Scotland to Scarborough – You Take the High Road and I’ll Take the Low

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Niddrie Castle

Actually I’m not sure whether we took the high or the low road journeying from Aviemore to Scarborough – all we were certain of after six plus long hours of driving is that Google Maps had directed us in an incredibly inefficient manner.

Of course, some of it was likely our own fault. As we contemplated the comfort of traveling on four wheels instead of two legs – after 70 miles of walking that was the equivalent of a luxury jet liner – a side trip to a Scottish castle seemed in order. We had two in mind – the first was one that we found listed online and seemed to be on the way; the second, Niddrie Castle, was by reputation in the area S’s boyfriend P’s family hailed from in Scotland. But the best laid plans….

It turned out Castle #1, as I’ll call it, had, unbeknownst to the writers of the castle Internet site, been turned into an event venue. The rather imposing entrance into the grounds, was zealously guarded by a large sign welcoming all comers to Allie and Colin’s wedding. We contemplated having one of the young couples masquerade as Allie and Colin and make off with the wedding presents, but ultimately ruled it out as too risky.

So, on to Castle #2. It turned out to be in a small village just outside of Edinburgh whose main geographic feature was an enormous landfill hill set beside a golf course. Getting there required going completely off GPS and driving along remarkably narrow roads that permitted no turn arounds (and needless to say, we managed to go the wrong direction on several).

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Niddrie Castle is the first very old castle that I have actually seen inhabited. All that’s standing is a rectangular building-  but there were most definitely signs of dwellers. Outside the castle was a large, posted map of the castle plans, and we saw signs of some sort of renovation but of  what wasn’t clear. You could walk the entire way around the castle and that path linked up to a nature trail running through the golf course. We had lunch out of the trunks of the cars in a muddy driveway just by the castle – it felt a bit as if we were eating in someone’s back yard, but I think P was happy to have seen it.

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By then we had many miles left to go before we reached Scarborough, and somehow were routed through Glasgow which made little sense. Perhaps one of those occasions when an old fashioned map might have worked best? At least that would show us what was and wasn’t out of the way!

In any event, our route took us through the idyllic villages of the North Yorkshire moors…all of which required us to slow down to a crawl. And since we had heard of tickets by mail we were quite cognizant of obeying the traffic laws.  But the most slowed down spot resulted from our encounter with several wooden gypsy caravans pulled off the side of the road. The horses were taking a break, and the travelers, as they’re known in England, were sitting outside on lawn chairs. It was as though we had travelled miles back in time as well as along the road.

A few days later, we learned that there was a travelers horse show in Scarborough, where horses are bought and sold and traded, and presumably that’s where the caravans were headed.

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About 8 pm or so we pulled into Scarborough to our AirBnb. An Edwardian house, replete with a billiards table and multiple bedrooms. What more could one want than for half of us to get fish ‘n chips from a shop heated to about 900 degrees and the rest of us locate Indian food, also about 900 degrees. Life was good.

 

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Gear Check #? – The Scottish Highlands

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Ok, so Speyside Way isn’t much of a summit. In fact, much of it seems suspiciously close to a river bed, and it’s still unclear to me how much above the ocean rivers can be anyway. I mean, they run downhill, right? Where do they start?

Regardless, the Speyside Way is so darn far north on the globe that it should still count as a summit of some sort. I can’t rid myself of  this vague idea that things to the north must be higher  than things to the south. And, of course, if you live in  Australia you must get very tired clinging onto the earth for dear life so you don’t fall off.

Yes, there are true mountains for us in the future including Katahdin in Maine. And we hope Mont Blanc next summer.  But for now – it’s four weeks to our multi generational trip to Scotland and England. More on all that to come in future posts.

As six of the eight of our traveling party will be engaged in a 67 mile hike in the Scottish Highlands during week one …. there’s still got to be  a gear check. Admittedly, this is luxury back packing (glampacking?). Our luggage will be  carted along by a taxi between b’n’bs and  small hotels and we only have to carry daypacks. A far cry from the barrels on Mt. Elbrus. (Yes, for those of you new to this blog – you really do stay in converted (but large) oil barrels on Mt. Elbrus.)

Nonetheless, we’ve learned from experience – there’s still gear that must go with you even while glampacking   So what does this trip entail?

  1. Hiking poles. Everybody but me on the trip rejects them, but after day 3 they will be thanking me.
  2. Headlamps. Who would have thought you needed them in Mt. Washington in October but after a late start and letting all the French Canadians celebrating Canada  Day pass us, it was a pretty dark descent.
  3. Hard candies. I’ve sworn by these since Kilimanjaro. Cinnamon is the best but husband J swears by cherry.
  4. Everything waterproof. I have a strong feeling that there is is a lot of rain to be experienced north of Aberdeen. As we celebrate Tropical Storm Colin here in Florida this week the wet theme is definite front and center.
  5. Gloves. Need I say more. Cold hands. (Not small hands.)
  6. Ibuprofen. It will make everything feel better. Especially after a couple of 15 mile days.
  7. A kindle. Weighs nothing. Battery lasts for months. And you can cart an entire library with you. There’s a lot of down time on hikes. You need a good book to read.
  8. Less than four weeks now. Ready for vacation!

Whither Next? The Whisky Trail?

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Malcolm, our 15 year old West Highland white terrier, showed up at just the right time. He’s older than the scotch.

I’m finding it increasingly hard to keep up my training regime without the threat of a large mountain looming over me. And even though it looks as though this summer’s adventure is going to be more of the hill and dale variety, it’s getting imperative to make it definite so I at least have the goal of making sure I’m ready for several days of intense hiking. I’m also beginning to think that maybe an intensive course in single malt scotches is needed.

