Posts Tagged With: Scotland

Walk Scotland’s Highlands With Us

The year after we walked the Camino de Santiago, we journeyed to our former home, Scotland, to walk the West Highland Way. It was magnificent! Sue has a slide show for you.

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The way to Chamonix: Trains and costly surprises

Glaciers are revealed, but the clouds hide Mont Blanc in this view from our hotel this morning.


Naïveté, bad luck and good fortune all had parts in our eventful journey from sunny Strasbourg to rainy Chamonix in the French Alps on Monday.

Three trains were to take us on the nine-hour trip, but a bus and a very expensive taxi ride saved the day in the end.

The second train ride, meant to take us from Lyon in southern France to Saint Gervais, started well. But, when we got to the end of the line, we discovered we were in Evian! (Try that word backwards.)

Our hotel, La Chaumiere, in Chamonix. A nice breakfast buffet and a bottomless cup of coffee (our first on this trip) were a great start to the day.

We had lost half our train! It turned out that at one of the stops, the last three cars decoupled and they went to Saint Gervais, without us.

It was 9 p.m. and we were in Evian, a long way from our hotel room. We found the train engineer and he found us a bus, which took us back to Annemasse. He said to tell the folks at the train station what happened and that they would call a taxi to take us to Chamonix. A Japanese photographer in the same boat followed us.

We pulled into the Annemasse train station about 10 p.m. The bus driver spoke little English, but had been told of our plight and waited while we sought help.

However, the station was deserted. Now what? The benches looked like last-resort beds. Ouch!

Sue tried calling a taxi, but the first call went unanswered and the second got a recording in indecipherable French. The driver needed to go. We needed a taxi. A bilingual woman on the bus hopped off and called a taxi for the three of us.

It was nearly 11 p.m. when we pulled into Chamonix. The meter read 240€. As Sue and I approached the locked lobby of the La Chaumiere Hotel, tourists from London unlocked the door. An envelope on the counter welcomed the Spittles, our key inside!

It has been raining all day in Chamonix; our Tour du Mont Blanc begins tomorrow with more rain forecast. We will begin, rain or shine.

In Scotland, they might say “It never rains on the trail!”


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Appalachian Trail record setter has world at her feet

Jennifer Pharr Davis and her daughter pause for a photo with Reg.

After walking 12,000 miles on six continents, Jennifer Pharr Davis has her heart with Brew, her husband of six years, and their toddler daughter.

During her talk at the Ashland Library Wednesday, though, it was clear that part of her longed to be back on the trail.

In 2011, Jennifer hiked the 2,181-mile Appalachian Trail in a record 46 days. National Geographic named her Adventurer of the Year.

Her first trek was at the age of 21 and it was one of three times she has walked the entire Appalachian. It took her five months. She learned “it all starts with a single step.”

After the first walk, she said she longed to be back on the trail. “I missed how beautiful I felt on the trail…you can do so much more than you once thought was possible.”

Her message in Ashland: “Go outside! You grow so much through things that are not in your control.”

She is quick to credit her husband and many others for their support during her record-setting walk. They met her at the crossroads with food, clean clothes and other necessities. Her journey started in Maine and ended in Georgia. She endured shin splints, saw 36 bears and logged two 60-mile days.

She remembered one particularly painful day when she told Brew she was quitting. He told her to “suck it up” and give it at least one more day. It was an example, she says, of how you have to go backwards before you can go forward.

In ten years, her walks have included the Pacific Crest Trail, the 600-mile Bibblemun Track in Australia, the Inca Trail in Peru, Mount Kilimanjaro and the West Highland Way in Scotland. Only one continent, Antarctica, has escaped her feet and it is unlikely to change anytime soon. She says she cannot take the cold.

Her stop in Ashland came near the end of a 50-state speaking and book-signing tour that ends later this month in Las Vegas. She is the owner and founder of the Blue Ridge Hiking Company and lives in Asheville, N.C.

In Sue's and my copy of Called Again: A Story of Love and Triumph, her story about her record-setting walk, Jennifer wrote, “Keep going and travel light!”





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Scotland engineers two enthralling attractions

The Kelpies almost literally bring two huge Clydesdale horse sculptures to life.

Our good friend Trish guided us to Falkirk Friday to see a pair of Scottish engineering marvels.

The Kelpies is a new exhibit that depicts two lake spirits as metal Clydesdale horse heads that have to be seen up close to be fully appreciated. Andy Scott of Glasgow created two 30-meter sculptures that provide nearby M9 motorway drivers with a major distraction. Kelpies come in many forms and represent spirits (Nessie!) inhabiting the waters of Scotland.

The Kelpie sculptures are the tallest horse structures in the world.

