Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Mountain, Kilts and Curious Tales- United Kingdom, Scotland

Closing the door on one adventure always means opening a door to an exciting new one. With so much left to explore we jumped on a ferry and headed for Great Britain, the first stop on the list was Scotland. Climbing aboard the west highland scenic railway we traveled out from the town of Glasgow speeding through valleys filled with the intriguing highland cattle, who stood before waterfalls that lead into trickling water ways. As we journeyed through the utmost impressive mountains with peaks dusted with powder like snow, I knew we weren't in Ireland anymore.
Without a second thought we headed straight for the Highlands and dove into the nearest escapade. What better way to start our Scotland experience then to concur the highest mountain that the highlands has to offer. Shadowing the little town of Fort William, Ben Nevis stands at 1344 meters and it is not one for the faint hearted. With a panoramic view from the summit that can extend  as far as 190km, James and I were more then eager to rise to the challenge and take on 'The Ben'. Staying at the Ben Nevis Inn Bunkhouse it was the perfect location, situated right at the base of the mountain. The bunkhouse had a fantastic school camp feel that let out a sense of warmth. Sharing the bunkhouse with us were nine guys who had come down for there annual hike, with there two endearing Huskies Gabe and Oscar. Who quickly turned the bunkhouse into shear madness, making me feel quite at home.

After weather reports of rain, hail, snow, lightning, temperatures dropping to as low as -17 and serve gale force winds of up to 80km, it was strongly advised not to summit that day unless fully prepared with crampons and snow gear. Taking all of this on board and knowing that not everyone who attempts the climb comes back down at the best of times we decided to throw caution to the wind and dive straight into it, despite the fact we were not prepared in the slightest. After a strenuous start battling rain and strong winds it wasn't until we had reached just above the half way point that we realised we were well beyond our means. At the tip of the snow line we were still in the game, until the snow began to come rolling in. Winds became more server and the snow fall quickly began to cover the designated path making it slippery and dangerous. Looking forwards visibility became difficult as the cloud moved in with the snow. Not in any hurry to get caught in a white out, the only move was to admit defeat and begin the decent. Shattered the only thing left to do was to retreat to the pub for a warm hearty meal and a well deserved pint. Sharing stories of the day with our fellow bunkers, we were eager to hear how these well seasoned climbers went. Hearing that they too also failed to summit as they struggled through knee deep snow was reassuring to our failure. Learning that this was by far the worst weather conditions they have ever attempted to climb Ben Nevis in. 'The Ben' might have won this time but we will most definitely be back to climb another day. 

One of the brilliant things about Scotland is there is always another mountain waiting to be taken on. So we cut our losses and set out to the Isle Of Skye. The island of forts, cliffs, mountains and some of the most beautiful terrain I have ever seen in my life. Situating ourselves in the capital city Portree, it was the perfect base camp and the window to all the wonderful things that Skye has to offer.

In the heart of Portree we found lovely scenic waterside walks, dabbled in there many craft stores and stumbled upon a great little market filled with handmade local goods. Stepping away and heading North was were the true adventure awaited. Having a taste of Ben Nevis we were ready to climb again. Next in line was The Old Man of Storr. The Storr is the highest point on the Trotternish peninsula and stands at 719 meters. It is said to be one of the most spectacular sights in the Island, and I can certainly vouch for that. Making our way up the steep rocky hills we began venturing off track, finding our way around the mountain exploring and climbing rocky walls that lead us to great little nooks and crannies with amazing look outs. After a grueling hike through winds and rain we were greeted at the top by a burst of sunshine. As we sat under the pinnacle and looked out past the rocky shaped land that stretched out over the ocean all our hard work and effort was instantly rewarded. I would climb The Old Man Storr a thousand times over just to have another glimpse of what its views have to offer.

