An End and A Beginning

An End and A Beginning

As I write this, I’m sitting on a front porch in Virginia in the early morning with a cup of coffee. Jet lag is a pain. As I sit here, I can’t believe that my time in Glasgow has come to a close. The last few weeks felt like a race to end, but then the end came so quickly!

I’m so lucky because my last weekend in Scotland, my wonderful group of friends took a “Last Hurrah” trip into the Scottish Highlands and Isles. It was such an incredible trip! The base of our trip was that we wanted to take the Jacobite steam engine out of Fort William. If you don’t know, this steam engine is the one used in the Harry Potter films as the Hogwarts Express. It travels across the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct, which was also featured in the HP films. This was super cool for me, not only being a huge HP nerd, but also because I always thought the beautiful scenery during the train scenes was CGI! But nope! That’s a real train and a real route through the Highlands.

So the journey starts in Fort William, so we had to take an early bus out of Glasgow to make it to this northern town. Fort William really is charming though. It sits at the foot of the Nevis mountain range and on the shores of Loch Linnhe. It is quite popular for hikers other outdoor sports! We stayed for a few hours in Fort William before taking heading to the train station for our journey.

I had never been on a steam engine before. It was so cool to hear the ‘Chug-a-chug’ of the engine as it plowed along and to smell the burning coals in the air. It felt like we had been transported back in time! Also the views along the way were incredible. I tried to take as many pictures as I could, but sometimes you just have to set the camera aside and enjoy the views. Crossing the viaduct was one of my favorite parts because it is such an ancient-looking piece of architecture and because so many hikers waved and took pictures as we went by!

 

The Jacobite Steam Engine travels all the way to the coastal town of Mallaig, which is was our home base for the weekend. Mallaig is a small fishing town and really picturesque. It is only a ferry ride away from the Isle of Skye and some smaller isles. Once we arrived, we took a short nature walk that gave us some incredible views of the docks and isles. We then got some AMAZING fish and chips and sat along the water to watch the sunset. All in all, it was a pretty incredible day.

 

The next day, we had quite an excursion planned. We got up super early to catch the ferry out to one of the smaller isles called Rúm. There’s only one ferry in the morning and one at night so we were working on a tight schedule! Rúm is a pretty small isle which only a few inhabitants. It’s beautiful landscapes though have made it popular with hikers who are willing to make the trek out to it. We spent the first part of the day getting familiar with the small town center where there is a general store, a post office, and a community center. The lady working the general store gave us some ideas for walks we could do. First we did a short nature walk around some of the farms which showed off the rugged mountains in the middle of the isle. Then we decided to take on a longer hike to the other side of the isle. The general store lady told us that there was a beautiful  sandy beach called Kilmorry that would be a perfect place to have a picnic and go swimming. It was 5 miles away, so we set off! The landscape along the hike was unbelievable. Despite how small the isle was, it has such a variable landscape. Along the hike we saw temperate rain forests, grassy farmland, sandy coasts, and rugged mountains.

 

The best part though was when we finally made it to the Kilmorry beach. I have never seen such a beautiful place in my life. And it was completely deserted. We had a blast on the beach for the afternoon. We brought a BBQ with us and had a small picnic. Then a few of the braver souls decided to go for a swim. It was freezing at first but warmed up pretty quickly in the sun.

 

We spent the rest of the day traveled back to our hostel in Mallaig and heading straight to bed after a day of hiking nearly 15 miles. The next morning it was time to pack up and take a train all the way back into Glasgow. We had to start saying goodbyes in Glasgow, but having had one last adventure together made it easier. Then, a few days later, it was time to board my flight to come back to the states.

Although this is the end for Learning Glasgow, it’s definitely not the end for Learning the World. I may have to settle down for a little while, but my year abroad was just the start of my adventures.

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Scotland in a Day

Scotland in a Day

So believe it or not, I’ve been in Scotland for almost a year and had never been to Loch Ness! Although Scotland is famous for its highland lochs (lakes), they can actually be quite difficult to get to without a car. Thankfully there are plenty of bus tours that take you from the main cities, like Glasgow or Edinburgh, to explore the Highlands! Two of my friends and I decided to splurge on Rabbie’s full-day tour of the Highlands which started in Glasgow and went all the way up to Loch Ness. It’s aptly called ‘Scotland in a Day’.

