Morning, breakfast in an amazing upstairs room ← with, reassuringly (to, you know, me) several guns on the wall. →
Rather less reassuringly, there was this countour map ← of the West Highlands, which our hosts thought they were being helpful in pointing out to us. We realised we'd been tricked by the guidebook people, whose maps didn't show anything about altitude. If they had, we never would have gone on the walk, and thus wouldn't have needed their guidebook. Bastards.
Through the window out back was a hoop, which I thought was quite cool. ← (*) From under the table there emerged a dog → who was a dead ringer for Elizabeth Taylor York Rosenblatt. (As you will recall, that being Charlotte's adopted dog in Sex and the City.)
We were also joined for breakfast by Caroline and Natasha, from Basel. I'd once spent a very pleasant weekend in Basel, on the company Deutschmark, so I was glad to meet them. Unfortunately, they didn't seem all that glad to meet us. (They hardly even smiled at my instruction that, since we had three guns and one American, in case of attack the best plan was for me to take all the guns and for everyone else to hide under the table.)
Tim and I wondered if maybe our breath was bad. We wondered if maybe they were lesbians and our attempts at friendly banter had been interpreted as unwelcome advances. Eventually we'd come to learn and we learned this because we would bump into them many times up and down the trail, as very often happens that in fact Caroline and Natasha are just quite laconic and more or less totally lacking in affect in the morning . . . before they've had enormous amounts of both coffee and cigarettes. Fair play.If you're ever wondering, by the bye, if the B&B you're staying in is, in fact, in Scotland, here's a helpful clue. If along with the muesli, preserves, yoghurt and coffee there's a twelve-year old single malt on the breakfast ledge, you're probably in Scotland. (←)
"What, you going somewhere?"
Dry Men in Drymen
By and by, we headed out of the town the way we'd gone for dinner the night before pausing to take our proper, actual, official start-of-walk photo. ← And approving of the excellent initial waymarking. →
At the time, we didn't pay much attention to this big intro to their cartoon history of the WHW. ← But we'd keep running into these little cartoon characters delivering historical lessons along the way, often amusing, occasionally slightly horrifying. And here's ↑ a little more blown-up info on the Way, by the way, if you're interested.
And then a spot of walking!
But not a whole heck of a lot, because I had to stop in the first nice spot to stretch. This was a park where we actually met the cool retired politician I mentioned in the prior dispatch; and now you know why I couldn't find my notes on her at that point. Anyway here ← she is, with some dogs, and we got talking with her very easily. Upon being asked for advice in the matter, she said we might enjoy taking the little detour up to Mugdock Castle also informing us that the restoration of the whole thing was paid for by the (evidently rather powerful) Graham clan of Scots in the U.S.
When she let slip that she had previously been provost (basically, mayor) of Dumbartonshire, I immediately sounded her out on Palin. "A bit of publicity," was her initial verdict. But she admitted that the system was very different in the U.S., and that people there seemed to relate to Palin. "Good luck to her," she said. "I enjoyed my time in the Council, thoroughly enjoyed it. But I'm also very glad to have gotten out after eight years. You think the government is run by politicians? It's an illusion. It's all run by the civil servants. I came in thinking that within eight years I would have changed things. Eh." And with that she gave a very Jewish (certainly for a Scot) shrug.
And with that, we got our (burning, stinging) 95% DEET slathered on, and hit the trail.Oh yeah: in the M&S in Milgavnie, I'd scored a carton of soya milk for breakfast. There was some left over and, thinking not unreasonably that it might be the last soya milk I'd see for awhile, I put the carton in one of my zippy bags and strapped it to my pack. That was well enough; but, in the Dumb-Ass Maneuver of Day Two, I also decided I couldn't bear to hump empty volume, and so tried to squash the carton down to the dimensions of the remaining soya milk. The results may be guessed. (I was also, I could be pretty sure, the only through hiker on the trail with onboard soya milk. ↑)
We had our first little mis-navigation, which is par for the course. (Especially with signs like these. ← ) We got directions from some friendly mountain bikers; and quickly figured out that, as the trick in Cornwall is just mindlessly following the acorn, here . . .
