The road to Fionnphort being a long one, it is a good idea to stop at some point for refreshments. As soon as the tidal still water of Loch Scridain and Pennyghael came into view, I knew I had found the place.
Pennyghael is breathtakingly beautiful, situated with a view to Ben More - Mull’s highest mountain. Just over a narrow stone arch bridge (one it is a miracle that the buses can inch across), crossing the Leidle river, traffic slowed to a crawl to give the right of way to all the ducks, chickens, dogs and cats running around. A strategically placed sign states: Home Baking, tea, coffee, soup. Flowers spilled out of pots surrounding the sign and continued in patches along the front of the whitewashed building: Lavender, roses and cutting herbs in full bloom - how could anyone resist?
I parked on the lawn just across the street from The Smithy House Bed and Breakfast and walked over, noticing the folks gathered by the gate next door - the polling place for the day’s “Brexit” vote (whether Great Britain would remain in the European Union or exit). They were all discussing how if the vote did not go the way Scotland wanted (to remain in the European Union), it would be an opportunity for another referendum vote to become an independent nation, their very own “Brexit”.
Opening the red trimmed door at the entrance to The Old Smithy, one of the cats instantly greeted then followed me into the wee kitchen where Carol, the proprietress, was busy dolling soup and bread out to a row of travelers, all crowded into a corner. They dutifully took their trays with steaming vegetable soup, chili, rolls, and coffees outside to the picnic tables lined up on the lawn. The rest of us moved back and aside, spilling into the designated tea room to let them pass. It was much too beautiful a day to sit inside. Next in the queue, two elderly ladies ordered tea, sponge cake, scones with homemade jam and cream. Their cake and scones were gently placed on china, alongside silver forks and napkins, a proper pot of tea, cups and sides all set out on a tray, handed to them and off they went outside. Carol moved quickly and was quite chatty, telling stories about the place and what she had served to guests that week: Cullen Skink, venison stew with fresh biscuits, local lamb with neeps and tatties - all the Scottish classics.
I busied myself by eyeing the lemon cake.
“It is voting day you know,” Carol chimed, “I tell everyone I come from Washington. George Washington’s original home town that is, you know, where his family is from - Northamptonshire.”
In front of me stood a rather tall man. A younger man came in to give him the rest of his group’s order then quickly left again – three slices of lemon cake and coffee all around, with cream. He stated that he was having sponge cake, not lemon. His entire party looked a bit cross. Four men in all, English – two young, two middle aged. Probably in the car too long, or… I asked the tall man if he had just voted and now needed some sponge cake for post-voting encouragement.
“I never have voted and never will.” He answered in monotone. He was stone faced.
This made Carol stop talking and look up at him, midsentence.
“Well,” she chimed in her sweetest voice, “I always vote, just because other women died to give me that right, that's all, but to each his own.”
She went on without skipping a beat, telling us, or the air, or anyone who might be listening about each of her rescued cats, in gruesome but mercifully quick detail how some of them came to be missing tails, and about one cat in particular who scrutinizes her when she cleans the place.
“She scowls at me, just as my mother would do, as if to say: Mind that you don’t miss that bit in the corner.” Continuing, “I say to her I am going to name her Gayle after me Mum.” “Yes, I might well do that, she even looks a bit like her, don’t you know, when she stares.”
“So what do you call her?” I finally ask.
“Cat, just Cat.”