Walking the Highlands

The Why of It All: imageAfter my walk across England following Hadrian's Wall and the amount of joy it gave me it seemed natural that some other sort of similar trip would be fun. I dithered a bit about where to go and eventually I decided that simplicity would suggest a place where the language was comprehensible and where I might have some sort of connection. My ancestry is a bit vague when it departs from the Swedish/German side. For a long time I was told that my father's family was Irish. Well, it turns out that, while there is some Irish there in the form of great-grandma Dugan the majority there is Scottish even though I didn't know it at the time. My other choice on my father's side might have been Alsace-Lorraine which could be either French or German depending on the year. In any case, Scotland seemed the best choice -- I even enjoy bagpipes.

Since Mickledore Travel did such a good job of arranging my first walk I chose one of their Scottish routes. They offer six different routes now but, if I recall correctly, it was four when I chose. One of the offerings seemed very interesting: a 93-mile walk up the River Spey through the heart of the malt whisky country but I decided against the possible alcohol overdose and opted for the 73-mile Great Glen way along the Caledonian Canal from Fort William to Inverness. Worryingly as I was recalling my walk and preparing to start writing I found a(nother) big hole in my memory. In my mind the trip was in the Spring of 2012 but my paperwork insists that it was 2011. Since I am actually writing this loose account more than seven years after the fact I'll have to go with the paper trail and hope that I can reconstruct something to write about from my sparse notes, my bedraggled and water-damaged Cicerone Guide to the route, photographs, and the dates and times they bear. At least the red Molskine notebook is at hand and intact (unlike my memories, it seems).

Day 1, 4 May 2011

image I got to the airport at 9:50AM, quite early, but that proved to be best since there was a holdup with TSA who were determined to not let one woman through despite four agents interminably searching her and her luggage. Eventually both of us got through screening. My intermediate stop was in Detroit where I arrived at 1:05PM. The board said that my departure was from Concourse A which seems to be miles from my present location and where I needed to be long before 4:00 for check-in. Luckily my backpack had wheels. We did get off the ground at the scheduled time and then there was a lot of time to kill in a tightly-packed aircraft. Xanax, do your stuff!

Day 2, 5 May 2011

We got into Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport at 5:45AM, accounting for the flight time and time-zone shift, and I had to hurry to gate D6C. This airport is reputed to be one of the best in the world but I was too rushed to take much of it in at the time. Departure was supposed to be a 7:15 and I had to go through local security all over again. I had hopes the coffee bar would open soon! Meanwhile I labored over filling out the UK Landing card. Well the coffee bar did open but a small cafe-au-lait cost €2.60 proving something everyone knows about airports everywhere.

At 7:35AM I was on the ground in Glasgow after a short hop from Amsterdam and a one-hour time shift abd was through Border & Customs a bit after 8:00, swapped the UK SIM card into my phone and hit the ATM for some spending money and then caught the shuttle bus into the city. After a coffee and muffin at Queen Street Station I caught the next train to Edinburgh, Waverly Station and by that time, 10:45, I was really dragging. Despite that I took off walking toward the B&B where I was due to spend the night dragging my wheels behind me. I did get quite a lift when, at the top of the street above the station I spotted the street sign for Fleshmaket Close. If that doesn't ring a bell, it is the title of a book by Ian Rankin, a favorite author who sets his gritty police stories in Edinburgh. I was to find out that he is a city fixture in his own right and that real Edinburgh locations are all through his books. My immediate walking ambitions proved to be futile and it was starting to drizzle so I gave in and took a cab the rest of the way since I was unsure of the real distance.

After checking in, after a quick call home, and with the sky looking a bit brighter I wandered the city for a while until I capped it off with some takeout Chinese. It was important to get on local time as soon as possible and dragging on is sometimes the only way to do that.

Day 3, 6 May 2011

I arose not long after 6:00AM and noted that the weather was looking especially grim. It seemed that the UK had switched from drought to monsoon just in time for my arrival. On an off chance I took the time to e-mail an acquaintance in Fife who works in the city about the possibility of having a pint that evening but that never worked out. After breakfast and deciding that I didn't much like Scottish sausage (it tasted a bit sheepish if you know what I mean) I set out for a wander around the city to see as much as I could in the short time available.

