Review: Outlandish Scotland Journey Part 1 and 2

When I read Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander” series (Outlander, Dragonfly in Amber and Voyager)*, I thought to myself, “I really want to go to those places and see those things.” I often wish it was easier to find stuff in Scotland but there’s so many things in Scotland that it can be hard to know where to look for anything specific! Anyway, that was before they made a TV show out of it, and now there’s even more Outlander locations in Scotland!

*Book 1 was retitled Cross-Stitch in the UK for some stupid reason, and they wonder why it was initially less popular over here; it’s still the same love story between Jamie and Claire.

Another rainbow in the West Highlands of Scotland on the way to Loch Ness.

The first guide, Outlandish Scotland Journey part 1, covers the Outlander sites between Edinburgh and Inverness, while the second, Outlandish Scotland Journey part 2, covers Inverness and a whole plethora of sites around the city. In both cases, the sites are marked on a map so you can see the route that goes between them all.

If that’s not enough, there are also very clear directions explaining how to get to each location, and the guides are very clear about what you will find in each place, with lots of details to help you make the most of your holiday. One thing I especially liked was the thistle icons that rated each location, and showed whether a location was worth visiting or not, so I could see at-a-glance how many sites to spend time visiting (nearly all of them… now I just need a reliable vehicle to travel in).

Another thing I liked was the author has found pictures of what the places look like, and put them alongside what the places looked like in the TV series, so you get an idea about how similar the places are in real life (for example, some buildings in Culross were painted for filming so in real life they’re a different colour).

One more thing that I liked about these guides is that they give you the disabled access information, so if you are traveling as a disabled person or if you’re taking someone who is disabled, you have a good sense of whether you can get into any specific place. I’ve talked before about why that’s important to include in travel guides as it can make or break some people’s trips.

It was also useful to know how much time to schedule for each aspect of the trip; for example, it tells you how much time each itinerary will take, depending on whether you want to do it faster or slower, so you have a good idea of how much time to budget.

Other things that you will find in these guide books include: Where to park, for sites where parking isn’t immediately obvious; whether any individual attraction is worth a visit or not (and an explanation and references showing why not, if it’s bad, so you can make an informed choice); how much they cost; and there are even lots of extras, such as places of interest that weren’t in the books/TV series but are still worth a visit while you’re in each area.

These Outlandish Scotland Journey ebook guides also really make use of being in an electronic format, by linking to additional useful information, which basically means it’s like someone went out and painstakingly researched your holiday for you, so all you have to do is follow the route and have a great time! Or, if, like me, you’re the sort of person who likes to go out and discover things, these guides have a lot of mileage in them as well; I would choose the most interesting locations, and see what turned up in the space between them while I was traveling (because Scotland has a LOT of space).

If you live in Scotland, you could do some of these locations as a series of day-trips at the weekend, rather than a long holiday, and it would certainly be a great way to spend your days off! If I still lived in Edinburgh, I would definitely do that.

These guides are useful for a wide range of readers, both locals and further afield, and my overall conclusion is that they are well worth a buy if you are going anywhere in Scotland this year or researching a future trip.

Find the Outlandish Scotland Journey guides on Amazon here: Part 1 and Part 2
Or find out more here: Outlandish Scotland Journey website

Weekly Photo Challenge: Dinner Time at Cafe Mango

Cafe Mango, Thai and Indian Restaurant Fort William, Highlands, Scotland.
The main course at Cafe Mango, Thai and Indian Restaurant Fort William, Highlands, Scotland. Taken August 2015.

For this week’s photo challenge, Dinnertime, I decided to share these pictures of the delightful Cafe Mango in Fort William.  If you’re climbing Ben Nevis, this Thai and Indian restaurant is well worth a visit.  It was the best restaurant we ate at on the West side of the Highlands, everything was simply delicious and the staff were friendly and made us feel very welcome even though it was 9pm, and we were the last customers (because we had just climbed Ben Nevis – everyone seems to eat early in the Highlands)!

Cafe Mango, Thai and Indian Restaurant Fort William, Highlands, Scotland.
Some of the stunning decoration inside Cafe Mango, Thai and Indian Restaurant Fort William, Highlands, Scotland. Taken August 2015.
Cafe Mango, Thai and Indian Restaurant Fort William, Highlands, Scotland.
A shot of the rest of the restaurant (I used the bannister near the top as the horizon line) including the beautiful emboidered elephants backdrop, in Cafe Mango, Thai and Indian Restaurant Fort William, Highlands, Scotland.
Cafe Mango, Thai and Indian Restaurant Fort William, Highlands, Scotland.
Fort William at night: The outside of Cafe Mango, Thai and Indian Restaurant Fort William, Highlands, Scotland.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Seasons: Spring

In direct contrast to Autumn, Spring as an emotion is a feeling of growth, of change, of refreshment, when I look on the whole world with new eyes.  Everything is growing, and the detritus of the old world is consumed by rebirth:

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Lichen on a rock, Fort William, Scotland.

From the Weekly Photo Challenge found here: Seasons I decided this picture best represented Spring as a reflection of the inner landscape.

I Found the Loch Ness Monster in Scotland.

Driving to Fort William takes at least 7 hours from Bradford.  When you get there, however, there’s a pretty decent Morrison’s (supermarket) and it’s right next to a McDonald’s.  On both of our driving holidays around the Fort William area, we saw a lot of this part of town because it’s the only supermarket in town as far as I know, and it sells things you can eat without having to cook them.

We didn’t actually make it to Fort William on the first night, because we didn’t set off at a reasonable time of day – I’d stupidly decided at 8pm the day before that life was slipping by without anything interesting happening, so I convinced my future husband that we absolutely had to pile into the car and find the Loch Ness monster (or rather, go to see Loch Ness).  I felt it was deplorable that I’d never been the entire time I’d lived in Scotland, and now I lived 7 hours away it was suddenly imperative that we go.  I get like this sometimes.

