We flew out of Cincinnati May 30, landing in London Gatwick the next morning. After a short hopper to Edinburgh, we hit the car rental place. First shock of the trip: I underbudgeted for the car rental by about a thousand dollars. Second shock of the trip: gasoline cost nearly six and a half bucks per gallon. Worry set in big time, but I figured we'd make up the difference along the way.
We drove off from the airport, and promptly discovered that our walkie-talkies wouldn't work. Which meant we needed to stay in visual contact, without much communication. Trying to figure out the British road system was a trial. There are very few intersections; everything's done in roundabouts -- including what we would call interstate connections. Plus, we were driving two five-speed, manual transmission mini-vans -- on the left side of the road. We had a lot of trouble getting everything to work right, but eventually wound up at our first campsite, Bonaly Scout Camp, on the south side of Edinburgh.
We didn't take our camping stoves with us, since even empty they reeked of white gas. So the first order of business the next day (Scotland rolls up the sidewalks by six p.m. at the latest -- everywhere) was to drive into the city centre and buy a camping stove. Found a nice one for 20 pounds -- nearly 40 bucks US. Also needed a cheap ice box -- you know, one of those styrofoam things you can throw away when you're done. No such thing to be found. Had to buy a plastic ice chest -- another 20 pounds -- which we wound up taking home with us.
We finally got out of Edinburgh (hallelujah) and made for the highlands. First stop was Stirling Castle. WELL WORTH the trip. Coolness, coolness. A huge place, like a miniature city in itself, dominating the city and the area. We drove up through Inverness and down the north side of Loch Ness (no loch monsters in evidence). Here, our second van had a flat tire -- busted a rim on a pothole, probably because we were both drifting to the left as we drove. We eventually found our campsite at Insh Scout Camp outside of Spean Bridge, just as dusk was settling.
It began to rain intermittently. And we met the Scottish midges. Personally, I've tangled with mosquitoes that were a lot more annoying than the midges, but they were small enough to be inhaled regularly, and that wasn't fun. But the trip was young and we were brave.
The next day, we tackled Ben Nevis in a light drizzle. Now, Ben Nevis is a humongous pile of rock, and as we walked ever higher, we got steadily wetter and colder. As we reached about the three-quarters point, we rose above the shelter of the surrounding ridges, and the wind tore at us, freezing our wet pants on us. Two crew members were having difficulty, and I could see that continuing on would get us all soaked through and sicker'n the devil, so we turned back and squelched our way all down the mountain past the uncaring sheep.
The next morning, I couldn't get the piezo-electric starter to ignite our stove, and all our matches were soaked, so I had to drive into Fort William and get a couple of lighters. We packed up wet tents and bade farewell to the highlands. Road work in Scotland delayed us, Glasgow traffic was awful, and we crossed the border at Gretna Green in the late afternoon at last.
We picked up some Scotch whiskey to take home, and we ate out in Fort William (very tasty -- the food was a big plus of our trip). We bought some haggis, to be eaten later, as well as some pork and apple sausages.
Scotland was beautiful and wild. I'd like to go back someday. I will go back prepared for wetter hiking, however. Having hiked through New Mexico and New York rains and hail storms, I thought I was prepared, but when they talk about the "misty glens" what they are really, really saying is, THINK DAMP, NASTY, SOGGY, WET.
Meanwhile, the people we met were all friendly and helpful. Overall, I have a very favorable impression of Scotland. We just hit it on a couple bad days, and we were all green to the experience. Our inability to have a real shakedown with everybody beforehand showed.
Next: Roamin' with the Romans.