First off I took the time to buy my train tickets for the next day's travel to Fort William. That sorted I set off with no particular place in mind although some obvious sites like the castle were certain to be hit. One place passed was the old St. Leonard's Police station, one of the locations mentioned many times in Ian Rankin's novels. As an expedient I even got on one of the MAC tourist busses to get a quick guided tour of some of the hot tourist sites that I'd never have time to track down on my own. I also rode the #14 bus for most of its long route and saw some very rough areas of council flats, tower blocks, and sketchy housing estates, again, more features of some Rankin novels. On the up side I hit the mandatory tourist spots while on foot: the castle, Arthur's Seat, the parliament building, Holyrood, and old churches. image One of the more important places, up on the Royal Mile was a dedicated whisky merchant; note the spelling since it matters to the Scots. I bought a couple of bottles of Islay single malt for gifting and for my own enjoyment.

imageimageimageimageimageHere are a few snapshots from around the city, presented in no particular order. Included are a couple from Edinburgh Castle and one overview of part of the city taken from there: note the train station down below. One is one taken up on Arthur's Seat, an ancient volcanic core remnant that looms over the city showing the remains of St. Anthony's Chapel with Holyrood below. The church shown is St. Giles' Cathedral. I have scores of other images from around the city, some taken for no particular reason and others of more import but these are all I'll subject you to.

Day 4, 7 May 2011

image Time to leave Edinburgh and head off to Fort William on the opposite coast where the actual long walk is due to begin tomorrow. I caught the 10-something train from Edinburgh back to Glasgow and found myself wildly early for the noon train that was to take me to Fort William. I mooched around the Queen Street Station area and finally decided to eat something before the next train. It was very quiet, almost deserted, for a Saturday morning but I wound up at McDonalds if I recall correctly. After all of that overwhelming excitement I was on the west-bound train at noon and off though some rather pretty countryside. As a(nother) aside: my Scottish ancestors were lowlanders -- just about as lowland as you can get. Ancestry research leads me to believe that the furthest north and east any of them ever lived was Glasgow while my direct ancestor was from a village called Kirkmaiden, just about as far south and west as one can get and still be inside the nation and not be treading water. In fact it is all of 4.3 miles as the gull flies from the southernmost dry point, the Mull of Galloway.

imageimageThe train from Glasgow got me as far as Crianlarich at (let's see, the camera's clock thought it was 9:15AM but it was on US time so, adding five hours) 1:15PM local time. A bit later I switched to one headed north. I was in Fort William at around 4:15PM, pretty close to the time they usually roll up the sidewalks. This day seemed to be just a bit of an exception as they were having off-road motorcycle races right in town. The course involved the town streets and a hillclimb up a very rough steep section of a hillside. There were a lot of hikers around since the town is the terminus of both the Great Glen way and the West Highland Way, a much more rugged long-distance hike. It was near closing time for everything despite the races going on but I managed to get a quick take-out bite at a Subway shop on the main street. Just now I resorted to using Google Earth's Street View feature to refresh my memory of the town's layout only to find that, while it had been visited by the mapping vehicle they completely skipped the portion where almost everything of importance is located so I'll keep navigating on vague recollections and photos taken at the time.

The B&B in Fort William was not very nice. Another of those conversions where an upstairs room is turned into a money maker and the facilities are "down the hall" as they say. I must admit that, while I don't expect luxury spa accommodations, having a non-shared bath is much more to my liking. Oh, and before I forget, I saw my first actual Scottish wildlife in the form of a road-kill stoat in full white coat on the way up the hill to my accommodations. It turns out that I'd see very little beyond birds on the whole walk despite traversing some pretty wild country. The local critters must be awfully shy or I was doing something wrong. Oh, by the way, it was, as they say locally, "pissing rain" for a good bit of the night.

