West Highland Way

In summer 2014 I promised myself to walk West Highland Way. It is a 154km (96 mile) walk in Scotland starting just outside of Glasgow in Milngavie and finishing at Fort William.

I have no clue where I got this idea from, but I thought it would be a nice thing to do after my last ever exam at the University of Edinburgh. I spent 5 years there studying engineering and I really felt like I could do with some fresh air afterwards. I did not really tell anyone what I was planning to do, as after some of my friends reactions (“omg just watch some TV and relax”, “you can’t go on your own!”, “why on Earth would you do this???”) I thought it would be better to keep it to myself. So in May 2015, I packed my backpack and left.

Day 1

I woke up in the morning, asked myself what was wrong with me a dozen times and left. Goodbye cosy bed, see you next week.

It was my first ever long distance walk, so I was not sure what to expect. I started walking from Milngavie and I was really excited about what was waiting for me. I was enjoying every moment, even though the scenery was not extremely exciting. It was nice to be out of the city and listen to the birds singing.

Even though I was walking on my own I never felt alone. There were always people around and I was never that far from civilization anyway.

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At around noon some cows blocked my way and while waiting for them to move, I got to annoy them with my camera.

It was 3pm when I was already building my tent in the Drymen campsite. I covered 19km that day as planned and I was ready to relax. At that point I was in a deep regret of starting the walk with almost new shoes. There were already 3 blisters on my feet. I covered the blisters with the fancy plasters I had and I was hoping it wouldn’t get worse.

Day 2

I woke up to a million voices of birds. The Conic Hill was waiting for me today and I was slightly worried about facing it.

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Typical Scottish Scenery

It turned out that there was nothing to worry about the hill and it wasn’t as challenging as I thought it would be. Even with the 20+kg backpack I was doing as well as other walkers carrying only small backpacks. The views of Loch Lomond from the top of the hill were worth every effort.

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The views from the Conic Hill

I completed 20km that day and stayed in the Sallochy campsite. It was an absolutely amazing place to camp, as it was completely natural. However, my blisters got much worse, so all I wanted to do that night was to stay in my warm sleeping bag.

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The view while eating my dinner

Day 3

Day three already! I left Sallochy campsite and continued walking along the beautiful Loch Lomond.

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Lunch time

I had 27km to cover that day and it was unexpectedly challenging. Half of the route was pretty straightforward, however the blisters on my feet were absolutely killing me. Once I started the second half, the paths became narrow and rocky and every meter required a lot of effort. A few swear words escaped my mouth that day. The weather was bad and it was raining most of the day, but my enthusiasm wasn’t washed away.

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Narrow paths
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Loch Lomond

I built my tent in the puddle in the Beinglas Farm Campsite and had a massive piece of chocolate cake at the pub. My feet were really sore and as I was completely out of plasters. I could not explain the happiness I felt when I found some of those in the campsite shop. I was feeling a bit down and because of my feet I was not sure if I could continue the walk. I was thinking that it was nice to be on my own, as I had nobody to complain to, but I really felt like hugging someone that day… I fell asleep listening to the sound of waterfalls.

Day 4

Packed my smelly tent and left Inverarnan (Beinglas Farm). I was going to Tyndrum and had only 19km to walk. I said bye to Loch Lomond and I was excited about the mountain views that were waiting for me.

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Beautiful mix of clouds and mountains

The walk that day was challenging mostly because of the blisters. I was also a bit dehydrated and probably did not do enough stretching so my leg muscles were sore. But I was slowly moving forward and I arrived to Tyndrum really early. I camped in the Pine Trees Leisure Park, where I even had a wifi in my tent! I spent the rest of my day stretching and drinking loads and treated myself to a nice fish and chips supper.

Day 5

I was absolutely freezing all night and put all the clothes I had on me. The temperature dropped below zero and I found some frost on my tent (Yes, it’s almost summer!). I woke up early and it seemed that the entire campsite was feeling the same, as at 6am everyone was already packing their tents. The long way to Glencoe was waiting for me and my blisters were not helping thus, I thought, getting up early was a good idea anyway.

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All day I was walking through this amazing landscape and I coudn’t stop smiling. I think at some point I was so excited that I forgot my pain and I was almost running. There were only a few hikers around and I could enjoy an absolute freedom.

On the second half of the day I met a German girl and we walked together for the rest of the day. Conversations helped to get distracted from the pain and the day went really quick. However, after 10 hours walking and I was really happy to reach the campsite, which turned out to be…full. I couldn’t believe it and I did not want to do any more walking, so I built my tent just outside the campsite. Nobody cared about that and I saved a few pounds as well.

Day 6

Today was the day when I had to face the highest point of the walk – the Devil’s staircase. My legs were feeling so much better and I knew that I would be able to finish this walk for sure.

