Monday, 29 October 2007

Island Hopping Scotland - Day Trip to Gigha

The small island of Gigha - not pronounced Gig-Hah, but Gee-ahh, (not to rhyme with pier) is well worth a trip. Five minutes drive up the road from Muasdale is the tiny hamlet of Tayinloan, where the ferry departs every day to Gigha. We discovered that this runs every hour, except between 12 noon and 2 pm, when we turned up at 12:05 pm to see the ferry hairing off at high speed. Never mind, instead of having lunch on Gigha as anticipate, we had a very pleasant meal at the MacDonald Arms Hotel just down the road from the ferry port.

It’s really not worth taking the car over to Gigha. It costs about £36 and there is only one road of approx 5 miles. It’s best to take bikes, but we weren’t sufficiently well organised to do that, however going as a foot passenger (approx £5.00) is a good alternative. We only had 2 hours there, because the last ferry back on a Sunday departs at 4:30 pm, and we didn’t want to be stranded overnight, but still had a good stroll round and got a feel for this lovely island.

The Isle of Gigha has a total population of approx 150 people, and has been community-owned since 2002. One of the must-see attractions is the Achamore Gardens (honesty box entry) and we had plenty of time to walk to and have a look round the beautiful gardens – and dogs are allowed!

We’d just missed a music festival which was finishing as we arrived on the island, as evidenced by dead tents, sleeping bags, bin liners and other detritus scattered around. Camping is possible on Gigha – there is a field in front of the Gigha Hotel, but pre-booking is required with the Hotel. As we waited for the last ferry to arrive, the heavens opened and we took shelter in a very, er, basic waiting room in a shed. Meanwhile, our ‘van was back at Muasdale and a bottle of wine was chilling in the fridge.

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Monday, 22 October 2007

Kintyre Continued

The Kintyre Peninsula is almost an island, and is well worthy of further exploration. It attracts many walkers and nature lovers, and the Kintyre Way is a recently-designated long distance walk, which, by co-incidence, a friend of our was doing, using the Jura Apartment at Muasdale Touring Park as their base. Now this is an 89 mile waymarked walk, which sounds “easy” however, experienced as he was, by day three he had to pull out due to a blister severe enough to need medical treatment, and instructions not to do anymore walking that week, so it’s not an activity to be undertaken by the inexperienced. Apparantly, what finally did him in was walking over a boggy peat surface, which acted as a suction on the walking boots, leading to the horrendous blister.

The main town on Kintyre is Campbeltown, approx 17 miles from Muasdale, where there is an excellent range of independent shops as well as takeaways, the ubiquitous Co-Op and a surprisingly largeTesco Metro. We decided we HAD to visit the Mull of Kintyre, but to be honest, were a little disappointed. “Oh Mist Rolling in from the Sea” sums up the day we visited, and we could very little. The drive down to the Mull is 7 miles on a single track road, which is a spectacular drive (there are plenty of passing places clearly marked with black and wide striped poles) but it would have been crazy to take the motorhome down. There’s a small car park at the end – for approx 10 cars, and from there you continue on foot to the lighthouse, down an EXTREMELY steep hill. We ventured about half way then decided we could see what we needed from there, thank you very much.

The small east coast fishing village of Carradale is worth a visit, but our favourite place was Southend, in the south, where seals were close to the shore and totally unfazed by humans. There are prehistoric caves to explore too, where stoneage man (and woman) would have lived pretty cold, wet and miserable lives.

A must-do trip on the Kintyre peninsula is the circular drive round the coast road, stopping off at places of interest on the way, and this is do-able either in a day or, as we did, in bite-sized chunks.
What we noticed most about Kintyre was the sheer peace, quiet and lack of other people - wonderful! We had most places to ourselves, and it was rare to meet anyone else.

No trip to the Kintyre Peninsula is complete without a visit to Gigha, so the day before we left, we took a day trip as foot passengers across to this small island, which is owned by it's residents ..........

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Monday, 15 October 2007

Scottish Island Hopping - Kintyre Peninsula

It was the aerial view shot of Muasdale Touring Park that sowed the seed, and when Alison emailed a picture taken of a motorhome on the beach, that was it – our main destination for our summer holiday was decided. Of course, as earlier postings tell, we island hopped either side of Muasdale, but spent several nights on this small ocean-side site to explore the Kintyre Peninsula
thoroughly. A quick search for available pitches showed that Muasdale had limited vacancies for early September, and so the rest of the holiday was arranged around those dates.

