It's Friday March 16th and today I head to the biggest island on my tour: the UK Mainland! First it's the 5-hour ferry journey from Castlebay to Oban....The ferry is the "Lord of the Isles" and after another early rise I'm all set to board about 0830 when I suddenly remember that I've left my laptop in the hotel. I haven't done anything that careless for a very long time - but fortunately the situation is easily retrievable and I zoom on foot back up to the hotel to get it and am back in the car before the ferry starts to board......Phew!!!!
The view from the ferry as we travel back to the mainland is quite spectacular, and the weather is very pleasant so I spend most of the time up on deck. First, there's a close up view of the castle in the bay which gives the town its name.
Then we hit the open sea beyond the bay and there's quite a swell - wouldn't like to make the journey on a stormy day!
The weather stayed fine most of the way across and, after a few hours of seeing nothing but ocean we pass quite close to Coll and Tiree (where I'm headed on Saturday)
We also got more distant views of the small islands Eigg, Muck and Rhum on the other side of the ship. I was taking the chance on the long sea crossing to catch up on my podcasts, starting with Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo's film reviews from the previous Friday. Coincidentally, as we were passing Eigg Mark was reviewing the new David Tennant film "The Decoy Bride" which is set on Eigg (or "The edge of Scottish remoteness", as Simon Mayo put it) although apparently it was filmed on the Isle of Man, so maybe the coincidence was somewhat diminished anyway.
By about 12.15pm we were passing the Ardnamurchan peninsula and starting the long, slow sail between the Scottish mainland and the Isle of Mull: wonderful scenery throughout - and a journey I will come to know well as I play my way back and forth along this sound on Saturday and Sunday too.
By 2.15pm we had arrived, after the longest ferry journey I'd ever taken - beating even Napoli to Palermo or Vancouver to Victoria. In fact it had really felt a bit more like a flight, in terms of its duration and rhythm - although it was nice of course to be able to move around and go up on deck, not really an option at 36,000 feet!
Just like taking a long flight, there was a certain sense of time stopping while on board, so when we did disembark at the Oban Ferry terminal, part of me still thought it was about 0845. Unlike e.g. a US trip, with the time zone shift, it was already mid-afternoon in Oban so I had to turn my thoughts quite quickly to the evening lecture at Oban High School.
After a quick reviving cup of tea in a coffee shop on the pier front I headed round to my hotel, the Columba Hotel, and checked in, caught up on some emailing and phoned home - and was pleased to learn that Catriona had now seen the unicycling Darth Vader on my blog - and thought it was hilarious!
Soon I was off to the High School, where I met science Faculty Head Iain Fulton, who had kindly given up his Friday evening to organise my talk. He warned me not to expect quite such big numbers as the BBC One Show was filming in town (to do with the start of Sport Relief) and many of their pupils had been swayed from a talk on the mysteries of the Universe by the prospect of getting a few seconds on TV - a metaphor for our times if ever there were one (although I have a feeling that if I'd been Brian Cox then the odds might have tipped firmly in my favour!) Despite Iain's caution, there was still a good crowd of more than 20 - making it feel that adding the extra lecture in Oban had been well worthwhile, particularly as we finally got the chance to do a little bit of stargazing afterwards. The skies were very murky but Venus and Jupiter could be clearly seen in the west when we came out of the lecture, so we had a look at them through binoculars at least and everyone went away happy. The prospects for much clearer skies (and of course darker skies!) over Tiree on Saturday night are apparently very good so I'm really looking forward to that. Tune in tomorrow to find out how that goes.
May the force be with you