Posts Tagged With: hostel

The Way of St. Francis: Italy at its best


As I sipped coffee at a bar in Poggio Bustone Wednesday afternoon, Sue wandered down the road a few doors and returned with a dinner invitation. The fellow in the white t-shirt runs the La Laconda Francescana Ristorante and hostel, where he later served us a delicious two-course meal with more wine than we could drink for just 27 euro, about $33. The chef (dad?) was pleased to be part of the after-meal photograph.


The view as we walked back to our wonderful accommodation, the San Francesco Suite, perched somewhere in this photo of Poggio Bustone. Such a quintessential Italian evening!




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23 beds in 35 days

After sleeping in 23 beds in 35 days, we are ready to go home.

There is just one problem: We sold our home and the bed with it.

We will have to make do, for now, with a rented condo in Ashland, Oregon. It will be home for the next three months and we are looking forward to staying in one place for awhile.

The trekking part of the journey took us to magical lands in the Highlands of Scotland. By car, we visited great friends in Scotland and England. By plane, we dropped in on our Camino buddies who showed us Denmark from the city to the country to the beachside resort.

We hope we get a chance to return our friends’ hospitality.

For now, we fly “home” with treasured memories.


We enjoyed a great breakfast at the Bridge of Orchy Hotel and cream tea (note the glob of clotted cream) at Glamis Castle in Scotland. The locals were welcoming and some, like these Danish guys, wanted a spot in the photo album.

Sometimes the trail led to seemingly endless Scottish wilderness. We traveled 1,400 miles in our Vauxhall rental, a GM car.


Categories: Scottish Highlands and beyond | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Ah, what a journey is the West Highland Way!

Scotland, 2014: Thirteen days afoot, more than 150 miles. It is time to write the journalist's “30” on this journey. We are jumping on a bus tomorrow and heading to Inverness for a couple days before driving to Fife to see our dear friends there. A week in a Crail seaside cottage sounds amazing just now.

The West Highland Way lives beyond expectations, both in beauty and degree of difficulty. What a trek, indeed!

Here are some notes from our tour:

The West Highland Way

Day 1: Glasgow to Milngavie. 11 miles. This is not part of the official trail, but it is a beautiful, flat walk along the River Kelvin. A good warmup.


An old man at an even older pub, the Clachan Inn.

Day 2: Milngavie to Drymen, 12 miles. The official start of the walk and an easy trek. The Landers Bed and Breakfast in Drymen was a good choice; the hosts were so welcoming. Drymen's Clachan Inn is supposedly Scotland's oldest bar. We had drinks in the tiny, charming pub and dinner next door in the restaurant.

A rock was a perfect picnic spot on Conic Hill.


Day 3: Drymen to Balmaha, 8 miles. The climb up and down Conic Hill was a highlight. Fabulous views of Loch Lomond and our first glimpse of the Highlands. The Balmaha House bunkhouse worked out well. We had drinks and dinner in the pub at Balmaha's Oak Tree Inn, a place filled with character and Scottish charm.

We had a wet picnic on Loch Lomond on Day 4.


Day 4: Balmaha to Inversnaid, 14 miles. A walk along Loch Lomond with views of Ben Lomond. We stayed at the bunkhouse up the hill from Inversnaid (they picked us up and returned us to town the next morning). Tiny bunkrooms, but a bar/restaurant in the old church is filled with personality, good fun, and superb food. This place was a highlight of the trip for us!

A stile was one of many ways to get over a rancher's fence.


Day 5: Inversnaid to Crianlarich, 13 miles. The five miles out of Inversnaid was quite difficult, taking us along the banks of Loch Lomond over large rocks, massive tree roots and mud. One minute, up the hill, next minute, down. This was by far the hardest day of the entire trek. We stayed at the Youth Hostel in Crianlarich, a nice facility.

Remote, but refined, the Bridge of Orchy Hotel.


Day 6: Crianlarich to Bridge of Orchy, 13 miles. You are in the Highlands now and the scenery gets better with each step. For the rest of the West Highland Way, you are mostly traveling where cars can't go. There are so many times we stopped in awe of the landscape. The Bridge of Orchy Hotel is in a remote area and is pricey, but wonderful.

The King's House Hotel was our favorite spot on the way.


Day 7: Bridge of Orchy to King's House, 13 miles. Just when you think the scenery can't get more stunning, it does, and in a big way. The approach to Glen Coe at the end of the day redefines magical. The King's House Hotel, like the Bridge of Orchy Hotel, is about 300 years old, expensive, but worth it, considering the location.

So many pubs, so many beers, and some whiskey.


Day 8: King's House to Kinlochleven, 9 miles. You walk up a place called Devil's Staircase, but the scenery is heavenly. The ascent is not as difficult as the name implies, but the descent into Kinlochleven is quite a test for the knees.

Lunch was usually a picnic along the trail.