Alison and Adrian have owned Muasdale for about 5 years, having decided on a lifestyle change from accountancy, and have been developing the business since. In addition to the touring park, they have the Jura Apartment and 4 static caravans for hire. We had a good nose around the Jura Apartment between lettings – a fine Victorian property, furnished true to the period, on the first floor of the large “extension” to the original house. Alison and Adrian’s winter project is creating a downstairs apartment ready for the 2008 season, which will make their letting portfolio complete.

The 10 pitch touring field immediately over the road is right next to a white sandy beach and turquoise sea, with lovely sea views (weather permitting) across to the islands of Cara, Gigha and Islay, with the Paps of Jura visible on clear days. All sorts of wildlife can be spotted with patience, including seals, and Alison is happy to share her knowledge of the flora and fauna of the area. The weather was not kind whilst we were there, in fact we were confined to barracks on our first day because of heavy rain. It picked up the next day, and we even had a pretty sunset, although we were assured that glorious sunsets are the norm, not the exception.

Alison told us, without any hint of boasting, that they own both the grass AND the beach, up to the high tide mark, so I suppose their land ownership ebbs and flows (so to say). Unusually, camp fires are allowed on the beach, and as we had taken our own firepit, logs and axe, (our motorhome has a large garage), we had a campfire on several evenings. Beachcombing for driftwood is encouraged, and the local shop, just 5 minutes walk away, sells peat logs. Campfires are great, but in the romance of it all, you forget how much they smoke, and with a dodgy wind, we filled the campervan with smoke on several occasions – boy how that smell lingers.

With Adrian’s help we had pre-booked a small hire car from the Vauxhall Garage in Campbeltown, which meant we could tour the Kintyre Peninsula, and beyond, over the next few days............

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Monday, 8 October 2007

Isle of Arran

Apparantly, most folks just pass through the Isle of Arran, by arriving at Brodick then driving to Lochranza, for the ferry to Kintyre, without stopping. Big mistake. We wished we had longer on the Island, but two days was all we had, and we made the most of it.

Seal Shore Campsite is a very laid back site tucked away in the south corner of the island. The site owners sell absolutely delicious freshly caught lobster and crab (which you have to dress yourself) at very reasonable prices – and are well worth tackling with any tools handy – in our case a hammer and an axe! Why we were carrying an axe will be revealed when we get to Muasdale Touring Park.

There are two areas to the site – pre-booked and non-booked, the pre-booked area being nearer the sea, with hook-ups, and is mainly for caravans and motorhomes. Tents are pitched to the rear of the site. The weather was kind to us on Arran, with sunshine on both days, but midges could be a problem as evening appproached, despite being on the coast. We quickly learned how to deal with them – see later blog “Midges”.

One small niggle with this site was that motorhomes and tents turned up early evening and pitched up on the narrow strip right at the front of the site between the beach and the campsite, thus blocking the view for everyone else. So having picked a pitch for its great sea view, you found yourself overlooking the side of a campervan or acres of canvas. This could be solved by only allowing small, low tents along that area but ………………………..

A 20 minute walk or 5 minute bike ride from the site is a brilliant village shop and Post Office – Kildonan Store,– a veritable Tardis with a huge range of food and drink goodies. We even got an elusive bottle of sparkling red Ozzie wine, which we couldn't find in Tesco or Oddbins.

On the way to the ferry port of Lochranza, the departure point for the Kintyre Peninsula, we called in at several tourist places including the delightful Museum of Arran life, Arran Brewery and Arran Aromatics and had no problems parking the ‘van at any of these places. Arran in September was very quiet, and had we been on the island longer we would have had no quarms about taking the ’van out for the day.

The ferry port at Lochranza, destination Claonaig (on the Kintyre peninsula) is tiny, literally a small grid-like car park with a ramp down to the sea, and the ferry is not bookable. You just turn up and wait. We were first in the queue, and had plenty of time for a cup of tea and crab mousse on hot toast, (much to the envy of the motorcyclist in the queue behind us!).

This ferry was much smaller than the previous one, and was open air (to allow for larger, taller vehicles to be loaded). As we departed Arran for the short crossing, we left the sunshine behind, and approached the Kintyre Peninsula shrouded in mist. Our destination – Muasdale Touring Park, Muasdale, Kintyre.

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