Towns / Cities Visited: 120
Countries Visited: 20
Step Taken Today: 25,921
Steps Taken Around the World: 3,121,639
Our morning began, like all those before it in Scotland, with rain. We may have had a day of weather dependent nature exploration planned, but the sky seemed to want no part of that. However, living in Melbourne has taught us that the weather can change its mind faster than an angsty teenage girl, for better or worse, and thus we walked defiantly downstairs to eat breakfast and hope the clouds cheered up in the meantime. Our gracious host provided a truly amazing spread, from fruit, yoghurt, and cereal; to eggs, bacon, and, of course, a pot of tea. We chatted with her happily, which is more than we can say for the deathly quiet Asian couple who were staying in the other room, and spent the entire time on their phones and not even talking amongst themselves.
The breakfast may have brightened our spirits but the heavens continued to douse the earth. Still, adventure cannot always wait for perfectly sunny days, especially not in this corner of the world, and as such, we grabbed out raincoats and began our drive. Today was to be a collection of hikes and photo stops, and we soon pulled into the carpark just off one of the most picturesque roads we’d driven thus far, which winds through Glen Coe, and tumbled out ready to begin our trek. The trail we were here for runs around the woodlands of An Torr, and passes Signal Rock; a historic stony crag which was historically used as a gathering place of the MacDonalds in times of trouble, and which, legend has it, was used by the Campbells to signal the start of the Glencoe Massacre on 13th February 1692.
The trail begins by crossing the River Coe which was, unsurprisingly, raging from all of the recent rainfall which had swept the country. From here there is a gorgeous view of the Aonach Eagach Ridge, including the infamous Clachaig Gully which cuts through the face of the ridges end. This gully is a popular hiking spot, but the difficult trek is only suggested for experienced mountaineers and has too often seen the deaths of those who have lost their footing. Despite its dark history, this scar in the earth was illuminated by a sudden parting of the clouds, and so we scurried off, hoping to enjoy at least a partially dry walk.
We wrapped our coats a little tighter around us as we followed the path into the shadow of the mountain and the trees. The cold could not take away from the lush green surroundings which warmed our souls though, and its hard not to feel better in a place so drenched in natural beauty. Eventually we made it to Signal Rock, which is located about halfway around the looping track. Centuries ago this rock sat prominently above all else, allowing a clear view along the glen, hence its use as a place for signalling, and in pre-Christian rituals; however, it now sits overshadowed by sprawling foliage and a thick coating of moss. Regardless, it remains easy to locate the steps which leads to its summit, and although it seems small compared to its surroundings, there is still an air of grandeur to it. The rock itself sits atop Tom a’ Ghrianain, a name which means ‘Hill of the Sun’ in Gaelic, but as we headed back down amongst the woods and over the river to the carpark, through the confusion of a sun shower, it was hard not to think that perhaps ‘Hill of the Inclimate Weather’ may be a more appropriate name.
Our drive alongside the ridge continued through the picturesque valley with its palette of lush green and burnt amber. Before too long we were stopping at one of the most popular photo areas in the region. What is the draw card here? Why, that would be the trio of looming mountains which tower over the lush valley below, fondly known as The Three Sisters. Our pause here may have only been momentary, but we stood dumbfounded by the majesty of the sight before us; the streams cascading along any nook and cranny they could find, and the sheer dark cliffs peaking out from their mossy surrounds. If these really are three sisters, they must be the most intimidating set of siblings I’ve ever seen.
The weather was continuing its bipolar tirade but regardless, we were soon heading back towards Fort William to visit the towns biggest draw card; Ben Nevis. The weather may have meant that climbing the country’s highest peak was out of the question, but as we parked the car at the foot of the mountain, we headed into the base station, hoping to catch the gondola up to at least admire the view from the top. Unfortunately, we would soon discover that we would have to give up on that dream. The conditions may have looked a little grim at the bottom, but apparently they were worse at the top, with gale force winds wiping out any chance of even a mechanical ascent.
The sympathetic employee at the desk did her best to offer us an alternative adventure, handing us a small walking trail map. Disappointed, but not despondent, we grabbed a quick bite to eat at the cafe, then pulled our jackets back on and headed off for our second hike for the day. We may have had a map on hand, but with a plethora of criss crossing paths, some of which are BMX tracks, as a noteable lack of signage, it wasn’t long before we found ourselves a little turned around. After a bit of attentive landmark triangulation we were back on track, and finally enjoying a leisurely stroll amongst the trees. With trickling streams to the left, supernaturally stunning trees to the right, and the ground blanketed in soft moss, and glossy mushroom caps, we barely noticed time slipping away around us.
Soon we came to a fork and decisions were to be made, should we turn right and head back to the car, or continue the journey to the left, and up the steep hill to the lookout marked on the map. Of course, we disregarded our protesting legs and scurried on up and up. We may have been absolutely exhausted by the time we reached the lone bench looking out over the sweeping views of Fort William, and the mountains that encircle it, but as we sat and nibbled on the snacks in our backpack, there was a warm glow of achievement between us. We’d pushed through the aching muscles and the laboured breathing, and this quiet slice of tranquil beauty had been our reward.
The sun was sinking low as we made the significantly easier descent back the the car. Dropping back into town on our way home, we ducked into the local fish and chip shop for a well deserved dinner. Finding the place to be warm and welcoming, we sat and ate within its walls, and happily chose a few scoops from their ample ice cream selection to finish off the days escapades.
As we settled in for our last night here, I thought about our day. Things may not have gone as we had planned all of those months ago, but then again, we had long since learned that the travel gods care very little for the best laid plans and well orchestrated intentions of men (or mice, I can only imagine). We had aimed for the top of that mountain, but obstacles beyond our control had seen our journey rerouted. As I considered our situation, it was hard not to compare it to the struggles we all face in life. We so often aim for the top, and are told that it is only there that will we find success. In listening to this constant soundtrack, we often forget that the top is not the only part of the mountain, nor it is the only part which holds beauty. Thats not to say that the view from the top isn’t breathtaking, but by the same token, sometimes the view is clouded and the conditions harsh. Sometimes there is safety and joy in being closer to a strong base, than on a crumbling or precarious peak; and sometimes the view is just as beautiful from the bottom as it is from the top. Remember this in your travels, and in your life, whether you’re lost in a tangle of trees at the bottom, exhausted and taking a well earned break in middle, or standing triumphant on the peak, you are a success.