Monday, September 15, 2008

Pretty highlands of Scotland !!

The plan: To spend the weekend hiking and visiting a distillery in the Scottish highlands around the area between Loch Lomond and Loch Awe. 'Loch', as many must be knowing due to the popular 'Loch Ness', is Scottish for lake. And yeah, the second lake is actually called 'Awe' and is supposedly the longest freshwater one in Scotland.

0th day: 5 people started the journey on a wet friday morning in two rented cars- Ford Mondeo and Volkswagon Passat. I being the only non-driver among the 5 chose the Ford. 3 more people were to be picked up on the way, 1 in Wigan and 2 in Glasgow. This was my first non-official trip with labmates.

The motorways were pretty crowded and we could rarely reach the speed-limit of 70mph. Though the GPS was re-routing on basis of the traffic information, it kept giving us the same route. Until the time, when it finally decided to take us out of the motorway and led us onto narrow country roads. After zipping for a while in the countryside, we came across a toll-booth for a bridge that was being 'manned' by an old lady who collecting 12p. Yeah, thats right, 12 pence was the fees for the strange toll bridge! We finally got tired of the narrow loopy (pun intended) roads and went back to the motorway by stopping the traffic based routing system of the GPS :P.

Anyway, after a 10 hour drive due to the jammed motorways, we reached Glasgow, where we looked for a supermarket so that our Italian friend can buy his pasta making stuff and feed us delicious dinner at the place. While there, I made a cursory call to the place only to be told that we should reach there before 12 otherwise even the barman might leave and no one would be present to give us the keys to the house! It was 10 and it would require atleast two hours to reach the place. And so we rushed.

Thankfully, we made it in time. 'The place' is a self-catering 8 bed house (named Archbrecknish or some such thing) that we rented for the weekend. It was pretty good with just one problem- only one bathroom for the 8 of us. The last part of the route was through this extremely dark and narrow road dotted with weirdly shaped trees. Speculation on how the path can be rigged to make white ghostlike apparitions suddenly appear in front of cars like us, given the preponderance of ghost-tales in Scotland, made for some interesting conversations.

1st day: Despite sleeping past 3am, we all had to be ready by 8:30 to leave for the trek. Our scheduler (who also did most of the choosing/planning for the trip) was adamant that, otherwise, we wouldn't have enough time for the 7-8 hours mountain hike. Before starting for the hike, we got some maps to help us reach the place, and bread, cheese, sardines, chocolates etc for lunch.
While shopping two of us came across this person who claimed to be a former mountain rescuer and advised us to inform atleast someone back home anywhere, that we are undertaking the trek and call them again when we safely return .. ahem! He also suggested that we could drink water from the stream if we ran out of it. Which we eventually did .. and which most probably gave some of us a sore throat :D.

Around 10am, we started the walk. The path, a rocky substitute of a road, was beside a meandering stream and went onto the base of the mountain. There were sheep all around, with horns, without horns, bleating, silent. They seemed to be our only companions. After 3 hours we reached a point led unto the stream. On the otherside began the mountain climb. So, we had lunched there. The bottle of whiskey that was being passed around to keep the spirits up during the walk was almost empty ;). Then, began the climb. There was no clear path. Just previous foot-falls that cleared out some of the grass from the rocks and the mud. We were climbing right next to the stream, sometimes even crisscrossing it. While the water was gently flowing down the mountain, we were swamping up. Often there were several paths to to choose from- a dry muddy one, another dry grassy one, a wet rocky one .. and so on. Everyone once in a while some would fall behind, and the ones in front would sit down for some rest and allow them to catch up. And so the climb went on and on and on. The trekking shoes really showed their mettle.

