Our Travel blog
We're aware that this blog is becoming a bit of a love letter to Scotland. We have been spoilt by the glorious weather and spring air and today as we explored Glen Nevis was no exception. The Glen is a long L shaped valley that cuts through mountains including Ben Nevis and the tongue twisting Aonach Beag and Sgurr a'Mhaim. All of these peaks are well over 3500 ft, with Ben Nevis, as mentioned yesterday the mightiest of them all at 4406 ft. We considered climbing Ben Nevis by the easier of the two main routes but the toils of recent climbs dampened our spirits for such a challenge, so we contented ourselves by exploring the valley on a 12 mile hike with, because we are foolish people who should know better, more climbing than we anticipated.
We started along a logging road in the Nevis Forest, striding through crowded pines where sunlight peaked through the foliage. In the shade of the steep dense woods the air remained distinctly chilly but where logging had cleared the forest we walked in brilliant sunlight that seemed to wash the detail out of the mountains around us. In these cleared areas gorse had taken hold, glowing bright yellow and fragrant in the still air. Gorse, and in particular its sweet woody smell always reminds me of family holidays taken on the East Coast. My mother and father wandering on ahead with the dog in tow and me moping along behind. I was usually lost in my own little world, one that didn't include endless drizzle, dank holiday chalets and parents who thought sheets were an extravagance. From some unknown source my father requisitioned paper sheets for our holidays. These were advertised on the packet as strong enough to last for a fortnights holiday and ceremoniously distributed to me on the first night, when I was reminded that we only had one set each. By day two mine were inevitably ripped. After the third night it was like sleeping in ribbons of fibreglass. By the fourth night I'd dispensed with them altogether and slept under a course army-surplus blanket that was only marginally more comfortable than sleeping in a gorse bush and most certainly less fragrant. But I digress.
We followed the road down to the Glen floor at Achriabhach and had a picnic at the Lower Falls. This is a magnificent waterfall in the Waters of the Nevis River that splits around an orange rock into two gushing noisy courses, where they are joined by the gentler Achriabhach Falls in a steep sided gorge with deep, crystal clear waters and exposed smooth red rocks. While eating we were entranced by a small bird that took to landing on rocks in the stream, diving in and swimming around before fluttering out, having a good shake and then finding a new spot to dive again. In the clear waters we could watch it swim smoothly under the water, every bit as graceful as it was in the air.
As we were without Alison's books on wildlife we (well, in truth I) christened it the Lesser Spotted Marsh Tit Nibbler. Fortunately Alison can be relied upon to fall into conversation with anything more sentient than a tree and on this occasion it was a sprightly old lady who informed us the bird was a Dipper, because it dips into the water. Which just goes to show that Ornithologists have no imagination.
We struck out on the path to the south of the river, following its course through boggy fields, tree lined river banks and up and down the sides of a hill to emerge at Paddy's Bridge. Here the main path crosses the river and joins the small road up to the Glen's head. We however continued along the path we'd been walking on and picked our way across a soft watery plain that slowly grew narrower until the imposing rocks of Cathar na Seilge started to draw in. Here the path diverged again and we choose the right fork alongside an old rusting fence that quickly rose up to the point where we were picking our way hand over hand up tree roots, around gullies of weather exposed quartz and rocks standing proud of soft downy grass recovering from its winter under the snow. Higher up, the shadows danced in the light breeze, moss flowed over the rocks and we came upon old trees, wizened, twisted and hung with lichen, stark and sinister among the sparse pines. Here we chanced upon a plateau overlooking the Glen where we had only birds for company. We sat in stillness breathing in the sense of peace in our own secret place among the mountains.
Revived from the remains of our picnic we resolved to head back down and, as is the way of these things, we found ourselves back on the valley floor far quicker than expected and retraced our steps beside the river, at times deep and rapid between narrow rock walls and at others flowing broad and slow over pebbles. We crossed Paddy's Bridge and walked along the road to the Lower Falls. Occasionally we spied the distant bright colours of climbers high up on the cliffs, tiny figures clinging to the rocks, highlighting the immense scale of the mountains and, for all our achievements, just how tiny we are in this landscape.
We traced a route back along the road until a delighted squeal from Alison announced the presence of Highland Cattle. There were several long horned shaggy ginger beasts and a couple of pure black ones in a field and, slightly more worryingly, one on our side of the fence. We dallied a while with a couple from Arizona who like us recognised a bovine photo opportunity when they saw it. Alison chatted amiably to the cows and the Americans for a while. Ray took pictures and when we were both satisfied we walked back along the river, by now more genteel and stately as it drifted through the Glen. We wandered through lush green fields where sheep scattered as we passed and eventually up onto the road for the final trek to the site's restaurant where we refreshed ourselves with beer, food and, by way of a special treat a dram from their extensive whiskey menu.
Sadly we didn't see any more Lesser Spotted Marsh Tit Nibblers though.
