A Final Farewell to the West Highland Way

September 6, 2015:
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Living large at No 6 Caberfeidh B & B in Fort William with a huge Scottish breakfast featuring ham, sausage, eggs, black pudding, tatties, all kinds of cereal, granola, coffee and juice. Most of our nights are in hostel type accomodations so this is a real treat.  Too bad we aren’t hiking 15 miles or more today to wear off our breakfast.

 

whw_day9-1100528eIn front of the B & B, we find the couple from Austria that have been guiding a large group of about 18 people walking the West Highland Way. They are checking into possible lodging options for their 2016 West Highland Way tour.

whw_day9-1100541eShrieks of delight fill the air as we spot the Scottish mother and son on their way to the bus station.

whw_day9-1100542eOh, wow!!  It’s the Canadian minister from the bar last night on her way to church. What an interesting person with a charming, sincere personality. Her name is Donalee Williams and she has a blog which I linked to her name.

whw_day9-1100544eManchester, England claims these two hikers who camped all along the West Highland Way and this gentleman has been observing my hiking speed along the trail. At the bar in Tyndrum, I slowly crept past their table while carrying two pints of beer, trying NOT to spill, to which he commented, “Fastest I’ve seen you walk all day!”

whw_day9-1100550eFinally… It took us longer than expected to get to the new end of the trail sculpture due to all of the bonus socializing this morning. As we continue on to the bus station, we are grateful to have another farewell session with Mike and Stacy who are going the Isle of Skye before returning to Belfast, Ireland.

whw_day9-1100533eFor us, it’s time to catch a bus to pursue new adventures and explore Inverness, Scotland.  Stay tuned…

Here is the short video of our last day in Fort William:

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West Highland Way: Kinlochleven to Fort William

September 5, 2015: Kinlochleven to Fort William

WHW_Day7-1100286e While gazing over at the campers cooking their breakfasts, I do a last-minute check to see if I have everything.  Yes, I remembered to get our sandwiches out of the hostel refrigerator and pack them in my backpack. (I have been known to forget!)

whw_day8-1100312eWe start our day with Laura from Berlin. I often find myself thinking of her and hope all is going well with her life.

 

 

whw_day8-1100333eWhat a beautiful site for wild camping, overlooking the town of Kinlochleven. Beautiful weather today and hikers seem to be going at a leisurely pace as if savoring their last day of hiking.
whw_day8-1100444eJoan, AKA The Beast, is ready to tackle the last leg of the hike with Ben Nevis, the highest peak in the U.K., in the background.

whw_day8-1100474eWe are fortunate to be able to share part of this last day with Mike and Stacy (Ireland/Ukraine) as we descend into Fort William. Such a lovely pair…

whw_day8-1100493eThis is the last we see of Leon and his gang from Holland as they are staying in the campground just outside of Fort William. We notice they still have energy to play tricks.  Oh, to be so young again.

We see many runners from the Ben Nevis race walking back to their vehicles with their medals and trophies.  Apparently, I didn’t have enough energy to pull out the camera. After walking 16 miles today, I don’t think we’ll attempt Ben Nevis.

Maybe, some other time.

Mike and Stacy are going on through town to pay homage to the new end of the trail, but we are close to our check-in deadline for the B & B so we must bid them farewell.  Sad to see them go.whw_day8-1100497eWe appear to be faking glee and excitement. Maybe we are a little disappointed to not have all of our WHW friends cheering with us at the end.

Hold on.. Who is that I see chatting in the distance? No, it can’t be.  Yes, it is!!!  Mandy just happens to appear along our route.

whw_day8-1100507creLater, we meet up with Mandy and Karen at a the Grog and Gruel Pub, popular with the Ben Nevis race crowd as you can see by the race numbers in the background. The fun-loving Scottish gentlemen in these photos are our photographers tonight so that we could get some group photos. You can’t help but love the Scottish people.

whw_day8-1100508dmvWe also spend time this evening visiting with a minister from Canada on sabbatical doing research. I can’t remember her research topic…  Could an evening in the pub provide inspiration for a few sermon topics?whw_day8-1100510eCheers to the West Highland Way!
96 miles and we did the WHOLE thing! We may walk slowly, but we never walk backward.

