France to Islay by Morris Traveller: Scotland
April 19 – 21, 2019
April 1, 2019: Nr Straid, Ireland to Saltcoats, Scotland
Not wanting to be late, we arrived far too early for our ferry crossing from Belfast to Cairnryan. I was happy to be heading for Scotland. Although Ireland is very beautiful and interesting, with really lovely people and unforgettable Guinness, there is nowhere like Islay.
Once off the very crowded boat (it was Good Friday) we had a lovely sunny drive up the coastal road as far as Turnberry, Lady Pamela fairly racing along. After that the road was rather long and we were relieved to reach Saltcoats where we had booked a night in Victoria Cottage, a B&B not more than 100 yards from the beach, and a cosy little place. The owner let us put Lady P inside the garden gates and told the little boy to keep his football away from her. ‘Is it an old fashioned car?’ he asked us, we assured him that indeed it was!
We went straight away to the beach to enjoy the last of the sun and had an ice-cream while we surveyed the scene. The scene was one of Glaswegians having a good time as only they know how. Noisy family groups, lots of bare white flesh, crying children, dogs and old grandmas sitting in the sand. Later we tried to walk up to the castle only to find it was fenced off although a large group of young people had got in and made it their own, we left them to it and walked back to our B&B. Marc wanted to look for a ‘good restaurant for tonight’. ‘Forget it’ I said, so he wisely forgot it and we had fish and chips and a pint of larger at a big pub in the town centre and then called it a night. Cheapest meal of the holiday though.
20th April, 2019 Saltcoats to Otter Bay
Lady Pamela stopped rattling, the mysterious noise went away. We filled up with petrol (she only holds just over 20 litres) and set off for Chesseaux where we had reserved a room in Clair Cottage, a rather spartan small hotel. We looked on our map for small roads to take and located several villages whose names we put one after the other into our GPS to prevent it directing us to a main road. In this way we passed through Ygrande, Saint Amand-Montrond, Châteauneuf-sur-cher, Issoudun, Levroux and Chenonceau, famous for its castle.
What a wonderful day! With the sun shining we headed off to get a ferry from somewhere to somewhere, depending on availability. We left Saltcoats very well fed and with enough left overs for a picnic later as without any warning our landlady had put in front of us a plate of bacon, eggs, baked beans, fried haggis and black pudding, sausage and tomato. It arrived so unexpectedly that we had already eaten a bowl of cereal while waiting for some toast, so, as our landlady said we were indeed ‘set up for the day’.
As we drove through to Weymss Bay a ferry boat was just loading on the last of the cars, so we quickly joined in and before we knew it we were heading for Bute. Off the ferry we turned right and arrived quite soon at Mount Stuart House and we decided to visit. I can only quote their website:
The spirit of nineteenth-century invention is embodied in Mount Stuart – a feat of Victorian engineering, this neo-gothic mansion was one of the most technologically advanced houses of its age. Ironic, when you consider the medieval inspiration of the Gothic Revival. Set in 300 acres of grounds which include designed gardens, woodland and coast there is something for everyone at Mount Stuart!
Yes something for everyone! Wonderful gardens, majestic pine trees, sheets of bluebells and then the house! We have visited three ‘houses’ on this holiday and they have all been wonderful in their own way. The highlight of this visit was the guides in all the rooms waiting to answer questions and tell you a lot more things you had not thought of asking. We were soon bursting with information on the construction of the house and the history of the Marquess of Bute. I was most touched by the story of the third Earl of Bute, John Stuart (1713-1792):
When he was a young man he was a close friend of Frederick, Prince of Wales and following the Princes’ death he was appointed tutor to Prince George, the new Prince of Wales for whom he arranged lessons in natural history (he had his priorities right). John Stuart was a also a close friend of Frederick’s widow, Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, the Dowager Princess of Wales and a rumour was started that the couple were having an affair. This was upsetting for James Stuart who was happily married and held sincere religious beliefs against adultery. He was made Prime Minister but was very unpopular as he was Scottish! and he held the post for less than a year. When he was offered the possibility of becoming the first Marquess of Bute he turned it down, preferring to live out of the public eye and devote himself to his house and botany. Sensible man.