Day 5, 8 May 2011, The Walk Begins

OK, the prelude is done. Today the real walking...

imageimageFrankly, this didn't look too promising. The heavy rain petered out during the night but it is dark, gray, and gusting and the drizzle shows no sign of letting up soon. Before breakfast I tackled the job of re-packing to undo some of the disorder from the past four days; my main bag/backpack will be shipped on to my next stopping place and I'll need to make sure that the vital stuff is in my daypack just in case. Thinking ahead and more than a bit hesitant about heading out into the rain I stopped at a store of some sort which had a snack bar and bought a double bacon buttie to tide me over on the way. I had a packed lunch from the B&B but didn't want to get into it until later. imageAfter breakfast I set off following the well-marked path. At 11:00 I took a break along the trail during a lull in the drizzle to have a sip and read some emails while the mobile signal was good. Got the sad news that an old friend had died and that left me sad and more than a little guilty although there was now nothing to be done for it. The weather remained abusive all the way to Corpach although it did let up just a bit after that.

imageThe walk continued after the actual beginning of the Caledonian Canal and heading north toward Loch Lochy where the canal joins the lake proper. There are a pair of locks at the beginning of the canal and shortly later there is the famous Neptune's Staircase — a set of eight closely-spaced locks raising the water level by some 64 feet and which takes at least 90 minutes to pass. This means a lot of activity every time a vessel passes since everything is manually operated and powered. Still, it is quite an engineering achievement for its time. Each compartment on the lock is 180-feet long by 40 wide so so some sizeable vessels could have used it; I never saw anything larger than ordinary pleasure boats using any of the canal. I stopped for a break at the top of the locks and had my packed lunch and enjoyed a little bit of sun that had made a miraculous appearance. Whoops, spoke too soon – the clouds came back as quickly as they had parted.

imageI passed a couple of interesting aqueducts (Sheangain and Moy) revealing the extents to which the engineers and builders would go to overcome a problem I had never really thought about. What happens when your nice canal comes to a dip in the landscape — a river gorge for example. Dropping down via more locks would be expensive. What the builders did was to place aqueducts to carry the canal and towpath high above the obstacles. One of the aqueducts has passages for a river to flow underneath along with a road for man and animal. There is also a unique swing bridge along this stretch, manually operated, which allows traffic and animals to cross the canal. Eventually I got to the point where the canal joins with Loch Lochy. It is marked by a much-photographed but tiny 'lighthouse'. I was due to stay the night in a B&B in Spean Bridge but there were a few miles to go past Gairlochy for the night

I eventually found my way to my lodgings at Dreamweavers, which I can highly recommend, after searching for a bit and making a phone call for clarifications. It was a pleasant property in the countryside. imageI was a bit early and Helen, the proprietress, provided tea and biscuits and we talked for a long time in the lounge. One feature of the place was the cat which was surely the biggest domestic I've ever seen. Helen told me that her beast was part Scottish wildcat. I've never seen one of these outside of pictures but from the size of the hybrid they clearly must be huge and quite formidable. The cat seemed quite satisfied with napping on his recliner. Helen was supposed to be providing a home-cooked dinner for her clients that night which was me and two English hikers. I was there but the English hikers kept calling in saying that they'd be there soon. After several iterations Helen decided that cooking dinner would be pointless so she took me to a pleasant restaurant/bar called The Old Station in Spean Bridge. While I have confidence that Helen was an excellent cook I suspect that I got the better of this deal as the food and drinks and atmosphere in the restaurant were excellent and they didn't object to a semi-scruffy hiker showing up unexpectedly. If I recall correctly, I had the seafood marinara, fresh bread, and an excellent cider. I understand that the other hikers showed up at the B&B sometime after I had returned and gone to sleep but I don't know if they ever apologized for upsetting everything.

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Day 6, 9 May 2011, Beyond Spean Bridge

This day is scheduled for 14 miles. The weather looks ugly. Part of the day will involve walking on the verge of the busy A82 highway. Could get interesting....

Well, time to get going. imageimageSoon after starting at 8:30AM I came across this country kirk. At the time I neglected to note a single thing about it but seven years later, through the miracle of Google, I can say that this is Saint Ciaran's. That seems to be the thing about Google's search: if you know exactly what to ask then it will know what you want but what do you ask?

imageimageimageA lot of the walking today involved slogging through pine plantations, one of the real boom industries in Scotland. Pretty boring stuff and it can be a real pain after a while walking on stony logging roads, especially through clearcuts. Of course you sometimes come across a pretty portion which, at least partially, make up for the boring bits. At least some of the time if I looked through gaps I could at least catch sight of the water down below.

