Along Loch Long and the back way to Oban

July 15, 2016 - Oban, United Kingdom

Well the time had come to leave Glasgow. After dinner last night we brought Zack's and Olly's suits and shoes back to our hotel. We were to take the suits with us and thus save them dealing with them on the flights to and from Portugal. We had breakfast and packed our bags ready to go. Thank goodness we had set out to travel light as we now had two shoeboxes (thanfully with their own carry bags) and four suitbags extra to lump into a taxi and head for the Europcar offices. On the way there our friendly Glaswegian driver explained what he thought was the easiest route to take to first get out of the city and then onto the A82. 'So remember, Glascow Airport, Clyde Tunnel and Erskine Bridge and you'll be right'. He turned the taxi around so he could drop us right at the door to the office and had our two suitcases inside the door before we could even think about gathering up suitbags and things. British cabbies are 'streets ahead' (ha, ha) of our own. At home you are lucky to get a driver who understands you, or vice versa, let alone one who actually knows how to get from A to B without Google Maps. Thank you to all Glasgow cabbies, and British cabbies generally. What will Uber do for YOU?

Our Europcar clerk soon had our paperwork sorted out, credit card debited for deposit and then we waited until the car was sorted out. A short delay for the upgrade to an 'E' class Mercedes. Perhaps this was not really for our benefit but rather to have us pay their relocation levy and get this car back to the Midlands. A short while later I was taken out in the rain to inspect a wet car for damage and minor imperfections. The clerk chappy agreed it was an almost impossible task and I should have a thorough look in better conditions (what?) and phone them if there were any other marks. He then sat with me in the car to go through some of the controls.

Now with my licence endorsed I collected Margaret and our luggage and we settled in to adjust seats, mirrors, A/C settings (didn't worry about the seat warmers) and then set the GPS Navigator for Hill House, Helensburgh which was to be our first port of call. All we had was the street name so that had to be enough. (By th by, Helensburgh is 'burgh' as in Edinburgh, rather than 'burgh' as in our local Helensburgh back home.) OK now we are ready to go. Our taxi driver's instructions said to go left, but the GPS said to go right; first round to the taxi driver. Now all I had to do was turn left from the most awkward spot, parked on the wrong side of the road, on the double yellows and so near the corner we would almost be making a left turn from the wrong side of the street.

Now then, start the car with the funny looking rectangular key, and, with engine running put the transmission into drive and indicate left. Alright now, that is left stalk for the indicators, check, and right stalk for the gear selection, check; this may take some getting used to. Release the parking brake ... that's a handle under the dash on the right to release, and a pedal on the left to engage. I think patting your head and rubbing your stomach is easier but I'm sure the Germans can do it all. I am almost certain our very German sounding Europcar clerk is watching as we pull out carefully from the side and across the road then turn left onto the Quay. All goes well. Well until the blinker cancels and by automatic reflex I flick the right stalk upward. We are now in neutral and trying to accelerate into the traffic. Thankfully I realise the reason for that sound of revving engine and quickly use the right stalk to engage drive once more.

'Prepare to turn left', says the GPS in a mild sounding, female, computer-english voice, and then 'Now turn left'. No, I won't! I am following our taxi driver's instructions and continue past the intersection. 'Please, turn left at the next intersection!' says the GPS, in more peremptory than pleading tones. I am glad that the voice doesn't have a German accent. This time the instruction is in line with the taxi driver and I wait at the lights to make the left turn. As we are in 'Eco' mode the engine shuts down while we wait then starts when I take my foot of the brake. A bit disconcerting but I am willing to concede control of that function to Herr Mercedes.

Our GPS instructions led us out through the suburbs to join the A82 somewhat further on than I thought it should but it was a good opportunity to get to know the car while we moved along in a line of traffic, and stopped and started at traffic lighs (with the motor stopping and starting as required). It also was a period to learn the patterns of the GPS directions and maps. Margaret's car had a Navman GPS that had been christened Wanda for obvious reasons. We replaced that with a Garmin 7" when we we were getting lost in Brisbane because of outdated maps and a Garmin 5" for the Subaru not long after. These we named Aimy and Meand'er respectively. As we drove along in the Mercedes we thought his GPS (of course a Mercedes is Herr not her!) should be called Miss Direct to account for her slightly Schoolma'amish tone and her propensity to choose odd routes to the destination.

