Monday, November 21, 2011

Scotland II - Midges, Mountains, and Mutton

35 miles, Monday, July 4

Going north with periodic sprinkles, we pedaled beside Loch Lomond, a 22 by 1 mile wide freshwater lake. Between the hillsides of sheep a castle appeared and we imagined it was the 200-bed hostel we’d been told about.

Loch Lomond, Photo credit: teamroberts
Scottish drivers are appalling, passing on curves. With all the weight on our bikes, we’d appreciate more room to waver as we get used to pedaling on the left. I cringe as each car goes by, realizing we can’t afford to wobble as a car mirror zips past, frighteningly close.

Along the north end of the lake Andy has a flat. He swore. There is never a good time to repair a leak. I helped pinpoint the hole by pumping his tire, then listen for the hissing sound. With the noisy traffic it takes a couple tries. I offered a chocolate cookie bar to keep his spirits up.

Much to my delight chocolate is less expensive than in the U.S. Cheese also. We bought brie to add to our lunch and ate on the banks of Loch Lomond swatting at an insect called midges. Like a flea, they are a nuisance when we rest or camp, little ferocious biters. They go for my hairline and ankles–anything that is exposed.

Jim gave this to Andy.
We pulled into Tyndrum in the rain and set up camp beside three older Scotsmen beneath, thankfully, a shelter in the campground. The men are walking the Highland Way, an intriguing long distance footpath from Milngavie to Fort William. All of us retreated to the local pub (the only place open after 6 p.m.) to drink a pint of beer. George, Jim, and Brian have climbed numerous mountains. Brian claimed to have summited Ben Lomond 49 times, saying it took him that many attempts before he had a view. The three men clearly dislike English rule; the Scots have been passively protesting and working towards their own freedom.

45 miles, Tuesday, July 5

The dismal weather broke this morning. Andy and I walked with the guys a mile or so along their track. As we passed through sheep pasture the animals with splotchy black and white faces dressed in striped socks trot towards us then skittishly back away. Dead sheep are left where they fall. One appears to stare at us with gruesome empty eye sockets.

Returning to our bikes we pedal onward, cresting a small summit then coasted downhill beneath a ceiling of puffy clouds and sunshine. Scottish Highland cattle roam the valley; their brown shaggy coats reminding me of miniature wooly mammoths.

In Bridge of Orchy we meet Jim, Brian, and George again. Jim had returned home because his wife broke her ankle. The others plan to continue, ending in Fort William later in the week.

Rannoch Moor, Photo credit: Mogens Engelund
Passing road construction, we ascend into the highlands of Rannoch Moor. The moors are nearly treeless with lakes oozing rocks like small warts. Snowfields dot the nearby ridges reminding me of Colorado’s high country. It’s incredibly peaceful, despite the heavy traffic cruising by. The smell of water permeates the vast openness. Ancient stone buildings and white stucco walls date to the 1500s. I expect medieval knights with lances to come trotting down from the hillside.

Descending into Glencoe (a glen is a valley) the rocky summits and cliffs fall to the river. The Highland Way passes through here, following the old stone road. As I gaze up at the rocky edges of the path I envision the MacDonald and rival Campbell clan and the famous massacre that took place between the families.
Scottish sheep, Photo credit: David and Cheryl M

Again, sheep outnumber humans, crossing the road, bleating from the hills, ambling after on another. I am struck by the earthy colors: grey rock, vivid green pastureland, white buildings. Only tourists dressed in teal and purple on similarly pigmented busses, zoom the roadways, infusing color to an otherwise stark landscape.

We reach the western coast of Scotland and head north to Fort William. Ben Nevis’s rocky top hangs over the town. If the weather holds, we plan to explore the trail tomorrow.

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