Sometimes when you travel you find yourself moving faster than the speed of meaning. You fast-forward through town after town, watching the same roll-call of high street shops - butchers, sweet shops, tea rooms, chain stores - reporting for duty. And if your job is to try and find the difference between these interchangeable towns, then it can be a bit of a challenge. Luckily my itinerary took me to Arran, a Scottish island that forces you to hit the pause button.
My first night is in Lochranza on the island's northern tip, a sleepy little town that gets shaken awake by the occasional film crew using its castle as a moody location. Research says that this picturesque 13th century ruin inspired Herge's The Black Castle starring everyone's favourite Belgian, Tintin. In the pub (where all the best research is done) the publican tells me that last year they had a major film crew at the castle who used a massive crane so it "wa' lit frae above" for a screen turn.
This pub is the first real pub - not festooned with tartan and plastic thistles - I've been in for while. Not only is the ale real, but the folk aren't so jaded by tourists that they'll have a chat. An unannounced folk music session breaks out. Between pints the players take requests, from folked-up versions of Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band to Gaellic dirges. I find myself propping up the bar with the chef who's been off duty for two pints. Maybe it's the drink talking but he reckons baked haddock from Arran is the world's best.
"I'll have to take your word for it," I mumble into my pint.
"No, ye won't," he hops over the bar and returns with a still-smoking plate. The fish is baked feathery soft, still moist. I think it might even be the world's best.
Outside in the gloaming I can just see some deer grazing their way across the town golf course and towards the sea. I'm marvelling at the comic book castle, the fresh fish, the music and now the bambis on the beach.
"Is it always like this?" I ask the chef.
"Aye," he says, hauling another swig. "Borin' isn't it?"
Och-o-meter: 6 - it could be broken, because there's been nothing.
Guest House Owner Comment of the Day: "Lonely Planet... It sounds like an international dating agency for the world's most desperate."
Best Exchange with Locals (not in Lochranza BTW):
Bartender: Sorry too late for dinner.
Me: But it's only seven minutes after nine.
Bartender: Sorry, chef's finished for the night. We've got crisps.
Me: That's not exactly the five food groups is it?
Bartender: Aye, the potato group.
Favourite euphemisms for fake tans: fake bake, burn 'n' turn, stand tan.
Scottish English in a Jiffy: Aye - used interchangeably for yes, it makes even a ten-year-old kid sound like a medieval pirate.