Friday, November 14, 2014

Day 12: The End of the Great Glen Way

It's looking to shape up as a gorgeous sunrise!
Sept 19: I woke up to an absolutely beautiful sunrise--a nice way for the trail to tell me goodbye. I was only about seven miles from the end of the trail so it seemed likely I'd finish today. It would have been difficult not finish today!

I also had the mildly interesting question running through my head.... what country was I now in? =) The vote for independence was yesterday, but camped out in the woods, I had heard nothing about the results. Obviously, if they voted to become a separate country, it wouldn't have happened overnight, but I was a little amused at the thought of arriving in the United Kingdom then leaving the country of Scotland without ever crossing any international boundaries. =)

The walk into Inverness wasn't particularly noteworthy. At one point, I saw a sign pointing to a picnic area and xylophones--xylophones?! Although it was off trail, I was curious enough to follow the sign. I found the picnic area which even included a rope swing that I swinged around on (does that make me a swinger?!), but I never did find any xylophones. They probably just put that sign up to suck curious people like me into looking for them. =)

The last few miles headed through the city of Inverness and its suburbs. The trail reconnected with the Caledonian Canal, which the trail had left by Loch Ness, but it only reconnected for a few minutes before crossing the canal on a bridge and leaving it again to follow the shores of the River Ness. The Ness Islands I found interesting because it was filled with "unusual" benches, but I had trouble getting decent photos of them since they were invariably in thick trees and not well lit. The cloudy skies didn't help matters either.

The trail ends at Inverness Castle, which I found easily enough, but I spent the better part of 10 minutes walking around the castle looking for a marker marking the end of the trail. Surely there was a marker somewhere. The castle didn't appear to be open to tourists--it's now a courthouse and county hall. Eventually I found the marker at the bottom of the hill with the castle, right where I walked in. In fact, I had read the marker, which explained the history of the castle including the fact that it had been attacked over the years by: Edward I of England and Robert the Bruce during the Scottish Wars of Independence in the late 13th and early 14th centuries; Donald, Lord of the Isles (1411); Mary, Queen of Scots (1562) and Charles Edward Stuart, "Bonnie Prince Charlie" (1746).

The sun finally makes an appearance!

I had failed to note, however, the plaque detailing the Great Glen Way and its terminus was on the other side of the monument. Ooops. =)

Once I got that figured out, I walked over to the train station where I learned I had just missed the next train to Glasgow by a few minutes. The next one would leave about two hours later at 12:53 in the afternoon.

To kill time, I first headed over to the library where I got online and emailed Amanda about my arrival in Inverness and that I expected to be on the 12:53 train. I'd have to switch trains in Perth, then--if all goes well--arrive in Glasgow (Queen Street Station--no sense having her wait at the wrong train station!) at 4:45 that afternoon.

Then I walked over to a Marks and Spencer where I bought a cheap lunch and took photos of all of the newspapers on the rack celebrating the decisive no votes that voted down independence. It wasn't even close--nowhere as close as polls had been predicting. I had little doubt that there were a lot of people who were severely disappointed at the outcome, though, and were probably getting drunk at a bar somewhere to wash away their sorrows.

Now that my hike was done, I searched the Coke bottles for one with Amanda's name. I had seen two already but only saved the wrapper since I wasn't going to carry a full bottle of Coke a hundred miles for her! Well, I would if there was a good reason for it, but for a bottle of Coke? That's not really a good reason in my book! But I wasn't hiking anymore and by golly, I'd love to present her with a full bottle with her name on it! =) (In hindsight, I should have kept an empty bottle, then filled it up with Coke when I reached Inverness and how would she know otherwise?)

The sun, however, didn't make an appearance for long before hiding behind the clouds again.

So I searched the grocery store shelves for Amanda's name, and after eating lunch at the train station, searched another store selling bottles of Coke. But alas, I couldn't find Amanda's name anywhere. Figures... just when you want one, they disappear!

The train finally arrived and we boarded. I sat down at a table with three other people and apologized in advance if I smelled--I had been hiking for the last 11 days and my last shower was back in Glasgow! They assured me that I didn't smell, but I'm not sure I really believed them....

The entertainment for the train ride was a group of four girls, one of whom was about to get married. Amanda told me it was called a "hen party," but it's just a bachelorette party.

"But on a train?"

"Mmm... Maybe they were on their way to the hen party."