After over two hours at Mount Stuart we whizzed around Bute and then headed for the ferry at Rhubodach which took us over to Colintrave on the mainland. As we waited for the ferry we saw there were fires up on the hills of Bute, quite common apparently.
We had a lovely ride around to Otter Ferry, where there is no ferry but a pub and a bothy which we had reserved for our last night. We met quite a few cyclists on the first part of the drive around the coastal road, I was not sure if I envied them or not, perhaps yes on the way down the hills and no on the way up! Our bothy was new and smelt of wood, and we had it to ourselves. We walked in the sun along the shores of Loch Fyne that we know so well from the other side of the loch where there is our usual road to Tarbert via Lochgilphead.
Ordering a pint of local beer from the Oystercatcher Pub right by our bothy, and sitting with it in the sun at the tables outside it seemed that life was really perfect. Not so however as when we asked for a meal at the pub, they told us they were fully booked! Well it was a Saturday and it was the Easter holidays and it was a lovely day, but could they not please just make us a a sandwich? No they couldn’t! We were hungry and so straight away felt cross and crabby. We had to get back into Lady P and drive again to find somewhere to eat.
We were extremely lucky and grateful to find a pub at Kilfinan where we were made more than welcome. We were soon sitting with a glass of wine in our hands chatting to the owner about the dangers of the internet (the connection is very bad in Kilfinan so it is in their interests not to use it!). Then his wife made us a very nice meal, we were alone in the restaurant, although assured others would arrive soon. However we finished our lemon meringue pie alone and after visiting the bones and stones in Kilfinan churchyard, we headed back to the both for our last night on the mainland.
On the road we saw kestrel, rooks, great white egret and a stonechat perched precariously on a rape stalk. We stopped in Châteauneuf-sur-cher where there is a magnificent church and an abandoned castle. The church is dedicated to ´Notre Dame des Enfants’ and the walls are covered with messages from people she has cured. It was sunny and we ate a picnic outside listening to the jackdaws.
In Ecueille there was old railway station with a collection of trains and wagons from various times. We met an man there sweeping the shed and he showed us all the wagons including a couple from Switzerland.
Arriving in Chesseaux it began to rain heavily and that is when Marc realised he had forgotten his rain coat so we went back out to try and buy one. We have had no luck but it allowed us to visit Ambroise.
21st April, 2019 Otter Ferry – Braeside, Islay
Chateau Chenonceau is ‘the most visited castle in France’. A cold north wind was blowing, but sun shone through the clouds as we walked through the gardens, full of tulips, primroses and pansies lined up in beds between paths in a strict pattern, with box, ancient hibiscus, rose bushes and lavender providing a structure. The castle is built over the river Cher. Inside the castle we listened to the audio guide as we wandered through rooms rich in pictures and tapestries and old furniture brought to life by beautiful flower arrangements created in the Chateau’s private gardens. Chenonceau was often in the hands of women – the powerful and the beautiful: Diane de Potiers, Catherine de Medici, Mme Dupin, and the Scottish Mme Pelouz. In the First World War the castle became a hospital and nursed over 2,000 soldiers. The gardens and woods were filled with chaffinches and pied wagtails; jackdaws chattered in the giant plane trees.
After breakfasting on a cup of tea and a ginger biscuit we headed for the ferry at Portavadie and the short crossing to Tarbert. There was a short line of cars that grew longer as we waited, but we all fitted in and we paid during the short crossing.
The tide was in at Tarbert and the harbour was looking its best as we walked around with time on our hands before the boat to Islay. We concentrated on food, eating a lot of it at a little cafe and then stocking up with even more at the local Coop, then we set off for Kennacraig where the wait for our last ferry was enlivened by a young man waiting for the bus to Campbelltown who poured out his troubles of a broken bike and no money, ‘but who wants fucking money anyway’ he commented unhappily.
The ferry to Islay was almost empty so we had a quiet and comfy crossing, reading our books until the moment came when Lady Pamela touched Islay soil for the first time. We felt full of emotion as we took the familiar road from Port Askaig and even more as Braeside came into sight. We drove into our drive, Marc turned off the engine and we had a drink of whisky to celebrate Lady Pamela coming home.