Saturday, August 17, 2013

Kilmartin Glen - one of my favorite places

Scotties on the beach in Oban

Are there Scotties in Scotland? Yes, lots of them. I think they're adorable.

My B&B in Kilmartin

Getting from Mull to Kilmartin required three local buses and a ferry. Again, easier than I thought. It helps that public transportation runs on time - at least it always did for me - and that it wasn't crowded. Most of the people on the buses know each other and know the driver. There is always lots of catching up to do with the driver asking after passengers' family members.

My B&B window

I loved this valley (glen) and I loved this B&B. It helps that they gave me a huge room with an incredible view. It included a pub and a restaurant and the food was quite decent considering it was in such an isolated place. Wifi was an issue for the same reason it was in many places - the old walls are too thick for the signal to get from the router to the rooms. I had some times when I really worried that I wouldn't be able to retrieve my itinerary information, etc. But everything always worked out.

View down the valley from my window

The B&B owner/pub bartender and I had some discussions about whiskey. I told him that I understood the language of wine - when a flavor was described, I knew what they were talking about - but when they talked about peat flavor, that meant nothing to me. He said, "It means it tastes like peat smoke." I said, "Exactly, I have no experience with peat smoke."

Another view from my window

So the first night he started my off with a very mild peat flavored whiskey. It was fine, but too subtle to give me much of an idea. The second night he gave me a stronger one and I could taste it and I liked it better. It turned out to be my favorite - Lagavullin. He said the peatiest there is is Laphraoig - which I haven't tried yet. He said, "Some women really love big peat!"

Downtown Kilmartin

I went to Kilmartin because it has cairns and standing stones that can be reached by hiking. So many things require a car. There was also a great cemetery across the street with a good local museum next door to it.

The B&B seen from the cemetery

As usual, I visited the cemetery several times. It had a collection of 16th century soldiers' gravestones.

Soldiers' gravestones

Looks as though it could be an old spelling of Ian Campbell

The museum had lots of information on the various groups that had lived in the glen, going back more than 4,000 years. I bought a necklace by a local jewelry maker that used some of the ancient symbols as inspiration. They acknowledge that they have no idea what the symbols mean. That actually appealed to me.

Ancient symbols

There is a string of cairns (burial chambers) and standing stones stretching down the glen for about 2-1/2 miles. There is a hiking path down some of it and some of the sites sit in the middle of fields of sheep or cattle.

Looking up the valley from a cairn to the town 
of Kilmartin and the cemetery

I spent a really lovely afternoon walking the glen. At one point, as I was approaching a cairn, I passed some thistle (the small variety) and decided to take a picture of it. I turned my back to the cairn, took the photo, and as I was turning back towards the cairn I experienced such a deja vu that it completely disoriented me and I even lost my balance.


I was thinking that I couldn't possibly have been there before, when I realized that I had been in this spot in a dream I had in Paris. I hadn't known the location of the dream and now, for some reason, I did.

The cairn

In the dream I was in a situation fraught with tension and danger, but I have no idea whether I was one against many, part of a group, one on one - just that it was in this location. It was such a strange sensation.

Looking down on the cairn from a hillside

The standing stones began after the cairns - there were three existing cairns and one that had been destroyed. The stones were in the middle of a sheep pasture.

Kilmartin Glen standing stones

We were having unusually warm weather for Scotland and the sheep used the shade of the stones. Anthropologists/historians feel pretty confident that this particular arrangement of stones - five stones forming an "X" - was a moon observatory. I was there the two days before the full moon, but each evening the clouds came in and I didn't get to see the moon over the glen.

Kilmartin Glen standing stones

It is very cool to be going along in a bus (as happened a few time) and seeing one stone standing out in the middle of a field. The farmers leave them there (it may be the law - I don't know) and just mow/harvest around them.

Prayer flags in Kilmartin

This area made me feel really comfortable and relaxed and I wish I had scheduled more than two nights here. I  would love to have a chance to go back to Scotland sometime and, as tempting as it would be to visit parts I didn't see, it would be tempting to come back here.

Campers across from the B&B

One of the nights, some college students came into the pub. They were on their way back to school from a folk music festival held on one of the western islands. They just set up their tent on town land and spent the night - and no one called the SWAT team or anything - and the world didn't end. Property owners' rights are limited here and the public has access to hiking across private land and there are unlocked gates and stiles everywhere.

Sign on the village green

I bought a book in the museum on Highland women through the ages. It was an easy and enjoyable read. A number of them were rebels - one of them named Mairi Mohr - I decided that she was the progenitor of Sonoma County's Mary Moore! When I was finished with it, I dropped it at a B&B further along on the trip. That B&B owner was so thrilled with it that she read it immediately and we had a nice talk about it.

Calf in a field I had to cross

Random thoughts: When I showed up at the B&B on Mull, the owner didn't have my reservation. Luckily, she had a room, though she didn't have one the night before or the night after. I had a copy of her confirming email with me. I made my reservations six months ahead and luckily that problem didn't show up anywhere else. Also: I don't ever see people lick their knives in the U.S. (at least not California), but I saw it in Scotland. Unattractive, but I guess that's just cultural conditioning.

More Kilmartin cemetery

Also: I love listening to phrases you don't hear in the U.S. (when I can understand them!). Such as "Cheerio," or "Oh Blimey!" or "Yes, 'tis lovely." I didn't write them all down, but they were fun. Also: While waiting at one of the bus stops, a woman asked me where I was from. When I told her California, she asked if I lived near Hollywood. When I told her I didn't, she was no longer interested.

I think I could look at this view forever

I read a bunch of books while I was away, so I'm going to start listing them. I don't read many novels normally, but this was vacation!, so I read a bunch. (listed alphabetically by author)

Ten White Geese by Gerbrand Bakker
More Than Words Can Say by Robert Barclay
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby
Code by Evan Boland (poetry chapbook - a favorite poet of mine - heard her read in Paris and Napa)
People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks (I always enjoy her historical novels)
Possession by A.S. Byatt

More next time.

Black sheep!

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