Grant and I safely made it to the UK (my emergency passport worked!!) and have spent the last week traveling in Scotland and visiting family relatives.
After spending a relaxing two nights at our cousin Cam's apartment in Edinburgh and eating Chinese take-away food (oh, I love comfort food!) Grant and I drove our rental car (or should I say Grant drove) 7 hours to the west coast of Scotland to an island called Isle of Skye. This is what our guide book said about the Isle of Skye: " The Isle of Skye has the greatest concentration of scenic splendour and variety in Britain...the spectacular Black and Red Cuillin Mountains are all about strain and challenge...and to the north the Trotternish peninsula has an undulating spine of crumbling escarpments and pinnacles." We were so excited to experience this island!
The first priority while on the Isle of Skye was to visit The Talisker Distillery, Skye's only malt whisky distillery. I don't enjoy tasting whisky as much as beer and wine, but it is a fascinating timely process using ingredients like peat and needing to be aged for at least 10 years. After the distillery we quickly checked into our hostel and then set off for a short walk (I had been in the car way too long!) We hiked to the Old Man of Storr, one of Scotland's iconic landmarks. The cloud level was very low that evening, which created for an eery hike (see pics below), but I guess that was the sort of scenery we were imagining in Scotland.
We stayed at a "bunkhouse" hostel where we shared a room with 6 other smelly guys. The hostel was surprisingly lovely (despite the smelly guys) with the dining room upstairs and overlooking a beautiful loche (lake). There was a group of 14 Scots from a mountaineering club who was staying at the hostel for a week. After Grant and I had our first night's dinner with this group, we were both motivated and excited to set off hiking the next morning, especially since the weather was supposed to be sunny and warm. We had decided to hike the Red Cuillin Horeshoe, a 7.5 mile hike with a total ascent of 1207 meters (the Red Cuillin mountains were more rounded than the jagged Black Cuillins). However, part way through the hike I got nervous about the steep scree slopes on the ridge where we were hiking (loose rocky paths). We were ultimately safe, but it was beyond my comfort zone, so thankfully Grant was patient with me and turned around after 2 hrs into the hike. My ego was bruised; however, it allowed us to go on another beautiful hike to a beach. Grant reminded me that hiking doesn't always have to be about conquering! It can also be about the journey. He is so true!
However, my ego was restored the next day when we left the Isle of Skye and drove 2.5 hrs inland to one of the most spectacular places I have ever seen... the Glen Coe. It has dramatic valleys (glens), loches (lakes) and both rounded and jagged grassy mountains starting at sea-level. I would want to be a geologist if I lived in Scotland! Back to my ego being restored...we had decided to climb Ben Nevis, the tallest peak in Scotland (4,406ft). As a result of not finishing the hike the previous day I was slightly nervous how this day would go. However, when we saw a group of older men (maybe early 70s) climbing, I regained confidence. 2 hrs and 40 min. later we were standing on the peak of Ben Nevis! My calves and thighs were screaming, but it was worth the effort!
Once again we stayed at a lovely hostel outside of Fort Williams...except this time Grant and I stayed in our own room! Pure luxury!! The owner was great and had a very sarcastic and dry humour--like from the Monty Python. He told us about two other hikes we had to do in the Glen Coe: one to a beautiful waterfall and the other to the Lost Valley. There are no words to describe what we saw. I will try to do them some justice by showing you the beautiful pics Grant took.
From the Glen Coe we drove south 2 hrs to small town on a peninsula near Glasgow, called Clynder. We spent the night with one of my dad's old college friends from Cambridge. It is so nice to have family connections! Here we had to remember our proper English manners!!
From there we traveled 1.5 hrs east to Sterling, where my cousin Tessa and her husband Lon live with their beautiful girls Orla (5 yrs old) and Mele (2.5 yrs old).The true Scotland weather returned while we were in Sterling: grey, cloudy, and drizzling. Lon and the girls took us to the east coast of Scotland, to St. Andrews, where the famous golf course and college is located. We built sand castles on the sandy beach, but after an hour, we were all bitterly cold and thus retreated to a coffee shop to have hot cocoa. Lon then decided to take us to the "Muddy Boots Farm." It is a farm where kids can ride toy tractors and bounce on giant air-filled pillows (like a bouncy castle without the castle), and feed goats and pigs and chickens. However, the best part was the over-5 year old section of the farm. This is where Grant and Lon and I excelled! We had competitions with peddle-powered off-road go-karts (Orla and I won!!) and lawn sledding (red sleds with tank tracks)...it is still under discussion who was the fastest! We saved the best for last... foam-ball air-powered cannons--like American Gladiators. The two little girls collected the foam balls for us as we tried to shoot one-another. It started to get a little dicey when 4 other 10 year old boys wanted to play and started chucking small plastic balls (like found at Mc Donald's play grounds)-- Mele and I decided to escape that scene. However, Grant and Lon both came to life-- I guess there is a time where all guys need to become little boys again!!
We left Tessa and Lon's house this morning and returned the rental car back to the airport (Grant did and awesome job driving!) We have 2 more days in Edinburgh, staying at cousin Cam's apartment, before we fly to London. Grant takes his teaching test for Philadelphia in London on Saturday, so please keep him in your thoughts and prayers. We will be staying in London at our cousin Joanne's flat for 3 days before we get on a train to go to Swansea, Wales where my Nana is from.
I hope everyone is doing well. Thank you for all of your thoughts and prayers. Only 16 more days left in the UK!!
Claire and Grant
Grant and Claire in front of Eilean Donan Castle, on the drive to Isle of Skye.
The "Old Man of Storr" on the Trotternish Penninsula on the Isle of Skye
The Black Cuillin Mountains in the background on the Isle of Skye.
Sunset in front of our hostel in Carbost, on the Isle of Skye.