Monday, April 30, 2012

Day 59: Linlithgow

Distance: 16.2 miles
Warp Factor: 9
Today was a grey, cloudy, day, with a little mist and drizzle but thankfully not much real rain. We turned south from the Firth of Forth coastline and met up with the Union Canal at the historic Burgh town of Linlithgow. This was a few miles longer than my originally planned route, which would have taken us through the commuter city of Bo'ness and met up with the canal farther to the west after a half dozen miles of road walking. Considering it was only Michael and Jan's second day with us, the shorter route might have made more sense. But I am really glad we picked the more scenic and interesting route, because Linlithgow was such an important place for me to visit!

Linlithgow is a really pretty town on the shore of a small loch. There were half a dozen boats filled with anglers mulling around the water, so there must be fish in the water. The shoreline is dominated by Linlithgow palace, home of Scottish royalty from the 15th century till the union of the crowns, in 1603. James V and Mary Queen of Scots were born there. It's very historic, and a beautiful place.

There's plaques throughout town marking other interesting Linlithgow historical things. In 1919, somebody installed the first petrol pump in Scotland at this corner. In 1813, in what's now the Four Marys pub, David Waldie was born. The people here claim he came up with the idea for using chloroform to anesthetize, but then he blabbed to James Young Simpson, who stole the idea as his own. And there's more of that kind of thing here. But that's not what drew me to this place. It's what Dawn told me this morning. The most interesting historical plaque we've seen on this trip. It's the reason I wanted to come to Linlithgow.

Can you read it? I'll give you a clue: "I never wanted to be anything else but an engineer." Here, I'll zoom in.

That's right, Linlithgow is the birthplace of Scotty! Mister Scott, take us to John O'Groats, warp factor nine! "Are ya daft, lad? Ah canna do it! Ya canna break the laws of physics!".

Finding Scotty's birthplace was obviously the highlight of the day. But it was still morning, and we had many miles still to go. We found our way to the quiet Union Canal towpath, and made our way west. We had lunch in a great little sandwich shop. Jan ordered tuna and cheese, but got haggis and cheese instead. At the time, she reported that it wasn't terrible, but the effects got worse as the day went on. Michael and Dawn both had Irn Bru, some kind of bright orange Scottish soda pop that looks like its radioactive.

It was a great place for lunch.

Here's the Scottish women that run the place. The accents here are fantastic. They've gotten thicker since Edinburgh, but have not reached the unintelligible level.

A few more miles brought us to the uninspiring edges of Fallkirk. From the canal our first views across town looked like endless suburbs, a bedroom community on the motorway within commuting distance to Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Tomorrow we walk 16 more miles on the canal, getting us to within a few miles of the West Highland Way. The weather is looking a little better than today, let's hope it works out that way.
and Scotty ... Beam me up!

Location:Glenfuir Rd,Falkirk,United Kingdom

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Day 58: The Firth of Forth

Distance: 19.4 miles
Urchins: 4

The normal way end to enders head west from Edinburgh is to follow the Union canal towpath from the heart of the city out toward Falkirk. I remember sitting at our living room table, a hundred years ago, marking that route with highlighter on our map. It seemed like the right way to go: flat, direct, easy to follow. But my eye kept wandering north, to the coastline of the Firth of Forth, where the map showed manor houses, bridges, beaches, cliffs, and castles. It felt like that's where it was at. I made a second highlighted line that was longer, and a little sketchier, with a few spots where it wasn't quite clear how to get from one path to the next. That was our route today.

Nearly twenty miles with a couple of sketchy bits made this a tough day one for Jan and Michael, though neither slowed down much until the time came to climb the B&B stairs at the very end of the day. Here they are at lunch, in a terrific high end pub we ran into after our first ten miles.

After ten miles of clear sailing, we hit the first spot where the path on the map wasn't real clear. It wasn't real clear on the ground either. We had left South Queensferry on a dirt road that looked well travelled, and went in the right direction, but after a half mile if came to an abrupt end with barbed wire topped fences and coils of razor wire.