. . . you couldn't go wrong here if you followed the thistle. ← The thistle, if you don't know, is the symbol of Scotland. Here's a real one. →
This sign → called to mind a delightfully rude bit of Cockney rhyming slang. And it would prove all too prescient because by taking the detour to the castle, we were definitely going to be taking it up the Kyber.
"We've Already Walked a Half Mile and the Sign Still Says it's a Half a Mile"
"The Upside to All This is: If We Get to the Top and the Castle's Complete Rubbish, We'll Never Half to Do Another Detour in our Lives"
"What's the Verdict?" "Pretty Good" "…That Sucks"
"So Glad They Have a Waste Chute"
As the video above alludes to (and the crappy photo of the thistle illustrates), I spent an enormous amount of time, particularly on the early part of the trip, frantically trying to learn to use the full manual controls on my new camera. (I failed, but there were some additional reasons why the photography here is starkly mediocre. More later.)
"Inevitably, the Sensation is: This Would Make a Fantastic Video Game Level!"
We also spent a fantastic amount of effort (most of that, too, wasted), and a great amount of discussion, trying to figure out how to use this new video medium (well, new-ish on the web, and quite new for web travelogues) to decent effect. I thought it was instructive, for instance, to watch how The Onion has been trying to transfer their comedy brilliance from written pieces to video ones. They've had one or two great successes by no means miss Army Holds Annual 'Bring Your Daughter To War' Day but mainly an enormous number of clunkers. It's harder than it looks.
Much more on that not merely discussion, but all-too-vivid examples! coming next in part ii of Day 2: Dispatch from the Roof of Britain the Reality Show!!!
And but so getting back from the castle detour to the Way involved retracing ↓ the three and a half half-miles (mercifully downhill now); sashaying through this bendy ↓ stone stile; and walking over this studded wooden mud coverer that looked very convincingly as if it had been repurposed from one of the reinforced castle siege doors. ↓
It also involved substantial additional work on our new project of Dispatch from the Roof of Britain The Reality Show! If you hadn't picked up on it by now and, if so, we've been subtler than we think we were we've been filming various segments of clever mid-walk dialogue, in more or less staged formats. Basically, the notions are two-fold: 1) How the hell are we going to shoot some video that's actually interesting for people to watch unlike the silent-film panoramas from hilltops, and occasional half-arsed narration that have been the bulk of previous video efforts? And 2) Okay, here's an idea: every time we exchange some witty dialogue . . . instead of me scribbling it frantically, and as often as not illegibly, in the notebook, and then later typing it up and sticking it into one of these text boxes on the page . . . why don't I instead haul out the camera and we can re-enact the segment of witty dialogue? ???
Well, it proved an interesting experiment but harder than it looks. Not least because neither one of us have any acting talent. (Well, actually, Tim probably has no acting talent; whereas I have negative acting talent.) Also because there's actually quite a lot to it: remembering the exact dialogue (without embellishing it into total unfunniness); camera angles and lighting; audibility; delivery; comic timing; &c. You've seen several of these so far when I busted into the room and asked Tim what he was doing, and he said thinking about a walk; when we spelled out Drymen (pronounced Drimmen) and made the 'dry men' pun; the 'moles not gophers; we're not on the prairie anymore' bit; etc. and if you didn't figure out these were dramatic re-enactments, then we were more successful than we dared hope.
I'm only really breaking the veil of illusion at this point because A) we pretty much got sick of doing it after Day 2; and B) we shot this fantastic outtake below. Basically, I thought I was turning the camera on when I was turning it off; and off when I was turning it on. So I missed a whole take of one of our schticks (one which we shot about four times, trying to get right) and, much more entertainingly (which is rather sad), I accidentally captured our between-takes discussion of the process. So come with us behind the scenes now. (And where, really weirdly, I kept myself in the frame nearly the whole time, when I thought I was just holding the camera down by my waist.)