Now bus tours have their ups and down. There’s the convenience of not needing to worry about driving and directions, but you also have to abide by the driver’s timetable, which can be difficult. There were quite a few times when we wanted to stay longer in a certain place, but we were on a strict schedule! Overall, we enjoyed the tour and we really glad we were able to see some of the most famous Scottish locations.

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Loch Lomond on a grey morning 

Our day started out bright and early in Glasgow City Centre where we caught the tour bus at 7:45am. I will admit I was exactly awake at this point in the morning. Thankfully (for me anyway), our first stop was in a town called Tarbet on Loch Lomond where we got some coffee and snagged some early morning pictures of the Loch. Eve and I were able to see the hill where we did our first (and biggest) hillwalk in Luss way back in October!

It was still a bit gray and rainy when we reached our next  a brief photo stop at theRannoch Moor. Scotland is a really interesting place geographically because there is a fault line running through and the landscape changes quite suddenly as soon as you reach this point. Suddenly, there are rocky mounts and very few trees. The landscape becomes more rugged, but also more beautiful! The Rannoch Moor was an amazing place, with views of the mountain ranges and the glens and lochs.

We continued along our way to one of the most (in)famous and stunningly beautiful places in Scotland, Glencoe. Glencoe is nestled in a valley (glen) between huge mountains. Three of the mounts are known as the Three Sisters. Glencoe is one of the most beautiful places in Scotland, but it is also the site of a terrible tragedy in the late 1600’s. The story is long and complicated, as is much of Scotland’s past, but at Glencoe, clan turned upon clan, and over 80 members of the Clan MacDonald were killed by their guests from Clan Campbell. Despite happening over 300 years ago, the valley pass of Glencoe still holds a quieting sense of reverence for those that died.

We continued our trek north through Fort William and the Nevis range. Unfortunately, due to the rain and clouds, the peak of Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest mountaintop, was hidden in the shadows. But nevertheless, we continued to see some amazing views along the lochs heading towards Loch Ness. We stopped in a town called Fort Augustus on the southern tip of Loch Ness to have a quick lunch break. We really really fascinated by the systems of locks which allows the Caledonia Canal to connect Loch Ness with Loch Oich. We even got to see the main bridge swing open so a boat could pass by!

Finally after lunch, it was time to head to our boat tour on Loch Ness! I was really excited about this part after hearing tales of Loch Ness for years. My favorite part about this Loch is the water. It look completely black! The color comes from the peat in soil, which gives it extremely low visibility. No wonder legends of a monster have endured for centuries! luckily for us, the most incredible of our boat tour was that the sun suddenly managed to break through! Scotland is always beautiful, but it practically glows when the sun is out.

All too soon, it was time to head out from Loch Ness. We drove through the quaint town of Inverness, but didn’t stop. This was the most northerly point on our trip and from there we started back down again. We drove through the beautiful Cairngorns National Park, but alas the rain returned and I couldn’t snag any pictures! Our final stop of the day was in a quaint town called Pitlochry. It was a cute town with shops and restaurants and seemed to be a popular stopping place before heading into the Highlands. We treated ourselves to some ice cream before continuing our final descent to Glasgow. We got back into town around 7:30. After nearly 12 hours, we really had seen Scotland in a day!

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Hiking the Highlands

Just a quick post about another hike I went on! Whenever it’s a nice weekend, we’ve been trying to go for hikes outside of the city. First was the giant hill hike in Luss in October. We’ve done a river walk to the town of Milngavie a couple times now (and finally haven’t gotten lost!)

We had a stretch of nice weather in early May, so the crew headed out for another hike. This time it was an easy hill walk that started and ended at the town of Croy, northeast of Glasgow. This was our nerdy archaeology walk  because it followed along the Antonine wall, highlighting several Roman fort ruins. It was an extremely pleasant walk, only about 6 miles with few hills. The views of the surrounding areas were beautiful and we couldn’t have asked for better weather. And, as always, there was dessert to be had at the end of the walk!

Hiking the Highlands

The past couple of weeks, I’ve been able to travel out of the city for a bit and see the natural beauty of the Highlands. Having been here for over a month now, I couldn’t wait to see the parts of Scotland that everyone always gushes over. And man was it worth it.

My first trip was a class-sponsored trip to the Kilmartin Museum in Kilmartin Glen. This is about a 3 hour drive north from Glasgow through the mountains. Unfortunately, it was raining on the bus ride so I wasn’t able to get too many pictures of the landscape but I promise you it was FANTASTIC. I already need to go back.