Yeah, that might make sense. In any case, they were quite entertaining to watch and eavesdrop on. The bride-to-be wore a silky green dress with a bra on top made of candy. And they started making up her hair and putting on her makeup, and not in a "you'll look great" kind of way, but more of a "we think this would be funny" kind of way. They also seemed to go through multiple bottles of champagne (or some sort of alcoholic drink) which seemed to lift their moods as well.

It all came to an end, however, when the train arrived about an hour later in Perth and I had to leave. The girls stayed on--presumably on their way to Edinburgh. A few minutes later, I boarded the train to Glasgow which was crowded thick with people and had standing room only. An announcement was made that there was another train to Glasgow that would arrive in about 10 minutes and likely would be a lot emptier for anyone who cared to wait the extra 10 minutes. I'd have done it in a heartbeat except... I already emailed Amanda that I'd be on the train that was scheduled to arrive at 4:45. I didn't want to take the chance of missing her by catching the next train, so I endured the standing room only.

But as bad as that was, it was probably worse for everyone else who had to stand because they had the pleasure of standing next to a guy who hadn't showered in 11 days and hiked over 200 miles during that time. =)

The train eventually pulled into the Glasgow Queen Street station, a minute or two late, where I found Amanda and Barry waiting for me. I wasn't entirely sure if Amanda would be there since I hadn't gotten a reply to my email before I logged off and Barry I wasn't expecting at all. (Barry is a local that Amanda knows and has known since he was just a wee little boy. Before Amanda and I started hiking, we stayed at his parents place outside of Glasgow.) So although I wasn't expecting Barry at all, I wasn't surprised to see him either.

Barry had to leave due to some prior commitments, though, and Amanda and I headed back to her hotel so I could take a much needed shower. Then we went out for dinner and to walk around Glasgow before retiring the night.

The next morning, I was flying back home... my time in Scotland was at an end!

Long time readers are probably not surprised, but for those of you who'd like to do your own virtual walk across Scotland, I've added the Scottish Highlands Way as the newest route to Walking 4 Fun. Take your own 201.5-mile walk from Glasgow to Inverness! (And you'll even be able to shower every day!)

I was as surprised as anyone to find this sign for xylophones. Even though it was pointing off trail, I did follow it around on a loop, but I never did find any xylophones. *shrug*
The picnic area was here, though!
Complete with a rope swing! (I would have taken photos of myself swinging on it, but it's hard to take photos of yourself on a rope swing. Trust me, it just doesn't work very well.... *shaking head*)
This sign amused me since the road had been gated off from traffic in both directions. Look both ways... for what, exactly? =)
This monument describes the Great Glen House--the headquarters office of Scottish Natural Heritage and the Deer Commission for Scotland. It's also one of the greenest buildings in Scotland, at least when it was built a few years ago.
Great Glen House
Not the clearest day, but at least it never rained! It didn't rain at all on me between Glasgow and Inverness! (One person told me that when it doesn't rain for more than 10 minutes, it's considered a severe drought.)
Tunnel art!
That Nessie, always LOL'ing.... =)
Amanda would love this playground at Whin Park!
I gotta admit, though, I kind of liked it myself. =)
The River Ness
One of the many strange benches on the Ness Islands. (The Ness Islands are islands in the River Ness.) Each bench was strange and wonderful and completely unique, but all of my other photos didn't turn out as clear as this one so this is the only one you get to see. You'll have to go to Inverness and see the rest for yourself!

Hey! Just because I wore a skirt one day doesn't make this a ladies walk!

This monument marks the end of the Great Glen Way at the foot of Inverness Castle, but it took me about 10 minutes to figure that out because from this side, the plaque only describes the history of the castle. It's the back side of this monument where you'll find the plaque describing the Great Glen Way and the fact that this is the terminus.
Inverness Castle, not open to the public despite being a public building!
View from Inverness Castle
Oh, yeah... there was that whole election thing about Scottish Independence that happened yesterday. How did that turn out?
They voted it down. Scotland, for now, will stay in the United Kingdom. I didn't wake up in a new country after all!
The window is full of wonderful stuff like Pop Tarts and Lucky Charms. I'm a little surprised they think so highly of American candy if that's what they consider to be American candy!
A distant cousin of T.J. Maxx?
My train ticket back to Glasgow! The train would whisk me from Inverness to Glasgow in less than 4 hours. It took me 12 days of walking to cover that same distance!
Waiting for the train in Inverness.
Hen party on a train!
In Glasgow, Amanda wanted to stop for dinner at this bar.
I voted to stop for dinner at this coffee shop. (Instead, we settled on a restaurant with Italian food.)
Now it's your turn to hike the Scottish Highlands Way! Virtually, at least.... You'll also see a lot more photos that didn't make the cut for this blog! =)

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Day 11: Election Day!