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View from the Devil’s staircase

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The day was full of beautiful mountain views and the Devil’s staircase wasn’t that challenging either. I reached Kinlochleven and ran to get some nice food from the shop. I spent past few days eating mostly porridge and noodles and I was dreaming about some veggies.

Only 23km to go!

Day 7

I’m not gonna lie, I was waiting for the walk to end. Not because I was fed up with walking, but mostly because all my clothes were extremely smelly and I had enough of porridge (I really don’t like it in the first place…).

The way was going through the places where seemed that nobody was around and it was so nice and peaceful. I stopped for lunch and then soon after that I could see For William. I was so happy!

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Fort William – finally!

The last couple of miles I walked with Ian and Judy. I met them every day during my walk, they would always overtake me at some point during the day, as I was quite slow with my big backpack. We had a pint in Fort William while smiling like somebody who traveled to the moon and it was weird to think that it was all over. I spent another couple of days in Fort William, mostly resting. I was planning to try to reach the summit of Ben Nevis, but as I had done that before, I was not too bothered this time, so I just stayed in the hostel.

I am really proud of myself, that despite all the painful blisters I managed to keep going and finished the walk. I learned a lot of things on the way and the most important one – do not go on a long walk with an almost new shoes. Would I do this again? Of course, it is a great way to challenge yourself,  to get some fresh air and to enjoy falling asleep to the natural sounds in the most beautiful places. And also, you get a chance to miss things that you normally take for granted like food, bed or toilet. What was the hardest thing? Getting out of bed that Tuesday morning, knowing that I would have to sleep on the tough ground for another 7 days…

Go out, enjoy!

P.S. The blisters healed and I ran a half marathon five days after finishing the walk 🙂

 

Isle of Skye

I was disappointed. There was no way we were going to camp this time. The weather was absolutely awful even though it was the end of July. Almost never stopping rain and cold. Brrrrr… However, it was my birthday and I had to get out somewhere, so we booked whatever accommodation was left on Skye, rented a car and hoped at least an OK weather for those five days.

Well and it was a fun trip!:)

The first day we spent almost all day driving until we reached our destination just outside the Fort William. We’re huge Chinese dumpling fans, so we spent an evening trying to feel the spirit of camping & cooking outdoors. The dumplings, after the whole day in a car looked awful, but were tastier than ever!

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Dinner Time

The next day we spent in the clouds! I’ve been on the top of Ben Nevis before, but I thought it would be nice to climb it again. I thought being there in summer would be so much nicer than in winter! I was wrong… By the time we reached the top we were absolutely soaked!

When going down, the sky cleared out a bit and we got to enjoy the nice views 🙂

On the third day it was finally the time to reach Skye. We had a nice lunch stop at Eilean Donan castle, a beauty standing there since the 13th century.

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Eilean Donan Castle

For those who now wonder where they’ve seen it before – it appeared in one of the James Bond movies.

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The weather in the Isle of Skye as you can see from the photo bellow was not the best either. But we were in a good mood, so at least we had a good laugh that day 🙂

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Isle of Skye 

Our plan was to stop at the Fairy pools first. Well, if you google that, you’ll get plenty of nice photos with bright blue water etc. That was not the case for us. It took us ages to force ourselves to leave the car and go down to the pools. Yes, it was pretty even in the rain, but nothing like in google photos!

The plan for the fourth day was to do a Quiraing Circuit and The Storr. They are super famous and a must do in Skye. We stayed very close to Quiraing so of course we started our day there. At first we couldn’t believe that it was nice and sunny outside and we were expecting it to start raining at any minute. I guess it is quite a natural thing to do after being in the rain for the past few days! The sun did not disappear though and the views during the hike were absolutely stunning.

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It was really muddy so it took us ages to walk a circuit, but it was a really nice hike. Then it was the time for Storr, but we decided not to hike there, as we saw crowds of people there when driving past. It is an easier walk, so no surprise it was so popular. It was a nice sunny day, so we spent the rest of the time resting and having a barbecue 🙂

Actually, a barbecue with a proper view! The sunset that evening was stunning.

It was a fun trip! You never know what you gonna get in Scotland, but what you really need to take on your trip is a positive attitude and a good company 🙂 yes, we got wet more times than we wanted, but we did not get upset about that and had a fantastic time.

It would be nice to go back on a sunny day and see a bit more of the island 🙂

Isle of Arran

The first time I decided to do some actual traveling in Scotland was almost after two years of living here. Before that I only visited couple of cities and I couldn’t call that traveling. I decided that the best way to explore Scotland was to do it by bike. I’m not even sure how I came up with that  – I didn’t even have a bike at that point. Having in mind that I wasn’t in the best shape either, I completely underestimated the effort required for the trip.

