A Cloned Sheep, A Wondrous Strange Clock, a Palace, and a Hike Up to Arthur’s Seat

Once again, unexpected rewards on a day that seemed destined to be spent half-heartedly visiting secondary sights.

National Museum of Scotland
Robot – It spells your name with alphabet cubes

If you can find a way to make it to the Scottish National Museum, you’ll be rewarded. It’s very well done – full of interesting exhibits including the History of Scotland from prehistory on, a fashion exhibit, and an excellent Science & Technology exhibit where you’ll see poor taxidermied Dolly the sheep, the first cloned animal. She lived, it seems, for about 7 years and likely had no idea she was unusual in any way, nor that after her demise she’d be stuffed and turning endlessly on a rotating disc to be viewed by thousands of curious humans.

But the most captivating part of visiting this museum was watching the wondrous-strange Millennium Clock, a two-story mechanical clock with moving parts on several tiers. At least 100 people stood around enchanted by this dynamic, magical work of art set to organ music. Here’s a YouTube link for this fantastical creation.

https://youtu.be/b3Kt9VZVXlg

It’s the combined work of 4 different artists – not necessarily to celebrate the new Millennium, but to look back on the last, sometimes dark, period of time. Its first public performance was January 1, 2000.

Holyrood Palace was also a pleasure to visit. Gracious staff, excellent audio guide, loads of history (photography prohibited on the inside). And an abbey ruin and gardens.

But perhaps one of my favorite things to do in Edinburgh had to do with what I went to Scotland for in the first place: Hike. Right beside Holyrood Palace are paths up two mountain ridges for a view of Edinburgh – one lower one said to be easy and the higher one seemingly impossibly high, humans like tiny stick figures moving along its crest. These are evidently remnants of volcanoes. After talking with a woman coming down from the LOWER one who said that the views were great, I headed about 40 paces up thinking I’d just push the easy button for this one before my ego kicked in and I felt jealous of those far above on the higher path. I was a temporary slacker. But a short scramble got me onto the other path and although it looked like it would be a hard climb, it really wasn’t. Training and days of hiking paid off again.

You can see the Firth of Forth north of Edinburgh about 9 miles off. Views from Arthur’s Seat

It’s time to leave this interesting and friendly and beautiful land. Other than a messy, frustrating day of a cancelled flight and being rerouted through what is likely the worst airport on the planet…. but then a stay at a very elegant and welcoming inn, this episode of flinging myself out into the Big Wide World is done. Thanks for coming along!

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

A Castle, a Close, and a little Zombie Prevention

Evidently it was one of the many bank holiday weekends in May in Europe, and Edinburgh Castle was mobbed with mostly very civilized tourists. The Great Hall there was vast and impressive.

img_6828

The prison was miserable (the Scots were with England, considered the Americans they captured during our Revolutionary War “pirates”, and treated the ones imprisoned at Edinburgh Castle very badly). The military museum was kind of worth being in a packed, slowly shuffling line of tourists to see, and the same with the exhibit about the making of Scottish scepters and crowns with the current Scottish crown and a really beautiful scepter at the end. The military memorial was spacious and touching – it always brings tears to think of these men who died trying to save their homeland, their way of life, and the people they loved. Surprisingly, the next day, I enjoyed the attraction at the opposite end of the Royal Mile more than this castle.

Basically, the inscription means “You will not hurt me with impunity”.

Prison – rows of hammocks.

Skyline, Edinburgh

OK, so the flowers are fake.  I know because I squeezed them…..

Then I wandered the Royal Mile, had coffee at a charming French patisserie, walked into St Giles, the main cathedral in Edinburgh for 1,000 years – notice the odd structure on top that adds an interesting element to the skyline.

St Giles, Edinburgh

Then a walk out to Greyfriars Kirkyard, which is supposed to be very haunted, but mostly just had a very sad history of prisoners called the Covenanters (a group of Scots who opposed British rule and did not want to submit to Catholicism, as best I can understand). They were kept without shelter in a walled area of the churchyard when other prison options were overfilled. Of course, many died exposed to the elements.