When I woke up in the morning, I found this stowaway on my groundsheet.
Sept 18: I woke up to some of the thickest fog yet which limited my visibility to about 20 feet. Views of Lock Ness would be lacking today! Unless, of course, the fog burned off or the trail dropped below the clouds. I couldn't tell if the fog went all the way down to the water level, but I suspected it did.

The trail passes a lot of clear-cut areas along the route and today was no exception, but today I actually saw the logging operation in action--a single machine that could chop a tree down, strip it of branches and leaves and cut the trunk into convenient lengths. It ate up the trees one at a time, but was remarkably efficient and it fascinated me to no end. I took several videos. They aren't exciting videos, but maybe you'll find it interesting too....

Late in the morning, I arrived in the small town of Drumnadrochit. Don't ask me how it's pronounced because I have absolutely no idea! Immediately as I walked into town, I remembered that today was the BIG DAY! It was election day in Scotland! And it was kind of an important election since today would decide if Scotland was going to break off from the rest of the British Empire--or not. If the polling station I passed wasn't enough of a clue, the newspaper rack filled with election day coverage should have been a clue as well.

But I couldn't vote, so I just amused myself by watching the proceedings. According to the latest polls, the vote was a statistical dead heat. Those for Scottish independence seemed certain that they would carry the day, while those who were against it seemed certain it would fail. Based purely on the banners and signs I saw along the trail, the "Yes for independence" signs far outnumbered the "No thanks" signs. I didn't really give such a crude count much credibility, though. Just because the "Yes" signs far outnumbered the "No" signs didn't mean more people wanted independence--it just meant that they were much more vocal and probably had much stronger opinions about their views. A vocal minority doesn't win an election--just the war of signs!

I absolutely hate those stupid signs for or against propositions or politicians. It seems incredulous that anyone has ever seen an election sign in a stranger's yard and think, "You know, I was going to vote no, but because this person I don't even know posted a sign on his house and a bumper sticker on his car, I've changed my mind. I'm voting yes now!"

Seriously? Does that happen? I suppose it does since those signs come out year after year and, as evidenced in Scotland, in countries besides the United States. Worthless heaps of paper.

But strangely, being in Scotland where I couldn't vote, I found them more amusing than annoying. Especially those Yes and No signs on the exact same pole. I still think the GDP of Scotland probably went down by 0.0001% with all of the time and money they spent making signs and posting them, but hey, it wasn't my money or time being wasted this time. =)

At the market, I resupplied food and noticed that they had Kinder eggs. I remembered Karolina first telling me about these eggs with a toy inside, and I also remembered Amanda telling me that they're actually illegal to take into the United States. Illegal! A simple chocolate egg with a toy inside? Apparently, the United States considers it a choking hazard for children, and therefore Kinder Eggs are banned in the United States. Nevermind all of the other choking hazards that are allowed into the United States, but Kinder eggs? Nope.

To be fair, it kind of makes sense. You put little plastic toys that kids can choke on inside actual food, it probably makes the choking hazard more significant than if the toys aren't in a food item.

But because I knew they were illegal in the United States, I wanted one! I wanted to buy something a little dangerous and illegal. A black-market toy industry. At least it would be if I were in the United States.

So I bought myself a Kinder egg and a "Ryan" Coke bottle (they had my name--how could I not buy it too?!) I parked myself on a pretty bench in an adjacent park and ate an early lunch then tackled the Kinder egg for dessert. =)

I photographed the whole process. Unwrapping the egg, cracking it open, opening the container containing the toy, then putting the toy together. There's also a video of me using the toy since the photo doesn't really show the toy working, but it's an awful video since I had one hand on the camera and the other trying to work the toy. And... well, it's a stupid toy anyhow. I grew bored of it after using it twice.

The fog was thick and spooky in the morning!

But still, I felt a little sleazy just using it at all, and I decided to keep the toy. =) I figured it was probably okay to take the toy into the United States minus the chocolate egg. It's still a choking hazard for children, but at least it's no longer in something edible! And come on, I don't even have any children! And Amanda should know better than to choke on this toy!

On my way out of town, I passed by Nessieland then left town on a horrible, busy highway. At least there was a sidewalk to walk along, but that might have been the worst mile to walk of the entire Great Glen Way. No views are boring, but a busy highway with fast moving traffic and no views is even worse!

