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Archive for June, 2015


I discovered at 3:30 this morning that the sun was already working at arising for the day. This is why you need to make sure your sun blocking drapes touch when you shut them.


Our vaguely formulated plan for today was A) Breakfast B) Culloden. As you can see, we had reached the point in vacation where we were a little tired from being on the go. And we were a little confused about what we should see. And I was still limping around, because I’m an idiot. Turns out Culloden is only 15 minutes from Inverness. Oh. I’m still having a hard time remembering that this island is rather small.

Culloden battlefield reminded me much of Antietam, in that it was a large field with a few markers and signs and that was all you really needed to understand the chaos of what happened here. From afar as we drove up you could see a line of blue flags – the Hanoverians – and a line of red flags – the Jacobites.

It was a little windy and a little sunny, which seemed the right mix for wandering around the field. We were walking by the clan markers when I finally realized that the mass graves they marked were mostly still mounds, 269 years later.

After Culloden we headed out to Falls of Foyers on the East side of Loch Ness. Chad wisely suggested we start with the short walk down to see the Falls, before committing for anything more ambitious since I was (still) gimping about, trying to pretend that my knee was just fine and dandy and ready to tackle Ben Nevis in a few days.

The Falls of Foyers drops 165 feet. It’s a narrow ribbon of water ending in this dark, dark pool almost completely surrounded by sheer rock walls. It looks quite mysterious and haunting. Especially once your eyes start playing tricks on you and the rocks themselves seem to move (Motion After Effect – terribly disorienting).

Due to subpar performance by pants and an inability of my knee to get its act together, we decided to not do the longer hike all around the Falls of Foyers and instead head out to Urquhart Castle. The glimpse we had of it from the boat yesterday left us both intrigued.

It was lovely when we arrived at Urquhart Castle and headed to the visitors center for our tickets. The sun was out and it was breezy. Just a good day to be outside exploring a ruined castle.

We meandered over to Grant Tower and I was itching to climb the stairs to the top. Me, Chad, and everyone else at Urquhart, judging by the ridiculous number of folks on the bitty platform at the top!

So there we were, taking in the view of Loch Ness when the sprinkles decided to kick it up a notice and turn into a full on rain. No big deal, except my rain jacket was safely in our hotel room and Chad’s was in the car. We spent the rest of the time huddled very closely under a rather tiny floral umbrella. (No photos of that for obvious reasons.) Wet and tired, we headed back to Inverness, which took far longer than it should have, thanks to it being Friday evening and Inverness lacking a plethora of ways into town. We had an additional bit of excitement during the traffic when Chad realized he had a tick stuck to his hand.

After drying out and de-ticking Chad, we headed out to see if there was anything in Inverness that we’d missed.

After a few laps around the river, we decided we hadn’t really missed anything and so headed up to the Castle Tavern for dinner. It was raining again and had cooled off a good bit. But weather be damned! This was supposed to be summer here, and the good folk of Inverness were eating and drinking outside! But not us. We’d already been soaked once and I was in no mood to eat in my rain jacket, so we found a nice dry, warm spot inside and settled in.

Check out the gallery, like the million times before, for additional lovely photos! 

chris on June 26th 2015 in Travel


You know what’s pretty much awesome about visiting a country that has a ridiculous amount of coastline? They like to offer you seafood at any and all meals. I had scrambled eggs & smoked salmon for breakfast. NOM. NOM. NOM.


Being nomadic like we are, we crammed all our belongings back into the suitcases and then back into the car and headed out. The still-not-dry-from-kayak-flipping clothes were crammed into a plastic bag and unceremoniously deposited in the trunk. Fortunately we’d planned to stay in Inverness for two nights, so maybe, just maybe they’d dry out.


Chad put me in charge of being tour guide for our leisurely drive. Fortunately the Scots love a good memorial and seem to have a fondness for conveniently placed laybys. Combine the two and it’s perfect for caching and (partly) off the beaten path touring.

Our first stop was at a WWI Memorial. The cache was missing, but the statue – and we’d see several similar ones during our trip – was nice and quiet and reflective.

From there, we visited the well of 7 severed heads, oh the Highlands, it’s a little different up here.