Before we got to Glencoe, as the road started to incline and about ten minutes after that point on the A82 (the main road) where my ears always pop, I got too sleepy to keep driving so we pulled into a layby and reclined the seats in my VW Golf (aka VW Rabbit in the USA) then caught some Z’s.  FYI, the VW Golf is a very uncomfortable place to kip, and I awoke with a crick in my neck, sleep in my eyes and a bladder full to bursting.  Luckily, around the corner from the layby we’d stopped in, there was another one which was surrounded by three spectacular waterfalls.  Not only that, but there was also a brick wall on one side.  I climbed over it, with difficulty due to what the rushing sound from the waterfalls was doing to my psyche, and I took care of the bladder problem (why is it that those of us with female anatomy get so embarrassed about urinating in public but people with man parts just do it at the side of the road in full view of traffic?  We should get over it already).  Anyway there were quite a few good waterfalls because it was the right time of year for them to be really big with the snow melt and rainwater off the mountains (in summer most of them are nondescript) and this was my favourite (all photos taken on Samsung Galaxy SII as this was early 2014 before I got a camera):

A beautiful waterfall near Glencoe in Scotland, next to the A82.
A beautiful waterfall near Glencoe in Scotland, next to the A82.

We carried on up to Fort Bill, stopping along the way to take some photos of the beautiful waterfalls and surprising rainbows, which formed from the clammy Scottish morning mist in the Highlands:

A rainbow in the West Highlands of Scotland on the A82 on the way to Loch Ness.
A rainbow in the West Highlands of Scotland on the A82 on the way to Loch Ness.
Another rainbow in the West Highlands of Scotland on the way to Loch Ness.
Another rainbow in the West Highlands of Scotland on the way to Loch Ness. It looks out of focus – that’s actually the mist that’s also causing the rainbow.

When we arrived at Fort William, we grabbed some breakfast from McDonald’s; my future husband had some sort of bacon McMuffin and I had three hash browns and a pot of Barbecue Sauce, all washed down with a nice cup of tea.

We headed upwards some more until we reached Fort Augustus, about which I remember nothing, and appear to have taken no photos, so I suspect it was just a main road, a roundabout and possibly a primary school.  It looks bigger on the map.  The significance of Fort A. is that it lies at the southernmost tip of Loch Ness, which was what we were there to see.  From here onwards, we were driving with Loch Ness on our right and a bunch of trees on our left.  The trees seemed oppressive, cloying, like they were clamoring to just reach out and push us off the road and into the Loch.

Loch Ness shores
The shores of Loch Ness: The trees looked malevolent, like the only thing preventing them from reaching out and pushing our car into the Loch was that we weren’t worth their time.

There was something very primal about this part of Scotland.  The temperature stayed quite chilly around Loch Ness in the early morning, and we pulled over a couple of times to get a look at the water.  I can confirm that it’s much longer than it is wide.  And it’s very wide, too.  Like, I could see to the other side, but I couldn’t make out what was there beyond distance-trees.  And I definitely couldn’t have swam to the middle let alone the other side.  We pulled into Invermoriston with the intention of walking around on the shores of the Loch, but we found this to be impossible because a) Invermoriston is a lot further away from Loch Ness than it looks on the map and b) the road is the only thing between the trees and the water.  So we had a better view from the car.  Having said that, Invermoriston is a place of spectacular scenery and if we were staying in the area for a few days, I would probably have wanted to stay in Invermoriston because its scenery kinda looked like Rivendell:

Invermoriston looks like Rivendell
Arrgh! My phone’s lens must have gotten dirty all the pictures of Invermoriston HAVE no focus. Invermoriston: Looks like Rivendell. Black thing in middle is my future husband.
Invermoriston looking like Rivendell Highlands Scotland
WHAT HAPPENED FOCUS YOU USED TO LOVE ME??? I think it was too bright for me to see the screen and realize what had happened else I would’ve cleaned the lens! Invermoriston looking like Rivendell again (can you even see the second bridge?), although you might just have to take my word for it 😦
Invermoriston
Invermoriston from inside “The Summer House” an abandoned building from a bygone era.

In all honesty I have to say Invermoriston was a nicer place to look at than Loch Ness.  Loch Ness was a black, inky, deep place of mystery.  I’m sure you know the story – that it’s a deep fissure in the land, that separates the top of Scotland from the bottom, that they’re just attached at all because of tectonic plate movement.  Somehow, even though I could only see the surface, it *looked* deep.  I certainly wouldn’t want to swim in it.

We climbed around Invermoriston for a while then got on.  Having reached Loch Ness, we weren’t really sure what we were doing here or where our end point was.  It was impossible to walk around Loch Ness and to be fair, the Loch was so big that it was entirely probable that a giant monster of the deep could live under it’s pitch black waters and never be found.  Perhaps there would be a clue at nearby town Drumnadrochit.

I’d at least heard of Drumnadrochit from that episode of Count Duckula where the Count and his BFFs teleported their castle to Drumnadrochit and had some sort of episode involving both of the townspeople.  Count Duckula was very good at taking Londoners’ perceptions of the rest of the world and playing with them.

In real life, Drumnadrochit is a reasonably sized village, with a post office and three Loch Ness visitor centres, all of which, I believe, are privately owned.

Me outside one of the Loch Ness Visitor centres (the Loch Ness Monster Centre) in Drumnadrochit.
Me outside one of the Loch Ness Visitor centres (Nessieland) in Drumnadrochit, next to a large model of the Loch Ness Monster.
The Loch Ness Monster Centre, Drumnadrochit, was closed when we went.
The Loch Ness Monster Centre, Drumnadrochit, was closed when we went because it was out of season.

 

We went to the first one but it was closed (despite a roadsign claiming “open every day”) because apparently it was the wrong time of year.    The second one was also closed for the same reason.