Here is the video of our last day hiking the West Highland Way:

 

West Highland Way: Drovers Inn to Tyndrum

September 1, 2015

WHW_4-1090643eThe air is still, so the midges (small gnat like flies common along the West Highland Way) are out in full force this morning and we see Joan sporting her stylish midge netting. Many years ago we would wrap netting around our heads similar to this as protection from mosquitoes, gnats and deer flies when hoeing weeds out of the soybean fields.

WHW_4-1090743eThe plan is to hike 13 miles today through the area of Crianlarich Hills, which are a large group of mountains in Scotland.

WHW_4-1090672eIt’s tricky ducking down through the sheep creep while wearing a full backpack.

WHW_4-1090753eWe pass by the ruins of St Fillan’s Priory, which is a small monastery or nunnery that is governed by a prior or prioress. It is from the 13th century and associated with Robert the Bruce.WHW_4-1090761eAcross the path is a graveyard dating back to the 8th century.

WHW_4-1090783eThis is a bench commemorating the battle of Dal Righ, or ‘King’s Field’ where Robert the Bruce was defeated by English troops in 1306.WHW_4-1090807eHome sweet home tonight is this cute little hobbit house at Tyndrum By the Way Campground.

WHW_4-1090812eQuite cozy and we have a microwave and coffee pot. What more could one need?
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We end our day at the Tyndrum Inn and meet up with several of our hiking friends with fun conversation peppering the air. Now we must bid a sad farewell to our current path mates since we are opting for a shorter hike tomorrow, while they are planning on hiking about 20 miles. Hugs all around and I feel a little tear in my eye as if saying a goodbye that is probably forever. We do hope they take advantage of our invitation to visit and stay with us at our farm on the Minnesota/South Dakota border. Randy and I may even whip up a batch of Rocky Mountain Oysters to go up against their haggis!

Following is a video of our adventures today:

West Highland Way: Rowardennan to Drovers Inn

August 31, 2015WHW_Day3-1090515e

A nice, bright morning to start our day as we leave Rowardennan Youth Hostel. Great breakfast, friendly hikers and slept like a rock, so all is right with the world.

westhighlandway3-mapToday we plan on hiking 14 miles from Rowardennan to Drovers Inn located at Inverarnan.

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The arrow reminds us of the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain.WHW_Day3-1090544e

Quick snapshot of the WHW Gang.  We always look forward to seeing Mandy, Karen, Thomas and Allan due to their friendly smiles and fun trail banter covering a wide range of topics. The two on the left carrying heavy camping gear started at the West Highland Way trail beginning sign in Milngavie at the same time as us, so we often see them as they pass us, they stop for breaks so we catch up and pass them and so on…

WHW_Day3-1090557eLove locks bridge meets Scotland… One of the tent campers we frequently greet is on the other side doing deep knee bends with her heavy pack on.  Now that’s impressive!

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We find a picnic table in front of the Inversnaid Hotel and pull our lunch out. I mix powdered peanut butter with water, spread on bread and we have sandwiches and top the meal off with energy bars for dessert. Easy peasy…

Public bathrooms were torn down the year before, but the hotel is very gracious to hikers and allow us to use their facilities and fill our water bottles.

We see two hikers with backpacks going up the hill from the Inversnaid Hotel parking lot and assume this is our path, too.  After hiking up the hill and around the bend, Randy comments that there haven’t been any trail markers and something just doesn’t seem right. Back down we go and, sure enough, the missed trail marker is on the other side of the parking lot. Extra credit of about one mile.WHW_Day3-1090585e

This section of the trail is described in the book, Walking in Scotland:  “The path twists and turns around large boulders and tree roots, a good test of balance and agility.”  They weren’t kidding…WHW_Day3-1090549e

We cross stream after stream when we aren’t scrambling rocks and it seems to take forever to leave Loch Lomond. There are wild ferrel goats in this section that elude us today, but we do hear the loudspeaker from a boat cruise as it comes in close to view Rob Roy’s cave since this is where the famous outlaw allegedly held his captives.

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We are still hiking well into the evening and darkness is inevitable.  We didn’t plan to be hiking this late, but the path has been extremely slow going. This would be particularly challenging in the dark and we didn’t bring any flashlights/torches. (Just a cell phone flashlight). Note to self: Always bring a head torch when hiking even if you think you won’t need it.

We finally get to the Beinglas Farm campground and the little bit of daylight left immediately vanishes and we are enveloped in darkness with our lodging located just over the bridge.  We cross the bridge only to find a massive gate has locked us out. The gate automatically closes off the bridge at night, but has malfunctioned and closed earlier at 9:00 p.m. Great… guess we’ll just sleep on the bridge. The video below has a short clip of a man opening the bridge gate and you can see how dark it really is. The campground authorities are notified and the gate is opened. Yay! It’s 9:30 and we are tired, hungry and ready to have this day completed.

