Musings on Tourism in Edinburgh.

The interminable bagpipe playing continues unabated as you move from one corner to the other. Some pipers clearly know only one piece. If you stand in the same place long enough you hear them play it again and again. 

National Portrait Gallery

My last stop in Scotland is Edinburgh. I am glad I didn’t come here first,  it would have swayed my opinion of this wonderful place.

The sun is shining down on the people sitting outside one of the authentic Scottish pubs. Authentic, except everyone there is not from Edinburgh. Not even the staff.

Waverly Station

Some of my melancholy may stem from the fact that I fly home tomorrow and my big adventure ends. I think some stems from the fact that this city is in danger of losing itself. Losing itself up the arse of overtourism. I wrote about this in a previous post and here I find myself conflicted again.

St Giles Kirk
National art gallery

I am a tourist.

I am in Edinburgh.

I’m part of the problem. 

There is absolutely no doubt that this is a place to visit. 

The architecture? Sublime! 

The history? Incredibly long and intriguing.

The winding streets and narrow closes (laneways)  a photographer’s delight.

But the people? So many people. Jostling and bustling.

Selfie after selfie. In front of the castle. In front of the Kirk. In front of the shops with the fake wisteria.

Street performance getting ready
Plenty of stairs!

We’ll all have the same photos. I retreated to the Galleries and the breathtakingly magnificent Scottish Museum.

I wish I could have been here 30 years ago. (But with the same digital technology I have now!!) Then,  it would have been truly spectacular!

What do we do? What do we do? There is obviously too much money sloshing around in the collective travel bucket of the world, including my own.  I feel badly for the people who do call this place home. They have lost their city. AirBnB has taken up most the properties nearest the city and people can not find places to live. Their pubs are crowded, their streets noisy. I apologize for the contribution I made.

Next big adventure? Definitely most definitely, has to be in Australia. 

Travel Mascots Part 3

Introducing Iain mac Iain

After the tragic loss of the original Iain, I would like to introduce his wayward son Iain mac Iain. Wayward, because he has abandoned the family tartan, has a tattoo and is wearing shoes, and a utility belt.

He has cast aside family tradition and decided to wear mostly black. Perhaps it’s just an emo stage?

Despite his careless disregard for tradition, he is valiantly searching for his lost father.

As the new chief – this is his role!

Please help Find Iain!

Travel Mascots Part 3

Introducing Iain mac Iain

After the tragic loss of the original Iain, I would like to introduce his wayward son Iain mac Iain. Wayward, because he has abandoned the family tartan, has a tattoo and is wearing shoes, and a utility belt.

He has cast aside family tradition and decided to wear mostly black. Perhaps it’s just an emo stage?

Despite his careless disregard for tradition, he is valiantly searching for his lost father.

As the new chief – this is his role!

Please help Find Iain!

Isle of Skye

Impressions of Skye?

Sheer igneous escarpments surrounded by velvety green slopes,

Outcrops and boulders interrupting the grazing sheep’s progress.

Slushy bogs and deep lochs. Tiny wildflowers and soft grass.

Rocky beaches with brown seaweed and driftwood  (and unfortunately blue plastic bags, plastic ropes and packing straps).

Single track roads. Sailing boats. Craft shops and cafes with modern cuisine.

People!

Lots and lots of people.

I spent three days on Skye at the end of June, crossing from Oban and from there I travelled on to Lewis and Harris.

Apart from the city of Glasgow and the Harry Potter Bridge (oh sorry the Glenfinnan Viaduct) Skye was the most crowded place on my road trip. Neil who has a blog Travels with a Kilt) recently wrote a post about how places like Skye are being drowned by the weight of tourists and I would concur even though I’m one of those tourists.

It becomes obvious in a number of ways, firstly nearly every homestead is a B&B,  you need to let 4 – 5 cars pass at each passing place on the single track roads and you get yelled at by people in car parks. I decided to give Syke’s “must sees” a miss after such an experience at the Claigan Coral Beach carpark. I opted instead to head back to the small bothy I was staying at and spend the time sitting in the sun and staring out over the fabulous view I already had.

I trudged across the rocky beach to the pub at Stein, had coffee and posted some cards back home. I lit the fire for effect rather than warmth, as it was a comfortable 18oC. I rested and wrote and contemplated how grateful I was to be able to afford to do this. I pondered on how little we need to be content if we let ourselves. I made porridge for breakfast and smiled at the shared culture that meant I knew exactly what that jar of brown sugar was for.

Brigid’s bothy in Waternish, is a small stone, single roomed building about 4 x 12 m with a tin roof and double glazed windows. Facing directly west it is bathed in soft light. Sitting literally a weak-arm’s stone throw from the rocky beach you could spend the whole day looking for shells and sea glass. (It would make a fantastic writing/artist retreat!)