Then there was the memorial marker for the bomber crashed into Loch Ness in 1940 & sank into oblivion for 40 or so years until someone stumbled upon it. And don’t forget the giant cairn for the fellow who was trying to break the water speed record and died when his jet boat broke up on the Loch. Plus Cherry Island, which involves the phrase “underwater antiquarian” and a priest borrowing a diving suit in August 1908.

We did do some normal monument visiting, such as Glennfinnan, where Bonnie Prince Charlie raised his standard for the first time. It was us, several tour buses full of folks, and a bunch of bikers. It was a little weird at first to see these huge groups of guys in leather biker gear being tourists. Not something we’re accustomed to at home, you know. We just so happened to see the Glennfinnan Viaduct – you know, the one the Hogwarts Express crosses. (We did not see the Hogwarts Express, but then again, we are muggles.)

The most striking though, of the places we stopped, was the Commando Memorial which stands to commemorate the British Commandos who trained in the area that that statue overlooks. The statue is one thing, but nearby was a circle with a one stone high wall. Around the inside were tributes to individual commandos by their family and friends. There were plaques, photos, notes, a cap, trinkets and the like. Just outside, the ring was surrounded by poppy wreaths. A few steps away was an area for ashes to be scattered. It was sobering and lovely all at the same time.

By the time we’d cached about halfway up the western side of Loch Ness we were famished. (Fortunately, Nessie was not.)

And as luck would have it, the weather was dry and sort of sunny. Perfect for taking a cruise on the Loch to see Urquhart Castle from the water.

It had been a weird sort of day – no forced marching, and only car caching – so we decided to take a stroll around Inverness and grab an early dinner at Hootenanny. The place was packed. We managed to get a table as long as we promised to be done eating by 9:30, which would not be a problem since it was only 6:30. I mean Chad’s a slow eater, but he isn’t that bad.

The live music didn’t start until 9:30, so we moved over to the bar area, and waited it out.

Totally worth it! The band was four young guys playing: fiddle, fife, guitar and drums. People kept streaming in until the place was so packed there was not even standing room only and I couldn’t see a thing. It was great!

Check out the full gallery below. Click to embiggen the images.

chris on June 25th 2015 in Geocaching, Travel


After a hot shower and a good hearty Scottish breakfast, I was in about as good shape as I was going to be after yesterday’s adventure. We packed up and headed out to Arisaig for our sea kayaking adventure. I really had no idea what to expect, besides sitting, for which I was very thankful. So when Arisaig appeared, I was delighted in its charm.

To say Arisaig is small is an understatement. To say it is tiny is closer.

It’s also adorable. Which is good, because we didn’t really have an address for the outfitter. Turns out it wasn’t difficult to find.

We were rather surprised to find out that we were the first people there. Then we were delighted to find out that it was going to be a small group. And by small I mean us, another couple and the guide.

Much to my surprise the outfitter was quite happy to outfit us with booties, waterproof jackets and dry sacks for no extra charge. Yeah, no extra charge. Imagine that. It took a bit to get layered up with all of the above and our spray skirts. We looked fabulous.

Since it was high tide, we just carried our ridiculously long sea kayaks, mine was the smallest at 14 feet and Chad’s the largest at 17 feet, down to the beach to put in. It was a perfect day for paddling – overcast and cool. So no sunburn and minimal sweating. Hooray!

Once in the water we practiced maneuvering and getting comfortable with our kayaks. I was stunned to see that the water was clear. You could easily make out the rocks on the bottom, even in the water that was easily 7-8 feet deep. That made me feel much better about things. I have a love/hate relationship with natural bodies of water. I find them fascinating; love the sound of water, love being near water, dislike immensely not being able to see what’s in the water. That last one is a big deal to me when I am in a kayak. Even when we were not in between the tiny islands but in more open water, it was obvious that the water was clear, just really, really deep.

Paddling in the areas buffered from the sea was way easier, obviously, than out in the open water since out there we had swells and wind to deal with. Still, it wasn’t anything terrifying.We stopped on a little island so we could stretch our legs and look around. It was really quite lovely. Our guide, Rory, pointed out the cow hoof prints on the shore and said at low tide, the cattle would often just walk over and graze. And sure enough, Chad looked up and saw a lone brown cow grazing contently. Guess he missed the low tide crossing time. Or maybe he was the cow emperor of this particularly tiny island. Either way, cow.