Then we ventured a few miles away to the Falkirk Wheel, a one-of-a-kind water wheel designed to connect two canals that link the waters west and east of Scotland. It hoists boats 79 feet to an aqueduct. The wheel does this with the power used to boil eight or less kettles of water. The displaced water in the upper and lower chambers is made the same, so the electric motor has to just nudge the wheel and then it turns on its own power to raise and lower the two water chambers in which the long boats float.

On our way down, a touring boat joined us for the ride.

In upper left photo, the boat below will be raised by the wheel 79 feet to the upper aqueduct. In upper right photo, our boat is slowly rising as the one above rotates down. The bottom photo shows the view as our boat returns to the wheel from the aqueduct to be lowered 79 feet to its original level in the canal.


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Exploring a hidden gem

We drove deep into the glen along a single lane track. Heading back to the main road, the scenery seemed to get even more spectacular.


There has been a place of worship in Glen Prosen for 400 years. The current church was built in 1802. As we left the glen, the scenery was breathtaking. Reg thought he might be happy here if he could live in this house.



We discovered the beauty of the Scottish glens years ago when our friends Barbara and Malcolm took our family to Glen Clova for the day. Our boys were young and Malcolm taught them how to roll downhill the heather-covered hillside. It made for some great video!

During our last visit, Reg and I explored Glen Esk and loved what we found; very different scenery from Glen Clova.

We had a day to ourselves and headed north to explore another of the Angus Glens – Glen Prosen.


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Friendships weather the years and miles

Carole and Beaton brought a cake showing our trekking route.





We have had a most enjoyable week in Scotland after our walk, mainly because of the great times visiting with friends we made while living here in 1997-98.

We have enjoyed many laughs, trips down memory lane and tasty meals in our times together. The Scottish weather, as it always does, treated us to a variety of experiences as we have sometimes literally soaked up what the country offers.

To our home-away-from-home and to our friends here: We will return!







Wendy, Trish, Colina and John joined us for a meal in our wee cottage.


Malcolm and Barbara took our family for our first walk in Scotland in 1997. We braved the rain for another trek through St. Andrews, this time in less favorable weather.



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St. Andrews’ best kept secret

Who wouldn't want to claim that they've played golf in St. Andrews, the birthplace of the game? Not us! We discovered the Himalayas course back in 1997/98 when we lived here. It was great family fun and still is the best deal around for just £2.00/person (or about $3.40). We grabbed our good friend Trish and set off for an afternoon of friendly competition.

Unlike any “miniature” golf course I've seen, it offers 18 holes of fun, frustration and good memories; much like any golf game, I guess. Positioned alongside the famous Old Course, the Himalayas course is a challenging layout of humps, bumps and dips where skill helps but luck can play a larger part. It also offers the chance (for those of us not yet qualified for the real thing) to be photographed playing golf with the famous clubhouse in the background.

Trish and I were astounded when Reg started out with a hole-in-one. Trish helps me celebrate my hole-in-two of which I was very proud! We pose for a quick photo before heading to the clubhouse for a well deserved cup of coffee.



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The Kingdom of Fife


Our views look out over the Firth of Forth and out towards the North Sea. Winding alleyways lead down to the small harbor. A white circle designates a roundabout in the center of town. When the tide is in, the boats will float in Crail Harbor. Other times, they rest in the sand.

We left the Highlands behind and headed south from Inverness last Saturday. We've rented Stoney Creek cottage in the little fishing village of Crail, about a fifteen minute drive south/west around the coast from St. Andrews.

We found our cottage smack in the center of town; with The Royal Bank of Scotland, a small market and The Golf Hotel (established in 1721) within view from our front window.

As you can see, Crail offers all the charm you'd hope to find, especially while exploring under a beautiful blue sky!


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The sign on the trail firmly ordered us to stop. It seemed that the Forestry Commission was logging along the section of trail in front of us. We looked to our right where another sign politely insisted we take an alternate route; a diversion. With apologies for the inconvenience and a promise that the new route would “be just a slight bit longer,” it also warned of being “rather steep, slippery and uneven, so do be careful.” An orange arrow pointed us downhill. It was suggested that bicycle riders dismount. We looked at each other, rolled our eyes and began the descent.

The good news was that our diversion provided us with a great view of Loch Ness.

Steep? Yes it was. We dropped all the way down to the road, traveling parallel with the traffic before starting the climb back up from where we came. As you can see in the bottom left photo, Reg is just a blue speck as he makes his way back up to the trees that border The Great Glen Way.

So, one never knows where the road ahead will lead and diversions are inevitable. While we've decided to end our walking two days early and head for Inverness, we look forward to new adventures…on our diverted path.


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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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