Vikings in Tarbert, then on to Arran and Inveraray before back to Tarbert
With little wind, it seemed a good idea to dawdle in Tarbert until the "Traditional Boat and Viking Festival". Leading up to this we did get get out and about, including a bus ride out to Skipness Castle (see More Pictures) and a walk back. We even met up with Dennis and Anne Archer (Judith's A-level maths teacher) for a cup of tea and a natter. The Traditional Boats arrived in dribs and drabs, some more traditional than others. We think the criteria was age, rather than material or construction technology, as there were several GRP boats in the gathering. All were dressed with flags or bunting, and one even rigged up some Christmas lights, but with the short nights these could not be appreciated for long. To participate in the frivolity we scoured the town for some bunting and found one short length to decorate Innisfree (see more pictures), it looked rather apologetic, but at least we tried.
In the run up to the main day in Tarbert the vikings had been on several 'raids' in Loch Fyne, including to the Fyne Ales brewery at the head of the loch. Because of the very light winds they had to row the whole distance, and looked exhausted as they pulled into the harbour late in the evening (see more pictures).
Many events were organised to complement the vikings, mostly in the grounds of Tarbert Castle (see more pictures). A troupe of archers demonstrated firing at targets. Along with the usual round targets, they had these plastic animals with balloons to burst. (mouse-over the picture right to see the arrows). In between the demonstrations they allowed children to attempt to pull the bows - thankfully without arrows. During the afternoon the vikings put on some skirmishes. These were decidedly "disney-ish" and clearly aimed at an audience of children. However the most ferocious were the clouds of midges that were enjoying a feast while the crowds looked on. More entertaining for us was the greasy pole. This was a long pole coated with washing-up liquid and pushed out over the water. The goal was to inch to the end, collect the slippery bottle, turn around and inch back. All the while having buckets of sea water thrown at you (left), and helpful people bouncing up and down on the pole. Needless to say many people fell in. The prize of a bottle of Springbank whisky to the first 6 who managed it was tempting enough persuade many to have a go. The most popular was the local headmaster who got a thorough drenching, but he won his whisky and then allowed the kids to throw him in.
The climax of the day was the portage of the viking longboat from West Loch Tarbert across the isthmus to Tarbert, through the village, and out to the Cal Mac ferry slip for launching into Loch Fyne. There were a few cheats, in that the boat was on a wheeled trailer so relatively easy to tow, and also had a tractor to act as a brake and to do the final launching for "health and safety" reasons. However it was a great spectacle with the whole town out to cheer on the procession which was headed by a ~¼ scale coal fired traction engine and a pair of pipers. The rain held off until they had rowed back to the pontoons, to make for a very memorable day. (see also more pictures).
With no excuse to linger we motored the short distance south to Lochranza (below) on the Isle of Arran, (see also Early May 2008). It was sunny and warm with little wind, so we opted to go for half day walks before it got uncomfortably hot in the afternoons. This meant we were the first along the popular footpaths and found the bird life had not yet been frightened off. A pair of golden plovers (right) piped their alarm calls as we strode passed. One who was not to be frightened off was a particularly muddy springer spaniel called Alfie who had left his owner far behind. Unfortunately we were sat on a rock eating our sandwiches when he appeared with a friendly wave of his muddy tail decorating our shirts and trousers with peat-brown coloured splotches. His owner was most apologetic, but we did not mind as Alfie was clearly having a great time and the washing machine easily took care of the mud.
The wind finally arrived after three days in Lochranza, unfortunately it was from the south and there are not many safe anchorages with the wind from that direction, so we headed back to Tarbert, but at least had a cracking sail on the way. The shipping forecast was for "gale 8 expected soon" so there is either too much, or too little wind - such is life. To pass the time while waiting for the strong winds to dissipate, we opted to catch the bus northwards up Loch Fyne to Inveraray.
Inveraray Castle (left and more pictures) is the home of the Duke of Argyll, who is also Chief of Clan Campbell. It was completed in 1789 when there were two floors and no turrets on the corner towers. These were added in 1877 after the castle was damaged by fire.
The tour is self guided and much more unstructured than Mount Stuart (see Mid June). We much prefer this as you have time to look at what interests you, rather than have a guide drag you on to the next room before you have looked your fill. The castle has many fine paintings with the Duchesses Elizabeth Gunning and Princess Louise (Queen Victoria's daughter) taking center stage. The most impressive of the rooms open to the public is the Armoury Hall (below) which is 21 meters high. In the picture Tim is looking up at a roundal of Brown Bess muskets which is flanked by more muskets and Lochaber axes above, and crossed broadswords below.
Unfortunately our camera decided that after four years and more than 5000 pictures it had had enough, but thankfully after we had left the castle. Back in Tarbert (below) the only suggestions for how to fix it that we found in the instruction manual and on the internet were to send it away. So we ordered a new one to be delivered. Hopefully it will be quicker to arrive than the 10 days we waited for engine spares in the Outer Hebrides in 2012. At least there is much to do here, with a seafood festival starting at the weekend.
Our plan is to traverse the Crinan canal. This should be interesting because, unlike the Caledonian canal, only the sea locks are staffed with the rest operated by boat crews. We are hoping that we can tag along with other boats, otherwise we shall be very tired by the end.