DanBeforeTrip

2013 prep for The Enchantments in Leavenworth, WA

Why Scotland?
Friends and enemies ask me “Why are you going backpacking in Scotland?”  Well, I have the Campbell’s on my mother’s side and McIalwain’s on my dad’s side so I figure Scotland had something to do with me being here now.  Or Ireland.  But Scotland appealed to me somehow.  Last year, when I turned 70, I told my wife Alana that I was thinking about backpacking somewhere for a few weeks.  I was thinking of the Way (the  El camino de Santiago) because of a Martin Sheen movie I had seen but that was too long for the time I had available and too urban in many parts.  Alana suggested a month if I was going to go international and I decided I could spend a few weeks on a trail and see more of Scotland after the trail.

The trail I have decided on is the West Highland Trail from Glasgow to Fort William.  I will explain more later.

I seem to have a need to suffer and a fairly high tolerance for it which comes in part from my Catholic upbringing.

 

September 7 – 20 Scotland Tour

September 7 – Glasgow alone
I checked out of the B & B at around 10:30 and walked the short distance to downtown Glasgow.  There are three main streets to downtown: Buchanan, Sauchiehall (pronounced Sucky Hall) and Argyle.  The first two are primarily cobblestone and closed to traffic with lots of high-end stores and dozens of low and high-budget restaurants and pubs.  Argyle, while still interesting, has cars both ways which makes it tougher to navigate.  I was carrying my bags so wasn’t interested in walking too far; apparently the walking far thing was beginning to wear off … or wear thin.  I stopped at, of all places, Starbucks to have a coffee and put my big backpack which was a little wet up against the chair behind me.  Unbeknownst to me, an elderly woman sat down a little after that and then proceeded to turn around and say that my bag was dripping on the back of her sweater.  I got prepared to get a lip lash but she turned out to be quite nice.  I apologized and she began talking to me and asking me questions.  I told her I was from Seattle and had just done the trail, etc and she wanted to continue to conversation but I could see that her neck was getting sore from turning her head to talk.   I asked if I could sit down on the other chair since I had some time to kill before checking into the hotel at the airport in preparation for Danny arriving.   And Sheila, her name , and I chatted for at least an hour.  She was waiting for a friend to get her hair done.  She was born in Wales but moved to Glasgow with her husband many years ago.  Her husband died 8 years ago.  She said she sits in her husband’s empty chair often which makes it not empty any more.   We talked about kids and grandkids and other normal things.  I found it very refreshing to get a taste of her world, small but important to her.

I took a bus to the airport and checked into the Premier Inn and met Danny at the airport and escorted him to the hotel.  He was suffering from jet lag so we just ended the day right there.

September 8 – Glasgow
We took the Hop on Hop off bus around the city to sites such as the University of Glasgow, The Hunterian Museum, Glasgow Cathedral, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Science Center, the Tenement House,  and many others.  We then walked most of the route to get a better glimpse of the attractions following Buchanan street and Sauchiehall Street.  Pictures to follow.  Glasgow is not romantic, but it is a typical big city except it has the mix of very old buildings and very new.  There are rows upon rows of colorless red and brown sandstone buildings which does not add to the appeal.

We ate at the Bier Halle outside in the middle of the street under a big awning.  I had an egg and black pudding pizza just to be brave.  It had a cooked egg in the middle and a slice of black pudding on every slice, a little too 3 dimensional for me, but I ate as much as I could.  We stayed at the Premium Inn that night before our trip to Edinburgh

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Lots of vapers in Scotland

September 9 – Edinburgh again

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We got to the B & B that I had stayed at with Tom a few weeks before around 11:30, dropped our bags off and left for the day.  We walked up to the gates of the Edinburgh castle and then followed the Royal mile, reading Rick Steves walking tour as we went.  We went past the Military Tattoo where they have large regimental bands from around the world performing during the summer, we saw (me once again) Deacon Brodie’s tavern which was the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyl and Mr Hyde.  Brodie was an eminent physician who arranged for some thugs to murder people at night so he could use the bodies for research.  He got caught and was hung.  We saw the spot where he and many others had been hung, to the delight of families.  Ironically, he had helped improve the hanging device that did him in.  We also saw my favorite philosopher, David Hume’s statue and rubbed his toe for good luck and also saw his tomb from afar up on the hill.  We went into St Giles Church, Scotland’s most important church.  It was Catholic until John Knox converted it to Presbyterian, the Church of Scotland.  We saw the House of Parliament and the Palace of  Holyroodhouse which the Queen occupies each year when attending to Scotland affairs.  It represents the end of the Royal Mile.  After that, we climbed part way up what we thought was Arthur’s Seat which is a large hill overlooking the city.  When we got close to the top, we saw a lot of other people climbing a much larger hill which originates at the bottom on the other end of the hill we climbed.  It was raining and we weren’t in the mood to climb that much right then, so we quietly promised to climb it another day, but neither of us knew how that was going to work.

We had lunch at a place called Alberach’s on the Royal Mile.  I had left my phone at the apartment so no pics.  I had taken a lot on my first trip there but wanted to take pictures as I went from the castle down the Royal Mile to the Palace which I would do the next day.

On the way back, we heard some good music and stopped at Malone’s on the Mall, an outdoor venue that is between Waverly train station and the monument to Walter Scott.  We  ate and hung out for several hours listening to a solo singer singing one American hit after another with a huge crowd of people drinking beer and dancing.  Danny even had an ale or two which was unheard of for him. 

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At the Edinburgh castle gate

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Deacon Brodie’s tavern in background (inspiration for Dr Jekyl and Mr Hyde)

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Touching Davis Hume’s big toe for good luck

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Spot of the last public hanging in the 1800’s.  Deacon Brodie was hung here also.

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One of many closes or alleyways

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We ate here 3 times.  Great calzones and salads and Pinot Noir

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There used to be a wall here which was the end of Edinburgh proper

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One of many old well heads where the public would get their drinking water

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The end of the Royal Mile, the Palace at Holyroodhouse

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View from nearby hill

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Lots of Americanos

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Davis Hume’s tomb on Calton Hill

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A memorial to Lincoln and Scottish soldiers

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Old Calton Hill cemetery

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Incomplete Parthenon imitation on Calton Hill

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Princes Street in Edinburgh

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Lots of construction and renovation

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Memorial to Sir Walter Scott on Princes Street

September 10  The Royal Mile again
We spent almost the whole day going down the Royal Mile taking pictures.  We also walked along the trail at the foot of the big hill we had climbed the first day.  We kept seeing a large obelisk next to a large stone cylindrical building on the hill in the distance and we were curious about how to get to it.  When we were heading back towards the apartment, we have to go over the North bridge towards Waverly Station.  This time, instead of taking a left we took a right and headed in an unknown directions.  We soon came across Calton Cemetery which happens to be where the tomb of David Hume is located.  We got up close to that and also went through the crypts and small open air rooms where other notables, though no one we knew, were buried or burned.  Some of them said above the door So and So’s burn house.  We then walked across the street to Calton Hill and walked to the top.  There was the large obelisk that celebrated Admiral Nelson.  There was also a series of large columns that reminded me of a Greek ruin but had no inscription.  Apparently some rich person started it but never finished.  There was a beautiful and different view of Glasgow’s harbor and the surrounding hills.