Nessieland visitor centre scotland drumnadrochit Loch Ness
This Loch Ness visitor centre is closed… but the sign on the left clearly states “open every day.” Most peculious. It didn’t stop us taking photos with their Nessie sculptures.

The third visitor centre took itself very seriously and had a cinematic entrance (and correspondingly high ticket prices).  It looked like a proper museum.  I think they were catering to fancy people with plenty of holiday money (of which I believe there is a steady supply in the tourist season).

Loch Ness visitor centre Drumnadrochit Scotland
This one looked like the best Loch Ness visitor centre… but be prepared to pay correspondingly high prices.
Sock ness Loch Ness Drumnadrochit
Sock Ness.

We weren’t feeling very fancy, and we didn’t have lots of money so we just walked around to the gift shop which was free entry, and where I *finally* found the Loch Ness Monster.   She’s now sitting upstairs on one of my bookshelves with her friend who is a Loch Lochy Monster but was visiting Nessie at her home in Loch Ness when they both got caught and put in a gift shop:

The Loch Ness Monster
I found the Loch Ness monster and adopted her and her friend.

After that we drove on, following the road beside Loch Ness until we reached Inverness.  The Loch really is spectacular and I highly recommend seeing it out of season when you don’t have to worry about hitting someone because they’re trying to take photos whilst driving (I narrowly missed crashing into a lot of distracted drivers last summer when we used this road to get from Fort William to Aberdeen), and out of season there are also far less entitled angry Audi drivers, talking on their phones and speeding on the wrong side of the road as well.  For the best of both worlds, most things in the Highlands are fully open in April and it’s still fairly quiet by then.  If you’re looking for an actual Loch Ness monster, it’s also far more likely that you’ll spot one off-peak because everyone knows that Nessie is scared of tourists.  Here’s what Loch Ness was looking like:

Loch Ness after Drumnadrochit.
Loch Ness after Drumnadrochit.
Loch Ness after Drumnadrochit.
Loch Ness after Drumnadrochit. as you can see it’s impossible to get closer than the road.

Kiss From A Rose (in Aberdeen)

The car broke down, and on a trip filled with minor disasters, it was the best thing that could have happened during the holiday.  I left it at a garage in Aberdeen city centre and I had three hours to kill before it would be ready to collect.  Walking towards nowhere in particular, camera in hand, I found this beautiful cavalcade of roses.  I was compelled to test out my new camera in what turned out to be the beginning of an afternoon of photography.  The results are below.

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Whilst perusing them for choosing which pictures to share with you all and which ones to discard, the following little ditty came into my thoughts, and it is somewhat appropriate (plus it’s ALWAYS Music O’Clock in my house; to say I like music is an understatement).

rose5

rose6

.rose7

.

rose4

.rose3

 

.rose2

Do you know where I found these?  Outside an unremarkable retirement complex with no interesting architecture or other heritage, in a city filled with ancient buildings.  I guess it reminded me that beauty is everywhere, we just have to pay attention to it.  When I put a magnifying glass to this patch of roses with my camera, it has become bigger in my memory than it was in real life, but if I saw these every day, I probably would never have noticed their beauty.

This was really the turning point in the trip to Scotland in August (it was two hours after that head injury), and everything started to pick up from the moment I decided to take photos of these flowers instead of passing them by in the search for something “interesting” to do.  The next part of the afternoon’s photographic extravaganza can be found here, which begins around the corner from the roses pictured above.

I guess it really is true that everything in life can be pinned down to a series of tiny decisions.

7 Lessons Learnt from Climbing Ben Nevis

This was a very personal goal for me. It was the highest priority on my 30 list, and after climbing Snowdon and Ben Lomond, I wondered whether we could really do it.
The first day of our Scotland trip, we had planned to do it, but I was taken ill with a severe migraine that night so we put it off.
The second day, after much ado, we called it off. The weather was heavy rain.
The third to sixth days we were in and around Aberdeen.
As our holiday drew to a close, I felt more and more miserable and started acting like a complete brat. I didn’t work out why until day 6 when I hit my head and nearly died (you’ll remember this was confirmed by a doctor when we got back and I landed in hospital). The thing I was most regretting? That I would never have even climbed Ben Nevis.  Yes, there was an “even” in there.  And this is how my lack of sense of achievement undermines my confidence.
So on the evening of the sixth day, I drove us back to the west side of Scotland and we slept at the foot of the mountain. In the morning, we packed some snacks and water, and began our ascent.

Rush hour in Scotland, several hundred sheep crossing the Youth Hostel path on Ben Nevis late afternoon.
Rush hour in Scotland, several hundred sheep crossing the Youth Hostel path on Ben Nevis in the late afternoon (on the first day when we didn’t actually climb it).

It took about 8 hours to get up and down. I learned several things:
1. Those respect the mountain people take it too far with their scaremongering. If I’d known it was going to be as straightforward (I did NOT say easy) as it was, I would’ve done it on day 2. I wore trainers and I had my waterproof and gloves.

We built a snowman from snow on the slope. It was the size of my fist, and sits on a 2x4 plank of wood.
We built a snowman from snow on the slope. It was the size of my fist, and sits on a 2×4 plank of wood.  Curiously the lack of ice axe and crampons did not hinder us.

2. You don’t need a fancy hydration system. I took a plastic 500ml bottle of water, I think 750 would have been optimal but a litre would have meant expending too much energy on carrying it up. There is a waterfall around 2/3 of the way up where you can refill anyway.

Waterfall Ben Nevis
Waterfall on Ben Nevis.

3. You don’t need trail mix, energy bars, kendal mint cake and other expensive walkery foods. I took some ready-made Morrisson’s Chicken Salad sandwiches, a cereal bar and a banana. If I’d been closer to home, I would have made my own sandwiches.

