09.09.2010 - 19.09.2010 15 °C
==Scotland – 9-19 September 2010-09-19==
Finally after 7 years of wanting to go to Scotland I went to visit Robert & Judith and see the beauty of the country that Robert had been describing to me. He was also the one who teached me the wonders of whisky in this great whisky bar in Rotterdam which unfortunately does not exist anymore.
I was not only welcomed by Robert at the airport but also by a young fox who was strolling around very much at ease in between all this urban violence of roads, people, cars & buildings. At their very beautiful house the warm welcome continued with a nice glass of Islay whisky, Robert showing a complete outfit for me & food for an army and Judith meanwhile very efficiently searching the internet for bus & train schedules, rental cars, etc.
Next morning started my Scottish breakfasts: black pudding, potato scone (very tasty), bacon, toast, egg, beans and sausage. As Judith said: “good walking fuel”. I have to say that I like the Scottish breakfast but 10 days in a row was also enough… .
FOOD and DRINKS
What I certainly did not expect was that the Scottish men in the hostel started to get acquainted with each other by exchanging recipes. In Scotland I would expect some discussion about the weather (lousy anyway), stalking/hunting deer, fishing, politics, but not about exchanging recepies. Very nice discovery I have to say. One guy had brought his whole meal from his own garden. Robert had prepared the evening before a chilli con carne for us. And for breakfast and lunch he managed to have each time something very nice (pork pie, makrel, fruit, soup).
As for beers there seem to be so many local beers that I would not be able to reproduce them. Most are rather light beers though. Isle of Skye has a whole range of them, Belhaven, Sheepshaggers (really!), Black diamond, etc etc.
In a pub it is pretty normal to find a range of ca 100-200 whiskies. Amazing. Where I was already proud to know that I like Springbank, it appeared that there were some 10 different kinds of them, ehhh. Right.
Scotland has a very efficient system to reduce speed on the roads: there is one lane so the slowest determines the speed… However, as there is not too much traffic and with max 60 miles (100km) an hour out of town and 30-40 miles in town driving is pretty pleasant. Especially with the sheeps strolling the road.
There is an excellent tourism infrastructure with many tourism centres and loads of hotels, hostels & B&B’s. I just showed up at places and never had a problem. Also prices are good, ranging from 12 pounds for a dorm bed, to 30-80 pounds in a nice private room in most places.
As for mobile & internet coverage, it is a whole other story. There are many places where there is no mobile coverage, not only on country site but also in villages. However, suddenly your mobile might ring in the middle of nowhere on top of a mountain. Internet in general only works in hotel lobbies and not in the rooms, which made me look rather anti social with this screen in front of me.
HIKING IN SCOTLAND
Hiking in Scotland is quite an experience. Why?
- As for weather it seems to be possible to have dry days. I have not experienced them though but have had all kinds of weather really. You can sit in your car and really wonder what got into yourself to actually wanting to hike as your whole car is shaking because of the storm outside with the heavy rain. When you get of your car2 minutes later, there is a nice breeze, nice sun and great weather… I have never used my windscreen wiper so often as in Scotland: on, off, on, off, etc.
- It is great for trailless hiking. There are only few trails indicated on the map. In most cases there is a kind of path but you can easily go of it and follow your own wishes which are absolutely fabulous. Not steep enough? Just go straight up the hill.
- Mountains are low but that does not mean they are easy. If you like some challenges than Scotland certainly has them. Although the highest mountain Ben Nevis is only 1344m there are many challenging hikes, scrambles and mountain climbing. Also in winter it must be stunning. The absence of any signs, the absence of trails on the map, the frequently changing weather with sun, rain, hail, fog, strong winds, the often boggy and swampy terrain and the northern location make that the Scottish mountains earn a lot of respect.
- Compass is not working on Cuillons. Together with the fog, low clouds this makes that your sense for direction and map reading skills are rather important.
- The colours of Scotland are just beautiful with the green grass & some trees, green/yellow/orange/brown grass & ferns, red moss, purple heather, stones in all colours, the many little or bigger waterfalls. This mixture of colours does never bore, be it on the steep slopes or the rolling hills.
- At many places the landscape breathes a wild remoteness and roughness. Although in general a village is not too far away (which can actually consist of just a few houses without any shop), you get the feeling that urban life is very far away.
