Glasgow in a day!

From the train we Uber’d over to the Glasgow Marriott where we’d used our points to book our last 2 nights.  On Wednesday morning, we enjoyed the familiar white surroundings of all Marriotts, Ken had a free breakfast in the elite lounge, and eventually we headed out for a run along River Clyde.  A nice, flat path and we had a comfortable 8 mile jog.  Next was a “wander”.  We decided to act like “normal” tourists and take our time wandering the streets.  We walked from the hotel through Kelvingrove Park, along the River Kelvin and into the Botanical Gardens.  AMAZING… just when we thought we’d seen all the amazing things Scotland could offer, we were blown away by the magnitude of the gardens which were created in 1817.  From herb gardens, medicinal gardens, rose gardens, Victorian time period gardens, and an indoor greenhouse that is one of the largest in the world.  
We had a terrific lunch at Bread Meat Bread, which surprisingly had lots of vegetarian and GF options.  Then continued our wander until our feet hurt so much that we stopped at a big bookstore to sit and read for awhile.  Fun to see different books that we’d see in the US.  

The hotel offered appetizers and drinks in the lounge and neither of us was up for more walking, so we made do for dinner.  

Thursday was raining, we worked out in the nice hotel gym for an hour, had breakfast and went for a run that hit several tourist sites including the Cathedral and George Square.  An Uber ride to the bus station, an hour bus ride to the airport and here we are again…. right where we stepped off 16 days ago!  What an amazing trip.  It is so hard to imagine all we’ve seen, but also that we’ll likely never return.  We’ve been making lists of the other places we want to see…. Norway, Sweden, Switzerland (again), Mont Blanc, Wales…..   Let the adventures continue!  


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Isle of Skye

“Island in the Mist”, the translation for Isle of Skye, was our final destination.  We planned 3 nights at what turned out to be a stunning, and perfectly appointed AirBnB.  Not sure how tired we would be after our adventures, we thought that a relaxing few days on Skye would be a nice end to our vacation.  However, we were so captivated by the magnificent and varied scenery, that we packed many more miles of hiking and exploring into our 2.5 days.  Knowing that I don’t do well stuck in the car for several hours, we went for a 10 mile run before leaving Inverness.  The run was beautiful, along the Caledonian Canal, alongside 5 girls training in their 1 and 2 person shells with their coach cycling alongside and barking orders.  They were actually rowing at close to my running pace, so it was fun to run alongside and catch a few “coaching tips”.  I felt great, running steadily for the first time since our arrival in Scotland.  

Along the drive, we stopped to tour the Urquhart Castle, built in the 13th century.  The castle had a very tumultuous history,  and ultimately was destroyed by the MacDonald clan in their struggle for control of the Loch. It’s a beautiful site along side Loch Ness and we enjoyed the tour, although not the crowds.  Having been on our own in very peaceful settings for a few days, the mobs of tourists seemed to be deliberately in our way.  

After 3 hours, we crossed the bridge into Skye.  It was rainy, cloudy, misty, foggy…. whatever word describes WET.  The roads are narrow, and a little intimidating.  We found our AirBnB after another half hour of driving on Skye.  I dropped the owner, Pam, a quick email and then we went out for a walk up the hill from her house to a wind farm.  

We thought it was a trail or driveway, but soon learned that “no, that is a major road on Skye… get used to single track driving”.  What an experience THAT turned out to be- cars flying in both directions on a road barely wide enough for one.  There are “passing areas” or small deposits of asphalt on every turn which could be 1/4 mile to 2 miles apart.  If you didn’t know the road, it was that much more challenging.  When two cars approach, one car (whichever is nearest a passing area) is expected to pull over and allow the other to pass.  Usually it worked well, but sometimes involved backing up for several hundred yards, or pulling right to the edge and hoping to God you don’t fall off the cliff or into a ditch.  Add to this the sheep… no fences, so sheep everywhere, taking their time, as obviously this is THEIR home and not yours.  After each trip of 20-30 (45-70 minutes), Ken would head straight to the frig and take out not one, but two beers.  

Upon returning to our cottage, which by the way was located on a working Sheep Croft, our landlady Pam came up to visit.  She is delightful, and explained much of the area to us.  She brought us Scottish treats made on the island, had a large sampling of tourist brochures, invited us to walk the land behind her home, and in general made us feel entirely welcome.  

