Scotland the Glorious

We went to Scotland for our holidays. It's beautiful. I loved it.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Day 4 (continued) Steall Falls

Back at Fort William we were a bit hot, tired, thirsty and grumpy. Well I was. Least said about t'other one the better.
So, we decided that I needed a cup of tea whether or not anyone else did and that we would then have a little walk. There had been some not entirely agreeable conversation the day before about whether I actually do walking. And there had been dismissive comment about how I certainly wouldn't want to climb anything. Have to say I probably wouldn't these days though I used to be something of a mountain goat.
So a short, easy walk seemed to be in order and we went and bought a booklet from the Glen Nevis visitor centre and, over tea, chose the more exciting half of what was described as a 'moderate' walk in Glen Nevis. Then remembered that we had to be back for dinner booked for eight at the Crannog Restaurant in Fort william. What with the heat and having spent several hours bathed in steam, smoke and smuts I needed a shower before mingling with people in an enclosed space. It all began to look a bit sweaty and tight for time .
We drove the first part of the walk, along a gorgeous, narrow, humpy road, All rocky and bracken and fern fringed along the Glen. Glimpses of rushing water and encounters with shaggy long-horned cattle. And a lot of people driving the other way, presumably having finished their walks and now heading back for showers and dinner.
The actual walk was steep narrow and rocky...I'm sure the guide book was right in saying it would be dangerously slippery in wet weather.
After about a hundred yards, I thought, just possibly I'd bitten off more than my legs could chew! they went all weak and rubbery and didn't agree about the necessary lift to get over the steeper bits. Bear in mind that I am fatter than I should be and don't do excercise. but I told the damn legs to get on with it and after a bit longer they did. And there were level bits and even the odd downhill stretch. Ask any of our children and they'll confirm that I can go a long way quite steadily on the's just uphill that slows me down to nearly stop. In past holidays, they would all hurtle past me on the uphills and then I'd trundle past them on the downhills. Swings and roundabouts? Weren't any. So, notwithstanding rubber legs, total absence of useful breath and rivers of sweat I carried on quite briskly. I'll give him 'don't do walking' I thought.
It was delightful anyway. Rushing water glimpsed in a gorge far (very far) below, Sunlight, flitting birds, old and twisty oak, alder, birch and rowan trees clinging to the rocks. Waterfalls crossing our path and towering mountains all around.
Actually we overtook people. I was impressed with me! The legs stopped wobbling and as long as I remembered to keep picking them up a bit higher than they would normally go, I wasn't in too much danger of tripping over my own feet and disappearing over the edge :)
So up to a narrow gap between converging cliffs with a waterfall crashing down through huge boulders. The crowning glory was a flat, circular, mountain meadow opening out, bathed in sunlight and enclosed by dark mountains. At the far end of the meadow, a leaping waterfall shimmering on the rock face and falling into the river below. Which wound lazily through the meadow.
Gorgeous, spectacular, heavenly. A secret valley straight out of a children's adventure book. the place I'd always wanted to run away to. (I still do).
I'm sorry, what with dinner booked and no tripod and no time to really drink it in, the pics have come out a long way short of what it was like.
Much too beautiful to do in a hurry. I could have stayed days and nights and we did the whole walk in about 1&1/2 hours. Stupid. But we didn't know.
It was somewhere up there

Forgot to mention knotted and gnarled old pines

The way back.

On the way back down, I practically skipped along. Some years ago Barney made walking sticks for a while and I claimed one for myself. On rocky downhill treks it's like having something halfway between an extra leg and eyes in your feet. Felt quite mountain goatlike and very pleased with myself for having got up to the meadow in the first place.