My favorite part of the day was walking through the gravestones past a tour whose guide was asking his tour members if they knew why dirt graves would be covered with iron grates (at the time there were body snatchers paid by medical schools to provide bodies for anatomy research). Someone on the tour called out “to prevent zombies from escaping??”. Everyone got a laugh out of that.

And finally, one of the few advantages to traveling alone….there’s sometimes ONE ticket left in otherwise booked guided attractions….. in this case, a tour of the underground “Mary King’s Close” when others in twos or more were being put off until the next day’s tours. Edinburgh (established around 1130 AD) had housing problems in the 1600s and 1700s due to increasing population, town topography and fortification boundaries, so although people with more money generally built UP – sometimes as high as 9 stories –  the less affluent sometimes went downward into an underground warren of stone rooms off a subterranean Close.  A Close is like an alley off the High Street (the main artery of a town – in this case the town’s High Street is the current Royal Mile between the Castle and Holyrood Palace).  Human and animal waste was dumped into that alley (which was lined with vendor stalls and where the inhabitants had to walk to get to their rooms) to slide down the slope to where the park is by the tracks into Waverley Station now. It was dark. It was very crowded both in the narrow subterranean alleys and within households – sometimes several families occupied a small stone room. There was plague.  Fire was a constant worry.  

Examples of “Closes” – narrow passageways off the High Street (like alleys)

I’m grateful to be here, but it’s crowded, very cold, rainy, difficult to get warmed up. I miss hiking out in panoramas of the Highlands. But the people here have been wonderful and it gives me new ideas about how it’s possible to live.

Good night and make some beautiful dreams.

To Edinburgh. Every Squat Counts.

This was inside the toilet stall in the women’s locker room at the gym I’m using in Edinburgh. Gym humor…

Since this was basically a transit day, there isn’t much to report, but running a treadmill at a gym with a view of something that looks like a castle is kind of novel.

Security system: locked solo-entry chambers that require a code to enter and exit the gym – and being locked in the little chamber until the next door opened. Like the teleporters in Star Trek…….

Motel One Royal Edinburgh is right outside Waverly Station on Market Street and couldn’t have been more convenient. I’d stayed in one in Munich before and liked it. This one just finished a remodel and now has “the new trendy look” that is so popular now. Friendly staff, an internal room with only a skylight. It’s 5 turns down twisty halls, up and down short sets of stairs on the same floor, and across one of those jelly-leg clear skywalks five stories up – the kind where you just try to distract yourself and be quick about getting across. If there’s a fire, I’m a goner, being seemingly about a km from the stairwell exit. I’ve left bread crumbs to find my way back to this floor’s lift.

There are people on the streets and at the gym from all corners of the world. So far, the architecture and monuments are really impressive. Since I got here late in the day, there wasn’t much time to sightsee, but I always love to walk the old city centers, and Edinburgh’s is impressive. Here are some pictures.

Princes Street
Skyline Edinburgh
View toward the Castle complex from Princes Street
The distinctive cap of St. Giles Cathedral
Walter Scott Memorial

It’s seriously cold…..like low 30’s to mid 40’s max. I’m glad to have brought and bought enough things to mostly stay warm. I’ve given up the idea of taking the train out to the North Sea coast at Dunbar and then the bus to see the Tantallon Castle ruin on a lonely windblown cliff this time. Plenty to see around Edinburgh for two days. And I do hope to come back to this interesting and friendly country.

 

Have Fun Storming the Castle, and Please Mind Your Head

Fort William, High Street

So much for a “nice lie-in” yesterday. I was up with the screeching seagulls and the warbling pigeons at 6 a.m. and out looking for coffee in a deserted town center whose coffee shops, oddly, don’t open until 8 a.m. or after. Per the TV news on at the one place in town open early, Downing Street is having secret-leaking problems now as well. And then there’s the Brexit mess……Americans at home hear almost nothing about what’s going on in other parts of the world because our media covers little of it, and the Brits, at least, seem to see this as evidence that we’re self-obsessed and don’t care what’s going on elsewhere. They might have a point….

