Monday, June 22, 2015

Sunday on the bonnie banks

I would be shirking my duties as an Ocean blogger if I did not provide you with this music for today's adventures. (The exact rendition of this very well known song was selected by Ed, who was listening to it as I described to him my day; in fact, he may have been listening more to the music than to my descriptions, but I cannot tell for sure.)

Predictably, I wake to gray skies. Weather maps promised showers and though I've avoided getting wet this entire trip, this time I think I'll have to pay my dues to Scotland. Life here is never long without rain.

Breakfast: I choose porridge today. Plenty of fruit, honey, yogurt.


(I position the table facing the window. The view? Of the mews out back, but pretty nonetheless.)


Now what?

Well, the very excellent thing about Glasgow is that it's not too hard to leave it for a bit. For example, a 45 minute local train ride will take you right to Balloch -- a town at the tip of Loch Lomond. From there, the sky, such as it is today, is the limit.


In Balloch, I go straight to the Tourist Office. Light rain is starting to fall and I shake myself free of it as I approach the counter.
Hi, you may find it strange that I'm wanting to hike into the hills in this bad weather, but I thought I'd give it a try. Do you have a map of the trails?
The woman I'm speaking to gives a low chuckle. We don't call this bad weather, you know!

She proceeds to explain that my best hike will be from Balmaha -- further up the coast of the lake. I will have to take a bus there. It's a thirty minute ride. From Balmaha I can scale the summit of Conic Hill.

I thank her and step outside. There really is a significant drizzle now. I go back in and reach for a yellow fold up poncho with red signs of Scotland all over it. Only 3.5 pounds.
I better buy this -- I tell the lady behind the counter.
She shrugs and takes my coins. As I leave, she tells me -- you know, the rain is only skin deep...
I smile. It's a good thing to keep in mind in life.

Here are two interesting facts about Loch Lomond: first, it is the largest expanse of fresh water in mainland Britain. Second, fifty percent of Scotland's population lives within an hour's drive of it. If you're looking to escape humanity, you should go to Dumfries and Galloway. Loch Lomond does not suffer their fate of being undiscovered.

But though I saw a trickle of that humanity here, at Loch Lomond, it really was just a trickle, even though it's Sunday and it is the first day of summer. You'd think that hundreds would venture out, but no. A wee trickle, that's all.

As I post a few photos from the climb up to Conic, you'll note, I'm sure, a remarkable transformation. Let me start with a glance out the window of the bus to Balmaha.


I stick my hand in my pack to make sure I have that poncho.

As I get off the bus, the rain slows down to a random sprinkle. I hardly notice it. (The photos notice! The occasional white dot on a pic? Raindrops hitting the camera lens.)

And here's something remarkable: as I climb Conic Hill, the composition of the clouds changes. Perhaps you'll see it in the photos. It's a beautiful climb -- first through a forest, then up barren pastured hills, with the occasional sheep grazing on them.



And just as I set up my timed release photo at the summit, I see that the skies are entirely different now...


Are we in for good weather ahead?


Well, it depends on which way you look...


But one thing's certain: yet again I have managed to avoid the rain. Remarkable!

Now is the time to decide how to take the walk down. I glance at the bus schedule. Decision made! If I scream down the mountain, I'll make the 2:25, which would be great, as the bus after this doesn't leave for a long while.

I scream down the mountain, telling myself (out loud, so I'll listen!) -- don't trip, watch your steps, don't trip, don't trip!

(I do pause for two sheep photos. Can you spot them in the second one?)



I make the bus, which means that I make the train, which means I make it in time for a cup of tea in my hotel room before my dinner out this night.

And here's where lovers of car driving (over bus or train travel) will rightly point out: if you go by automobile, you're not tied to schedules. You can walk at your leisure, up or down and all around. That's true of course, but there is a deep sense of well being and satisfaction as you jump onto a bus panting, hot from the exertion. You've conquered time itself! And a mountain! (Well, at 1200 feet it's really just a hill. It's actually a great place to take kids, because the trail is easy and wide. Snowdrop, my future hiking buddy, here we come!)

I have a reservation for tonight's dinner at Finnieston Bar. It's a seafood place. Market fish and some appetizers, nearly all of a seafood type. (And veggie sides!) The place is buzzing with dads (it's Father's Day here as well) in all sorts of familial configurations.

I have a gin and tonic. I haven't had one in many years. The place specializes in gins and in tonics (who knew that these days, tonics are as rarefied as the gins -- this one's Fever Tree) -- the G&T, called the Nautical, has a smooth gin (Plymouth), a wisp of sherry (Fino) and a liquor soaked cherry (Griottine) and it is exquisite.

Foodwise, I'm equally enthralled: Isle of Skye scallops with a pork cheek tortellini in a cauliflower foam...


... followed by the market fish -- the simple cod, beautifully prepared, on kale, of course.

I'm such a fan of the eating places in Glasgow. I've had nothing but good meals -- and I never even strayed from these two blocks (all my restaurants have been concentrated here, just a ten minute walk from my b&b).


Good excursions, great food, beautiful little b&b -- is Glasgow such a poor choice for a stop over after all?

Tomorrow, I fly to the island. Which one? No one will be surprised with my choice: Isle of Islay, of course.