Carn Dearg (the mountain next to Ben Nevis) from Ben Nevis
Carn Dearg (the mountain next to Ben Nevis) from Ben Nevis

4. You only need 7 hours of daylight left to set off (you can do the last hour in twilight/darkness if you have a torch), so if it’s 11:00am in August you probably haven’t missed it for the day (we thought this on 3 separate days).

The waterfall that you could refill bottles from (we stopped for lunch beside it).
The waterfall that you could refill bottles from (we stopped for lunch beside it).  It goes on up but my head is in the way, despite my best efforts.

5. You don’t need a headtorch, a normal torch will do (or the flashlight on your phone if you’re confident about the battery life) and you don’t need one torch each, one between two or three is enough unless you’re stupid enough to separate from your companions.

The drinking water fall, from in front of it.
The drinking water fall, from in front of it.

6. Wellies and a map are FAR more useful than crampons and an ice axe.

The remains of the old Victorian observatory on top of Ben Nevis.
The remains of the old Victorian observatory on top of Ben Nevis.

7. More people attempt it than we saw at the summit. Loads of people (about 50%) turned back before the top. While this is fine, I do suspect they then go back to work telling everyone they climbed Ben Nevis when they didn’t actually get to the top.

The trig point at the top, proving we made it.
The trig point at the top, proving we made it.  As the little sign to my right so rightly observes, I do have a weak edge.

8. The top has an emergency shelter so if the weather turns, you can hide out (this one’s more of an observation than a lesson).

The emergency shelter is in that hut at the top of the remains of the old observatory.
The emergency shelter is in that hut at the top of the remains of the old observatory.

After I got so worried about climbing without a spare pair of tractors in my daysack, I am at my wit’s end with the shitty advice coming from “respect the mountain” type people.  Where do they actually get off?  Being an anarchist and a minimalist and a free spirit and having lived among Irish travellers, I am firmly in camp “disrespect the mountain” if it means I’m not carrying so much crap with me that I’m never going to get to the top.  If you’re wondering whether it’s okay to go up or not, and it’s summer conditions, just go for it.  As long as you’re not a complete moron it’s going to be fine.  I mean, you would really have to try to get killed in summer on the tourist path on Ben Nevis.  At which point, your last thoughts should probably be “whoops.”

This song sums up my attitude to the prospect of my own death by misadventure, learn it, before you canoe back down Everest being towed by mountain dolphins:

When we reached the summit, I didn’t really have a sense of achievement. I guess I must be developing a good sense for things such as the top of the mountain really being a halfway point not an end. And this was borne out, because (as with Snowdon) the descent was far more painful on my poor damaged lower leg bones and on my feet. When we reached the little wooden bridge (we took the Youth Hostel Path as it’s got free parking and less hikers before it joins the “tourist path”), the magnitude of the achievement struck me. Not the physical demands because let’s be fair I’d barely done any exercise for a month before we climbed it and I found it was only the compression on my leg bones on the descent that caused an issue. The achievement was that I was able to fulfil a promise to the me from the past who wrote the 30 list. Ben Nevis was one of the most important things on the list. A gateway to bigger things.
I guess now I need to try and work out what those bigger things were.
Any ideas?

Britain's highest war memorial. Because one generation's pretentious junk is another generation's national treasure.
Britain’s highest war memorial. Because one generation’s pretentious junk is another generation’s national treasure.  Actually if you read it, it’s for soldiers from Fort William, the nearest town, which makes more sense than the “Nepalese War graves” all over the UK – why oh why aren’t they home on their mountains where their hearts belonged?  Didn’t they give us enough already?

This was a Travel Tuesday post but it’s taken my internet 8 hours to upload all the pictures even though I’ve well reduced the image sizes.  We really need to get the internet fixed but we have no way of contacting BT since our phone line being partially severed is the whole problem.

In Pictures: Urban Industrial Decay by the Sea in Aberdeen

How long has it been since I last did a travel/pure delight article??  It feels like forever!

While I was in Aberdeen I saw some awesome decaying industrial objects which reminded me of Natalia Goncharova and Futurism here’s some inspiration pictures:

Giacomo Balla's Velocity of Cars and Light, 1913.
Giacomo Balla’s Velocity of Cars and Light, 1913.
Natalia Goncharova: A Factory (1912).
Natalia Goncharova: A Factory (1912).

I’m sure people much more accomplished at Art have commented on these pictures to death.  To me, they remind me of the opening minute of the song “Breathe” by Pink Floyd on The Dark Side of The Moon album.  It all links together.  In that vein, of industrialization and movement and life borne of machines and future provided for by machines, there’s little room for the question of the inevitable death of those machines.

When I came across this bounty of stimuli just abandoned on various plots of land in Aberdeen, I was reminded of the inevitable omega – the end of all things.  So I took lots of pictures of these industrial objects because their death masks were so beautiful, and I included the surroundings in some of them because their burial sites were often in direct contrast with their tortured metallic endings.  Such an unnatural and contrived resting place for what was once some chemical elements separated from base rock by a blast furnace.  Abandoned because their ferrous surfaces have combined with too much oxygen.  One question which I cannot answer is: “How sustainable are these burial sites where we lay out our expired machinery?”  There was a LOT of stuff like this in Aberdeen.

I felt sad that such amazing and titanic objects had been abandoned.  There were far more pics than this but I decided to just share this set of 11 in this article, paying particular attention to texture (especially rust) and unusual focus length.  I’ve written my own criticism by them in places so you can see what I thought of how my pictures came out.  I’m a crap photographer but I’m trying to learn, so any feedback would be appreciated, positive or negative.  This was before I bought my amazing new lenses for my DSLR, and I’d had the camera maybe 4 days by this point, so all pics here taken with my 18-55 kit lens on 100% manual camera settings with no autofocus (c’mon, autofocus is for wimps).  Click any image to enlarge.

