Day 1: Fort William to Gairlochy, 17km (10½ miles).
We’d been looking forward to this trip for a very long time. Normally we start packing about a week in advance of something like this, but this time that didn’t happen. I dropped the kids off at school, and started stuffing things into other things.
It should be noted that what you see below is a triumph of space efficiency. In those three bags are supplies and entertainment for 30 hours of flights, camera equipment and hiking gear (the hiking pack is inside the duffel), and everything we needed for 5 days in London. Becky is really good at this.
We left PDX around 2pm, and three movies later, we had a brief layover in Amsterdam. The airport there is huge, but apparently not huge enough; we took a bus to a plane that was parked, valet-style, on the open tarmac next to ten others.
We reached Glasgow at 10am the next day, put that giant duffel in a locker at the bus station, and head out to see the city. PRO TIP: there are lots of mobile phone stores in the UK that sell an unlimited-data-on-3G SIM card for £18. Verizon charges about the same amount for international data roaming, but you only get 100MB. Plus, now I can say I have a UK phone number.
We’re huge fans of the Rick Steves touring books, and the one for Great Britain includes a self-guided walking tour of Glasgow! We didn’t have time or energy for the whole thing, but we did manage to stop by the Tenament House (an apartment-sized time capsule from the early 1900’s), and The Lighthouse, an architecture museum and possibly the best viewpoint in the city. The catch is that you have to climb all these stairs to get there.
But the payoff is rather nice.
We made our way back to the bus station, and rode 3 hours north through the highlands. The scenery here is gorgeous. We try desperately to stay awake, but both of us end up snoozing for about 20 minutes. We reach Fort William, and set out to find our lodgings for the night, about a 10-minute walk from the bus station.
Settled in, we stroll under an amazing sunset to a pub for dinner. Here are some things we’ve missed about the UK: local taps, brown sauce, and the butter. Oh, the butter. After dinner, we head back and collapse into bed. It is 8pm.
Here’s another thing we’ve missed about the UK: the Full English Breakfast. Scotland has its own variations on this (like haggis and porridge), but it’s reliable, filling, and paleo-friendly if you avoid the toast.
We stop at a grocery store to buy lunch, and find the starting point. 79 miles from here, we’ll be exhausted and grinning. Until then, it’s one foot in front of the other.
The trail wends through Fort William for a while. It’s the second-largest town in the highlands, but it’s only about the size of Riverton, Wyoming.
These, you’ll remember, are called “kissing gates”.
We found this motley assortment of porcelain pets in someone’s front garden. Only a little creepy.
We stop for a break near a playground on Loch Linnhe. We like to keep a sort of journal on these hiking trips, so we can remember some of the more fleeting details. Last time it was paper; this time, we’ve decided on an iPad. Good decision.
A bit later, we reach the first set of locks into the Caledonian Canal at Corpach. This will be a familiar sight for a while; our first three days are at least partly along canals.
In the background is Ben Nevis, the highest peak in the UK, and a major destination for mountain-outdoorsy people.
We learned on our last trip that lunch should really be two meals. Most days we try to stop for elevensies and luncheon around 11 and 1.
These informational placards are to become a familiar sight as well, much to Becky’s delight. This one led us to take a short detour…
…to find that this part of the canal is actually a bridge! The canal is on top, and an aqueduct is below. This is pretty impressive engineering for something built in the early 1800s.
This is the oldest swing bridge in Scotland, and it’s operated one side at a time – you can see the dinghy the keeper uses to get to the other side.
We reach our endpoint for the day at 2:45, and call our host to come pick us up. This is a major difference from our last hiking trip – our lodgings are so far from the trail that we need a ride to get to them – and we’re not sure how we would have done it without having a working phone. We munch on apples and catch up on our notes while we wait.
This is our first time riding in a car in the UK, and it’s harrowing. Stevie, our host and chauffeur, hurtles down a one-lane road at high speed, and every time we see another car on the wrong side of the road there’s a short burst of adrenaline. At the end is Tigh-a-Glinnie, which offers this view out the window of the lounge:
We catch another ride from our super-accommodating host to dinner at Russell’s, which seems entirely too nice a place for the small village in which it is located. Despite having a reservation, we are immediately seated in the lounge to order, and we’re moved to our table when the first course is ready. We choose some local whisky for dessert, a decision Becky probably regrets. We cab back to our lodgings, and collapse. It is 8:30pm.
[Continued: Day Two!]