The beauty of waking up in a bed and breakfast rather than the tent is that there is nothing to organise or prepare, just wander downstairs, say yes to a full cooked breakfast and gaze out the window at the lightening morning. We were committed to only one task today, climb Ben Nevis mountain, the largest in Britain at over 1300 m. Although it does not compare is size to those we have walked in Switzerland the hike starts a measly 50m above sea level, the rest is up to us.
About 2.5 hours into the progresssively steeper section of the walk on loose rocks we commented that there had not been a single step taken in a downward direction. Another hour later and we both felt the burn creeping into our legs and to make things even more interesting the visibility declined rapidly from endless views down glacial valleys to a mere 20 metres ahead. Thankfully the mountain was crawling with likeminded crazy hikers and the path was well marked with cairns, large mounds of loose rocks which grow over time as passing walkers add their contribution to ensure the safety of those who follow.
Now deep in the clouds and swimming through the cutting wind filled with pellets of icy water we finally made it to the top of Britain. A truly surreal landscape lay before us with cutting flints and jagged cliffs slipping in and out of view. It didn't matter that the panorama was obscured by cloud cover, or that the journey up took 5 hours, we knew long beforehand that the only sight we looked forward to seeing was each other smiling back with the satisfaction that comes after such a lot of effort.
Down is harder than up! Knees knocking and heads bobbing we rolled back down with the realisation that our young knees don't feel young anymore. At the bottom we took a final glance up the valley of Glen Nevis at the ancient landscape and towering hills before a final nod indicating that a tick in our 'must do list' for the trip can be entered. Dinner was an extravagant affair in the carpark of the B&B. Sounds terrible but eating out gets very tiring so a quick mash of vegetables and rice was great. Sleep came moments after we entered our room, what a great day.
After another cooked breakfast all we craved was fresh fruit and a cup of tea. Back on the road again we headed to Neptune's Staircase, a series of 8 interconnecting lochs which make the passage from the North Sea to the Atlantic possible via Loch Lochy, Loch Ness and through the fjord around Fort William. Chatting to the loch attendants we learnt all there is to know about lochs, basically the water from upstream runs into the lower loch, who would have guessed!
Lazily strolling across the top gate and to our surprise a steamtrain heading to our next destination was casually puffing down below. Ok, ok it was kind of planned that we would see the steam train go over the Glenfinnan viaduct some 15km away but we had lost track of time, the race was on. Driving recklessly out of the carpark we topped out our speed chasing the train at a hair raising 30 miles an hour while Camilla hung out the window to capture some great images of the train in full flight running along the loch. At Glenfinnan viaduct (used on the way to Hogwarts in Harry Potter) we joined the other 30+ trainspotters with time to spare. After the excitement, which lasted around 30 seconds, was over we visited the information centre and learnt what we could of the numerous highlander battles before climbing the monument.
Lunch was enjoyed next to Loch Lochy Laggan Loch (we had fun with that name for hours) before following the cross country lochs including Loch Ness. No sighting of Nessie was made however we were visited by 3 jet fighters at low altitude when admiring Castle Urquhart from distance.
Onto Inverness our time was spent wandering through town, across the bouncy suspension bridge and stocking up on supplies for the evening meal. On cousin Anne's suggestion we aimed at the Cairngorms, a picturesque mountain range, to find accommodation. Later in the evening we finally came to a stop at a sport and recreation holiday park where we enjoyed a walk along Loch Insh before retiring.
Leaving Loch Insh and the Insh marshes behind we visited a stronghold for the Scottish army, Ruthven Barracks, set in the centre of a valley commanding awesome views of the surrounding countryside. In Dunkeld we stopped at the Police Station / Corner Store / Cafe / Post Office / Souvenir Shop to post the Britain book back to Rob and Sarah in London (thanks guys) then set ourselves up by the river for tea. Admiring the fast flowing waters with rich coloured tanin we noticed a fly fisherman going through the motions of casting at an angle where the light caught the whip of the line and fall of the droplets perfectly.
Through Cupar we dodged the hundreds of schoolkids out for lunch and continued on our way to the birthplace of golf. At St Andrews we resisted the temptation of running for a look at the famous 18th hole on the Old Course, instead choosing to set up on the beach for our final self catered hot lunch of spaghetti bolognase with mushrooms and spaghetti. The cooker and kitchen set has been one of the greatest investments on the trip as it has given us the opportunity to vary our diet, remain mostly healthy and enjoy cooking local ingrediants often with a better view than even the fanciest restaurant.
At the 18th hole we realised it looks like most other golf courses so to amuse ourselves we watched a couple of groups tee off and wished that we could join. Unfortunately there were three reasons we couldn't; 1 - Dress code, 2 - Own set of clubs, and 3 - Justify the $600+ green fees for two players! Camilla received a consolation in the form of her first golf glove and some souvenir golf balls to be lost at a course back home.
Now inspired to learn golf and return one day on a bigger budget we stopped at St Andrews Catheral ruins before taking the scenic drive down the east coast via Crail.
After enjoying watching the countryside roll by we made a final, and somewhat hurried stop due to cutting it fine for dinner back at Anne and Douglas', at the Firth of Forth with its towering road and spetacular rail bridges. With a howling wind it was an impressive sight seeing the Firth of Forth waters below whipped up to whitecaps. Crossing the road bridge we were funneled into an unplanned detour around Edinburgh which made us hopelessly late for dinner (approx. 45 minutes which on Camilla's watch is unforgivable).
Arriving at Anne and Douglas' we delighted to be welcomed back, enjoyed fine Jamie Oliver cuisine kept warm in the oven and after chatting about the weekend ahead we slept like drift wood.