We had lunch at the Wanderlust Café on the Mile.  We went back to the apartment for awhile.  Danny had it in his head to watch the Seahawks game opener with Green Bay so we found Belushi’s near the mile, a bar that promises to show NFL games.  We went there and got a table before a raucous crowd showed up (all were interested in drinking, not the game).  We stayed until almost 1:00 am to watch the Seahawks get beat and then wandered back to our flat for a short night’s sleep.

September 11  Remembrance and Fort William

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We took some time to remember the fallen on 9/11 despite being in another country.  The Scots and English take it as seriously as we do.  We took the bus to Fort William, which I had described in earlier blogs, because it is a good place to launch day trips from.  Unfortunately, my previous host Shamus, who has a great location in town, was booked, but he said his brother-in-law Simon had two rooms and they were available.  We decided to take them.  It was about a 15 minute walk away from town but turned out to be a fairly new house with accommodations upstairs.  It was 50 pounds for one room which we were going to do.  Then Danny had a change of heart and remembered that he didn’t want to sleep in the same room (and in this case it would have been the same bed) as me and asked how much for the other bedroom too.  It was 30 pounds so we jumped on it.  In fact, we paid for three nights because we had been formulating our game plan for the next several days.

I took Danny on a quick tour of the town and we ended up eating at the Tavern which, though its name is not original, the food was very good.  When we got back, Simon asked us what time we wanted breakfast, a continental breakfast meaning no meat.  We said we were fine and we could get something in town but he insisted so we agreed on 8:00 am the next morning.  We had the best sleep in a long time on comfortable feather beds, in separate rooms.

September 12 – Glencoe

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In the morning, Shamus gave us a basket for our dirty clothes so that he could wash, dry and fold them during the day.  He also sat us down at his dining room table for breakfast.  He had four kinds of cereal, a small pot of very good coffee for me, a pot of tea for Danny, yogurts, rolls, warm toast, jams and a cheerful attitude.  We were surprised and pleased at the accommodation. 

We talked with him during our visit.  He was super friendly but it seemed there were other things going on.  He works on an oil rig but was on an extended leave.  He has pictures of three good looking kids, about 20 – 25 years old.  Two just finished University and he has one left to graduate.  He talked about living in Edinburgh, having the three kids and Danny and I both sensed that he was getting emotional.  He said “It’s a long story that I won’t get into now”.  We don’t know what that story is but it has affected him deeply.  He only showed that side once; the rest of the time he has been the perfect host. 

I took Danny on a walk to the old Inverlochy castle to get some pictures.  We walked back to town on the Great Glen trail along the river Linnhe.  We then hopped on a bus to Glencoe, a small village 12 miles southeast of Fort William.  It is also near Glencoe Mountain Resort where I stayed one night on the trail.  There is not much to the town.  Based on conversations I had with others, it was a must-see.  However, it is mainly a sleepy typical Scottish small town, albeit surrounded by beautiful hills and on Loch Leven (I had stayed at the other end of Loch Leven in Kinlochleven (which means “head of Lake Leven”) which was supposed to have been the ugliest town in 2000 miles but I found handsome in its own way.  The weather was the same as everywhere else: rain, a little sun, constant clouds.  We took three “orbital” walks all originating from the same point: lochen, which is a pleasant walk around a small lake, a woodland walk and a walk up a steep hill to view the lake from above.  We strolled through town and stopped at a café for coffee and soup.  The bus back to Fort William was delayed for several hours due to an accident that closed the road.  Based on the narrowness of the road and the large trucks and buses trying to be in the same space at the same time, we were not surprised.  We finally got on the bus around 7:30, had a bite to eat at a café in Fort William, seafood pie and fish and chips,  and got back to our lodging at around 9:30.  Simon was getting worried because we were gone the entire day.

September 13 – Mallaig and a piece of Skye

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After another well-served breakfast, we took an early train to Mallaig which is on the west coast, an hour ride.  Our purpose was to see the scenery since we heard it was a beautiful trip.  We didn’t take the steam engine which is the one that  Harry Potter took in one of the movies, but it was the same track and cost a lot less.  We went over an old stone arched bridge that was in the movie and looked down on a valley where some scenes were shot.  The scenery was great although not what it was hyped up to be.  We got to Mallaig not really knowing what was going to happen next.  There was not much to the town.  We hopped on the ferry for a 25 minute crossing to the Isle of Skye.  This island is the most popular destination of all of the islands.  We had heard it was extremely busy and accommodations were hard to find all year round so we had decided to skip it in favor of the Islands of Mull, Iona and Staffa which we are doing in a few days.  So it was a bonus to actually get on the island.  We thought we could get on a bus tour of the island and get back in time to catch the ferry and then the train back to Fort William.  That was not to be.  If you didn’t have reservations already there was no means of getting to other places.  We settled for touring Armadale castle which was a mile walk on a pleasant trail.  Armadale was one of the residences and strongholds of the MacDonald clan.  We could not go into the castle due to its condition but got some good pictures of the outside and the gardens.

We got back on the ferry and then the train for the ride back to Fort William.  We ate at the Ben Nevis restaurant.

September 14 – Inverness

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One more breakfast and laundry load and we were ready to get to our next destination: Inverness.  We got on a bus early and travelled along the west side of Loch Ness, the deepest lake in the UK at over 750 feet.  It was an earthquake fault that filled with water.  It has more water than all of the other lakes in the UK combined.  We were on the lookout for Nessie, but don’t think we saw her.  It was a good ride but bushes and trees lining the roadside break very little for pictures.  It is a 2 hour bus ride to Inverness.

Inverness is situated at the top of Loch Ness and has access to the Firth of Moray to the North Sea.  It is strategically located between North Scotland (including the Orkney and Shetland Islands) and the Highlands.  It has a population of about 60,000 and the feel of a big city but the main downtown area is easily navigated and offers a lot of restaurants and shops, old and new.  The site of an old castle is only a block up the hill from the town.  It has a castle-like structure on it now, but is not that old and contains the courthouse and other municipal functions.  It offers a good view of parts of the city and the river Ness that runs through the city.  Our lodging was at one of dozens of B & B’s on the other side of the river.  We located it early and were able to leave our bags in a secure location while we went off exploring. 

One of my goals on this trip was to go to the Culloden battlefield.  This battle represented the last British-Scot battle and the defeat of the Scottish/Jacobite resistance to England.  The Stuart line of Scottish kings dated back to Robert the Bruce in the 13th century.  Bonnie Prince Charlie (Bonnie because he was handsome or one might say a pretty boy) was the son of a King that was deposed from the throne by William of Orange who was German but inherited the throne of England through marriage.  They represented the Tudor line (if my history serves me – I could look it up but that wouldn’t be as fun).  Prince Charlie’s followers, following those of his ancestors in the past 100 years, were called Jacobites.  They had several battle victories in Scotland and threatened England as far as Edinburgh and beyond at one point.  Charlie had a following of a number of clans.  The final battle at Culloden was a massacre of the clans.  Over 1500 were slain either in the battle that lasted less than an hour or afterwards when the Royalists offered “no quarter” to anyone they suspected to be a Jacobite, even civilians since they dressed similar to the clansmen.  Prince Charlie was able to make an escape back to the Isle of Skye and lived out the rest of his life in hiding, finally dying in exile.  The museum at the battlefield takes you through a multimedia experience and history lesson using several hallways of displays and audiovisual aids.  Then you go into a room with a movie on all four sides showing how each side was lined up, the maneuvers they made, the battle itself (not suitable for children).  Then you walk out onto the battlefield.  Red flags depict where the Royalists were lined up and blue flags for the Jacobites.  The Jacobites were exhausted from efforts the day before to walk many miles in the dark to try to catch the British by surprise.  It may have worked except it was raining hard, cold and foggy and they didn’t have any food; they got confused and separated in the fog so they ended up going back to the field near Inverness where the battle was fought.  Charlie’s advisors tried to talk him into retreating to the high ground so his troops could rest and regroup (the French advisor actually got on his knees and begged Charlie to do that) but Charlie, possibly because he thought he was invincible after several successes, chose to stand his ground. 