- From the original habitat of lynx, wolf, bear and reindeer there is currently only deer left. They are there plentiful which makes haunting even necessary. Although there seem to be some efforts to reintroduce e.g. the wolf, there is also quite some protest from the population.
Which hikes/scrambling did I do:
1) Lochaber: climbing Beinn a Bhric (878m) & Leum Uillein (906m).
16km, 4 hours. Ascending 622m, descending 689m, total 1311m
Robert had carefully planned out a beautiful 3 day hike from Corrour to Fort Williams, climbing some mountains on the way. Corrour is the only place that I know of in the world where there is a train station but no roads, no village, only lots of wild nature, a put and at some distance a hostel. So from urban Glasgow you go straight with one train to the wilderness. The hostel is really cute.
From Corrour, hostel Loch Ossian, we climbed these two mountains, one in the fog and in between with a great view at the moorland (a big swampy, boggy area) where the only road is the railway. Apparently the guys who built the railway were walking for hours (20 miles/32km) to get to the pub and several were frozen to death on the way home… “the strengths of alcohol…”. Another guy shot himself a few years ago on top of the mountain in complete Scottish outfit. It appeared that it was a Frenchman who got so much carried away with a game he played that he actually believed to have become a Scot from 19th century. He shot himself with an antique pistol…
2) Lochaber: climbing Stob Ban (977m)
24km, 6h45, Ascending & descending ca 750m, total 1500m
In rain and sun we hiked towards the bothy Meaneach. Now I know that basic means really basic: 4 walls and a roof that’s it. No mattresses, toilets, running water, etc. However, it was cosy and nice and had a fireplace (which does not really help in a treeless surrounding ). Furthermore I now also know that the repairs of my rain trousers completely failed so I was walking in a nice wet micro climate inside my trousers… As we could not find a good crossing for a side river we hiked up to the Stob Ban. On top there were loads of white granite stones with a great view, among others to the location where ‘Monarch of the Glen’ has been filmed.
3) Lochaber: The road to the Isles: Corrour – Fort William.
24 km, 5h30, ascending 100m, descending 300m, total 400m
From the bothy Meaneach we walked towards Fort William, which started with fording a ca 10m wide river. Robert had sacrificed himself the evening before with a ‘try-out crossing’ and we found a really low (max knee high) place to cross the Abharm Rath. As we thought we had to walk 20 miles (32km) before 16.00 (to collect my rental car) we rushed through the endless swamps and the cute Steal Meadows (a little gorge) to the Ben Nevis car park where we discovered that we had to walk only 24-26 km so we could dribble on and see the thriatlon passing us (running & cycling. We did not see the swimming in the loch = lake).
The drive to Ardfern was nice and the visit to the Ardfern pub (ca 50 steps from Roberts & judths’ their house…) was a pleasure.
4) Glencoe: Bidean nam Bian (1150m) & Stob Coire nan Lochan (1115m) (the Three Sisters)
10km, 4h30, ascending & descending 1200m, total 2400m
After a nice very rainy day in the pub, at the graveyard of Ardfern (celtic artwork with swords & onehorn & Viking ships), discussing peripherality and planning my trips, I went to Glencoe, which is really stunningly beautiful. The exhibition in the visitor centre showed the different types of rock, the creation of Schotland (travelling all the way up the earth), the effects of volcano (after eruption, the earth sinks) and the end of the glaciers more than 12 000 years ago which have smoothened most mountains. Also the massacre of the Mc Donalds in the Glencoe was described.
During the hike I could find all the rocks mentioned at the exhibition and after stumbling with great pleasure into a scree field I soon discovered that this was the wrong way and climbed through & over the river to the right way. I lateron saw that many people made the same mistake. Soon I came to the hidden valley, which indeed is really a hidden valley. Going up the wind became already stronger but on top the wind was I guess 100 kmph. (in forecast 50-75 mph was mentioned). Together with the hail & foggy clouds it made the otherwise not too difficult trail to quite a challenge which I deeply enjoyed. After the second top the clouds suddenly cleared so I could enjoy the view. I found a path down which delivered me in pouring rain a few miles from the car, but a car was so friendly to take the half drown hitchhiking girl on board.
