Monday, May 31, 2010

Left Alba, arrived USA, thanks to ...

For the past few days we have been without internet access as we made our way back from Islay to the USA. It's almost 9:30PM on May 31, 2010 and we have been back at oor wee cottage for about 2 hours.

The flight back was an adventure that began when we learned, at GLA, that our 10:40AM flight to Heathrow was cancelled !!! However, we were soon booked onto a 10:00AM flight into London's Gatwick airport and from there we took a bus to Heathrow and caught our connection as it was boarding.

My (Mike) next post will be about the last few days of our trip. Subsequent posts will be further thoughts regarding some of what we saw and did, or hope to see and do in the future. After that ??? So ... come back soon.

Thanks to our families and friends (on both sides of the Atlantic) that encouraged, hosted, and supported us.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Friday night 8:45PM entry

This will probably be the final entry during the trip. We leave Islay tomorrow and between then and Monday night, when we are back in the states, we do not anticipate any ability to be "on line". However, we will post more entries following our arrival back in the USA. We have been very busy up until very late at night, and as explained earlier we must access the wifi at a local pub. So, that's why our blog postings have not been as frequent as we would have preferred.

Briefly, these are the events of the past few days:

We drove to Kilnave/Loch Gruinart, the site of the Kilnave Cross and the battle of Traigh Ghruineard in 1598. Traigh Ghruineard was the last major clan battle on Islay. There is much more to it (and I will post more in the future) but here is a summary: One side killed the clan chief of the other, then sought refuge in a chapel. The now-chiefless clan burned the chapel. The site is also known for its cross which is beautiful in its own right but perhaps not as well known as the Kildalton cross. Later that day we attended a Gaelic Concert in Bowmore. The performers sang, danced and play various instruments such as accordion, pipes, and clarsach (Gaelic harp).


We started our day by doing laundry. Later that day we visited our friends Maggie and Robin Woodman at Samhchair, then drove down to the "Singing Sands" beach at Kilnaugton Bay. Maggie and Robin were instrumental in making our first visit to Islay a positive experience and we have kept in contact with them over the past year.

A special thrill that day was visiting Neil and Ruth McEachern of Keills, Port Askaig, Islay. We met them when we attended church at Kilmeny, and I had asked if anyone spoke The Gaelic. We were introduced to Neil and his wife. Neil grew up speaking The Gaelic, and was raised in a now abandoned village near Finlaggan, and we received an invitation to visit them in their home. So we did and what a pleasure it was to sit and hear about their lives on Islay and its history. We hope to be able to visit them again, soon, and perhaps speak more Gaelic than simply ciamar a tha sibh?


We drove down to Bunnahabhain distillery for their open day and to hear Skerryvore. We collected a free bottle of Black Bottle whisky, took some snaps and had fun. From there we drove to Port Nahaven where we ran into Alan Jenkins, my chess opponent from last year !!! He was kind enough to take a picture of us with Port Wemyss (weems) in the background. Then we stopped at An Gleann which served as the inspiration for Jacqueline's tablet business and followed that up with a long walk to Grimsay, an abandoned village some distance from Port Charlotte.

Well, that's it for now. The 'puter, running on batteries is low and I must be away. Please stay "tuned" as we continue to blog and provide more detail and information about our trip. I have not even been able to keep up with my journal: I am trusting the hundreds of photographs will jog my memory. Some of the better pics that are not blogged will be posted to my website, Flickr or Facebook.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Wed (26th) and Thu (27th)

This is an early entry for May 26 and 27. We are planning on attending some night time events tomorrow (Wed) and Thursday; a Gaelic concert Wednesday in Bogh Mor ... Bowmore, and Clootie Dumpling Ceilidh in Port nah Abhainne ... Port Nahaven on Thursday so we might not have another blog entry until Friday night. Friday is our last full day on Islay before we return to Tarbert on the mainland, then to Glasgow and back to the USofA.

Meanwhile the weather has been very good most of the time. Breezy but sunny and cool.