This museum is really unique because the surrounding area is full of standing stones and cairns, so the material in the museum was actually excavated within a couple miles of the site. We didn’t get to see as much of the area as I would have liked but the trip itself was a lot of fun. It’s really exciting to see how much local communities care about their heritage here.

 

Lately, my friends and I have been wanting to do some hiking but haven’t exactly had the funds to go too far. So decided to do a day trip north of Glasgow to Loch Lomond. We found a 7 mile hike up a mountain near the village of Luss that promised some spectacular views of the lochs. So we made the plans and with a short hour bus ride out of the west end, it seemed like we were in another world. Luss is a small village that attracts visitors in the warmer months for hiking and boating. We started out our day with a cup of coffee, which we enjoyed on the beach. Just these views alone made the trip worth it.

 

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Fueled with caffeine, it was time to start our hike. And what a hike it was. The path wasted no time easing us into the terrain, but rather started immediately up the mountain. Armed with only a print-out of directions, we did our best to tackle it. The sheer incline meant taking quite a few breaks to catch our breath, also we just used it as an excuse to take pictures. After only walking for a little while, the views of the loch behind us were spectacular. It seemed that every time we stopped for a break, it grew more and more beautiful. Also helps that we couldn’t have asked for more gorgeous weather! Imagine turning around and seeing this:

Amazing right?! But also turning back around and seeing this in front of you:

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The hike became steeper and steeper the further we went. With every ridge we went over, there was always another rising up before us. But seriously so worth it when you could see this behind you.

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Finally though, as we rounded what we thought had to be the top of the mountain, all we could do was laugh hysterically when we saw this rising before us:

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Eve looking at the formidable distance we still had to go.

At this point, our friend Kate decided that she had seen enough. Eve and I decided to forge onward, wanting to conquer the mountain. We continued our trek, needing to stop more and more as we grew winded. I couldn’t tell if it was the altitude or just me being out of shape, but boy was that tough on the lungs. The further up the mountain, the more rocky and boggy the terrain became. I was thankful for my wellies, although I found out the hard way that they had a small hole in each of them! Finally though, after a few more false hopes, we reach the top of the mountain. The views were amazing and the feeling of accomplishment was almost as good. Until we realized that, according to our directions, reaching the top of this ridge was only about 1/3 of the way through the hike. At least the views kept our spirits up!

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A small cairn sits on top of the mountain to let you know you’ve made it!

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Victorious!
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This is my favorite photo from the hike. The loch in the distance looks like a painting!

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Now that we had finally made it to the top, the path lead us around a big horseshoe along the top of the ridge. This part of the hike was particularly boggy, which made finding the path rather difficult but we managed. Eventually the  path looped around the ridge and began to head back down the mountain. For me, this was the worse part. It was extremely steep adn I constantly felt like I was going to stumble down. Oh and just for fun, here’s a view of the ridge we hiked up, taken as we climbing (falling?) down the one next to it:

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Gives you a pretty good idea just how steep that thing was! Once we finally stumbled to the bottom of the ridge, we found ourselves on a paved road that led back to the village. We thought this had to be close to the end, but a quick look at our directions told us that we still had 3km along this road until we reached the trail head. I’m almost positive that Eve and I practically ran that last 3km, the promise of a warm pub lunch calling to us from the village. We did eventually get back to the village to met Kate for a late lunch. We reckoned it took us about 4 hours to finish the hike, which for a 7 mile hike isn’t too shabby! We treated ourselves to homemade scones, sandwiches, warm soup (served in a mug!), and a nice big pint. All in all, a delicious meal and it really hit the spot! After our meal (and a few minutes of digesting), we took a walk through the town. It really is a charming place, with quite a few walking trails, shops, and old churches. I particularly liked the old church and cemetery with its medieval hogback grave stones.

Most everything in the village closes at five, so we decided to start making our way back to the bus stop. After waiting quite a while, it seemed that we missed the 5:15 bus back to Glasgow. Oh well, this gave us a chance to go back to the pub and try their chili hot chocolate. Definitely worth it! img_1326

Finally though, it was time for us to head home. Or so we thought. After waiting about 45 minutes at the bus stop, we began to worry that the buses had stopped running for the evening. The timetable claimed that another bus was still coming just after 7, but we were starting to worry. Just as we were trying to decide if a hotel room for the night or a taxi back to Glasgow would be more expensive, the bus finally showed up. Despite the nerve-wrecking end of the day, we still had a great time and I can’t until the next adventure we get ourselves into!