Europe 2008 (Oban) Day 7 – May 31

31 05 2008

Last night we had a strange night.   I turned out the lights at around midnight and went soundly to sleep.  It seemed like almost immediately that I was woken up by the sound of a bell, which seemed a LOT like a fire alarm. It was 0300!!!  Mrs D also woke up and after looking at each other we determined it was likely a fire alarm.  We got dressed and got our passports and prepared to leave when it stopped.  Then it started again.  I opened the door to see if I could see any smoke or any other sense of urgency.  The rest of the guests on our floor were all peeking out their doors too trying to figure out what to do.  We decided it was likely a false alarm.  In hindsight… I should have also grabbed the laptop.  So many of my photos aren’t copied to the home PC yet. For about the next 30 minutes the bells would go on and then off and then sometimes they’d ring for 10 seconds while others they’d ring for a minute or so.  Sigh.  I think I fell back asleep soundly around 0330.

0700 came like a shot after the short sleep and it was hard to drag ourselves out of bed.  We had to move rooms today, so we had to pack everything up to move as well.  We got down for breakfast around 0815.  Mrs D decided to be daring and ordered the kippers for breakfast.  I went with a starter of porridge and then the "Full Breakfast"  – pretty standard fare.  Mrs D’s kippers were smoked. The poor Dead Sea was envious of the amount of salt in these little fish.  Yikes.  The full breakfast was OK, but I really wish they’d stop trying to push the baked beans on me.

We were in the car and ready to go by 0845….  We encountered our first problem almost immediately.  Because we had been driving until 1900 yesterday we had managed to hit quite a few bugs.  There wasn’t going to be much clarity to any pictures taken through the front window.  Off to the gas station that we saw the night before.  We asked if they had a squeegee with which we could wash the bugs off our windscreen.  I might as well have been talking martian.  After a quick description of what I wanted, the girl pointed me to a bucket outside the door.  In it was a small foam "squeegy" which was about 4 inches wide.  Okaaaay.  Over to the car and wash, wash, wash.  Then I went to "squeege" and the rubber squeegy part was about as hard as rock :(  Wipers. :)  Much better.

Since we were close, we decided to check out the ruins of Inverlochy Castle first.  It was about 0930  and the sun was beaming over the top of the Nevis range and illuminating the castle nicely.  We wandered about, read a bit of the history of the castle and took lots of pictures.  I even managed to get a bird photo while we were there.  I don’t know what kind of bird it was, but it was small with bluish wings and a yellow breast.  Picture will come one day.  Can you believe it??? It was FREE to wander throughout the castle ruins!  FREE!  Of course having it unattended meant that local teens apparently like to use it for a bit of a hangout…  some broken beer bottles and other debris littered some of the area in the old towers.  I guess kids are the same everywhere.  We left the castle area around 1000 and began our journey to Oban.  The road was windy, as it was the day before, but not as tight. There were many opportunities to pull out and take pictures, and to enjoy the views of Loch Linhe and the mountain ranges.  The drive was nice  and Mrs D didn’t leave fingernail marks in the car this time :)  We even saw a very cool little castle called "Stalker Castle" out on the water.  It had its own little island, and would probably have made a GREAT picture at sunrise or sunset.  As it was, we got it at near mid day.  You take what you can get.  Oban is a lovely town which turned out to be quite large.  We arrived right at the distillery thanks to Tom Tom.  This little GPS device has been a great tool for our trip.   We arrived at 1100, having paid for two hours parking.  We found out that the tour starts at 1200 and would last an hour.  PERFECT.  We wandered the main street of Oban and even found a Canadian Flag flying in their "International" square.  After a visit to the Tourist info centre we had just enough time to head over for the tour.

