Sunday, December 27, 2009

West Highland Way, Day 2: Clash of the Titans

After a tasty breakfast at The Bramblewood, reviewed on TripAdvisor as "must be very close to the pinnacle of B & B's", we set out for Drymen to catch the trail to Balhama, only an eight mile walk today; OK, what with our mile back into Drymen, side trek up Conic Hill, and walking around Balhama it was over ten but still an easy day. The only other alternative was 14 miles directly to Rowardennan and the second half would have been a little rough. We wanted to stretch out our time along Loch Lomond and enjoy the experience along the way. I think it's an age thing.

We stopped in a little grocery in Drymen and bought some cheese and crackers for lunch. Kathleen volunteered to carry a good size melon I found, and we were off to find the thistle.

We had another overcast, sometimes drizzly, off and on rain, cool day. The first half of the walk was through Garahdhban Forest, part of the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park.

Still a pretty leisurely stroll,

Then opening up to moorland and our first glimpse of Loch Lomond.

Conic Hill is in the distance, the first of the Highlands. The hill really is a hump compared to some mountains Jan, Sally, and I have been up, but it is uphill and we are excited. The marked trail skirts around the north flank, but we decide to go a bit off track to bag the summit. Kathleen, as usual, was always up for any adventure.

The hill wasn't as conic as mountains farther up the highlands; indeed, it is just a ridge with several humps, and the ridge is the Highland Boundary Fault. From this ridge several islands string across Loch Lomond, all on the spine of the fault line. It was here about 430 million years ago that land masses that formed Scotland and England collided with each other, closing an ocean between them and causing a land buckling that built mountains as high as the Himalaya. These little nubbins and the Highlands are what is left of those huge mountains. A little humbling I would say.

Rain and wind picked up on our way up the heathery climb, a little rough and steep in spots, but once at the top we had an amazing view. From here we could follow the continental smash line across the loch, to the north the old continent of Laurentia and to the south the continents of Avalonia and Baltica. And us, just subatomic specks in the timeline.

The summit was so cold and blustery we stayed just long enough to soak in the significance of the moment and headed back down. Crossing a col we got a better peak at the faultline islands of Inchcailloch, Torrinch, Creinch, and Inchmurrin through the Scottish mist.

The rain wanted to follow us, but we found shelter and a lunch spot in a mysterious forest just above the village of Balhama. Yum, the melon and cheese was delicious.

The Oak Tree Inn was on the shores of Loch Lomond and we were finding it was hard to settle in once we got to our destination at the end of the day, each of us usually finding some way to get out and walk around some more, "exploring", "checking it out", but the truth is walking is what humans are meant to do, not sitting in front of a TV.

After another tasty meal in the downstairs pub we settled in for the night. I noticed my left toenail was beginning to turn bluish. Oh well, I'll think about it tomorrow, said Scarlet. I wakened in the early morning hours to the sounds of heavy rain.

Tomorrow, the beautiful Loch Lomond.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

West Highland Way, Day 1: Not Your Best Foot Forward

As soon as I put on my shoes I knew I had brought the wrong hiking boots. These were my old boots from a few years ago before my feet spread from old age. My half size larger boots were back home in the trunk of my car, ready for that spur of the moment hike. What to do? Oh well, suck it up and get out the door for our 95 mile trek up the West Highland Way, plus another 15-20 miles off track at our daily destinations. I was sure plenty of drovers and soldiers had walked the same route in too small shoes, and if they could do it so could I.

The evening before, my three buddies and I took the commuter train a few miles out of Glasgow here to Milngavie (say Mull-guy) to catch the trailhead of the West Highland Way, a footpath northward from Glasgow to Fort William. Already I got us befuddled looking for our first night's accommodation, a bed and breakfast aptly named Best Foot Forward.

This was a luxury trek compared to the 150 mile high altitude, expedition style Himalaya trek Sally, Jan, and I had done two years earlier. We were self guiding up the West Highland Way, but MacsAdventure had provided our maps and arranged local accommodations as well as door to door bag service. All we had to do was carry our day packs, move our feet, and follow the thistles.

Sally and Jan were seasoned long distance hiker-trekkers, don't let the grey hair fool you. Red headed Kathleen was new to the sport but she was Scottish and I knew she would be fine.

Our weather was overcast, drizzly, and cool and we came to love the weather of western Scotland, often rainy, sometimes gloriously sunny, but always unpredictable. We had average mileage today, 12 miles, but it was still lowlands, a nice, easy introduction to the trail.