Brigid runs the bothy as an AirBnB and I began to imagine it is magical. Judging by the comments in the visitors’ book, others before me agreed. It’s quiet, secluded and there is no easy access to the internet.

In the 10 days before arriving there I had been relentlessly pushing myself to see and do as much as I could while in Scotland. I was tired. The long, long days had meant my sleep patterns were out the window. Being there around the solstice meant it was still light at midnight and the sun returned at 4 AM. I was emotionally drained after losing my travel mascot, Iain. First world problem perhaps, but nonetheless, I was honestly upset.

After taking on the Quiraing Hill Circuit I slowed right down, sorted out my suitcase and took fewer than 100 photos. The decision to take it easy for two days was well made. I’ve wrote three blog posts, created two short little videos and edited some photos ready to upload when I did get internet. I contemplated about whether to try and replace Iain and decided what will happen will happen. I read a short book – Brokeback Mountain and watched the tide come in and out.

I discovered that unlike Australian sunsets which are over in twenty minutes, the twilight lasts for hours. The red streaks lingering and deepening. It did not get truly dark and my intention to photograph the night sky was thwarted by the biggest light polluter around – the sun.

I checked out refreshed and recharged.

If you come to Skye, take Neil’s advice, come in the quieter times of the year. Judy at the craft shop in Stein summed it up. “We have the place to ourselves in the winter and autumn. No-one comes then.”

Come then, the mountains will still be here. The snow, if it falls, will add another dimension and the stormy weather will give you more stories to tell. Best of all you won’t be arguing with other tourists about parking spaces.

___________________________________________

P.S. I ended up going back to the coral beach early the next day and there were only 3 other cars there.  I would recommend this strategy for the “natural” sites which don’t require a ticket. In summer, it’s light from around 4AM and it seems most people don’t get on the road till around 10. You could get an early start and be back in a cafe for a late breakfast and miss the crowds.

Claigan Coral Beach

Lewis Coastal Walk

When I packed my suitcase to come to Scotland, I went out and bought another pair of fleecy Gortex pants because I was worried I would be wet and cold. My research of the weather said I could expect temperatures in high teens at best. I didn’t pack any shorts and only one t-shirt. That plan was sorely tested.

On the day I did this walk, The Outer Hebrides put on a summer day to rival summer in Wollongong! Not a cloud in the sky and at one point my car told me it was 30C!

After 5 km of walking, I decided to cut down my jeans with the little scissors in my trusty first aid kit!

After a thorough cost benefit analysis I deemed it worthwhile.

Pros:

1. It’s 30 C (86F)

2. The jeans are not expensive ones

3. It’s 30 C (86F)

4. I’m sweating like crazy and I am only carrying a litre of water. It’s a health issue!

5. It’s 30 C (86F)!!! In Scotland!!!

Cons:

1………

2. Still thinking of 1!

Travel mascots: Part 2

I lost Iain.

My muscular travel companion is lost somewhere after only a week of travel. We were having such fun too! I can’t be certain but I think I left him on the car roof at Salen Jetty. Perhaps, I just left him on the rocks staring out to sea. I did not realise until I got to the Glenfinnian Memorial and discovered he was not in his little carry pouch. I presumed he was on the front seat of the the car. A thorough search showed no signs of him. I messaged the owners of the shop at the jetty to no avail.

I was devastated. Close to tears. He may have only been a plastic action figure but he and I had made a connection. Well, the connection was really with my friends who had been commenting on his daily antics. That was the connection.

The connection with the travelling strangers who saw me taking the photos and joined in on the fun.

The connection was with the young hitch hiker I picked up near Bunessan on the Isle of Mull. When he got in the car and introduced himself as Iain, I had a hard job not choking on my laughter. I then of course had to explain why him being Iain was so funny.

I seriously thought about coming home. What was the purpose of my journey without Iain? He and I had been preparing for this trip for months. The rational side told me to get over myself.

The question of course is do I try and find a replacement? An Iain the second, son of Iain? The second Cheif of Clan Mangerton?

Will Iain return? If you know someone currently travelling in Scotland share this post and ask them to return my lost Iain of Mangerton. Please spread the word. Someone has him? Someone must be holding him for ransom?

Of course, he may have slipped through the stones we touched at Kilmartin? I half expect him to turn up on the front seat of the car at any moment.

PS: Please ask around your networks – someone in the world must have him? Last seen at Salen Jetty near KILCHOAN on Sunday 23 June 2019.

