From Bavaria and Tirol to the UK.
I flew to Edinburgh with EasyJet. It was cheaper than any other option and a heck of a lot faster. The weather wasn't perfect but it doesn't have to be for city touring. I spent 3 days here to check the place out. There is lots to see and I a bunk in Budget Backpackers hostel near the famous castle.
There is a long list of places I have been in this city. My days have been very full (photos): Edinburgh Castle, Scottish National War Memorial, Royal Mile historic street, Museum of Scotland, St. Giles Cathedral, Museum of Edinburgh, Scottish Parliment (outside), Palace of Holyroodhouse (outside), Sir Walter Scott Monument, Robert Louis Stevenson Monument, Greyfriar Bobby's grave & fountain, Princes Street Gardens, Holyrood Park and a hike up to the top of Arthur's Seat. Plus I managed to experience some of the local color on a couple occasions and sample the regional specialties of haggis and deep fried Mars bars. That last bit means that I need to get on the trail soon.
The whole city is preparing itself for next month. August is a huge festival month. The three big happenings are the Official Festival, the Fringe Festival, and the Military Tattoo. The Tattoo is something I would like to see but it sells out quickly even though it is a nightly event. Maybe I'll be able to score some tickets on my way back through Edinburgh on my way to York.
On Saturday I went to Newcastle Upon Tyne near the start of the Hadrians Wall Path. The beginning of the trail is in Wallsend which I can reach with a metro connection. What is Hadrians Wall Path? Only a National Trail since 2003, Hadrian's Wall Path follows the east-west course of the old roman fortification from Wallsend (suburb of Newcastle) to Bowness-on-Solway. In other words the wall runs from the west to east coast of northern England at one of the narrowest points. The Path follows closely but doesn't quite go coast to coast. The wall dates from the year 122 and its condition varies. Nationaltrail.co.uk describes the country through which it passes like this.
The 84 mile National Trail takes walkers along the riverside route in Tyneside, through farmland in Tynedale and the grazing upland section dominated by the Whin Sill enscarpment. It then gradually descends to the rich pastures of Cumbria and finally the salt marsh of the Solway Estuary
Along the way I will be treated to the roman wall, milecastles, and turrets as well as later historical sites and of course the English countryside. I'll keep a small journal and upload pictures. Obviously 84 miles, even with museums and other siteseeing, isn't going to take me very long to hike. The forecast is for surprisingly good weather. Wish me luck.
I'm doing another small thruhike. This time it is the Scottish "long distance" path known as the West Highland Way. At only 95 miles it isn't what I normally consider long distance but for the UK it is a good size and a bit longer than Wall Path I just finished. The northern half should be more wild.
I took a short train ride to Glasgow, Scotland's largest city. There are a few minor things I would have seen but it was raining so I decided to move on to the suburb of Milngavie where the trail starts after getting a map and groceries. Once there I decided bugger the rain and just get started right away. It was already 16:30 but it was only ten easy miles and it stays light late here.
I had hoped to be climbing Ben Nevis, UK's highest, today. I stopped off at the visitor center yesterday and got the bad weather news. "Rain, rain, rain." was how the one guy put it. The other was a little more helpful with specifics for 1000 meters elevation but it all meant the same thing that I wouldn't be going up the mountain.
Given the weather there isn't much else for me to do besides chores today. So I am catching up on my WHW journal, working on my website, and doing laundry. I'll plan out the next couple days later. Maybe the weather will clear in a day or two and I'll get a chance to go up the mountain before I leave the area.
It is still raining and not predicted to get any better over the next few days. Well Tuesday is supposed to be okay but not good enough for climbing. I'll spend some time doing tourist stuff in town today then move somewhere else on Monday. Now that the weekend is finishing up I can stop camping in the rain. The hostel down the street has an open bunk for the night. Whoo hoo!
Fort William is very small but has a few interesting sites. (update: none of those sites I actually got to see that day as for some reason the bus into town never arrived and I spent all my time in the hostel)
One option I had been considering was starting the Great Glen Way and hiking to Loch Ness and Inverness but with the weather the way it is that wouldn't be so pleasant. I might still take a picture of myself by the sign though.
