Road Trip Through Scotland – Part 2

The day after conquering Ben Vorlich we headed further up north. First we held our breaths on the tiniest of roads through the Scottish countryside, before hitting a more relaxing road towards Glencoe. Soon we started to recognize the landscape of the famous glen and the flocks of tourists admiring the site from our previous trip. The Instagram selfies being born there that day were plentiful.

We didn’t bother to stop for too long. New sceneries in new parts of Scotland were waiting to be seen! We quickly passed the magnificent views to the sea and mountains as we turned towards Fort William.

The memories were rushing back on those roads. The three week road trip in 2015 had been our first real holiday together. Three weeks, stuffed with camping gear in one car. That can be quite a test for a young relationship. But Waffle and I pulled it through without major injuries. Now we were yelping at each other: “Do you remember this place!” “We had a rest here the last time!” “The sea was so calm then!” What a good feeling it was, revisiting the memories, looking back to where we had come from and how strong we have grown with the time.

We pushed through, towards Fort Augustus and then turning off to Dornie and the isle of Skye. This time we would skip the island and continue to Applecross, since a dear friend had told us it to be beautiful. We had also bought a Wild Scotland guide book and it had showed us the most amazing bothy at the shores of the peninsula; Uags. That would be our destination!

Further north we found ourselves on the tiny roads again, perched between the hills and the sea, leading us through picturesque villages and by the side of white sandy beaches. The last village with a shop was Lochcarron, there we bought some essentials, beer and water and considered some CDs of quality bagpipe music – those we left on the rack.

Then it was time to drive to Applecross. The small roads, winding around the calm waters of the lochs were fun to drive. Not a long way further, and we started to climb, very steeply up through a col, where a viewpoint opened up to the west, over the moor and sea. Quick pit stop for photos was needed, before moving on.

Applecross itself is a humble little collection of houses, sitting at a shallow bay, but the view they have to the Raasay island and the Isle of Skye behind it, is quite astonishing. When we passed, it was a mildly cloudy day, and the horizon was framed by the blue silhouettes of the islands. What a soothing sight!

We followed our Wild Guide, all the way to the pier in Toscaig, and from there we would head on by foot to the Uags bothy. Toscaig itself was already a very pleasant little community, with sheep, geese and chicken running all around and the sea washing down to the paddocks.  At the pier, we packed our backpacks with the gear we would need for the night, and then headed back up to the town, where the route should leave for the bothy.

There was signpost in the beginning of the trail and it pointed the trail to the hills, through the moor and into the middle of nowhere. The landscape was brown, dotted by small lakes and sheep, with a superb view to the islands. Before long, the trail disappeared somewhere and we were struggling to find our way forward.

The navigation app from Wikiloc came in handy at that point, it had the exact route to the hut, we just needed to follow the orange line on Waffle’s phone. It really was a life saver, it showed us a safe place to cross a river and the right spots to wobble over the boulders and swamps.

It was a hike of about 3 hours, until we finally had the bothy in our sights. There was a small oak wood at the back of the house and a calm bay at its foot, the bothy itself was a stone house, perched on a cliff, overlooking the magnificent view. We were happy to find the place empty and to have it as a home for the night.

We started cooking as the sun was setting over the Isle of Skye. The wind calmed down and the sea was laying still next to us. The colors of the sunset were magnificent! The clouds were soft pink and that was reflected on the rocks on our small bay. A profound happiness was warming my insides, as I was shoveling the bagged meal down my face. What would be a better place for a human to be?

There was one lone seal, who was very much of the opinion, he could make our evening even better. So he popped his head up right next to us, in the shallow waters of the bay.  We shared a moment with the creature. Both we and the seal seemed to be equally curious, until the hunger took him fishing. We took the cue and headed to shoot the magnificent sunset.

We left the nature be and crawled in to our bedroom as the darkness fell. There were plenty of sleeping places in the bothy, and we had selected one of the rooms upstairs. Our magnificent, super warm sleeping bags guaranteed a comfy night for us up there.

The next morning arrived with clouds but luckily no rain. The weather continued to be ridiculously good for Scotland. We would have loved to stay at the bothy for a day longer, but we had only packed food for the one night. So back on the trail we went. Through the same moor, swamps and rivers.

From there on, we didn’t really know, where we would like to end up, only that by the end of the holiday we would make a stop in Dundee, which is now a home to one of my dear dear friends. Before that, we needed to get off of the edge of the world, and back to the highlands. After quick googling the navigator was set to the town of Torridon, where we were hoping to find something to hike.