Our tour guide informed us that no pictures were allowed – bummer.  It was apparently due to the high alcohol content in the air due to the distillation processes.  I think it’s a trade secret sort of thing, but hey.. I wasn’t about to find out the hard way.  The tour was fascinating but being as we toured on a Saturday, the mashing of the barley wasn’t going on.  The only process that actually was occuring while we were there  was the fermentation.  Our guide let us have a sniff into the fermentation vats. WHEW!  Now THAT was a high alcohol vapour region!   We went through from the fermentation to the distillation and finally to the casking.  After the whole bit had been explained, we had the opportunity to sample some 12 yr old "cask strength" Oban Whisky at 63%.  Very nice.  But lacking some of the woodiness that it would have picked up in the last 2 years in the cask.  The last stop on the tour was to have a dram of the REAL stuff – 14 yr old Oban Whisky.  Fine Scotch!  My curiosity must have impressed the tour guide, as she allowed me and another tourist to sample some of the "distiller’s special" Whisky which is put into cognac casks for 8 mos after the 14 year regular casking.  It was a bit darker and had more of a full body to its flavour.  Nice.

Following the tour, we were ushered into the shop.. and it was time to spend.  And spend we did.  We bought a bottle of the "Distiller’s Special", which they don’t export,  for $90CAD.  When you consider that the regular Whisky goes for that price back home(and it was only 66CAD in Oban), I’d have to say it was a good deal. 

Having just broke the bank buying our Whisky, we walked around Oban a bit more to soak in the little town.  After 1/2 an hour of wandering we headed out and I checked the GPS for any heritage stuff near our route.  We were in luck – Dunstaffnage Castle wasn’t too far away.  We headed out to it to check it out.  It was a large castle ruins and it dominated the bay that it overlooked.  Well positioned as a castle.  We ended up buying a "Scottish Heritage" 3 day pass with the idea that we were likely to see more before we left the country.  The castle base was well preserved, and like many fortifications, it had parts that were added in the 19th century as well as its original foundations which dated back to the 15th century.  The castle also had the remains of a chapel nearby, but it wasn’t nearly as interesting as the castle.  There was a single memorial tomb for one person, but otherwise the walls of the chapel were just barely standing.

Now that we had our "Scottish Heritage" Explorer pass, we HAD to go visit another site.  The Bonawe Iron furnace was to be the second Heritage site for us!  We plugged it into the GPS and let it guide us there.  It all seemed pretty effortless until we got to a single lane which led down a path and straight to a BIG house.  Turns out that the house was the Bonawe Manor, and it had previously been the house belonging to the manager of the Iron Furnace.  After working out our own directions to finish the trip to the furnace, we got there and dutifully had our "Heritage passports" stamped.   The iron furnace was well documented and even though 200 odd years of non-use had taken its toll on some structures, others looked like they had been in use up until yesterday.  There was a numbered trail that took you through the process of charcoal making and storage all the way up to the blast furnace and the pig iron production.  The pig iron had, during the years of operation been shipped back down to England from whence came the original ore.  It was easier, and cheaper, to supply charcoal for the furnace up in Scotland than down in England.

Having visited the furnace we plugged Fort William back into our GPS and started following it.  We didn’t believe it.  "It must be taking us BACK to Oban."  "It must be wrong!"  I pulled an Eddie.  I refused to believe my Navigational equipment.  I went so far as telling it to plot a route via another way.  It STILL wanted to go the same way.  I drove the other way.    As I kept driving the other way it began to strike me that I had NEVER seen this part of the area before… oops.  Sheepishly turn around and listen to the GPS.  Eheh.  We figure out what happened when we get to the fork in the road that we took to get to the Iron  Furnace that we hadn’t noticed.  Ahah… it all made sense and, of course, our GPS was right.

We arrived back in Fort William in at about 1800 and got our new room number from reception.  We would be overlooking the Loch tonight.  We headed up to our room and found that indeed we were overlooking the Loch and we were facing WEST.  Hot, hot hot!  It had been sunny all day, and the sun had warmed the little room very well.   After arranging our belongings again, we went down to the bar to have a beer and then off for dinner.  We ate dinner at the restaurant above the Jacobite on High St.  I ALMOST ordered the Haggis, but just couldn’t bring myself to do it.  Mrs D and I both ordered 8oz sirloin steaks medium rare.  When they showed up one was so cooked it could have been shoe leather and the other was still mooing.  Well nobody had said the Scots were famous for their steaks.  Dinner was not particulary great.  We got back to our little room which had cooled a bit now that the window had been open for a while and passed right out at about 2100.  2300 I woke up and decided it might be a good idea if we were to change into our bed clothes :)  No blogging that night.  This one got written up the next night.

Cheers!

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