?!?!? – Fort William – on the way in on the West Highland Way

Yesterday was a 3 hr 49 minute train ride from Fort William to Glasgow on a clunky dinosaur train (Glasgow Queen Street is the terminus – it doesn’t go to Glasgow Central), and the opposite – a quick, WiFi’d up, comfortable commuter train from Glasgow Queen Street to Stirling.

A very nice place to stay, and surprisingly affordable for how posh it is. Built in 1786 by someone with the name Wingate. Hmmmm.

If you’re arranging travel in the area, just be aware that sometimes if a small town has two rail stations (like Tyndrum and Helensburgh), they can be on completely different lines. Also, be aware that unlike Amtrak in the States, but like some other places, you have to keep your ticket ready to get through the exit turnstiles when you reach your destination in many larger stations (same goes for the tram exit in Edinburgh at the airport).

Typical of the town center area of Stirling

An exit is marked “Way Out”. To stay and eat someplace is expressed “to sit in” (as opposed to “to take away”). And do mind your head.

I disregard what my head tells me to do routinely, but it’s probably not bad advice, if you can take advice from signs on trains. I especially like it when they announce “Mind the gap when alighting the train”. So civilized.

And once again, the best looking and the most incredibly fit people – of all ages – seem to be in Scotland. I hit another PureGym close to The Golden Lion and once again there were boggling fitness classes going on, the last being a barbell squat class set to energetic music cranked up to 10.

Stirling Castle, which actually HAS been stormed 16 times. And has the pockmarks and missing towers to prove it.

Stirling’s Holy Rood Church where Mary, Queen of Scots worshipped – just downhill from the Castle.

I like Stirling. Lots of friendly people and things run well. Lots of “can do” attitude. Seemingly as a result of British colonization, Indian food is everywhere, which is a treat to someone living in an area where the nearest Indian restaurant is about 50 miles away.

Replicas of the “Stirling Heads” – the originals decorate the ceilings and commemorated members of the Stewart and Tudor lines and courts, meant to legitimize rule by lineage and to impress.

Still, not the first timid Scot encountered. Especially not Charlie, a guide at the Castle (free and frequent guided tours in 6 different languages) who intermittently woke everyone up from their tourist stupor by yelling “BANG” when on the edges of a story about the castle being under attack.  A woman asked him if he’d acted Shakespeare.  He had.

So here are some pictures of Stirling Castle and the nearby Church of the Holy Rood (Rood being a medieval word for the cross of the crucifixion).

Great Hall

Yes, they and some other kings and queens elsewhere probably actually kept a lion as a fearsome and impressive symbol of their power. Lions were given as gifts from other royalty. This one was said to have been kept it in the courtyard of the palace apartments.

Outer walls. Stirling was key because it stands between the Scottish Lowlands and Highlands at the only bridge passage between in this marshland.

From lunch at the hotel before leaving – Stirling

Scotrail had a track problem and cancelled the train I was taking from Stirling to Edinburgh, but after some confusion and conflicting information, eventually it all got sorted. Next stop Waverly Station, Edinburgh.

To Fort William: As It is on a Trail, So It is in Life (or, Sheep Are More Polite Than Goats)

First peak of the day out of Kinlochleven bagged

Long-distance hiking has a way of bringing one’s flaws and weaknesses right to the forefront repeatedly. Which is at first frustrating, but then becomes an opportunity. When you can see your shortcomings glaring at you, you can work on them.

