This account is coming near the end now. I hadn’t intended it to be so long-drawn-out, but these things seem to take as long as they take. That’s one of the blessings of a blog: that you can write as much or as little as you want and people are free to glance through it, read it from beginning to end or ignore it completely. So I’ll continue…
For obvious reasons I didn’t see very much of Iona. On my first full day there I walked up to the north beach, taking in the Abbey (and Abbey shop), passing the Iona pods, which are a bit like solid tents, and meeting some very beautiful sheep.
The beach itself is light sand and shingle, scattered with dark rocks that reach into the sea. I wasn’t quite the only person there, but it had the clean, untouched feel of beaches on the Scilly Isles. I picked my way among rocks, some grey-green like arrested waves, and tangles of kelp like strands of wet leather. The sea wasn’t particularly rough that day, but I was caught by the drama of water hurling itself against rock time and time again, the ceaseless assault of white spray. I stood longing for each crash and slap as though I’d never watched the sea before. And of course I had to photograph it, both making it a picture and affirming its reality.
That, I’m afraid to say, was more or less the sum total of my exploration, but at least the the hotels and the cottage were within sight of the sea. Below is a view from the lounge of the hotel where I stayed at first, looking across to Mull. When I’m near the sea I can’t imagine how I can live without it, but when I leave it the feeling soon fades. For me as a child, going back our south London suburb after a seaside holiday was almost unbearable. I used to watch the horizon at the end of our road and imagine the sky was about to merge into the sea, just as it did each time at the edge of the Downs when my uncle drove us to Brighton.
At least there was more sea on the journey home: first the ferry across to Fionnphort, then the coastal drive along the Ross of Mull before the road turns inland through the mountains, and then the ferry to Oban. I’m grateful again to Roselle, who very kindly gave me a lift across Mull and off the ferry the other side. Apart from my aching leg, I didn’t have to think too much about being incapacitated while I was in the car. I could simply take in the landscape of Mull and watch the mountains loom towards us, brown with bracken or a forbidding dark grey, streaked with white by tiny, fast-falling streams. At one point we faced a sheer rise of dark rock, the water that ran down it glinting gold in the sunlight. Once I was wheelchaired on to the ferry it was a different matter. I was sat in an accessible set near the reception desk. It had a good view of passengers’ comings and goings from the cafe but the window was so high I could barely see out of it and strained for my last glimpses of the sea. I didn’t have far to get to the toilet, but there was an awkward ledge that, as an inexpert crutch-hopper, I found it hard to get over. Other people from the course brought me supplies from the cafe: an apple, an extra-large bag of crisps and a bottle of water – there were no vegetarian sandwiches.
At more great expense I’d booked a taxi from Oban down to Glasgow (and no, the insurance didn’t pay for that either), as I thought I might not be able to manage the train journey. The driver turned out to be the same one who’d taken me from the b & b to the ferry, an elderly man with osteoporosis who had several cracked ribs but couldn’t bear not working. As soon as we left Oban I fell in love with Scotland all over again. More beautiful mountain landscape (when does a hill become a mountain?) , but with trees and more sign of green. To avoid the traffic the driver decided to take the scenic route along Loch Awe and then Loch Lomond. I didn’t take any photographs; I just sat absorbing it for mile after mile, the brown hills/mountains, the greener land by the lochs, the sun on the water – Loch Lomond looks surprisingly muddy in places – and the occasional tree-covered island where it seemed the trees had risen straight from the bed of the loch. I could have gone on drinking it in for the rest of the day, but then came the familiar sinking feeling as the landscape gradually flattened and was replaced by buildings and traffic and the all-pervading grey of urban roads. There was still grass between the roads, but it was urban grass. By the time we reached Glasgow airport and were circling round it trying to find the entrance to the hotel, the disenchantment was complete. We could have been near any airport and it would have looked pretty much the same.
With some persuasion I’d decided – rightly, I think – that the seven-hour train journey back to Devon would be too much, so I’d booked a flight to Exeter for the next day. That was why I’d ended up in one of those big, factory-like airport hotels instead of the quirky Airbnb where I’d hoped to stay. I may have led a very sheltered life, but I’d never stayed in a hotel like that before. A lot of people do, I know, and seem to survive it well enough, but I was still in a sensitive state and struggling on crutches. Not that I would have liked it at the best of times. It had pink institutional carpet of a kind I associate with care homes, music full of crashing guitar chords blared out as soon as the door opened and lurid gaming machines blinked in an alcove off the reception area. I’d booked an ‘accessible’ room, i.e. one near reception, but getting there was about as far as I could manage. Didn’t they have a wheelchair? I asked. The receptionist looked at me as though I’d asked for a pers onal hovercraft and said, ‘Oh, no.’ I couldn’t believe I was the only guest (if that’s the right term in such a place) who had ever needed one. People have accidents or are taken ill – even while they’re in the hotel – and don’t always have a wheelchair about their person at the time.
The room itself, being wheelchair accessible, had awkwardly large spaces to traverse on crutches. Nevertheless it had a comfortable bed, or rather two twin beds together with just enough gap between them to make slipping a possibility. The duvets were warm, though, which was just as well as the room was surprisingly cold. And I could get dinner brought to me, and breakfast too (which is another story). After I’d had my spicy oriental beanburger I settled down to watch the Andrew Scott Hamlet on my phone, determined to be an oasis of culture in the midst of standardised everything. That night I slept surprisingly well.