Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Scotland Holiday, part 1/2

Our summer vacation this year was a month (4 weeks) in Scotland. We began with 4 days in Glasgow.  This Scottish city has made a transformation from a dying industrial city to a vibrant cultural center. We stayed at a gay-owned boutique hotel (Brunswick Hotel) located in Merchant City, the cultural quarter of Glasgow. The hotel was wonderfully situated within walking distance of many of the city’s museums, theatres and gay bars. We browsed the new Riverside Museum of Transportation and Travel, The Burrell Collection, Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum, the Gallery of Modern Art, and the Botanic Gardens. We saw 2 plays: one from the National Theatre of London (“The Pitmen Painters” by Lee Hall) and another from the National Theatre of Scotland (“The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart” by David Greig).

From Glasgow we took the train to Fort William to begin our 2 weeks of hiking. There we met 7 other hiking friends. We have done two previous hikes with most of them. We first met on the England Coast-to-Coast walk (200 miles) in 2005. We reassembled for an Ireland Coast-to-Coast hike in 2008. This summer’s first hiking week was another coast-to-coast walk called the Great Glen Way. It started on the west coast of Scotland in Fort William and made it’s way to Inverness ("the capital of the Highlands") on the east coast (80 miles). We started first with a “warm-up” hike up Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the British Isles (4,409 ft). Miraculously, we climbed it on one of the few clear days. It only averages 10 clear days a year. The rest of the time it is shrouded in clouds. Because it was a rear beautiful day on the mountain, there were hundreds of hikers on the trail.

The next morning we started out on the Great Glen Way. The well marked trail skirts the shores of several lochs (lakes) including Loch Ness and the Caledonian Canal. We contracted with an adventure travel company called Sherpa Expeditions for this self-guided hike. They arrange the booking of Bed & Breakfasts and Guesthouses along the way. They also arrange to shuttle your luggage to the next accommodation. We set out on our own pace with a daypack and lunch. The forts and castles (thirteenth century Urquhart Castle is one of the most picturesque) scattered along the way are witness to Scotland’s turbulent past, from the Iron Age to the Jacobite Rebellion led by Bonnie Prince Charlie who was finally defeated at the Battle of Culloden.

The second week of hiking was along the northwestern coast and on the Isle of Skye. It was a series of guided day hikes put together by REI Adventures. We hiked out of Ullapool and Gairloch on the Scottish mainland and in different parts of the Isle of Skye. From Inverness, we were transported to some of the most stunning areas of the highlands. Picturesque Ullapool is a fishing village whose people have lived off the sea for generations. At nearby Inverpolly National Nature Reserve, we hiked in the second largest nature reserve in Britain. We then passed through the wild moorlands and sparkling lochs to Gairloch, where we stayed at a charming Victorian hunting lodge. In route to the Isle of Skye, we stopped at Eilean Donan Castle, one of the most spectacular castles in Scotland. On the Isle of Skye we hiked along the rugged coast and explored the dramatic Cullin Mountains and Trotternish Ridge (The Old Man of Storr). We visited the Clan Donald Skye & The Museum of the Isles, a historical Highland estate on Sleat, on the southern tip of Skye.

Our fourth week was 8 days at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. This will be the next entry.

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