Eventually I descended from the hilltop plantation to the scary A82 along the canal/loch and started looking for my lodging for the night quite footsore from 14 miles often on rough roads. Surprise! The directions that were to take me to the lodging were totally wrong. This time it was them, not me getting lost. Eventually I figured out the mistake by studying the view from Google showing my location as a moving dot on the map and got to the B&B. What would we do if there was not mobile signals in the country? This place, unlike last night, was grim. Calling it the polar opposite would be pretty close. This old house was right on the verge of the A82 where traffic roared constantly. To add insult to injury the facilities were "down the hall" once again. One must persevere.

As I struggle through writing this account seven years later I note that I seem to be complaining a lot about the lodgings. There will be more of that to come but in fairness I can say that two of the stops on this trip were at the most pleasant B&Bs I've ever stayed at. Maybe that balances out in the end. In any case I note that this most recent target of my whinging is no longer in business which will save other wayfarers the bother.

I would need to walk to find something to eat beyond the biscuits that came with the tea so I showered, shaved, and changed and set out for the only restaurant within walking range. The place I found was more upscale than I had expected out here in the boondocks and I was unlucky enough to hit them between early and late service but they were kind enough to feed me anyway. The venison burger was sorta' OK in an overpriced way but a pint (or was that two?) of Tennant's smoothed out the rough edges. Tonight I would sleep with earplugs in and under the influence of Ambien to dull the traffic noise. This was probably a 17+ mile day, all things considered.

Day 7, 10 May 2011, On Toward Loch Ness

Slept quite well last night despite the A82 outside the window although earplugs and Ambien probably guaranteed that. I hold hope that the next lodging will be decent and not too far out in the wilds. Left for the trail at 8:45AM in the rain. Starting to see a pattern here...

image That felt like a pretty short day of walking despite it being 10 miles. I was in Fort Augustus at 1:45PM despite the weather god's wrath. The lodging here is pretty nice and is close to where everything in town is going on. This is a seriously tourist-centric place which can be a pain in many cases but good if you want facilities close at hand.

So, what did we see today? The first thing to come along was The Well of the Seven Heads. Pretty ominous, eh? There is a memorial (or possibly a celebration) of the killing by Loch Oich of the seven accused of murdering two members of the MacDonald clan in 1663. The presumed culprits were tracked down and beheaded two years later. Their heads were washed in a well on this site before being taken to Gallows Hill in Edinburgh for display. Clan justice was pretty stern stuff.

imageNext up was the remains of the Invergarry and Fort Augustus Railway which was built on this route between 1897 and 1903. By all indications this was a high-quality project and up to all the standards of the day. What is left now, after the last run in 1946, is the graded rai1 bed and some of the more durable structures. The image with the big tree shows exactly what can happen over 70 years – it is growing up in the center of what was a station platform. One still-useful feature, especially on this rainy day, was the tunnel where I and some fellow hikers took refuge during a downpour. The grade of the old railbed shows how much work went into defeating this difficult terrain.

In Fort Augustus is the last canal lock before vessels enter Loch Ness leading north-south. As I wrote before this is a very tourist-centric place and they were everywhere on this day. The rain had slowed considerably and I took the opportunity to watch the operation of the lock passing a pleasure craft into the Loch. I even took some movies of the process but I won't subject you to any of that — it is a very slow process. I took the opportunity to visit a small market across the canal from my lodgings to buy supplies for tomorrow's lunch. What had been packed for me today by the last B&B was not very good so I knew I could do better on my own if supplies were available. I bought juice, Irn Bru, bags of crisps, cheese, fruit, and shortbread. I even found some Bundaberg. That takes care of tonight and tomorrow.

Tomorrow is supposed to be a short day and a good thing too since the bottom of my right foot is developing a really serious big blister. It hadn't broken yet but I feared that it will soon. And here I thought that I was doing all the right stuff to protect my feet.

