A circuitous route to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Stage One beginning in Munich, Germany ending in Jerusalem - traveling through Austria, Italy, Albania, Macedonia, Greece, Turkey, Cyprus and Israel. Second stage from Vienna, through Germany, Czech Republic, Holland, Belgium, France and Spain.
Final destination - Santiago!

Post Script: The changeable situation in Jerusalem has led to a change in plans. The Rome to Jerusalem leg of this journey has been changed to the 'End to End' in the UK, after which the journey will resume as above in Vienna.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Walking along two of the languid canals of Scotland.

I must say walking along the towpath of both the Forth & Clyde Canal and the Union Canal was a change from the hills and glens of the highlands and very pleasant.  The path skirts some delightful villages, a number of which I detoured into in search of sustenance (and a toilet facility!).  Surprisingly though, I found that I was often out in the country, as the canals made their languid way across Scotland from Glasgow to Edinburgh.

Port Dundas, on the Glasgow branch line of the Forth and Clyde canal.
A swing bridge with a difference near Port Dundas.  This is actually a rail line, moved out of the way to allow big ships to pass through (in the olden days), but then moved across when the train needed to cross.
At last the branch line is left behind and I am now headed towards Kilsyth, and ultimately Falkirk.
The autumn leaves are starting to turn, and here are some on display near Bishopbriggs.
The towpath included not only beautiful autumn leaves, but also beautiful birds.

The journey along the canals took four days and on my second day out I was fortunate to have the company of Charlotte, a friend I met in Orkney.  At the end of the first day I caught the train to Stirling, where she lives, and stayed the night in her home.  It was a real treat, as I accompanied her to the pub after dinner where she played her flute in the music session.  I got to hear a variety of music, mainly traditional folk music, over the three hours or so we were there.  The musicians and instruments were many, including three accordions, about four fiddles, a couple of mouth organs, numerous guitars, a very good spoon percussionist and Charlotte on her lovely wooden flute.

The next day we caught the train back to the canal and together we walked to Falkirk, via a place called the Rough Castle and some of the Antonine Wall, both historic Roman sites.

On the way to Falkirk we went past the Rough Castle and along a little of the Antonin's Wall, part of the Roman Heritage in this area.  The Antonine Wall is a dirt wall (and associated trenches) dug in Roman times for defence purposes.
These pits were for defence purposes too for the Roman Fort, but in Roman times they were covered and hidden, with sharpened stakes at the bottom of them.

Falkirk is the site of the amazing piece of engineering called the Falkirk Wheel.  This boat lift is the only one of its kind in the world.  The photos below give you some idea of the size of it.
The extraordinary Falkirk Wheel a boat lifter which lifts boats in a special gondola from the Forth & Clyde canal and lifts them 35 metres up (or down) from / to the Union canal.  This device replaced 11 locks.
Up on the Union Canal, about to go down to the Forth and Clyde.
The view from the Gondola.
There are two Gondolas.  Here you can see one ascending, and one descending (left).  Look closely and you can see the wheels in the tracks that guide the gondolas. Good old Archimedes and his theory of displacement is in full evidence on the wheel.
This photo, with me standing near, gives some idea of the size of the wheel.
This sculpture is one of two at the wheel site.  There is another site of these further out of town - they have the collective mame of "the kelpies".
The first lock that boats reach when being lifted from the lower (Forth & Clyde) canal to the higher one (Union).
Heading into Falkirk, after having a ride in a boat on the wheel and the canal, we came across these statues.
The next morning, leaving Falkirk, I had to find my way to the Union Canal to get to Edinburgh.  On the way I stopped off in a shopping centre and came across these lovely stained glass windows that were rescued from a demolished manor house and later restored .  The middle figure is Bonnie Prince Charlie.
 Leaving Falkirk.........
..........the first part of the towpath went through a long dimly lit tunnel.  Water plinked and tinkled as it dripped into the canal, and at times it made the bricks on the path very slippery.  I was VERY careful where I put my feet - my boots were worn out, and didn't grip too well. I had no desire to end up in the water!
Along the Union Canal.