I convinced one of my friends to join me, bought the bike and decided that the Isle of Arran would be a perfect place for that (no particular reasons, rather than a good access from Edinburgh).

So after couple of hours of train and ferry ride we were in Brodick. My friend’s ex-classmate was living there, so we stopped to say hi. As soon as we left Brodick (heading towards Machrie), a really steep hill was waiting for me. After an hour of dragging our bikes up, swearing and thinking what the hell I was doing there, there was a sweet moment of going downhill. A lot of time it was like that, but after a while I started enjoying the challenge. I think those moments of going downhill were totally worth every drop of sweat.

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The weather was amazing. The sun was shining all the time and a lot of times we were just resting on the stony beaches along the way and enjoying life.

Our first proper stop was to see some stones. Yes, stones! There are a lot of standing stone circles on the Isle of Arran, of which the finest ones are Machrie Moor standing stones. The circles date from around 1800 to 1600 BC and the tallest stone is over 18 feet high!

Soon after visiting the circles we left our bikes and went hiking to see the King’s caves. The caves used to be a hiding place for Robert the Bruce (for those who have no idea who he was – he was a King of Scots several centuries ago). It is said that the King had his famous encounter with the spider there (not an extremely exciting story, but feel free to google it).

We decided to spend the night on the beach near the caves – it was sooo peaceful.

However, we didn’t plan our water supplies well enough so in the morning we had no water left. We found our bikes as quickly as we could and cycled to the nearest village to get some water.

The rest of the day we spent cycling and stopping at beautiful places and at the end of the day we reached Lamlash.

Next morning we reached Brodick and went back to see ex-classmate I mentioned before. He took us to the Sannox Bay Hotel & Restaurant where I had the best fish and chips ever (portions were enormous as well).

My friend didn’t enjoy the trip that much, but I really liked it. I was really struggling a lot of time during the trip and the fact I managed to complete it made me really proud. The weather was perfect, the island was amazing and even though it was a short trip and we did not even cycle that much, it was a perfect escape for my birthday. That summer I promised myself to go on some crazy trip for my birthday every year (and I’m doing quite well with keeping that promise).

I don’t have a lot of photos from this trip and they are not that good either. But you got an idea, it’s a nice island and I still want to come back there. I feel like I still haven’t seen a lot – Goatfell & Arran Coastal Way are still on my to do list 🙂

Isle of Mull

Let me tell you about the trip during which I completely fell in love with Scotland. It was the summer 2013 and I was really keen to do some travelling. I convinced a friend to join me (I didn’t even know her that well, but she agreed to share a tent with me for three days!), so we packed our house, pumped up the tires and few hours later we were in Isle of Mull. It was the second time when I was on a cycling&camping trip in Scotland, so I knew what to expect and I was really excited (maybe I’ll tell you about my first trip one day as well)!

We didn’t cycle around the entire island, only the upper bit (starting from Craignure going to Tobermory, Dervaig and then back through Salen). I don’t want to talk much about how amazing the weather and how beautiful the island were and how much I enjoyed the whole trip.I think I’ll just leave you with some photos and hopefully they will do a better job explaining my experiences, than trying to put everything into words 🙂

The first day: Craignure, Duart Castle, Salen and camping a bit before Tobermory

The second day: Tobermory, Calgary & a campsite somewhere around Acharonich

The last day: from Acharonich, through Salen to Craignure and back to Oban

I’m definitely going back! 🙂

Cairngorms National Park

I feel like I’m repeating myself, but I’ll say it: Scotland always surprises me! Especially when I get lucky with the weather. Last summer my parents came for my graduation and I decided that I had to take them somewhere else in Scotland, so they wouldn’t just spend an entire week in Edinburgh.

I’ve heard a lot of good about Cairngorms, so I thought it’d be a great place to go to. So we exchanged Edinburgh to Glenmore for a few days. We stayed in Cairngorm Lodge Youth Hostel and it was an absolutely perfect place! I added a photo below of the view from the bench near the hostel 🙂

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It turned out that Glenmore had everything we wanted for our holiday. There was plenty to do in the area. Loch Morlich and its beautiful beach were just a few hundred meters away from the hostel, so we spent a few afternoons just relaxing there.

We also visited Cairngorms Reindeer Center and got to play with the reindeers for a bit. They were super friendly!

Glenmore was also perfect for doing some active stuff – Cairngorm mountain is really close, so you can go hiking, or if you’re too lazy for that you could choose a funicular railway to get to the top.