Getting through looked like it could be dicey. But I didn't want to backtrack a half mile. So I poked around and scrambled to a place where there was a road, the road we should have taken, just over the fence. And right there someone had clipped the barbed wire, and one of the fence posts was missing. Looks like we were not the first to get stuck here. It was tight, but we were able to pass our packs over the top and squeeze through the tight opening.

An hour or two past lunch, we passed Hopetaun House, billed as "the finest stately home in Scotland". It's a pretty sweet place, with a real Downton Abbey feel. No servants lined up to greet us, but there was a stone sphinx lady with an iron ring bolted to her chest.

Even though lunch was still a recent memory, and we still had miles to walk, we could not help but stop for tea.

We started through the extensive gardens of the back yard, where we ran across four children, stuck with their Moms on the wrong side of the wall, a rusted gate between them and us. I decided to help and see if we couldn't bust them out.

A Mom held the youngest one up on her side of the gate. The little girl looked concerned when the giant man with the big hat reached over, picked her up under her arms, and swooshed her over the top, but she was smiling once she was flying. I flew them all to our side; it was great fun! Then there we were, four small English children on our side, and two English Moms on the other side. The Moms were young and fit, but it was a tall wall. Impasse. It seemed I'd be flying the kids back to the other side. But then, one of the Moms made up her mind that she really could climb the wall, and, after a couple of false starts, she pulled herself up and made it over. Her oldest child, the red headed boy, beamed. "Well done, Mum!", he said proudly. We moved on, our work at Hopetaun House complete.

The path moved into a wood, which was nice since the wind had really picked up. Through the trees and over the water, we could see Blackness Castle, out on a spit sticking into the firth.

By the time we go to Blackness, it was past five o'clock, and we still had a few miles to go, so we skipped the twenty minute walk to the castle and continued along the shore to Carriden House. It was a long day, and we were glad to get there!

Tomorrow we leave the shore of the firth, making our way south to the Union canal towpath, and on to Falkirk.

Location:Carriden Steadings,Bo'ness,United Kingdom

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Day 57: Edinburgh

Distance: 13.4 miles

Yesterday we woke up at Silverburn House to sunshine streaming through the window! We shook our heads in disbelief, pinched ourselves, and checked again. There were the Pentland Hills, not barely visible through rain and mist, but right there, covered with grass and heather, sheep grazing, framed by brilliant blue sky and, in the distance, puffy white cumulous clouds.

Hilary made sure we left fully stoked for our walk by setting us up for a full Scottish breakfast: yogurt, cereal, eggs, bacon, sausage, tomatoes, mushrooms, croissants, washed down with juice and coffee. Since the weather was so nice, we took some time before leaving to walk through their gardens. Really beautiful, even this early in the year, before most of the flowers are out. There's a small greenhouse for starting things out, a vegetable patch, a small pond, and an expanse of shrubs, flowers, and lawn, all with the Pentland Hills in the background.

We said our goodbyes and thanks to Brian and Hillary, and set out over the hills. We walked alongside the Glencorse reservoir, and up and over the wonderfully named Maiden's Cleugh.

Near the top, I heard a familiar tap-tap-tap on my hat - hail! The clouds had moved in from the periphery and one of them decided to make its presence known. But a little scattered hail and even a few raindrops were not enough to bring this day down - it was a really nice walk through a beautiful place.

After only a half dozen miles or so we were down at the bottom, and joined a walkway following the Water of Leith and then the Union Canal into the heart of Edinburgh.

Today was a rest day. We ran a few errands, and saw a little of Edinburgh, but mostly ... we rested. Our friends Michael and Jan are joining our walk for the next two weeks, in the evening we met for dinner. The original plan was to eat at the Bonham, where we're staying. But they were full. I found another place and called. Fully booked. And again. And again. Seems that every restaurant in Edinburgh is full. We ended up having a so-so meal in the overflow room at a bar near here. One of our first subpar meals in the UK.