Day 4

Breakfast at Loch View is good we've decided (smoked salmon and scrambled egg on the menu) (but the coffee is horrible)
We decided to go and book a steam train ride from Fort William to Mallaig for tomorrow but found it was booked up till Friday when we're going back. Disappointment loomed and we wandered sadly up the platform to drool over the engine (that's Barney not me) and sit down. Discovered that you can get late bookings too. So queued up and got two for today. Yay, we're going on the Hogwarts Express! It is really the train and track used in the Harry Potter film. I suppose that's a bit cool?So. got tickets for today, had a parking panic and a flurry of seat searching and settled in opposite 3 chinese ladies, who semed to me to be daughter, mother and grandmother..Barney thought mother and aunt. Whichever, they were, respectively, chatty, smiley and smiley and shortly after the train set off, they all fell asleep! But not before a little animated chinese conversation in which the words Harry Potter and Hogwarts featured.
You can't turn a corner in this part of the world without seeing yet another fabulous view. As well as the famous viaduct we passed several scenes from Local Hero (I remember watching the film and thinking Iwould like to go there!). the weather was brilliant.
Mallaig was quite nice though not particularly picturesque and the hoped for views of Egg and Skye and other islands were obscured by the industrial / fishing areas of the port. But there were jelly fish in the harbour which I wasn't expecting!
We had a pleasant lunch. Barney beginning to feel a bit over fished (he seemed to have had fish at least once with every meal since we'd left Lancaster) but he had Langoustines anyway since they were advertised as world famous...clients have travelled hundreds of miles to eat our langoustines. Hmm. After tasting, we realised that we had also travelled hundreds of miles to eat them. Nothing so special about that then.
After a hasty visit to a Himalayan craft exhibition (in Scotland? Well why not) yielded 2 pairs of thin trousers for Barney but nothing for me, we hurried back to our train and this time, I got myself a window by a door and stood there popping head and camera out of the window whenever it looked safe (dire warnings about possible decapitation by passing vegetation and rocks notwithstanding).
Minutes before we crossed the viaduct which features apparently in the Harry Potter film (if, like me, you've not seen the film, you need to know that it's pretty impressive in its own right) my battery ran out. Of course while I rushed to the compartment to change it, I lost my (by now) coveted window space. The viaduct curves elegantly and conveniently in such a way that you can lean out and take a picture of the train going across and both Harry Potter and steam train fans were all determined to get that shot! the corridors were briefly seething wth camera waving tourists.
Anyway, my space had been snaffled by a very elegant, poised indian lady who cheerfully offered to let me have a turn after she'd taken her picture. And naturally, the train went slowly enough to allow everyone a good chance at the is one of the big selling points of the ride after all.
So we both did our shots, and compared notes and agreed that it was all very lovely.By this time I was a bit tired of standing so went back to sit with our chinese ladies, now very animated and cheerful. Saw three herons sailing majestically across Loch Eil but there wasn't time to get the camera out again so I just enjoyed the sight.
(To be continued)*

*Because I'm knackered and there's a whole lot more of day 4 to come. At least I think there is. I might have got some days mixed up.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Day 3

Breakfast was good and we had our free room coffee on the terrace, serenaded by birdsong and totally ignored by several bunnies in the garden across the way. Seagulls and swallows swooped and glided. You don't somehow associate the scottish glens with seagulls but of course you're never far from salt water. So though ravens and corbies twa would sem more appropriate, there are seagulls everywhere. I do hope I get to see ravens. And the crows are mostly hooded crows. Which have rather dirty looking off-white waistcoats.

We drove up the west side of loch Lomond and stopped to look at the falls of Falloch. They were lovely but our picture taking was somewhat curtailed by midge attack. They do deserve their're walking along peacefully and suddenly an itchy cloud settles on your head and exposed parts and then you get stung all over. One expects to see people with a permanent head shaking twitch but I suppose the hardy highlanders are used to it.