Once I got off the road, though, the trail improved with a few small views of Loch Ness before heading over a ridge away from the Caledonian Canal and Lock Ness. All-in-all, it was an uneventful walk and I set up camp about 7 miles from the end of the trail. Which was great since I could hike into Inverness the next morning and take the train into Glasgow in time to catch up with Amanda during her layover there. That was my plan, at least....

Lock Ness is out there in the distance somewhere!
These signs have all sorts of interesting information about the history, people, geology and natural history of this area. Here's a few facts these information boards have about Loch Ness:
  • Lock Ness is around 800 feet (244m) deep at its deepest point and about 23 miles (37km) long.
  • Has a surface area of about 21 square miles (56 square km).
  • Has about 263,000 cubic feet (7447 million cubic meters) of water—enough to keep a city the size of Inverness supplied for around 18 months.
  • A depth of 500 feet (152m) only 60 feet (18m) from the shore at Foyers.
The Great Glen Way actually goes over this creek on the bridge, but I went down to get some water. I was running a bit low and wasn't sure I had enough to make it to town at the time.
This gate made me laugh since it's impossible to close! It doesn't reach out far enough to latch onto anything to close it! =)
Sheep on the trail!
One of these animals is not like the rest....
Stupid sheep are still on the trail.... I swear these animals are some of the stupidest you'll find anywhere. They could have stepped off the trail and I would have walked right on by, but I "chased" them down the road for the better part of a mile before they finally figured that out!
Lots of cobwebs lit up with condensation!

Logging operations along the trail.
I found myself engrossed at the efficiency of this tree-cutting machine!

The "goal posts" over the road are so vehicles with high loads don't accidentally hit the powerlines between them.
Overlooking the town of Drumnadrochit.
I thought these black dots on the leaves were a bit odd... that can't be good for the trees!
It's election day!!!!! I predict that the turnout is going to be high! =)
Seems like something important is happening today. But what could it be? =)
When I found this cute little bench in the park by the market, I knew I'd have to eat lunch here!
Yep, got the Coke bottle with my name on it. Check!
Got the Kinder egg--my act of rebellion against the United States. =)
Inside the Kinder egg is THIS!
And inside the capsule in the egg is THIS!
But what could it be? (Besides a choking hazard, that is!)
The toy from the Kinder egg in action!

They need to train every Tuesday and Thursday for a tug 'o' war? Seems to me like one practice session ought to be enough! Maybe even one practice session could be considered excessive....
Drumnadrochit must get a lot of tourists from outside of the United Kingdom if they have to remind drivers to drive on the left side of the road in six different languages!
They don't call this Nessieland for nothing!
You get the feeling that we're near Lock Ness? =)
Watch out for spiders on the trail! (I've gotta admit, I never would have thought my camera could take such an awesome spider photo!)
The sheep are always watching....
If you can't find Nessie by Loch Less, it's because you aren't looking very hard! =)
"Across the bay you can see the ruins of Urquhart Castle, a highly important fortress which gave control over this part of the Great Glen. For at least the last 1,500 years there has been a stronghold on this site." (As seen on one of those informational signs.)
These were pretty much the only views I saw of Loch Ness today.
It's a questionnaire about the trail I can fill out! Oh boy! Oh boy! Oh boy! =)
(Yes, I really did stop to fill it out--I'm not being sarcastic.)

The highest point of the trail! Actually, those two "high route" I followed yesterday did go pretty high and it wouldn't surprise me if they were higher than this point. But since both "high routes" are new, it's possible that this marker hasn't been moved to the new high point--if, in fact, one of them went higher than this point.

This is just an adorable little playground!
I sense that there's a cafe not far ahead....
I sense that the cafe has refreshments too.
And 100% cocoa. I'd never consider visiting a cafe without 100% cocoa!
And what about something to eat? Like sandwiches? Oh, you've got that too?
Some hot chocolate might feel good on a cold day like this, eh? =)
But what if I eat a big meal, fill up with hot chocolate and get tired. Then what? Vacancies at a campsite too?! You guys think of everything! (But I still passed the place by. And please note that I didn't even include half the photos I took of their signs on the 1 kilometer walk to the cafe or all of the signs facing the opposite direction when leaving it! They went a little crazy with signs!)

The clouds never did burn off. They did lift a bit to provide better views, but at no point during the day did it ever clear up.
Caterpillar on the trail!

The last sunset on the trail....