If you think about it,  if Charlie, who had the French on his side, had won this battle he most likely would have been able to take London which would have meant King George would not have been around to raise taxes for the 7 year war with France which lead to the beginning of the American war of independence which lead to the rest of our story to date.

It was  a great history lesson.  We got back on the bus to Inverness and strolled through the city taking pictures of a cathedral, the buildings, the waterfront and finally got back to our lodging for another good night’s sleep.

September 15 – Oban

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We took the bus to Fort William then to Oban, a tourist and fishing village that is the “road to the Isles” and a self-proclaimed “seafood capital of Scotland”.  We arrived around 2:00, too early to check in but we left our bags at the Sutherland guest house which is across from the water.  It was a rare period of sun and there was a pub next door down below so I chose that time to have a beer at an outside table.  We went into town and walked around.  It is a quaint little town with a long esplanade along the water.  We walked to the old castle Dunollie which was one of several MacLeod castles.  We then checked in to our 5th story unit, high enough up but with no view.  We went into town and wandered around.  We had dinner at George Street fish.  Danny had salmon and I had halibut and both were fresh and delicious. 

We went back to the apartment to regroup and then at about 7:00 went down to the pub to check out music.  It was very crowded so we continued down the waterfront and found Coasters.  It was a four person group and they played a lot of rock and roll.  The electric guitarist and piano player was excellent, the lead female singer just tolerable but it sounded fine to us.  There was a large entourage of women who were at a bachelorette party for a bride-to-be and they proved fun to watch.  We got back at about midnight

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Oban pictures

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We stayed here.  You can see the amphitheater above, started by a rich eccentric who died without revealing his grand plan and leaving it incomplete

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Amphitheater

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Partial view of Oban from amphitheater

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September 16, 2017
Mull, Staffa, Iona

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This was a long but rewarding day.  We took a ferry to the Island of Mull, the second largest island after Skye.  It has a population of about 6,000.  It also boasts one Munro.  Once we got to the other side, in about 45 minutes, we immediately hopped on a bus for an hour and 10 minute ride to Fionnphort to the East.  The bus driver described life on the island and the geographical sights.  He was a very funny Scot.  He lives on the island and knows just about everybody.  At one point, a car was driving fast in the other direction and he said that’s so and so’s offspring driving way too fast.  A 94 year old woman, who he says bikes to a small town ahead every day, was going our way and was not going to give an inch for the bus.  He said “She thinks she is a tourist attraction”.  He pointed out the coos who are Highland cows that are very shaggy.  Many have a light colored fur.  He said the trade on the hair has gone up dramatically since there is such a demand for Trump look-alike wigs.  On the way back we had to navigate herds of coos and some sheep that were wandering down the road.  We saw some red-tailed deer and seals. 

When we got to Fionnphort, we hopped on a small boat and about 30 of us went to the Island of Staffa, if you can call it an island.  The geography is amazing.  The whole area 60 million years was a volcanic region.  The strata of Staffa shows 3 distinct layers, each one representing a long period of eruptions and none of them the same.  There are columns rising up along the walls of the cliff as if humans built them; there are layers of flat cube-like rocks coming out of the sea and up to the cliff walls.  We climbed along the cliff edge and got a good look into Fingal’s cave.  Danny and I then hiked up to the highest point on the island and had a good view of the surrounding islands. 

After a hour and a half on Staffa, we took the boat to beautiful Iona, only one mile by 3 miles long, it is the site of the Iona Abbey which in one form or another has been in the location for over 1000 years.  On several occasions, the Vikings attacked the abbey, killing all of the monks and hauling off the treasures.  There is a sandy beach not far away called martyr’s beach where 48 monks fought the Vikings unsuccessfully and were murdered.  The Abbey is now surrounded by some houses and small stores but the island only has about 200 people who live on it.  I recognized one of the skippers on our little boat who was going home to his wife and kids near the terminal.  Danny and I took pictures and again took a hike, this time about ½ hour to the top so we could see the whole island and far out into the Atlantic.

After a 2 hour layover we headed back to the ferry and back to the bus and back to the ferry til we got back to Oban at 8:00 pm.  We could not get into George street Fish so we went to Piazza instead which is on the waterfront and is highly recommended.  We got lucky and got in with no reservation even though it was packed.  I had a terrific Calzone and Danny had a Chicken salad. 

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Pictures on the island of Mull

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On boat to Staffa

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Staffa pictures

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Three layers of volcanic activity over millions of years

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Exterior view of Fingal’s cave

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Heading to the cave

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Fingal’s cave

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Climbing to the highest point on Staffa

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The island of Iona, famous for its Abbey

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Youth hostel on Iona

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Climbing to the highest point, naturally

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Supposedly, 50 kings and royalty are buried around here somewhere

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Highland coos (cows but shaggier)

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September 17 – Edinburgh and Arthur’s Seat
We got a bus at 6:15 am for the 4 plus hour ride to Edinburgh, stopping first at Glasgow.  We got in about 11:30, had lunch on the Royal Mile and then spent an hour trying to find the place we were staying at.  We finally found it.  It’s main advantage is that it is close to the park and trail leading to Arthur’s Seat.  It is in one of about 10 blue buildings that don’t fit into anything else that Edinburgh offers.  It was on the 5th floor and we share it with another couple and the apartment owners (or more likely, renters) We are upstairs from their rooms but share the same bathrooms.  There is a cot in the bedroom but Mike, the Asian guy that is renting it, said that we did not pay for two sets of sheets.  When he advertised it as a 2 bed place his English failed him; it is actually a double bed space with a cot that doesn’t include sheets, pillows and a blanket.  No worries as they say here.  I had my sleeping bag so did just fine.

Danny and I tackled the 800 plus Arthur’s Seat which is a large hill overlooking Edinburgh and giving a 360 degree look at the surrounding area.  There was an army of people going up and down all the time we were there.  It was good exercise and was actually sunny most of the way up and down.  What a view from the top!

We went back to the apartment to regroup and then went to dinner at an Italian restaurant, Bella Italia, which I am almost ashamed to say we dined at for 3 nights in a row because the calzone was unbelievably good as was the chicken Caesar salad.

It was Sunday so Danny and I thought we would check out Malone’s, where we had heard the great music the weekend before.  It was gone!  They must have taken down the awnings and fences and taken out the bar and everything else.  It must just be a seasonal thing and the season is over.  We went to Belushi’s to watch the Seahawks play San Francisco but, after ordering something to eat and drink, found out that they don’t show all of the NFL games, just ones that they are allowed to show on any given night, and the Seahawks were not the ones tonight.  It probably worked out for the better; we got more sleep that night.

