For those of you following the saga of our trip to Mull, you'll be pleased to know that now we have come to Friday, the day of the trip to Staffa. This is a small island famous for its basaltic columns and its caves, especially the one called Fingal's Cave. Stephen (if you google "columnar joints basalt" his paper is the first hit) had a special permission to stay on the island longer than the usual tourist to meet with a group of people who were measuring the columns, and we had to get the 10 am boat, since there are only a very few boats per day. The plan was that we would go with him, come back after an hour and meet up with him later in the day. So, off we went, with sandwiches and juice and all the accoutrements.
Now maybe I didn't mention yet that each of the passing places on the single track roads begins and ends with a pothole. These vary in size... but we managed to hit an enormous one and drive on for a bit before realizing that the front tire (I mean "tyre") was flat.
So, ahem, we got out the spare and the tools and set about changing it. Another couple stopped on the road and offered some help, but somehow, we just couldn't get that spare tire on the wheel. Finally we measured the two rims and found that we had been given a car with a spare tire that was just the wrong size! There was no way we could go anywhere...
Lucky for us we had cell phones that actually worked (though between the two of them, one had lots of minutes and a low battery and the other had a fine battery but was running low on time) and we called the rental guy who was going to bring a new spare. But of course, we had to be somewhere at a specific time! So we hitched a ride (taking the sandwiches but leaving behind the kids' shovels and the extra clothes) with the one car on the island that wasn't full of a holidaying family, and, despite meeting actual road construction on the way (which stops traffic in both directions for arbitrary periods of time) did in fact make it to the dock in time!
So, phew, we got on this boat, in this grey weather, and set off. The seas were a bit rough but it only rained for about 20 minutes. We got to the island and went up to the top, which looks like a big green plouffe from a distance. It is also the basalt rock, but covered in grass and a few flowers -- no sheep though. People (and sheep) did once live there, but not for some time now. There is a bit of a ruined stone building. Then down to the cave! It's very hard to take a picture of a cave! This one shows the water rushing in (see?) and the big central layer of columns, and the smaller columns in the top layer. To get to the cave, you walk along a path, conveniently made of a pretty even layer of broken columns along the edge. Once again, it is single track most of the way, and with the two kids it was another challenge in safe travel. There is another spot of broken column, which makes a sort of seat alongside the path. This is the Wishing Chair, and you have to sit there and make 3 wishes, at least one of which is supposed to come true in a year. Since I wished for things like "I hope Arthur gets down from there safely" I got my wish sooner! Also I made my wishes from the path and not the chair, so maybe that doesn't even count. Oh well.
Here is the top of something called The Herdsman, which is a little side island. You can't get over to it, but as you look down you can see the more or less hexagonal structure of the columns.
Finally the kids and I had to leave. We were among the last on the boat and had to sit in the cabin, where the horizon was harder to see, and I thought we all three were going to need the barf bags provided, but we managed to get back to Mull without incident.
There were of course a few things nagging at me. We had a few hours to kill before Stephen got back, but that was ok. Then we had to get to the car which was
left at the side of the road several miles back. I had to get some minutes for the one phone, and we were short of cash, if we were going to have to pay for a cab. And just as we were getting on the boat the "captain" said to Stephen that the seas were so high it was hard for him to dock, and it might be that he'd have to cancel the afternoon's trip. The other people working on the island had all the camping gear, so it wouldn't have been impossible... for him! For me it would have meant a lot of extra fuss and worry and driving on the wrong side of the road in the twilight! And oh, did I mention, the night before this trip, the memory in the new camera decided to stop working and so Stephen had my camera for the day? So, you have no pictures of our afternoon (but if you want about a million more of Staffa, just ask him!).
First we had lunch. Then we bought some new sand shovels and went to this beach where the tide was out and the kids dug for treasure and even found some. Arthur spent all afternoon unearthing 2 tires, digging the sand (and crabs) out of them and rolling them over to the water to wash them. Later we met another family and they had found an inflated one on a rim, so that had to be taken to the water to see if they could use it as a boat. This went on until all were soaked, and I realized we had to go find some money somewhere. So I dragged them up to the row of little shops, and found a place that could top up my phone and give me cash from my credit card. But... my Canadian bank knew I was in Britain, but they figured out my card was no longer in Cambridge, and they wanted to make sure all was well. So the transaction wouldn't go through, the shopkeeper had to call and sit on hold for ages, then pass the phone to me and I sat on hold for ages and ages and ages before I had to give my mother's maiden name and all that nonsense. If a person had looked at my transactions, they would have seen train tickets and ferry tickets. Hmm, going somewhere? Anyways, it was an enormous chunk of time, but the kids were so exhausted they didn't run too far away while I was stuck on the phone.
Finally it was 5 pm and we spotted the little boat coming back from Staffa! Yay, Daddy's back! When the tide came in the docking at Staffa was easier, apparently. We did find a taxi (and the kids want me to mention that it had 3 rows of 3 seats, which is highly unusual and makes the whole car trouble worthwhile) which, for a small fortune, took us back to our car. Keys in the sunroof, tire on, all systems go.
And on the way home, we chased this perfect rainbow across the valley.