Monday, October 16, 2017

Rain, Sunshine and Hurricane Ophelia

The regular rain showers continued over the weekend.  On Saturday we saw a short window in the forecast that was supposed to be just cloudy.  So we climbed up the hill behind the village, Cnoc Mor, in time to see the 10:00 a.m. ferry arriving.  It is often the busiest ferry since Saturday is the day rentals end and begin.  

There is a lot that can be seen from the top, such as the Abbey, the St. Columba Hotel in the center, the jewelry store and Oran craft cooperative.  In the distance on the right is Eilean nam Ban, the Island of the Women, and the Island of Mull behind it. 

We started walking west, to see if we could locate the Hermits Cell, but saw a squall blowing toward us, so quickly climbed down and took shelter in front of the library until most of it blew through.  We stayed inside the rest of the afternoon.  We had invited a new friend over for dinner, so David spent the afternoon puttering in the kitchen.

Sunday morning we went to the Scottish Presbyterian church in the village for the morning service.  The minister for the morning was the Rev. Joyce Watson, a Scottish Episcopal priest who we have come to know.  The minister was unable to lead because the ferry service was canceled in the morning, though it was running again at Noon.  So Joyce read through the service that had been prepared, including the sermon!

Sunday afternoon there was supposed to be another fair weather window, so we hiked up to the north end and the White Strand of the Monks.  We almost turned back when a squall blew in and the sky looked dark. But putting up the hoods on our coats, we waited for ten minutes.  It cleared out and there was some blue sky, as well as some more showers over the next hours.  David took this picture of the lichen on the rocks.

Today we have had more sunshine then the last three days!  We could see the edges of Ophelia because the clouds were moving from east to west, not the usual direction.  We walked over to Marchair on the west side.  If you want to buy a house on Iona, the house on the left, Lagnagiogan is available for £250,000.  Follow the link if you want to learn more about it.  However locals recommend tearing it down because it has water leakage problems and a big crack on the right end. 

On the right in the distance is the Hill of Angels, where Columba was seen praying by another monk.  He was  surrounded by dozens of angels.  One of the many legends attached to this island.

As I finish writing, the wind and rain from Ophelia are blowing around us.  But we are warm and settled for the night into our little home, Tighshee.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Scattered Sunshine Followed by Rain

Yesterday was the day for scattered breaks in the clouds when the sun could actually shine.  We saw it in the morning, and into the early afternoon.  These sheep were grazing on the east side,  above Traigh Ban nam Manach, the White Strand of the Monks.  In the distance is the island of Mull.  Unfortunately the beach was covered with think layers brown kelp, so the white sand was not very visible.  Today we saw two farmers driving tractors with trailers heaped with great piles of kelp.  One farmer had spread it on his vegetable gardens.

After getting caught another squall, we stopped at the Argyle Hotel for tea; I had shortbread, and David had a scone.  We attended the Eucharist at Bishop's House at 5:00, which had a group from New Mexico, and a man from Ireland.  Joyce Wilson, a 20 year resident of Iona, presided, and provided a relaxed and welcoming presence.  She lives a short distance from Tighshee, and we arranged to get together in a few days.  The rainbow appeared after the service, close to sunset, and at times there was a double rainbow.

So here is the ferry between Fionphort and Iona.  Our lifeline to Mull and the world beyond.  The captain is very good and can cross through some very rough seas, which they had all of today.  Winds have been in the upper 20 to lower 30 mph range, and is going up to the middle 40's tonight.  BBC weather reports high winds are expected on Monday from "ex-Opheila."  That means we need to delay our trip to Staffa until later in the week. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Port Bàn then Windy Rain

Yesterday was partially sunny all day, quite a delightful weather option here in the Inner Hebrides.  So it was off to one of my favorite places to explore, Port Bàn.  The tide was running out, and in the photo above you can see the white sand underneath the wate.  The beach extends quite deeply into the shore, and the sun made the water turquoise.

My friend Ralph, who I have known for 38 years, has been with us for the last week.  Here he is enjoying the view of the beach.  He leaves tomorrow, assuming the ferry is running, to return to Glasgow.  This is his first time on Iona, so we have made sure he has seen all of the essential spots in between the rain.  He has also been building and starting the coal fires.  I clean up the ashes the next day.

We knew a long, windy, heavy rain was moving in today.  Yet, there was a bit of sunshine this morning, so we went to the Iona Heritage Center and talked with Daniela who told us about the geologic formations.  After stopping by a few shops, I had a cup of Cullen Skink and sandwich at the Argyle Hotel.  Cullen Skink is a soup with smoked haddock, onion, potatoes and milk.  Ralph and I walked back to Tighshee in a driving rain, soaking the front of my pants.  The rest of the afternoon I have been working on downloading photos from both cameras, making a first cut, and processing.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

I Need More Words for Rain

It rained most of the day yesterday, starting before sunrise, though we never saw the sun. None of it was what I would call rain back in Maryland, the steady dropping of water.  There were waves of heavy mist which shifts into what could be called drizzle except that it is always at an angle because of the wind with the descending water.Then really hard, steady rain. There there are periods of in-between each of the different ways that water can fall down from the sky when anything could happen.  But in the middle of the afternoon the BBC weather app predicted not just lighter clouds but even occasionally sunshine.