The climb seemed like taking two steps at a time of a winding muddy slippery staircase. We kept reaching several 'local maxima/peak' only to be facing the main one still high above. After a while, 5 of us reached to far ahead the rest of them and took a nice long break. Even the sun came out to keep us warm. Then, 5 of us decided to try going for the peak, while the rest decided to circle the mountain instead. And now began the actual part. We surely didn't chose the right path to go up. In fact, it wasn't a path. It was just rocks upon rock upon rocks covered with long tall grass. So, every step included searching for a foothold, while holding onto the grass or stone with both the hands. The incline was almost vertical in many places! Often the next rock was so high that I had to move sideways to find an easier next-step. Looking back only made us realise that it is impossible to go down the same route that we were taking up. We would just end up falling all the way to the base. Added to this perilious route with no equipment except for our dear trekking shoes, the wind was so so strong that it was impossible for me to stand upright without holding onto some support. Thankfully the wind was pushing us towards the slope and not the other way round. Had that been the case, I wouldn't be writing this post .. either I wouldn't have ventured to try reaching the peak, or if I did, I wouldn't have made it :P.

My extra-ordinary stamina made its presence felt and I was quite behind the other 4. Infact all of us were in a line with a few minutes climb between each pair. Somehow, the peak lured us and we went on and on, each resting for a minute or so when the body refused to move immediately :D. The worst part was that with the steep incline, you couldn't see much farther, so I had no clue how far ahead the peak was. The next local maxima would seem like the global one but woudn't be and the climb had to continue. However, we all made it. I being the last one, scrambled onto the peak welcomed with some tired cheers :D. And then, looking around the view was purely awesome! But no, the view did not make all my exhaustion worthwhile .. atleast not then :P. Barely did I rest for a minute or so that we decided we better start getting down in order to be able to return to the car by sunset. At the peak we met a person who seemed professional trekker with his climbing stick and dog and he showed us a better route for going down.

Trekking down the slope was more of a mental challenge than a physical one. As no clear route existed, each of us had to put on a commendable 'balancing act' to make sure that we wouldn't end up tumbling down (like jack and jill of that rhyme :P) Some were innovative to slide down on their backs wherever the grass was favourable with no visible rocks ;). It was almost like playing a game. Going down the slope finally made the climb worthwhile for me :). At the base, all of us regrouped and started walking back. But this time, we dint take the rocky road, but went along the swampy bank of the stream. It wasn't a particular good idea. Every few steps, a tributary was merging with the stream making the whole place swampy and wet. The tall grass was basically hiding extremely wet mud and water. After slowly tramping down this non-existant route for a while, we decided to get back to proper land. Anhow, we finally reached the cars at the time of the sunset - 6:30pm. On the way back, we stopped at place to look at lake Lomond. That place apparently (if i remember correctly) hosted the largest hydro-electric plant of UK .. and it was pretty small by Indian standards :P. The day ended with dinner at a local pub. I ordered the traditional fish-and-chips and it was much better than what we generally get in England :D.

When we finally reached our resting place, a cursory glance up at the sky presented a magnificent view. A clear sky at a place far from any urban area meant a sky filled with lots and lots of twinkling little stars. Along with many constellations, we could even distinguish the milky-way! I can't remember the previous time I saw the milky-way or the bow of Orion constellation :). It was a really memorable sight, reminding me of the time when I lived in a town in Orissa and with power-cuts in the evening meant scrambling onto the roof to gaze at the star filled sky. In Hyderabad or even at Southampton, thats an impossibility.

2nd day:
It was unanimously agreed to not trek anymore on this day. So, we went to the nearby town called Oban and had a tour of its distillery (for the ignoramuses: distilleries make the scotch whiskey). It was quite interesting and the smell of the yeast was pretty strong ;). Apparently the shape of some towers for some activity (I dont remember the details anymore :D) somewhat determine the flavour of the drink! Towards the end, they gave us samples of two kinds of whiskey to taste, a 12 yr matured almost transparent 52% alcohol one and then the final product: 14 year single malt Oban whiskey. The longer the whiskey is allowed to mature in the barrels, the more darker it becomes by acquiring some properties from the wood. Sometimes, the barrels used are not fresh but already used ones from other distilleries to give different flavours to the drink. We were even allowed to keep the glasses, that we drank from, as souvenirs :).