A last minute change of plans put me back in the mountains. The weather forecast wasn't great or even good but it was adequate to make an attempt on Ben Nevis. I picked out a route that was supposed to be pretty fun. It was a rocky ridge traverse between two mountains. There was supposed to be some scrambling. After summitting Ben Nevis I could hike down the standard tourist track back to my tent and pack out.
Hiking to camp on Monday started out nice enough. It was cloudy but still decent weather and rain didn't look like it was threatening just yet. I took the old pony track from behind the visitor center on an ascending path along another mountain to a high pass below Ben Nevis. As I approached the pass the clouds unleashed a deluge. Sheets of wind driven rain were lashing me but I persevered across the soggy pass. The valley, Allt a'Mhuillin Glen, on the other side would be my camp. It was a longer than expected journey but I made it and found a decent camp.
I woke a couple times in the morning. First it was too early, then there was light rain, then it was too cloudy, then it was just right. The summit of Ben Nevis was in the clouds but all in all the conditions looked good. I could make this work. There was no trail so I headed directly up the low shoulder through grass and little shrubby plants. The ground was completely saturated with water and it was hard to keep my shoes from becoming submerged. Eventually I made it to a climber trail and that took me into the broken rocks on the upper slopes. From there it was just typical class 2 Colorado peakbagging except 10,000 feet lower. I skirted just below the minor peak of Carn Dearg Meadhonach (1179m) to summit Carn Mor Dearg (1220m). Pics. From there the graceful rocky Carn Mor Dearg Arête curves around the cirque of Coire Leis to the boulder covered slopes of Ben Nevis. I was a little disappointed in the route. I picked it because it sounded like there would be some scrambling and a little exposure on a narrow ridge. Not really. Pics. But that feeling was completely overwhelmed by my excitement and relief that the weather held I a had good visibility everywhere except the summit. I won't complain one bit. After the ridge traverse I was quickly on the summit at 4409 ft or 1344 m. It was nice to get another country highpoint even if it wasn't a climb.
Loch Ness needs no introduction. While I don't believe in Nessy one bit, the famous lake is close and is part of a beautiful area. I've decided not to hike to it along the Great Glen Way but take modern transportion. I have the time to walk but the weather and midges aren't so good so I'll spend more time doing something down south.
I was able to see the length of Loch Ness and made a stop at Urquhart Castle. As my guidebook warned it was teeming with tourists including a group of 61 Italians that were just ahead of me. The castle is just a shell but it's location makes it incredibly popular and the small castle artifact exhibit was interesting.
No I never saw anything weird in the water.
It was some effort to get here but I finally made it after a long night of bus transfers. York is a very historic city beginning with the Romans then the Vikings long before the Angles, Saxons, and Normans. I decided to buy a two day York Pass and do some heavy siteseeing beginning with a city tour.
Thursday was packed solid with nonstop touring. I started with a 3 hour walking tour led by a volunteer guide. From there I spent 1.5 hours in the landmark York Minster Cathedral. Those two things right there were most of the day. The remaining opening hours were spent between a partially excavated Roman bath under a bar, then Barley Hall, a townhouse from the 1480s, and finally a tour of York Brewery complete with a free pint.
Friday was much the same hectic schedule. I started out with Micklegate Bar then move on to the excellent Yorkshire Museum which had a great archeological exhibit plus natural history for the area. After that I walked over to the Merchant Adventurers Guild in their original 14th century building. It was a surprisingly good display. Then I thought I'd take my York Pass over to the cheesy York Dungeon but there was a huge line so instead I jump on York Boat for a couple mile trip down the Ouse River to the bishop's palace. After that I climbed Clifford's Tower and from there visited the Castle Museum.
Saturday was more relaxed. My pass was expired but the renowned National Railway Museum was free so that is where I headed. It is comparable to Sacramento, California's train museum but probably a little bigger. I don't really have a particular interested in historic trains but it was still interesting. See for yourself: National Railway Museum. After that I planned on stopping at the XXX which is directly across from the hostel where I am lodged, however, just as I was walking up to the gate a guy came out and chained it closed. Oh well. I need to spend some time planning out the next few days anyway.
Warwick Castle is billed as England's greatest castle (and possibly the most expensive) so I made a stop there before going on to Oxford for the night. Today was rainy so it was a good be inside trains and buildings most of the time.
