Saturday, June 15, 2013

Hark Hear the Pipes A'Calling!

Ahh Oban, how little I time I had to know ye!  The first thing that struck me on the trip north by train was the transition from Edinburgh and the lowlands of Scotland to the coastal highlands on the way up to Oban.  As much as they are a part of the same place it was clear very early on the lowlands and the highlands were two very different worlds in many ways.  In spite of this it was a pleasant surprise to find, whether lowlander or highlander, the Scots all around were as friendly and hospitable in Edinburgh as they were in Oban.

One of the many lochs that dot and shape the landscape of Scotland

 The mist-covered stark hills of the highlands, complete with Scottish weather!

The train ride up from Edinburgh gave an excellent view of some of the most rugged, beautiful scenery I've seen yet, and it definitely hit home how different the two places were.  Edinburgh and the lowlands, while colder and wetter than northern California, ultimately aren't too much different from the rest of England in terms of land and climate.  The highlands, on the other hand, gave a very strong sense that every bit of land and living people could make up here had to be scratched, hacked, and carved out of the foreboding lands further north.

 Oban

After the train trip (by the way I LOVE the rail system in Europe so far!  Great for catching up on writing, looking at the scenery, unwinding, and NOT WORRYING ABOUT TRAFFIC!) I arrived in downtown Oban.  A much smaller place than everywhere I'd been before minus the colder weather and ancient ruins it wouldn't have been out of place on the central coast or New England, reminding me as different as things may be in terms of history, geography, and culture there are still so many things people share in common everywhere.  I wandered on the streets a bit before stopping off at the hostel, dropping my stuff off and grabbing a little dinner.

 Fried haddock with chips, an excellent dish I'd recommend to anyone passing through or staying a while

The joys of local caught fish!  If you stop through Oban I'd highly recommend getting some of the local seafood.  They know how to make it up here!  The next day, after much desired rest, I got up and got to seeing the sites and doing some hiking up in the hills above the town.

 A local war memorial for those who died in the World Wars

This memorial is one example, by the way, of why I think British and European policy towards war and defense is VERY different from the United States.  EVERY town I've been in has had some kind of monument to the war dead from the World Wars, something you don't see in America anywhere near as frequently.  Our country's experience in wars, ever since 1898, has always been one of where the fighting is something that happens, "over there."  Here it was something that was right in your face, with friends and loved ones not coming home, and the devastation sometimes hitting home itself.  Having experienced the two most destructive wars in human history would definitely weigh on the psyche in a way it doesn't in the United States and is definitely a lesson we could learn from.

Also like just about any fishing town they had a memorial to those who had been lost at sea.  It was simple, beautiful, and sadly looks like it has had some recent visits.  Gods watch out for those who risk their lives on the open ocean to pull back in a living for their families!

 A memorial to all sailors and fishermen lost at sea

From there I headed up into the hills above Dunnolie Castle, the ruins of what once was the seat of Clan MacDougall.  We'll get back to them in a minute, first up is the beauty of the highlands!

 A glen in the hills above Dunnolie Castle

 The hills above Dunnolie Castle

 A nice little spot for some reflection and rest

 The waves crashing up on the crags on the coast

 The beauty of the Oban coastline

 One of the towers along the seawall just below Castle Dunnolie

This boat below is how Clan MacDougall ruled the islands in the lands of Lorn, as the local region is known.  Based on the design of the old Viking longships the main improvement by the progenitor of the clan was replacing the traditional starboard steering oar with something much closer to what we would call a rudder and tiller.  This allowed their ships to turn tighter, faster, and maneuver more effectively than other vessels in the confined lochs, bays, and sounds of the western Scottish coast.

 A reconstruction of a Gaelic ship inspired by the Viking Longships which once ruled the North Sea and the Isles

Dunnolie Castle itself has long since fallen into ruins.  It once boasted a three story keep with a great feasting hall where all clansfolk and travelers were welcome to grab a spot to sleep and a bite to eat from the Chief's table.  Time and history were not kind to the seat of the MacDougalls, first seeing a loss of station from siding with Edward II against Robert the Bruce during the Scottish War of Independence, then seeing occupation by Cromwell's troops during the English Civil War, before finally being broken all together when the MacDougalls backed the Jacobites during the Jacobite uprisings and losing what little they had left, leaving them with a simple house just down the hill from the castle they once ruled the isles from.
 One of the towers of Castle Dunnolie

 The main keep of Castle Dunnolie

After hiking around it was time for another excellent bite to eat in town, some rest, and to get ready for the trip back down to Newcastle and the hop to Amsterdam!

 Another view of the streets of Oban

Farewell to the highlands!

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