A laburnum growing up a fence on a backdrop of rust.  The astigmatism and slight vignetting bugs me.
A laburnum growing up a fence on a backdrop of rust. The astigmatism and slight vignetting bugs me.
I really liked the texture.
I really liked the texture.
Some containers looking very tall and thin.
Some containers looking very tall and thin.
A metal thingy.  The sea is behind this wall.
A metal thingy. The sea is behind this wall.  I like the contrasting texture of the lichen, the wall and the metal thingy.
Is this a bunch of Johnny 5 lookalikes at an audition???
Is this a bunch of Johnny 5 lookalikes at an audition???  Apparently they’re lifeboat launches?  ISO too high.
More delightful texture.
More delightful texture.  Not level (argh).
Rusty giant chain.  Each individual link of this chain was bigger than my torso!  I wonder what it was used for...
Rusty giant chain. Each individual link of this chain was bigger than my torso! I wonder what it was used for…
The rusty textured giant 30 foot maw of an enormous digger, with laburnum growing near it.
The rusty textured giant 30 foot maw of an enormous digger, with laburnum growing near it.
barbed wire
Barbed wire and concrete textures contrasting with roof tiles.  Horizontals not straight.
Crane and sky.  I know my angles are awful I was playing around with my settings to try and get the clouds visible and the crane non-silhouetted.
Crane and sky. I know my angles are awful I was playing around with my settings to try and get the texture of the clouds visible and the crane non-silhouetted both at the same time and forgot to level it out.
Texture tyres.  I know the commonly accepted way of doing this image would have been to blur the tyres and focus on the background, but I wanted to show the texture of the tyres as I thought it was a really nice texture (I love the kitemark, bottom right).  I did one the other way around but thought this was the more interesting shot as it forces the viewer to notice the gargantuan tyres (tractor tyres??  What has tyres this big??)
Texture tyres. I know the commonly accepted way of doing this image would have been to blur the tyres and focus on the background, but I wanted to show the delicious texture of the tyres as I thought it was a really beautiful surface (I love the kitemark, near bottom right). I did one the other way around but thought this was the more interesting shot as it forces the viewer to notice the gargantuan tyres (tractor tyres?? What has tyres this big??)

I don’t know what to say to sum this post up, so I’m going to let you do it instead.  Feedback please!

Back To Hogwarts Day! The Harry Potter Film Locations

HARRY POTTER SPOILER ALERT (but if you don’t know what happens by now, are you likely to care)!!
While I was away in Scotland a week and a half ago, I came across a few sights that seemed a bit familiar (joke – we went out intentionally to find these places).  Since today is September 1st, when the train left at 9:00am for another school year at Hogwarts, I thought I would share these with you all:

First we drove past Loch Eilt, which is the lake seen in a few of the Harry Potter films, and, of course, the final resting place of Albus Dumbledore:

Loch Eilt, resting place of Dumbledore
Loch Eilt, resting place of Dumbledore
Another view across Loch Eilt
Another view across Loch Eilt

It was raining verily, and I was recovering from a BARE migraine, so we didn’t get a chance to go out in the kayak and look around the islands and explore them (which I had hoped).  We went back to Glenfinnan.  I’d expected the viaduct to just be visible from a lay-by or something, but apparently not.  We parked at Glenfinnan train station and found out there was a walk to get to the viaduct.  Fans of the Harry Potter films will remember that the Glenfinnan Viaduct is where the Hogwarts Express can be seen iconically making its way to the school every September 1st (somewhere around 20-40 minutes into most of the films).

The walk to the Glenfinnan Viaduct.
The walk to the Glenfinnan Viaduct.  It looks like it belongs in Harry Potter before you even go anywhere!

The sign at the start said 1-2 hours walk, but we found the walk to be much quicker, and you get your first glimpse of the Glenfinnan Viaduct after just 10-15 minutes of walking (uphill):

The first glimpse of the viaduct
The first glimpse of the viaduct, with a standard British train on it (no, trainspotters, don’t ask me to define a “standard” British train).

We got closer and the views were absolutely stunning:

Glenfinnan Viaduct.
Glenfinnan Viaduct.

I took a panorama shot as well – click to enlarge:

A panoramic shot of the Glenfinnan Viaduct.
A panoramic shot of the Glenfinnan Viaduct.

I was very taken with it, and even though it was pouring with rain (hence the mistyness to all these pictures) I stayed for a good few minutes.  When it was time to go back, we were at the “first glimpse” viewing point when we heard a STEAM TRAIN!!!  I was so excited, I RAN back to the first glimpse point, and waited patiently to snap some pictures.

Sadly, as you will see from my photos, the misty drizzle has wrecked the background (this was my second camera, because it has the best zoom and it was raining so I didn’t want to wreck my new-second-hand Canon EOS).

A STEAM TRAIN!!!
A STEAM TRAIN!!!
A STEAM TRAIN ON THE GLENFINNAN VIADUCT!!
A STEAM TRAIN ON THE GLENFINNAN VIADUCT!!

I resorted to my second ever use of photo editing software to try and get the above image to come out better, and I don’t really know what I’m doing, so it came out like this:

The steam train on the Glenfinnan Viaduct, “fixed” with pixl editor.

If anyone has any suggestions for how to fix the first picture, I still have the original.

We did look for Steall Falls as well when we were around Ben Nevis, but we walked down by the river for about a mile and we never found it so we gave up and came back.

On the way home, we also passed by

Alnwick Castle:

Alnwick Castle, best viewed from the side of the road.  There are NO VIEWS FROM THEIR EXPENSIVE CAR PARK.
Alnwick Castle, best viewed from the side of the road just off the A1. There are NO VIEWS FROM THEIR EXPENSIVE CAR PARK.