Soon out of Milngavie into the woods north of town we had a reminder under our feet to give up all those worries and embrace the reason we undertake these walks.

We traveled through woods, across marshy meadows,

into the beautiful Scottish countryside.



the requisite Scottish thistles,

things that can be experienced in this way only on foot.

After lunch at a country pub in Dumgoyne, I took three of my favorite shots of the day.

A farmhouse probably from the 1800's,

a farmhouse door a little farther along,

and this tree turning lime green against a navy sky from light through a coming rain.

Kathleen was loving the whole experience. This smile never left her face the whole way.

Late afternoon we reached the village of Drymen (say Drimmen), sad to be at the end of walking but partly made up by having to walk a mile out of town to our accommodations, a mile back into town for dinner, and another mile back. We had a beautiful secluded bed and breakfast at Bramblewood and dinner in town at the oldest pub in Scotland, The Clachan. I had already grown to love those pubs walking across England.

In the village green was another reminder of the grief of Scotland. 100,000 men lost in World War I alone.

Tomorrow, Loch Lomond and into the Highlands! Taking the low road to the high road!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Home Alone

Finally, we know what the kitty critters are doing while we're out of the house. Not sleeping and pining for the owner to return, according to this morning's paper.

A cat food company cammed 50 cats and found 12% of the time was spent looking out the window.

12% of the time playing and interacting with other critters in the house.

8% was spent climbing on chairs.

6% was spent watching television, computers, or DVD's.

6% hiding under tables and chairs.

5% playing with toys, or in my house ripping up socks.

Only 6% was spent napping, well deserved after the busy day.

Now we know.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Remembering Our Family Veterans

Hayley turns 15 next week. That's about the age Jotham Nute from our ancestral family enlisted as a New Hampshire soldier in the Revolution under the command of Colonel George Reid. I figure he was following his 27 year old brother, Samuel, our direct ancestor, after Samuel signed the Colony of New Hampshire 1776 Revolutionary War Proposal and went into the army himself.

In consequence of the resolution of the, Honorable Continental Congress,
and to show our determination in joining with our American brethren in
defending the lives, liberties, and properties of the inhabitants of the
United Colonies,
We, the Subscribers do hereby solemnly engage and promise that we will to
the utmost of our power, at the risk of our lives and fortunes, with arms,
oppose the hostile proceedings of the British fleets and armies, against
the United American Colonies.

I haven't yet been able to trace the path of Samuel through his battles, but young Jotham was captured at the battle of Hubbardton as the American forces were withdrawing from Fort Ticondaroga. I just finished Diana Gabaldon's page turning account of this encounter with the British and Hessians. Perhaps our Jotham came across Jamie Fraser. He would have been a lad of only seventeen. Likely killed himself a couple bears by then, but the fighting and being captured by the enemy must have been scary for a young boy.

Somehow Jotham escaped or was released by the British as he shows up later with his company in New York. He rose to the rank of sargeant and was wounded in the hip by a musket ball "where it still continues" according to the pension. His wound happened "in a very severe skirmish near Kingsbridge in which one fifth part of my Party were killed or wounded". Kingsbridge was that strategic part of Manhattan George Washington and his boys were trying to defend against the British. Sargeant Nute mustered out of the army in 1781 after his injury, now a seasoned veteran of twenty two. His merit for "faithful service" was signed by George Washington. His grandson, Alonzo, fought with the New Hampshire Sixth Regiment for the Union and went on to Congress in 1888.

We are standing on their shoulders.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Glasgow: Tea in the Alley of Willows

After two days on my own in Glasgow, my walking buddies began to appear in the city - Jan and Sally in the morning after a long trip from Point Townsend, Washington, and Kathleen in the afternoon from Edinburgh. By this time, I could get around by foot, bus, subway, train, and the occasional hitchhiking. It was time to show off my city to my buddies.

I couldn't get enough of Glasgow architecture, from the old at Charing Cross

to the new Glasgow Armadillo.

But what I wanted to hunt down was some Charles Rennie MacKintosh. With persistence and a personal form of GPS - that is, pick a likely prospect, best an older gentleman, and ask directions - Sally and I located the Willow Tea Room just up the street from the Cathedral, on Sauchiehall Street, Gaelic for "willow meadow". No wonder we had trouble finding it - a jeweler now occupies the ground floor of the building.