Eilean Dhiura

Tuesday, May 25, 2010, 17:30 hours

Today we took the ferry Eilean Dhiura (Island of Jura) to ... the Isle of Jura !!! From Port Askaig it's only about a 15 minute ride. After you drive off the ferry your options are limited as there is only one primary road. There are some "off shoots" but for all intents and purposes your drive will be along a twisting-turning, upsee-downsee, most-of-the-time-one-track, and occasionally very rough road. We passed many folk riding bicycles, and a fair number of walkers, but I think you need to have much time and be in phenomenal physical condition to last more than a wee while.

The road is more than 30 miles long and runs along the coast through, or past settlements and wee villages, ruins many years old and some not so old. It's difficult to describe the landscape and a picture taken without a proper wide-angle lens cannot accurately depict what it's like to drive down a road that seems to be "in the middle of nowhere" and when you least expect it there is a house (new or old) or even a small group of houses, or a working farm, Many of these are situated
quite close to the water. Many more ruins, iron age and other, are accessible only by walking some distance.

I chatted with one native (he says he "belongs to Jura") that was training for a foot race that runs up/down several hills including The Paps and is about 17 miles. He says it takes him about 5 hours to do the course. He is a fisherman (I think he said the only one) and told me about a diver who gathers scallops. Others work for one of the several estates that own most of the land, or they work for the hotel. The population numbers only about 200 folk so you can see that much of the land is unoccupied.

We had lunch at a very nice bistro called "The Antlers". Jacqueline had a seafood bisque because there was no more Cullen Skink, and I had a venison burger. Dessert was Tablet Ice Cream and it was very good !!! We hope to get back to the Ardbeg distillery Old Kiln Cafe later this week for some Cullen Skink (Gordon rates theirs a "10") and Sticky Toffee Pudding.

I think that Jura, much like Islay, would require several trips in order to see most of the sites there are to see. I know that I am becoming more and more interested in walking out to many of the more remote, but historic, sites on both islands. This surprises me because I thought this trip would probably be my last to Islay. We shall see.

Shopping, Laphroaig, The Oa and Monument

Mike here ...

Another entry written, and posted, some time after the events. In this case I am writing at 08:00 Tuesday the 25th about yesterday, Monday the 24th. I had hoped to post Sunday last night but we were visiting friends and did not return to our flat until it was dark ... about 10:30PM and that was too late to visit the Ballygrant Inn to access their wi-fi.

Yesterday we headed into Bowmore to do laundry, a bit of grocery shopping and visit the bank. From there we would head to Laphroaig to pick up our "rent" (a free wee bottle of whisky) then on to The Oa and see the American Monument. Interestingly we visited Laphroaig,and the monument last year on a Monday.

Unfortunately the laundry is closed on Monday so we had to wash a few items by hand. The bank was a better experience; we walked into the bank and the young lady at the teller booth asked me "Back for another visit to Islay?". She remembered me from last year!!! We chatted about our trip, and the weather.Her husband is from Wishaw, and she told us that this past winter they were stuck at their home when the snow packed to ice and there was no ability to remove it so they waited for it to melt. From there we headed to the Co-op, a grocery store, to buy some needed items. The store is tiny compared to the typical store in the states and the aisle signs are in The Gaelic (first) followed by English. If I recall correctly, an interesting thing about some Gaelic words is there was/is no such word originally so the Gaelic word used is essentially the English word spelled in correct Gaelic grammar.

Groceries packed into the boot of oor wee car we headed to Laphroaig where Jacqueline was greeted by John Campbell, the distillery manager who said "You are the lady who sent the tablet to me?" They chatted for some time and were eventually joined by Simon Brooking, Master Ambassador for Beam Global. Eventually we entered the Visitor Centre to receive our rent and then we were off to The Oa (pronounced "Oh") and American Monument. Last year when we visited the Monument it was windy, gray and overcast so the pictures we took have a gray haze in the background. This day started as the same but the ckouds and haze cleared and it was spectacular, although very windy.

Following that we headed to Kintra (Kentraw) Farm to see if I could determine the location of some old ruined villages. We chatted with a young man who rode past on a bicycle who told us that the return (round trip) walk to the ruins takes about 3 hours. As we were planning to visit friends at Samhchair in 2 hours that walk was not going to happen. During our visit at Samhchair I asked about the walk and was provided a guide book but per the book, and Maggie who is familiar with the walk, it's not well marked, is rough and isolated, long (more than 5 miles, and about 4 hours time, return trip) and the area prone to sudden changes in weather. So, despite my desire to see the ruins it's not likely to happen this time round. I will have to plan it for another time and do it with someone who is familiar
with the area.