September 18 – Stirling
Stirling is a small town about an hour’s bus ride north of Edinburgh.  It is in a strategic location between the Highlands and Lowlands and it has been said throughout history that he (or she) that controls Stirling Castle controls Scotland.  The castle, like Edinburgh Castle, has been the scene of many battles.  We toured the castle and saw a lot of the history, some of which overlapped with the history in Edinburgh and in Culloden.  Bonnie Prince Charles held it for a time.  Mary, Queen of Scots, lived in it for a long time.  William Wallace (of Braveheart fame) won the battle of Stirling Bridge in the 1200’s only to lose another big battle to the English the next years.  Robert the Bruce, following Wallace, defeated the British a few years later near here and kept the Scots in power in their land for over 300 years.  We could see the bridge and the Wallace monument in the distance but did not visit them.

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One of two Kelpies near Stirling.  Over 100 feet high and 300 tons of steel

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Stirling pictures

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Stirling castle pictures.  Ex-home of Mary, Queen of Scots and many other Royalty

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Robert the Bruce (the real Braveheart and origin of the Stuarts in Scotland)

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William Wallace (mistakenly called Braveheart by Mel Gibson

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Another hike

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Edinburgh

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Palace at Holyroodhouse at end of Royal Mile.  Queen stills stays here once a year to conduct Scottish business

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Science center

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Government building with Calton Hill above

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Arthur’s Seat

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The Holyrood park

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September 19 – Last full day in Edinburgh
I visited the National Library and the Scottish National Museum which is considered to be one of the best in the UK and for good reason.  I probably saw a tenth of what they had to offer from Science to History to prehistoric animals to culture and much more. 

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Scotland National Museum

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Head chopper (guillotine)

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One more calzone and Pinot at Bella Italia.  No haggis in sight.

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September 20 – Heading Home
I took Danny on a short train ride over the Forth bridge so that he could say he was over the Firth of Forth.  I showed him where I camped out for the night and the infamous Albert Hotel.  We had breakfast at the small café on the main street and, like almost all the meals it was excellent.  I have never had a poached egg on avocados and tomatoes and bread smothered with real mayonnaise before. 

We took a plane this evening from Glasgow to Heathrow and because of the one faulty thing I did in the schedule, arrived here at 10:30 pm but don’t fly to Seattle until 9 something in the morning for another 9 hour flight.  So, we are figuring out how to sleep along the way.

My head is spinning.  I have seen so much and am overwhelmed.  Anything I say now would be anti-climactic.  Now back to normalcy.

 

Reflections

And that is my hiking story.  I met Danny at the airport and we toured Glasgow yesterday and on to Edinburgh today and then off to other parts of Scotland.  I will probably create a separate blog on the same site for pictures of each of the places we visit with maybe a few comments but will spare any readers my long commentaries.  It has been a challenge but so rewarding.  I started planning 8 months ago and visualized what it would mean to be at the various destinations along the trail but until I was actually there it didn’t mean anything.  It is funny how a place is much more meaningful even if you are only there for a few hours.  Mingavie, Drymen, Rowardennan, Inveraran, Tydrum, Kinlochlevan, Fort William, Ben Nevis, North Queensferry, Burntisland, Kirkcaldy are so personal now.  I still have a week’s worth of pictures to upload and will when I can get the perfect wifi.

There are some things I want to remember also for future reference:

Challenge myself daily to do something that is difficult to keep me out of my comfort zone.

Have a benchmark of breathing, movement, cognition to test against future activity.  For example, know how I handle climbing a certain hill in terms of breathing and determine over time if it is getting more difficult or easier.  Of course, the aging process dictates how quickly physical and mental processes diminish, but it is important to monitor it.  I remember in the book Tuesdays with Morrie, Morrie says that he wished that he had danced more in his later years because it would have given him a better indication of when his health started failing.

Almost everything I brought was used and there wasn’t anything I forgot that I really needed.   That’s amazing in itself.  I was able to find a place to wash clothes twice on the trip which was just right.  I brought plenty of the clear gallon size bags to separate out the clothes and keep them dry.

Paying the $10 a day for phone access has been worth it because I had no good access to wifi in many areas but I was able to make calls home almost everywhere.  I am sure there were cheaper alternatives but I didn’t find any.

Hendricks gin and tonic with cucumbers is really good.

I tried a pizza with an egg in the middle and black pudding on each slice.  The black pudding is actually very good.  I didn’t eat it all but not because I didn’t like it.  I was full.

Say Hi Ya as a greeting.

People have the same needs and emotions everywhere; they just show it in different ways.  Human is human.

When you have all day to get to a destination, life unfolds in slow motion.  There is no need to hurry or panic.  If a plan doesn’t work, there is time to find a new plan.  Motions are slower; emotions are lower.  It’s not the real world but it is a blessing to do it once in a while.

The unknown doesn’t bother me.  Having a general plan was important but knowing where I was going to sleep that night or where I was going to eat or what if this or what if that didn’t consume me.  I found a way without being reckless or putting myself at risk.

The wildest animals I saw were other people’s dogs.  There were very few dogs on the West Highland Trail, but the Fife trail was loaded with them and most never heard of cleaning up after their dogs.  One woman was walking 8 dogs.  I love dogs but when you are trying to have a Zen moment they can be distracting.

My family probably thinks I am crazy to do this but in a good way.  Alana and the kids have been very supportive, but naturally concerned about my state of mind for doing this.  Frankly, I was too at first.  I think of the first day with Tom in Edinburgh and I fall flat on my face on the cobblestone road.  Could have broken my nose (which is still a little sore), my front teeth (my lip has heeled), my knee cap or my head.  Nothing was broken and I continued on.  It could have been very different but it wasn’t.  It doesn’t mean I should stay in my chair at home; it means I need to be more careful and if something bad does happen, at least I tried.

Never stop moving.

 

 

September 6 – Kirkcaldy to Glasgow

I woke up early and got my stuff together.  The £55 included a “full Scottish breakfast” and I said that I would be down at 8:30.  When I went down Linda escorted me to the breakfast room which had several tables and was smartly decorated.  There were about 5 different cereals in the containers that allow you to put the bowl under and turn the wheel to pour what you want.  Then there were large raspberries, plum slices, pineapple, breads, yogurts, all sorts of nuts and berries to put on it and orange juice.  I just finished some yogurt and was thinking about some cereal when she came in and said “How would you like your eggs, poached, fried, scrambled?” I was glad I hadn’t poured the cereal yet.  She gave me coffee and in 5 minutes I had my Scottish breakfast of two poached eggs on toast, ham and sausage.  I held off on the blood (I mean black) pudding.  I was the only one in the dining room so they pretty much had everything out for me.  I devoured the meal, got my things, said thank you and goodbye and as I was leaving she asked me to give her a favorable rating on Trip Advisor.  I said I would.

I am pretty sure I crashed the Kirkcaldy library computer network this morning.   I went down to the museum-art gallery-meeting room-library which was a building donated by a linoleum titan many years ago.  Kirkcaldy apparently was famous for its linoleum manufacturing.  I went into the computer room and turned on a machine and started blogging.  At the same time I opened my laptop and wirelessly signed into the library system.  I figured it had a fast enough internet to upload some pictures.  I watched it for a bit and it slowly uploaded one picture, then two pictures.  As it was on the third one,  a few people came in and tried to sign on.  It kept going in circles and they couldn’t get on.  More people came until there were about 8 people all trying to get on but the system was locked.  I felt a little foolish because my library computer was the only one working.  I was beginning to feel eyes on me wondering why I was so special.  In the meantime, as subtly as possible I cancelled my upload, got out of my blog site and closed my laptop.  I slithered out of the room.  I noticed from the cafeteria that about 10 minutes later the system came back up.  I had done the work I wanted so I had a cup of coffee while I watched a dozen young women with their toddlers mixing.  It was some kind of play date.  I suspected that they wondered what an old gray haired man with a wrinkled hat and a big backpack was doing watching them play dating.  They would have been at ease if they knew I was only acting and I was the oldest of 9 kids and that my wife and I have 5 kids and 15 grandkids.  So, I could probably teach them a thing or two about kids.

