Culloden Battlefields Circuit.

I recently did the 14km Culloden Battlefield’s Circuit which included the Culloden Moors, the Culloden Visitors’ Centre, and the Clava Cairns. It’s an easy walk, physically. Flat (for the most part) with made paths that are either gravel, forestry trails or footpaths next to the road. In that respect, it’s easy. No physical challenge. There is, however, some emotional challenge.

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Like most of the world, I knew nothing about Culloden or the history of the Scottish people until I watched the first series of Outlander. While it may not be an accurate historical representation, it has certainly piqued the interest of millions, including myself.

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On top of that, both sides of my family hale from Scotland. Some of my blood started here. I was drawn to Scotland, by my own history and partly by Outlander. (And to be honest, partly by Neil Oliver, the simmering historian!)

On the 16th of April 1746, the Battle of Culloden happened in this place. Lasting less than an hour, it led to the deaths of 1500 Jacobite men and 50 Red Coats. It was not a battle of Scottish against English. It was not a battle of Protestants against Catholics. It was a battle for Scottish independence and for the personal vanity of a would-be King.

For me, the emotional challenge started at St Mary’s Well, where the Jacobite Troops got their water and where they retreated to after the short-lived battle. The trees around the enclosed well are covered in bits of material. These strips are “wish rags”.

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Wish rags at St Mary’s Well

 

Rags tied with a prayer for healing and good luck.

There are ghosts here. You can feel them. I cursed my crunching boots and squeaking backpack buckles, I needed to be quieter.

“I am sorry,” I thought  “Sorry to disturb your rest.”

I don’t know who I was speaking to, but I felt it. Like you sometimes feel the change in air pressure before a storm.

You feel it when you stop to listen. You feel it when you stop to take notice.

People had died here. Badly.

A few kilometres on,  I passed onto the “official” battlefield. I expected more ghosts, but none appeared to me. There were too many living people here. The air was disturbed with the conversations of the now. It was too noisy. The ghosts were hiding, looking for peace. Perhaps if you came back at night, they would be here. If you came back after the buses had gone, after the Visitors’ Centre had closed, perhaps they would be here then.

Even so, without the ghosts, it was a sad, bleak and windy place. No trees, just low shrubs. The wildflowers should have packed up and gone home because even their bright colours failed to cheer things up.

There may be no ghosts, but my rational self imagined what it must have been like.  I thought “Are there bones under my feet? Am I stepping on someone’s corpse?”

The ground would have been covered in bodies, blood and flies. By the 19th of  April, it would have been a stinking quagmire of gore, with human scavengers picking the pockets of the fallen.

The loud laughter of a group of women on a private Outlander tour disturb my imaginings.

Go slowly. People died here.

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The Visitors’ Centre was excellent, a very good balance between entertainment and sorrow. The walk continued for another 8 kilometres, or so after the battlefields, well signposted and level, it remained an easy walk. Along the way, the Clava Cairns take us back to an even more ancient past. Perhaps 4000 years old, these rocks, arranged in slotted rings, take us back much, much further than the battlefields.

There are no ghosts here. The ancients made sure their dead were at rest, unlike those who died on Culloden Moor.

The Cairns are peaceful.

They are just another brown signposted ‘place of interest’  on the road.

This video shows what you can expect from the circuit trail.

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This walk is well worth the time. It took me around 5 hours, but that included a good stop at the Visitors’ Centre. I used a map from Viewranger which you can access from the Walking Highlands website (https://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/lochness/culloden-clava.shtml), but it was very well sign-posted, and it would have been possible to do it without the map. I would recommend the Culloden Visitor Centre, although you can walk right on by it if you chose to.

 

My advice?

Walk quietly, listen for the ghosts.

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.

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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!

The Quiraing

I walked the Quiraing Hill Circuit earlier this week. While these images go part of the way in showing the majestic landscape it is still not a true representation of the scale of these sheer hills.

With my new hiking pole!

It’s fairly crowded to begin with but that peters out after a kilometre or so.

I have made a short video but I am having trouble uploading it so will do that when I have access to a computer again. In the meantime here are a few stills.

27/8/19: I remember I promised a video!

 

 

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!