Climbing Ben Lomond

The plastic poncho was flapping wildly in the wind, and the hood was vibrating with a high pitched whine against my eye. The sleet still made its way under the thin plastic and snaked its way down my arms. I reminded myself again that I was doing this on purpose and I was in fact, on holiday. This may not have been fun, but it was satisfying. Life doesn’t always have to be fun, but I am a firm believer in satisfaction, despite what Mick might say.

Ben Lomond at 974 metres or 3196 ft,  is one of the great Munros of Scotland. A short and easy drive from Glasgow ensures its popularity. There are two ascent routes, the “tourist” route and the more challenging climb via the Ptarmigan Trail. I like a challenge so decided to do the second trail. Halfway up, I decided that perhaps that wasn’t such a good idea! All the way up, I was expecting a welcoming crew with champagne on hand and a helicopter to whisk me back down! Due to budgetary cutbacks, my welcoming party were two young Poms who were happy to chat and take a photo for me.

I did it! 3 ½ hours!

Invincible and in the fog almost invisible!!

I passed no-one else on the trail, and no-one overtook me. The path is straightforward to follow in that you can see it at all times.  It is well worn, and although in some areas you scramble over the rocks, the track is never out of view. At no time did I feel like I needed to make a decision on where to go – that was easy – just go UP! I do strongly recommend that you used hiking poles as there are a lot of big step-ups and while manageable it would have been much more comfortable with poles. It is a steep ascent, with switchbacks to ease the climb but the contour lines are VERY close together.

Each time I thought I was at the top and ready to celebrate, the mist revealed another, taller peak behind it. “Will this never end?” The black-faced sheep seemed amused at my mutterings. “Baaa no lady – you have a ways to go yet.”

The signboard in the car park warns you to be well prepared for changes in weather and boy were they right about that. At first, it was sunny, and I took off all my top layers. In 10 minutes it was raining so out comes the over jacket which kept me dry but made me feel like I was in a furnace. I switched to the plastic, disposable rain poncho, which kept me dry and cooler. In the last 500m, I needed to swap this out for the over jacket again because it was in danger of turning into a sail and pushing me off the mountain!

The walk down – ha! A doddle in comparison. A gentle grade most of the way but the rain had made the stones slippery, and care was still needed. This route was like a highway, and I passed at least 70 people making their way to the top. I t’sked at those in shorts and t-shirts with no apparent outerwear. “Oh, dear!” I said to myself “you’re gonna freeze when you get to the top!”

I used this Map (link to download) although Google maps worked well and the signal was very strong at the top.

DON’T do this walk if you do not have a good level of fitness. I’m 58, and my fitness for my age is good but unless you are doing regular exercise and walking this will be a challenge too far!

(video to follow when I have better internet!)

27/8/19: Here is the video finally!

A Scottish Vacation

Part 1 – Glasgow

An unpolished on the road edition!

I arrived safe and sound in London after an uneventful flight. The best sort of flight really! Plane rides should NOT be interesting. They should be boring, dull and safe!

My next step was to get from Heathrow to Euston Station to catch the Caledonian Sleeper to Glasgow. This was accomplished by taking the Heathrow Express to Paddington (£25)  You can buy the ticket at the information kiosk near the entrance to the train station. The return ticket is cheaper than two one-ways but it needs to be used within a 30 day period. From Paddington, I took the Hammersmith-City line to Euston Square and walked the 500m above ground to Euston London. I was worried I was cutting things fine only having 4.5 hours to get from Heathrow to Euston but in the end I made it within 2 hours of landing and sat around waiting. Incidentally, you don’t need to buy a ticket for the subway – you can use any bank card that has a chip as your ticket – just remember to tap on and off.

The overnight train journey was a good way to travel, although I did not get much sleep as the train was noisier than anticipated. They give you earplugs but I didn’t find them till the morning since I put my bag on top of the little amenity pack. I had a couple of glasses of wine in the dining car and chatted with two older ladies going to the Isle of Aran and some younger men who were doing the West Highland Trail – a 95 mile walk.

It was then an easy walk from Glasgow Central to the AirBnB in York Street. I’ve added the link ( https://abnb.me/S2ovefVHEX ) to the property here. Rona was a wonderful host and the room very comfortable. It was very well appointed, in a great location and Rona was very helpful and friendly.

I spent two days in Glasgow using the Hop on Hop Off sightseeing bus. I made a point of getting around to as many of murals that make up the Mural Trail as I could but time beat me.

These photos and videos show some of my adventures

Glasgow is a splendid city. If you are into Victorian architecture its is certainly the place for you! The people were friendly and there was certainly enough to do for 3 – 4 days. The museums and galleries run by the council are all free so don’t be shy about visiting. I didn’t get to them all in the time I had missing out on the Riverside Museum among many others.

I have now picked up a rental car and the road trip begins!

(Sorry for the long list of photos. Posting on the mobile version gives you very few options.)