Monday was also cloudy, misty, foggy…. and part way through our second hike it became a downright downpour.  But we managed to drive around the northern finger of the island, stopping at the “Old Man” a rock formation that we were able to hike up to…. again with way too many other camera baring tourists. 

Using our little “walks of Skye” book we located a 2nd hike that we thought would be fun.  We were WRONG–  we ended up in a very messy, ankle bending, sheep shit bog.  The description did say “slightly boggy”, but we were not expecting to sink up to our knees and sometimes hips.  We did not find the culminating path up the ridge, and fortunately one of us was smart enough to say “lets turn around”.  That in itself proved challenging as we had been following what seemed like an obvious sheep path…. now there were about 20 obvious sheep paths going in all different directions.  We picked one and soldiered on, eventually connecting with the trail and making our way back to the car.  For the 20 or 30th time I gave thanks to my new Leki poles or I would have never made it!  There were some very cool, odd little green hills.  It kind of looked like an eruption of mushrooms- and I had some fun running up and down them, powering my way up with the poles and sliding back down.  The sheep apparently enjoyed them also and it likely was not mud that I was slipping and sliding down on.

We changed into dry clothes, put on our Xero shoe sandals, and went for our 3rd walk of the day– an easy trip to the Coral Beach.  Here is where we saw seals, climbed a grassy ridge, and enjoyed some time on the North Sea/Atlantic Ocean.  

Now that we had run out of dry clothes, we returned to our BnB.  We had brought the makings of a delicious dinner.  The weather seemed to clear up, and it is daylight until 11pm so we went out for one last short walk of the evening.  5 miles from our cottage was a walk that led through another sheep pasture, and to the Island of Olmsted.  The walk along the “land bridge” was rocky but we watched a pretty sunset before returning home and going to bed.  Long day, but we only have two full ones and want to see as much as possible.

Monday we woke up to spectacular sunshine and blue sky.  This actually happens about 2am- there is literally 3 hours of semi-dark this time of year.  Our first walk today was possibly our favorite- to the 3 maidens, rock formation rising out of the ocean off a steep and sheer cliff.  The walk there was not hard to find, a little boggy, with lots of gates to go go through, but trying to go beyond the maidens which should have connected us to a looop trail proved to be impossible.  Again, the sheep did not make a clear enough trail and we got stuck in heather, bogs, and ankle bending mud.  We retraced our steps and went to the island’s main city, Portree, for lunch. 

After lunch we tried a couple more short walks.  The first (above) was on a paved circuit overlooking porter harbour and with fuschia bushes as tall as us!

That second one was a challenge to find- we got stuck on, guess what ??, sheep tracks and in ferns that were over our head.  Once we determined the right path, it was really quite beautiful and fun to run along the green sloping hillside overlooking the sea.  

Tuesday- our last real day of vacation!  We cleaned up Pam’s home, and headed for a walk along the Cullin Ridge.  The track was a bit rocky, but easy to follow.  Little did we realize how spectacular it would be once we traveled the 5 miles to the ridge line.  We knew we needed to head back as we had a train to catch, but we scrambled up the cliff as quickly as possible and got a few gorgeous views of both the mountain range to the north and the loch/sea to the south.  The trail appeared to continue endlessly, and we wished we’d planned more time, but were glad we got to see as much as we did.  

We ran/walked back to our car and made the drive back to Fort William while eating every last bit of food that we had stocked up on along our 2 week journey.  In Fort William, we returned our car, bought a couple small bottles of wine, crackers and cheese, and prepared to enjoy the journey to Glasgow. 

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Love Inverness!! 

Rainy Day so we didn’t mind the drive from Fort William to Inverness.  We took a detour to Nairn so that we could stick our toes in the North Sea.  The water was cold, but not nearly as cold as the air around us.  We got totally soaked for the 2nd time today!

The first soaking was when we pulled over in the Cairngorms national forest and hiked up a hillside to an old fort.  So random, finding things just because you feel like getting out of the car for a few minutes!  It turned out to be quite spectacular with 360 degree view (probably the purpose of a fort!). 

When we got to our destination in Inverness, I accidentally walked right into some poor woman’s house.  Our apt was #11 View Place, and that’s where I went.  SURPRISE!  #11 View Place lower level is entirely different than street level!

The  apt is awesome though- delightfully decorated, instructions everywhere, treats (small bottles of wine, chocolates, granola bars, clean toothbrushes, etc) everywhere, an entire basket of towels (quite the luxury after the stingy “1 towel for 2 nights and 2 people” guy we had last night.  There’s a view of River Ness, and it’s a 3 minute walk to the Inverness Castle, 5 minutes to town.  We walked through town, did our grocery shopping, and then just relaxed in our beautiful space for the evening.