I walked through their museum and art gallery.  They had art from many prominent Scots, although I had never heard of them.  I took lots of pictures of the pictures.

I decided I was going to head back to Glasgow since I am meeting my son Danny tomorrow at the airport.  I caught a bus that took about an hour and a half to make the trip (over the old Queensferry bridge) and I arrived at Buchanan Bus station at around 2:00.  On the bus I was able to make arrangements for a B & B in Glasgow only it turned out to be a little further out of town than I had thought.  When I got off the bus I saw that I had to pay 30 pence to use the bathroom.  I think Sea-Tac  airport tried that for a while before desperate people wreaked havoc when their lack of funds did not diminish their abundance of fluids.  I’m not sure how Glasgow has made that work.  There were a few green people at the turnstile trying to figure out how to get in without paying.

I wasn’t going to be able to check in until 6:00 so I walked through the main street of Glasgow which is a wide, long cobblestone road with shops on either side and surrounded by old and new buildings and lots of churches. The pigeons are very aggressive there.   I walked to Mitchell Library, the central library in Glasgow, taking pictures as I went.  I immediately went to the registration desk and confidently asked to get a Glasgow library card which I got with no problem.  I worked for awhile there until it was time to head to the apartment that I had rented.  Razia, the Indian woman that was renting out the unit, told me to get off at the 3rd stop after getting on the train that goes through Mount Florida, of all places.  I went to what I thought was the train station and they had never heard of Mount Florida probably because it was the subway system instead of the train station.  The clerk was kind enough to guide me to the train station, another half mile away.  I got a ticket there and got on the train.  I waited until it stopped three times and got off.  There was no sign telling me what the stop was and I didn’t think to ask.  Well, it was one stop too soon.  In other times, I probably would have panicked and fretted about it.  But when you have all day to get somewhere it isn’t quite as much of an emergency.  I just hopped on the next train that came by and went to the 4th stop.  After some confusion and directions getting messed up because the internet was on and off, I finally got to the place.  It was a full apartment with separate bedroom.   A pleasant end to a pleasant day.

September 5 – Kirkcaldy

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I have been sore every day, of course, since I started this episode.  But when I went to bed the night before after carrying my bag all that way, and when I woke up this morning, it was a new level of soreness.  Calves, thighs, muscles in my back that hadn’t been exposed to stimulation forever, neck, hair, bald spot, feet, bruised ribs (probably from the contortions I had to perform with the tent in the woods).  Turning in bed had been a chore all night and I heard myself moaning several times.  I am not complaining, just describing.  It was a soreness borne of struggle and difficulty of my own choosing, so it was worth it.

I got my things together and headed towards town with no particular idea of where I was going today.  I did know what I wasn’t going to do.  I had enough of the Fife Coastal path.  There was no way I was carrying that backpack for another mile, let alone 11 more miles.  The weather was better, at least not raining.  I saw a couple of coffee shop/bakeries next door to each other.  There was a Scot sitting at an outdoor table at the smaller shop and I asked him which one I should get choose.  He said the one he was at called “Food for Thought”.  Sounded good to me.  I went in and got a seat towards the back which wasn’t very far.  I ordered an Americano and checked out the pastries.  There was a mince pie and a curry pie.  I decided to try the mince since I occasionally don’t mind mincemeat pies.  When you order a pie in Scotland, don’t expect it to be fruit.  It was mince meat, but not mincemeat, if you know what I mean.  Still, I was okay with it.  The only real pie I had in Scotland so far was a great lemon meringue pie at the Jacobite pub in Fort William.

There were about 10 older women sitting at three tables at different times, chatting in Scottish English which is still a foreign language to me.  They can’t usually understand me also because of my accent.  I never considered that I would have an accent from other people’s perspectives.  How egocentric we Americans are.  There was a little drama in the shop.  A woman came in with her husband and sat in the way back (one table behind me) and proceeded to sneeze several times really loud.  The women started looking at each other and muttering.  Sneezy ordered a Scottish breakfast that consists of ham, sausage, blood (I mean black) pudding, eggs and toast and other things.  She was eating it and came up to the counter with the dish and said, I think, my eggs aren’t done enough.  I couldn’t tell what the waitress was saying, not because I couldn’t hear her, but basically she asked some questions about how she wanted it.  Sneezy got upset and turned around with her plate and went back to the table with her meal.  I could hear her banging her silverware around and cussing about her breakfast.  I was a little concerned about having something sharp penetrate my back.  She left and the whole place exploded in laughter and chatter.  It turns out this woman comes in fairly often from quite a ways away because it is a cheap meal.  She complains every time but continues to come back.

I introduced myself to the ladies as I was leaving and told them that I was from Seattle and that I enjoyed watching their camaraderie.  They said that they have been meeting for coffee every morning since their kids were little: 45 years.  Lots of practice.

I still didn’t know where I was going to land later but I figured I would want to go up the coast a wee further.  I went to the Burntisland library.  I love libraries.  In fact, I take a picture of every one I see.  One of these days most of the libraries will no longer exist due to other ways of getting information, kind of like book stores.  The librarian there said that 18 libraries had closed in the County (or Kingdom, if you prefer) of Fife in the past 5 years.  She showed concern about her own branch.  “We are still getting 100 people in here a day” she emphasized.  She was very accommodating and kind; unfortunately that has not always been my expreience with librarians for some reason.  I thought I would help the cause out by getting a Fife library card.  It was possible; all I had to do was show them my passport and Driver’s license and I was now an official member of the entire Fife system.  I used my card and the resources to do a little blogging and figure out where the heck I was going.  I knew I did not want to stay in Burntisland.  One never knows when the next volcano will erupt, but more importantly the town doesn’t even have a decent sit-down restaurant.

I decided upon Kirkaldy because I liked all the consonants in the name, it was only 6 miles up the coast and the train went there directly.  I guess I could have walked it but naaaah.  I could have done St. Monans which sounded intriguing or, of course, St Andrews where golf began but Kirkcaldy it was.  I followed the signs to the Burntisland train station which was now a business building.  They moved the station but forgot to take the signs down.  The guy I asked said “It’s up the hill and to the right”.  I was thinking “Another Hill?”.  As it is, I didn’t get to Kirkcaldy until about 15:00 (3:00 to you Americans).  I did the natural thing: looked for a library and found it exactly one block away which was also a museum and an Art Gallery, the Kirkcaldy everything center.