Day 9: Kinlochleven to Fort William, 16 miles. A steep climb out of town into more incredible Highlands views toward Ben Nevis, Britain's highest peak. Unfortunately, we finally got a day of real Scottish weather, which hid the mountaintops. We stayed at the Bank Street Lodge, a Fort Williams hostel with lots of private, en suite rooms. Nice place, very friendly.


The Great Glen Way

Day 10: Fort William to Gairlochy, 11 miles. A flat walk, with a look at some locks on the Caledonian Canal. A second day of rain.


A ruined castle and boat marked the Great Glen Way.

Day 11: Gairlochy to South Laggan, 13.5 miles. Another mostly flat trek, with spectacular views back toward Ben Nevis. We stayed at the very nice Great Glen Hostel. No restaurants there, but the hostel has a small store and a great kitchen.


Our Loch Ness view at dinner In Fort Augustus.

Day 12: South Laggan to Fort Augustus, 9 miles. This was the best day of four we walked on the Great Glen Way. Warm, sunny day, with nice views of Loch Oich, the mountains, and the Caledonian Canal. Had a very good dinner at the Boathouse, next to the shores of Loch Ness.


Our outstanding B&B in Invermoriston.

Day 13: Fort Augustus to Invermoriston, 8 miles. A few views of Loch Ness, mostly a forest walk. Kirkfield B&B in Invermoriston is a superb choice. If you watch Mad Men, the proprietor here is Betty Draper.


Sue sets out from King's House at Glen Coe. This is Scotland!


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A wild store chase on the Great Glen Way

This Scottish holiday maker was waiting with his wife for the Caledonian Canal lock to let them through. The lock master was on lunch break. His wife was inside, mixing gin and tonics to make the delay more palatable.


Our walking in Scotland has taken us through some quite remote areas. We have had to plan carefully to make sure we have food to fuel our weary bodies.

The Great Glen Way has had even fewer shops or eating places than the West Highland Way. It is not unusual to walk 12 miles or more without passing a commercial establishment. When we checked into our hostel Monday afternoon, we were pleasantly surprised that there was a mini store behind the counter. We bought a can of soup and some biscuits to compliment the sandwiches we had brought for dinner. Plus some Wheatabix and milk for breakfast.

Now, let's see, we will need lunch Tuesday. Ah, we were told several times, there is a store just a mile up the trail.

“Where is the store?”

“Near the water park.”

So, we set out in the morning and soon came to the water park. No sign of a store, so I found some folks and asked them where the store was. They pointed and said “just over there!”

They were pointing across the loch. I suppose it was “near” the water park, but …

“You'll have to go back to the end of the loch, cross the swinging bridge and just up the road a bit.”

Sue volunteered to watch my pack while I set out for lunch. We knew there was no other food source between us and Fort Augustus, our final destination for the day.

On my way, I twice had the pleasure of watching the swinging bridge close to allow a boat through. Delayed my journey a bit, but ah, well. And, the store was more than “up the road a bit” away. If it had been closer, though, I would have missed the Maserati parade.

About an hour later, I returned with lunch.

I should have learned by now to ask more questions about directions.



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Coast-to-coast on the Great Glen Way

We are in South Laggan tonight (Monday).

The Eagle Barge Inn, where we stopped for a drink this afternoon.

The Great Glen Hostel, our home tonight.

After our second day on the 73-mile Great Glen Way, we are staying in a great hostel in South Laggan. We scored a private en suite room. It helps to be one of the first to arrive!

We have trekked about 130 miles from Glasgow and we are sore and tired. When we planned the trip in January, we did not know the West Highland Way would be as tough as it turned out to be. The middle day along Loch Lomond was quite a test. Last winter, we had debated a rest day in Fort William and decided we wouldn't need it. It turned out we would have welcomed it.

Nonetheless, we loved the West Highland Way. We have never seen more stunning scenery.

As we began the Great Glen Way, we thought about taking a bus out of Fort William when it was raining, but our pride won. (And we would have had to endure our friend Malcolm's ribbing!) Honestly, the busses weren't running because it was Sunday.

A highlight of these treks is the people we meet along the way.

  • Two college guys from Niagara Falls are walking the Great Glen Way, then plan to stay at a monastery in Elgin, Scotland for four days. Why? To experience it, they told us. One said his dad had considered the priesthood and the other said his grandfather had done the same. They are probably glad neither followed through.
  • We stopped today to have drinks and scones on a barge that doubled as a pub on the Caledonian Canal. There, we chatted with a Swiss man who had walked the Camino de Santiago, but he started in Switzerland! About 1,200 miles. He has also walked from Switzerland to Rome.
  • In the Highlands, we talked to a 30-something Englishman who was walking to the north coast of Scotland to work for the summer. Everything he owned was on his back.
  • Another Englishman was walking from the southern tip of England to the northern tip of Scotland.
  • Most walkers on the West Highland Way had their packs/luggage picked up and transported to their next accommodation each day. So far, it seems most on the Great Glen Way are carrying their belongings.