But that will be another story…












Road Trip Through Scotland – Part 1

For once me and my dear Waffle had planned and prepared for our holiday.  We had taken the days off after Easter, we had bought maps and selected several GPS -routes in the Vercors national park in France. WE had gotten a new water filter to take along to the trail, car was packed and a spot to sleep at was selected on the go. I felt a nice buzz in the bottom of my belly. Finally, hiking some real mountains again!

Then came Friday morning. The day when we were meant to depart towards the south. As always we checked the last weather forecast of the destination… and the whole vision of mountains and kilometers and kilometers of cliffs crumbled. Vercors would be literally soaking in heavy rainfalls for two days and afterwards snowfall was forecasted. Not exactly the perfect conditions for hiking and camping.

So, original plan was scrapped and the browsing of weather maps began.

Ordesa has been one of those places we have been dreaming of for a long time. Soaked.

Corsica has also been tickling our travel nerves.  Soaked.

Normandy, meh, no hills.

Scotland? Well, who would have guessed. Sunshine all the way through, with temperatures around and even over 20 °C. I quickly checked the ferry prices to sail from France to Dover, they were only around 120 euros in total; the decision to go was quickly made.

On Saturday morning we were in Dunkirk, queuing up for the ferry to Dover, looking forward to a holiday of Scottish munros and lochs and bothies. Two hours later our tires touched the ground on the shores of England and our great road trip could start. Some brain cracking was needed to get us through the first roundabout, while driving on the left, and then we were safely on our way.

We were planning on soldiering through until the sunset. Hoping to be at the southern edge of Scotland by then, somewhere not too far from Loch Lomond. We took the eastern route, via Cambridge, Leeds and then crossing over to the west towards Carlisle and Glasgow.

As we got closer to the edge of the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park, we started a frantic search for a sleeping spot with Park4Night. We knew a good spot already from our previous trip to Scotland, but since there was a high chance for a pairs of legs appearing we opted for another spot in the woods not too far from there.

We found ourselves in a forest of ancient looking spruces where owls were hooting in the darkness, and a gentle community of midges teasing a lone human. There was also a pile of lone humans settled around a campfire. We threw out our popup tent, took a bottle of beer with us and joined the people, until the evening grew long with joking and laughter. Eventually the kilometers behind us forced us to give in to sleep.

We didn’t quite wake up with the sun, rather crawled out after the stiff mattress had caused us enough back pain little bit after 10am. Such a beautiful morning it was, full of sunshine and birdsong. We got water for our breakfast from a close by riverand enjoyed our hot coffees in the forest and soaked in the holiday feeling!

The morning turned into a beautiful day. We stayed in the same national park, since we had found a good walk for the day not too far from where we had been sleeping. We headed to the Loch Earn and from its shores we started the climb up to Ben Vorlich. A calm ascent of a generous 900 meters in total seemed like a good warm up for the days to come.

Quite a nice hike it was. We left fairly late, and the other hikers had already reached the summit and were returning back down, so we ended up going against the stream. We had thought that Vorlich would be a relatively calm peak to climb, but clearly we were wrong. The path was wide and at point quite eroded and there were quite some people wobbling around.

The weather was treating us well. In the lower slopes it was almost too hot for ascending but higher up the wind came into rescue, keeping us fresh and cool and the meters up went by lightly. I have finally matured as a hiker, and stopped rushing. I manage to keep the same sluggish rhythm from the bottom to the top, so we are now taking far fewer breaks. Yay!

It took about 2 – 3 hours for us to reach the peak. Up there the wind had turned from gentle refreshing breeze to a violently howling gale. Some quick photos were snapped of the great view over the national park before we headed down on the other side of the mountain. The wind was against us and it took quite some descending before we found shelter from the relentless gusts.

We were following a faint trail, down the southern ridge of Ben Vorlich, towards a swampy valley. We turned west, down towards a saddle as soon as the steepness of the slope allowed it. The dry grassy meadows started to slowly become more moist marsh, where small streams were hiding in deep cracks, making it fairly difficult to find a sure footing.

Slowly we made it to the bottom, following the tracks the sheep had made. there we turned back upward, following  the side of the stream, over the saddle, and down beside another stream. The sun was closing up its daily route across the sky as we got back to the Loch Earn.  And we were offered a beautiful sunset as we set up camp on the shore.

