A Travellerspoint blog

April 2013

The Divine Bovine


sunny 5 °C
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Cairngorms National Park

Cairngorms National Park

My main goal today was not to find the sustenance that would assuage my particular current food cravings, although that was accomplished. It was not to go on a beautiful hike up into the Scottish hillside to see a view that spread out for miles before us, although we did just that. It was not to buy another country pin for our mascot, Mo, although we did find a Scottish emblem and pin it to his jacket. No, my main goal today was to find at least one specimen of that beautiful bovine breed known as Highland cattle. I was actually more greedy than that – I wanted to see a whole fold (which is the collective noun for Highland cattle, unlike their more traditional cousins, who group together in herds.) My kids and husband know I have a thing for cows; they’ll find me happily employed watching the neighbour’s cows out of our front window, they bought me a stuffed cow for Christmas once, they know I have a soft spot for spotted black-and-white things, and they use my university nickname of ‘Mu’ more than others do.

But before my quest began, we would need to get that bothersome chore of shopping out of the way. That done, we proceeded to the tourist office. There, we found a very friendly Scot who suggested the perfect walking route for the day. When he found out we were Canadians, another guide mentioned that he had visited Cape Breton a few years ago; he reminded us that the Canadian island was closer to Scotland than it was to our home town of Victoria. Canada’s size (and the cold) is often what is mentioned when we identify ourselves as Canucks.

Highland Cattle

Highland Cattle

The motto for the national park we find ourselves in this week is “Welcome to the Cairngorms National Park - Make it Yours!” Well, we didn’t need to be told twice. Since the day promised to be sunny despite the cool five degree temperature, we layered up, stuffed our sacks with lunch, and began to trek. The route lead us past a small lake through stands of thin, bare trees, and then took us a few hundred meters up the scrubby hillside. The real treat was the view from the top of the rock ridge, which allowed us to gaze on many kilometers of pastoral lands, forest and a backdrop of low, snow-covered mountains. The wind up there was brisk but we lunched at the top and braved another kilometer or two of ridge walking before heading down. We saw a few other hardy walkers, each red-cheeked and windblown but content, like us. Heading down, I now started to anticipate my much-longed-for encounter with the hairy, long horned bovine.

Knowing I have a penchant for this breed of cattle, Ben had asked the tourist centre staff where we might catch a view, as they seem quite a bit less common than they once were. He directed us to a certain locale on the map: “through this town, continue a few miles, turn left at the bridge, look to the right field and there should be a couple of bulls there.” Off we were. We followed the directions only to be disappointed. I started to get pouty and nagging, telling Ben he will have failed me (yet again) if he didn’t locate some cows fast. Not to be outdone, and likely not wanting to share his room with a petulant wife, he put his all into it ... and came up with a single sample, without any long horns. But still, it was a bovine, it was hairy and ginger-coloured, and it was adorable. He dropped me and Hannah off at the fence line and went to find a pullout for the car. The two of us braved the large trucks whipping by on the narrow road to get our fill of the animal, who seemed curious about us and the attention we gave it but not so much that it deigned to walk over to us. However, it was enough for me that I saw one and was able to achieve my primary goal of the day. (Thanks, Ben) If you want to learn 25 more things about these animals click here.

Funnily enough, we're having burgers tonight.

Posted by KZFamily 12:53 Archived in Scotland Tagged scotland cows cairngorms Comments (3)


By Hannah

overcast 7 °C
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Glen Coe

Glen Coe

We didn't do a whole lot today besides travel. It was going to be a five hour drive, and we headed out early in order to get to our destination in time. Mom would pop out of the car at intervals in order to snap photos of rolling hills, waterfalls, and fields of sheep. We even drove by Loch Ness, though we didn't spot anything remotely like a plesiosaur swimming about the lake. Our one major stop was at Glen Coe, which we came across as we traversed the highlands of Scotland.

Glen Coe is gorgeous in the summer, and reportedly one of Scotland's most spectacular places to see. Our visit still gave us an impressive view, though perhaps a slightly more grey and brown one in comparison to the bright blues and greens you see when searching on Google Images. However, this gem's history is much darker than the glen itself. This is where the Massacre of Glencoe occurred in February 13, 1692. The basics of the story involve an oath made too late, unknowing hospitality, and the slaughtering of 38 MacDonald clan members. I won't summarise the whole tale, but you can check it out here.

There was a pretty comprehensive visitor's centre next to Glen Coe, which we spent quite a bit of time in as it began to rain shortly after we stopped to admire the scenery. It took us through the extensive history of Glen Coe, from the Vikings to the first clans to Percy Unna to present day. Unna is the guy responsible for much of the upkeep and guidelines maintaining the glen's natural beauty and health. In 1935, he ended up raising money in order to buy as much of the Glen Coe Estate as he could, as well as making several anonymous donations himself. He also created the Unna Principles in, which are still used in order to preserve Glen Coe for the public.

