The Kiss of Sweet Scottish Rain

Day 24 - Looking back to the Kings House

Day 24 – Leaving Kings House, Glen Coe

Because I live in southwest Connecticut, I mostly share hiking experiences from my home state and neighboring New York. Other parts of North America get a look-in when I am lucky enough to travel. I love the American wilds. But long before I ever set foot on an American trail, I loved the landscapes of Scotland.

Scotland just happens to be where I was born, although I did not get to stay there for long. The Kiss of Sweet Scottish Rain is, for sure, about walking; 420 miles of it, in fact, from the far northwest to the English border. But the book is also about roots and heritage. If you like the outdoors, or Scotland, armchair journeying or memoir, you might like my book. Clicking on the image to the right will take you to bookstore links, as well as to cover reviews and the chance to read the opening pages. Here are snippets from two cover reviews, one from each side of the Atlantic:

“This is a book that inspires and it urges you to grab your boots and turn your face to the wind and set off into the Celtic twilight.”— Cameron McNeish, hiker, author and television presenter

“The Kiss of Sweet Scottish Rain is travel writing at its best.”—David Miller, author of AWOL on the Appalachian Trail

“Hiking Across Scotland”

AMC-logoSave the date!

On Tuesday February 9th I will again try my hand at Appalachian Mountain Club dinner speaking. Here are the details from the the AMC announcement.

Scotland offers the hiker and backpacker exceptional choice and freedom, if not always the finest weather.

Join hiker and writer Rob McWilliams on a 420-mile trek from the far northwest at Cape Wrath to the English border on the Solway Firth.

Our journey will take in the lonely northwest Highlands; the renowned West Highland Way; the River Clyde from Glasgow to source; and the often neglected Southern Uplands. Come prepared for trackless terrain, storms, midges, spectacular scenery, solitude, and history.

Doors Open at 6.15 pm.  Drinks and appetizers 6:30pm; Presentation 7.30pm to 8.30pm. $6 members, $8 non-members. St Thomas Church, 95 Greenwood Ave. Bethel. No reservations. Pay at door.

Day 15 - You know who on the climb to the bealach

Approaching Bealach an Sgàirne, a mountain pass near Glenshiel.

Taking a Hike – January in Scotland

Loch Lomond from the Ben Lomond path

Loch Lomond from the Ben Lomond path

Southern Upland Way looking toward the Lowther Hills

Southern Upland Way looking toward the Lowther Hills

You would not choose to travel to Scotland in January to hike. Winter hiking, I suspect, is everywhere a local’s thing. Best to have years of experience of the terrain and weather, best to be able to head out at short notice when conditions are most favorable. I have hiked plenty in Scotland, but in the mild, light seasons.

Last month a family funeral took me to Glasgow – not as cold as the US Northeast, but windier, darker, and icy enough. “Taking a Hike”, my monthly newspaper column, is this month about some hiking I did after the funeral and family visits. The column was published this week in both The Hour (Winter hikes in Scotland) and at Hersam-Acorn Arts & Leisure (Winter in Scotland has its rewards).

The Wildcat River, New Hampshire, after rain

The Wildcat River, New Hampshire, after rain

November’s “Taking a Hike” – New Hampshire’s Wild River Wilderness – is now available in full on this site (via the Taking a Hike tab – 2014: “Nov – Wild River Wilderness” – or by clicking here).

Across Scotland – New Lanark to the Solway Firth

Start, finish and overnight stops of Week Six.

Start, finish and overnight stops of Week Six.

It looks as if WordPress successfully published last week’s post for me as I slept at Carter Notch Hut in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. At least, I was probably sleeping. I suppose it could have happened during one of my wakening moments – when a critter scuttled across the hut floor; when the hut filled with a thin gray light of uncertain origin; when the gale and rain outside really cranked up the noise. Anyway, back to Scotland three years ago.

Week Six took me from the Upper Clyde Valley at New Lanark, over the Southern Uplands, and finally along Annandale to the Solway Firth. The Firth is a bay that divides southwest Scotland from northwest England, and was therefore the end of my journey.