Dispatch from the Roof of Britain, The Reality Show: OUTTAKES
And but then here's the sequence that we did four versions of and spent all that time rehearsing and discussing and as you can see, it sucks. (The original was funny. Really.) Okay, Tim's not bad. But I suck enough to ruin the whole thing singlehandedly.
Cancellation of the Reality Show
As a final reflection, or sort of epitaph, and as we discussed at the time: This kind of thing seems always to happen with brand new media people initially try to use them in the same way as old media. A lot of early films were just filmed stage plays. (Graham Greene, who wrote hundreds of film reviews between 1935 and 1940 was very quick to recognise that filmmakers should be doing the types of things that only film, not stage plays, could do.) In the case of these travelogues, it was, "Oh, here's a nice vista, I'll turn on the video and walk around in a circle." But that's wrong, of course. Photography is the right medium for pretty vistas, even when video comes along.
I'm still not sure what is the right way to use video here whether we were onto something with the Reality Show, and just need to do it better; or whether it's something I haven't hit on yet. Suggestions appreciated.
As we got moving northerly again, the hills resumed their swelling. And we walked beside our first loch a quite small one Craigallian Loch.
About this point I finally, fumblingly, got my manual controls set for the day if the light didn't change! The day before, we'd had our first (and just about last) good light, so I'd been able to use some of the pre-programmed scene settings. Today's grey light called for more skill, which I didn't have yet, but was fumbling around trying to attain.
Random Walkage Back to the Old Paradigm
This shot on the left is of a bit of a castle across the lake, and so's this one on the right (zoomed in). I should have done this as a single image that zooms, but I really need to rewrite my zoomer code in a sensible way and I can't be bothered. [It's four days 'til Christmas.]
In Scotland, unlike England, they allow wild camping as we remembered passing our first wild campers. Of course, on a walk like this, one is stopping to urinate quite frequently by the side of the trail (especially if one is hydrating properly). In this case, one had to resist the devilish temptation to step up to the big inviting tree under which these guys had pitched their tent and piss on their camp site.We passed though so many lovely, secluded, wooded depressions, we had a long debate trying to work out the differences amongst glens v. vales v. dales (v. glade and groves). We failed. Welcome to Rivendell, Mr. Anderson.
As the cows and the lovely road-side flowers scrolled past, we talked about the essential tension, on a walk like this, between death-marching through to your next scheduled stop, grinding out the next bit of the 105 miles you've got to eat up versus lounging around in one of the most beautiful places in the world, and where you may never be again.
Me: But you've also come somewhere to be there.
As with virtually everything in life, it seems, balance is probably key. (And kindness trumps all. Tim has heaved enough bikes over enough obstacles to know the score here. ↓)
Back at the B&B, they'd given us a voucher for tours of the Glengoyne Distillery which our book also suggested was well worth a stop. I had to agree that peering into some grain-silo-sized mash vats and then sampling some 194-year-old Scotch did seem just the kind of thing one should do while one was passing through the Highlands. Anyway, Tim checked both the time and the distance; and concluded that, even if we hauled ass, we weren't going to make the next hourly tour. So instead we picked an elevated spot with gorgeous views and settled down for lunch.
"Feeling Like a Whiskey . . . Or Maybe a Cup of Tea, I Don't Know"
As we got moving again, there were maniac sheep on near-vertical slopes, and isolated farmhouses . . .
. . . plus maniac Munro-baggers on really vertical slopes. And, in due course, the Glengoyne Distillery.
We had about 20 minutes to kill before the tour, so we had bit of an amble around the grounds, where several things were steaming. Stephanie who was very young and rather terrifyingly pretty had directed us to the waterfall out back, which was the original source of water for Glengoyne whiskey. I happily posed for Tim, but refused to take my camera out. Having photographed cataracts in at least a half a dozen countries on three continents for some reason local guides always think Westerners want to see nothing so much as a waterfall I declared that "I'm out of the waterfall-photographing business."