Day 8, 11 May 2011, Along Loch Ness

The sun was shining while I ate breakfast but by the time I got out the door at 8:25 it was raining. Is it just me that gets this treatment so consistently? Not that I'm paranoid or anything. This is supposed to be a relatively short 8-mile day and with my right foot acting up that isn't a bad thing at all.

imageimage By the time I got into Invermoriston it was 1:45. The walk was delayed and detoured a bit because of trees down on the path. That added about 2 miles to the day's tally but I guess 10 is better than 14. I wanted in the worst sort of way to get into the B&B but it was unavailable. I looked around to find a place to wait and located the Glen Rowan Coffee Shop down the road which heads toward Skye. Things weren't busy and I took the opportunity to talk to the chef outside while I drank coffee and he took his smoke break. Quite pleasant sitting there since the sun had made at least a partial appearance. There is a high scarp across the road and the sound of the hidden River Moriston. Cuckoos calling in the distance but these have been heard along the way quite often. Most of the walk had been on those dreaded forest tracks through plantations and clearcuts. The only good, if you can call it that, thing about the clearcuts is that sometimes you can see Loch Ness below. The stoney logging roads are really beating up my feet despite precautions. To protect them from the sharp stones I would have needed serious stiff mountaineering boots rather than the lightweight flexible ones I was wearing. I had been told by some other hikers that I'd have to make dinner reservations at the hotel since it is the only game in town. I did one better and went back to Glen Rowan for a light supper of soup, cullen skink if I recall correctly, freshly-baked bread, salad, and cider.

I finally got into the B&B by around three and my luck is still rotten. There is no data connection I can use in the area. In theory my lodgings had Wi-Fi but I've learned to never depend on that until I actually try to use it. Then I found that the Sky TV box in my room is dead but I guess I can live without TV since I have a book to read.

imageOne of the scenic attractions in Invermoriston is the River Moriston and the famous Thomas Telford stone bridge which crosses it. This was a major transportation improvement when it was built in 1813. The river below is also reputed to be a fine salmon fishing location although, like all fishing in the UK and Ireland seem to be, it is very tightly controlled and permitted — quite shock to someone who spent so much time in Alaska where it often seemed like a free-for-all. Oh and, lest I forget, I saw just a bit of wildlife facing off right in front of the B&B. image

Day 9, 12 May 2011, Still Along Loch Ness and A Monster of a Hotel

image I awoke at 6:45AM. Can't really tell what is going on with the weather. It rained and blew during the night but nothing seemed to be happening at the moment. It is supposed to be 12 miles to the next stop in Drumnadrochit which isn't bad but I've learned that more depends on the trail than the distance. Guess we'll see what happens when it happens. So, at 8:50AM and breakfasted I headed out.

imageI'll just quote verbatim what I wrote in my notebook at 4:50PM: Very painful day. A mountain switchback trail with knive-sharp rocks, rain, wind. Took hours more than it should. Don't know if I'll be walking or taking a bus to Inverness. That pretty much says it all — when I start considering mass transit over walking things have to be pretty bad.

It could get worse though. The hotel, in my considered opinion, was a real tip. Nobody was at the desk or in the office to check me in and the only employees seemed to be in the restaurant and they had no idea where the management had gotten off to. After a long wait and some more searching I was able to find someone to check me in but that might not have been the best outcome. The place seemed creepy. Think the sort of place where you'd expect Jack Nicholson to break down your door with an axe. To be fair the hotel in The Shining was much better lit and not so dirty looking. In this place it appeared that someone had stolen most of the lightbulbs and knocked down the fire equipment in the halls. Just in case, I photographed some of the more egregious dirt in the room but the hall was too dark for that. I emailed Mickledore about my situation and may have actually sent them some pictures. No matter what was happening, I was tired and would have to make do. My notes don't say where I ate that night but I wrote that Cullen Skink was good so clearly I must have found someplace. Looking back it may have been the Glen Cafe (now the Ness Deli) but there are probably more than a dozen eating places in this small town so this is no more than an informed guess. I do remember that there were a Canadian couple working there at the time and that I talked to them about their experiences working the Summer in Scotland.

imageimageI did snap a few pictures when the rain was slack enough to not threaten the electronics. I almost got a wildlife shot but was too slow to get the camera turned on and aimed before the deer fled. It had actually been standing frozen in the middle of the trail looking at me but when I did eventually try to shoot it was far too quick. Later in the day the sun almost came out so I snapped a shot from the trail of Loch Ness down below.

imageHere (below) is a shot that I missed because it was shot with my phone and was stored separately on the computer. It was taken on the way down from the hills and into Drumnadrochit. Are rainbows good luck? I could have used some right about then. Or at least some replacement feet and boots.

