Our Twenty Third Year - A Season of Giving.

Scotland Memories

Friday, August 11, 2006 - written by Millie Davis

To Sing in Iona Abbey

Wake up knocks at 5:30a.m., breakfast at 6, and bus at 7 to ride in S turns from Spean Bridge along the Lock of Linnhe to Oban. We stopped along the way for a "Kodak moment" at a pull off lined up with tenters, unripe raspberries, and then all of us.

At Oban we awaited the ferry to the island of Mull and passed the time with a brief stroll around the town. McCraig's Mercantile was just opening as we went by, so some of us stopped for a look at the fleeces (long sleeved and sleeveless) two for 20, tartan plaids, and sweaters. I'm guessing that the name of the store is related to the McCraig of the Follie--a half coliseum on the hill overlooking town (half because the money McCraig left in his estate to build the monument ran out before the monument was finished and so the family left things undone). And, yes, at Oban we were introduced to our first Scottish 20 pence toilets.

45 minutes to Mull on the ferry; then a windy run across the island, traveling in our big bus on a one lane road with alternating pull offs and instructions to "Give Way Alternately." Our driver Chick took his turns, alternately "giving way" and going on. Some drivers signal with their lights to "come ahead" and others flash their lights at "thank you." Only once, on the way back, did we face a stand off with a little car that refused to either "give way" or get out of the way--maybe she'd had a bad day.

The hills of the island were covered with sheep and on occasion a brazen sheep would park his (or her) butt on the road to enjoy the warmth of the pavement. We rode past water at low tide and peaty looking shores and along past The Dutchman's Hat, an island shaped as such, guarding the starboard approach to the ferry landing.

We arrived at ferry number 2, which was only a people carrier, so we left Chick and the bus behind after grabbing our sandwiches, chips, apples, candy, and drinks and running to cross over to Iona to make our scheduled singing time at the Abbey. As soon as the boat reached the dock in Iona, our mission was to go straight up the hill to the Abbey and prepare to sing, then eat when possible and return to the bus at 5p.m., no 4:45p.m., no 4:30p.m., no, last chance to get home, at 4:00p.m. You see, the last ferry from Mull to Oban was cancelled, so we had to make the earlier ferry and Mull with its wavy, one lane roads and happenstance vehicle and sheep encounters is a totally unpredictable travel route when compared to American straightline-get-me-there-fast terms. It would not be unheard of for two vehicles to stop so their drivers could have a chat (just like in the hood) and hold up traffic for as long as the chat took.

Iona Abbey sits on a knoll overlooking the sea. There is a view out the leaded windows across from one side of the choir seats that looks out through the flowers and down the grassy hill to the water. Surrounded by grey stone walls and arches, tall arched church windows at either end, and polished wooden pews and seats, we sang from the altar area, feet on the stone floor. Jean chose the center section for her singing point. While the Abbey sanctuary is a long room, half a football field or more, it is divided into three areas separated by arches that intrude a couple of feet on each side into the room. This made for an acoustical challenge, for what was heard in one section did not transfer well into another section even though the sound within each section was good. Regardless, our audience of 75+ seemed pleased.

According to the new schedule, we left the Abbey right after our performance to head for the ferry. But before we got on the ferry, there were a few minutes for a walk by the sea. A few of us picked up shells but George took off his shoes and socks, rolled his pants legs up and crutches and all waded along the shoreline. What a picture of joy! And, as if that weren't enough, the summer men's choir serenaded all the waiting passengers with their song of the sea until the ferry came and we left the island.

Once on Mull we reconnected with our bus and passed along all sorts of luncheon leftovers--pass the sandwiches, pass the chips, the pop, and the water, pass the apples and the candy bars. We ate as we rode the 30 winding miles along the one lane "Give Way Alternately" road, past the sheep, the hills, the water, and The Dutchman's Hat.

We arrived at the ferry dock in plenty of time, time to check out the tourist shop, time to sing. The men's choir sang the sea song again, Jean led us in "Amazing Grace" and other songs. Those awaiting the ferry at Craignure, Mull, were quite pleased to have this way to pass the time. We continued our singing in the ferry lounge, nearly all the way across the water to Oban. Ferry passengers came by to listen and we enlisted a bass from another choir who was in Scotland on a visit from Australia.

In Oban we stopped for supper at the Caledonia Hotel and then headed home to Spean Bridge for another short night , another early departure (this time for Edinburgh via Stirling Castle) and another busy day on The Chorale in Scotland Tour--with Jean Redpath!

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