Some journeys fizzle out. I don’t feel this one did. Although the last two days were an easy walk on country lanes, the 20 miles on the Southern Upland Way harkened back to the Highlands – solitude, rough trails, treelessness.

START: New Lanark, Saturday October 8th.
FINISH: The Solway Firth at Annan, Thursday 13th.
DISTANCE: 73 miles.

Day 38 - Rainbow over the Potrail Water, a headwater of the River Clyde.

Day 38 – Rainbow over the Potrail Water, a headwater of the River Clyde.

TERRAIN: Mostly country lanes, plus 20 miles of the Southern Upland Way. Approaching Beattock, I came to think of the path as the Southern Upland Waterway.
BEST WEATHER: A rainbow during a bright spell near the source of the River Clyde.
WORST WEATHER: Cold, horizontal rain on the climb to Wanlockhead, Scotland’s highest village.
WILDLIFE HIGHLIGHT: A gray-white bird of prey – a peregrine falcon perhaps – circling above the river at the Falls of Clyde.
MOST IMPRESSIVE HILL: The steep green hills hemming in the Dalveen Pass between Wanlockhead and Beattock.

BEST COMPANY: The friendly staff and guests at The Hopetoun Arms in Leadhills, where I took shelter from that “cold, horizontal rain”.
BEST “CRAIC”: Spain versus Scotland football match in the bar of The Old Stables Inn at Beattock. It was the end of Scotland’s hopes of qualifying for Euro 2012, but the crowd – especially a joker called Willy – eased the pain.
BEST LODGING: The Garage B&B in Wanlockhead, run by a friendly granny named Emily.

HIGHEST HIGH: Spying the Solway Firth 40 miles off from high on Hods Hill.
LOWEST LOW: My evening in Lochmaben. It seemed a nondescript place but, more importantly, I just wanted the time to pass so I could start my last day’s hike.

HISTORY NOTE: Recent economic history. I ran into the turbines of Clyde Wind Farm high in the Southern Uplands. It was still under construction, but when it opened a year later it boasted 152 turbines, generating power for 280,000 homes. This is at the cost of views, of course. A reasonable cost? A government survey of visitors to Scotland found that 80% of them were not put off by the turbines that have sprouted over the landscape to date. I agree with the 80% – for now.

Day 41 - THE END. The Solway Firth at Annan.

Day 41 – THE END. The Solway Firth at Annan.

Across Scotland – Glasgow to New Lanark

Glasgow - back to Milngavie - onward up the Clyde Valley

Glasgow – back to Milngavie – onward up the Clyde Valley

When this post is published, I hope to be in New Hampshire’s White Mountains; 3,288 feet high, and asleep too. I am programing WordPress to publish in the wee hours of October 8th. If all goes well, I will be snoring in Carter Notch Hut at that time. The post is the fifth of the “map, notes and photos” series recalling my hike the length of Scotland exactly 3 years ago.

In a sense, Week Five was a series of day-hikes. I walked from Glasgow City Centre back to Milngavie, where I had ended the West Highland Way. I walked 12 miles up the urban Clyde, visited relatives in Bellshill, and then took the train back to Glasgow. The next day I actually carried my big pack – from Uddingston to Wishaw – but then rode the train on to Lanark, where I stayed at the nearby New Lanark youth hostel. I returned to Wishaw the next morning, and then walked the banks of the river back up to New Lanark.

I took all these rides – rattling back and forth to the SYHA hostels in Glasgow and New Lanark – because I was unsure if I’d find suitable accommodation in the industrial towns that line the Clyde upstream from Glasgow. It was a short week too, but it took me from the city center to the tight, rural valley of the Falls of Clyde.

START: Glasgow, Monday October 3rd.
FINISH: New Lanark, Thursday 6th.
DISTANCE: 43 miles.

TERRAIN: City and suburban streets; paved riverside track; footpaths from the broad and fine to the thin and slimy.
BEST WEATHER: The solitary sunny day, Friday – a day off in Lanark.
WORST WEATHER: If the sun came out at all from Saturday to Wednesday, I do not remember it; and I think I would have.
WILDLIFE HIGHLIGHT: A fox darting across a footpath near Cambuslang.
MOST IMPRESSIVE HILL: Tinto, seen to the south from the train from Lanark to Wishaw on my way to start Thursday’s hike – at 2,333 feet the highest hill since Loch Lomond.