The really good news is that the weather forecast has done a complete one-eighty from the last few weeks. Instead of clouds and rain every day, the ten day shows big pictures of a sun, with little clouds, and just a touch of rain. Tomorrow we will be walking along the shore of the Firth of Forth, past castles and country houses. If the weather comes through, it should be a great walk.

Location:Drumsheugh Gardens,Edinburgh,United Kingdom

Friday, April 27, 2012

Day 56: Silverburn House

Distance: 15.0 miles
Whisky: Jura
Today it rained. We woke up; it was raining. Over breakfast, we watched the wind blow sheets of rain past the beautiful tall bay windows at Cringletie. It rained when we set out, it rained while we walked, it was raining when we arrived. In between, there were some periods when the rain let up. To compensate, Mother Nature kept a howling north wind in our face, a wind fierce enough that you had to lean into it, and fight for each step. All day the clouds zoomed past, dark clouds followed by darker clouds. We were waiting for the wind to blow the clouds out, and bring us a little sun. Never happened. The wind blew, and the rain came down, all day long.

Our destination today is the home of our friends Brian and Hilary, a couple we'd met a month ago in the sunshine of Shropshire, at Soulton Hall, in Wem. Our planned route took us within a couple of miles of their home on the edge of the Pentland Hills. They invited us to stay with them, and of course we gratefully accepted. We worked out what looked like a reasonable reroute, mostly keeping to back lanes, tracks, and paths. We did get lost once, but we exercised our right to roam, hopped a barbed wire fence, found a footbridge over a stream, and made our way back on course. And even on these lesser travelled footpaths in the Scottish Borders, I'm pleased to report that the bench situation remains very good.

The most torrential rain came near the end of our walk, in the absurdly spelled town of Penicuik ("Penny-Cook"). When we first walked over the bridge and into town, the hail and rain eased up a bit, teasing us with the hope that it would end. Instead the floodgates opened up. Looking frantically for shelter, we saw a "coffee here" sign and made a dash for it. Turned out to be a small cafe in the front of a beautiful church, with a striking blue theme in its stained glass and carpet. We took refuge, and had coffee and cake, leaving just as the rain slowed to its normal rate, welcoming us back outside.

Once through Penicuik, it didn't take long to get to Silverburn House. It was a real treat for us to stay in a regular home for the first time in two months! The house itself is beautiful, sitting on an acre and half of well tended and loved gardens, with the vastness of the Pentland Hills acting as a backdrop. The food was delicious, especially when bookended by a little peaty whisky and accompanied by a very approachable Cotes du Rhone.

Like my Dad, Brian is a fly fisherman. He fishes for salmon in the rivers, and rainbow and brown trout in the lochs. Here he is with his salmon flies. A gift from his children.

It was a fantastic, well appreciated evening, especially after such a dismal day for walking. Tomorrow we head into and over the Pentland Hills, and then walk along the Water of Leith into Edinburgh! There we meet up with our friends Michael and Jan, who will be joining us for the next two weeks walking to Inverness.

Location:Penicuik, Scotland, United Kingdom

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Day 55: Cringletie

Distance: 11.2 miles
Benches: 30ish

When you walk as much as we are, you begin to appreciate things you might have taken for granted in the past. For me, it's benches. I've found it very helpful to be able to get off my feet periodically while we're walking. We read one blog by a guy who stopped every hour for ten minutes and got off his feet. Now I'm sure he just sat down where ever he found himself. I prefer to sit on something. Rock, wall, log. I can make do, but the best is a real bench. You can usually find one in a church yard, but it's really nice when you come across them along your path. In the last few weeks in northern England there has been a dearth of benches. But since entering Scotland, we have found that benches are plentiful. We've come across them along trails, in towns and along roads. It's awesome!

