Monday, November 28, 2011

Scotland III - Ben Nevis and the Unexpected

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Wednesday, July 6

Andy and I climbed Ben Nevis today. While we ascended the stone path with 200 others, we heard that Mel Gibson was in the Nevis Valley filming another movie. (Back in the U.S. a year later we saw Braveheart and recognized the Scottish scenery.)

Summit of Ben Nevis, highest mountain in the U.K. Photo credit: barbon
The summit was socked in, a common occurrence 9 times out of 10 and can be quite dangerous. Due to poor visibility, last year alone 50 people died. Andy and I are no strangers to climbing scree filled trails, having hiked in the Cascade Mountains. At the top we didn’t wander and eventually turned around for the long walk back to our bikes.

Ascending the stairs on Ben Nevis. Photo credit:

Adding a summit patch to my backpack.

50 miles, Thursday, July 7

By now I understand how the currency works. One pound is approximately $1.61 U.S. There are 100 pence to a pound. One pound notes are the same value as one pound coins. Only Scotland honors the notes as they’ve been issued by Scottish banks. We’ve been advised to swap to coins when leaving the country. The fifty pence coins are huge, the pound smaller, and the 2, 10, and 20 pence quite tiny. We fumble with the coinage, inspecting each for the denomination because the sizes are so confusing.

As the autos rattle past, we comment on how many of them use diesel – at least half. R.V.s or “caravans” as the Scots and English call them are everywhere, but half the size of the monstrous U.S. variety.

We left Fort William at 9 a.m. – our earliest start – and the northern most point of our journey. Under blue skies once again – unbelievable for such a rainy country – Andy and I head south along the coastline. Soon we will visit an island, but there is a vast choice before hopping a ferry to Ireland.

Scottish Castles - I had film for this one!

Braking on a hill, we spied a castle perched on a tiny island at the mouth of a bay. It was idyllic, quintessential Scotland. With a sigh, I sadly realized our camera was out of film.

Germans on holiday invade this country. They’ve been on Ben Nevis, in each campsite, and on bicycles. Because of their affluence and proximity they often visit the United Kingdom. Ferries connect the British Isles to all points on the European mainland.

As Andy and I pumped up a short steep hill my granny gears rattled. This was a niggling problem which I presumed could be cured when I switched the thumb shifter from index to friction mode. No luck. If anything, the grinding noise worsened. I bailed out in a muddy pull-off. We worked on the derailleur for a few minutes with a screwdriver adjusting the screws, but it wasn’t addressing the problem. Just then a blond-haired German hopped off his heavily loaded bike. With his few English words and hand signals it was obvious that he knew what to do. Andy handed him the tools. Within moments he‘d fixed the problem: one screw needed tightening. Then, like the anxious Scotland traffic, he hopped on his bike and continued up the hill, gone before we had much of an opportunity to say “thanks”. My German angel!

What I love about bicycle travel are the unexpected pleasures. The least likely thing happens when you take a wrong turn or decide to stop and smell a flower. All morning we’d been urinating – every hour it seemed. Early afternoon we halted again, this time at an abandoned quarry. Andy went behind a bush for a bit and then yelled to me. I didn’t understand what he said. He returned and pointed at the cliffs where an owl glided from the trees. White with a dusting of tan on its wings it disappeared in a moment, like a feather of hope, sailing into a hole in the mine’s wall.

The amount of bed & breakfast places is astounding. In every town, no matter how small, there are at least two. In Fort William every other house was a B&B. I bet you could fill a phone book with all the ones in Scotland.

As our appetites increase food becomes paramount and variety is critical. Today we tried medium white cheddar cheese - creamy and tasty - very similar to Vermont’s Cabot. Yesterday’s selection included an onion and parsley Edam wedge. Yum.

Because of the latitude (54 N) it is light from 4 a.m. to 11 p.m. It’s currently 10 p.m. and I am writing inside the zipped up tent without a flashlight.

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