MacKintosh, a celebrated Glaswegian architect, designed the building and Willow Tea Rooms for Kate Cranston, a restaurateur, in 1903 in an art nouveau style, originally four floors. Only the Gallery and Room de Luxe remain but they give a feel of how magnificent these rooms were at the turn of the twentieth century.

MacKintosh had a hand in the design of everything, the building exterior and interior, furniture, down to the spoons. These high back chairs are his signature design.

After Sally and I had a bite of lunch in the Gallery, I peeked in at the Room de Luxe upstairs. In its heyday, this room would have been the place to be, with its fireplace, silver high backed chairs, soft gray carpet, mauve upholstery and leaded glass windows looking out to Sauchiehall below.

Later in the afternoon, Jan and I checked out the Charles Rennie MacKintosh exibition at the Kelvingrove. More great stuff, another chair,

and his signature Glasgow roses.

I woke up that night with Charles Rennie MacKintosh going through my head. How about a CRM room in my house, maybe a bedroom do over. Who says a house has to be all one style? I already have Modern Californian Victorian with a touch of Asian and Charleston. Why not?

Friday, October 02, 2009

Sign of the Times

Walking down the hill from Stirling Castle to the train, I was a bit taken aback.

Mus be awl dose cheezburgers.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Cry of Scotland: Freedom!

My son, I tell thee soothfastie,
No gift is like to libertie;
Then never live in slaverie.

William Wallace as taught by his uncle.

It's all for nothing if you don't have freedom.

Mel Gibson as William Wallace in Braveheart.

The problem with Scotland, is that it is full of Scots.

Edward I in Braveheart.

The Scots have a long history of quarreling and fighting among themselves but they don't lie down quietly for outside invaders. This lesson could have been learned from the Romans who had a brief foray into Scotland but withdrew and built Hadrian's Wall to keep the "barbarians" in the north where they belonged. Outside of Culloden, no other place in Scotland more represents the Scots' determination to be free than Stirling.

Stirling is not an exceptionally beautiful or rich place. It is strategic. The River Forth, or Firth of Forth - I love to say that name - cuts across Scotland east to west. To control the Highlands in medieval times an invader had to get across the river, and putting an army across the river required a bridge. Happens the Romans built a bridge at Stirling and this was the main point an army could cross into northern Scotland. Farther west than Stirling was too marshy. Secondly, a volcanic crag with sheer face on three sides rises up from the plain, a great place to put a defense and -voila!- there is Stirling Castle on a site likely fortified in some way since the Iron Age. Our castle was first built in the early twelfth century.

On my second day in Scotland, I set off by train from Glasgow to see the castle and walk the grounds of William "Braveheart" Wallace, Robert the Bruce, and countless others who fought the pesky English.

The Wallace Monument rises from Abbey Craig to the north and overlooks Stirling Bridge where in 1297 William Wallace and his buddy, Andrew Moray, led the clansmen - with no cavalry to speak of, poorly armed, and outnumbered five to one - to defeat the English. The English had captured Stirling Castle in 1296 and held control of the cities, but outside the cities was anarchy. Uniting the rabble was William Wallace after his young wife was killed by an English sheriff.

One of my favorite movies, Mel Gibson's Braveheart, captured the spirit of Wallace but had to sacrifice accuracy for a good story. For one thing, Wallace was a youth of about twenty three when he faced the English at Stirling Bridge, not the fortyish age of Mel. Did William Wallace paint his face blue in battle? No, but it was a nice tribute to the Picts. Did Robert the Bruce betray Wallace? No.

And for the sake of movie drama, the armies faced each other across a field. Wallace would have been smushed like an ant were that the case. Instead, the English and Scots faced each other across the River Forth, with the English walking into the trap likely devised by young Moray. The overconfident English began to move their cavalry and archers across the narrow bridge with the Scots seeming to wait patiently. After all, the chivalrous thing to do is wait until the army is fully across before starting the battle. The English hadn't counted on the guerrilla tactics of the Scots. When only half the English were across, the Scots attacked, likely using a schiltron (close formation with pikes) against the English cavalry. The English were massacred or driven back into the river to drown in their armor and a few days later the Castle was surrendered to the Scots.

The heart of Old Town Stirling has that ancient, historical look. It's been a burgh since 1124, Prince Charlie was here during the 'Rising, and John Knox of the Reformation preached at the Holy Rude, but I had one objective at the moment - to see the Castle.