With the most hectic month of travel now behind us the day promised to be great with Anne, Douglas and daughter Gale as our guides. First stop was the not to be missed Falkirk wheel. Similar in rise to Neptunes 8 canal locks the Falkirk wheel rotates boats from a higher canal to the water below using less than 10 kettles worth of electricity per turn. Camilla and Douglas combined their efforts to explain the physics behind the masterpiece (Archimedes and displacement of water balancing calculations) while Steve, Gale and Anne admired the asthetics before a cup of coffee in the cafe.
Next stop Castle Campbell set in a ravine over the pretty town of Dollar. As we approached the castle as if planned a Russian bride and Scottish groom were piped into the courtyard with us in close pursuit. Adding to the ambiance of our visit were the familiar tones coming from the bagpipes which carried effortlessly to our ears even at the top of the tower.
On our descent we bumped into the happy couple after the ceremony and became onlookers to the festivities to follow in the garden. As planned, Anne led us up the nearby Bunk Hill which as a child she use to climb and wave down at her Grandma in Dollar. We waved and were not surprised to receive little interest from the townfolk below.
Relaxing in the car we drove past the Wallace monument on our way to Stirling Castle. Reflecting on our luck at coming across a wedding complete with piper at Castle Campbell we joked that in order to top off the day a full pipe band outside Stirling would suffice. After touring the grounds and exploring the many rooms of the enormous complex we found ourselves looking down from the turrets at, you guessed it, a full pipe band on the lawn outside.
Topping off the day we treated our guides (and ourselves) to a lovely dinner at the Riverhouse Restaurant. In the evening we had drinks at the Orchard Park Hotel, formerly the infirmary where Mike Hall, Douglas and Englands current Prime Minister were all born. We enjoyed a great day with great company.
North Berwick, east of Edinburgh, was our major destination for today where we would be meeting up with Laura (eldest daughter) and her boyfriend Paul. On our way we stopped first at a country motor museum where the real action was outside. As if our luck from yesterday was continuing we chatted with the owners of almost 20 classic cars on a touring trip around Scotland. Deciding that we had learnt sufficient amounts about cars we skipped the museum and instead opted for coffee in a local art gallery.
Meeting Laura and Paul at the station we walked around the corner to the local pub for a wonderful Sunday roast (don't forget the trimmings). Full and satisfied after lunch we took a long walk on the beach and before we knew it Anne had jumped into the North Sea without a wetsuit while we remained dry and warm on the sand. Next stop the Bass Rock Bird Centre for refreshments in the sun (Irn Bru and Ribena juice). While Anne was sorting out her hair after the swim she dropped her hairclip down onto the rocks below the deck which was immediately taken as a token by a seagull to a nearby rock where it was later recovered by Steve. From the information centre we looked through a telescope at Bass Rock (aproximately 5km offshore) at the 10,000+ ganets and other sea birds, covering the rock like snow.
Informed of the fact by Laura we were encouraged to joined her in Edinburgh that evening to watch the final fireworks in celebration of the international art festival. Without delay the proposition was accepted and we headed into the limelight. Amidst the increasing crowds of people a dull rumble could be heard and was later identified as our stomachs. We ate at the very swish Brown's Restaurant and only in the nick of time received the bill before making a mad dash to Castle Street to watch the spectacular. Almost an hour later we revelled in our first impression of Edinburgh Castle illuminated by a stunning display of light and sound.
Keen to see the sights of Edinburgh in daylight we drove to the closest Park & Ride and whipped into the centre of town. Strolling up the Royal Mile we chose Deacon Brodie's Tavern for a traditional fair of haggis and chicken with real cider for lunch. It may not look pretty but haggis is certainly tasty, particularly edible if you don't think or know what is in it. After filling our bellies we went onwards to the castle where we searched for fireworks debris (easy to find as it was everywhere) and explored the many interesting exhibits including the war museum and crown jewels vault. Enjoying the fabulous commanding views from the castle walls whilst listening to the audioguide we learnt more of Scotlands colourful history.
On our way back down the Royal Mile we ducked in and out of many 'closes', the narrow alleyways leading to the living quarters and houses of the town folk. Stepping through each entrance to discover the underbelly of Edinburgh it is easy to imagine the city in centuries gone by as little seems to have changed. We visited the writers museum and thoroughly enjoyed the Robert Louis Stevenson exhibition before closing time then strolled down to Holyroadhouse, noted the Queens absence, and therefore enjoy tea once again without her company.
The rest of our afternoon was spent walking up the hills behind Edinburgh along the crags and then upwards to Arthur's Seat. With amazing views as far as Crail and North Berwick we soaked up the last of the afternoon sun before descending to Grassmarket, lower part of the old town, for nachos at a dinky pub.
Our morning started with a cooked breakfast prepared by Anne before we headed out with her and Jennifer (youngest daughter) to the Burrell Collection and Pollock House. The Burrell Collection was aquired over the lifetime of Mr Burrell and included numerous fine examples of art and furnishing from around the world. Pollock House on the same estate presented beautifully. The four of us enjoyed tea in the old kitchen before parting ways where we then ventured through the house admiring the architecture and gardens.
Using the Park & Ride we made our way into the heart of Glasgow and strolled down the busy Buchanan street, through Georges Square and then to the banks of the river. Using the comprehensive metro (one big loop) we jumped out at the Museum and Art Gallery where we spent the rest of the day until closing. The museum had one of the best presentations of natural history in a modern context and some wonderful Scottish art pieces as well as many famous painters such as Picasso, Renoir and Degas.
Our final evening in Scotland was spent in the company of Anne, Douglas, Gale and Jennifer as we ate and laughed well into the evening. We packed our bags properly for the first time in weeks and again were surprised it all fits. Saying our farwells, as we were leaving at 5.30am tomorrow, we thanked them for a wonderful time and look forward to seeing Anne and Douglas in Australia in November.