Much in life has an abbreviated counterpart on a trail. Like a condensed life. There’s a beginning, middle and end. There are rewards all along and also pain, hardship, suffering, uncertainty. People come and people go. You find yourself in situations you had no idea were possible. There is kindess, a few “arseholes”, strategies and plans that need to be revised. But maybe the best is finding out that all over the world are wonderful people willing to smile, help, be connected along the way.

This morning leaving the lodging in Kinlochleven, the lady at reception asked where I was staying in Fort William. When I told her where, she made a face and wouldn’t elaborate. A little worried, I decided that whatever awaited it was going to be fine as long as there was some running water, a mattress, and a basically safe place to sleep.  It couldn’t be worse than many of the dorm hostels I’ve stayed in on other hikes.

Today out of Kinlochleven was about an hour of incline, but none of it really problematic. There were points early in the day that were scenic, then a long slog through lumbered landscape, so hours among razed tree stumps and stubble, then the majestic Ben Nevis mountain and another long slog along a very busy road.

Yet two more sets of people told me they’d been using me as their “pacer”.  I had no idea my backside was so popular.

Ben Nevis

I stopped to eat my brown-paper-bag lunch at a ruin of a bothy, went around back to “offload some fluids”, and in the process looked up to find a ram standing there 4 feet away looking at me. I was mistakenly thinking he’d behave like a goat, try to eat my clothes, and that I’d have to keep pushing him off of me if I wanted to eat lunch, but he did none of that and waited patiently for a few pieces of apple to be tossed at his feet. Then a ewe and her lamb came by but evidently decided I was too scary to get that close to. Sheep are much more polite than goats.

At another bothy ruin there was a couple, the man of which was wearing a tam o’ shanter and had a beautiful Scottish accent. We exchanged pleasantries and when I said that from a distance I’d hoped this building was a nice place to get coffee, he said it was his house and that he was going to fix it up. My bullshit meter dinged, and for the rest of the hike when we leapfrogged, his fixing up this ruin was a little running joke. Fun. But pretty much everyone on the trail today was fun and most said they were glad to be finishing.

Having a good level of fitness is really helpful. Taping your feet when you first feel pinchy points and then preventatively each morning helps. A hiking pole is useful for stability on the trickier downhills too. My thanks to Dr. Lauro for the Cortisone injection that made carrying a pack possible, and my thanks to Adam Brown for the fitness and safety training that have made all the difference. And, as always, thanks to husband Tom for staffing the Adventure-Gone-Wrong Hotline and checking on and feeding that little ingrate Louie-the-Cat.

Mountain bikers perfectly willing to mow down hikers….

Coming into the town center of Fort William at the “Sore Feet Statue” there is a corner pub called the Glen Nevis where many trail friends were having beers, some of whom are climbing Ben Nevis tomorrow. It was a happy reunion with congratulations all around, although this was such a short hike compared to the 35-day ones that I’ve done that I felt a little undeserving.

And I’m pleased to announce that the Bank Street Lodge in Fort William is fine. Kind of old-seedy-flophouse-ish in the public areas with twisty halls that have both up and down runs of stairs within the same hall, but the staff is lovely (a cheery, kind woman who gave me my key back on return from dinner: “There you are, my darling.  Here’s your key”), the room basic but perfectly adequate. I showered and Norman Bates didn’t show up. And so far there seem to be lots of families from all over the world newly checking into the surrounding rooms instead of noises such as might be expected with rent-by-the-hour places. Great WiFi in the rooms. And A block off High Street.

Fort William town-center

I checked out the gym on the way in (but am considering having a “nice lie-in”, as they say here, instead), talked with the Scotrail people about the train tomorrow, did laundry in the room, and had a meh-and-terribly-overpriced dinner at Cafe Mango after stopping in at a pub and finding it too “pubby”, if that makes any sense. Judging from the looking going on, I’d say that a woman walking about on her own is an oddity here as well, but so far no problems.

View from room

So here is the end of the West Highland Way. Do it if you can! And there’s more good news: The Great Glen Way starts here in Fort William and goes up to Inverness. A next hike in Scotland is definitely on the radar – the John Muir coast-to-coast or the newer route to St. Andrews perhaps…..

