Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Scottish Highlands Way

The Commonwealth Games recently finished in Glasgow just
before our visit, and this little fellow was the mascot of the events.
Seems like just yesterday I was hiking the Arizona Trail, doesn't it? But now I'm off to thru-hike the Scottish Highands from Glasgow to Inverness! I won't be following a single trail from end-to-end this time, however. This time, I'll be following a sequence of trails.

The main trail--the one I've wanted to do for years and years, is the 96-mile West Highland Way (WHW) which runs from Milngavie to Fort William. Karolina from Poland--you might remember her from my adventures on the Camino Frances--had emailed me saying she planned to hike this trail (as well as the hundred-or-so mile trail around Mount Blanc). She was buying gear, getting ready, and might have had questions about what kind of gear to buy or my thoughts about camping in the backcountry. She didn't have much experience with that and this was going to be her first solo adventure in the backcountry.

But--here's the thing--I've wanted to do both of those trails myself! For years! And I loved the idea of actually having company on the hike. Obviously, I have no qualms about hiking by myself on remote wilderness trails, and although neither of these trails are particularly remote, I really liked the idea of having a hiking partner for them. The Mount Blanc trail we couldn't get our schedules to mesh, but we were able to agree to a time to hike the West Highland Way together.

Which is how I found myself in Scotland at the beginning of September. Amanda and I flew out a few days early since we fly stand-by and I wanted to make sure I got to Glasgow in time to meet Karolina on the 8th and start hiking with her on the 9th. And it gave Amanda and I time to visit the usual tourist traps around the area that I wouldn't be able to see while hiking the trail.

Now, a 96-mile trail isn't really my idea of a "long-distance" trail. I know most people think it's plenty long, but I can knock that out in less than a week! And, in fact, Karolina only had six days to do it before she needed to go back to work. So I started thinking of ways to extend the hike.

Britain, as everyone knows, is Ground Zero for Dalek attacks.
I'll have to be on my guard!

There are two easy ways to extend a hike--start hiking before the official start, or keep hiking even after reaching the official end. I decided to do both! =)

The West Highland Way starts in Milngavie (pronoucned mull-guy), but the Kelvin Walkway starts in Glasgow and leads to Milngavie. (Technically, it links with another trail called the Allander Walkway which then leads to Milngavie.) But the point being... there was a trail from Glasgow to Milngavie, and it was less than 15 miles. Easy, peesy!

The Clyde Walkway starts about 40 miles south of Glasgow and links with the Kelvin Walkway, which would have allowed me to extend my walk even further to the south. Except.... I didn't really have time to do that. It would have been nice to add that bit, and if I arrived in Glasgow sooner, perhaps I'd have had time. However, from Central Station in downtown Glasgow, I could follow the Clyde Walking a couple of miles to the start of the Kelvin Walkway. It's a waterfront trail following the Clyde River (shocking, I know!). Then, I'd link up with the Kelvin Walkway (which follows along the River Kelvin (shocking, I know!). Which then links up with the Allander Walkway that (hold onto your hats!) follows alongside the Allander River (I know!).

Which finally gets me to the start of the West Highland Way in Milngavie, where Karolina and I would start hiking together for the next 96 miles. Sounds confusing, but to make a long story short, I'd spend a day before Karolina arrived hiking from downtown Glasgow to Milngavie.

But really, that would only extend my hike to about 110 miles, which still isn't really a "long-distance" hike in my book. However, it came to my attention that the Great Glen Way starts in Fort William and continues about 80 miles onward to Inverness, and since the West Highland Way ends in Fort William where the Great Glen Way begins, it would--of course--be perfectly natural to extend the hike to Inverness. Now I had nearly 200 miles of hiking to do! My start time was pretty much set in stone--it was when Karolina arrived--but my end time was flexible.

After seeing these Redcoats, I couldn't be entire sure if I had gone back
in time, or if they were just filming an episode for Outlander! Between Dr. Who
and Outlander, time travel was a very real risk in Scotland. *nodding*
Or maybe it was just a parade....

But nearly 200 miles was a solid walk. Perhaps not a long distance, but it was getting there! With more research, however, I discovered Ben Nevis was just a few miles outside of Fort William. Ben Nevis, for those who don't know, is the highest point in Britain towering over 4,000 feet above sea level. Yeah, I know, in the grand scheme of things, that doesn't sound very impressive except for those of you living in Florida, but considering that it was just a few miles off the trail I'd already be hiking and the views (allegedly) would be spectacular, I figured I should throw in an extra day to bag that peak.

And at that point, my route was figured. Glasgow to Inverness, with a one-day side-trip up Ben Nevis. About 200 miles in total. About two weeks of hiking through the famed Scottish Highlands.

And... oh.... did I forget to mention? All this was happening just as Scotland was gearing up to vote for independence. Things might get interesting! =)

I wasn't sure what to call this conglomeration of trails I intended to hike. The West Highland Way would be the longest segment, and the Great Glen Way would be a close runner up, but neither seemed entirely accurate since it left out the other. Karolina would later ask me on the trail what I was going to call it on Walking 4 Fun, and I admitted that I wasn't sure.

She suggested the Scottish Highlands Trail which I immediately seized onto. Why didn't I think of that?! It's perfect! Glasgow itself isn't part of the Scottish Highlands, but it's right near the edge and about 95% of the trail would rightfully be part of the Scottish Highlands. I changed the last word from "Trail" to "Way" in honor of the West Highland Way and Great Glen Way (even the Clyde Walkway, Kelvin Walkway and Allander Walkway). So you won't find "Scottish Highlands Way" on any maps or websites--it's a trail I invented that leads from Glasgow to Inverness. Oh, yeah! =)

Tune in every Monday, Wednesday and Friday and follow along with Karolina and myself along this trail! =)

Amanda walks into Rothesay Castle....

...where she's thrown into the prison's pit prison!

Rapunzel! Rapunzel! Throw down your hair!

Urinals have style in Rothesay!

Our visit happened to coincide with the Scotland vote for independence. We'd be
seeing a lot of these signs EVERYWHERE! They don't even have to explain
what the "yes" or "no" is for. Everyone knows it refers to the vote for independence.

Edinburgh Castle. Hey, Lea! I can't believe you missed the stamp here! Neener! Neener! ;oP

Well, hello to you too, Scotland!
The World's End bar has been around for centuries! Amanda had to make a special
point of visiting it while we were in Edinburgh since Claire and Jamie
(fictional characters from Outlander, I kept telling her) made a stop here
a couple of hundred years ago.

Amanda has a drink at the World's End! You know, the end of the world....'s not as bad as you might think. =)

Back in Glasgow, and what the heck is that construction cone doing on
this statue's head? (Given the fact that I even saw it on postcards,
it's apparently a permanent addition to the statue.)

We never did find out the story behind that cone, but it did
inspire Karolina with this look!

The People's Palace in Glasgow.
It wasn't all fun and games in Scotland before the hike started. I also needed
to supply for my hike--including fuel for my stove, and in Scotland,
it's called methylated spirits and it was PURPLE!


Anonymous said...

Jamie and Claire fictional. Nay, I think not!

Anonymous said...

You hiked to my home! Well at least the town by my village, Corpach. Hope you had fun on the trail and weren’t eaten to badly by the midgies..:)

Knights of Columbo

Amyrica said...

Woohoo! Any Outlander references would be very welcome! Jealous of you guys!


Lucky said...

Wasn't expecting another trip so soon. I will enjoy tagging along virtually.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for doing this - it's so exciting to see places I'll never see, but would love to..and of course, I enjoy your writings..Walk on! Sally