Day 10, 13 May 2011, All Quiet On the Lodging Front

imageThis is scheduled to be a rest day but I don't have enough sense to leave well enough alone so I did set off for some local sightseeing despite the foot problems. One good thing though, I managed to get through to Mickledore and lodged my complaints about the lodgings (so to speak) and they did a quick search and found me a better place to stay. OK, so better doesn't mean much when compared to this hotel, but the place I was going to stay tonight is a real gem of a B&B. A local family had bought a beautiful old stone church and converted it in to a home with three rooms for hire. I can say that they did a bang up job of it and it has none of the odd patchwork look of so many places I've stayed. Hell, it even looked as though the plumbing belonged there unlike most of the Victorian and Edwardian piles that had been repurposed. On the off chance that you are ever in Drumnadrochit, Scotland, you will do yourself a favor if you book a room at Glenkirk! OK, so the chances that any random person reading my obscure personal website will ever get near Drumnadrochit are vanishingly small but I'll recommend it nonetheless.

image So, the majority of my sightseeing was a Urquhart Castle down on the Loch. It dates back to at least the 13th century although it doubtless was built on the ruins of something even older. When a good defensible location controlling something valuable was found it was almost always exploited. Over the centuries it was destroyed, rebuilt, destroyed, and eventually left in a roofless state. It was regarded as a romantic vision by 19th century painters and poets and was eventually take over by the nation c. 1913. I was feeling artsy when taking pictures there despite the cold gusting winds from the south nearly knocking me down on occasion. Some of the better pictures might look good in large prints but I'll just post a couple of small ones here.

Whoops, almost forgot to mention that Drumnadrochit is the epicenter of the Loch Ness Monster tourist-trapping trade. These pictures were shot with my old Nexus S phone and were stored in a different directory than the others so I overlooked them. There are a couple of different Nessie businesses and "museums" seeking to part tourists from their money in town. I guess it is harmless enough and probably not any worse than thousands of places of similar ilk in the USA. Here are a couple of shots to give you a feel for it.imageimage

After some soul searching I have decided that walking the 18 miles to Inverness with the condition of my feet would be nothing short of madness. This is a big letdown but given the slow pace of walking just 4 mile round-trip to the castle today I think that it would take at least 9 hours to get to my next stop. I've left word with the gentleman who runs the local taxi company and who also hauls the bags from location to location along the route that I'd like a ride in the morning if he can manage it.

Day 11, 14 May 2011, In Inverness

imageimageimageI started out riding the delivery vehicle toward Inverness. At about the half-way point of the trip I had had enough and, feeling ashamed of myself, I asked the driver to let me out. Blisters be damned. I was going to walk the rest of the way. Slight problem what at this point I was wearing my riding, not walking, clothes and regular New Balance trainers rather than hiking boots. In any case the marked path looks to be much better here with no logging roads in sight and, given what the hiking boots had done to my feet the trainers couldn't possibly be any worse. The weather along the way was on occasion about like it was at the castle yesterday — blustery with a bit of rain thrown in. As I got nearer to Inverness the path actually ran through some housing estates and then eventually into a city park and then into the city center. There happened to be a big whoop-de-do celebration of some sort going on although I never figured out what it was exactly. There were a number of interesting and antique cars parked around so maybe they were the reason.

imageimageBy 3:00PM I had found my pre-booked lodging for the night. I tried to extend my stay there for another night be it was full up on Sunday so I'd have to go looking for someplace else immediately. There are enough lodging places in the city so that it wouldn't be impossible even if I have to pay for a real hotel. I walked all over the city center until 7:00PM and had located a Tesco way down Bridge Street and across the river, where I bought a reusable cloth shopping bag to carry my dirty laundry in and some munchies. More importantly, there was a little laundrette (New City Laundrette?) almost across the street. Tomorrow I intended to head back down the street and wash my mountain of stinky clothes rather than sealing them in a airtight plastic bag for the trip home. Much better that way. Whatever I did, it will be rushed because of reduced Sunday hours. I talked to the proprietor of the nearby Park Hill Guest House about a room for the next night and was told that I could have it but it would be £40. Steep, it seemed, but it was close by and it was en suite so I didn't complain.

