Oban, Scotland, where we currently are, is on the Western coast of Scotland and is widely considered the gateway to the Hebrides islands. From our Airbnb window we see, in addition to a backdrop of two of the Hebrides islands, a steady stream of ferry boats going back and forth.
Many people who visit take a ferry tour out to the islands. The most popular is the three-island tour of Mull, Staffa, and Iona. It includes a 45-minute boat ride from Oban to the port of Craignure, on Mull, then a one-hour bus ride across Mull from Craignure to Fionnophort, followed by a cruise in a smaller boat to visit Staffa where the boat docks for one hour, then Iona where the boat docks for two hours. Staffa is famous for Fingal’s Cave, which is Stonehenge-like in its mystery, and was also the inspiration for Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture. Iona is known for a 13th century Benedictine Abbey. The tour is ten hours in duration from leaving the ferry landing to the return and, doing the math, there are three hours spent at places seeing things and seven hours in transit. John suffers from motion sickness and, while any one of the modes of transit could affect him, the smaller boat closer to open seas would just about guarantee a miserable time for him.
We decided, instead, to take the five-minute ferry ride across to Kerrera, one of the islands we could see from the window of our Airbnb, and do some hiking over there. Kerrera is a small island, seven kilometers long and two kilometers wide and is home to only forty-five people. To get there, we had to take a ferry from the Gallanach ferry landing, 2.5 miles down the road from Oban. This required a taxi, which we found at the Oban Ferry landing. On our short ride down to the Kerrera ferry, we chatted up the driver. We asked if he was from Oban and he told us no, that he was from Hungary. As we talked, we learned that he had been in Oban for six years. After leaving Hungary he had come to Oban for a short visit, decided that he loved it here, and hasn’t left.
We got to the ferry landing and paid the driver for the ride. He gave us a card with his phone number on it in case we needed help getting back to town after our hike. The ferry arrived at the landing carrying a half a dozen school children, a few parents, and a small, three-legged dog. They disembarked and we boarded the ferry, along with two other older couples and two young American women who appeared to be around thirty. We were all dressed to hike.
On the ferry, the operator sold us tickets. The cost was £3.20 for a single or £4.80 for a return (round trip). John wondered who would buy a one-way ticket to Kerrera. I thought of our Hungarian cabbie who arrived in Oban and never left. Maybe it would be the same for us on Kerrera.
Walking up the hill from the ferry we conversed with the two American women about which way we planned to go. There are two options on Kerrera, one is a hike to the south end of the island where there is a small hostel and tea garden and, a short distance after, the remains of Gylen Castle. The other option goes to the north end of the island with sweeping panoramic views of the islands of Lismore and Mull, and of Oban. There is also a small memorial to David Hutcheson who, in the late 19th century, began operating boat transportation around the islands. The women planned to visit the south end of the island; we were headed for the north. One of the factors in our decision was the “bog rating” scale for each hike. From one to five, a one on the rating is “Walk is completely dry underfoot” and five is “It’s a swamp. Snorkel recommended.” The Hutcheson monument hike was somewhere in the middle at a rating of three. As it turned out, there were a few places with substantial water in the road, but there was always a way to get around the worst of the wet spots.
We soon learned that, while Kerrera has a small population of people, it has a substantial population of sheep, Highland cattle, and rabbits. Our morning was spent walking along dirt and gravel roads, enjoying the scenery to the sound of bleating sheep with their spring lambs. A black dog took up with us for a while and led the way, then was distracted by something and left. There were a number of fences and gates across the road along the way – none were locked, but most had signs asking that the gates be closed and latched. We found a charming old dresser in a yard that served as a self-serve vending station for fresh eggs. Later on, we came across a farm store with note on the door from the proprietor that she was away for the day, but the door was open and anyone who wished could enter and make a purchase. This level of trust in visitors to the island on the part of the residents was refreshing and seemed to be fairly common. The small farm store – not much larger than a walk-in closet – sold bottled drinks, cheese, meat, eggs (both duck and chicken), and other items. We chose a bottle of Victorian Lemonade from the small refrigerator, wrote our names and our purchase in her notebook, opened her cash box, and paid the £1.50 for the drink. Back outside, we sat on wooden crates in the sun and passed the lemonade back and forth until it was gone. It was cold, tart, slightly carbonated, and very refreshing. Leaving the farm, we came across a pig sty with a litter of little piglets. To our surprise, they had no trouble getting out of their pen, and mama pig didn’t even seem to notice their exit. They ran around our feet thinking that maybe we were there to feed them.
We made our way a little farther down the road and reached the Hutcheson monument. It’s on a hill with views approaching 360 degrees, so made a perfect spot to eat our lunch of crackers, cheese, a sliced apple, and a few chocolates, and to watch the boat traffic, mostly ferries and a small tourist boat that takes people to see a seal colony that is near Kerrera.
After finishing lunch, we walked back the same way we had come and, on the way back saw a few more hikers. We had seen one person walking near the monument on our way there and saw six more on the way back. Other than these seven hikers, the only other living things we saw on our hike were animals.
We got back to the ferry with time to spare, so relaxed on the pier while we waited. In the middle of the island, we had felt the heat of the day; down near the water the cool breeze was chilly. We thought about calling the taxi driver to come pick us up but figured that we might be able to bum a ride with a ferry rider who was also heading back to Oban. As it turned out, we were a small group on the return ferry – a couple with a toddler, a runner who had spent the morning running the trails on the island, and the two American women who had been on the ferry over. We asked the two women for a ride back to Oban and they obliged. Each of them was in Scotland for the second time. This time they had traveled over for the wedding of a friend who was getting married on the weekend just outside of Edinburgh. They were in Oban for two nights, then planned to go on to Inverness and to make their way back to Edinburgh by the weekend. We are here until Thursday. That is, unless we follow the example of our taxi driver and decide never to leave.