The Union Canal goes over several aqueducts.  They are quite high, making for good views, but a bit scary when looking down.  They are also quite scary walking on them in the wind, as one gets buffeted about.
The aqueduct crossing the Avon River (above and below)
I couldn't get affordable accommodation on my last night on the canal and so I booked an extra night in Edinburgh, caught a bus into the city, and the next day I caught it back again and walked into Edinburgh.  What a treat to spend a day walking without a pack!
On the last day on the canal path I passed this narrow boat numerous times.  The wind was so strong that they were having terrible problems getting anywhere as the wind kept blowing them into the side of the bank.  There wasn't a lot of room squeezing under the numerous bridges either.
Here they are crossing the second aqueduct.
Nearly at Edinburgh, but you wouldn't know it from the scenery.
The wind pushed and pulled from all directions, with the flora being nearly flattened at times!
The last few kilometres took ages as I had to keep stopping to admire the sunset.

I had some shopping to do in Edinburgh.  My boots were worn out, and so yesterday I bought a new pair, and today I have spent the day doing tourist things, including visiting Rosslyn Chapel, and checking that all is well in the foot department!  Tomorrow I head south to a town called Melrose where I will connect with St Cuthbert's way at the end of the week.  Not only will I connect with that path, but I will also connect with my niece Greta, who is going to spend a week or so walking with me - a real treat!

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

A week's rest, and tourist time.

When in Fort William I had intended to take a few days off and go to the small Hebridean island of Iona.  However the forecast was reasonable and so I abandoned that thought and decided to make the best of the likely good walking weather, and instead took time off on reaching Glasgow.

This meant that I took a three hour train ride to Oban from Glasgow, a 45 minute ferry ride across to the Isle of Mull where I then boarded the bus for an hour, and finally boarded a second ferry for a 10 minute ride across to the Isle of Iona.  I actually stayed in the delightful seaside town of Oban before venturing across to the Isles, but returned in one day to Glasgow.
 The seaside town of Oban.
 Looking across the harbour in Oban
 Crossing to the Isle of Mull, the seas were very smooth.
Leaving from Oban, heading to Mull the rocky coast was clearly visible.

Iona is a place of pilgrimage for many, with the ancient Abbey now run by Visit Scotland, but used for services twice daily by the Iona Community, an Ecumenical Christian organisation set on building a sense of community amongst the many Christians who stay with them for a week at a time from Easter to the end of October.
 Iona, with the abbey on the right.  My hotel is the white building on the top left of the picture.
 above and below - the Abbey on Iona.

The cloisters at the abbey.

Iona is a special place.  It was to here that St Columba, an Irish monk, brought Christianity to Scotland back in the 500's.  The abbey that was subsequently built was at some point taken over by the Benedictines, but fell into ruin when the monks left, and remained thus until early 20th century when the Duke of Argyll gifted it to the Isle, and from that time it has been steadily and carefully repaired.  It was here on Iona that the Book of Kells was written, before being taken to Italy.

Iona is a very small island, only 3 miles long and a mile and a half wide.  It is incredibly beautiful, lovely beaches, turquoise seas, and a beautiful grass common which doubles as the "golf course", and of course the majestic abbey, and the ruins of the nunnery.  However, this idyllic scene can change in an instant, with winds (and tides) creating big grey seas, and clouds bringing heavy rain!  This happened to me when leaving, or rather not leaving, as it transpired.  A storm arriving overnight on Saturday meant that the ferry didnt run on Sunday morning and I couldn't get off the island, so I had another day of rest on the island, a delight I didn't mind.
 The beaches on the far side of the island are beautiful.
 Bird life on the island is prolific, and here are some geese in flight.
Just one of the beaches on Iona.
Iona has giant rocks as the hills, and quite a bit of water!
The few cows on the Isle were a bit like goats the way they climbed! As well as the black one there are three brown ones amongst the rocks.
I THINK this is where they play golf! The white marker has a number on it as does the tent peg on the left.  When the players need to head over the fence they presumably climb one of the numerous stiles.
I stayed in the friendly, helpful, and comfortable St Columba Hotel.
The view from the hotel lounge looking across to Fionnphort on the Isle of Mull.  The ferry is about to depart to come across to Iona.
The ferry trying to line up at the landing on Iona, on a very windy morning.

Monday was a small window of opportunity when ferries ran, and planes departed.  Not so Tuesday.  This has been a day when ferry and plane services were disrupted due to gale force winds and rain, a  result of a weakening hurricane to the West of the UK.  I have had another day of rest while the winds abate and plan to set off along the canals to Edinburgh tomorrow.
 In Glasgow I stayed in the "quirky" Pipers Tryst Hotel.  I was pleased to discover that the profits made by the hotel go to supporting the education of piping at the adjacent National Piping Centre
Beautiful stained glass in St Mungo's Cathedral in Glasgow.
Saint Mungo's Cathedral, Glasgow.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

The West Highland Way - part two

Day 30, Tyndrum to Inverarnan,  23.30 + kms. Beinglas Farm
Day 31,  Inverarnan to Rowardennan, 22.90 kms
Day 32, Rowardennan to Drymen,  23.00 kms
Day 33, Tuesday, Drymen to Milngavie,  18.60 kms
Day 34, Milngavie to Glasgow, 19.75  kms
(Plus another 5.5kms to and from dinner!)

