Monday, 13 April 2009

It never rains but it pours: A visit to Argyll

Despite my resistance to London before I moved to the city, I fear my person is slowly becoming accustomed to the place. Having left London a few days ago to spend time elsewhere, within hours of not being there I was wishing that I was. Although this was most probably due to the fact that the place I was in, was a soggy pocket of Scotland known as the West Coast. For many years my family trailed up to this spot for summer holidays. We would tramp sodden on long walks through the countryside, sheltering in stone cairns. We endlessly visited the same tourist attractions; sea life centres, gardens and stately homes, wildlife sanctuaries, and a bizarre collection of museums, including one on Oban Pier which contained miniature dioramas created in dollhouse-sized scales.

By the end of the two weeks we would be pale and unhealthy looking, from a lack of sunshine and diet of Irn Bru and cream cakes - sheltering in cafes became a popular way to pass the time. Our entire bodies would also be covered in marks of the tiny assaults of countless midges. These were not particularly stress-free holidays, and I have no idea how my parents perpetuated this cycle of familial torture without killing my brother and I or themselves. Why you may then ask did I return to this place last week? Moreover, why did I sacrifice some of my precious holiday allowance to do so? I had not visited Argyll for over 2 years I calculated, and there were family friends I had not seen in ages to visit. Plus, I persuaded myself, it was a trip in April, a long time from the notoriously soggy summers, and the start of the midge season. How bad could it be?

As my plane touched down at Glasgow International (an airport slightly smaller than its car-park), quiet rain tapping on the plane windows welcomed us to Scotland. By the time I had cleared arrivals it was coming down harder, and by the time we left Paisley the windscreen wipers on the car were going flat out. Ah, some things never change. My parents, who I had joined, assured me they'd had lovely weather the past few days but with my arrival, Scotland had no more sunshine left for that week. Pleasant weather quota exhausted it proceeded to rain all week long, during which time I morphed into a soggier, curlier-around-the-edges version of myself as even my hair-straighteners knew when they were beat. In memory of family holidays gone by, we trudged once more around dripping gardens to admire Rhododendrons (the only living things to appreciate the constant downpour), walked through muddy fields in the drizzle and took shelter in the shop formerly known as John Menzies in Oban, where once we had seen Judi Dench perusing newspapers, and probably waiting out a shower; a wise woman (although evidently not wise enough to holiday elsewhere).

Daffodils at Arduaine - pretty even through the pelting rain
If one has a commercial desire for anything more than overpriced poor-quality cashmere, shortbread in tartan tins or stuffed Loch Ness monsters, Scotland is not the shopping haven for you. I yearned for Ted Baker and Zara, I longed for Habitat and Waterstones, or for any shop one might walk into and NOT be met with an "Och no, dearie! We've no call for fancy things like DVDs up here!" I missed being able to get a pint of milk from the end of the road where I live, instead of having to trail for 20 minutes in a car before seeing a cow let alone a bottle of semi-skimmed. My diet went downhill instantly, as I put away Tunnocks teacakes, chocolate shortbread and vast plates of fried scallops in an effort to keep out the cold, and to pass time indoors, rather than brave the elements. No hopping on a bus two minutes from my front door. Much as I loathe TFL's inadequate management of London's public transport systems, Argyll's potholed single track roads, weekly bus services to the nearest post office and lack of train stations in useful locations, has made me desperate to get back to London's miles of concrete. At least there's less open space to dash across when it rains!

As my parents threatened to retire to this soggy paradise, which can be undeniably beautiful on the rare occasion that the clouds part, I begged them to reconsider. Although by the time they get round to it, I dread to think what will remain after climate change and a few more years of torrential rain have played their part. Don't get me wrong, I was brought up in the countryside, and I will forever enjoy walks through fields and woods, with vast clear skies above. I enjoy the fresh air, and the lack of congestion and grey-faced commuters. But something about a big city, the energy, the excitement, the ease of obtaining a decent take-away, is just too alluring for me right now. And so tomorrow, to London...with relief!


  1. Just a wee thought: unless I'm much mistaken those daffodils are at Arduaine dearie.

  2. Accidental Londoner20 April 2009 at 19:37

    Noted and changed! You'll have to forgive me; through the driving rain one wet garden looks much like another!


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