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Saturday, February 5, 2011

Walking Scotland, Isle of Sky and Fort William, 2010

This is the last of our Scotland walking tour we took in the first two weeks of September, 2010.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010: Broadford, Isle of Skye, Scotland (Inner Hebrides Islands)
We started with an excellent breakfast at our favorite B&B, Ben View in Broadford, Isle of Skye, Scotland where we were the only guests.  The view out from our breakfast table was spectacular and the food was great with fresh fruit, yogurts, juice, bacon, eggs, grilled tomato, grilled mushrooms, toast, coffee in a French press, etc…
I was doing a bit of email on the couch in the sitting room since we were leaving and I didn’t know if I would be hooking up soon and the proprietor came in with her phone and handed it to me.  It was our booking agent in CnD Scotland who was calling to warn us the ferry to Mallaig might be shut down due to wind and advised us to catch the earliest bus to try and put that  out of our picture.  Well, that was our plan to start so all was good and it was good to know someone was monitoring our progress a bit.
We taxied to the bus stop in the sun but the rain came in with the wind as we waited the 25 minutes for the bus.  The small bus shelter was barely big enough for us all (10 bodies) but the bus was very empty and the ride to Amadale was very scenic. 
Here is a photo of the bow of our ferry which wasn’t cancelled but did have to deal with 25k winds as we made the 30 minute crossing.  Polly got a bit queasy but it was a very nice ferry.  Also, exactly on time as were the trains and buses.

The ferry left 8 minutes after our bus arrived and was very nice and comfy.   The wind was in the high 20s with 4-6’ seas.  The crossing was done easily and then we had about 4 hours to kill in the rainswept town of Mallaig.  Lunch was smoked haddock chowder that was to die for!
I took photos of the steam engine train that cost L23.5@ to ride to Fort William but we already had tickets on the more modern train, even if it was 2 hours later we stayed with that plan.  The bridge in the Harry Potter film was on the same route as the steam train which was also used on the film as the students made their way to Hogswart school.  The rail line on this section is supposed to be the most scenic in the world.  It was grand!
 This bridge was part of the journey to Hogswart in the Harry Potter series.

Our taxi ride in Fort William to the Berkeley HouseB&B was about 3 minutes long!  We can walk it in 5 minutes with luggage but who knew?   At least we didn’t get lost or have to wander around looking for an address like we did in Broadford. 

This is the largest B&B, maybe 10 rooms, we stayed in and fronts a very busy road.  I think our window is the middle window, on the right wall, not on the busy road, on the 2nd floor.  Princess Polly was opposite across the hall.  We did a bit of laundry in the sinks and hung the clothes on the radiators.  That worked pretty well and good thing as finding a laundry is very rare.  Forget ever bringing cotton on a big trip again.  The quick dry items are going to be my only  travel clothes in the future.

Lori bought new rain pants and new hiking boots (on sale) to replace her broken bits of gear.  So she was a very happy camper.  There are lots of outfitters here since we are close to Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Scotland at 4500ft.  Skiing is coming soon here.

Dinner was a pub affair where there was standing room only a bit after we got in due to the soccer match between the Scottish Rangers (for sale and in debt 60/70 million pounds) and Manchester United (the highest payroll in the league).  I guess they played to a 0-0 draw.  The Scottish crowd were taking that as good as a win.  They were very passionate about their football team.

We went out for our hike after getting sandwiches at the local supermarket.  The hike was to the top of Cow Hill, just behind Fort William, and about 7 miles in length when all said and done.  There were midges bothering us some at the top but the view and the lunch were very good.

You can just see the Yacht Club, in the photo above, taken from the top of Cow Hill, it is near the big white building below on the inle.  ,If I was staying in Fort William until Sunday I could go racing on a Soling.  I might visit the YC again tomorrow if there is rain as they are having a day of fooling around there.    I saw a dude there today, Harry, and he assured me I could crew for sure on Sunday.  This place is 40-50 miles in from the Atlantic, way up an inlet.

Please notice the sign being pointed out by the wandering Leisure Expert!  The High Life is a bonus!

Sponsored by the government no less.  One has to admire the attitude of such an enlightened society.

We have wifi for the next 2 days and then leave for Wales via Glasgow.  From there we are making our own way to the canal boat for two weeks.

Observations  from Count Ferrari:

A.      Shower controls are NOT standardized.  Most have been on demand electrically heated so one has to turn on a switch prior to getting in the shower.  Good news/other news… Hot water forever but not much pressure.
B.      Showers are all 30”x 30” and have been new with hand held wands.
C.      Walking has been exhilarating but the realization that my body is slack has come to the fore.
D.      Scotland is gorgeous!
E.       Very barren hillsides covered in low grasses and moss with quite a bit of heather and all of it kind of like walking on a sponge full of water.
F.       The Highland Way is a dirt road they don’t allow traffic on.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010: Fort William, Scotland

We walked up to the top of Cow Hill.  Doesn’t sound like much but it was 7 miles all told.  It would have been 6 but we got lost finding the trail while walking around Fort William looking for the start.  We had a touch of rain but had sun at the summit for our lunch.  A grand view over the town as the hill is right up against the city.  Ben Nevis (Scotland’s tallest mountain, around 4500’) was in and out with a cloud hat all day.
We went out to dinner at an Indian Restaurant which, once again, was fantastic flavors in an elegant setting.  Cost L42 which included a bottle of French white wine for L10.

Thursday, September 16, 2010: Fort William, Scotland
The walk today was about 6 miles on the West Highland Way (basically a dirt road they don’t allow traffic on).