The Arlington bar, Woodlands Road, Glasgow's West End.

The Arlington bar, Woodlands Road, Glasgow’s West End.

BEST COMPANY: Visits with relatives in Glasgow and Bellshill, no doubt about that.
BEST “CRAIC”: I made the friendly, no-frills Arlington bar my Glasgow local (seen right on sunnier visit).
BEST LODGING: The spacious SYHA hostel at New Lanark, where I stayed 3 nights. I stayed 5 nights in total at its Glasgow equivalent. Its only negative was a dormitory overcrowded with Glasgow University students who had not yet found permanent digs.

HIGHEST HIGH: Probably the convenience store worker in Uddingston who, when I said I had walked out from Glasgow (12 miles), said with total sincerity “From Glasgow? That’s amazing! I didn’t know you could do that.”
: A generalized low in Glasgow whenever I was not in company or otherwise entertained. It may have been city rain, or the dormitory, or a yearning for home.

HISTORY NOTE: My walk took me along the edge of Glasgow Green – the city’s first public open space, and scene of the “great proletarian celebration”. Glasgow had held a summer fair since 1190, at first a place to trade but, by the 1800s, the venue for a week of “Bachannalian bad behavior”. By 1870, the city fathers had had enough of it and banished the fair from the Green. “Glasgow Fair” is still the name of a July public holiday in the city.

Day 34 - Sunshine and coming squall, the River Clyde in South Lanarkshire near Crossford.

Day 34 – Sunshine and coming squall, the River Clyde in South Lanarkshire near Crossford.

Across Scotland – Fort William to Glasgow

Start, finish and overnight stops of Week Four.

Start, finish and overnight stops of Week Four.

Week Four of my walk across Scotland three years ago was different from weeks 1-3; not the weather (still mostly either a dry or a wet gray), and not the scenery (still varied and spectacular). But this week I did not have to plot my own course; it was laid out for me by the West Highland Way – the popular, 95-mile marked trail from Fort William to Glasgow.

Most of the 30,000 people who walk the WHW each year do so south to north, and for many it is their first (and last!) long-distance hike. If it had been my first long-distance Highland hike too, I know it would have felt like a big adventure. But after my three weeks in the northwest, it felt undemanding at times; not easy, just laid on. This does not mean I did not enjoy it. I did, immensely.

I have said that the southern end of the WHW is in Glasgow. That is not quite true. The trail ends (or, more usually, begins) in Milngavie, a town on the outskirts of the city (and pronounced Mull-GUY, by the way). My week’s journey ended on a train from Milngavie to Glasgow Central. But, in the interests of completeness, I walked the city and suburban streets back to the town a few days later. Week Four:

START: Fort William, Saturday September 24th.
FINISH: Glasgow, Friday 30th.
DISTANCE: 95 miles.

Day 24 - Kings House from the trail south; Beinn a' Chrulaiste behind.

Day 24 – Kings House from the trail south; Beinn a’ Chrulaiste behind.

TERRAIN: Since this was the West Highland Way, much improved over my first three weeks. There was no trackless moor, but some trail – notably at the north end of Loch Lomond – was still rough enough.
BEST WEATHER: The sun came out as I skirted Rannoch Moor. If it had to choose to shine on only one section, this was the best choice (Kings House to Bridge of Orchy).
WORST WEATHER: The next day – torrents of rain around Tyndrum and into Strath Fillan.
WILDLIFE HIGHLIGHT: Coming face to face with a huge, horned, wild billy-goat beside Loch Lomond.
MOST IMPRESSIVE HILL: It has to be The Beuckle (Buachaille Etive Mòr) at the head of Glen Coe; storm-enveloped on Sunday afternoon, pointing into a blue sky on Monday morning.

BEST COMPANY: Although I only spoke to one other patron, the Climbers’ Bar at the Kings House Hotel on Sunday lunchtime. It held a steady procession of cheerful, soaked hikers.
BEST “CRAIC”: Not craic exactly, but rambunctious Partick Thistle football ground in Glasgow on Friday night. Come on the Jags!