Yesterdays exertions took their toil on us. Physically we woke to stiff legs and aching joints. Emotionally we were tired and tetchy. Driving through to the village of Glencoe we tried a car park but although there was a suitable space it was covered in broken glass. Irritably we pulled out and intended to go up the road to find an alternative. However we found ourselves on the B863, which essentially runs in an oval around Loch Levin.
Well, this little road was simply wondrous and as we undulated around the slopes, through strands of pine and along the Loch side our troubles receded. The sun sparkled on quartz, exposed by the streams running from the Pap of Glencoe and Garbh Bheinn on the Southern side. We stopped and climbed beside a waterfall of crystal clear waters running over pure white stone and up to look back over the blue of the narrow Loch. On this fine Spring day it looked almost Alpine. We lunched beside the River at Kinlochleven, on the Eastern tip of the Loch. Its a becoming little town, isolated by at least 6 miles from Glencoe and further via the Northern shore but it boasted an Ice Climbing centre, some shops and The Aluminium Story, which we passed over. The fact it was closed was only one of the many reasons we could think of to avoid it. Presumably the settlement was formed around this industry and closing it must have taken its toil on an isolated community such as this so it was refreshing to see it, if not thriving then at least heading in the right direction. It also sits on the West Highland Way and every so often heavily laden sweaty people would trudge by in a determined fashion.
We left in better spirits than we'd woken up in and took off to Fort William, where every property on the long drive in alongside Inverscaddle Bay seems to be a B&B, most indicating that they had no vacancies. As the town serves as the finish, or start, of the West Highland Way presumably they do good business with walkers. The town was pleasant enough but its the first time we've really been faced with so many shops selling tacky 'Scottish' merchandise. There were only so many tartan hats, tea towels, nessies and models of gormless scottie dogs we could take but its saving grace came in the unlikely form of Tesco's where we found vegetarian haggis so we forgave it everything, bade farewell and swung Mavies into Glen Nevis where we pitched up under Nevis Forest in the shadow of the mighty Ben Nevis - at 4406 Ft the UK's highest peak.
We made plans to explore the area tomorrow but for now the picture perfect beauty of the lush Glen nestling under the mountains and forests were the perfect tonic for us. We pitched up, got the chairs out and sat outside under blossoming trees with the sun setting behind, lost in our own private worlds just listening to the river gurgling over stones and the birds singing.
On a crisp bright morning we took the ski lift to 'The Basin.' At 2,300 ft this forms the main ski area in season and although it had patchy snow left in the crags and higher slopes all the other ski lifts, pulleys and other paraphernalia were closed and the area looked rather shabby and neglected cleared of its icing of snow. We walked around the boggy patches, away from the detritus of the skiing business and onto fresh ground upwards to a ridge and prominence that forms part of the Clach Leathad mountain.
High clouds were now obscuring the higher peaks and at our altitude the wind whipped around us but we were rewarded with magnificent views across the bleak looking Rannoch Moor with its twinkling Lochs and the A82 slicing through it. The sharp bright smell of snow was in the air as we descended to the footpath and made our way down the very rocky, very steep slope with loose scree and rocks that you thought were solid but moved alarmingly when you put your weight on them. It was worth walking down though as we tracked alongside the stream tumbling over numerous waterfalls on one side and the mountain bike route on the other. Occasionally we were rewarded with the sight of heavily armoured bikers whizzing past and taking off over frightening jumps in their pursuit of the ultimate adrenaline rush. As fellow thrill seekers we went for the high octane option of lunch in the cafe before heading back to Ballachulish to get the wing mirror fitted.
With a bit of time to kill while the garage worked on Mavis we wandered into the visitors centre and cafe. We had seen signs for a Folk Museum at nearby Glencoe village but I vetoed this on account of far too many visits being dragged around by my father, looking gormlessly at displays of old farming implements, corn dollies and sinister looking mannequins who all seemed to looked like Eddie Izzard dressed up as Worzel Gummage. I doubt my father actually liked folk museums but they were very cheap, or free, and gave shelter from the rain. My father was firmly of the opinion that if you had to pay it wouldn't be worth the price of admission. He was born to accountancy in the same way fish are born to swim. Thus Canham family holidays were characterised by long walks, sandy picnics and on rare occasions when money reluctantly changed hands a round on the crazy golf course. As we'd inevitably be holidaying out of season in gale force winds you risked decapitation by the whirling blades of the windmill. On holes facing the wind your ball would be blown back to you as soon as it came to rest. I suspect this was a ploy by my dad to maximise value for money.
On one memorable occasions he received a small parking fine for marginally overstaying our time. So incensed was my father that the rest of the holiday was spend trekking from free parking spots out of town, in some cases in villages a few miles inland, carting a days supply of food, bucket and spade, wind break, waterproof clothing and suchlike. We'd then have to divert by a car park so he could tally up the amount saved in his notebook. Thus we spent a fortnight hiking through Norfolk until, on the last day he could triumphantly declare we'd re-crouped the fine amount and could return home with our heads held high. When I returned to school they sent a note home worried that I had lost so much weight and my mother had to explain I'd been 'on a walking holiday.'