We were going to go in but tickets are priced at DAMN EXPENSIVE and the whole place was teeming with kids and I had a head injury and they’d purposely only got one ticket booth open with another member of staff to one side selling a more expensive ticket, presumably this was orchestrated to try and increase sales of the more expensive ticket that meant you didn’t have to wait at the ticket booth.  Additionally, you have to pay for parking on entry (instead of pay and display or pay on exit), and you don’t find out ticket prices until after you’ve done this, unless you’ve looked online.  All in all, I thought the management of the castle was exploitative of guests, so even though we’d been fleeced for £3 of car parking money already, we decided to cut our losses and carry on home.  Shame, I would have liked to have seen it, it’s been on my “want to see” list for a while (being in Robin of Sherwood the 80s TV show, and a bunch of other stuff as well) but the confusing and over complicated ticketing prices combined with the tacky attempts to get us to spend more on an expensive ticket and swarms of badly behaved children everywhere all just put me right off.

I hope these pictures brightened up your Back to Hogwarts day, let me know if you need any information for planning a trip to see any of these sights, e.g. locations (that’s the Harry Potter Guide where I found some of the locations, and it’s fabulous. There were a couple of locations we didn’t find, which was a shame, but Scotland’s a huge great wilderness of things!

Back from Scotland

I’m back, I got back from the Highlands, Islands and Aberdeenshire this afternoon.  Did you have a nice quiet week without me?  I will catch up on blogs as and when I can.

So I was pretty ill on my first two days of travel and then the day before yesterday I hit my head pretty hard on a large piece of Scotland, so the holiday was far less productive than I anticipated, however, I have now been able to tick the following things off my 30 list:

  1. Visit the Brochs in Scotland (yay I can finally tick this one off – I went to Tappoch broch near Falkirk in April which I did a Youtube video about here: 

    ; and now I have seen two more up at Glenelg – Dun Telve and Dun Troddan which were even more spectacular (I filmed them and THEN realized I haven’t sorted out the sound on my new camera so I may have to Redo from Start).

  2. Go to Skye.  On my 40 list it’s more specific and says I have to go to the caves but my 30 list just says to visit Skye.  Which I did.
  3. Climb Ben Nevis.  This was the most exciting thing I did on holiday (and I did it yesterday so I’m probably suffering from the recency effect) and I felt really proud given that five years ago I couldn’t even walk to the front door unaided because I had a back problem.  Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in the UK and I climbed the crap out of that badboy.  I have the hip pain and “runners knee” (except I get it after I climb mountains) to prove it.

I did a bunch of other stuff as well, including getting sunburnt on the beach 20 miles north of Aberdeen (I couldn’t believe it, I didn’t even take suncream), going around some of the Harry Potter filming locations (I will do an article on this VERY soon) and photographing a beautiful partial moon that was BRIGHT ORANGE (I haven’t seen an orange moon for AGES – probably since I moved away from Bonny Scotland) with my new camera.  It needs a decent telephoto lens but it was cool to have an opportunity to try out astrophotography even if it was a bit of a non-starter.  Here’s how those pics came out:

This was a 10 second exposure of the moon when it was orange, taken in the Highlands. The bit underneath is cloud and it wasn't a full moon.
This was a 10 second exposure of the moon when it was orange, taken in the Highlands. The bit underneath is cloud and it wasn’t a full moon.  The tripod moved slightly when I was taking it.  It was taken with the 18-55mm Canon EOS EF-S lens on my new EOS 650D camera.  The lens isn’t very good as it came without a lens cap and all smudgy and dusty (I got it second hand and cleaned it all up of course; I could never afford a brand new one of these babies), I can’t wait to acquire a telephoto lens to do better pictures!
The tripod stayed still for this one and the ISO was lower.
The tripod stayed still for this one and the ISO was lower.
This is a picture of the Big Dipper with the same camera and lens - if you've ever tried to photograph stars with a camera you'll know why I got so excited when I saw how this one came out. I have brightened this one so you can see the big dipper, I haven't ever used picture editing software before so I'm sorry if it's come out bad but I was so excited to see these stars came out - when I shot them, I was going to delete the picture because I thought it was just blackness. I wish my tripod had stayed still for a longer exposure but I'm so excited to try again next time I get to somewhere with the same lack of light pollution.
This is a picture of the Big Dipper with the same camera and lens – if you’ve ever tried to photograph stars with a camera you’ll know why I got so excited when I saw how this one came out. I have brightened this one so you can see the big dipper better, I haven’t ever used picture editing software before so I’m sorry if it’s come out bad but I was so excited to see these stars came out – when I shot them, I was going to delete the picture because I thought it was just blackness. I wish my tripod had stayed still for a longer exposure but I’m so excited to try again next time I get to somewhere with the same lack of light pollution.
The original pic of the big dipper before I brightened it, should you wish to compare.
The original pic of the big dipper before I brightened it (above), should you wish to compare.

I am very tired and my head is still very sore from where I hit it (egg cracking sound still making me cringe as I keep reliving it over and over) and I set off for home from Fort William at about 11:30pm last night, so I will sign off for now but rest assured, gentle and fearless readers, I shall return in…

Jasmine Honey Adams:  The Full Scottish Breakfast that Loved Me  (cue James Bond theme).

Ben Lomond? More like Ben SNOWmond!

Having just got back from climbing Mount Snowdon, I thought I should write up my ascent of Ben Lomond from early April.  I’ve written this from beginning to end rather than as a “travel piece” as I wanted to share some useful information about the climb.

Ben Lomond.
Ben Lomond.