I asked the staff member at the desk if he knew of any hotels or B & B’s nearby and he said that if you go down there and turn left and then go up the street and angle to the right, there might be some there.  I said Thanks.  Oh, there was also a large cafe in the facility (remember, the everything center) which was quite lovely as they say around here, or is that London?  Anyway I had a treat and a coffee and when I was close to being done, the guy at the reception desk came up with a slip of paper with four B & B suggestions on it that he said were very close.  I called the Invertiel B & B and they said they had a vacancy for £55.  I just now found the pound symbol on this library keyboard.   I took it immediately.  I got lost three times trying to find it even though it was only four blocks away.  Harry, the host, was out looking for me when Linda, the hostess, greeted me at the front door.  They were both very gracious.  They showed me the upstairs room.  All my rooms have been upstairs.  It was remarkable.  There were three single beds, a large tv, an elegant if small bathroom, a fruit bowl, cookies, candy and quite a bit of room.  Since I hadn’t had fruit except for an orange in a gin and tonic I had way back when, an apple I ate four days ago and what I think was a piece of pineapple in the meal I had the night before, I ate all the grapes.

After settling in I went into town and found High Street and followed it down a slight hill.  Lots of Indian and Turkish restaurants (takeaway) and shops.  One street had the Mercat (Market) which consisted of many shops.  I liked the town.  It was much bigger than Burntisland, probably because it didn’t sit on an extinct volcano.  I had dinner at the one real restaurant I could find called the Exchequer which had a wide menu of hamburgers, chicken, fish, etc.  I settled for roast chicken, peas and the unavoidable french fries.

On my way back to the B & B, two women approached me and started asking me a question.  I said “I don’t know anything; I’m an American”.  They laughed and said they were too.  I asked where they were from and they surprising said Seattle.  It turns out they are Nursing Instructors at Seattle University.  I had to tell them that I graduated from S.U. in 1969.  They couldn’t believe it.  I mean they believed that I was old enough to have graduated in 1969 but they were stunned that it was their institution.  She asked what my Degree was.  I said “Only Psychology”.  I said Only because I consider it a dying Science (I use the term Science loosely here), being absorbed by the hard sciences, except for the free will part.  We parted friends never to see each other again but knowing that you need to always be on your best behaviour because you never know who or whom you might run into.

And then I slept.

September 4 – North Queensferry to Burntisland

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I slept pretty well for a homeless person, despite the fact that I was almost under the Forth bridge and a train would rumble by every 20 minutes or so.  I got up about 7:30 and somehow managed to get out of the tent.  I scrambled back through the brush and trees to the trail and walked the short distance back into town.  I knew there was a restroom downstairs at the Albert Hotel and the door was not locked so I was able to get in.  When I came back upstairs I bumped into Marta, the manager I met the night before.  It was 7:45 and the restaurant didn’t open until 8:00 but she was gracious enough to let me sit in the pub and in a bit she had poured me some coffee.  I had scrambled eggs and salmon.  At about 8:05, I recognized a patron from last night that came in and promptly ordered a beer.  I was wondering what kind of a life that would be.  There was another guy there blaspheming the Queen, the television and every topic that came up between the two. 

I went back to camp to stuff everything back in my backpack.  It took about a half hour to get somewhat organized.  It seemed that I might be carrying half of the forest floor with me.  I was particularly looking out for ticks.  I headed down the path along the coast towards Burtisisland, 11 miles away.  I had to carry all of my belongings because I could not find a baggage transfer service. 

 After a short distance, I bumped into Pete the Joiner.  He was walking his two dogs.  He said he is called Pete the Joiner because he is a carpenter and that is what a carpenter is called here.  He manages a group of carpenters at the Edinburgh Castle.  We had a good conversation.  I asked him about the bridges.  He said that all rail bridges in Scotland have a number except for the Forth Bridge which is just called The Bridge.  The Queensferry Bridge is the one closing to normal traffic and Queensferry Crossing is the one being dedicated today.  He said watch for the jets flying over in salute and that I would see it even going down the coast.  It was due to start in an hour.

Pete the Joiner has lived near here all his life and walks the trail a lot.  His mother-in-law is terminally ill and is expected to pass away any day so he decided to take the day off.  He gave me some shortcuts to get around the next town Inverkeithing which I didn’t take because it was too confusing.  Before we parted he told me that when my son and I are at the castle and, if it a weekday, to go to the gate and hail a guard (the ones with the colorful uniform) and ask for Pete the Joiner.  He says they all know him.  He will get us into the Castle free and show us around.  We will see if that works next Monday.  I walked further down the trail and pretty soon I heard trumpets and fanfare.  Then I heard jets and I looked over towards the bridge and there was a multi-colored line of smoke smeared across the sky just over the bridge.  The trumpets sounded for the better part of a half hour.  Then the first day of traffic on the new bridge.  The Forth bridge was built in the 1800’s, the Queensferry bridge in the 1900’s and not the Queensferry Crossing bridge in the 2000’s.

I continued on my journey.  I could see Inverkeithing on the hill around the bend from where I was but it was still two miles away.  I think I missed a sign because I ended up walking up the road into, and through, town a ways away from the path.  There were a lot of houses and buildings, old and brand new.  It seemed to be a lively little community.  I inquired with a local whether or not I was on the path.  He said to just follow the road down and it would join the path.  He saw I was taking pictures and he pointed out a big pink building connected to other buildings on the left and right.  That was redundant since all the buildings are connected together in towns everywhere.  He said “That building just had a birthday yesterday, 400 years old.  There was a big celebration.  The biographer of Sean Connery as a Scot lives in the building now”.  He is the caretaker for the building.  He was very proud of that.  He also had me take a picture of the building across the street.  Up until a year ago that was the court house where the magistrates did their business and it had been that for uncountable years.  I hiked back down the road losing my way once and then finding it again. 

Although I was getting further away from the bridges, they still seemed close from various vantage points.  The coast in this area does not like to meet the North Sea in a  straight line. Right after the town with the 400 year old building, which I suppose could have been almost any town around here, it started raining and it continued to for the next 9 miles and nearly 4 hours.  I put on a poncho to protect myself and the backpack which helped some.  With the heavy pack it was slow going.  I am sure that good-meaning people thought that asphalt was a good idea so covered dirt wherever it was feasible, but when you are walking a long distance with 32 pounds on your back it is no favor.

The path did not have too many hills, except for one which is not really supposed to be on the path. The markers for the trail showed arrows going forward and to the right which should indicate that you can take either one, so naturally I took “the one less travelled by” and that did make the difference.  Well, actually, I eventually took both.  I turned right where it also showed a sign for public path to beach.  That seemed more exciting than the one going straight ahead a ways from the coast. I walked down a narrow path with a wood fence on either side.  There were cows on one side and sheep on the other. When I got to the end, there was a large industrial plant of some kind on the left and a partially open fence straight ahead.  The facility must have been important because there was a tall fence on my left along the trail and about 20 yards of grass and then another tall fence before getting to the plant.  This stretched all around the plant.  I think I was on cctv camera which is everywhere anyway.  I got to the end of that fence and the trail narrowed into the woods and down a steep embankment.  I was really beginning to have my doubts.  I followed the fence line, slipping and sliding, until I got to the bottom.  It seemed promising until the trail ended with a wall of tall fernlike plants and I noticed I had about 20 feet of them and even if I could get through the beach looked like all big, unmanageable rocks.

My only other option was to haul myself up the slippery hill, walk past the big plant, walk down the long narrow path with the wooden fences and the cows and sheep separated for their own protection, and take the less exciting path.  It would have been embarrassing if anyone was noticing.