Back to today and the garage did us, and Mavis, proud. They charged a bare minimum for labour and then gave us loads of helpful advice on where to go and what to do in Scotland. Charming, honest, helpful and cheap are not words we readily associate with garages so we are delighted to endorse Lochside Garage in Ballachulish in the unlikely event that you're passing and need mechanical assistance.
On the journey back Alison reflected on the accident and that apart from the shock and the expense she felt bitter that it had stolen some of the joy of driving from her. It was a knock to her confidence and she was wary of oncoming vehicles, especially on the busy road with lots of other motorhomes and lorries. She then shrugged, indicated right and swung Mavis into a parking space that the average Smart Car driver would bulk at, and brought us to a stop overlooking the Three Sisters range at Glencoe Gorge, the place we had briefly explored the day before. Having shown exactly how good a driver she is we set off to walk up a very steep path. Upon reflection, to use the word 'steep' is to miss an opportunity to use the words 'near vertical'. The route took us up towards the snow capped Bidean nam Bain mountain following the 'near vertical' rocky path that zigzagged to the left of a deep gorge carrying fresh snow melt waters to the river below, over waterfalls and through fresh green trees precariously lining the stream's route.
Heading up I immediately regretted the beans I had for lunch, but not as much as Alison who was following me. Pausing to recover our breath (from the climb...and beans) we spied 3 young male deer silently grazing below us. They were clearly aware of our presence but carried on eating with occasional glances in our direction. It was a privilege to share their territory and we climbed on with renewed vigour after our encounter.
The path lead on to an impressive waterfall and small hidden pools in a tiny high valley, but our shadows were lengthening and the sun was soon to fade from view as the paths steep walls obscured it for another day. Choosing a lone rock as our target we clambered up to it, exhausted but very happy. Here we looked up towards a majestic snow capped peak with its waterfall bleeding into a lean and noisy youthful stream and we watched its path down through its broader more sedate middle section to where it joined the main river in a stately meandering fashion.
And so we started the climb down. You may think it curious of someone who loves mountain walks and only today was on a ski lift, but I have a lifelong aversion to heights. It is a physical reaction and usually easily managed. Mostly I ignore it, occasionally I have to give myself a stern talking to and very occasionally I have to wrestle it into submission. Like today.
Coming down over the same, cliff hugging path, I carefully felt for each step and held on to anything more solid than air. Edging my way around I got to halfway when my foot slipped, only slightly but enough to cause me to pause. I felt a chill and the beginnings of involuntary spasms in my calf muscles that accompany rising panic; a characteristic of my dread of heights. I froze for what seemed like minutes but was only a few seconds, until Alison's calming words got through, expelling the intrusive fears, and with an internal cry of "fuck it, I'm insured" lurched forward for the next solid rock and continued crab like to more solid ground, where Alison gave me a hug and reminded me that I'm not insured any more.
The rest of the descent was characterised by us plodding carefully down more solid but uneven stones to level ground where secretly we knew our descent was akin to two graceful mountain goats skipping gaily from stone to stone with careless abandon, even if it looked plodding and ungainly to the untutored eye.
Our neighbours on the Oban site are a couple in their mid 60's and have been civil but dour and monosyllabic for the last two days. Today as we packed up ready to hit the road they morphed into Willie and Margaret from Perthshire, the worlds most talkative couple. What a lovely morning it was with them. Married for over 40 years Willie is originally from Glasgow. A Rangers fan, for a 'wee while' he played professional football, turning out for Sunderland until life took him in other directions. Nowadays he's a doorman at Gleneagles Hotel, where he's met many a celeb, but is most proud of his picture with Sir Alex Ferguson. Margaret worked in retail but is now a self employed gardener and has worked on some big estates. She took great, and well deserved, pride in showing us around their caravan, which they leave at the site and visit whenever they can.
Enjoyable though our time with them was we needed to get going - I excused myself and got busy doing little jobs by way of a hint, including running the engine for a time. Eventually I dropped a sack over Alison's head and bundled her into the back of the van before speeding off. You can tell that last sentence was a lie because I'm still alive to write it.
Once under way we took the A85 where we joined the A82 again for the trip up to Glencoe. People have told us this is a spectacular place, except Willie who thinks its a bit drab and colourless, so we were immensely excited. Sadly, not far into the A82 some idiot in an American style motorhome took his corner excessively wide, and we were both saying how he was on the wrong side of the road and travelling too fast when a loud bang interrupted us and our driver side wing mirror scattered over the road.