So the three of us decided to hike up to the northern end of Iona and climb up the top of the highest peak, Dun I (that is pronounced Dun-EE).  While the path was soggy, and we had to pick our way around boggy spots, we did reach the top while leaning into the wind.  All but the southern end can be seen from Dun I at 332 feet above sea level.  While there were only occasional holes in the clouds that the sun came through, it was good to get out and exercise.

Throughout the island are large fuchsia hedges and bushes.  Mom would have been both thrilled and irritated.  She always had trouble keeping fuchsia happy in pots.  The hedges are sheared back at the end of the summer, to branch back out in the spring.  The weather is much more temperate than would be expected because the gulf stream swings by Iona, protecting it the freezing temperatures.

So when today was going to be cloudy and rainy, again, the decision was to spend time at Iona Abbey.  Our Scottish Heritage guide, Laura, said she has been working at the Abbey for a year and a half.  She covered a lot of material in a short time.  On the right is St. Martin's cross that has been standing in front of the Abbey for over 1,200 years.  This side is a snake and orb design; snakes representing resurrection because they shed their skin.  Scholars believe that carvers on Iona started putting the circles around the center of the cross, because otherwise the arms of the stone crosses would break off without the extra support.  It is amazing.

I close with this picture of a tired traveler with a dog in his lap.  The dog looks like a Border Terrier, so my heart melted when I saw them together.  Fortunately the dog has a wool jacket to keep it warm and dry.  We still had a half hour walk before we got home to Tighshee and have our afternoon tea.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Columba's Bay

The weather prediction was cloudy in the morning with rain returning in the afternoon, so we started at 10:00 a hike down to Columba's Bay, the traditional site where St. Columba arrived on Iona in 563.  We walked through the golf course, and you can see the sheep and cattle grazing the grass to keep it short.  Then we followed a wide path that is alternatively muddy or rocky, sometimes both. 

Here is David posing at the top of the hill before we descend down the trail to the Bay visible in the distance.  This picture will be sent to the church to provide evidence he has not actually gone somewhere warm and sunny.  After spending some time on the top of the rock overlooking the Bay, with the wind picking up and a scatter of rain, we returned the way we came.  Arriving back at the golf course, the cattle and sheep were moved away from the edge of the water, their back ends into the wind.

It was not a hard decision to stay in the house the rest of the afternoon after our 3.5 mile hike.  Ralph, a friend who is staying with us for a week, tried out his skill at starting a coal fire.  That is now burning nicely, keep the lounge toasty while the wind blows outside.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Here is the front door for Tighshee, a simple cottage.  However what you can see beyond those sheep is the Sound of Mull, and the view is even better from our bedroom upstairs.  One of the windows into the lounge, their name for the living room, is on the left, and with another window on the opposite side creating a bright, pleasant space.

While it is still very windy with random showers blowing through, we hiked up to the north end beaches.  The walking is through pastures, and this trinity of cows were taking it easy with the rock sheltering them from the worst of the wind.   You can see the rain covering the island in the distance.
The tide was low, so the beach was beautiful, parts were rugged with rock and others were covered with white sand.  This side of the North end of Iona is Lewisian Gneiss, which predates any living creatures on earth.  The island is all that remains of a mountain that once was a high as the Himalayas worn down by millennia of erosion by wind and water. 
 We attended a communion service at Iona Abbey by the Iona Community tonight.  The leader quoted Ellen Degeneres speaking to the need to hold onto hope in these times of destruction and death.  The service leader had us turn to someone we didn't know and describe what we see that gives us hope.  The beauty of this place, while battered with turbulent wind and pounding waves, gives me hope that I, that we can live through these times with grace and beauty.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Reaching Tighshee

Tuesday morning we decided to take our chances.  There were still high winds, but conditions were better.  It was good to get onto the large ferry, and I took this picture which shows it was still raining but there were very few whitecaps.  The ride over to Craignure was smooth and uneventful, taking less time than expected.  There was a two hour wait for the next public bus across Mull.  Fortunately there was a waiting area for the ferry.  I have never been so happy for a fiberglass seat inside where it is warm.  Finally the 96 bus to Fionphort drove up just before the ferry returned for the second time.  I dozed much of that ride, finally able to relax.

I was watching every body of water, whether in inland lock or a bay of the Atlantic, for clues about how rough the water might be when we reached Fionphort.  But it wasn't until we turned the corner, and could see the ferry in the dock that I knew there would be no problem.  A large crowd of day trippers were coming off the ferry, so it had been running all day. I finally let go of my anxiety and worry about getting to Iona  once we were out in the water.

Tighshee is the name of the cottage where we are staying, pronounced "tie-she."  We rolled our suitcases down the road in the typical Scottish mist-rain to finally arrive at our home for the next four weeks. It is a 10-15 minute walk from the pier.  I knew it was the right place when David discovered a silly tea cozy, which will be a regular part of our lives.  Here is the cozy with sheep while outside the window you can see sheep grazing in the pasture.   We have arrived on Iona.