Friday’s forecast was for rain in the morning, clearing somewhat after noon.  We put off cycling, did some shopping in town, took a walk, and at noon headed to “Ticket to Ride”.  We were outfitted with 2 nice Specialized Cross Bikes.  Assuming we were like most tourists (NOT), the bike guy gave us a map and the usual instructions for an 8 mile ride down the Loch, with a stop for lunch and a brew at the pub.  When we explained that we were looking for a wee bit more, he came up with an idea that turned left at the pub and took us up a 3 mile steep climb.  The view from the top was beautiful- actually we stopped 3 times on the way up, just to take pictures (do not judge the strava segment…. pictures!!!). At the top of a very narrow road, we turned onto an even narrower road and had a 10 mile downhill stretch back to Inverness.  Riding on the left side of the road threw me off, and I rode right off the road twice.  Between that and brake levers that were a half inch longer than my fingers, the wind, and the rain, it was a “chilling” ride down the hill!!   On the way back into town, we found a sign that they must have put up specifically for Ken… see picture below.  

This guy has been watching for Nessie since 2001!

Grave sites from the Commonwealth War

Roads are very narrow, and riding on the left is disconcerting

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Ben Nevis!  Highest Peak in Britain

At 4,406 feet, hiking up Ben Nevis is similar to undertaking a hike up Mount Washington, (New Hampshire).  They are both roughly 4-5 miles up, and 4-5 miles down, depending on your route.  Ben Nevis starts at near sea level, so you climb almost all of that 4400 feet.  Mount Washington, is 6,288 feet at the summit, but you start the at 2,050 feet so the actual climb is very similar in both distance and elevation.  They are also similar in that it is rare to get a clear day at the summit.  We thought we might get lucky, and in a way we did.  The clouds were expected to clear mid-afternoon so we waited until noon to begin our hike.  Part way up we did SEE the summit, but by the time we were at the summit, there was a thick foggy cloud cover again.  We had some spectacular views both on the way up and the way down so it was worth the effort.  

The walk is easy for the first mile, easier than any of the trails we’ve been on this week.  However, it gets steeper and more challenging as you climb and the last mile is a very loose pile of slippery scree.  Luckily, the shopping trip Ken promised me yesterday, resulted in a pair of super light, super nice hiking/running poles.  I’ve been thinking ever since my hip surgery that good poles would be really useful.  We researched on line and found what we wanted, and we knew we could order them at a cheaper price.  However, when we went into Ellis Brigham, a mountaineering/outdoor store in Fort William, the employee who helped us was very gracious and extremely knowledgeable.  I always feel that if you get top rate service somewhere, it is worth the few extra dollars to buy directly from the person who helped educate you.  Plus, I’d always prefer support an actual store than some online multi-millionaire if I can.   The poles were worth every gram on this hike, both up and down!  

Ken’s big challenge to himself for this trip has been to try the famous Scottish dish, “Haggis, Neeps, and Tatties”.   Haggis is a sausage type dish made from sheep internals, Neeps are mashed turnips, and Tatties are mashed potatoes.  Tonight was the night and he actually liked it so much, he intends to do a nationwide comparison.  I’m still on a search for the best Cullen Skink.  

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Last Day of WHW– Kinlochleven to Fort William, 16 miles

Great breakfast- one of the top 2 B and Bs of the trip.  Comfy bed, good sleep.  

POURING down rain.  We expected this, but seeing it did not make us too excited to get out and walk.  Today was the shortest day, but it turned into the hardest day for me mentally.  The route was on an old military road.  When I read that from home, I thought about dirt roads in the Natchaug Forest, or maybe some gravel.  No, this was big softball sized rocks, lots of them, and loose/rolling/ankle twisty/slippery/shitty…  I said a lot worse things than that after awhile too.  My back started to hurt from the slipping, I was cold, and the uphill seemed relentless…. as did the rain.  It was impossible to maintain the pace we’d hoped for, and for the 100th time I reprimanded myself (and Ken) for taking my hiking poles out of our luggage at the last minute.  

Suck it up Buttercup!  Time to put our heads down and get this thing done.  Ken promised me lunch and shopping if I’d just shut up.  