Being on an already narrow road and with traffic piling up behind we did the only thing possible and carried on until we could safely pull over a mile or so further on. Ray carried out some running repairs, salvaging the wiring and generally trying to look butch and like he knew what he was doing. Once over the shock, and with dangling wires secured Alison bravely took the wheel again and we ploughed on to Glencoe.
Shock slowly turned to annoyance at having to sort it out, as well as the inevitable cost of course, and the fact we've no idea about the other party. We hope that they've learned a lesson, and if not that they meet every single midge Scotland has to offer. After a stop for a cup of tea (we're English after all) the scenery started to calm us as we drove across broad planes between mountains glowing green and gold in the sun or menacing and rugged in the shade.
Glencoe Mountain Resort, our site for a couple of nights is a base for skiing in the winter, so a chairlift leads up to The Basin, a plateau half way up the mountain from where ski pulls and another lift take customers up to a variety of runs. It also has a couple of mountain bike tracks and does a healthy summer business taking hikers, mountain bikers and those just curious to see the views up to The Basin at 2,300ft.
Once pitched up we made some calls and were directed by a garage in Fort William to a nearby one in Ballachulish, as they were concerned they were a bit too far away and a local garage would be easier for us. Cheered by their decency we duly presented Mavis for inspection and let the record now show that Lochside Garage in Ballachulish is a rare gem. After gently showing us the cost of a replacement wing mirror on his notepad with the kindly manner of a Doctor imparting grave news, the proprietor bade us return tomorrow when he'd fit it and we could resume our travels.
Buoyed by his helpfulness we stopped at the Glencoe visitor centre, which was making every effort to close early by the look of it, so we didn't linger but instead stopped further on and explored a bit of the Glencoe scenery up close. The river Add cuts through the rocks between the mountains, fed by waterfalls and streams that bring snow melt and rain from the mountains down narrow tree lined gullies that slice through the high valleys in bright contrast to the bare rocks around them. Lower down they become broad scree lined streams that meander through the lush valley floor seemingly in no hurry to meet the Add.
It was all most refreshing and we returned to a battered Mavis in a better frame of mind. Although we really do hope the midges are biting wherever the other motorhomers were headed!
We walked to Oban from the site, a distance just shy of 3 miles but we took the windy scenic route up and along the hills. Once we'd negotiated the boggy bits and climbs we were rewarded with stunning views across to Kerrerea and Mull beyond. We passed a bleached sheep's skull, and quite a few other bits of it as well scattered over a few feet. It's either been prey to something or its parachute didn't open.
We could witter on about the views but by now I fear your tiring of endless descriptions of sunny hills and Lochs, besides I'm running low on adjectives and feel the need to re-stock before we hit the road again and head through to Glencoe. Which we're reliably informed requires a whole new vocabulary. So for now lets content ourselves with our trek to to Pulpit Hill viewing point from which the views were delightful.
On our decent we met some serious walkers, kitted out in khaki shorts, waistcoats with multiple pockets, hi tec walking hats and every other accoutrement the man in the shop could sell them. In-spite of all their gear they were navigating from a map that was essentially an oval marked out in red dotted lines on a piece of white paper with Oban written on it. There was no indication of heights, distance or from what I could see landmarks. Nevertheless they were jolly and intrepid and after seeking directions from us set off in roughly the right direction with a jaunty determination to their stride.
Oban isn't the most picturesque town, with a busy port ferrying people, goods and suchlike to the nearby islands but in the sunshine the waters sparkled and people went about their business in the slightly lethargic way that a blazing sun educes.
We had our obligatory post walk cuppa where we watched a woman painstakingly move individual cakes in the display cabinet with tongs, taking great care not to come into contact with the tinyiest morsal. She then took step back, eyed them with a critical look and rearranged them by hand.
After an amble about and an indulgent stop in the Chocolate Shop cafe we walked back along the road. By now we were both glowing pink from the constant sun, despite liberal applications of sun-cream, which didn't stop us sitting outside Mavis to enjoy the sunset back at our site.
We treated ourselves to breakfast at the hotel adjacent to the site, and very good it was too. The site and hotel are all run by the same people and you get the impression that their location on the Loch brings people in and they don't have to try too hard. The site amenities were basic. Few of the locks on the doors worked and robust and inoculated though we are we didn't take our chances with the showers. The hotel had a lightly faded look about it, although work was going on in preparation for the season ahead and everyone was friendly. They seemed curiously reluctant to take our money - to pay by card you get a chit to pay at the bar, which the staff didn't seem to know about and at breakfast they assumed we were from the hotel and invited us to partake of the full Scottish breakfast with trimmings until we told them otherwise. They did however set us up for the day, not just because our stomachs were now lined with a full fried breakfast but because they only charged us "for two wee kiddies meals because you did'nae take the other stuff..."