After that, we ate a variety of seafood for lunch at an almost roadside style stall. I tried scallops and oysters for the first time. Scallops were pretty good while Oysters tasted like sea water with some squishy substance ... yeah I didn't like it at all :D. Later, we went on to some circular ancient monument that overlooked the town. There, one person from our group (a former labmate who now works as an consultant with McKinsey) saw some blackberries and went over the fence to fetch them. And yeah, for doing that, he handed over his Blackberry (the electronic one :P) for safe-keeping. Talk of irony ;).

Next, we travelled back to Glasgow for dinner and then at 10:30pm in the night, started the long journey back. The drab motorways were no comparison for the pretty winding mountainous roads, beside the lakes, in the highlands. While we were on the flyover next to Glasgow airport, a huge plane passed right in front of us, just a few metres above the eye-level, pretty darn sight that was! Speeding along practically empty motorways, we reached Southampton at 6 in the morning, on the monday, for a well-deserved rest.

For all those who might be considering comments calling for pics, I didn't take any :D. For one, I am not the kind who likes taking pictures or admires them, and no picture can sufficiently describe the feeling of sitting on top of a peak with a 360 view of trees, valleys and streams below you- feeling of succeeding at my own little everest :) (though it was quite painful to reach).

As is usual with such posts, I have no patience to read it and correct grammatical/spelling errors .. so just let them be :P


pkj said...

Yep pics are always going to be lesser than the actual feeling; but they are also worth a thousand words :).

But you made one thing sure by not posting any pics. I read each and every word :)

Halley said...

you dont understand the funda of pics :D
why do directors show foreign locations in telugu films... only becoz the lesser mortals can atleast see things in films .. if not in reality .. at least let them have that momentary happiness ani ..
and wat did u do .... you gave us text ... sad mythalez . very sad

Anonymous said...

my heart is broken. you came back aline :(

you suck

Anonymous said...

I know you said no pics, but you know those are the only things that would lend credibility to your travelogue.. why can't this be a figment of your imagination? (although I find it hard to believe that you could stay away from internet for a whole weekend, not tweeting :D )

a very common meme on the net says - "pics, or it did not happen" :)
someone else would have taken pics, send me link to that ..

aniket said...

I hope you've read my 'Under the boundless sky' series. Even I did the same, write text rather than post pictures, as there are some things that pictures cannot describe.

And reading about your climbing adventures took me back to those innumerable experiences when I got lost, got stuck, ran out of water, got frightened of animals, got harassed by local people and regretted coming to trek, but always, always came back for more. Keep posting about such stuff when it happens.

I followed up my travelogue with some pics. I suggest you do the same, for there are some things which words cannot do justice to. And after reading so much about the Scottish Highlands over the years, I'm dying to see how they actually look like!

Vivek said...

lolz @ local maximas and other G33kY usage :)
Good account, some pics would have actually made it better :P
Reminds me of my desire to pee in valleys from a descent high mountains. I did that in Ooty, in Pune, in nainital and counting.

Turbo said...

Vivek's comments reminds me of shitting in snow at 60 degree slope! (during a trek, obviously). I am not sure if readers here would like to go into more grossy details :D

obelix said...

nixw to read

why is it such a pita to post a commenet anyway?

mythalez said...

@pkj, hence i wrote two thousand words ;)

@halley, am extremely happy at denying you these kinds of vicarious pleasures :P

@anonymouse who sounds like paccha- i dint come back as a line :P

@kunal, :P well the evidence is present in others' cams .. will send them once I get them myself :D

@aniket, this blog follows a strictly no pics policy !

@vivek, you and your 'weird' fetishes :P

@turbo, i certainly wouldn't encourage you to dwell further on that issue :P

@obelix, ahem .. your fingers seemed to hav been busy doing something else while typing that comment :P

skp said...

You expect me to read it !

not reading it ..

expecting you to tell me abt it over chat !

c ya