how inspiring this place can be. Part of the beauty of this city is in the elegant mix of architectures, from the hobbledy-cobbledy of the Old Town (mostly from the 1500s and onwards) to the Georgian New Town, and the quirks of the contemporary – turfed roofs, new materials, slightly disconcerting angles. But another part stems from the atmosphere – at once cold and distant and sometimes sinister…
But capable too of being graceful, hazy…
That picture of Princes St shows the Ferris wheel, up for Christmas. It’s gaudy with lights in the mid afternoon dark, and the German market at its foot will soon open, soon thrum with shoppers picking over overpriced wooden toys and gingerbread shapes and hats with cat ears and so forth, but I love it all the same.
I hope this hasn’t been too wandering a post. While I wait for more news of Kilea, I try to locate myself in a sense of place, to prevent the mind whirring off in strange unfruitful directions. In fact, I feel I’m having to re-learn this city season by season, having been away so long. An almost love letter, trying to create love in itself. If I make some of you want to visit Edinburgh, all the better…