Today, you can climb, hike, and ski on the mountains. We watched a video of an experienced couple scale one of the icy cliff faces with nothing but picks and spiky shoes. When I asked my dad whether they were tied to anything for safety, he said "each other". I don't know if I'd have the guts to do that.

We arrived at our snug little cottage just before five o'clock. Hotels aside, this is probably the most compact living space we've stayed in this trip. There are two bedrooms, a washroom and a kitchen/hallway. My parent's bedroom also functions as a dining room and living room. The place is very clean, though, and was seemingly perfect until the internet connection shut down and we had to get a replacement refrigerator, which ended up in Abby's and my bedroom. Thankfully, we had it all figured out by the time Abby needed her daily West Wing fix, so our evening ended smoothly.

Posted by KZFamily 12:00 Archived in Scotland Tagged scotland glen glencoe coe Comments (2)

Staying Home


rain 12 °C
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Today we decided to have a stay home day, one of the reasons being we didn't get up until about 9:30. We were all up for the idea as we felt we had done some exploring and outdoorsy things the day before, and that we weren't skipping out on a place to see. Hannah spent her day doing homework, while my parents read, went on some walks and slept. I spent the day catching up with friends through facebook, catching up on Britains Got Talent auditions (but this could just as easily go into the category of catching up with friends, really), and a little bit of reading as well.

Tonight we plan to eat ice cream, play games and watch some West Wing, which is, in my opinion, how every day should end.

Posted by KZFamily 11:09 Archived in Scotland Tagged home Comments (2)

The Highlands and the Lowlands

by Ben

sunny 12 °C
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View of Loch Lomond near the top of Conic Hill

View of Loch Lomond near the top of Conic Hill

Having been in Dublin for four days and another two in Blackpool, we were yearning for a foray into more natural surroundings. Loch Lomond National Park is less than an hour north of where we are staying so a hike was our plan. Confirmation of the wisdom of our decision was given by the skies which showed far more blue than white this morning. The fact that we were out the door by 9:00 am was also a good indicator of our mutual enthusiasm about the day’s undertaking.

Loch Lomond is the largest lake by surface area in Great Britain, while Windermere in England’s Lakes District, which we saw yesterday, is the largest by volume and length. It appears that both Scotland and EngIand needed a way to hold first prize. I suspect we will encounter a bit more rivalry between the two regions before long.

We chose to hike to the top of Conic Hill and as well as circumnavigate it. Apart from knowing that this walk had tremendous views of Loch Lomond and the surrounding countryside we knew nothing of the significance of this promontory. It turns out that Conic Hill is situated right on top of the Highland Boundary Fault. I knew that Scotland had two broad regions called the Highlands and the Lowlands but had never given much thought to where one region began and the other ended. The two areas differ greatly topographically and end and begin abruptly on this fault line that traverses the entire country. Conic Hill is a creation of the two tectonic plates pushing up against each other and there are hills both east and west of here who share the same origins. So today we can say we officially set foot in the Highlands of Scotland. In fact, we can say we had one foot in the Highlands and the Lowlands at the same time.

Conic Hill

Conic Hill

When we arrived at the trailhead there was a great gathering of people and much signage referring to a footrace. We soon discovered, today was the day of the Highland Fling Ultra Marathon. It is a 53 mile run which this year’s winner completed in just over 7 hours. Conic Hill is on the course and saw 500 runners cross over it at the three to four hour mark in their run. Fortunate for us, when we arrived less than 20 runners were left to finish this section and we were free to start our hike. It did feel a bit humbling seeing runners come down a hill which we would only dare walk down.

The hill is only 360 meters high which means we cannot claim to have bagged a munro today (hikers who climb a hill above 1000 meters are said to have bagged a munro) but we can boast capturing some great pictures. The climb to the top is quite steep and a bit muddy but very much worthwhile. We were one group of many out for a hike today and most trekkers seemed to be from Scotland. We find the Scots very friendly trailmates, with each group, no matter how large, giving an individual greeting as you pass on the trail. Part of our walk is a section of the West Highland Way, a 151 km walk across the park which takes seven days to complete. We saw numerous backpackers and were certain some were starting out on this epic journey.

Sheep Grazing Near Conic Hill

Sheep Grazing Near Conic Hill

After taking in the view from atop Conic Hill, we continued on a path that loops around its base. It is a 12 kilometer circuit that passes through a great deal of pastureland that is actively browsed by hundreds of sheep and newborn lambs. You can just imagine how often the word cute or adorable was uttered on our walk. There are picturesque stone walls that zig-zag across the landscape as well. We enjoyed our outing immensely and had great chats about all sorts of topics along the way. The talks alone are worth money and time invested in our 9 month travelling adventure.

Map Reminder

If you want to see where we have been you can click on the controls on the map at the top of the blog and zoom in on the map to see more detail. I have inserted a closeup of our travels so far in the UK and Ireland.

Posted by KZFamily 09:27 Archived in Scotland Tagged scotland loch_lomond Comments (1)

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