Ben Lomond is 974m high and it’s a Munro but it’s not even in the top 10 highest mountains in Scotland – which starts with Ben Lawers at 1214 metres high, which is over 200m higher than the highest mountain in England (Scafell Pike, 978m), as a reference. Ben Lomond is only 4m lower than Scafell Pike, so I thought Ben Lomond would be a better climb since S.P. was an abortive mission back in February due to flooding and the whole of Wasdale (where S.P. is) had given me a VERY eerie “get out” kinda vibe so I was in no rush to return. Also Ben Lomond was on my ORIGINAL 30 list before I subbed it for S.P. when I posted about my list as I thought it was unfair to England if all the mountains from the UK were from Scotland (and one from Wales). I retract this wholeheartedly – Scottish mountains are just the absolute best in the UK, seconded by their milder friends, the Welsh mountains.

Scottish mountains are like dogs – they’re so excited to see you and boisterous and so much outdoor fun (but they can bite you); Welsh mountains are like rabbits – they’re very mild mannered and friendly, but they’d never eat you unless you looked like a carrot (but they might nibble); and English mountains are like cats – they just refuse to co-operate even when you bring them treats, and insist on hanging out in hard-to-reach places.

It started off in Rowardennan car park, which is on the East side of Loch Lomond.  To get to the car park, you have to drive to take a left at Drymen (Rowardennan is signposted) and drive up a very long country road with forest on one side and Loch Lomond on the other.

Parking was fairly cheap, although, being early April, it was still the off-season when I went (which surprised me as I’m used to the tourist season starting a month earlier, in March, in England).

There is a set of public toilets that are near the beginning of the route, and these were excellent with benches to sit on to put boots etc on since it was drizzly raining outside.  I decided since it was drizzling to go up in my trainers.  My husband went up in his walking boots, which he has had since about 1997, which were a poor choice as they have cracked, hard soles.  His feet got wet before mine.

A mysterious trapdoor in the ladies toilets.  I wondered where it led, but couldn't get it opened to find out.
A mysterious trapdoor in the ladies toilets. I wondered where it led, but couldn’t get it opened to find out.

The initial climb is in a straight line and everything seems easy if somewhat steep as you get up past the treeline.  Then, out of nowhere, it makes you choose a path, left or right, neither of which seem to be going UP the mountain.  But that’s okay because the summit straight in front of you isn’t Ben Lomond, it’s the taller one to the left that looks like it’s on a separate mountainside (because it is).

So it’s very important to go left here, otherwise you will spend a VERY long time being lost.  When we climbed it, starting at about 7am and ending around 11am, it wasn’t teriffically busy.  We were literally the only people on the mountain until we started our descent, so if anything had gone wrong we would have been a bit stuck.

I Considered the Evidence for The Fauna of Ben Lomond

As soon as we started on the left hand path, we were suddenly attacked by a very very harsh strong wind and it still drizzled constantly on this bit.  Loch Lomond was on our left at this point.  We kept going and saw loads of what we thought was dog poo, although since seeing so much of it that looks the same, I think it must have been fox poo.  There are no wolves in Scotland, as they were hunted to extinction, so it definitely wasn’t wolves.  Which was odd because all the poo was larger.  This probably doesn’t matter to most readers, but being an archaeology graduate, this did bug me, so I did some research and found two possible animals – the Scottish Wildcat, or a special red-fox subspecies (a giant red fox breed) called Vulpis vulpis vulpis (it’s apparently much larger than the standard red fox vulpis vulpis crucigera).  This giant red fox is apparently only native to Scotland.  Since there was also plenty of what looked like giant oval-shaped rabbit poo, I inferred that the giant rabbit poo came either from deer, because sheep do similar droppings, or mountain hares.

This theory was borne out when we turned a corner slightly and came face to face with two grazing deer.  They must have heard us coming but they still seemed surprised, and only ran off when my camera made it’s “beep beep beep beep” turning on noise (the MOST annoying thing when trying to photograph ANY animals at all as it always makes them move).  So we could tick that mystery off as solved (although I was disappointed that it wasn’t mountain hares, but you can’t be TOO disappointed because deer are soooooo adorable).  We saw quite a few other deer out and about at this time of the morning, so I think the droppings probably weren’t from mountain hares.

Shortly afterwards, I saw an interesting-shaped rock on the ground.  It was a pentagon, and it was almost regular, which was amazing because it was clearly done by natural processes such as weathering – there were no cut marks on it at all!  This was not evidence of animal activity, but it was still an interesting feat of nature so I took a photo.

An interestingly shaped rock.
An interestingly shaped rock.

We reached a gate thingy then we went along another path for quite a while, then we went through a second gate where we soon found a sign that said Ben Lomond.  We joked with each other that we must have reached the top -although we knew full well that this was clearly the start of its prominence.  The prominence is the part of the mountain where it’s not part of another peak, mountain etc, which is almost always lower than its elevation.  When people talk about “Ultras” or “Ultra Prominents” they mean mountains whose prominence is over 1500 metres, but that just means that 1500 metres or more of the mountain sticks up above all the rest of the mountains in a group or the rest of the land if it’s on its own.  The first “Ultra” on my list of 20 mountains is Arcalod, in France.

Are we there yet??
Are we there yet??

We carried on past the sign and the drizzle remained stopped but the wind started to blow worse, after a little while I took this next picture of the view, it’s the last picture I got before we came back down.

This was the very last picture I got before that whiteout in the distance reached us and started gnawing at my face.
This was the very last picture I got before that whiteout in the distance reached us and started gnawing at my face.

Those clouds moved VERY fast, the wind must have been blowing them across, and we then fought with side winds of over 60mph and some very vicious hail at one side of us.  There was no shelter from it, as Ben Lomond is a very exposed mountain, and we basically had to climb it with one hand covering our left ear to protect us from the 60 mph hailstones.