Just up the street from the clock tower I stopped a Scottish gentleman for directions and, as the Scottish are prone to do, that led to more conversation. He asked if I were going to Bannockburn.

"Well, I was really on my way to the castle".

"Get in the car", he said. Usually I don't get in a car at the invitation of a stranger but I was improvising transportation. Besides,he had a cane. I figured I could outrun him if I had to.

I thought I was going to get a lift to the castle, but we were headed to Bannockburn. "Hated the English", he said about the battle at Bannockburn. Slight pause and he added, "still do". He was clearly determined I would see Bannockburn.

My Scottish gentleman dropped me off at Bannockburn a couple miles out of town and while I was wondering how I would get back into town I spotted a man in a kilt. I thought I'd worry later about the town thing and followed the kilt out to the battlefield.

Robert the Bruce was there, right where he likely sat on his horse directing the battle against Edward II.

Stirling Castle had been abandoned back to the English in 1298 after Wallace lost at Falkirk, Robert the Bruce besieged the castle in 1299 and took it back, the English besieged again in 1304 and Robert's brother was again besieging the castle in 1314. Robert showed up to prevent Edward getting reinforcements to the English in the castle and they had a full on battle here at Bannockburn. Robert had 9000 men, almost all infantry, and Edward had 25,000, including cavalry. Not the best odds.

Using the schiltron devised by Wallace the Scots fought a brilliant battle and routed the English. Edward returned to England tail between legs, and Stirling Castle returned to the Scots who destroyed the defenses of the castle to prevent them again being used by the English. Needless to say, this was not the last of Stirling Castle.

It has been besieged or attacked sixteen times at least, and clearly still stands today, visible on its crag from the Bannockburn.

I made my way back to the castle, by this time too tired and damp to think of much more than that the ochre color of some of the buildings would be nice in my bedroom.

But not so tired I couldn't appreciate the rich history, the realtor's dream view, and the many Scots and English that have lived, fought, died, and rejoiced in victory here.

Next post: Good friends and Charles Rennie MacKintosh

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Afoot in San Diego: Imperial Beach, Donuts to Die For

Jennifer and I headed for Imperial Beach today. I wanted mainly to check out the Pier and a donut shop I had seen on Noah Tafolla's Wonderland show on San Diego's KPBS. Jennifer had just finished a morning swim meet. She was tired, more interested in the fish and chips at the end of the Pier, and glad there weren't a lot of historical buildings her Ouma wanted to see.

Imperial Beach is the very southernmost outpost of San Diego. Step across the Tijuana River and you're in Mexico...but first you'll have to get across the Border Fence the separates San Diego from Tijuana, more than 900 miles of fence completed to date but that's a story for another time.

Photo downloaded from Wikipedia

Early Anglo settlement of Imperial Beach was part of the 1887 land boom of San Diego when a couple fellows thought they would build a beach resort for folks looking for relief from the heat of Imperial Valley. If I were to pick a year for time travel in San Diego, it would be 1887. It must have been a jumpin' year. Even Wyatt Earp was here.

It's hard to miss that this is a surfin' town. Monuments, sidewalk surf art, surf shops, surfer dudes everywhere.

We walked down the Dunes, I.B.'s beach, toward the pier. One couple must have been getting practice for I.B.'s annual Sand Castle contest, the US Open of Sand Castle Building. They were adults with a full on man-size shovel, not the usual kid stuff seen on other beaches. Fortunately, the next competition is almost a year off. These guys look like they need a little more practice before getting to the level of the usual entries.

At the end of the pier, we enjoyed some fish and chips at a little outdoor fish place. Even though it was a misty day, we could see down to the Coronado Islands off Mexico.

The culinary highlight, though, was the Stardust Donut Shop on Palm Avenue, a drive in, walk up to the window place in need of a paint job but the donuts and cinnamon rolls are heavenly. Fortunately, they are not the huge Cinnabon type and no heavy frosting. Still, Jennifer and I had the good sense to buy just one glazed donut each for today and a cinnamon roll to save for Sunday morning.

The shop is run by two elderly brothers who have apparently been a fixture for the last thirty years. By now they open up when they get there and close when all the donuts are gone and a gaggle of customers hang around waiting for the next batch.

Jennifer's interest was beginning to wane... the Tijuana Estuary Reserve will have to wait for another time.