Next in line on the Scottish escapade was the famous Loch Ness. Setting up base in the small town of Drumnadrochit we were ready to explore the mystery of the Loch Ness Monster. Suddenly falling ill I was left to rest all day in bed, leaving James in charge of soaking up as much information about Loch Ness for the both of us. Spending the day in the Loch Ness Exhibition Centre taking on all the scientific facts about the Loch and the sightings of the infamous Loch Ness Monster. James had taken my instructions very seriously, and was on a search for the The Monster code name 'Slippery Sausage'. Jumping the fence later that night to Urquhart Castle James spent the evening roaming the castle grounds exploring all its beauties. Being the site of many Loch Ness Monster sightings he made sure he kept an eye out for any possible glimpses of 'Nessie'. 

After already missing out on so much the days before I wasn't going to let anything else get in the way of seeing Loch Ness in all its glory, I didn't travel half way across the world to sit and watch opportunities fly by. Although not feeling one hundred percent I decided to persevere and push on. Being a beautiful sunny day with not a drop of rain in sight we decided the only way to see the best of the Loch was from above, which meant yet another mountain to concur. Standing at 535 meters the Meall Fuar-mhonaidh summit was a 13.5 mile (21.7km) round trip. After walking four long miles to the foot of the mountain I was ready to give up and turn back for bed. After some bribery and a lot of coaxing by James I decided I would suck it up and continue on. Venturing on wards and upwards we made note that unlike back home in Australia there was no wildlife out and about, not even insects and flies. In saying that it seemed I had spoke all to soon, feeling better in the sunshine I trotted along leading the way. When in the corner of my eye emerging in our narrow rocky pathway was a little snake. Disturbing him from his sunbathing slumber I wasn't sure who caused more of a uproar, him or me. As I screamed and broke into a hysterical cry he hissed and began to strike the air around him. Luckily James was there to sort the both of us out, although I think dealing with the snake was nothing in comparison to having deal with me. Shocked at the sight of a snake later research revealed that our little friend was an Adder snake. The only poisonous snake to be found in England and the only snake in all of Scotland. Some may say we were very lucky to experience such a rare occurrence. I on the other hand I have a very different view on the whole story. Disheveled we continued on through the upper slopes struggling through rough and boggy terrain. Just as we thought we were about to reach the very peak the path lead us to descent. As we began to rise again the pattern continued, rising just to fall once more. One more incline turned into three which turned into five, was there no end. The final incline was the best and worse feeling of my life. As we finally reached the top I dropped to the floor immediately laying on the warm rocks smiling as we soaked up the sunshine. Although the views from above reached out to both the north and south side of the Loch with the utmost breathtaking views for me it wasn't the highlight. The journey and the struggles along the way was what truly made it worth its while. Without darkness there would be no light, sometimes you've just got to take the bad times with the good. 

Moving along we found our way to Scotland's capital, Edinburgh. Upon arrival we were instantly greeted by the towns castle perched proudly upon castle rock in all its glory. With its old stone buildings and cobble stone roads the town breathed Scottish history. There is simply not enough words to begin to describe this enchanting city, I'm not even sure I could if I tried. We spent the days wandering through the streets soaking in every aspect. Visiting the museum and learning the grounding fundamentals of the countries heritage and lineage was a great building block to begin our Edinburgh castle tour. Visiting the castle is a must and a great way to get lost in among the history for a few hours or so. It also has some of the most amazing views that reach out over the entire city. Although Edinburgh is a beautiful city there is always two sides to every story. Joining a free tour called "The real free tour of Edinburgh" was a great eye opener. A young Scottish man runs the tour every couple hours about five times a day and as the name suggests, yes  it is completely free (although tips are highly recommended). It starts at the Cathedral where from there he takes you on a short walk around the city visiting some of the towns statues. With his witty humor and the great love for his country, he lays it all out on the line. Showing us some of the beauties and telling us some of the tragic stories that lie beneath. A tour I highly recommend as there is no better way to learn about the history of the city your visiting then to hear the stories of the people that lived through it.Three days in Edinburgh were not merely enough. I could spend a lifetime soaking up every inch of the cities richness.

For now we must travel on, but Edinburgh and Scotland will always be just around the corner. 

The Wanderers Daughter xx

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