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.