After the first day in Scotland, the last bits of the bitterness of not getting to the French mountains were gone. We settled for the night as the sun set and the outlines of the mountains were disappearing into the darkness.

I don’t think we could have selected a better alternative for the vacation. We still had the week ahead of us, with a loose outline of things we wanted to do. Such a wonderful feeling it was to leave the work behind and just roam free for a bit!





Finland – Buried in snow

Landscape, Snow, Finland

We had had already 2 Christmases without snow, so it was about time to go and enjoy some winter landscapes for my birthday. On an innocent Wednesday morning in the end of January, we were heading to the Brussels airport, to catch a flight to Amsterdam and then further to Helsinki.

In the meanwhile Mother nature had had the brilliant idea of giving us some snowy landscapes in advance. You should know, that snow in Brussels airport means a state of paralysis for the first hour or two.  We were stranded, well aware of the very short time we had in Amsterdam to catch out flight to Helsinki. Eventually we got up in the air just 30 minutes behind schedule, and arrived to Amsterdam just in time we ran to the next gate with about 20 seconds to spare and got to Helsinki safely.

Our first stop was Tampere, to say hi to our Armenian friends Ana and Yuri. The evening was spent with sushi, wine and laughter, until we had to start heading further up to north.

As we drove on the snow around the road got deeper and deeper and the air colder and colder. Every now and then, there was an oasis of light in the middle of darkness, as some lonely house spilled its light on the snow covered land. The road was calm and we were quickly at the half way mark, where we stretched our legs and sniffed the brisk, frozen air.

I was happy when we finally reached home. The familiar red house was sitting there as always. Blanketed in snow, underneath the massive pine tree. The sauna was still mildly warm, but we headed directly to bed, falling quickly to sleep.

The morning came and we woke up to an amazing landscape. Everything was covered with frost, the temperature was somewhere around -20°c and the soft light was making it all light up and glitter in pastel colors. This was winter at its best.

A quick breakfast later we headed out. To see our cottage of course. The road to there had not been plowed for the whole winter, so we had to waddle through knee deep snow for the small kilometer before reaching our little summer home.

It looked peaceful out there. Our small huts sitting on their small hill. Surrounded by pristine snow and the wast whiteness of the frozen lake. Inside the hut it was just as cold as outside. The distinctive scent of wood and smoke had disappeared too, in to the freezing cold. Everything was just waiting for the summer to come and the frost to thaw away.

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I had missed this. A true, white, cold and snowy winter. The sound the cold snow makes under the feet and the frost that clings onto everything, making the trees wear jewelry. For Waffle this was the first time experiencing temperatures below -20°c. Luckily he had bought a super warm jacket to cope with the Finnish winter. The next days we strolled around, taking in the full wonders of winter, visited some friends and family, hunted the northern lights, stuffed a 55 inch TV into a Toyota Aygo and celebrated the birthdays of me and my dad.

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The time to go back to Helsinki came all too soon, even though we were looking forward to seeing the friends there too. We drove down in a blizzard, the visibility was very low at times, making the journey quite stressful. I had already forgotten what a snowy weather can be to drive in.

Luckily we got to Helsinki safely and ran directly into a restaurant to eat and enjoy some of my dear friends. I had randomly picked a very nice Indian restaurant in the heart of the city. The food laid a good base for the beers that followed.

The following day we spent wondering around Helsinki. I wanted to show Waffle the frozen sea, maybe to take him walking on the ice. We headed to the Uunisaari island right next to the city center.  We reached the shoreline of the island and quickly decided that walking on the ice wasn’t an option. The “ice” was heaving up and down, slowly and sluggishly as the waves beneath it pushed to the shore. We would have gotten a chilling swim.

After a while, the wintery chill of the sea wind got too much to bear. So we headed back into the city. There is a new library opened in the city center, called Oodi, and I was very eager to visit it. They organized a competition to design the thing and all, so my expectations were high.

To start of with, library is a small word to describe the building. First of all, it looks cool. Secondly, it has swallowed a whole world of things from movie theater to cafes and interactive, immersive spaces. People can come there to use 3D printers, sowing machines, format cutters, studio spaces, game rooms and learning environments and to borrow books. Free of charge. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Well done Helsinki!

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After the awe the Oodi left us with, we headed to the airport again. Back to home, back to work, back to looking into new travel ideas. Vercors, The Netherlands and things like that are on the drawing table.