So far the logistics of the trip are presenting some of their own summits. Husband J has become enamored with the idea of hiking the Speyside Way in the Scottish Highlands, also known as the Whisky Trail. I pointed out to him that I am not a scotch lover (I like my Irish whisky better), but he contends  that four or five days of hiking along a beautiful river with stops at distilleries along the way will change my mind. And daughters A and S and respective boyfriends, who are to accompany us on this trip, seem to feel a whisky trail in Scotland is eminently appropriate for young Millenials. Even our travel with friends friends, M and S, are interested so we may form quite a merry band of pilgrims.

But that’s just one aspect of the trip. It will start with J and me flying with my parents from Orlando to Manchester, where they will visit with friends while the remainder of the group goes off on the whisky pilgrimage. Then the idea is to rent a house, perhaps AirBnB, in Scarborough or somewhere else on the North Yorkshire coast for a week before returning to Florida. I grew up spending time either on the North Yorkshire or North Carolina coast (rather a stark contrast), so it’s going to be a throwback for me. We last took the girls to the North Yorkshire coast in 2000.

So, the plans now entail planes, trains and automobiles and everything else along the way.  We have to obtain plane tickets, figure out multiple modes of transporting ourselves from Manchester to the highlands (some combination of train and bus and I’m just hoping we can avoid hitch hiking), find a vacation rental house for one specific week that can accommodate at least 8 people, rent a car, and identify a tour company that will provide 6 or 8 people with guest house reservations and luggage transport as we toddle along between distilleries.

I think it may be easier to attempt an 18,000 foot mountain.

My First Hike, Yorkshire, England, circa late 1960s/early 1970s

With my grandparents and brother, on the way to Greasborough, South Yorkshire, circa late 1960s

This is a difficult post to write because it needs be just right. How do you capture your first hike – at least, the one that you remember? Something there planted a seed. And somehow that has ultimately led me to Cotopaxi, Ecuador, to Kilimanjaro, to Puzzle Mountain, Maine.

It started with the bridle path from Rawmarsh to Greasborough, both in South Yorkshire. My mother is English and my father is from Alabama (don’t even ask), and as they were both English professors, we had the luxury of spending weeks at a time in England during the summers. More specifically, in South Yorkshire, where my mother’s family is from.  Another time I’ll write about the coast and the moors. This is about an old fashioned trail, in the “industrial” north, replete with stiles.

In the late 1960s, my grandparents moved to very nice council housing, outside of their original home on Clay Pit Lane, yes, that’s a real address, in a small town called Rawmarsh, outside of Rotherham, in South Yorkshire. D. H. Lawrence, coal mining, and all that. My parents were married at the Rawmarsh parish church, St. Mary’s, and that’s where I was christened.  There were any number of small villages on the outskirts of Rawmarsh – from Parkgate (home of antique shops and the tripe shop) to Upper Haugh (a collection of rundown houses, at least rundown at that time, ten or so of which made up a village for mailing purposes). Perhaps now they are all rehabbed and are expensive weekend homes for IT people working in Sheffield.

The bridle path to Greasborough, a small village by a lake, was a special walk that entailed a picnic basket, a thermos filled with tea, and sandwiches. As you can see from the photo at the top, my grandmother did it all with stockings and a skirt. And it appears I was wearing a dress! One summer my parents left my brother and me in Yorkshire with our grandparents while they attended the very first Bloomsday conference in Dublin at which my father was presenting a paper on Joyce. (This is the sort of childhood memory you have when you’re the daughter of two English professors.) I’m pretty sure the hike to Greasborough is one of the activities that my poor grandparents used to try to entertain their excruciatingly Amerrican grandchildren.

Just at the head of the trail was an old shop that in America we’d call a general store. I remember my brother and me buying candies (sweets) for the walk from our allowances (pocket money).

The bridle path itself was old cobbled bricks, running through forests and between fields. Where one field bordered another you’d clamber over a wooden stile. See photo below. As I understood it, the stiles were meant to keep livestock from crossing unwanted into their neighbors’ fields. I’d never seen a stile in North Carolina, where I lived when I wasn’t in England.

My Grandmother and me
My Grandmother and me
On the left side of the bridle path was a gully filled with beds and beds of bluebells. I so wish I had photos of them because I’ve never seen them since – at least not like that. Six inch stems with rich indigo bells of flowers cascading down. On the right of the bridle path, if you ventured off, was the old head of a mine. This had been a working world, where many spent the sunlit days hundreds of feet down mining the coal that was fueling the mid twentieth century economy. The hole into the ground looked like an entrance into some magical world to my brother and me. We just knew it was a spot we were told never to go – we could fall down and never come out. Every time we passed the hollow that housed the mine head, we always veered off to have a look.

As you continued on, you eventually reached a lake, and I believe a dam of some sort, and on into the village of Greasborough. If memory serves, we’d stop at that point and get an ice cream or something for the walk back.

In 1985 or so, when I returned with my boyfriend – ultimately to be husband – I think after we hiked the few miles to Greasborough, we caught a bus back to Rawmarsh. He was struck by the public bathroom by the bus stop in Greasborough – a stone enclosure on the side of the road, the facilities of which involved nothing more than a gutter with water flowing through it.

I haven’t been to this spot for at least 30 years. And I’m pretty sure that the last time I went, you could already see housing developments over the bluebell beds, and I’m sure the old mine head had been cordoned off and made safe from incursions of eleven year olds.

But the magic of that old bridle path – and the people who walked it all those years ago – still resonates like some chord left reverberating. And when I climb mountains, or hike in the woods, that’s the fairy magic I’m returning to.