There are plenty of walking trails in the forests around Glenmore as well (check out forestry commission maps).  You can also rent a bike and cycle around if you’re not too keen on walking. I would definitely recommend doing Ryvoan Trail. It’s quite challenging in some bits and it gets you to An Lochan Uaine (photo below). It’s such a beautiful and peaceful place!

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I was super glad we stayed in Glenmore. It’s small but there is plenty to do around. We also walked back to Aviemore to catch the bus back to Edinburgh and the forest path was really nice. Would definitely recommend to visit, just don’t forget the repellent spray or the midges will eat you! 🙂

Kagyu Samye Ling

It is hard to believe that the place like this exists in Scotland. Very well hidden, but with loads of different people.

Seems that this place is perfect for anyone who is searching or just anyone who is curious. No matter what you believe in I think it is totally worth a visit.

 

I loved the phrase said by one girl living there – no matter what you do in life, it’s all about how you get your oxygen 🙂

The First Mountain Experience

The first time I decided to climb a mountain was couple of winters ago. I didn’t just choose the mountain, but I had to pick the highest one in Scotland – Ben Nevis. Well, having in mind that it was (almost) winter and I didn’t even know what to expect, I thought it was a decent challenge. I found a person who also loved adventures and a few days later we were in the train heading to Fort William.

It was a great time to get out of the city. The exams were coming, I was stressed and all of my friends were stressed, so I thought a wee distraction would be quite refreshing. The plan was to spend five days in the Ben Nevis Inn & Bunkhouse, do some studying for the exams, explore the area and reach the peak of Ben Nevis.

When we got there it turned out that the bunkhouse was in the middle of nowhere, barely even heated and with no internet. That was amazing! Well, it wasn’t extremely good for studying, but being in a complete silence and peace was so nice and refreshing. There was a restaurant upstairs which served amazing food, but it wasn’t cheap. Thus most of the evenings we spend drinking, eating and studying in the Weatherspoon’s in town. We had our bikes with us so it wasn’t a problem to get there.

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We didn’t tried to conquer Ben Nevis on the first day – the weather wasn’t the best and we decided to wait. Meanwhile, we were exploring the surrounding areas and took the train to Mallaig (yes, the same railway line as for Hogwarts Express). My friend used to work in Morar, which is just outside Mallaig, and she told me about the beautiful white sand beach there. We decided to cycle there and it was probably the first time in Scotland when going down the hill I had to pedal as hard as I could – that’s how strong the wind was. But it was worth it!

When the day came to try to reach the top I was super excited. We left early in the morning, as we didn’t want to be stuck on the mountain when it gets dark – days were so depressingly short… Anyway, I was almost running up the hill for the first couple of hours – that’s how excited I was. The path itself wasn’t really challenging and we were enjoying the walk. The weather was quite nice as well. But then everything started getting a bit more challenging. You could feel the temperature dropping and soon we saw the first snow. Our first snow that year! Yayyy!

Everything started becoming whiter and whiter and it felt so surreal. It seemed that nothing else excited, just this white wall with occasional piles of rocks. It’s hard to explain the feeling, especially if that’s your first time on the mountain. And it’s hard to explain that happiness when you reach the top. You don’t feel cold anymore and you can’t believe you are there as well. Of course we couldn’t see those beautiful views from the top that you get when you google Ben Nevis, as we were just standing in the cloud.

There was a little hut on the top and some ruins of previous observatory. Apparently before it was built a man called Clement Wragge volunteered to go up Ben Nevis every single day to collect meteorological data during the summer months in 1881. He continued his work for another couple of years afterwards. Imagine that! Climbing the mountain every day for a few months… We had our lunch in the little hut together with some other climbers. It was so nice to sit there, share food and the excitement of being on the top.

Getting down was relatively easy. At the very top we were sliding down on our bums, as it was easier and more fun than just walking. We were screaming something in Lithuanian and then from far away we heard “Labas” meaning hi. Well that was unexpected!

At some point getting down became quite a challenge: our the legs started shaking and we got really tired. I was extremely proud we managed to reach out goal and I guess proper clothing was the most important factor for the success.

The next day we spent cycling around the area. We covered quite a bit having in mind our sore muscles – a bit over 50km. But the places were just beautiful and worth every effort.

Well, overall, it was a good break before exams and it was a perfect way to recharge my battery. And I passed all the exams as well 🙂

I got to climb Ben Nevis again, a year and a half later, this time in summer. And you know what? Even though it was tough in winter it was so much worse in summer. It was raining so much that even the waterproofs gave up and there were too many people around… It was quite a nice warm summer day when we started, so loads of people were walking in shorts or jeans. That’s a mistake easy to make! In a cold wind and rain those people were freezing and it was disgusting to see their purple legs. Well, what I’m trying to say that the mountain is mysterious and you never know what to expect from it. Be prepared and enjoy 😉