We stroll up to Drovers Inn and notice familiar faces peering out of the bar window. Mandy, Karen, Thomas and Allan come rushing out with excited relief that we are not lost in the woods. The ghost of Drovers’ Inn must have played tricks with my camera as I thought I was turning the video on and was actually turning it off.  Thus, the clip is short, but you can hear Mandy exclaiming about how worried they were. To say we were touched by their concern is an understatement. Thank you for the legendary welcome to Drovers Inn!

Song credit:  The Henry Girls digital download purchased from Amazon. The Henry Girls are three immensely talented sisters from Donegal, Ireland. Check them out at thehenrygirls.com and discover their soothing harmonies and instrumental talents. Thank you to Charlie Roth for bringing their talents to my attention.

Now, what’s all this fuss about ghosts?

 

 

 

West Highland Way: Drymen to Rowardennan

Sunday, August 30, 2015:  Day two…WWW_Day2-1090332Glenalva B & B near Drymen, Scotland provided a restful sleep and we go downstairs to another delicious smoked salmon and egg breakfast. Shared a breakfast table and delightfully, entertaining conversation with two Scottish gentlemen, Thomas and Allan, who are also walking to Rowardennan today. We chat throughout the day while walking, so we are slowly making new friends along the trail. Fascinating people and their stories add another dimension which makes the hiking experience rewarding on a social level.

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Glenalva B & B displays the spirit of the trail with boots as flower pots.

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Early in the day, we miss a sign and take the wrong path (along with other hikers), which means we must backtrack. Many hikers are now passing us, including a large group of Austrians on a group hiking tour. About an hour and a half later, Randy looks back and notices our starting point is right across the meadow as he points with his walking stick. Slow progress…

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The trail climbs through a section of forestry before crossing moorland to reach Conic Hill.

We spend some time today visiting with a college girl from Colorado who is interning while going to school and traveling in the U.K. I enjoy listening to hopes and dreams of young people as they explore and discover their paths in life. I guess that’s the optimistic teacher in me.

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Up, up and away, we climb…

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We finally reach the top and the views of Loch Lomond are spectacular, although it starts to drizzle. (The video at the bottom of this post will show the panoramic view from the top of Conic Hill.)

 


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Sunday is a popular day for hiking. We meet many day hikers who must have parked at Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park and approach Conic Hill from the opposite side.

 

WWW_Day2-1090462eOne of many “kissing gates.”  It allows people to pass through but not livestock.

WWW_Day2-1090494eWe hike along the banks of Loch Lomond as we proceed along the trail. We find the last stretch today to be quite rocky and somewhat challenging.  We are thinking that today is about as challenging as it gets. (After all, the Youtube videos look pretty tame!)

Towards the end of the day, we strike up a conversation with a lovely couple (Belfast, Northern Ireland/Ukraine), which makes the path seem less severe. Thank you, Michael and Stacy (Anistacia).

 

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The last couple of miles seem to take forever as we sludge past the Rowardennan Hotel, envious of those stopping here for the night. Wondering…  will we ever get there?  Exhausted, we arrive at the Rowardennan Youth Hostel  (Yes, old people can stay in youth hostels!) after our hilly hike and happy to have beds. It does appear as though our backpacks exploded upon arrival.

WWW_Day2-1090509eLucky for us, a bar and food are available a few feet away from our beds, so life is grand.  We are invited to sit with two new trail friends from England, Mandy and Karen. Such fun and interesting gals and both have travel tales from around the globe!

Bonnie N’ Blonde is a locally brewed beer from Loch Lomond Brewery and hit the spot after walking 14.5 miles carrying a backpack up and down hills and scrambling some rocks.  Tomorrow will be MUCH easier, right?

Below is a short video/slide show featuring highlights of day two on the West Highland Way:

West Highland Way: Milngavie to Drymen

8-29-2015:  Our long awaited start to the West Highland Way has finally arrived.
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We stroll down to a cute little dining area with flags at the tables to identify our country. Kind of glad this part of the world isn’t upset with the U.S.A. right now as our flag towers over the table. 

