Glasgow & Highlands Walking

The seven hour drive north from London to Glasgow Sunday evening was uneventful; but, considering it was mostly motorway, strangely beautiful in the evening light. Arriving just before one o’clock Monday morning, there was not much else to do apart from briefly say hi to Fi and then sleep.

The purple patch of weather of the weekend in London continued with us and after a late brunch (it’s easy to justify a full Scottish breakfast when it’s noon & it really is breakfast and lunch) Fi took us on a very nice walking tour of Glasgow. Through the university, large sun-soaked parks and down to the side of the Clyde I was impressed and after the little I’ve heard about Glasgow, pleasantly surprised to be so.

On the walk back to Fi’s (recently acquired & nice) flat it was decided by consensus that it was definitely above the threshold temperature for gelato – starting a week of high ice cream consumption. Now that I think of it, that started a fortnight of regular ice cream eating. Adele & I weren’t really sure what Fi had planned for the week, so had packed the car for many eventualities. As the forecast was best earlier in the week, we soon had a chalet booked near Fort William (I tried not to miss having a bike too much) and drove north into the highlands planning a bit of walking the next day. The town itself proved quite a frustrating one in which to find a decent place to eat in the shoulder season; the huge chicken skewers were definitely memorable, but (in an unrelated way) that night started a strange week-long run of extremely broken sleep & I still don’t know why.

Tips Fi had gleaned from others suggested we should take a less trodden and defined route around the back of Ben Nevis and along a shoulder to avoid the easy route up. Some unplanned reconnaissance (we missed the turn for the trailhead) showed a lot of snow still up that way, so I was beginning to have doubts. Even with the detour we were walking shortly after eight o’clock on a beautiful morning with good views up and down the glen and of the surrounding hills. It certainly is a big wide path up to the top of the UK’s highest peak, but there are enough big rocks and steps mixed with switchbacks and, in such weather, good views that it is definitely not boring climbing – I quite enjoyed it, but then I usually much prefer hiking up over hiking down , when I just think of bikes.

It flattened out a lot briefly before we reached the junction in our path. Still undecided about which route, we walked north to check out the more difficult one. Getting under the north face we could see that there was a substantial amounts of snow and wind up further along the route; with none of us really knowing the route or having more suitable equipment, common sense prevailed and we headed back to the main trail. At the junction we met the frontrunners of a large group of Edinburgh bus-drivers out on a charity walk before we started hauling in those walkers we’d already passed earlier on.

We steadily, actually it was pretty quick – Fi sets quite a pace – continued to climb – enjoying the switchbacks that took us away from a strong headwind. For the last few hundred metres of ascent it was a choice of hard packed snow or getting well off route and clambering over the rocks – I found the rocks an easier route for climbing. Unfortunately it clouded over pretty well as we neared the summit and the wind was fierce – we were quite glad we took this route up for our little outing. There were occasional breaks in the cloud to give views around. The most memorable part of the top of the UK was when one of the vanguard of bus-drivers (there were three about the same pace as us) pulled out a full bottle of Scotch, still in its box, and numerous shot glasses and offered us a wee dram. I’m not much of a whisky drinker, but it was pretty good – & possibly Adele’s first, which in the inclement conditions led to surprised comments of the warming qualities of such drinks.

Walking and running down on the snow was much quicker and quite good fun. We sat out of the wind and enjoyed a long lunch while we watched the rest of the (un-fitter) bus-drivers struggle on up – along with a large collection of people in all sorts of strange and, bordering on, unsuitable attire. Just as well the views were good as the trip down was the usual tedium of walking in zig-zags to try and stop my knees hurting for days afterwards – two walking poles between three doesn’t go so well, but my knees seemed to hold up better than expected.

It turned out to be only just over a six-hour outing – that’s including our half-hour detour and half-hour leisurely lunch; so plenty of time for more ice cream in the sun as we gave up on the Information Centre and headed back to the chalet for WiFi to research the next day’s outing. I say that, but after planning the rest of the three week holiday for Adele, I was more than happy to sit in the back seat – literally & figuratively. Pre-dinner drinks on the balcony overlooking Loch Linnhe were followed by a meal that is best remembered for the waitress continually apologising for the meltdown the chef was apparently having – “lucky we didn’t say anything about the dirty knife”.

Wednesday wasn’t quite as sunny in the morning, but that worked well to head to Glenfinnan to see the easily recognised viaduct.  Quite a spectacular setting and we timed it well to see the train from Fort William steam across – if that was the Hogwarts Express, we missed getting on it, so went back to do more muggle oriented activities.

The sound and smell of a steam train is very good indeed

Looking out over Loch Shiel near the Glenfinnan monument

That afternoon we went on a couple of pleasant strolls through various woods & forests that the girls had found somehow. The first was most noteworthy for my legs being destroyed by the notorious Scottish midges (after two weeks the bites have finally almost completely faded) during lunch, rickety bridges over a pond & half the intended trail being closed due to logging. The second walk was through quite pleasant woods with randomly spaced carvings made out of dead tree-stumps, a pond with ducklings, more bluebells (we’d seen many previously) and the picturesque River Spean. More ice creams.

Our drive north continued with a bit of Nessie spotting as we went up the west edge of Loch Ness to Drumnadrochit. We didn’t see Nessie, but it was still quite light and we obviously hadn’t had enough to drink. The local ale at the brew pub was pretty good – Adele even enjoyed her first real ale. The pint was substantially better than the greeting one must assume is only given to locals at the bar – “are you going to order or just sit there making the place ugly?”. Other peculiarities included novelty-onesie clad horse-riders wandering through the bar (horses left in the middle of the car park).

Adele by this stage in this trip had developed a fascination for castles, so that got a bit of a fix Thursday morning as we visited the nearby Urquhart Castle on the shores of Loch Ness. With an interesting role in the Scottish Wars of Independence, it was a good visit – although most of the signs posted gave the impression that they had no idea what different parts of the castle were used for.

Time to head back to Glasgow, we drove the short distance north to Inverness (sights seen included the castle from a distance and a fascinating multi-story car park, before we had lunch sheltering from the rain overlooking Beauly Firth) and then south on the notorious A9. It would have been rude to not break the journey up for Fi (I was still pleased to not be driving) with an ice cream – so a local dairy (in the British, not NZ, sense of the word) was found.

When I discovered Doune Castle was not much of a detour from the fastest route, I just had to go & see where so much of the Grail was filmed.

No large mammals or assorted poultry were thrown over the walls at us, which was most useful

It was almost closing time, so we had a brief wander around to satisfy my curiosity before we continued on towards Fi’s parents’ house for dinner. Looking back that was a rather surreal evening: Cally, the dog, had an injured paw & spent most of the night trying to chew off the dressing to the concern of all; people repeatedly seemed to lock themselves in the bathroom, or not; an endless parade of soft-toys; constant talk of power pylons; the story of two lost fishermen who thought it prudent to wave a red ball at a passing boat to indicate something was wrong; and somehow Jude knew that I’d been instructed to raise my BMI – she seemed determined that I should put on five pounds in the space of two hours, I have not eaten so much in a long time & that’s saying something. I ramble – it was a wonderful evening and a fitting end to a fantastic week in Scotland. I’m a little miffed that I’ve not managed to spend more time in such a beautiful part of the world. Not quite sure I’ll be able to rectify that now, but it would be nice to.

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