Along one short stretch of the River Tweed in Peebles, we counted 17 benches; these Scottish people really know how to live!

On our way out of Traquair House this morning we passed the Bear Gates.

They were last closed when Bonnie Prince Charlie passed through them in 1745 and will not be opened again until a Stuart once again sits on the Scottish Throne.

From Traquair we followed the River Tweed to Peebles, a lovely town with a lot of benches and churches.

We've noticed that the Scottish churches have their towers at one corner of the nave end, as opposed to the English ones with the one big tower over the whole nave end.

We stopped in Peebles for tea, then it was a short 3 miles to Cringletie House.

Our second fancy old house in a row. This one was built in 1861 to replace the one that was built in 1666. It's been a hotel for over 40 years. The current owners took over in 2003 and did significant spiffing up.

Here I am knitting in the lounge. This evening we had a great dinner. Tasting menu with wine flights for Al. Now it's late so only a short blog today.

Tomorrow we head to Penicuik. We are going to be staying at the home of Hilary and Brian Watt, a couple we met way back at the end of March. They were staying at Soulton Hall in Wem when we were and we quickly discovered that our route would take us near their home. After checking schedules and routes, they graciously invited us for dinner and to spend the night!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Day 54: Traquair House

Distance: 18.2 miles

I'm disappointed that none of our blog readers were able to find Waldo yesterday. Or maybe you did, but were too shy to comment. Or maybe, like Margaret and Larry, you're all "tell us about the sheep and the beer and the sore feet, and cut the crap" and didn't even look for Waldo! For some reason, we've noticed that Waldo is called Wally here in the UK editions of the books - no idea what's up with that.

During the first few weeks of the walk, I was worried that I must be falling apart physically. People kept asking me, "you all right?". I'd say to passersby, in my best brit accent, "hiya", and they'd reply "y'all right?". In the colonies, you would only ask someone if they're all right if they obviously weren't, for example, if they were bleeding profusely or stumbling drunk. For weeks I thought I must be looking terrible, and maybe the walking is taking a toll. But then around Manchester I realized that people here say "y'all right?" the same way we might say "how are you?" - just a polite greeting. So now I'm less worried.

In fact, physically I think we're both doing pretty well. We have some aches and pains. My left shoulder was achy for a week or two, I think, believe it or not, from reaching around the side of my pack every 10 minutes for my camera. That's worked itself out, but now the left side of my back is a bit sore. Nothing major. Dawn's had sore feet the last five miles the past few days, and has some new tender spots beside her knees. She's worried about the long miles we have in store the next couple of weeks, but I think she'll be fine.

Our rubbish weather continues (that's how they talk here). The sunshine of Shropshire feels like long ago. Today was the usual: grey, cold, and rainy. The rain comes and goes, but today it was more coming and less going. We did get lucky at lunchtime. We'd brought along our usual picnic lunch: bread, Cheddar cheese, apples, and posh crisps (sea salt and cider vinegar). Just as we were getting hungry, the rain stopped, the sky brightened a bit, and to our amazement, there in front of us a picnic table appeared! The rain held off just long enough for us to have a nice leisurely lunch. It was great!

A picnic table out in the middle of nowhere was a surprise, but not as big a surprise as it might have been a couple of weeks ago, in England. The Scottish really know how to take care of their walkers. The waymarked paths here are first rate, marked as well as the Cotswold Way, even on less major paths like St Cuthbert's Way and the Southern Upland Way. But the big difference is the benches. We can't get over the number of benches along the paths here! In towns and along the rivers, you can practically just leap from bench to bench. But what's really striking is how the Scots put benches even out in the middle of nowhere. Today, we were walking over a hill, a couple of miles from the town, up almost a thousand feet, in a little wood, and there it was ... and did we ever appreciate it!

