One day we headed out to Oban, but first stopped in Glencoe Lochan and Glen Coe itself for some great hikes. First, to recap Glencoe Lochan.
Another great park to hike in Scotland, this one starts from a well-marked parking lot that you can reach by taking the first road after the roundabout turnoff to Glencoe Village (signs point to the hostel). There are three trails in this park, and we did a combo of them all for a few hours total, starting off in the Woodland Trail, taking a loop around the lake, and then finishing with the climb shown in this photo, the Summit Trail.
I quite liked the description of the Woodland Trail, "you can imagine you're in Canada as you breathe the pine-scented air along this trail: it passes through the North American trees planted by Lord Strathcona in the 1890s," which I later read was something he did to help calm his Canadian wife's homesickness.
I imagine this park could get quite busy in the summer months, as there were lots of picnic facilities and docks out onto the water of the lake, but we practically had the place to ourselves, other than an occasional dog walker. The trails were very well-maintained and good for a lost-in-thoughts meander.
After driving the scenic Road to the Isles and enjoying our gorgeous hike at Loch Morar, we ventured onward to Mallaig, the small town dominated by the ferry terminal and ensuing passengers who are bound for the Isle of Skye and the small isles (with great names, Rum, Eigg, Muck, etc). Lots of fishery activity happening as well, with some great places to get amazing fish and chips or fresh fish for lunch.
One of the many reasons we decided to spend most of our Scotland holiday in Fort William was the guidebook's description of the Road to the Isles, the 46-mile road from Fort William to Mallaig, where ferries depart for the Isle of Skye and Small Isles. The top activity listed for Mallaig was Loch Morar, where "a minor road from Morar village, 2.5 miles south of Mallaig, leads to scenic 11-mile-long Loch Morar... the loch and its surrounding hills are the haunt of otters, wildcats, red deer and golden eagles. A 5-mile long, signposted footpath leads along the north shore of the loch from the road-end of Bracorina..." On our second day in Fort William, we cruised along the scenic, winding road towards Mallaig, following trucks loaded with logs heading to the mills along the way. We pulled into Morar Village to get water and then made our way to the end of the long hilly road, parking at the dead-end and setting out on the long long path that ran on the lakeshore then climbing up into the Highland hills. Not another soul the whole way, just us and the herds of sheep.
From Inverness, we made our way to Fort William, driving a long winding road alongside Loch Ness where we stopped at several viewpoints to look over the smooth waters and fall colours. No sign of Nessie, old girl. At one rest stop, there was a stairway down to a rocky beach, and we wandered down to get close to the water. Another older couple soon made their way down, and we exchanged pleasantries about the golden weather. Miles before, we had passed a man riding on a spindly bicycle, and by the time we climbed back up the stairs, there he was. A tourist from China, student age, on his way to see Urquhart Castle, though we weren't able to tell him how much farther he had to go. As we pulled away, I saw him sitting on the rocks down below, stripped down to his t-shirt, having a snack.
Arriving in Fort William, we headed out for a hike immediately, driving up the road to the Glen Nevis info center, stopping at the Braveheart parking lot, which we later found out was built for the filming of the movie.
We chose the Cow Hill Circuit path for a hike, and made our way along beautiful mossy tundra, up into grasslands that were one cow pastures (hence the name), looking down to the waters and the town of Fort William below, and then ending down through pinelands to the trail back to the lot. Warm in parts, windy and cold in others. Gorgeous overall.
The fragrance of woodsmoke as we walked in Fort William that evening on the main pedestrian strip of shops, stopping in at the Ben Nevis bar for a post-hike drink and bite to eat. Outside, the feeling of Whistler Village with a multitude of outdoor gear shops and people walking in their outdoor wear. Definitely a feeling of a place where people live for outdoor activities, mountain biking or hiking, and ski hills nearby in the winter. At our accommodations, one of the other guests was there to climb Ben Nevis, the highest peak, and we looked up at it throughout our hike, watching as layers of clouds enshrouded it, wondering if it was doable, but ultimately deciding that it's not a climb to be taken lightly. Perhaps one day, perhaps not, the hikes that we enjoyed were satiating in themselves without the big bucket list checkmark of a peak. Breathing in that glorious fresh air.
Arrive on the Caledonian Sleeper, after waking around sunrise and opening the window shade in the narrow bunkbedded room to see the rust-coloured ferns and mossy trees of the Cairngorms National Park outside.
Wander downtown in the cold air, bundled up in every layer of clothing and woolies, stopping for breakfast at a cute cafe after poking around the massive Leakey's Book Shop in an old church, where the man minding the place stacks wood inside the stove heater.
Stroll onwards, sufficiently warmed from cups of tea at the breakfast place, heading up along the Ness River to the Islands, where hardy gents stand hip-deep in the flowing waters, casting their lines.
Wander onward, alongside the Caledonian Canal, past the series of locks where ships ladder up and down, past the cluster of schoolkids getting kayak lessons out on the smooth waters. It's cold cold outside, brisk, but there's a pub up ahead with a roaring fire, a cluster of friendly locals having a chat at the bar, a pub dog making friends with everyone inside, and a plate of smoked Scottish salmon and a first taste of haggis with neeps and tatties (turnips & potatoes) - - it's good!