The official end of the West Highland Way in Centre Town Fort William

Off to Glasgow-Stirling tomorrow and then on to Edinburgh the day after. Be there or be square.

Up and Down the Devil’s Staircase: Kingshouse to Kinlochleven

I’d considered that Satan himself might be at the summit waiting, but perhaps he’d taken the day off. There were only a few very happy trail friends enjoying yet more spectacular views up there.

The Devil’s Staircase (after Altnafeadh) wasn’t as strenuous as it’s name suggests – maybe a little more steep than the peak after Bridge of Orchy. It took 35 – 45 minutes to summit. The way down wasn’t extremely steep either, but it took much longer, and it seemed to take forever going downhill to get to Kinlochleven.

The views were spectacular for at least 2/3 of the way.

First thing this morning there were what might have been Black Grouse, but their call didn’t sound like the usual. Moorhens?  There were two of them, so the funny “baBARbaBARbaBAR” sound they were making may have been a mating call. There wasn’t any tail fanning/display behavior though, so I don’t know. It’s on the video if there are any bird watchers out there who might know.

Correction to video: Inversnaid is on Loch Lomond where the worst rocky path starts. The most spectacular views start between Bridge of Orchy and InverORan. So many Invers- around here….Inver evidently meaning “estuary”, which makes sense for where places including this are situated. A Loch is an enclosed body of water like a lake.

Here in Kinlochleven (very pretty town), there is an iron pipe system bringing water from the reservoir above (which you will pass on the way down). Here at McDonald’s Hotel and Campground, they tell me that POWs built the pipe system during WWI. Near where the pipes ran into the town, a bunch of men were out working on top of these pipes. Joking, I asked if they’d sprung a leak, and in fact that’s what was going on. The foreman said they spring leaks all the time and there was another leak spraying farther down that they said they’d be working on later. Pretty impressive.

For those here by the tag, there is a Mountain Rescue Team here that evidently doesn’t charge for rescues. I don’t know if that would be the case if a helicopter were needed, but medical evacuations can be extremely expensive. I haven’t seen anyone injured yet, including 750 runners on nightmare terrain, but there’s all sorts of potential for injuries from falls. It’s probably not a good choice of a hike overall for those who haven’t done much distance hiking in remote areas before, although people are doing it in pairs with one experienced hiker and one novice and doing ok with backpack transport, which is available.

This was not my favorite day despite the scenery mostly probably because I’m socialized-out, really “knackered”, as they say, and having trouble focusing. Tomorrow it’s 24 km and the final day to Fort William.

Gnome garden, Kinlochleven

The TailRace Hotel says on it’s sign that they have Traditional music, so I stopped in to ask when it started. They don’t have any music at all. I tried to see the Aluminum museum, but it was closed.

This isn’t a bad trail to do alone, but I probably wouldn’t do it without a Smart phone and advance reservations for lodging. People are curious about why one would do it alone if you’re a female, so be prepared with a little canned answer if you’re hiking it alone, are female, and this curiosity bothers you (I’ve run into this quite a bit).  There are actually several of us solo women in this cohort of hikers. There’s good camaraderie along the way, so that helps. I’ve decided that a big smile and a good word are much better than stressing about interacting, and that maybe it’s not necessary to be so annoyed with those who immediately want explanations for my being alone. Women are out traveling and hiking all over the world now with smart phones and internet access, but I guess to some it’s still an oddity. I tell them that it’s not the best way, but that most I know are either still working or would never consider doing these things…..and so if I’d waited to find others to do things with, I wouldn’t have seen and done most of all I’ve seen and done in the last 20 years.

I had a bowl of Colin Skink (Scottish haddock and potato chowder-like soup) for late lunch and a nice curry for dinner, both at the pub at MacDonalds, which was a nice place to stay (as they’ve all been so far).

