Monday, 13 August 2012

Isle of Gigha

Isle of Gigha - August 2012

I just love visiting islands, and have set foot upon quite a few Scottish isles to date. Scotland was the second country I spent my main summer holiday after I commenced my working life, and at that time I got a commuter ticket to visit the Highlands and Islands by boat, bus and train. I managed to see the Isles of  Skye, Harris and Lewis as well as Orkney. Since that I have visited Scotland and its islands many times, but there is such an endless number of them it would take a devoted lifetime to see them all. You might recall that last year I called to Islay and Jura of whisky and deer fame respectively.
On the August Bank Holiday weekend I got this year’s fix of Hebridean island on the Isle of Gigha, midway west of the Kintyre Peninsula on the west coast of Scotland. On the Friday I flew on the first and cheapest flight with Aer Lingus on an ATR72 operated by Aer Arann. I am familiar with travelling on the latter airline and noticed they had cleaned up the normally grubby interiors to fit in with the Aer Lingus ethos.
I arrived in Glasgow in time for a leisurely breakfast which I took at the middling facilities at Glasgow Airport before took the commuter bus to Buchanan Bus Station. From there I caught an early afternoon Citylink coach destined for Campbeltown, but my get-off point was eight house village Tayinloan, some 20 miles or so from the end destination. The bus route is very scenic, passing most of the length of  Loch Lomond, through the mountain pass by Rest and Be Thankful, and down the Kintyre Peninsula via Inveraray, Lochgilphead and Tarbert. The journey should have taken about 4 hours but a landslide at Rest and Be Thankful meant an extra hour of travelling. The ferry terminal was half a mile walk from Tayinloan, so that I speeded with suitcase to catch the second last boat to Gigha. It took just 20 minutes smooth sailing to reach the island and I walked uphill for less than half a mile to the Gigha Hotel.
The Isle of Gigha was bought over by the islanders from the laird, and more people have since settled there. The Hotel is community owned and therefore a feel-good factor about giving it your custom. It has a cosy bar, a wee lounge, a fairly large dining room and a good guest lounge.  I was on a dinner, bed and breakfast single room package for £60 per night. Breakfast was substantial with decent options for evening meal, including the lovely island farmed halibut.
Having left very wet weather in Glasgow I had travelled under relatively clear skies, and enjoyed mainly fair weather for my three night day. The first morning was bright and sunny and I walked down the inviting path to the local cove of powder white sands on Ardminish Bay, named after the only village on the isle. A tortoise sand sculpture was etched out of the sand and a giant scallop shell looked very pretty nearby. In the near distance on the flat calm bay a row of sailing boats were moored in very safe shelter. I donned my bathing costume and waded out into the crystal clear bay with the icy water and some crabs nipping at me. In spite of the cold it felt very good to be there standing quite far out in the level bay looking around the the rocky shores dotted with sandy coves and  a long jetty where children laughed as they launched themselves into the sea wearing hired wetsuits.
But I had more fish to fry and I walked on southwards past village houses with walls adorned with flourishing masses of red roses and orange mombretia and all sorts of wild flowers growing in the ditches. I bought a few goodies from an honesty stand, put my money in a box and took the due change. Onwards I passed a beautiful woods which would look dazzling with bluebells in May, my destination being the famed Achamore Gardens, pride of Gigha. Another honesty box was present for entry fees and souvenir booklets. In the gardens stands Achamore House, once manor of the laird and now a privately run bed and breakfast and production centre of floral essence. The gardens were thriving with all sorts of exotic plants which normally grow in more southerly climes. Gigha has a microclimate with little frost compared with the mainland. The photographs which I took best illustrate the range of plants, some of which I had never seen before. A beautiful walled garden was abundant with flowers.
Further up from the gardens I visited the ruins of 12th century Kilchattan  Church, before succumbing to the temptation of seeking out a signposted craft shop. I walked past some beautiful self catering houses, and then heard a dog barking. The lady of the house came out and showed me into her aladdins cave of handmade goodies, some of which I purchased. She pointed out to the white bay beyond her, saying how lucky she was to be living in such a beautiful place.
Later I enjoyed an evening swim from a little cove by the campsite which was ablaze with bar-b-cues in celebration of someone’s 30th birthday. The whole community had descended down and music throbbed in the nearby Boathouse cafĂ©-bar. The water felt rather less cold this time and a quick shower washed me down as I got out of the water. Close by a small hovercraft sat beached on the sand, presumably ready to participate in rescue missions along with the voluntary fire brigade.
I was quite worried about catching my flight back from Glasgow on Monday as my timings depended on the bus being fairly punctual. Everybody was talking about the Rest and Be Thankful landslide and how it closed the road for days the las time it happened. I had visions of having to undertake a lengthy and expensive taxi journey to catch a flight to Glasgow from Campbeltown near the end of the Kintyre peninsula. I had no access to the internet and texted my cousins, asking them to google the relevant information. Cousin Johnny texted me back with the happy news that the road had now opened. I could now relax.
Sunday was a duller day, but dry throughout. I decided to walk five miles in the opposite direction to the slightly wilder north end of the island, where a series of rocky headlands and beaches like. I have developed quite a few aches and pains all over my joints which my consultant believes to be rheumatoid arthritis, though I am awaiting test results before starting injections to counteract it. I am very stiff and out of condition when I awake, but normally I “thaw out” somewhat as I get a bit of moving about. This walk I undertook was really too much for me that day, especially the five miles back to the hotel. Afterwards I spent hours asleep and could hardly eat a bite. It taught be a lesson in moderation of exercise. The walk provided some interesting sights including a wonderful standing stone and an isthmus connecting a small isle with two sandy beaches either side. I got waving and chatting to the odd cyclist and walker and came across the most magnificently flourishing wild flowers, including the most perfect Scottish thistles. I saw black and white sheep, horses, ducks and geese, but strangely no chickens in spite of the fluffy island egg omelettes at breakfast.
My journey home went without event and I enjoyed the beautiful scenery at Rest and Be Thankful before returning to Glasgow for my flight home. The city was awash with powerful rain storms; now hadn’t I been lucky!

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