This year, our ‘summer hols’ have a fairly remote bent. We’ve both been feeling an increasing urge to be far away from people, and get some remote, quiet time. As we were heading back to what remains of the UK, we arranged an incredibly complicated holiday where we hopped on a plane, and having endured a 9 hour flight, promptly took ourselves for a 3/4 day in London with no sleep. We arranged to leave our luggage behind in a left luggage store, pausing to arrange us popping back later to grab what we needed for Scotland, then went for a massage.
No ordinary massage, this. But a Russian massage complete with being lightly smacked with leafy twigs. In an amazingly hot room. Also the cold tub / shower, hot sauna room alternating thing similar to those Skandi saunas of which we’re both fond. It was both our first experiences of the Russian Banya… And I would go back. It’s intense, and invigorating, and the massage definitely erred towards discomfort that will eventually make you feel better rather than mellow. It was not exactly pleasurable in and of itself, but it felt really good afterwards.
Anyhow, we did that. Grabbed a small lunch, then we pottered to Gays The Word and, it turns out, The Observatory – which it turns out is a real cafe. We gleefully pointed out that Gays The Word, which is one of my favourite book shops, was in the background of a shot in Killing Eve. But the cafe she’s in is, we discovered, a real cafe. The view opposite, that she’s supposedly looking at, obviously isn’t. But it was quite fun to be stood there and Kathryn did get a photo of me grinning like an idiot.
Having killed quite a lot of time (and bought a non-zero number of books) we meandered to the British Library just in time for most of the exhibits to close, then grabbed our rucksacks from our luggage and made our way to Euston for the Caledonian Sleeper, which we’d booked for the run to Fort William. Hoping that sheer exhaustion would win over any challenges we might have sleeping on the train, and looking forward to the shiny new trains when we’d booked it, it had seemed like a reasonable idea. Unfortunately a week or two prior we got an email that informed us that it would not be the shiny new trains. No, due to technical problems it would still be the shonky ancient trains. These trains have been running since before I was born, and they pretty much feel like it.
The trains are rattly and squeaky, the fittings are well worn and in the case of the bathroom nearest us, barely functional. Still, exhaustion beat upon us and we clambered into our bunks… And waited. And waited. And eventually started checking. And realised that a signal failure meant our train was going nowhere.
Eventually, I decided that – fuck it, I was going to sleep. I have no idea what time the train moved off, but a fitful night’s sleep followed, waking for some reason or other as we scaled the country. When we finally pulled in to Fort William, 2 hours late, and after I’d had my tiny breakfast (£3.50 for 1/3 cup of ‘vegan smoothie’, with what appeared to be one walnut chopped up and in a pot as one of the ‘nuts’ it came with. Also instant coffee… Provided as a disposable cup of warm water and a sachet of granules.).. we were both tired and ready for something not transport food related.
It turns out there’s a really good vegan cafe in Fort William (no, we’ve not suddenly gone vegan) where they had some fantastic food options…which we took full advantage of, before a bit of a break with us lying in the park enjoying the sun and then we clambered into the next train, to Mallaig. One night in the very pleasant Sea View guest house and a properly yummy Scottish breakfast, and we were on the final leg – the ferry to Rum.
Which is where we’ve spent the last four days – away from people (apart from a protracted prone call to my British bank, who’s representative seemed unable to grasp the concept of being on an island small enough to not have a bank), and meandering around the wilderness.
We walked across a quadrant of the island from Kinloch (where we’re staying) to Kilmory (which is a beach, a deer monitoring project building, and a long abandoned crofting building). It’s about a ten mile meander – not hard, just long (by our standards). The beach was lovely, we were sharing it with a few people who seemed to have arrived on a small boat, but they were far enough away we didn’t even need to do the socially acceptable wave of greeting.
In the distance we’d watched from the deer hide as the red deer – who are heavily researched – munched on the moorland plants while we munched on our sandwiches.
And we pottered around the abandoned village’s cemetery, looking at the sad loss of 8 children in one go to diptheria.
Most of the gravestones had been rendered illegible by the passage of time. Apparently at one time there was a very early stone cross laying on the ground. I’m not sure if it’s still there… We didn’t know to look for it until we came back and were noseing at one of the books about the island. Unfortunately, we missed it if it is.
Yesterday we had a more gentle day – first up was the protracted battle with the bank (which allowed us to briefly break the ice a bit with one of the locals who seems fairly… uninterested in tourists) and a bit of laundry. Then we headed to see Kinloch Castle. Which isn’t a Castle at all, it’s a 1900s manor house sized shooting lodge built using factory building techniques by a guy who clearly had much more money than sense. It’s a heartrending place. Scottish natural heritage have been kinda lumped with this sort of stately home, complete with its contents, since being sold the island to turn into a nature reserve. It’s very clear they don’t really know what to do with it. At points it’s been a hostel and a hotel. It was sold complete with all it’s Edwardian frippery, and apparently much of the Bulloughs personal stuff (including, allegedly, some S&M gear!) which means it’s a fairly rare beast. Unlike a lot of other preserved houses of the same era which have era appropriate but not original stuff in them, this house is the real deal.
The Orchestrion (a barrel organ built for queen Victoria (but who died before it could be installed)) with one of the largest collection of musical scores for it still lurks, more or less functional, under the stairs. Apparently there are only three in the world, and only 2 still work. This is one of those two. The insane Edwardian shower-baths with multiple jets powered by a 100m pressure head from a water source tapped high up on the hills – they’re still there and working. The interestingly privacy heavy ballroom (raised windows, orchestra behind a curtain, butler in a closed separate room with shutters opened from the ballroom), still has it’s couches. The bedrooms have their beds. The library appears stocked with books.
It’s a time warp. But one which is suffering horribly. The building is damp and they’ve battled with the island weather to stop the rain getting in. The house had a heated conservatory that only lasted 10 years after being built before being destroyed by the harsh weather out here. A century of rain beating on the sandstone has left the blocks soaked and rusting out the steel frame hidden within.
And 50 years of a tensions about spending money on a building, rather than the environment, has definitely not helped. Anyhow, we had a highly entertaining and certainly the most relaxed tour of a house I’ve ever had – at least of the bits of the house that are still accessible (some of it is engaged in a a battle with dryrot).
Then we headed down to the Otter hide, where we singularly failed to see any otters, but had a very nice view of the sea to enjoy, watched some fish leap our of the water, and we saw a Sand Piper and a bunch of hooded crows on the wander back. We also got to meander around another abandoned village, which is always good. And of course, being Friday night, we stopped at Kim’s Kitchen for Friday night Fish and Chips, with the locally caught fish. Yay :)
Today was our final day on Rum, tomorrow we head to Eigg, (5 hours on the ferry due to unfortunate scheduling) and we made good use of it – walking up to Coire Dubh then going a little off piste to Cnapan Breaca then back down to Kinloch. About 350 – 400m up, with great views despite the mizzle… We both got a trifle damp which is unfortunate because we need to pack up and move tomorrow and so we’ve been trying to dry everything by the fire. It is, at least, cool enough for us to be having a fire, despite the battle it’s taken for us to get it lit (wood but no kindling).
It is making me feel like we are doing life wrong. I feel so much better out here. So much more calm.
Of course, making enough to live on is a lot harder out here, too. That’s the challenge.