Today we hope/plan to take the ferry from Port Askaig over to the Isle of Jura ... about a 15 minute ride. That should be fun !!!

Church in Kilmeny, Bruichladdich Open Day

Mike here ... this being written at about 9:45PM on Sunday the 23rd, but probably not posted until Monday.

We had a busy day which started out with worship at the Kilmeny Parish Church, which dates back to about 1800. After the service we chatted for a while, outside, with a few of the parishioners and we were invited to pay a visit to one of the couples' homes. So, we will make the time for that ... it was a blessing and it is
exactly why we so enjoy Scotland. An added bonus is that The Gaelic is spoken in their home !!!

Following church was open day at the Bruichladdich Distillery, where we had lunch served up by the Nippy Chippy of fish and chips, meatburger (it seems a hamburger is in fact ham), 2 egg/spring rolls, CocaCola and Irn Bru for drinks. After that we met up with Gordon and Margaret Campbell and their friends Norrie and Claire. The weather was nice, but a bit breezy. We took a tour of the distillery, listened to music, watched highland dancing, etc. We also ran into Simon Brooking, who invited us to attend "The Gathering" of Friends of Laphroaig even though we were too late to have our own special commemorative pair of Wellies. So we did that at about
7PM then stayed for a while at the ceilidh afterwards.

When we left the ceilidh, and got into our car we were approached by a young man who asked if we were going to Port Askaig, which is approxinately 20 miles. We told him that we were not going to Port Askaig so he thanked us and began walking away. Jacqueline suggested that we could offer him a ride to Ballygrant which is on the way to Port Askaig. So, I rolled down the window and yelled "Oi, mate, we can take you to Ballygrant if that is helpful." He thanked us and got in. His name is Edward, he is Australian and he is actually staying in the Ballygrant Inn just down the road from us. Not sure why he mentioned Port Askaig ... perhaps because Ballygrant is not as well known as some of the other locations. In any case we were very blessed by his
company for the 30-45 minute drive. If you are wondering how it can take 30-45 minutes to travel less than 20 miles, it's because the roads are Islay roads and unless you are a tourtist there is nae hurry. One thing worth mentioning were the daft sheep that were wandering about in the "low" (there is also a "high road"and they are both on Islay, in Scotland) road. They are not easy to see in fog and at "dusk", but see them I did and I am thankful.

Tomorrow we will spend the morning in (Bogh Mor) Bowmore poking around while we wait for our laundry and go to the bank to convert some $ to pounds. We will also look for a bottle to share with Gordon, Margaret, Norrie, Claire, Maggie and Robin when we visit Samhchair to say "hi". If you've read OorAlbaBlog for long you might remember that last year we stayed at Samhchair, and that is where we met Gordon and Margaret.

Maggie and Robin were our hosts and asked us to visit them next time we were on Islay. Norrie and Claire are friends of Gordon and Margaret, who are becoming friends of ours. It helps that four of us share an appreciation of whisky, and all of us a love of Scotland and its history. Between Bowmore and Samhchair
we plan to revisit the American Monument on The Oa, and try to locate one of the abandoned villages near Kintra. It promises to be another busy day.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

A special thanks to Pastor Marshall Cross, Michelle (his wife) and ...

the members of their church for welcoming us to their home and their fellowship.

We were unable to spend as much time with them as we would have liked, primarily because of the cancelled original flight, but we hope/pray to soon return to Scotland and enjoy their company.

God's blessings on you all !!!!