Somewhere around 2 hours in, Ken told me to eat something and offered to take my pack.  I told him both of those ideas sucked and he was stupid.  But around 2 hours and 15 minutes, the terrain changed a little, I DID eat a UCAN bar, and I started to feel better.  We got to a nice gradual downhill, the sun poked out a little (or at least it stopped pouring) and we were able to jog along which also improved my mood.  By 3 hours in, we were laughing and having fun again.  The last 3 miles of the WHW are on a road, most of it a nice dirt road, and all of it downhill.  We jogged down, then made our last turn onto a paved “highway” for the last mile into town.  The mileage on our itinerary was off by 2 miles, which also pissed me off, but I got over it as we walked the final bit through town and sat down next to the statue of the hiker with the tired feet.  I loved that guy, and was so happy to see him that I gave him a big hug.  

The rest of our afternoon was spent finding some lunch, getting our rental car (that was a bit of an ordeal), grocery shopping and checking into our airBnB.  We will stay here for 2 nights and then head on to Inverness for 2 nights, before going to the Isle of Skye.  The view from our apartment is spectacular, although the apartment itself is really weird– it’s empty.  Virtually no furniture, 1 towel for the two of us for 2 nights, and a pretty skimpy bed.  But, it’s home for now- it’s warm, the shower works, and we are happy to be here.

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Day 4– Bridge of Orchy to Kinlochlevin (22 miles)

Our night in the remodeled sheep stance was not too comfortable, so despite it being a fairly easy day yesterday we didn’t feel super rested.   But we had a nice breakfast, were pleasantly surprised by a sunny weather forecast, and headed on our way.  The walking was not particularly challenging but the terrain was very rocky on what was called an old military road.  We climbed up and over 3 mountain passes, including Glenroe and what is known as the Devil’s Staircase.  It really wasn’t that bad, but the higher peaks did provide some amazing views.  

Between Orchy and Kinlochlevin, there is only one other place to stop for a night (a small bunkhouse attached to a bar) so nearly everyone makes the entire 21 mile journey.  Up until today, there were a few different ways to plan our your overnights, particularly if you wanted to walk for more than the 5 days that we chose.  A lot of people do 6,7, 8, or 9 day walks.  We’ve had some fun conversations with other hikers, many of whom are carrying a lot heavier packs and consequently moving more slowly.  We are feeling lucky to just have our running shoes and hydration packs.  Even thought many parts of the trail aren’t very runnable, we’re able to walk quickly and make good time.  The one thing we REALLY wish we’d brought are our hiking poles.  They were all packed, but as we had to keep each of our bags to 10kg, we took them out at the last minute.  I was ready to buy a pair, but there have not been ANY shops.  Just finding a meal is fortunate.  It is so gorgeous here, but totally isolated.

Today was sunny with no rain!  Another very unusual stroke of luck for Scotland.  There are little bugs called midges, we call them “no see ums”.  They are nasty and bite.  We have also been lucky there, although today was such a gorgeous day that there were a few chasing after us.  As long as we kept moving, we were fine.  

Bridge of Orchy

Very friendly deer at King’s House

Our lunch companions at King’s House

Resourceful kids selling water and candy at the top of Devil’s Staircase

Walking off the top of the world!

We actually saw the sign on our way down, AFTER we climbed the staircase

The river Levin provides water and power to the town

Cool sculpture at the end of our day, village of Kinlochlevin.  Which, BTW, our excitement about being in a “bigger” village was somewhat true– there are TWO pubs that serve food, a convenience store, AND a barbers shop.  Our B and B is much more comfy though.  

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West Highland Way, Day 2 (Balmaha to Inverness- 22 miles)

Slap, slap, slap….. running footsteps woke us up at 3:50am.   We heard someone yell- “go right”… and with that, we were both fully awake and standing at the window.  We had read that an ultra marathon of the entire West Highland Way (WHW) path would be going on.  We had originally hoped that the runners might be passing by on our 2nd day,  but then we realized that the race began at 1am and that we were only 19 miles into the course.  We decided to get up to watch, ONLY if we happened to be awake at 4am anyway.  Well, now we were awake.  Ken got dressed and went out to check things out… I tried to go back to sleep, but soon heard Ken cheering on the runners with “Well done, Mate” (in his newly acquired British accent).  I joined in, watched the leaders and top 3 women pass by, and THEN went back to sleep.  