We followed the road up strath Fillan and past the bridge of Orchy. The railway travelled bside us across the river for a while then headed away up Glen Duibhe while we turned off for Rannoch Moor. The river has cut a deep and narrow channel along the valley and the trees are growing all along the river side, down in it's channel so all you can see of the river is the tops of the trees winding along the valley floor. I imagine it being dark and green down there with the chuckling water and maybe peaty brown pools cut off from the light by the tree canopy.
We went steeply up past Loch Tulla to Rannoch moor which is on a plateau. Speckled with isolated lumps of granite, grass humps and stunted trees. There are small boggy pools and the dark thin spikes of bog reed grows in tufts everywhere. I imagine on a foggy day it would be very eerie and folorn.
Then distant peaks loom close and high and become Glen Coe of tragic and haunting history. Between the peaks a huge U shaped valley winds down from the heights narrowing to a gap between two great rocks before opening into a narrower and steeper valley, the Glen proper I suppose.
It is awe-inspiring, grand and haunting and evocative of the dreadful tale of betrayal and massacre which happened there. Also, today in the bright sun and dappled cloud shadows, quite inviting.
And very quiet. We half expected the mountains to be dotted with brightly coloured fleeces and anoraks but there were only a few. And only a handful of tourists joining us to take photos at the view point for the Three Sisters.
This could be two of them or some other mountains entirely. There are a few to choose from.
We stopped at The Glen Coe village folk museum and did it! Barney likes to look at everything and read all the labels. He listens to all the commentaries and remembers all the dates. I get bored after while and can't remember any of the dates. But I bought a little booklet on the history of Glen Coe.
Then we drove up the south side of Loch Leven and had lunch at Kinlochleven before going to look at the Gray Mare's tail falls. It was a steep but short walk up before plunging down into ancient oak, birch and alder woods along the banks of the river with ferns and foxgloves. Green shady depths. And less midges than expected...I suspect because there was a group of walkers admiring the falls and I wonder if the midges followed them while we took pictures and Barney tried to get right to the bottom of the falls.
After this we drove down the North side of Loch Leven which was, of course, very beautiful and along the shores of Loch Linnhe to Fort William.
Fort William seems to consist of a street, a lot of residential/ B&B areas and estates and the Loch with a bit of a harbour. It's main attraction is that you can go to a lot of places from it. It has restaurants, two Indian, one Chinese (serves Chinese and European cuisine apparently...that would be a chinese chippy then?), several fish and chips and two or three haute C, with local seafood prominent on their menus, naturally. A surprisingly good range of vegetarian options and at least one gourmet haggis dish on every menu. (not that I'm a veggie but it's important for it to be available. We had a vegetarian child for 6 years or so and the trouble it caused you wouldn't believe)
Having walked the length of the town, we looked at the Jacobite Steam train (more of that tomorrow) and went to see the famous Neptune flight of locks on the Caledonian Canal. Ben Nevis towered moodily above us all the while and the clouds gathered and scattered across blue skies in a westering sun...OK, OK I just like to get lyrical occasionally :) and these history laden Scottish names do something to me.
Anyway the flight of locks was quite large and impressive but somehow a bit disappointing. They lift the water from Loch Linnhe up to the level of Loch Lochy and Loch Ness but being wide and modern with neat white railings they don't grab the imagination like they should. There was a splendid 3 masted boat (??) moored at the bottom of the locks but it didn't go through, mooored for the night then. But a lovely sight. We hoped to see it go through the two swing bridges (rail and road) but never mind.
Tired and thirsty by now, we went to Lochview House, our home for the next 3 or 4 nights. And here we are now.
It's a nice room, the window does open and there is tea making stuff :) :) :)
You can just about see the Loch from the window. The lounge downstairs one level has a marvellous view though and picture windows to enjoy it the better. There's a gorgeous garden and although the house is strictly no smoking, I expect I'll be able to sit out there with a last bedtime ciggie now and then.
We went out and had dinner in fort William, mussels, haggis and salmon. Barney does mussels better but the haggis was great. I do like haggis.
I realise we need to go to a rubish cafe somewhere and steal some little milk cartons..they never have enough in B&Bs. Failing that I'll just have to buy a pint and try and keep it cool in the cool bag..

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Day 2

After a large breakfast with Adam and Jude (eggs brilliantly poached by Adam) we were off by 10ish. Weather grey but dry and it cleared up bit by bit and was sunny by the time we stopped for lunch near Glasgow. No traffic problems (again! amazing) and we arrived at Balmaha (not Balamory as Barney kept saying...just trying to confuse me)just in time for Barney to fall asleep in front of the football.
Disappointingly there was no tea making stuff in the room and the window had a notice on it saying please don't open the window. There was a fan but all it could do was push hot air around the room. Which was hot! But we were allowed free tea/coffee from the restaurant or bar 'on production of the room key'. Hmm, a bit of a trek for a cup of tea. But much needed so I trekked. And asked why the closed window. It seems the midges like our room. But we could have the window open till they started attacking us.
While Barney watched (some of) the football I went looking for a view and found it.
I went back to find Barney panicking somewhat as I'd left him in the little hot room with no keys! I let him out and we went up the loch side to explore. Spectacular views and ferocious midges. Definitely we will keep the window shut.

We went back to the hotel for steak and Atlantic Char. Were allowed to take (very nice) coffee back to our room and now, after writing and investigating routes for tomorrow I may need tea, ciggie and an early bed...breakfast booked for 8.30 tomorrow.

Aah! When they said I could have tea refills up to 10.30 they lied. It's all closed. and dark. Pooh!
I smoked furiously at a sudden swarm of midges and took lukewarm water (from home) in with me. It's 11oclock and still only dusk. Wonderful.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Day one

An amazingly easy journey up to Lancaster, no traffic, no accidents and no road works!
We went with adam and Jude for tapas in Lancaster and it was very nice.
It's an easy walk down into the city but after adding hot chocolate with orange liquer and another glass of wine it looked like a long hike back up again especially as it was, by then, raining in a gently positive way. Like, not buckets but definitely wet. However, virtue triumphed over laziness and we didn't get a taxi and it was a rather nice walk.
I am now wondering if I'm going to need laggy bag technology in Scotland to keep the camera dry. No idea if the little bag is waterproof or even resistant.