Prologue. Why Scotland?
(After a bit of rain, shortly before sunset and without any accommodation plans)
Dorian: “We are here because you wanted to!”
Andra: “And isn’t it beautiful!”
When I decided to move from London to Bucharest I had a clause: spend some time in Scotland. This was the place that before moving to London, convinced me the UK is a nice country to live in – only to discover it is further away from London than the Alps.
Oban: Friendly puffins and the coolest bus driver.
Once a friend showed me puffin pics from her trip to some remote island in Ireland. Ever since, facts and pictures with this bird, kept reappearing in one way or another into my life – seems like the confirmation bias was here. I had to see it for myself.
We take a train, hire a car, board a boat, take a bus and then another boat and see the puffins! It’s no wonder it took me so long to decide to come here.
The people we met here where some characters. The female bus driver – a kind and warm person, a witty sense of humor, an agile driver of a big vehicle on very narrow roads. I was almost sleeping on the way back, but would wake up laughing when hearing one of her stories. The man running the hostel – South-African middle aged guy, interested in macro economical, political conspirators, surprised we’re coming from Romania, and always regretting we couldn’t talk for longer. The birthday lady – a German woman, in her mid 50’s, educated in Scotland, celebrating her birthday by travelling alone to Oban. Divorced because she didn’t like the warm climate her husband chose somewhere in Asia.
Strontian: Where the plans changed for better.
We headed slowly North and stopped for a walk around a former mining site. I am impressed to see the Nature has regained its rights here. Somehow we manage to miss our route and head to the top a peat land. No pleasure at all, so we abandon the plan and head back. For a second we think to wild camp close to the parking place. Soon we discover we our legs are full of very tiny ticks, freshly clamped into our skin. We take them out and head to the first camping place, take a shower and continue inspecting our limbs for ticks while sipping a glass of Oban whiskey at sunset.
Here we meet the British cyclists’ couple: a couple probably our age, touring around Scotland on bikes and sleeping in tents. Each has its own tent. Not sure what their relationship status was, but definitely the weight to be carried was evenly split between the two. It rains like hell and they don’t mind it. She reads and he sips from a cup of tea while waiting for their equipment to dry. Their equipment seems so well organized while our car feels like a mess.
They come from Skye and the western Islands and give us some hints for our next stop: The Whiskey bar of the year.
Skye: finally we sleep in a bothy.
We arrive in Slighachen, just in time for the end of Glamaig hill race. The winner for the female category, over 60 is announced. Our jaws drop when we hear the time and see how good that lady looks. The world needs more role models and small heroes like her! Previous tough sports competition for women I have seen in Ro, hardly gather enough women to have a “women open” category.
Going up Glamaig is no fun, it’s a steep hill, a perfect cone. The view from the top, however is rewarding, unlike the scree descent.
We meet another character: the British hill walker that guides to the top of Am Basteir and warns us not to try our initial route without rope. We are thankful to his advice, and amused by the gravity in his voice when speaking about “the Cuillin, a classic British mountaineering route” – he sounds like a reading from a book.
Wild dolphins, white tailed eagle and sleeping in a Bothy overlooking the sea and only the sea makes the rain less bothering. We visit the Scottish Village Museum and see practical things (like the school seats and desks) we would probably still find in use today in rural Romania.
We head back to mainland and stop at what was probably the most comfy accommodation of the trip. We were alone in a hostel, heated with peat bogs, and all facilities. I love the human touch of this sort of places, where I rather feel like home than like a guest and where I don’t feel that intruding customer treatment, and slavering guilt of hotels. The owner talks about the Romanian guys living in his other accommodation place, building a house for a very wealthy man in the region.
Ben Nevis: Tower Ridge is the reason we are here.
Shortly before turning left to enter the North Face Car Park, the motorcyclist behind the 2nd car behind us, hits the car in front of him. They all decide it is our fault, for slowing down to turn left. The angry, heavy, tattooed motorcyclist threatens to sue me for aggressive driving. I am feeling for the first time in the UK a sort of stigma for being a foreigner, while all the other 6-7 British drivers and passengers of the two cars and the motorcyclist all unite in a sort of brotherhood to deem me guilty. I know it is not my fault and that their arguments are completely illogical. I remain incredibly calm and do not argue.
We enjoy an incredible sunset at the base of Tower Ridge and are lucky enough to climb it the next day with incredible views from the top. The sky clears up slowly after we arrive on the top. We realize how incredibly lucky we were after meeting a guy that climbed it 6 times and never had a view from the top. It’s no wonder the observatory from Ben Nevis is abandoned.
Cairgnoms: Not really my cup of tea.
We both have a feeling that Cairngoms is super commercial and over rated. Everything seems very organized and we lack the sense of freedom Skye and Oban instilled.
We have our first cvasi-illegal wild camping in probably the spot with the best view. Our tent ends up with a few small wholes though.
Arrochar: Too bad we couldn’t see a thing.
We climb the Cobbler, a nice looking stone on the cover of our touristy guidebook. We did not see anything alike the cover. We meet another character, the happy, ugly, Scot laughing and speaking loudly in the rain. This guy seemed happier as the weather got worse.
Glasgow: It always feels good to visit old friends.
Edinburgh, pronounced edin’bra, ok?
We try to enter the Castle but the queue easily changes our way to the art museum. We stock up on postcards, gifts and souvenirs.
We have one last pint in London at The Angel, overlooking the Thames and plan for the new things to come.