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Day 12, 15 May 2011, And a Bit Further North

image Having made it to Inverness (aided by a bit of a ride) with damaged feet the natural thing to do was to walk some more. I needed to move from my lodgings from last night's to those where I'd be staying tonight but, after breakfast and re-packing, I went for a bit of a walk around before checkout time. Snapped a broad picture looking north showing the Greig Street Bridge backed by the Old High Church and the Free Church of Scotland. After moving I took my Tesco bag full of dirty laundry to the laundrette I found yesterday afternoon. Quite a hike, down across the bridge yet again. It cost £3 for the washer but the attendant did front me some free soap. Then another £3 for the drying. After it was done I schlepped my folded and newly unsmelly clothes back to the new room. Oh, and I bought my train tickets for tomorrow lest I forget or screw up dates as I did in York last year.

I wanted to go a bit further up the coast to Fort George but walking all the way with my feet as they were was an unattractive proposition. There was a city bus that ran on an hourly schedule on Sundays that went as far as Ardersier about 9 miles up the coast and that would leave about 2 miles further to the fort. Not a perfect solution but I went for it. Waiting for the bus down near the train station I had a quick American pizza and sampled a new cider (Aspall Suffolk Cyder — excellent stuff!) in a little restaurant. Pizza was actually OK although nothing seemed very American about it. The bus left soon afterward and I got to the turn-around point in Ardersier and hiked the further miles to the fort. It proved to be both interesting and boring. Interesting in that it had so many design features that would not have been out of place a few hundred years earlier; boring in that it really had no center of interest or theme. Actually it is still an active military post and some of the quarters looked as if they could be rather nice. Weather was being Scottish and the wind was pretty intense with a bit of mist while I surveyed the water from the battlements. My pictures from the fort were not very successful and I don't know what I could have done much differently to improve them. The last image here shows the view across the water, the area that would have been defended by a battery of cannon preventing ships from moving south. Having seen what needed to be seen to claim it as a stop I headed back to Ardesier and caught the 3:40 bus back to Inverness with only seconds to spare.imageimageimageimage

On the way back to the room I stopped by Marks & Spencer at the Eastgate Shopping Centre to grab some apples and snacks and managed to get that done right before they closed. Those limited Sunday hours again — hard to get used to since so many things at home are 24 X 7. I left my stuff in the room and went for a wander again to find some hot food. McDonalds. Ugh. After that, more wandering in the drizzle before getting back to the room at 7:00. I recall now that sometime in Inverness I stopped at an Italian restaurant (Bella Italia on Bridge Street?) for dinner; this doesn't show up in my notes at all but I suspect it must have been the day before when my mind was even more muddled than usual.

Day 13, 16 May 2011, Taking the Long Way Home

imageimageI left my room at the B&B at around 10:00AM and wandered the high street for a while, grabbed a cheap lunch and headed over to the train station at noon. The train from Perth to Glasgow was due to leave so there was plenty of time to wander but few places to wander to. On the wall are displayed historical plaques moved from a viaduct over the River Spey near Keith on the I&AJ (Inverness and Aberdeen Junction) railroad which competed the continuous rail connection between London and Inverness. There really was little to photograph this day and only two shots showed up on the camera. Here they are: the plaque and the Inverness train station. Every time I did this train shuffle I kept thinking that, despite costing a bit more to fly there, Edinburgh would really have been a better arrival/departure point. I would come to regret my cheapness even more by the end of the day.

