Holiday disasters: One holiday in Scotland was a misfortune, Damaris Graham thought, until she got careless and went to the Highlands
Sunday 30 May 1999
Eighteen years later, husband number two admitted to owning a perpetual week in April at a holiday village near Oban. We arrived in driving sleet but it had hot water and fluffy towels. He built a log fire. I read tourist stuff on the Western Isles. We retired early to a comfy bed beneath a skylight drumming with raindrops.
The next morning we gazed out at lowering loch and misty mountain, sodden ginger cows and those claggy-bottomed sheep. It was impracticable to walk or climb so we visited the castles, museums and wildlife parks I had read about the night before. The only trouble was that they are all so far apart.
We toured the Argyll Wildlife Park between showers, saved Inverary Castle for a major downpour and dripped around tourist shops that sold green furry Nessies, tartan baseball caps and bagpipe tapes which played in the background as we browsed. Even if the shop was silent when we entered, the "music" returned especially for us.
On the second day it rained again, so we visited the Secret Label Factory Outlet and Caithness Glass Visitors Centre in Oban, ate fish and chips at McTavity's Kitchen and took the car-ferry over to Mull. We drove west along the island to Fionnport, the ferry terminal for Iona - "a tiny isle steeped in history" where St Columba settled AD563. We parked on the quay and fought the wind towards an official who directs us on board.
The long, warm cabin had lots of empty double seats. But suddenly a tour- bus with rows of curly white perms bobbing in the window seats, appeared around the corner - then a second and a third and a fourth. The coaches parked close to the ferry but over 200 pensioners got soaked in the short dash. Though quite old ourselves, we felt obliged to give our seats to those even more ancient, and passed the journey jammed among dripping white plastic macs.
Layered like herrings in a box, we sailed to Iona. Most of the pensioners filed straight into Martyr's Cafi on the quay, but a few brave ones battled with us up the hill to the monastery. It's not old and it's not architecturally special, but sunshine and blue sky might have improved it. The church was freezing cold, the roof leaked and puddles littered the floor. The gift shop was the warmest and most welcoming place on the isle and there was no bagpipe music.
John Smith seems more popular than St Columba. A huddle of umbrellas surrounds his grave - a simple slab of rock. Was it chosen from south of Iona where rock with streaks running through it is said to represent "St Columba's tears on leaving Ireland"? I think he cried because he found Scotland's climate no improvement on Ireland's.
The pensioners had soaked up alcohol at Martyr's, so the return journey reeked of beer and wet plastic. At least the ride was free. Nobody asked for money. I realised why Paul McCartney sings about the Mull of Kintyre. It's because he has it all to himself. Everyone else has gone abroad. So shall I next time.
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