Drive frae Wishaw, Ferry tae Islay

Approx 8PM, Sat 22 May 2010

Jacqueline here; just beginning to recover from jet-lag and already missing Michelle and Marshall Cross, our dear friends in Wishaw, near Glasgow. Last night our home-away-from-home was a caravan in a garden near the ferry landing of Kennecraig (near Tarbert). This place had special significance to Michael and me so we knew we were highly blessed. The caravan sat down a gated woodland walkway, amidst shrub groves,
carpeted with bluebells and ferns. A wee brook circled round the back just beyond a daisy-dotted lawn. Our hosts were clearly gardeners, bird and critter lovers with many feeders hanging about where colorful birds flitted and fed; baby bunnies munched on the new grass and we were told to watch for deer in our backyard come morning. Lambs could be heard crying out to their mammas in the pasture beyond the woods. Inside the caravan we relaxed in a sun-drenched sitting room with hot tea
and ginger snaps upon arrival. I could have spent the rest of my days in this
lovely peaceful place but we were up at the crack of dawn today to catch our ferry to Islay.

We met up with Gordon & Margaret Campbell and their friends Norris & Claire who we
visited with throughout the 2 hour cruise. The weather has been fantastic; sunny, warm and clear. Once on Islay, we had lunch at Lagavulin Distillery's Open Day, then re-traced our steps of a year ago by visiting the remains of Kildalton Church with its famous Celtic Cross and ancient cemetary. We drove to Balygrant where our flat is located and now look forward to a good-night's rest and worship at nearby Kilmeney Church of Scotland in the morning, followed by Bruichladdich's Open Day festivities. Till then, cheerio!

Mike here:

I am posting this from the bar in the Ballygrant Inn, which has free wi-fi (I think though they expect you will purchase a dram, or a beer). More than 200 malts available for the tasting. My dram is Bruichladdich Peat because I've never had it and it was reasonably priced. I am "itching" to dram Ardbeg's Lord of the Isles but at more than 20 pounds per, I think I'll pass. J is back at our wee flat resting. It was a long day and she is tired. So am I but I want to update the blog, so here am I.

Yesterday's drive from Wishaw took about 4 hours (of driving time) but the scenery was spectacular; I think. I did not dare take my eyes from the road to look around all that often. I have not driven a manual transmission for some time and shifting with my left, driving on the left, steering wheel on right ... Well, I am grateful the drive was not longer because I was very tired when we arrived at our destination. In about 10 days I'll do it again, but in the other direction !!!

Outside of Glasgow the route I chose is primarily coastal but a significant portion (the A814 along Gare Loch and Loch Long) is rather narrow (not much more than 2 cars wide) and very windy. On one side are cliffs and the other a stone wall, then the Loch. Yikes. I would have liked to take a picture but there are few places to stop and those that exist come up very quickly and then are gone. So, no picture of that section but I did attach a picture of the A83 as it runs West between Arrochar and Loch Fynne. We stopped at a vantage point known as "Rest and Be Thankful". Well, we did and we were !!!

If you care to look at a map and follow the route (assuming I am correctly remembering from memory ... I do have it written down at the flat): M8 through Glasgow to A82 to A814 to A83.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Manual transmissions, Martyrs, Wallace, The Bruce

07:30 Friday, May 21, 2010

Yesterday we picked up our car hire at the airport so today we can drive to Tarbert and begin the Islay portion of our journey. What fun driving a manual transmission with right hand steering on the left side of the road !!!! God blessed me though and I made it back to Pastor Cross's house intact. It helped, greatly, that Pastor was ahead of me and I was simply following him. Just be sure, Mike, to enter the roundabouts from the left side !!!

Following that adventure we walked to the Wishaw train station, travelled to the Argyll Street station in Glasgow, walked to the Queen Street station and then on to Stirling where we visited the Martyrs monument, "stormed the castle" and paid our respects to Sir William Wallace. Stirling is a beautiful city with steep, narrow roads, olde houses, walls, gardens, etc. We could easily spend a day simply walking around looking at all there is to see.

The Martyrs monument is to remember the deaths, by drowning in the Solway Firth, of two young women who refused to renounce their faith. The castle is very imposing but far too large to take it all in with a picture when standing on the site. Additionally, after walking up the hill I am not sure how much energy anyone would have had left to mount a realistic attack. And if any are curious, no we did not tour the castle; it cost 9 pounds per to do so. Instead we enjoyed some Luxury Scottish Ice Cream and a bus ride (just under 4 pounds each for a return ticket) to kinda-sorta near the Wallace Monument.