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Living large at Best Foot Forward Bed & Breakfast this morning as we fuel up for our first day of hiking with granola cereal, smoked salmon, scrambled eggs, toast, juice and most importantly… coffee.

The air is peppered with light conversation as we visit with neighboring tables with flags from Scotland, Germany and Holland. All are here for the same purpose ~ to hike the West Highland Way.

WWW_Day1_E-1090153eWe thank and bid farewell to our hosts and they seem to especially giggle when Randy tells them his name:  I’m Randy! 

WWW_Day1_E-1090167eReady or not… here we go!!

Destination:  Twelve miles down the trail to Drymen, Scotland.

A Map of the West Highland Way

 

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12 miles later… Ahhhh, home sweet home as we receive a Scottish welcome at Glenalva Bed & Breakfast. We discover that we may be able to eat our evening meal at the oldest pub in Scotland, but we’d better get our names in as soon as we can.

Can’t miss an opportunity like that, so we drop our backpacks and walk into town. Our list of B & B rules says we must be in by 10 p.m.

Not a problem.

Click on the link below and you’ll view a short slide show/video of the scenery on this day. Locals say the views the first couple of days of the West Highland Way are boring, but I’m quite enjoying the sights.

 

 

 

 

Waking up with the monks… Day #3

It’s 6:00 a.m., the lights go on along with the repetitive sound of chanting monks wafting throughout the Roncesvalles albergue. (Click on video) No alarm needed when 183 people get ready to start their day.

Stage 2Our goal today is to get five beds in either Zubiri or Larrasoana which will be between a 22 and 25 km walk.  Many pilgrims walking and biking today so we may be homeless, when it’s all said and done.  Should we have packed tents, too?

2014Camino-1070032popWe say our goodbyes to Roncesvalles and start down our path for Camino de Santiago day #3.

2014Camino-1070028plThe air is crisp and talk is minimal as most put their heads down and concentrate on loosening their muscles for the day. Come on, aspirin, kick in!

2014Camino-1070063dmvcrThe early morning fog creates a surreal feeling.

 

2014Camino-1070033dmvpopTime to fortify our lunch supply as we stop at a little grocery store as we near Burguete.

2014Camino-1070034dmvI hope the birds don’t decide that Joan is their lunch, too!

2014Camino-1070035kpdmvThe path continues as farms mix in with the small village buildings.

2014Camino-1070039dmv2014Camino-1070041dmvThe first town to appear along our route is Burguete, renowned for its sturdy Pyrenean style farmhouses.   The author, Ernest Hemingway, stayed here in 1924 and 1925 while on fishing trips and also describes the village in the book, The Sun Also Rises.

2014Camino-1070050dmvBurguete is a cute little village with flower pots near many a doorway or window sill.

2014Camino-1070048dmvcrThere had once been a witch’s coven in the Burguete area in the sixteenth century. The surrounding forested region, part of the province of Navarre, was known as the Wood of Sorginaritzaga or Oak Grove of the Witches. Medieval people had believed that the presence of a white cross would save them from such evil. Spain had repressed witchcraft in this Auritz-Burguete area and eastward around Roncesvalles more fiercely than anywhere else in the country. Long before the Spanish Inquisition began in 1478, a major raid against witches took place here in 1329. This resulted in the burning of five alleged witches in a village square.  ~http://www.heatherconnblogs.com/tag/auritz-burguete/

2014Camino-1070057kpcrOur path wanders through pastures as this farmer checks his cattle.  Just like home.

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2014Camino-1070075plThe path turns to gravel with rolling hills.  Not a bad hike today!

2014Camino-1070078dmvWe wind through a small village to find a meticulously stacked woodpile, a clothesline and a neatly placed row of flower pots. To me, that is a beautiful sight and I know I could never stack wood that neatly.

2014Camino-1070080dmvThe path becomes more challenging as we proceed to Zubiri.

2014Camino-1070083dmvThe views make it worth the walk.

2014Camino-1070084dmvMaybe this should be our mantra today!

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Puente de la Rabia ~ Google

We arrive in Zubiri, which means “village of the bridge,” after crossing the Puente de la Rabia (Rabies Bridge).  In days gone by, they believed that you could walk a rabid animal three times around the central arch and cure it of rabies.   ~Brierley   

We are happy to arrive in Zubiri as we hope to stay here, but sad to find that we are homeless…

Hmmm…  what to do?  Maybe if we walk around the bridge three times we will find beds to sleep in?  Well, at least we won’t have rabies.