And I’ve learned that things and language are Scottish and people are Scots. Good to know! I’ve so enjoyed these people’s way of communicating. Very direct/to-the-point, often warm, rather tongue-in-cheek sometimes. I’ve not met anyone who seems shy yet, and they’ll usually tell you what they think if you ask.

There were tons of kayakers out in Kinlochleven. I asked what they were carrying long poles for (as had thought they were rapellers – Kinlochleven has a rapelling center). They were fun to watch and talk to. Scots – I like them well.

Tomorrow promises to be a long, strenuous day, but it will then be done.

30.4 km/19 miles – Tyndrum to Kingshouse, Done and Dusted

Of all the days so far, this one has had the most beautiful scenery.

Heading out of Tyndrum , I stopped in at Brodie’s minimart. I set my Diet Coke on the counter to pay and said to the elderly gentleman working there: “it’s my only bad habit”. He peered through thick glasses and said: “ohhhh, I doen beLIEVE ya”. Pretty funny.

Met more nice people along the way, many of whom are are camping or staying in the mini-pods at Glencoe about 2 km before Kingshouse. I’d stopped at the Bridge of Orchy Hotel for coffee and a delightful young lady was working in the cafe area (they have Dior Cherie liquid soap in the women’s bathroom there, if that tells you anything about what kind of place the Bridge of Orchy Hotel is…. it probably looked odd to see someone walking the moors smelling her hands repeatedly). I told the young lady working in the cafe that I’d heard the next (2.3 km) stretch was more difficult, to which she said that it wasn’t difficult at all (it was a little steep up to the peak where there’s quite a panorama.  Some military jets were flying close doing super-low practice maneuvers through the valleys, which was quite a sight).  She said that she and her girlfriends walked over the peak and back frequently to go to the pub at The Inveroran Hotel, their nearest neighboring pub.  It was a charming thought that they would make their way there and back across the moors in a group. The young Romanian man running the pub at the Inveroran Hotel said the same thing, and that employees from both and the new Kingshouse Hotel visited each other back and forth.

There were more runners running these mountain…..in the onward direction, possibly continuing on after the Highland Fling 53-mile ultramarathon to practice on the path beyond Tyndrum that the upcoming full 96-mile West Highland Way ultramarathon will be on.  Amazing humans.

Lunch was excellent – smoked Scottish salmon with a horseradish slaw and arugula salad, and then a round of warm goats cheese on arugula. There were two Americans there – Ed and Charlie – who were military. It was a chatty lunch. I bought a dessert to take with, and one of the other men who have been on the same trail stages as myself bought me a Taggerts chocolate covered marshmellow because he thought I’d like to try one. It was good. I ate it sitting on a rock overlooking a vast moor.

It seems I took some arugula with me……

A second set of men told me they’d used me as their “pacer” on the really strenuous day between Inversnaid and Inverarnan because they thought I walked fast and that if they could still see me up ahead they were keeping a good pace. This was nice to hear.  I’d never heard of a “pacer” until I overheard two people running like lightening side-by-side on the treadmills in Glasgow talking about it.

Cheeky bottle opener

I rolled into Kingshouse Hotel around 4pm, kind of wishing I’d booked at Glencoe instead, which is 2 km before and more suitable for hikers.  Kingshouse Hotel has only been open as a large, new hotel since February and they may be getting their processes ironed out still (they were more a small inn before). The new place cost 12 Million GBP, and it looks it. It was 5 pm before my room was ready (an hour’s wait for an expensive hotel can seem kind of unreasonable after hiking 30.4K), and later at dinnertime in the open lounge area, after ordering, my wait staff simply forgot about me among larger groups seemingly there as car tourists driving Scotland. Not really hiker-friendly or solo-traveller-friendly at the moment.  But the place is new, sleek and spacious, the views are spectacular, and it was wonderful to have a comfortable room and a hot bath in a deep soaker tub.

I’ll let these pictures do the talking about this day.