Reaching the Wallace Monument required a bus ride to just outside the rear entrance of Stirling University followed by a walk of several hundred yards to the entrance of the monument grounds and then a very steep climb up the hill. Still, the view of the area in which Wallace defeated the English is impressive !!! Equally impressive is that hundreds of years before Wallace smashed the English, the Scots defeated the Picts in the same area.

Well, it's about 8AM and time to finish off this post so we can prepare for the 3-4 hour drive to Tarbert. Oh, by the way, the train back to Wishaw arrived at 10ish PM and it was still somewhat light with a very pretty blue sky.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

(Let Us Haste Tae) Kelvin Grove ... bonnie lassie o

Today we visited Kelvin Grove (museum) which has been a goal for several months after I visited Scotland in December. Gordon Campbell pointed out the museum and suggested I visit it. I told him we have a song called Kelvin Grove on CD. He began to sing the song. When I told Jacqueline about it we decided to visit, and the song has become a romantic favorite of ours. We made the journey via train and underground. Some of the staff were surprised to hear there is a song called Kelvin Grove. But now they know. Following the museum (and grounds, surrounding area visit) we travelled back to Glasgow central to head off toward the other destination for today .... Crown Street.

My cousin Kyle MacLea has researched our family (my father's side) and learned that a Peter McLea lived on Crown Street in a settlement/area of Glasgow known as Hutchesontown, across the River Clyde from Glasgow Green. I told him that I'd make point of walking to that area and taking a picture. Kyle, the attached is for you. Slainte !!!!

Dun Eideann (Edinburgh)

I spelled the Gaelic for Edinburgh from memory. Apologies if it's incorrect. One of the challenges we are facing is maintaining our personal journals of the trip, this blog, etc. while making certain to "do" what is to our mind the very reason for this trip; spend time with friends, old and new, so that we build relationships. This blog entry is rather "rushed" because we need to start our day so we can return and attend Wed evening church with Pastor Cross and his family. At the service we will meet even more new friends.

It's Wed morn, 19th, about 08:30. Yesterday we travelled to Edinburgh to visit Scott Miller. John Colvin, from Dumfries, joined us. Pastor Cross conveyed us to the train station in Motherwell where we would begin our day of travel. I was keen to see if any of the folks I had chatted with in Dec/Jan would be there. We entered the station and I immediately recognized Andrew and Garry. As soon as I began speaking, Andrew remembered me. Then Garry, standing several feet away, pointed at me and said "It's you !!!". So that was a great start to our journey. The train ride lasted only about 45 minutes and we quickly found Scott, and John, at the Sir Walter Scott Memorial. John attended University in Edinburgh, and is a virtual encyclopedia of information about the history, and places so it was a fascinating and educational day in Edinburgh.

We began oor tour by climbing the almost-300 steps to the top of the monument. From there to Grassmarket, Greyfriars Kirk, Flodden Wall, Martyrs Monument, Netherbow Port, National Museum of Scotland (quickly ... we plan/hope to return and spend at least a day in that one building), Calton Hill, etc. I know not how far we walked but it was quite a distance. There was much to see and "drink in" including a bottle seen, but not drunk, of Campbeltown whisky which had a price tag of 50,000 pounds. You read that correctly: 50,000 pounds ... approx 75,0000 dollars !!!

Today we are heading to Kelving Grove, as well as the center of Glasgow, and it's now 900AM so I must sign off.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Praise God ...we arrived safely

However, last night at almost 9PM there was a chance the flight would be cancelled due to the ash cloud. But it was not, thank God. We were picked up at the airport and are now being well cared for at the home of Pastor Marshall Cross. Tomorrow we are off to Edinburgh. Very tired now though so time to go to sleep. It's just after 8:30PM and still very light.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

In less than 12 hours we will try again ....

Another trip to the airport, check in, security, boarding, etc. Our friends are confident we will be in Scotland tomorrow.

It has been suggested we try to extend the trip "on the other end" by a few days. It's a tempting suggestion but we would need to arrange accomodations for us, and even if we were offered a free place to stay it would cost extra pounds if we wanted to actually do anything or go anywhere.

Additionally, (The) Ghillie, oor 6YO Border Collie, is being boarded and extending our trip would require the boarder being able to board him, I provided only enough food for the expected journey (short sighted?) and it would cost more $$$. Still, I should probably prepare more food for him and give it to our Pastor just in case.