image image There is really nothing else in my notebook about the trip south before 5:15PM so I assume that nothing happened or that I was too out-of-it to note. What I see next is a note that I need to eat something before going through security. A later addendum to the notes says that the train from Inverness to Perth was delayed by signal problems and I barely made it in time. Also noted that the driver of the Queen Street-to-airport driver could probably qualify for grand prix by pulling impressive G-forces through a couple of round-abouts. A half hour later I note that I'm in the Glasgow Airport restaurant and that Tennant's Lager is not good for washing down pills. I located a couple of images from my phone just now and share them too, for what they're worth. The first shows the state of security at Glasgow Airport at the time: they had actually taken a grinder to the utensils to remove the pointy bits. The other shows the logo for Tennant's Lager and I started wondering if the University of Tennessee knows about it. They are notoriously litigious. Would they sue over an orangeish 'T' that even vaguely resembles their logo? It wouldn't be the first time if they did.

After eating I turned over the larger, non-carry-on part of my bag/backpack to KLM. On most flights the larger portion qualifies as carry-on for the upper compartments and the small portion goes under the seat but, presumably because of a small aircraft, they weren't having any of that. I remember hoping that my tiny mustache/first aid scissors would pass muster and make it through whatever screening they did. The scissors were just legal under US TSA standards but one can never be sure what the security gods will do under any given circumstances and mood. My itinerary says that the flight out would have departed Glasgow at 6:55 and arrived in Amsterdam at 9:25 allowing for the one-hour time shift. That is probably true since there are no notes to the contrary.

I will now deliver a short sermon: when traveling by air it is sometimes stupid to aim for the rock-bottom price. That is what I did with this trip, arriving/departing in Glasgow rather than Edinburgh and connecting in Amsterdam. Don't get me wrong, Schiphol is a beautiful, clean, efficient place. Entertaining even with an art museum and loads of shops. But when you don't pay attention to lay-over times and spend 12+ hours there in the middle of the night when everything is closed, it can start to feel like a prison in short order. Watch the layovers!

Day 14, 17 May 2011, Stuck Inside of Schiphol With the Knoxville Blues Again

Double plus ungood. To quote my notebook: 4:45 I've been wandering Schiphol since 9:30 last night. 1 hour sleep but mostly I wandered. There are tons of shops but most are closed and those that aren't are of no interest. The automatgelt machines gave me €20 two times but all I've bought is a small coffee and a sausage roll. I wrote earlier about the foolishness of going for the cheapest flight and this is my proof. There were certainly flights that would have been faster and flights with no or reasonable layovers but, no, I had to save $100 or whatever it was. Notes say that flight is from gate E7 at 7:55 so I figured that I'd get some breakfast as soon as a restaurant opens. If I didn't there would be a stash of leftover Euros to add to my leftover pounds. I discovered that while I though I was waiting for a 7:55 it was actually a 8:45 flight — don't know if that was an actual delay or change or by sleep-deprived misunderstanding. But things could get worse, the flight was now listed from a different gate at 10:20. Wrist slashing time?

Notes show that I finally found some breakfast at 7:55 and that I had poffertjes (think of tiny puffy pancakes – very tasty and high-calorie) and some fresh-squeezed orange juice. At least that went well. I went back to wandering the concourses. Looking back I wonder how many miles I put in just while waiting for what turned out to be 13 hours at the airport. Anyway, I went through security a bit past 9:00, figuring that it was at least something to do. I noted that Schiphol is a beautiful airport but it certainly has limitations when one is there for half a day and virtually everything is closed. There are only a limited number of times one might look in the shop windows and watching the cleaners is not all that interesting. There were a huge number of people waiting at the gate — this had better be an equally huge aircraft.

And that it it. There are no more notes beyond a quick one showing that I checked my blood sugar level at 2:30(presumably in the afternoon) in Detroit. Clearly other things happened and I certainly made it home and must have called my friends for a lift from the airport but what and when is lost to history. No pictures were taken. Or maybe they were taken and I've lost them. In any case I can't use date and time stamps to figure our what was going on.

So, was it worth it? On balance I'd have to say, yes, it was worth the expense and pain and occasional frustration. Life is made of experiences and not all of them will be perfect. Sometimes interesting will win out. I'd do it again (and I know in hindsight that I definitely will).

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