So we turned South and retraced our steps on the A82 then branched right, away from the Loch and onto the A83. This must be one of the great driving roads in the UK, if not the world. From the top of Loch Long every twist and turn revealed another view more breathtaking than the last. Rugged peaks burst from forests of pines that bordered the road, deep greens with strands of bright new growth woven in uneven strands. It looked like someone had applied camouflage paint to the forest. We traced a stream of iron coloured water tumbling over sun bleached rocks and stopped to breath in the silence under the towering edifice of Beinn Ime. Its odd how the absence of any sound can become an almost physical presence. Like a weight placed around you, muffling the outside world and heightening the splendour of the all that we see.
Back aboard Mavis and the natural beauty inspired the poet in Alison to describe it as "like being enveloped in a cocoon of silence." Still on the A83 we dropped down to the sea water Loch Fyne which we crossed at its Northern most point and drove down the Western shoreline. The poet in Alison surfaced again as she described exactly where the driver who overtook on a bend could stick his car. Thankfully the calming influence of Loch Fyne worked wonders and we drove sandwiched between bluebell woods and sun kissed Loch. We paused at Inveraray, a small, eloquent settlement with a picture postcard high street of white painted shops, a neat little harbour and the town jail, set up now as a tourist destination. The Castle had the appearance of a child's drawing; squat with a fairytale turret at each corner, and the Green overlooking the Loch was scattered with tourists mingling with locals on their lunch break, all basking in the sun.
Reluctantly we moved on and through the vibrant trees to areas where great swathes have been felled, leaving hillsides strewn with the debris of hurried logging. It reminded us that for all its attractiveness this is a working landscape, and as we joined the A816 North at the splendidly named Lochgilphead we entered broad flat farming land with fields of cattle, and sheep grazing the inhospitable slopes with their playful newborn lambs. We stopped outside the village of Kilmartin. You probably haven't heard of it, we hadn't until we chanced upon it in a guide book, but it is one of the most important pre-historic and early history sites in the world. Around Kilmartin Glen, in a radius of just six miles there are at least 800 recorded ancient monuments; standing stones, burial cairns, rock art, forts, carved stones and duns (old forts). As well as this richness it's also home to Dunadd on the river Add. This was reportedly a royal centre where Scotland's earliest kings were inaugurated.
We selected a pleasant way-marked stroll from our stopping point on the Add to Kilmartin village via some of the pre-historic sites. Starting with standing stones, some with ancient carvings or cup and ring marks as they are known - basically neat circles carved into the stone for unknown but probably ceremonial purposes. These stand in a quiet glen with nothing but sheep and the occasional curious tourist like us for company. Especially bewitching was a single stone, alone in its own undisturbed daisy carpeted field. A reminder that whole civilisations have risen and fallen, countless wars been fought, species beyond measure have become extinct, men have walked on the moon and these stones have stood in the same spot, silently oblivious to the passage of time.
Nearby were stone circles, some marking graves. These areas have been re-purposed over time, so that what may once have been a grave site, become a ceremonial site, a meeting place for tribes or places for trade, with evidence of iron from Ireland and deep black jet jewellery from Yorkshire among local finds. There are three main burial cairns, a fourth was destroyed in the 1800's, that are aligned with the stones. A smaller but well preserved cairn sits near the standing stones with a grave, apparently of a child, on its outer ring. A lot of the rocks placed over the cairns were used by locals for building and even in Victorian times when their importance was appreciated and serious research was being conducted, quarrymen carted off barrow-loads of stones. Now they are preserved and cared for. You can go inside one cairn and see the grave within including its cup and ring marked stone lid. After nearly falling backwards into the grave Alison then wondered if the markings were actually where someone was clawing to get out. On that cheerful note I led her out for some fresh air and a cup of tea in the village.
Kilmartin Church sits up high overlooking the Glen, with an unusual stepped graveyard encircling the hill it sits on. The graveyard holds a collection of intricately carved medieval stone grave markers which, like the rest of the attractions we visited, had bold, informative information boards, were well tended and completely unguarded. To top it all there was no admission charge. The Scots do seem to appreciate that they are custodians of this history rather than owners and they take that role seriously, but without assuming any self importance or propriety over it in the way we seem to in England. If someone like English Heritage got their hands on Kilmartin Glen they'd charge you admission, put a multimedia centre in with over priced crap, expensive cafes and huge car parks. Without doubt you'd be prevented from actually wandering up to and around the attractions but have to content yourself with a peak from 500 yards away and an interactive experience where you could see a plastic copy up close. The National Trust, to choose one example, charge you to visit the fort at Hadrian's Wall - but its free if you just want to walk the wall as long as you promise not to look at any archaeological remains along the way. There is a sign halfway to the fort reminding you not to peek unless you've paid. I may have made that last bit up about the sign but I wouldn't put it past them.
Anyway back to reality and at the small Kilmartin museum there was a shop selling local art, books and postcards, a cafe run by a local young entrepreneur and toilets you could use whether you were a customer or not. As you can probably tell we were quite taken as we wandered back to Mavis, who we'd left shaded by trees and parked for free in a car park with an area for motorhomes and information boards without the graffiti and chewing gum that seems requisite south of the border. Scotland, I think we're falling in love with you.