We repaired to the upstairs bar and theatre, where we started with a glass of their ten-year old and a video on the history of the distillery. Stephanie, who was very cute indeed, wished us "Slainte Mhath". (Pronounced, roughly, slangevah, it means "good health" in Gaelic.) Here are photos of Tim and the winning Stephanie, plus Tim, and finally Stephanie, a very attractive young woman.
When the tour proper started, we had to turn off our cameras. (Competitive business, Scotch distilling.) But here are a few fun facts we learned along the way. (While climbing up narrow ladders, sticking our heads in oak barrels the size of one-bedroom flats, etc.)
- They go through 106 tons of malted barley every two weeks; plus a 100 million litres of water.
- It takes 100 litres of water to produce one of whiskey; so, yeah, that's a run rate of a million litres of distilled whiskey every two weeks.
- The barrels are 10ft in diameter and 15ft tall. After this very first step of the fermentation process, what they hold is, essentially, beer.
- These barrels which are made from wood only from the bottoms of trees, so they have no knots last 40 years, and cost Ł40,000 each.
- In a subsequent stage, the proto-whiskey is held in casks from Spain ones that held sherry for four years in a previous life. What the casks used to hold is a major determinant in the whiskey's flavour, and thus its recipe.
As the tour ended, and we were leaving the last, biggest room of the facility, they let us take photos again. However, for obvious reasons, the photo of us seems less interesting than photos of the markedly pulchritudinous Stephanie photographing the other visitors. Just look at that pouty little squint! ;^)
We exited via the gift shop where vouchers from our last B&B entitled Tim and I to a bonus tipple of their 14-year-old. I'm actually not conveying the scale of their offerings they have dozens of labels some decades old, some limited edition, some pet projects of their master distillers. We learned all this chatting at length with the comely Stephanie, and one of her cute colleagues, in the shop. (*)And then it was back to dodging sheep shit! On the way out, we encountered a large number of sheep and lambs cutesily scratching themselves on the fencing. I've spared you all this by combining it into one scratching sheep montage, and one video.
"Sorry About Your Sheep!"
Tune in for part iii of Day 2: Dispatch from the Roof of Britain to include Great White Shark stories, smashing heads in heavy gates, drooling cows, and the oldest licensed pub in Scotland. Plus sheep! glorious sheep!
Actually, I lied last time. Here are three more sheep pictures and another cutesy sheep video.
Wrong Mode / Sheepophilia
Did I mention the waymarking on the Way was excellent? Best of any national trail I've been on. And clever. This post, e.g., looks simple, but it's deceptively clever. It's exactly 45 degrees to the trail so when you approach it from the left, it points to the right; and vice versa. Impossible to misunderstand. There were some other clever signpost configurations.
Belatedly, Tim gave me the complete rundown on every damned thing he did in his six months in Africa last year. Most admirably, of course, he helped build a clinic for a remote Tanzanian village that previously didn't have bupkus for medical care. (When a woman went into labour, she had to choose between a home birth and a six-hour bus ride to the nearest clinic either of which could be, and often were, fatal.) But after earning his place in Heaven, he screwed off and did things like the world's very highest bungee jump; whitewater rafting in Zambia; abseiling off of Table Mountain; and diving with Great White Sharks. He did everything.
I honoured this by interrupting his shark story to try and stick his head in a gate:
"Now, if You'll Just Put Your Head Here . . ."
We caught a farmer picking blackberries "Aye," he admitted, "a bonus of autumn." We saw our first of the shaggy, impressively be-horned Highland Cattle. (We'd have a close encounter with one later!) And these cows actually came out of the barn to check us out as we were passing through their turf.
We left the dirt trail, followed some road, and crossed the Gartness Bridge into, intuitively, the town of Gartness. This consisted of, en toto, six houses, in a single row. I scored my first edible, reachable blackberries; and smudged my notebook page to prove it.
