It’s been 21 days since I flew out of Sydney. I am now in Aberdeen on Scotland’s east coast, listening to the calls of the giant seagulls which have followed me for the last 2 weeks as I hugged the coast. I covered 1572 miles or 2530 km. I didn’t think Scotland had that many kilometres to do! Criss-crossing along the single track roads has added up.
I have stayed in 11 different AirBnBs, 2 guest houses and one youth hostel. I did 5 ferry crossings, one chartered boat voyage, one overnight train, 3 buses and 1 taxi ride. I witnessed and gave first aid at one serious road crash. I have lost track of the number of castles and castle ruins I have seen and I have been to 5 museums. I have walked 285 kilometres. I lost one travel mascot and found another.
I am not going to add up how much I have spent, but it’s been a lot!! Things here priced the same “number” but cost twice as much. I mean it might cost $4 in Australia and £4 here, so in effect $8AUD.
I have met some wonderful people and become Facebook friends with one. (AMcL – that’s you!)
My overall impressions of Scotland have been very positive. I have felt comfortable going into pubs on my own and chatting with the locals. I have promised a postcard from Wollongong to Willy at the Culloden Moor Inn. He wants to show it to his mate who has been to Australia at least six times but wasn’t there on the night.
The main topic of conversation revolves around me traveling alone.
One fellow at the Red Lion at Forres declaring that it took some balls to travel solo and even he would be too scared to travel in another country alone.
I don’t feel brave. I have said before in another post that I don’t take stupid chances. I am usually tucked up in my room well before dark and don’t lurk in places that seem a bit dodgy. Although, that is sometimes a bit hard in cities you don’t know and you accidentally witness drug deals and prostitute haunts.
I did feel very brave staying in a youth hostel though. A first for me, and I must say I was a bit worried about a number of things:
1. Not being a youth,
2. Sharing a room with four women I didn’t know
3. Bed bugs and
4. The prospect of people throwing their shoes at me because I snore!
It turned out fine. I only chatted with the French lady who was about 10 years younger than me – the three others came in later after I was already in bed and no-one threw shoes at me! I had no red welts in the morning, so it seems my worries may have been unfounded. I sat in the community lounge after dinner editing the day’s photos and watched some other “mature” youths (average age 40) doing a whisky and chocolate taste testing party and teasing each other unmercifully, after a wreck diving expedition. They invited me to join in. I tested the chocolate but not the whisky!
Given that the youth hostel was less than ½ the price of everywhere else I have stayed it makes good sense to try them out more often. The French lady says she really likes travelling on her own but stays at youth hostels because she can find someone to talk to in the evenings so it was a nice compromise for her.
The next phase of my adventure is with a small group walking tour in the Orkney Islands.
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.
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.
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 bothyin 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.
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.
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!!!
2. Still thinking of 1!
(Video to follow! Ackkkk not sure why but they won’t load)
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.
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 ft, is one of the great Munros of Scotland. A short and easy drive from Glasgow ensures it popularity. There are two ascent routes, the “tourist” route and the more difficult 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 cut backs 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 very easy 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 easier 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 sign board 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!