Now rather weary after our journey and wanderings we headed further North to the town of Oban and along the tiny road to the site a couple of miles South of town. The road was just wider than Mavis and at one point we met a lorry coming the other way who kindly reversed into a passing place. Even so it was very tight and, windows open from pulling in the wing mirrors we scraped along a gorse bush, quite a bit of which ended up in Alison's seat, back and legs.
Our troubles were soon forgotten when we saw the views from the site. We looked over the Sound of Kerrera to the island of Kerrera with the peaks of the Isle of Mull rising behind. As it was still light at 9:30pm we took a walk out of the site through bluebell carpeted woods to the shoreline. As the sun set over Kerrera and with the gentle breeze wafting the scent of wild flowers and pine out to the ocean beyond we shared one of those perfect moments of utter stillness and calm. A magical end to a special day.
Firstly sorry that there are no pictures to accompany this post, we are on a slow Wi Fi connection.
Our intention today was to get the bus into Glasgow city centre and when we thought we had missed the first one we took a coffee in a restaurant connected to the amusement park. It arrived with a small yellow cube that Alison thought was cheese, and that maybe coffee and cheese was a quaint Scottish custom we'd yet to encounter. It turned out to be vanilla fudge which was altogether more pleasing to the palate.
The bus arrived late due to a fault and the kindly bus driver took us in for free by way of compensation, although we did wonder if we were there to help push if it finally broke down. Happily we arrived safe and sound in the city centre where Ray was delighted to cross Killermont Street, as celebrated in the song by Aztec Camera. We walked along Buchanan Street from the generic high street shops down to the bars and seedier end where the M8 motorway thunders through the city.
Turning left we walked beneath the motorway to the banks of The Clyde where we picnicked in the sunshine, well away from the roar of the motorway. Lunch done, the riverside walk took us to the curiously Parisian Glasgow Green, with its stone archway, tree lined avenues and resplendent winter gardens. The park wasn't crowded, even on a balmy Sunday afternoon but informal games of cricket and football were being played, toddlers wandered about in that tottering bumpy way peculiar to under 3's and couples promenaded along the walkways or sat in hunched conversation on the lawns. It was a timeless scene from any city anywhere when the sun comes out and people can grab a few precious moments to relax away from busy streets and busy lives.
Reluctantly we left the park and dallied a while in the bric-a-brac markets in the distinctly Irish part of town, pausing to catch a fine rendition of Christy Moore's Viva la Quinte Brigada escaping from a bar. En-route we chanced upon the Celtic supporters, returning from their fixture against Aberdeen. As we walked against the tide of green and white every person appeared dour and serious, engaged in earnest conversation with the person next to them. All this we took as a sign that their team hadn't performed well so it came as a surprise to read later that Celtic had in fact just won the Scottish Premier league.
Climbing gently past the massive Tenants brewery complex we entered the necropolis that looks down on the rest of Glasgow. Its higher than the nearby Cathedral and every bit as imposing and atmospheric as you'd expect a city of the dead to be. The stonework of the monuments and tombs has the rough blackened look of a lot of Glasgow and are arranged in a higgledy piggledy fashion on steep uneven slopes, with little byways and overgrown paths branching off the tarmac walkways. John Knox's monument took pride of place, looking down onto the Cathedral at the highest point and was well worn by sightseers, although it wasn't clear if that was because of the vantage point his commanding position gave for pictures or from people paying homage to the father of the protestant reformation in Scotland.
There were only so many tombs we could admire in one afternoon so, as it was time for evensong, instead of viewing inside the Cathedral we crossed a busy road with a large group of German tourists and trailed them into a house opposite. Fortunately for us it was the former Provand's Lordship's House, the oldest recorded dwelling in Glasgow and happily open to the public and not someone's front room, which would have been embarrassing. It was a pleasant diversion, with an interesting array of period furniture, Royal portraits and background information about the house's history. Because we had to catch the last bus back to the site we didn't linger to view the formal gardens, which looked splendid when glimpsed from the windows whilst browsing the house, but instead walked back into the centre and were reunited with our friendly bus driver who again refused to take payment. Apparently the bus was laid on for visitors to the theme park and the fare was redeemed against the entrance fee and thus, for us who were not visiting the park, it would be very pricey. Even the inspector who was chatting to the driver said he hadn't seen us, ushered us onto the bus and bade us a good day.
So we returned to the site in good spirits, refreshed by the good folk of Glasgow and eager to down some cold beers in the fading May sun, which we did with due ceremony.
We left the site and immediately entered Glasgow's motorway system. On the one hand its very useful to speed through a city and out the other side without the congestion of somewhere like London. On the flip side the map looks like someone's spilled spaghetti on the page and navigating it resulted in dialogue along the lines of "Was that junction 7?" "I don't know, I think it was 18b" "But according to the map that's in Leeds...Oh look there's the Cathedral again."