After all, God's ways are not our ways.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

God's ways are not oor ways (Isaiah 55:9)

When our Pastor dropped us off at the bus station for yesterday's ride to Logan Airport, just prior to his leaving us he prayed for our safety. Safe we are ... but not as we expected. We expected that God would safely see us to Scotland. That's not how it happened.

Just after boarding the aircraft it began, unexpectedly, to rain. Hard and heavy. Then thunder and lightning. It was during this unexpected delay the problem with an engine was observed. Ultimately the flight was cancelled so we are safe in oor wee cottage, waiting until tomorrow when we head back to Logan, and hopefully, successfully to Scotland.

Jacqueline's family recently suffered a tragic loss and her (Jacqueline's) mom is very relieved that we are safe. So are we. Again, not as we expected, but safe. As is everyone else that was on that plane ... and it was full of men, women and (some very young) children. Thank God for that rain, eh?

Of course arriving 2 days later than expected requires a change in our plans but we remain hopeful we are merely delayed rather than blocked.

Flight was cancelled

After several delays due to continued engine trouble, our flight was cancelled at 03:00AM. We retrieved our baggage and waited in a loooooooonnnng, virtually unmoving "rebooking" line for approximately 45 minutes before I was provided a telephone number to call. Our flight has been rebooked for Sunday night, same time, flight #, etc. I will have to contact our hosts, etc. and let them know about the new plan, although I did speak to Margaret Campbell. Meanwhile we are headed home to rest; we've not slept since we woke Friday morning, and have had nothing to eat since about 7PM last night.


It's generally best to learn there is engine trouble before your aircraft is thousands of feet above the ocean, and hundreds of miles from land. We are still @Logan @ 11:30PM. Probably at least another hour before the engine part is replaced. We will be missing our connecting flight to Glasgow.

Friday, May 14, 2010

If anyone is reading this ,,,

We are in Logan Airport, it's about 8PM, flight should be leaving in less than 2 hours. Hope to be able to post an entry at Heathrow but that will depend on the "freeness" of the interknot connection and how much power is in the 'puter battery. Our arrival time for Heathrow is approx 930AM local time. It is now approx 1AM London. Signing off for now.

Today is the day !!! Tha mi agus mo bhean a dol a Alba an-diugh.

If I phrased The Gaelic correctly it translates my wife and I are going to Scotland today. This entry is being made rather quickly due to the time limitations.

We will be in Alba for 18 days. Our friends Gordon and Margaret Campbell will pick us up and convey us to where we will stay for the first "leg" of the journey: the home of Pastor Marshall Cross, and his family, in Wishaw. We plan/hope to fellowship with Pastor, his friends, etc. and visit Kelvingrove Museum, a street that my cousin Kyle McLea has determined is where an ancestor lived and ??? We will also travel to Edinburgh, Greenock, Gourock, and Wigtown.

Following the Glasgow leg we will drive to Tarbert then take a ferry to Islay where we will stay for several days. While there we will revisit several of our "old favorites", see some new sites (Kilnave, Kintra, iron age forts, and Jura) and revisit friends we made last year.

God has been gracious to us and we anticipate spiritual blessings during this time. Thanks be to Him, families and friends who have been encouraging, and supportive.

Well, I need to sign off for now.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Heart and treasure ...

" ... where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matthew 6:21, NASB)

God willing my wife and I will be sitting in Logan Airport one week from tonight waiting for our flight to Alba.

Over the years my mother has given to me (and my wife) items that were owned by my Grandmother. Those items include a few books, and a knick knack that has a copy of the Lord's prayer printed on one side and "God grant me the serenity ..." printed on the other. Most recently my Aunt "Doodle Mama" Edie passed on to us a wee butter dish that was my Grandmother's. None of these items is worth much money but we treasure them more than words can say.

We hope God grants our wish and desire to live in Scotland ... even for a short time. My mother has told me several times that my Grandmother enjoyed living in the USofA but never lost her love for Scotland. I can say that even though I have only visited Alba twice I can appreciate that sentiment. We look forward to our return in several days and our visits with friends, as well as seeing familiar places and new places.