I haven't seen enough of England's castles to rank it I suppose. It was good but I was expecting better. The Great Hall was awesome though. I lucked out with the crowds. Because the weather wasn't great and I arrived a bit late, I didn't really have to wait in any lines. That sped things up considerably and I was able to see the place in under two and a half hours. My photos tell the tale. Warwick Castle
Oxford is famous for it's university of course. I thought I would make an overnight stop here after Warwick. It puts me close to expensive London at a less expensive hostel and I get to visit an extra town.
As it turns out there was more to see than I expected. My walking tour took in a number of churches, towers, quaint timber buildings, small alleys, pubs (including one frequented by Tolkien and Lewis Carrol), and the local castle/prison complex. For a last minute stop this was really very good. I'm glad that I had this opportunity and now you can see it too: Oxford.
Finally I'm in London and my schedule allows me four days to see the sites. It isn't nearly enough but I can see an awful lot in that time. My sister, AdventureChick, is due to meet me at the hostel on the 23rd.
The photo is from Kings Cross station Platform 9¾ where I departed for a short excursion to Hogwarts but that is a long story not for the eyes of muggles like you.
For day 2 the plan was to visit Greenwich. All but the dullards will recognize that name from Greenwich Mean Time, aka Universal Time, aka Zulu Time. It is also the location of the Prime Meridian or 0° longitude. First I went to the British Library which had a varied collection of well known historical documents and a special exhibit of Abrahamic tradition holy books. I probably spent too much time there given all the things I wanted to do today. Anyway back to Greenwich... Together with Quito, Ecuador this means that I have straddled both 0° latitude and longitude. The Royal Observatory is the best place to do this but it isn't the only thing to see in town. I also went to the Naval Museum and saw a few other things. I returned via the south bank and checked off a number of other sites.
On day 3 I toured St. Paul's Cathedral. It is one of the two must-see churches in London and I agree. Besides the usual walk around the ground floor stair to upper levels and the crypt are open to the public. Since I arrived early there were not many other people but by the time I left it was really filling up. From there I went back to the hostel to wait and wait for my sister. Once we were reunited we did the standard London tourist walk starting at Big Ben and the Halls of Parliment to Westminster Abbey then by 10 Downing Street and the Horse Guards to Trafalgar Square. A visit to the British Museum (Rosetta Stone, Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon, Sutton Hoo ship burial, etc) rounded out the day.
The last day was almost totally absorbed by two major sites, the Tower of London and Buckingham Palace. The Tower took 5 hours to go through and we managed to stay ahead of the crowds. The crown jewels are impressive by the way. After that we rushed to Buckingham Palace or Buck House as the locals call it. We took an audio tour through all the state rooms open to the public. Both those places were worth the time and money. Like many other places photography isn't allowed inside though so I can't share much with you. Later we made our way to the London Eye which is a huge ferris wheel on the opposite bank of the Thames. I was surprised how popular it was given the steep £15 admission, but I guess it is something every visitor should do once. The huge wheel makes one revolution about every 30 minutes. People are loaded into large pods with a 360° view and can sit or move about during the journey. It was a little hazey outside but the view was still good. For dinner we went to a local style neighborhood restaurant near Picadilly Circus.
I began compiling a big gallery of photos today. Update: London. Done!
My sister, AdventureChick, has a few things to say on her site. I have no idea when she'll get her photos up though.
Bath was founded by the Romans at the site of a thermal spring. The town experienced a revival since the 1800s and is a big destination today. In fact I would saw that the place was mobbed. This is the absolute height of the high season. The one thing in our favor is that many people do this as a day trip from London so once the tours leave things settle down a bit.
The main attraction was the Roman bath of course but the town itself was an excellent example of Georgian what we call Neoclassical in the US. In fact with a little sand spread over the streets and the cars parked elsewhere it has become a movie set many times. We saw the bath first but that took so long to work through the whole site we didn't start looking around town until hours later. We finished with a pair of nearby pubs for something cask conditioned and hand pulled.
My bath photos. Doesn't that sound strange?
Most people who have been to Stonehenge refer to it as anticlimatic or disappointing, but not us. True it is smaller than you imagine and you cannot walk among the stones but that didn't detract from the experience. At least we could take pictures without a bunch of people in them. Also in the area are numerous bronze age barrow mounds. After finishing the audio tour I walked into a nearby field and visited a set of three. Not much to see there. My Stonehenge photos.