After taking the North rather than the intended South route and now safely in the hands of the sat nav we headed out of a city that looks to be building in every available space. All along the route new houses were going up, each one a carbon copy of its neighbour. Painted green they'd make ideal houses for a giant game of Monopoly. Whatever Glasgow's other charms its people were the star for us, polite, helpful and giving of themselves in a kindly fashion. If only they'd speak a bit slower I could take an active part in discourse with them, a problem that didn't seem to afflict Alison who is updating the Christmas card list as I write.
So we headed North and wound our way through the Trossachs National Park to the Western shores of Loch Lomond. The mountainous fringe of the Eastern shore, at first hazy and indistinct slowly revealed their colours of greens, browns and purples as the day wore on. Small islands hug the shores, with tufts of erect trees sprouting above stony shores. At the southern end the Loch was azure blue, gently rippled by the breeze but further up it took on the colour of rich peat, slightly golden like a well aged whiskey.
So entranced were we that we stopped to paddle on a small, isolated beach. Well Alison did while Ray fiddled around with the camera. She returned with blue feet, either because it was cold or she'd trodden on a smurf. Either way we scrambled up the bank, crossed the almost deserted highway and to the joyful tunes of Paul Simon we cruised ever upwards keeping the Loch with its rugged backdrop to our right until, in a rare moment of spontaneity we decided to spend the night at a site at Ardlui on the northern most point of the Loch, where the river Falloch feeds it.
We had a spot overlooking the small marina, sandwiched between peaks on either side, some still with traces of winters snow. Alison took immediately to befriending everyone, and our kindly neighbours spotted a possible punctured tyre on Mavis. One re-inflated tyre later we returned the favour by inflating their air beds.
Not wishing to stereotype, but they did eat nothing but fried food, drink Tenants from the can or Iron Bru from the bottle and they spoke in a rapid staccato way, as if each sentence was being kept in until the absolute last second and then released in a rush of exploding air. But they were friendly and welcoming and we got on well until they decided to get up at 5:30am the next morning, slam their van doors and talk at a volume that probably sent ripples down the Loch.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Back to today. We took a walk out of the site, but everywhere seemed to lead to narrow stretches of heavily littered road so we contented ourselves with watching the setting sun cast playful shadows over the peaks and troughs of the steep Loch banks. We watched sparrows giving themselves dust baths or hopping over the grass as if it was red hot, swallows swooping down over the waters to hoover up insects and a duck with 9 ducklings in tow, proudly fussing over them and rounding them up when they drifted off too far. We heard a cuckoo's lonesome call, somewhere upstream a goose honked in that slightly cartoonish way they have, a robin trilled an evening song and a contented bacony burp erupted from next door.
By the way, I'm fairly confident on the Cuckoo, reasonably okay with the goose and less so with the robin. It might have been a chaffinch, skylark or a stoat. I'm not great on ornithological matters. For years I thought pinemartin's were like housemartin's but favoured coniferous trees. I lived in dread that after cleaning the toilet they'd fly in and nest, unable to resist the pine fresh scent. Alison has wisely bought pocket sized guides to birds, wildflower's and suchlike from charity shops and has binoculars so is clearly an authority. I bow to her judgement on all wildlife matters, and much else besides.
We set out early today as we are heading to Glasgow . We went via Windermere through the Kirkstone pass on the narrow A529 and alongside Lake Ullswater to join the M6 at Penrith. And what a glorious route it is. As it was early Saturday morning traffic was light and we played leapfrog with a French Motor home as we vied to get the viewing spots large enough to accommodate us. With rare foresight we'd prepared breakfast for the journey so 10 minutes out of Windermere we parked up under Red Screes looking across the path to the ridge beyond and down into the valley.
It was a beautiful spot to stop. Two ewes, each with a tiny lamb in orbit kept us company. We ate rolls, drank coffee and lingered a while to breathe in the spectacular views. Rocky outcrops wore wigs of moss and grass, rivulets ran down lonesome hills and trickled into the streams below and it was all wrapped up in a myriad of greens and browns dotted with battleship grey sheep and runners in dayglo panting their way over fell and dale. Further along some of the higher peaks still had a capping of snow. It was all very fetching and the stop meant we could drink in the surroundings without running the risk of scraping Mavis down a stone wall or flattening a cyclist. It also meant Alison was spared Ray's running commentary on sights she'd just missed.
The French motorhome whizzed by as we'd made sure there wasn't room in our little haven and thus truly satisfied in mind, body and inter-racial rivalry we sped on. The next spot was nabbed by our rivals in a haze of Gallic smugness but at the ample Kinock Pass car park we made our own détente by the universal language of motorhomers - the slightly shy wave.
