The Scottish Textile Trail
Arran and the West Highlands
Organised by Kaarina Ojasti and Leena Casagrande
Report on the TRIP to SCOTLAND - June 2014
The happy bunch met at Helsinki airport before the flight via Stockholm to Edinburgh. After a smooth flight we were met at Edinburgh airport by our driver Gus (carrying a sign saying "En puhu paljon suomea":) and our old friend John Purkis.
We drove past Edinburgh and had a brief look at Pennyquick, the former home of James Finlayson. After that we visited Sir Walter Scott's beautiful home, Abbotsford. The excellent guides told us stories about Scott and explained how he used to be kind to people and love dogs. We saw the grave of Sir Walter's favourite dog, Maida, and read Scott's words where he says that there is a reason for dogs only living for about 10-12 years: "If we already mourn them this much after having known them for ten years, the mourning would be more than double if dogs were to live longer..."
Next stop was the lovely town of Melrose and the magnificent Abbey. The view from the rooftop was breathtaking.
Our hotel was the Tontine in Peebles. At the end of such a long and eventful day everybody was happy to get some sleep - after a delicious dinner, of course.
After a very good breakfast we started our journey towards Hawick. We had an interesting factory tour at Johnstons of Elgin, and finally understood why the cashmere sweaters are so expensive: the making of the products is really labour intensive. It was fascinating to realise that all the luxury garments sold by Chanel and Louis Vuitton are in fact made in Hawick.
Naturally, we emptied the factory shop before setting out to the centre of Hawick and the textile museum in the Tower. The afternoon was free for lunch and more cashmere shopping.
A very interesting day with a visit to the beautiful town of Moffat: tea and cashmere sweaters, what else? We then saw Threwe Castle, surrounded by a river, and were taken to the other side by a man in his boat. The castle itself was impressive.
The afternoon was spent in the lovely town of Gatehouse of Fleet and its poetry venue, the Bakehouse. Chrys Salt, the poet who visited Finland in October 2013, had invited us to see her creative home. Our guide Ken then took us to the converted mill which is now the local activity centre, a museum, a second hand bookshop and a restaurant.
We continued our journey through Galloway Forest and admired the view at the Robert Bruce Memorial Stone.
For the evening we arrived at Ayr by the seaside. The night was spent in a lovely B&B called Miller House.
We headed towards Alloway and the birthplace of Robert Burns. The new museum was excellent, and there was a minitrain taking people to Burns' cottage. "A Man's a Man For A' That." Our wonderful driver, Gus, had already told us lots about Rabbie Burns, and played his most famous songs, so we felt well-prepared to attend the museum.
The journey continued to Culzeon Castle, and what a castle it was! Dramatically set by the seashore, and surrounded by beautiful gardens it was a memorable sight. We spent hours just walking around, having cups of tea and scones and admiring the elegant rooms.
The ferry to Arran started at six o'clock. Everybody was excited about getting onboard and the one hour crossing passed quickly. Our hotel was in the outskirts of Brodick, set in beautiful gardens. We had a delicious meal in the evening, and took part in the pub quiz ("general knowledge" on Thursdays). No, we didn't win, but weren't the last ones either. It was great fun! On hearing that we came from Finland one of the men asked: "How does a small country with 5 million people manage to stay independent...?"
Every morning Gus used to greet us with something in Finnish, well, you know, typical sentences such as "Ilmatyynyalukseni on täynnä ankeriaita!" Whenever we saw a breathtakingly beautiful place he would say "Kamala paikka!" This became the motto of the tour, as everybody was shouting out "kamala paikka" at the scenic spots.
After an excellent breakfast we set off to the Arran Stone Circle. There was a brilliant sunshine and our bunch walked the 2 km in a cheerful manner. Gus explained that the sandstone for the stones probably came from the Orkneys. How it had been transported here remains a mystery.
All energised after the walk we were ready for the Arran Distillery. What a wonderfully entertaining presentation we had! We learned that you drink whisky either neat or with a wee drop of lukewarm water. At the end of the tour we got to taste Arran Gold, a Baileys type liquer. Needless to say, the shop was full of customers for quite a while after the visit...
A small ferry took us to the other side of Arran. Gus drove us to a lovely canal for coffee, and also to a hill where you could test whether your shoe fits a footstep left in the stone: if it did you were to become the next king or queen of Scotland.
Our last stop was Oban and the guesthouse for the night. After leaving the luggage we started wandering towards the centre for our supper.
After a free morning and a sightseeing tour in Oban we continued to the Highlands. Suddenly it was like arriving to another world: all the lush greenery was left behind and we were surrounded by high mountains with very little vegetation. Some of the mountains were snow-capped, so it felt like home. Glencoe definitely takes your breath away, and Gus' blood dripping stories just enforced the experience. There was even a skiing resort with funny looking Hobbit-homes to rent.
Heading back south we saw Loch Lomond for the first time, accompanied by the song, of course. Gus explained the lyrics, this is not a cheerful love song at all, but a very sad story about two brothers preparing for their deaths. Even in the rain Loch Lomond was huge and impressive.
On the way back to Edinburgh Gus took us through Glasgow. It was interesting to see the other big city, and how different it was to Edinburgh.
The evening ended with an excellent meal at Howies in Edinburgh. Our B&B, the Castle View Guest House, was the former home of Kenneth Grahame of "Wind in the Willows" fame. To describe the place there was a drawing and a quotation from the book: "I know there is a lot of stairs, yet that's the way I liked it!"
A free day in Edinburgh was the perfect ending to a wonderful trip. Plans were made for next summer: Orkney and the Outer Hebrides, perhaps? And Gus behind the wheel, definitely!