3 miles later I entered Burntisland, supposedly named because eons ago it was occupied by a volcano.  I’m not sure when it stopped  being an island or when they took the space out of the name.  All my parts that weren’t covered were soaked.  My pants, shoes and socks bore the brunt of it.  I wandered around town for an hour trying to locate a hotel, a B & B, just about anything at that point.  I was in the center of town but there wasn’t anything obvious.  I finally asked a woman and she said the Sands hotel on the water just a short distance out of town.  I remember seeing it when I was unsuccessfully searching for a place on the web and I remembered that it was way expensive and, being the only hotel, booked much of the time.  Fortunately, as I was walking towards it, there was a B & B sign at a house and I inquired and the hostess of the house, Cal, said she had a room.  It was a fine room.  I strung all my wet stuff around the room.  It had 2 beds, tv, sink in the room, my own bathroom in an adjacent room.  It was heaven after my most miserable day on the trip (for quite a while on the path today I sang  nonsense stuff out loud to myself and smiled because I’m pretty sure you can’t be miserable and sing joyfully at the same time – at least, not if you are normal).  I took a long hot shower which I hadn’t had in a few days. 

I asked the patrons if there was a good restaurant around.  They were excited about a new Italian restaurant that just opened but they hadn’t eaten there yet.  I went searching for it.  It was on the other side of town down High Street (I think every town has High Street).  It had a padlock on the door, no menu, no hours, no life currently or suspected in the near future.  I wandered around a bunch more and there were a lot of small restaurants but they were all what we would call To Go.  They call it Takeaway.  Not one sit down restaurant.  I ended up getting a Greekish takeway meal and took it back to the B & B.  I brought a spoon on my trip which was good because I forgot utensils.  It was delicious.  I had a bottle of still water (as opposed to sparkling water).

The wifi existed but of course wasn’t fast enough for pictures.

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Eggs and salmon

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Pete the Joiner (manages carpenters at Edinburgh castle)

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The Forth railroad bridge that I slept under.  Just called the Bridge in Scotland

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A pleasant looking path … until the rains came

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Looking ahead towards Inverkeithing

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The 400 year old building as of yesterday (with a car in front).  A biographer of Sean Connery lives there now

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The old courthouse that just closed a few years ago

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The road to nowhere, but I mistakenly took it anyway.  A mile and rough terrain later, I was back at this spot taking the real trail.

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I had coffee at the little red cafe

 

September 3 – North Queensferry, Fife

I decided that my next challenge was the Fife Coastal Path.  That would give me the interior and the coastal experience on the trip.  The two sisters I had met coming into Fort WIlliam said that North Queenferry is a good place to start.  The trail goes over 125 miles from there to the famous St Andrews, famous for the Saint and also for the invention of golf.  I only had three full days before meeting Danny in Glasgow but I figured I could hike at least part of the trail. 

I gathered my belongings and checked out of the B & B.  I had to carry my full backpack for the first time in several days, walking down to the bus station for a 7:00 am ride to Glasgow.  It is a 3 hour bus ride which gave me time to catch up on the blog.  I got a bus from the Buchanan Station to Princes Street in Edinburgh which I was familiar with from my stay with Tom.  I didn’t know where to go from there to get to North Queensferry.  A woman told me it was up the street so I walked and walked and walked some more but could not find bus 43.  I finally went to Waverly station, the train terminal and found that there was a train that stops there.  After a 45 minute wait I boarded.  I met a woman on the train who told me what I was seeing on the short journey to North Queensferry.  The train goes over a famous bridge (although I never heard of it) called the Forth Bridge.  It goes over a body of water called the Firth of Forth, an area that has a long history.  I always wanted to see that because of the name.  I have read a fair share  of English and Scottish history and it comes up a lot.  The story goes that Queen Margaret wanted a bridge built from one side to the other and so it was built … in the 1100’s.  The train uses a bridge that is in the same general spot as the original.  Then a bridge was built 53 years ago that is the main highway from Edinburgh to North Queensferry.   The queen dedicated it.  That bridge is closing soon for renovation and will be used mainly by public transportation.

This is how all this affects me.  It so happens that the queen is dedicating the new bridge tomorrow, September 4, the same day she dedicated the old bridge 53 years ago.The new bride is called Queensferry Crossing.  This is a big deal.  Some people who witnessed her dedicating the old bridge will be there to witness the new dedication.  Thousands of people have gotten tickets to be on the bridge to watch.  It has high security so only people with tickets will be there.   As a result, I suppose, all the commotion means there were no vacancies.  There aren’t that many places to stay other than a few hotels and B & B’s.  There was one B & B that looked promising but no one was home.  I had a chance to book at the Albert Hotel, but they were asking 100 pounds.  A guy I bumped into on the way down into town said make them give you a deal.  They will try to get a higher price.  The hotel clerk wasn’t into deals but apparently had a room.   I decided to look around since I thought there were a lot of other places to stay.  There weren’t and by the time I got back it was booked.

So after stopping at a little restaurant and having a pleasant lunch at street side I started up the Fife Coastal path to find a place to pitch the tent.  I wanted to find a place that was close to town so I could have some services in the morning.  I wasn’t interested in tenting on a rocky beach.  Fortunately, I got about 200 yards up the trail and found a promising piece of fairly level ground back quite a ways from the trail and not too obvious.  After some trial and tribulation I was able to get the tent up and my things inside.  It hadn’t rain for a bit so things were pretty dry.  I went back into town to have a beer at the Albert Hotel.  It was busy with mostly locals.  I sat away from everyone just watching.  There was a candy dispenser next to me and a little kid asked his mom if he could get one of the little plastic containers of candy.  After he got his treat I thought I wanted one too.  It was a contraption I hadn’t seen before.  I put a pound in and turned the lever and nothing happened.  I could see the columns of containers.  I thought maybe I didn’t put a pound in (I still have a little trouble with change).  So I did it again; nothing.  Then one more time.  Finally someone who knows a thing or two had mercy on me and said “It is a tumbler, isn’t it?”.  He turned the columns so that one was directly over the money slot.  I didn’t realize you could turn the contraption to get the kind of candy you want.  Stranger in a strange land.

The music was great (Rolling Stones, Elton John and the like) so I just sat back enjoying it and watching the scene.  Old guys and a few women drinking heartily at the bar, telling loud stories and having a time of it.  After a while , Linda (her name as it turns out) asked me to join her, her small son and husband.  She must be the connector in the pub because she introduced me to Eric, Billie, the manager Marta from Poland and some other locals.  Eric has a ticket to the bridge dedication because he has lived in the area all his life.  Billie is a retired sheet worker but is on retainer for, he says, doing nothing.  It provides some good pay and medical benefits over and above the universal coverage.  We talked for a long time.  We also got to joking with the rowdies in the group.  I got pictures of myself with the gang.  Billie has a house here and somewhere not too far away.  He offered to let me stay at his house for the night but I had already set up my tent so I decided to rough it. 

It was dark by the time I headed back to the campsite, about 10:00.  Luckily I had a flashlight and some idea of where the tent was.  After fighting my way through the trees, I unzipped my tent, flopped onto the pad that provides just enough padding to keep me from being too uncomfortable and fell immediately to sleep.

I thought this was just going to be a routine travel day.  I’m glad it wasn’t.

