Hogmanay in the Harbour

Trip Start Sep 30, 2005
Trip End Jun 04, 2006

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Monday, January 2, 2006

Hogmanay was unplanned, spontaneous and great. Unfortunately, my hopes of going to Edinburgh didn't come to fruition so it was a case of jump online and figure out where I could get to by train from my work in Glasgow which had a youth hostel. Having rattled a few memories of a previous trip exploring Scotland, the answer, Oban came to me quickly, and so it was that I rolled up at the hostel to find what looked more like a retirement home than a YOUTH Hostel. I was bemused but not half as stunned as my Australian dorm mates, Gavin and Justin who having come hoping for a famous night out were getting very worried about where they'd ended up.

Oban's a very pretty place, very obviously geared up for tourists but not at all in your face about it. The locals we met were as friendly as I've found anywhere and fortunately provided us with a few pointers on how to find the better bars in town. It all made for a great night. Unfortunately, by the time midnight arrived my Aussie friends were living up to their national stereotype of not being able to drink and couldn't understand that everyone was going outside to watch the fireworks, sing Auld Lang Syne and listen to the pipes being played and the ships in the port sounding their fog horns. For a small place, Oban suddenly became very noisy and the party continued outside. Having come planning to chill out, do some writing and think about the future, this was all a huge bonus and an awful lot of fun.

There were a lot of very happy people in town that night, and it was also a real pleasure later on New Year's Day to find everyone and anyone exchanging greetings and smiles all day. I don't know if that's just the norm in those parts but it is a lost art in the South of Britain and that's sad because it's nice and genuinely makes you feel cheerful to know that you're going to speak to every person you meet and not get treated like some kind of lunatic.

With my Aussie friends departed, I went off to find a mountain to climb. I ended up sticking to the coast path just because the views over the Isle of Mull kept drawing me back to the see. The walking was hard and rarely even across tufts of grass and soaking turf and made me wonder how tough people must have been to earn a living in the rural Highlands. This after all was just a coastal clifftop and I was almost breaking my ankle at every other careless step. There's something strangely beautiful about Scotland. The landscape is bleak and the scarcity of humans back this up, but there's also an incredible depth and warmth to the reddish colour of the bracken, the long grasses as the light plays across them. You can savour the wonderful views, but your camera probably won't do them justice and I soon realised that the play of light you see that makes this next picture special is gone in a moment. I have some great pictures, but a lot of them look the same and I sweart they're of different things!

One extraordinary feature of Oban is Macaig's Tower, a sort of mini Colosseum built atop the hill above the town. From the bottom of the hill it looks absurd, from the top, quite pretty and the view from inside across the islands is stunning. Apparently built by a rich merchant as a tribute to his family and to employ the idle hands of the town's stonemasons during several winters, it is a fine example of the type of thing you'll only see in one place that looks bizarre, but grows on you.

My last memory of Oban will be of the harbour at low tide and my Fish and Chip meal. Any visitors to Scotland for New Year should be aware that it really does close down completely so you need to lay in supplies of food beforehand. There should probably be warning signs on the roads and trains leaving Edinburgh and Glasgow - Don't forget to shop! My fish and chips were great, and were also first cooked meal I'd enjoyed for 4 days. They were also apparently the first cooked meal the local seagulls had seen for 3 days and as I ate on the harbour wall they came closer and closer, all very subtly and quietly. The birds obviously know people are given too many chips and as I moved away the flock rose, they started screaming and I had seagulls taking chips out of my hand, out of mid air and fighting each other over them. I don't know if fried potato is good for them, but they certainly like it!!
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