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The magical West Highlands tour takes us away

Buachaille Etive Mor loomed outside our Kingshouse Hotel window this morning and later when we set out on our way to Kinlochleven.

Fellow diners at the Kingshouse pub included trekkers from The Netherlands, Germany, Scotland and England. We took a photo break after climbing the Devil's Staircase.


Camaraderie has progressed as we get deeper into the Highlands on the West Highland Way. There is a sense of impending accomplishment as those of us in Kinlochleven tonight anticipate our 16-mile walk to Fort William and the end of the trail.

We are bunking in a hostel tonight after staying in extraordinary 300-year-old hotels the past two nights. We had beautiful weather today, but rain is expected tomorrow.


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One more thing…

…about yesterday. Hiking the last half of the banks of Loch Lomond was, without a doubt, the most physically exhausting thing I have done in decades! Decades! I don't think Reg made that clear enough to you all. We sat down for lunch, done in, and still had six miles to go! However, my wonderful husband upgraded our accommodations to a private room at the hostel, where I enjoyed ten hours of uninterrupted sleep.

Scenery like this keeps us moving forward. The challenges are well worth it!


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At the end of the day, memories are made

The Inversnaid Bunkhouse, with hosts Nick and Luna.

Our room for four.

After a long day walking along Loch Lomond, we arrived in Inversnaid, a tiny village on the banks of the lake. I looked up our booking and saw that the Inversnaid Bunkhouse was our destination. “Call for pickup,” said my notes. Minutes later, Nick arrived and drove us up the mountain to a remote building, which was once a church. A Scottish native, he was most welcoming as he showed us to our closet-sized room for four.

After showers, we met our roommate Heather, a young woman from Toronto who is walking the West Highland Way to kick off a several-month European tour. Sue and I went upstairs and shared a bottle of wine while we soaked up the magic of the bar/restaurant, the Top Bunk Bistro, with church-window decor.

Our server was Luna, Nick’s wife, from the Dominican Republic. We spent the evening there, enjoying one of the finest restaurant meals we have ever had in Scotland.

I must say, when I first saw our room, my thoughts were “uh-oh.” So much for first impressions. This will go down as a most memorable stay!

This building held surprises that we will never forget.


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Up, up and up goes Camino de Santiago

I made instant Starbucks coffee for the three of us in our freezing Castrillo albergue before we headed out at 7 a.m. Wednesday, top photo. Our 13-mile walk to Foncebadon was marked by a pause for coffee at a Brazilian cowboy outpost.

We climbed about 1,700 feet and are near 5,000 feet tonight in a village that has an alpine feel. It snowed here last night, but it melted today. I was exhausted by the time we reached the top and collapsed in a chair while Sue went inside to check out the albergue. She came back a bit later with news she had scored a private room, with heat! Later, we reunited with a young Irishman we had not seen in two weeks.

Thursday, we head for the highest point on the Camino and a stop at a very special pilgrim monument. We have brought along remembrances from home for our contribution.

Only 147 miles to Santiago!


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Camino Santiago takes a turn for the …?

The Camino took an unexpected turn on the last day of April and led us to an unusual destination far outside our comfort zone.

Along with our German friend Gert, we took a detour near the end of our 12-mile day, marked by a steady light rain.

It led to Castrillo de Polvazares, which our guidebook called “a traditional Maragato village with a cobbled Main Street lined with stone buildings providing tourist bars, restaurants and rooms.”

Visually, the town is wonderful, but we soon discovered it was too early in the season for pilgrim accommodations. Then, a Spaniard stopped his car after seeing us in need. Luckily, Gert understands enough Spanish to find out the man was offering to open the small albergue so that we would have a place to sleep.

The albergue, top, and in bottom photo, left.

We were in luck!? He led us down a narrow alley, went up some stairs and banged on a door. After a rapid, loud conversation with a woman inside, he emerged with a key. He led us to a building, through an entry that exuded a rustic charm, and inside to a room that was a very basic kitchen/dining area. Then up the curved staircase to an eight-bed dorm room that would be ours for the night, for €4 each. He turned on the hot water heater (hot showers!), but there was no heater in the room (it was about 40 degrees outside and inside).

After some good laughs at our predicament, we settled in. I toured the village in search of food and drink. I found four restaurants, but they looked too fancy for backpackers. But, we had to eat (er, drink)!

We bathed in the heat of hot showers and headed out. The first place looked out of our league. The next place was closing. The next had just closed. Suddenly, an upstairs door in a nearby building opened and a woman (the same one who provided the key earlier) popped out, asking if we were pilgrims looking for “comida.”

She raced down and led us to the restaurant that was closing. She shouted orders that they must feed us right away. Minutes later, we were seated in a warm room with linen tablecloths drinking vino tinto and eating a superb four-course meal because the staff stayed late just for us.

It is 7:30 p.m. and we are back in our room, huddled in our sleeping bags.

But life on the Camino warms our hearts like we never anticipated.


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