September 2 – Climbing Ben Nevis

I have been known to lose my balance just standing.  In fact I did that once yesterday.  It has obviously never been fatal.  So, I really wasn’t sure how this whole trip was going to go.  There is quite a bit of movement involved.  I have probably stumbled hundreds of times but that is just what I do get from one place to another.  I forget sometimes to lift my feet when approaching any object higher than the ground. So the trail was a large feet for me (pun and misspelling intended)

I bagged the highest Munro in the UK yesterday: Ben Nevis.  A Munro is defined as any mountain (or hill if you prefer) that is over 3000 feet high.  It also has to be a well-defined mountain.  If two mountains share the same base the larger one gets to be Ben and the other one, overshadowed literally and figuratively, doesn’t.  There’s a lot of thought that goes into which is a Munro and which isn’t.  Controversy too.  But no argument about Ben Nevis.  It is 4006 feet high which really isn’t that tall by Cascades standards.  But you have to work with what you have.   It’s a 10.2 mile round trip hike.

I got up early and found a cab that took me to the Ben Nevis Hostel.  Ron, the driver, told me the best place to start was the youth hostel rather than the Ben Nevis Visitor Center so he dropped me off there.  He also gave me valuable information for the end of my hike.  He said at the intersection coming down, go straight rather than taking a left to go back to the hostel.  It ends at the Ben Nevis Inn which is really a pub and restaurant.  The ritual is to climb the mountain and then have a “wee dram” after.  I looked it up: a wee dram is 1/8 of an ounce which isn’t very much but  enough for a Scot to wet his lips after a hard day.  For most I have seen, that is just the first nip before a lot more.  Anyway,  l started up at 6.05 am which was first light.  I don’t like wasting a perfectly good morning.  There were probably a dozen hikers assembling, mostly in one large group.  I began the ascent and the first mile was almost like a staircase with large flat rocks for steps, probably laid by the military hundreds of years ago.  It was a persistently steep stairs but I trained for it on Icicle Ridge so not too big a challenge.  The sky was clear and the scenery wonderful as I rose higher over the valley.

I saw a few people coming down that had started at 1:00 am for whatever reason.  Hopefully they had headlamps.  After a while, the flat, organized stones shapeshifted into random rock fields.  My breathing was good and my legs felt strong so I kept a pretty good pace.  The poles, as usual, were life savers.  I have heard that they take about 15% of the weight off of your legs when climbing and also take a lot of the stress off of your knees when going downhill.  I believe it.  There were some large steps that would have been very difficult without the stability and leverage of the poles.  They adjust so that I keep them short going up and long going down.

It got consistently colder as I ascended.  I wore just a base layer shirt for half of it, then put on a mid layer shirt and towards the top put on my jacket and gloves.  I knew I would need gloves sometime and this was it.  For most of the walk I was on my own although there were hikers in front and in back of me and occasionally one walking or even running by.  As I approached what I thought was the top it started getting foggy and much colder.  The trail was well-marked with large cairns along the path.  A cairn is a pile of rocks.  You may have seen them on the side of a road or elsewhere which someone or several people have built for fun.  The cairns you see when hiking are serious business.  During whiteout conditions during the winter or really socked in fog, those may be your only guide to prevent you from losing the trail and possibly falling off a precipice.  I was in no danger this day because, though foggy, I could see the path and surroundings.  It took a long time to get to the official top of the mountain which is at a monument of sorts and several broken up stone walls.  There used to be an observatory on top of the mountain until 1904.  It took them quite awhile to figure out that you can see from the top only 60 days a year.  The forecast the day before was promising very good visibility but it was not to be.

I got to the top in 2 hours 48 minutes.  I was happy about that because the brochures said that the hike takes between 6 and 10 hours and I was under that.  I hung around on top for 45 minutes waiting for the fog to lift and watching as one group after another got to the spot and cheered that they had made it.  Many groups represented charities.  I saw MS, Cancer, Alzheimer’s, Heart and several others.  It was eerie as I watched them appear in the fog, move around and then disappear.  When I first got to the monument, there were a dozen people and then they left and there was a period of 10 minutes of total silence.  I was by myself on the top.  And eerie and cool feeling at the same time.  I could see the precipices that went steeply down into the fog.  It was well below freezing but I was well dressed for it.  Still my teeth chattered and I shivered.  I could hear ice crystals falling on the back of my jacket and see them form on the front.  A puddle of water was frozen next to me. 

I started my descent when I realized the fog was not going to lift any time soon.  Going up is harder but going down is far more dangerous.  Here’s where the poles do their best work.  In parts it was slippery with the water on the rocks.  I slipped several times but nothing serious.  At one point I did slip and fell on my backside and a number of people immediately asked if I was alright.  I was.  I explained to them that I practice this and they laughed.  Everyone else was having trouble too.  I met a couple on the way down.  The man, probably older than me, said he had just completed climbing all of the Munros (almost 300 of them).  I was impressed.  Not may people have done that.  Several hikers were doing the 3 peak challenge today.  The goal is to hike 3 specific peaks within 24 hours: Ben Nevis, a mountain in Wales and one other one.  Not only is the climbing difficult but getting to the next destination is also a big problem.  They are not exactly close together.  As I was coming down, I could see the line of people, looking like a march of ants, coming up the trail.  I was wise to start early.  Hundreds of hikers a day climb, or attempt to climb, Ben Nevis.  I heard an estimate of 150,000 people a year in fact.

As has been my luck throughout this trip, about a mile before the end of the trail I saw a man running up the trail with a number on his shirt, then another, then another, then what turned out to be about 600 others.  It was the annual Ben Nevis race.  They start from a park in town, walk or run up the mountain and down and back to the park.  The elation I had from climbing the mountain was slightly diminished after witnessing this.  There were plenty of older people as well.  All the runners were breathing heavy and some looked exhausted and they had barely begun, but most of them would make it.  I waited for about 15 minutes for all of them to pass.  Jimmy Wild, a local doctor won it for the 9th year in a row in 1 hour and 24 minutes (half the time it took me to climb to the top), if you are interested.

On the way down, I saw an intriguing elongated hill rising above the path.  I still had some energy so I decided to climb it to see if I could get a different view of the town, which I did.  The hill was mainly short grass, moss, and weeds with some small streams all around but easy to navigate.  There were stone fields at the top.  I got to the first top and then just followed the contour of the hill to the next one and then the final one over the town.  Beautiful and different views.

At the bottom I found the Ben Nevis Inn and asked the bartender what to drink after bagging a Munro.  He said that he doesn’t serve Americans.  Next.  Some other Scots around him started joking with me.  Then he served me a Ben Nevis rum.  The Ben Nevis distillery is in Fort William so it is a popular spirit.  I ordered  bbq pork on ciabatta roll which was very good.  I sat next to Daphne, a 75 year old local, and her sister and some other relatives.  We talked about various things and she ordered haggis.  She asked me if I had had haggis yet.  I said that I have not.  She said that before I go she wanted to put a weebit on my plate to see if I like it.  She said that it was an acquired taste.  So I tried it.  Haggis consists of heart and brains and whatever else is left over after removing all of what most Americans would consider the edible parts.  I have to admit I liked it.  It is prepared many different ways but this was in whiskey and some kind of crumbs and sauce.  I will have to try some more to see if this was just a fluke. I saw Jimmy Wild run by as I was leaving the Inn.

I walked the two miles into town, flopped on the bed (cot) at the B & B and slept for an hour.  Then I went to town and had dinner (not haggis) at the Ben Nevis Restaurant and Jacobite Lounge.  I went home and slept really solid for the first time on this trip.

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First steps of Ben Nevis

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Loch below Nevis

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Rocky trail on Nevis