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Issue 20 - Sign of spring times

Scotland Magazine Issue 20
April 2005


This article is 13 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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Sign of spring times

Dominic Roskrow marks the end of winter by returning to his beloved West Coast

In the four years when I lived in New Zealand, the thing I missed most about Britain was the change in seasons, and particularly the adjustment from winter to spring.

In Britain spring arrives symbolically. We put the clocks forward an hour so evenings suddenly become lighter: Easter arrives and with it, scores of spring traditions, such as entire villages fighting each other for hours over a small barrel as they do in Hallaton, close to where I grew up: the traditional Boat Race takes place, when predominantly foreign rowing crews representing Oxford and Cambridge Universities race each other on the Thames and a thousand musty boatsheds open their doors and play host to Champagne picnics, whatever the weather: in sporting changingrooms the phenolic winter odours of camphor and body rub gives way to gentle dusty leather and linseed oil associated with cricket bats, pads and gloves.

My symbolic moment comes when I first step foot on a Scottish island after the winter months. With the exception of the main road between Aberdeen and the Speyside region I tend to avoid trips to the far North and on to the islands between October and late March and I particularly miss the West coast during that time.

This year I did make one foolish effort to get to Orkney in February, but after two failed attempts to take off from my home airport and an hour spent watching news and weather reports about gales on the Northern coast, I slinked out of the airport shaken and stirred. A gale is nature’s way of saying ‘closed for business’ and I don’t fly well at the best of times.

So stepping on to an island again this year really did feel like the banishing of winter, particularly as God kept his fiercest Hibernian forces for the very end of the winter season. In fact, I marked the start of spring with trips to Orkney, Islay and Mull.

I’ve written before about the first two, but Mull is a delight, too. For all the symbolism of spring, this year has been odd in Scotland. Firstly, Easter was of course very early, and before the April 1st date that heralds the reopening of many of the country’s tourist attractions. This made the final days of March a seasonal noman’s land and the result was that the tourism industry got itself in a bit of a mess. For four days after Easter Monday, Scotland was pretty much closed to business while visitors wandered around with little to do. Some places actually opened for Easter then shut again for four days.

No such problems on Mull, though, because its attractions aren’t seasonal. If the word Ballamory means nothing to you, then chances are that Mull won’t either. The word refers to Britain’s most successful tots television programme and it is filmed in the town of Tobermory, where the brightly-coloured houses form a backdrop for characters such as policeman PC Plum and school teacher Miss Hoolie. As a result the area is booming –so be prepared for a ferry full of over-excited pre-schoolers if you make the trip.

Do make the trip, though; Mull is as rugged and mountainous as anywhere in the Highlands, and the scenery is stunning.

Tobermory has a beautiful distillery and some great shops. We had flip-flop weather, and there were few of the symbolic signs of spring during our stay. But standing high above the town and overlooking the harbour, breathing in the clean air and feeling the cobwebs of winter clear away, it was still a symbolic moment. And how exhilarating to know that all the joys of summer still lie just ahead.

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