Below is the Count showing what we think is a Gorse plant.  This and flowering purple heather are two of the most common plants up here in the barren Highlands of Scotland.  One doesn’t want to fall into this plant as it is VERY thorny and can cover quite a patch of ground.
 We opted to do an out and back hike which on the famous West Highland Way which took us to the Dun DearDial ruins that are thought to be assembled about 700 BC.  They have found tools dating over 4000 years old up there.  It was a depression, like an extinct volcano but smaller and grass covered, at the top of a peak with a view of the valley back to Fort William and up to the top of Ben Nevis (the tallest mountain in Scotland at ~4500 ft and always clouded today) and the entire River Nevis valley.  This was our lunch stop!  We had sun and a very fine lunch.  (Lori and I had Subway sandwiches!  Our favorite fast food.   The US culture included a McDs in town too.)

The walls of the Dun DearDial are vitrified which means they were fire hardened.  Basically it looks like a 100’ grassed depression with a ridge of rocks around the top. 

Dinner at a hotel where we got a 10% discount because of where we were staying.  Cost for an OK meal L29.
Friday, September 17, 2010: Travel day from Fort William Scotland to Northwich, England
We had to board the train to Glasgow at 7:40 AM but had a sunny AM for the 10 minute walk to the station.  It is a traveling day, with a train stop and change at Glasgow where we have to go from the Queen St Station to the Central Station.  We will have about 40 minutes to pull this off but it is not a great long distance in a taxi.
We purchased tickets at the train station in Fort William for the rail journey to Northwich in England from Glasgow.  For the 3 of us the cost was L178!  I am thinking we should have rented a car for this bit but so it goes.  We spend the night there after arriving around 4 PM and then begin the next bit of our journey as we board our canal boat on Saturday for 2 weeks in Wales. 
We will have visited 3 countries in the UK on this trip, not getting to Ireland, but the girls have been there already when they rode horses from manor house to manor house a few years ago.

·         I realize the above is fairly disjointed but I was tired and on a train and not really inspired to hit the key board.  We started on the train in Fort William, Scotland at 7:40 AM and disembarked at 4:20 PM in Northwich, England which some taxi driver thought was 600 miles.  It was 4 trains, the fastest was a Virgin Train @ 125MPH!  Very quiet and smooth!  (This was from Glasgow, Scotland to Warrington Bank Quay, England)  We finished on a little rough job of a two car train that we took our last leg which lasted  for 30 minutes.  IF anyone reads this, and you have nothing better to do, please verify the distance for us.   The cost from Glasgow to Northwich was L178 for the 3 of us.  I will be enquiring a cost of a self drive ‘hire car’ for the trip back to Glasgow.
You can see why it might have been a fun trip as the girls played with their new flasks on the train.

A taxi strangeness hit us on the trip from our station to our Premier Inn.  One had to call in to their center for hiring a taxi without the ‘taxi’ sign on the roof or they cannot take you.  These are private hire cars and the law dictates they are assigned centrally before one can use them.  They cannot queue up in taxi lines but are the same otherwise, maybe they don't have to pay some tax?  It was quite strange, but Lori made the call to the dispatcher while we stood there and we were finally able to get a ride to the hotel.  The Premier Inns are excellent places with kingsize beds and provided yet another shower control that is different from any I had ever seen in my life.

We were walking around Northwich doing tourist things and getting a 'dongle' for web connections when we came upon this very strange Nissan delivery van.  I want one but have no idea how to search for it.  A right hand drive like this one would be great fun on the back roads in Snohomish County where we live.

The Plan for getting on the Canal boat at Anderton:

A.       Get up Saturday AM, have breakfast at the Inn.
B.      Go shopping for food at the local mini market (the only one in walking distance)
C.      Put our bags and food at the reception desk while shopping for a device for the computer internet access (they called it Dongle but it turned out to be a Vodafone USB modem which worked as well as a cell phone would)
D.      Call a taxi from Northwich to get to the hotel, pick up the food and bags, and then to the boat around 2PM.
E.       It worked! 
Vodafone is pretty cool when it works (cellular based).  For L24 I got a USB stick with 1 gig of internet access and no contract.

Narrow Boat first impressions:

Driving a 54’ canal boat in the rain is cold but whiskey and hot tea helped.

Tiller driven, the boat only turns when power is washing over the rudder so if one needs to turn tighter then throttle is opened.  Kind of counter intuitive.

The check out dude, Ian, was great and made me do a 3 point turn before stepping off and saying “have fun”!
(Actually this was better than most boat renters get for a check out drive, most just say 'good luck')

The Blue Heron, the name of our vessel, was new this season and very nice.  Hydronic heat, shower, and  hot water on all the time with diesel.  A 42hp 4 cylinder motor. Propane cook top, separate oven and a gas broiler, two staterooms with double beds, 12 v fridge (dorm sized), two basin galley sink with hot and cold pressurized water, a 30lb Danforth anchor?  for the 3’ deep canal (seems a bit overkill especially considering there is no rode or chain), two small sledge hammers and three stakes for tying up on the footpath side of the canal (no charge), inverter for microwave and toaster, curtains, open bow seating and access into living area, etc…  We are very impressed and happy to be in such a snug place as the rain pours down and it is quite cool outside.  (There is a blog post with a complete description of this boat on this website)

Keep scrolling and you will see a fuzzy photo of the interior of the Blue Heron.

          Excuse the focus but there will be more shots later, I am sure.  Here you can see the first night on the Blue Heron as Princess Polly prepares dinner for the Count while the Countess is reading and snoozing in the aft cabin.   All for now, I am going to insert all the previous photos I can find that are worthy!

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