A ca 2 hour drive brought me to Tomdoun hotel which appeared to be a beautiful house with a great bar and nice food. Mike just kept presenting himself as he kept forgetting my name and he managed to be rude most of the time, meanwhile keeping up British politeness which I think is a pretty amazing combination. The Irish Mark played some nice guitar flanked by Adrienne and the German Gerhard & Holger were there for a fly fishing course.
5) Highland Glens: The five sisters of Kintail: Beinn Odhar (878m), Sgurr nan Spainteach (990m), Sgurr na Ciste Buibhe (1027m), Sgurr na Carnach (1002m), Sgurr Fhuaran (1067m), Sgurr nan Saighead (929m), Beinn Buidhe (869m)
14km, 5h30, ascending 1600m, descending 1700m, total 3300m
The next day I could actually see the nice surroundings with its beautiful old trees and remote location. There was actually some sun shining, which of course disappeared when I started hiking the five sisters of Kintail. It is a great hike where you are going up and down and up and down on the ridge. The first half I had a view, the second half I spent in the rain and thick fog. Long live compass and ridge walking (just stay on top ). Just when I had to go down it cleared a bit so I found the confirmation that it was the right direction but then ended up going down for 800m through hip high heather and ferns and having to slide of rocks. Although it was rather tiring it was great fun as it did not really matter if you would fall as the heather is soft. Only the end was a bit tricky with plenty of thorny berry plants. Meanwhile I had an audience of a whole herd of sheep who were very interested in this funny figure coming down where they would definitely not like to go up
Again in pouring rain and after having had to cross a river I ended up at Shiel bridge and had to hitch hike again to my car. Just when I thought that I would have to walk the whole 9 miles (ca 16km) Martin from Germany stopped and we ended up having dinner in the very nice, pleasant, friendly and efficient Cluanie Inn. The drying room was really great for all my drown gear. The lady who was working while walking around with her 9 weeks old baby impressed me very much as it seems that she stopped ONE day to give birth to the baby and working before and after that. Amazing!!! The French politician/Minister who gave a speech after 6 days could have mentioned her.
6) Wester Ross: Liathach: Stuc a Choire Dhuibh Bhig (915m), Bidean Toll Mhuie (983m), Spidean a Choire Leith (1055m)Am Fassarinen Pinnacles, Mullach an Rathain (1023m)
15km, 5h30, ascending 1350m, descending 1400m, total 2750m
Unfortunately I could not hike the Cuillons on the nice island Skye. I wanted to hike the Sgurr Dearg & Coire Lagan, but it was in a thick stable fog and compass is not working in the volcanic mountain. Once arrived at the Slichagan hotel it was too late to start another trip so I decided to drive up to Wester Ross. I took 2 French girls on board who were really the most ungrateful, silent and unpleasant hitchhikers I have ever taken. The drive through Wester Ross was really beautiful with the romantic Lochcarron and other small villages overlooking the sea/lochs. I ended up in the Torridon Inn hotel which was fine but not my type of place. It was close to Liathach though and luckily the weather was not too bad for this scramble hike.
Have you ever been so surprised that you almost fall down (of the ridge)? This happened to me when I was being on top enjoying the view when suddenly somebody behind me said ‘hello’. When you are used not to meet anyone on your hikes this really is a surprise, especially if you have not seen this person approaching and he is just standing behind you. The nice thing about Liathach is going up the mountain, approaching the black rocks, walking on the ridge and especially scrambling the Fasserinen. The rock is pretty steady with lots of grips so that makes it quite easy to climb up and down (with a good head for heights). I have to say that each time I am surprised how easy I find these things, whereas in the books they are described as needing experience. It is such a pleasure to notice that I am becoming more and more advanced.
After the knee wrecking descent I drove along the beautiful coast of Wester Ross and stopped at Dundonnell.
7) North West: Ben Loyal: Sgor Cahonasaid (712m)
11 km, 3h05, ascending 714m, descending 725m, total 1439m
Waking up in again a rainy day and knowing that in the upper northern part of Scotland the sun was shining, made me decide to drive the long way up so I took of at 10 and with a short stop at Ullapool (with the Loopallu festival) I ended up at the stunningly beautiful coast of Durness and at 15.00 in Tongue.
I walked quickly up to Ben Loyal, took the steepest route and after barely 3 hours I was back down again. This time my audience consisted of red deer and as you can see at the picture there were lots of them, seemingly guarding the area.
A drive through a very remote area brought me to Loch Ness.