And there's more than just good signposts and benches. We came down off the hill in the hamlet of Yair a little early for lunch, but feeling like we could use a bite, and almost stopped to get something from the pack, but instead we hit the Airy Fairy self serve cafe. We each had grape juice, and Dawn had a fat marshmallow cookie thing, and I had a caramel biscuit. Mmmmm. Thanks, Airy Fairy!

As you can see from the pictures, the Scottish Borders is a beautiful gentle landscape. We like it very much, even with the rain. Our walk today was in three parts: along a bike path, then a traverse from the Gala Water up and over to the River Tweed, and then along quiet paths and lanes to Traquair House, the oldest inhabited house in Scotland.

It's a huge mansion, with an amazing colorful history. There's been dozens of kings and queens who have stayed here over the centuries. The place is filled with portraits and antique furniture. They let out three rooms for B&B, and tonight we are the only guests. It's out of town, but we have extra bread, cheese, and chips, not to mention Mrs Crimble's macaroons, so we built a fire in the sitting room and ate and hung out there. They brew their own ales here at the house, so the sitting room comes complete with a cabinet full of beer!

In the front hall are antique curling stones. They look basically like the ones my Mom and Dad use, except with a rusty handle.

A little farther in, on the wall is the first known painting of people curling. How cool is that?

Just over from the curling painting are the bells for summoning servants - just like Downton Abbey! And I learned something new about bells like this. I learned that each one is a different pitch, so that servants who couldn't read could still figure out who needed extra clotted cream with their tea.

Tomorrow we have a short walk to Cringletie House. I think it's the fanciest place we're staying in Scotland. In their super fancy restaurant, we will celebrate the beginning of the final month of our three month adventure!

Location:Avenuehead,Innerleithen,United Kingdom

Monday, April 23, 2012

Day 53: Melrose

Distance: 16.1 miles
Question: Where's Waldo? (Wally, for our UK readers)

After a great rest day in Jedburgh, we headed out for our first full day in Scotland. The weather continues as it has been for the last few weeks. On the cool side with big grey clouds, bits of sun and bits of rain.

I'm not complaining. This is great weather to walk in. It only gets unpleasant when it rains steadily for hours. Luckily that's only happened a few times. The rain does make for muddy paths and scary bogs. We've successfully avoided the worst of the bogs, but I think we're stuck with the mud.

Our walk today took us along the River Teviot, which we crossed on an impressive suspension bridge.

We had an audience for our crossing.

I'm pretty sure the one on the left is laughing at us.

On the other side of the bridge, we ended up in the backyard of this place.

Oops. We decided to exercise our right to roam, and made our way around the house to the path we were needed.

The path we needed was St. Cuthbert's Way, our favourite path so far. It is by far the best marked path we've been on. And it had bonuses like boardwalks and stairs and benches, which are quite exciting when all you do all day is walk! The path is named for the patron saint of northern England and stretches 100km from the Abbey in Melrose, where he began his monastic life, to Lindisfarne, or Holy Island, where he was ministering when he died. We met a couple of women on the trail who were doing the whole thing. They told us that Lindisfarne is only reachable by causeway at low tide, like St. Michael's Mount down in Cornwall.

We did veer off St. Cuthbert's Way as we approached Melrose. The path loops around and climbs up and over the saddle of two big hills that overlook Melrose. We opted for a shorter lower route on a bike route. We have been doing this kind of course correction all the way along. I figure, we're already walking for 82 days, no need to climb every hill. Believe me, we're still climbing plenty.

Al has discovered the benefit of changing to his running shoes when we're on pavement.

His feet would hurt in his boots on pavement, but give him no trouble in his runners. I've been changing my shoes on pavement from the get go. My feet are still pretty sore at the end of the day, but they're good for longer and are still recovering enough for the next day, so I guess I can't complain.

We were glad we took the short cut when we got to our hotel in Melrose.

It's the first in a string of nice places we're staying in leading up to Edinburgh. I'm glad I insisted on no camping!

Location:Abbey St,Melrose,United Kingdom