Whiteout in April

As we trudged ever upwards, we discovered that the snow we’d seen from below was actually made from these same hailstones that were attacking us – millions of them combining to form icy snowlike stuff, covering the surfaces more and more, until a bit where we needed to scramble (a climb not long or steep enough to require rope) up a 20 foot section and suddenly the ground was totally white.  The path was just about visible.  Then as we kept going the path disappeared completely, and it stayed like that with the biting hailstones and wind, which my husband found he could sit backwards on, and be kept upright (literally, he was sitting as if he was on a chair, and the only thing holding him in place was this strong wind).  We were frequently being blown sideways and progress became very very difficult, until we finally got to the top.  The wind and hail were awful, and I couldn’t get my phone out to take any photos because I was afraid it would get blown away.  All the “respect the mountain” type information goes on about taking an ice axe and crampons, but I don’t think they consider that these aren’t the ONLY solution or the ONLY things you need to take up a mountain, because the main problem was the wind and the velocity of these sharp hailstones, they would have just been dead weight in my pack.  I think the crampons at least would have been useful on the top but they wouldn’t have solved the worst difficulty which was not being able to open your eyes because of the barrage of projectiles.  It was like being repeatedly shot in the face with an airgun, and we both had a lot of redness and bruising on one side of our face from our ascent (and I had the lower half of my face covered with a cotton scarf for protection).  There was no view, just hail in our faces causing a total whiteout, so we didn’t linger, and turned back, making our way back down the mountainside a lot more quickly.  The wind and snow stopped again when we reached the Ben Lomond sign (peculiously) and by this time of the day, the path we had climbed was now covered in water and we were paddling back down the mountain.

My face on the way back down.
My face on the way back down.

Mountain Survival

I didn’t really feel much of a sense of achievement because it was mostly a survival issue from before we reached the summit (the top):  The temperature was about -10 and we needed to get down to the tree line as quickly as possible before hypothermia set in, because I’d brought my standard winter gloves instead of my amazingly protective +3 Gloves of Snowboarding (I’ve never snowboarded, I have them for when I go to the Alps).  Standard gloves are fine for normal ground-level snow (when you’re not at any altitude) or for hill walking, but when you get over about 700m above sea level, I would strongly recommend using skiing gloves or snowboarding gloves (not those shitty thinsulate ones) as my hands went numb in my gloves!  It’s good to learn the exact limitations and appropriate times for equipment from experiences such as this though – as I said when I didn’t get to the top of Scafell Pike, sometimes you learn more from what you FAILED to do than what you did do, because you can often see what you need to do next time.  This time, I failed to take appropriate gloves, and I can now see exactly when I need thicker gloves (and when I went up Snowdon, I did NOT make the same mistake, and I will never take the wrong gloves up a mountain ever again).  On the flipside, I was glad I took my trainers and not my snow shoes because they are lightweight and flexible and don’t cause me excessive ankle strain or leg tiredness, and in fact keep my feet more comfortable because I get too hot in big boots.  I find that while all the respect the mountain type people have a point that walking boots are a good choice of footwear, I strongly disagree that they are “essential” for any of the non-technical climbs in the UK.  I have struggled to complete mountains in boots (I wore my snow boots to do Scafell Pike because it was February and I would have needed to wear them with my crampons except there was no snow on S.P. in Feb) because as my grandma used to say, “heavy boots weigh you down” and I find I can walk much further, climb higher and balance better in trainers.  Different strokes for different folks.  There’s more than one way to climb a mountain.

On the way back down we took a different path for a small section where we ended up climbing down a waterfall which was awesome and really pretty:

The second waterfall we climbed down.
The second waterfall we climbed down.  Going round would have been just as slippery and also muddy and therefore less awesome.

Farewell, Lovely Trainers

This was the footpath on the way back.
This was the footpath on the way back.  It’s underwater at the front too, just a different depth.

The streams on the descent were the first point my trainers got wet, but ultimately it was their death toll because we had nowhere to dry them, since we didn’t check into a hotel for another day, so they went mouldy or something, and I washed them twice in the washing machine when I got home, but they just had to go to the bin in the end because they smelled absolutely foul.  Ben Lomond might have been their swan song, but they were a very good pair of trainers and they got me up and down the mountain with no blisters or anything.  While some very expensive walking boots would have kept my feet dry (cheap ones generally don’t), I didn’t really have a problem with getting wet on the descent.

Back at the car, I changed into my jelly sandals so my feet could dry out while I drove us to the Loch Lomond entertainment complex (there was an exciting adventure with a dog cafe).  I think the whole climb took about four and a half hours up and down, because we set off at about 7am and got to the car at 11:30am.

The next day, we checked into our beautiful hotel (we were staying in our car camper around Loch Lomond, which is really hard as there are major byelaws so you have to follow the rules or risk getting a big fine) and I found for the first day that it was hard to walk down the stairs because my leg bones just under my knees were really swollen and couldn’t bend properly on stairs!!  I had done loads of training and particularly built up the muscles around my knees but my bones seemed to let me down.  I do have a problem with them anyway ever since I bruised the bone on one leg (and the swelling tore the skin right open – I have a very sexy scar on one leg because of it) a couple of years ago, when I fell down the stairs and landed with my full body weight on something sharp with my shin.  The other leg seemed to get compression problems from being walked on for six weeks straight because I didn’t take a single day off because it happened during teacher training and if you take more than three days off (at all) you fail it at the training provider I was attending.  As an aside, my childhood dog died two weeks later at the ripe old age of 16, so I took a day off for that instead.  I will write an article on Dillon one day because he was the best dog in the universe.  But that was all 2 years ago.  The bone pain from mountain climbing went away after a few days, although I’ve got it again today, the day after climbing Snowdon.  I will have to look into this at some point.

Phew, I’ve FINALLY posted about this trip up Mount Ben Lomond. Expect another mountain post about Snowdon very soon.  I am aware I keep saying I climbed Snowdon yesterday, and the date stamp will say this was published on Wednesday, but it’s going to be posted just after midnight so when I say yesterday all through the start and end of this blog post, I mean Monday, when I climbed Snowdon.  It’s only taken me all afternoon to finish writing this post what with seeing the (private not NHS) psychiatrist today and everything else!