BEST LODGING: Hmm. All the bunkhouses, hotels and hostels were special for something; Kings House and the Rowardennan SYHA for location; Bridge of Orchy Hotel and The Clachan Inn (Drymen) for food; and the Drovers Inn (Inverarnan) for sheer Disney-ness. The Blackwater Hostel in Kinlochleven was probably my best overall experience – friendly, simple, and an easy walk from the village.

Day 27 - Loch Lomond from Conic Hill, the Highland-Lowland boundary.

Day 27 – Loch Lomond from Conic Hill, the Highland-Lowland boundary.

HIGHEST HIGH: The view past the Pap of Glencoe to the mountains of Appin from high above Kinlochleven.
LOWEST LOW: A strange, short melancholy for no apparent reason at the southern edge of Rannoch Moor. Maybe it was as simple as a sudden shower in the woods after a morning of sunshine and open views.

HISTORY NOTE: The murder of Colin Campbell of Glenure in the woods of Lettermore in 1752 (the “Appin Murder”) was both a historical event and an episode in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped. Campbell was the crown representative on forfeited Jacobite estates in Appin, responsible for evicting disloyal tenants and collecting rents. One James of the Glens – almost certainly innocent – was hanged for the murder. Before mounting the scaffold he recited the 35th Psalm, still known in the Highlands as “The Psalm of James of the Glens”.

Across Scotland – Ratagan to Fort William

Start, finish and overnight stops of Week Three.

Start, finish and overnight stops of Week Three.

Week Three of my 2011 walk across Scotland took me to Fort William, the halfway point. A town of 10,000 people, it felt like a metropolis after the northwest Highlands. I reached it after a 22-mile, storm-battered day on the Great Glen Way, and stayed for two full days to get ready for the West Highland Way.

Fort William doesn’t get good reviews. The Rough Guide uses adjectives like grubby, wrecked and tacky to describe different aspects of the town. I did find hanging out there for two days tedious at times, but all my days off were a bit like that. Perhaps it was the sudden loss of the easy purpose of walking. Anyway, there was plenty about Fort William that I liked, from friendly folk through good curries to the West Highland Museum.

Notes for Week Three:

START: Ratagan youth hostel, Saturday September 17th.
FINISH: Fort William, Wednesday 21st.
DISTANCE: 67 miles.

TERRAIN: The usual selection, plus canal towpath into Fort William.
BEST WEATHER: Occasional sunshine, rainbows.
WORST WEATHER: Gale-force winds, lashing rain by Loch Lochy, south of Laggan.
WILDLIFE HIGHLIGHT: Thinking of – but not actually seeing – wildcats in Glen Affric.

Day 15 - At Bealach an Sgàirne,  looking east toward Glen Affric.

Day 15 – At Bealach an Sgàirne, looking east toward Glen Affric.

MOST IMPRESSIVE HILL: Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan (skoor nan ker-uh-van) seen from the glen between Glen Affric and the Cluanie Inn.

BEST COMPANY: Colin, warden of the Glen Affric youth hostel and maker of strong tea.
BEST “CRAIC”: At the Tomdoun Hotel, now sadly closed – good food, drink and talk in Scottish, English, Dutch and Hungarian-Romanian company.

BEST LODGING: For location and atmosphere, it has to be the Glen Affric youth hostel, 6 miles from the nearest tarmac. But I must mention the spotless Great Glen Hostel in Laggan too.

Day 18 - Loch Garry towards hills of Knoydart, a few miles from Tomdoun.

Day 18 – Loch Garry towards hills of Knoydart, a few miles from Tomdoun.

HIGHEST HIGH: Finding, eventually, a faint path leading away from the River Loyne. Without it, I’d have been heather-whacking over to Glen Garry.
LOWEST LOW: Occasional tedium in Fort William. I enjoyed much of the stay, but the days were gray, and kicking my heels was hard.

HISTORY NOTE: The last ten miles into Fort William followed the Caledonian Canal. It opened in 1822 after 19 years under construction, but quickly became a white elephant as the new ships – built of iron and powered by steam – neither fitted in it nor needed its shelter.