Coming down from the pass the road fringed Ullswater along its Western shore. With the sun out it felt like driving around an Italian lake or The French Rivera in a 1960's film, probably featuring Sophia Loren. Ullswater showed signs of coming to life with canoes and small dinghies being launched and an air of busyness about it. For a while we kept pace with a steamer chugging through the lake before we branched left and onto the M6.
After our recent adventures on the motorway we were relieved to find this stretch meandered pleasantly, and soon we were on the M74, dropping down from high ground towards Glasgow. Our site is in Strathclyde Park, which hosts Strathclyde Loch, some water sports facilities, the remains of a Roman Fort and bath house and M&D Amusement Park which boasts that it's Scotland's first theme park. It looked very compact and rather worn but then we were seeing it from the wrong side, as it were and judging by its popularity over the weekend it must be doing something right.
While parking at the site we had one of those restrained disagreements couples have where neither party wants to upset the other so frustrations simmer. Fortunately we're quick to clear the air, especially as the main reason was our inability to understand the others parking instructions. This was largely because we'd never bothered to explain what all the frantic arm waving and odd pointing the other party could see in the rear view mirror was intended to convey. With that sorted and not wanting to waste a breezy but dry afternoon we walked through the park and headed uphill towards the nearby suburb of Bellshill, on the outskirts of Motherwell, to get some groceries. The route lead us into an estate where whippet thin teens in mis-matched tracksuits lurked, pudgy toddlers trailed busy mums and stern faced women in quilted jackets and determined looks marched along exchanging news. We passed a grim, forbidding pub in which serious drinkers nursed pints behind chickenwire covered windows and and skirted cheerless armour plated shops. The school was a riot of primary colours behind heavy duty fencing. Nevertheless everyone we encountered on the more welcoming Main Street and in Tesco's were friendly so we grabbed a reviving cup of tea and Ray threw away his I Spy book of estate cliches.
We walked back on a different route through well trodden but wild and informal parkland. It made a refreshing change from formal Victorian parks favoured by many cities. The path wound through glades of gorse, straggling briar's and mature trees. At one point a railway viaduct seemed to burst out of dense foliage over a deep gorge where far below the river made its tumbling way to the loch. The route was longer on the way back but worth it; at times we felt as remote as one can in a city the size of Glasgow and returning to Mavis we relaxed with the now obligatory cuppa.
We walked out of the site and across a marvellous cable foot bridge that spans the broad river Kent, followed the river for a while in the mid morning sunshine and then joined the path of the disused Northern section of the Kendal to Lancaster canal.
The canal suffered from leakage because of fissures in the limestone and the section we were on was formally closed in 1955. Although some of it was filled in its easy now to trace the route and happily for us, the former tow path makes great, level walking. Most of the original bridges are still in place, marking the canal's path like sentinels from another age. Its hard to imagine these remote structures that now span meadows and pastures where sheep graze once crossed busy waterways alive with industrial traffic and even packet boats providing a passenger service.
Sheep now litter the landscape with their busy lambs in tow, in turn both curious and nervous of our presence. We walked with the sparkling river below us weaving around the green rolling hills, the rugged foothills of the Lake District in the distance and the sun shining on our backs. After an hour or so we left the course of the canal and descended into Kendal, pausing for a cheeky al fresco cream tea overlooking the river.
Kendal was a delight. We were particularly taken with the Yards; narrow lanes that run at right angles off the High Street. These are similar to Edinburgh's Closes along the Royal Mile, only in Kendal no one tries to sell you tartan flavour fudge or shortcake with a hairy cow on the tin. What we expected to be offered was mint cake but the only place we saw it for sale was in the Tesco Express in the centre of town. Curious, as the mint and sugar confection, apparently invented after a batch of peppermint creams went wrong and formed a 'mint cake', is the only reason that Kendal is known; at least to us.
Anyway we wandered the town, took a fine late lunch and sought refuge from the sun in the church, with its ornate font lid, a towering wooden sculpture that lifts up by way of pullies to reveal the baptismal font below. We didn't linger as the organist was clearly learning a new hymn or, more accurately, wasn't learning it and there are only so many false starts and bum notes one can take before muttering language that ill becomes a place of worship.
The journey back was hampered somewhat by a recurrent achilles problem that has troubled Alison for a while, but she set her face to its most determined expression and led the way, valiantly making it back in time for us to catch the fish and chip van before an evening watching the Masterchef final with an ice packs applied to her ankle.
And finally we must nominate two people for a mention in dispatches. Firstly the site warden for her cheery and helpful disposition during our trying journey, for running such a lovely site and for being so eager to help. Secondly the post lady in Kendal. We had a card to post and found a letterbox that a curio shop had taken to covering with its wears, so much so that we were uncertain if it was in use or for sale so 100 metres on we asked the post lady, who informed us it is in use but rather than see us retrace our steps took it for us. A small but kindly act carried out with good humour and a willingness to help that warmed our spirits.
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