The second time I woke up, it was nearly time for breakfast.  Litzy had laid out a feast of breads, cereals, fruit, yogurt, coffee and tea.  And that was in addition to the individual hot breakfasts that she prepared to order.  We sat with a Scottish couple who were hiking the WHW from North to South.  They were starting their last day, and they warned us that today would be our toughest.  22 miles, and mostly along the water, but relentless up and down climbs, lots of scrambling over rocks, ladders to ascend, and streams to cross.  They advised us to stop at a restaurant along the trail, 15.5 miles in.  We are glad we did- we were both tired by then, but a bowl of soup and a cup of tea helped plus the stop broke our day into two parts.  Now we had only 6.5 miles remaining- even if it was the toughest 6.5 miles of the entire trail.   
Our phrase for today was “Oh Boy”… it seemed like every time we turned a corner, we would face a steep rocky climb, sometimes with stone stair steps, sometimes with ladders, sometimes with lots of boulders to climb up and around.  It became a joke, that every time we were quickly moving along on a slight downhill or flat, there’d just as quickly be another “Oh Boy” view and our pace would slow.  The 22 miles took us approximately 7 hours today- when things were smooth and flat, we jogged (maybe 2 miles total of the entire day) and the rest of the time we climbed and walked as quickly as we were safely able to.  

Walking along the lock was very pretty, but dare I say, a tad bit monotonous.  We missed the beautiful views of yesterday, and were pleasantly surprised when we popped out of the woods at mile 19 and were back on a lovely green hillside with views of both the loch and the mountains beyond.  

Ken, back to his routes as a naturalist, found some interesting snakes and slugs to photograph and probably play with for awhile.

One of the best views of the day was the final descent right into our resting site for the night.  Benglais is a campsite with some private cabin type rooms and a rowdy pub/restaurant.  We checked into our room, picked up our luggage which had been dropped off earlier in the day, got cleaned up and ate a terrific dinner. 

Day 3– Invernan to Bridge of Orchy (19 miles) 

By the end of yesterday, I was feeling a little despondent and not sure that walking two more 20 mile days plus a 14 mile day was going to be much fun.  I said to Ken, “when do you think the turning point is?”  Guess what?  It was today!  19.5 miles in almost exactly 5 hours.  We were able to jog a good portion, along old military roads.  We stopped at the Green Welly for a big lunch (Cullen Skink soup which was possibly the best thing I’ve ever eaten, and jacket potatoes with chili and cheese… also delicious). But other than our lunch break, we were able to move quickly and arrived at our B and B a bit early.  

Bridge of Orchy sounds pretty populated, doesn’t it?  Well, it’s NOT.  There is a train station, although we’re not sure why.  There is a hotel/restaurant, and there is our 2 room B and B which was once a drover station.  It’s been remodeled and is somewhat comfortable, although very simple with 2 twin cots, a drying rack for our clothes, and a tiny bathroom.  There is internet, but it’s very spotty so who knows if this will actually get posted tonight.  We are feeling quite isolated here, and are looking forward to our stop tonight at Kinlochleven which although described as remote, appears to be in a more populated village (population 900), A pub and some other walkers to chat with will be fun.  

Every afternoon when we arrive, we are offered tea and cake.  Apparently the Scots love their cake, and there is a nation wide movement to reduce sugar because of an obesity problem.  But how do you reduce sugar and have cake 2 or 3 times per day?  There’s cake for breakfast, cake at tea, and cake for desert.  Speaking of breakfast- Ken has been enjoying the full Scottish breakfast of porridge, juice and coffee followed by bacon, eggs, mushrooms, tomatoes, potato scones (flat pancake like things made out of potatoes), toast, black pudding, and of course, cake.  Dinners have varied- there is lots of good seafood available, some salads although the salads tend to be anything that is cold… like tuna, or cheese and pickle, or mayo coleslaw.  My favorite was warm goat cheese salad-  2 medallions of goat cheese set on a little bed of greens and topped with a beet chutney.  Most places offer gluten free and vegetarian options which is incredible, considering that we really are in the middle of nowhere.  Last night, the waiter actually pointed out the 3 entrees (out of about 15) that did NOT have gluten, soups are all gluten free, and gluten free bread has been available at every meal.  

Today’s hike included lots of mud, lots of beautiful waterfalls, lots of sheep, gorgeous views, and some long steady climbs and descents.  

It’s amazing to think that after nearly 20 miles today, we are feeling rested and Ken even suggested that we extend our walking one extra day to include Ben Nevis, the highest peak in the UK (4,411 feet).  If the weather is good, I’m all for it!  

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