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Email: Greetings from Fort William, Scotland

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Date: Thursday, 18 June 2009 03:23 PDT
Subject: Greetings from Fort William, Scotland

Pictures:
1. Dramatic highland pass scenery from the train on the way to Fort William
2. Fort William from the Loch Linnhe boat cruise
3. Beginning of the trail, along the river, to Steall Meadows and waterfall
4. Lauren in Steall Meadows approaching the waterfall
5. The Glenfinnan Viaduct, of Harry Potter movie fame
6. Highland views from the train to Mallaig
7. Ocean coastline from the train approaching Mallaig
8. The small town of Mallaig (population 1,000)
9. Castle ruins on the Isle of Skye
10. Garden plants on the Isle of Skye

17 June 2009

Lauren and I are now in Fort William, on the western side of Scotland and a major gateway to the highlands. Outdoor enthusiasts come here to hike or bike two major long distance routes from here: one to Glasgow and the other to Inverness. Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain in the UK, is also located here. The 4,406 feet summit can be climbed in one long day.

We spent three days here enjoying the scenery while dodging rain storms. Fort William (so they tell us) gets the most rain anymore in Britain. To get here we had to go from Stirling to Glasgow as the West Highland train line to Fort William only connects from there. From Glasgow it took 3 hours and 45 minutes to cover 103 miles but it was definitely one of the most spectacular train journeys I have taken.

About one hour from Glasgow the route begins to climb and then runs through a series of lakes (including Loch Lomond), rivers and highland countryside that was incredibly beautiful. It began to rain a little as we reached the Moor of Rannoch pass, adding to the wild and desolate highland feeling. We even saw a few red deer from our train window.

Fort William is a small town (population 10,000) and we stayed at a B&B about a 10 minute walk from the city center. It overlooked Loch Linnhe and was very quiet. The forecast for our first day there was for sunny weather so we opted for a hike in the Glen Nevis area, whose visitor center was a two mile walk from town. Many films, such as Harry Potter, Rob Roy and Braveheart were filmed there. Upon arriving at the visitors center, we learned that the hike that we wanted to take to Steall Meadows and waterfall was much further away than the guidebook had stated. However, we were told that there was a public bus coming in 10 minutes time that we could flag down. This would cut several miles off the trip, making the hike about six miles total. So we boarded the bus to the end of the line and began the hike along a beautiful river.

The trail climbed slightly up a highland ridge and then across a small bridge to the Nevis Gorge. Through here the trail was rocky and a little slow going, but not too steep. Upon coming out of the gorge we reached the meadow and the waterfall, which was about 300 feet high and cascading down one of the mountain walls. After crossing the meadow to get a closer look at the falls, we took a short break and consulted the bus schedule. The next one all the way back to Fort William left in 2 ½ hours, giving us plenty of time to walk back to the bus pick up point.

We actually hiked the three miles back very quickly and had about 45 minutes to spare at the bus stop. The flies were really bad so we decided to continue walking along the road toward the visitors center and town and then flag the bus when it came by. After about 45 minutes we reached a youth hostel and went in to buy a drink. I inquired about the next bus and was told that particular one did not run on school days (there was a ‘NS’ notation that I had not noticed) and the next bus would not come for two more hours! At that point, we had the hostel call a taxi and were back in town within a few minutes. The day ended on a more relaxing note as we took a 90 minutes boat cruise along Loch Linnhe in the late afternoon. We figure we walked about 11 miles in all that day, but both agree that it was quite worth it.

On Wednesday we visited Mallaig, on the Atlantic Ocean coast. The train trip is reputed to be one of the top 10 train scenic journeys in Europe. The 1 hour 25 minute route covers about 45 miles along lakes, highland passes and ocean coastline. It also passes over the bridge that the train takes to Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films. It rained most of the way there and was cold, windy and damp when we arrived in Mallaig.

We boarded a car ferry to the Isle of Skye and made that crossing in about 30 minutes. From the ferry, one could see the Rum and Eigg islands in the distance. The rain stopped when we reached Skye and we were able to take a one mile walk to castle ruins, a museum and 40 acre garden that belonged to the Macdonald family (Donald clan). After spending a couple of hours there, we had a fish and chips lunch overlooking the water before taking the ferry back to Mallaig and returning by train to Fort William in the late afternoon.

After this time in the highlands it will be a big change to go to Edinburgh, where we will travel to on Thursday and spend our final few nights.

Take Care –
Sandy