To paraphrase old friends, we made Helensburgh safely, blundered in to Upper Colquhoun Street and eventually found The Hill House, wait for it, at the top of the hill. Or at least at the top end of the road. The slight rain from the start of the day had eased as we drove along and now the day looked like improving. Nevertheless we took the accoutrements for British weather with the slight concession of leaving jumpers behind as it was only a short walk from the carpark. The house itself is one designed and partly furnished by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and is probably the first we have seen that demonstrates his ideas for house layout as well as for interior design, decoration and furniture. Here we had a chance to see more objects and ideas than the otherwise limited Mackintosh displays that we have seen. Unfortunately the Willow Tea Rooms in Sauchiehall Street were closed for renovation and the Glasgow School of Art had a disastrous fire a couple of years ago and the new area for their remaining Mackintosh collection is only now being designed. The functional design, use of light and space and minimalist furnishings must have been a shock to those used to the dark and cluttered Victorian and Arts and Crafts interiors.

When we emerged from the house a very wet looking coach group were making their way inside and the rain was tipping down outside. We re-programmed Miss Direct with Kilmartin as we thought there was a museum there that could be worth visiting and the route we thought we would follow would take us around the shores of Gare Loch and Loch Long. Miss Direct had other ideas and sent us back towards the A82 but we found a place to turn around and continued to overide her demands until she finally agreed with OUR plans. The drive was a pleasant meandering road with views along the loch under the low clouds. When we began there was very little wind but as we approached Ardgarten there were whitecaps on the water and the rain was getting heavier. It was very pleasant to be in a temperature controlled cabin and although the road was narrow in places the driving was easy. We chatted for a while about The Hill House and some of our plans for the coming weeks but soon my co-pilot was nodding off and I drove on in silence for several miles.

After crossing Kinglass Water we were thinking of a cup of tea and saw a sign that looked promising and then saw some highland cattle. We stopped and I ducked oit into the misting rain to snap a couple of pictures. We had promised Rosie we would try to get some photos of cattle for her. We contineued on our way and eventually found Loch Fyne Oysters and 'The Tree Shop' plant nursery and cafe where we pulled in for a well earned cuppa and a light (and late) lunch. The coffee was fair but both my tuna and spring onion ciabatta and Margaret's smoked ham and spring onion rarebit were excellent. Thus fortified we drove on in slightly reduced rain for a while.

'Prepare to turn left', boomed Miss Direct, as we approached Inverary, startling me from my concentration on the driving and my various thoughts. This first direction after many miles of silence came as a bit of a shock as I had forgotten all about Miss Direct. The rain and wind was relentless as we approached Kilmartin so we set a new destination to the address of the hotel in Oban and continued on saying that if we feel the need of a short excursion from Oban then we could come back.

Our paperwork for The Queens Hotel in Oban just gave the address as Corran Esplanade so the GPS said we had reached our destination when we first turned onto the southern end of the esplanade. This was part of Oban that we remembered from 2013 when we drove down to catch the ferry to Craignish and stay at Tobermory on Mull. We peered around looking for Great Western signs and turned into the car park of the other Great Western hotel. Whoops, wrong place, so we edged back into the traffic and continued to the roundabout at the northern end of the esplanade where we found a quiet car park and tried entering the UK postcode as a destination for the GPS. My instuctor in the rudiments of Mercedes operation had suggested that the postcode is often a surer way of finding the place than the street address. So Miss Direct then took us down to the northern a roundabout and told us we were there. Luckily we spotted that Corran Esplanade continued north from there as well and so did we. The Queens Hotel with it's cramped, and full, parking area soon appeared so we drove past and found a parking spot on the road about 100m further on.

It was still raining slightly and blowing pretty hard so we left the suits in the car and just took our bags back to the hotel to check in. Our room, no. 5, was on the first floor directly above the reception desk so we were told. Peter, the desk clerk, with sort of a sliding, Mister Bean type gaze, said just go through here, follow the signs saying 'ROOMS', through the double doors and up two flights of steps. He did offer assistance with our bags but in good Aussie style we declined and dragged them along. Sure enough, we found the sign 'ROOMS' so turn right and cross the lounge and bar area, through two sets of doors marked 'ROOMS', up two flights of stairs, turn left and through another door directing us toward the correct room numbers, turn right and follow the corridor, down a short flight of stairs, turn left along a short corridor and there we were at the door of Room 5. Just another British hotel journey.

With some trepidation we opened the door. What a relief! A king-size bed, with bedsides each, a desk with mirror, two studded leather club chairs, a padded bench at the foot of the bed, a wardrobe with plenty of hanging space and large windows facing the bay. This will do nicely, thank you. The bathroom was a bit spartan in typical British style. Toilet, pedestal basin, a bit of shelf space and a bath with shower over. At least there was a glass shower screen and not a clingy shower curtain. The water flow was a bit limited but sufficient for a reasonable shower. The bath even has spa jets so if we have a few hours to fill it deep enough we may even have a spa bath while we are here.


Our guard dog looked forward to a pat on the head.
Who's that at the gate?
A cafe at last
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