I seemed to have been thwarted often on this path in that each time I tried to stay in the historic pubs they had no vacancies. This was the case at Inverarnan where the Drovers Inn was full and so instead I stayed at a place called Beinglas Farm, a combined campsite, bar, shop and B&B.

In future, with estimated times, I am going to have to add in "blather time", allowing an extra couple of hours because I spend so much time chatting to people along the way!  Again, heading for Beinglas Farm I arrived late, not far off dark.  Not only had I met walkers heading in the opposite direction, but on this day I also met the two "mad Scotsmen", Tony and Harry.  The special thing about this was that they have been the only people I have seen more than once.  These two brothers were in the area for a weekend of walking from a base camp.  It was really nice to see them crossing the bridge, and felt like I had seen some real friends that day, though sadly it was to be the last time our paths crossed.  More blather time!

One of the internet guides I have occasionally referred to has a key at the bottom of each page saying how easy (or difficult) the stage is, and a bog factor.  The next day was the first time that I had struck real bog that I had to somehow negotiate.  The stage only had a bog factor of 2, meaning that it might be a little boggy in parts, but it took some time to negotiate, as cows had gone through and churned up the bog!  Out of interest, a bog factor of 5 is:- " it's a swamp.  Snorkel reccomended"!

This was the stage that people had been warning me about - "it was rocky, it has a lot of tree roots, it's so hard- take the bus"!  It was also the stage that I was to see Loch Lomond for the first time, and so I wasn't going to miss out.  In anticipation of paying the baggage transfer people to carry my bag just for this difficult stage I did buy a little stowaway backpack at " the Green Welly", a petrol station "plus" in the village of Tyndrum.  However, it was to no avail, as they had finished the day before and so I had not choice but to carefully tread on the tree roots, climb over boulders, and in one scary instance, climb down a "ladder"!
The step ladder I had to descend with a full pack.  I'm a person who thinks a chair is high enough to stand on so you can guess what I thought on seeing this!
On this day not only did I have to contend with bog boulders and ladders, but also had to negotiate frequent streams flowing across the track.

This day was hard, and again I got in just as darkness fell, but was rewarded for my efforts with a bath in my hotel room in which I could soak my tired muscles!  The other reward on this day, and the following one, were the stunning views I had of the " bonny, bonny banks of Loch Lomond".  Stopping to admire this beautiful place also meant my day's walking took longer.  Hopefully the pictures tell the tale!

My first glimpses of Loch Lomond (above and below)........

...... and what began as cloudy, misty days turned into lovely sunny ones.

On the second day along the Loch I could smell these animals long before I saw them!

Even labouring up Conic Hill with a full pack was worthwhile with, looking back, the views of the Loch.  Day trippers were out, as were the cattle!
A Spanish family from Barcelona heading up Conic Hill........
....... and one of the distractions on the way up!

Looking back at Loch Lomond (above and below), with the islands in the middle, marking, along with Conic Hill, the fault line.

Though the West Highland Way finishes in a village called Milngavie, which is almost a suburb of Glasgow but has still retained it's village atmosphere, I still had one more days walk into Glasgow.  Yet, as I walked right onto the heart of this city along the Kelvin Walkway, the only thing that showed I was in a more populated area was the increased number of joggers and dog walkers.
 Leaving the village of Drymen it was difficult to see where the path went as it crossed a field.
Further along the autumn foliage started to show more strongly.
 The Kelvin Walkway (above and below) which I followed into Glasgow was very rural, despite being so close to the city.

In Milngavie there is an official "start" obelisk, though in my case it was the "end"!

This section of my journey ended in a special way, having dinner with Charlotte and her husband Donald.  I met Charlotte at the hostel way back at the start of this journey, when we shared accommodation in Strommnes on Orkney.  The final part of this evening treat was, after dinner, at the Ben Nevis Bar listening to traditional Gaelic music.  A fitting end to this section of my walk which has covered around 540 kms so far (not counting my wanderings around the towns at the end of the day.)

I am now going to turn into a tourist for a few days and have a rest before starting to walk again, but more of that next time.