Tim: I wasn't thinking that.
Me: I've grown out of my cow obsession, actually. Now that I'm older, I'm into blackberries.
As we hit the last long stretch into town, we passed right by E. Drumqahassle Farm. Where there was camping available. And campers. BWAHAHAHAHA!!! Suckers! Hahahaha! You sorry bastards. The road into town from here was straight uphill. And the better part of a mile. And there was damp all over everything. Everything. BWAHAHAHA!!!
Did I mention we weren't camping on this walk? Or, in fact, ever again? Well, we weren't. Ever again. As to why, I commend you to my previously-published Jeremiad Against Camping on Long-Distance Walks. Since you're not going to do that, the very short-form is: • You can only camp at camp sites, and they're a lot thinner on the ground than indoor lodging. • These campsites are 145 million light-years outside of town, a distance you have to keep walking back and forth to get food, to get drinks, to get back on the trail. • Camping is wet, cold, and dirty. There's no upside except you save about Ł15 a night, which is the world's falsest economy. Anyway, since we were never doing it again, we got to enjoy heaping scorn on the unenlightened encephalitics who were still doing it. Bwahahahaha.
On this hill, we also passed a little lost sheep! Direly unfortunately, we didn't have Darby along. Rescuing it would all been in a day's work for her. And it would have been a doddle, without even a fence to repair. As it was, we had to leave the poor creature to its fate. It probably got eaten by a starving, exhausted camper.
From the top of this hill we got our first glimpse of what we were pretty sure was Loch Lomond. We'd be spending a number of days walking along its endless eastern shore. Not to mention climbing up above it the Ben Lomond ascent was only two days away.
At the top of this hill I also found this glorious sheep, with glorious backdrop. I spent so long shooting her that I had to sprint to catch up with Tim. The last thing a guy wants to do at the tail end of a 12-mile day is stand around waiting while some sheep pornographer circles around and kneels and coos things like, "Okay, sweetheart just tilt your chin fifteen degrees to the left. Lovely! Lovely!"
Tim: Oh my God. I'm going to start doing it in regular life.
Getting right into town, to the B&B, could be accomplished either on the road, or on a last stretch of path. Tim, that son of a bitch, plumped for the path:
"Yeah, You're Always More Welcome at a B&B if You Can Track Something In"
And when we arrived, we were, apart from our feet, up to the ankles, dry men. On the downside, I'd had a little contretemps regarding our B&B booking. I'd first booked us into one place which turned out to be the only place that required a deposit and didn't take a credit card. I.e. she wanted me to write out a cheque and post it to her. She, the B&B matron, also didn't sound like the pleasantest woman I'd talked to on the phone all day. So, on a hunch, I rang up another place in town, where the woman was much more congenial, and didn't try to make me lick stamps. So I called the first place back and left a message (or e-mailed, I forget) cancelling the booking. However, a few weeks later, she rang me up wanting to know if we were still coming and where the cheque was. At the time she called, I was out walking around, and didn't have my trip itinerary in front of me, and got confused, and had to go home later before informing her, basically, No, I cancelled your ass.
Anyway, looking at the map on the way into town, we realised the place we were staying, and the place with the senile stamp hag, were literally right next door to each other.
Me: Yeah: "Don't worry, love, I've got something good cooked up for those two assholes."
Tim: Oh my God that's the police station.
And indeed it was. We tiptoed by that, then by the place we weren't staying, and finally knocked quietly at the one we were. A nice old woman answered the door.Nice Old Woman: You're Mr. Fuchs?
Me: Yes, ma'am.
Nice Old Woman: Are you from the south of America?
Me: It was the "Yes, ma'am" that tipped you off, wasn't it.
Nice Old Woman: Yes. It would be Louisiana . . . or Mississippi . . .
Me: I grew up in Atlanta. I was a long time ago; but some habits get deeply ingrained.