The islands we stopped on weren’t big, they look like dots on the satellite photos. It was fun to walk up on a knoll and get a good view of everything while the birds flew around freaking out because we were in their space!

After our lunch stop – catered by us at the local convenience store, hooray for oatcakes! – we paddled around to where a crazy number of seals were hanging out. When we saw seals, we were supposed to stop paddling and be quiet so as not to scare them off. It was not a problem! They were just as curious about us, possibly more so, than we were about them. They kept popping up and looking at us. Heck for a long while we had a dozen or so that followed us as we moved on.

At some point it started drizzling a bit. Then maybe a bit more. Then it got a little cooler. Then it was time to put on our fancy windproof polar fleece hats. Fortunately our waterproof jackets and spray skirts kept us nice and dry.

We had one last stop on a tiny little island with a beach made of fossilized seaweed, which looked like tiny bits of coral. Which I had thought odd, since I’d not seen any coral.

Anyway, it was a tight little place from which to extricate yourself. I launched first and was getting turned around to wait for Chad when I heard a noise, looked behind me and saw the bottom of a kayak! Then a blue clad arm surfaced and a head in a black hat, strikingly similar to the one I was wearing. Chad had capsized trying to make a hard turn. He stood up, turned his kayak back over and walked back to shore to try again. The second launching was a success.

A short but vigorous paddle later, we were hauling our kayaks out of the water and divesting ourselves of the various and sundry waterproof garments. I was dry. Chad was not. The waterproof gear only really works if you don’t go underwater, no matter how briefly. He also smelled slightly of saltwater. (His clothes took days to dry. The trunk of our car stank of manky, mildew, saltwater crusted, yuck.) The good news was since Arisaig was so small, we were only a few hundred feet from our lodging, The Old Library Lodge

Clean, dry and not smelling of saltwater, we headed over to the pub at the Arisaig Hotel. It was, in fact, the only pub in town.

As always, take a look see at the gallery for more of today’s adventure. 

chris on June 24th 2015 in Travel


Chad went out to get the car this morning while I finished packing up. His first words to me as we lugged our bags down to the basement of The Carlton were, “Don’t mind the burning oil smell.” Okay. I contemplated pretending he didn’t say that. But I was too curious. Turns out you burn a lot of oil trying to come up a ramp in 3rd gear, instead of 1st. My job while we have the car is to remind Chad that left hand turns must be sharp and to please not hug the left shoulder quite so much.

We were heading up to get the oldest geocache in Scotland on a mountain called Ben More. The cache wasn’t at the top, but off the main trail a bit. I didn’t have topos, but the description didn’t seem bad and we hike in the Mon National Forest at home all the time. Big deal. (And that, kids, is called foreshadowing in the world of literary devices.)

We stopped in Stirling for lunch (Stirling’s CRAP! – the infamous line uttered by the publican on our first trip). It was a bit confusing trying to find the town center off the A85 or whatever A it was. Finally Chad sorted it all out. And then we had our first problem. In Edinburgh, pretty much all the parking meters whether they be curbside or in car parks let you pay by credit card. Oh but not in Stirling. No, we needed change. I had 20 pound notes. We hiked up the hill to get some change. Then we came back down the hill to our car, only to find that the nearest pay kiosk was out of order. So was the next one. But, a group of our fellow countrymen told us, the one down at the bottom worked find. Lovely. Because you have to put the ticket on your dash.

That having been sufficiently taken care of, we picked a pub on Baker Street (no, not that one, we’re in Scotland) and had delicious food while sitting outside and enjoying the sunshine.

Stirling appeared to be a cute little town, not CRAP! As we’d been warned. But I suppose a lot can change in 11 years.

Since we had an appointment with a cache, we just drove by Stirling Castle (there was a line of cars trying to get in) and headed to Ben More.

We parked at an actual car park about .5 mile from the trailhead. It seemed smarter to do that than try to squeeze off the road. After all, it’s only added another mile to our trek. Big deal, we figured.

So first a few things:

  1. The highest point in WV is Spruce Knob at 4863 feet; Ben More is 3820 feet.
  2. Thanks to Garmin being U.S. centric, the maps of Scotland that I was able to load to the 60CSX were OSM Street Maps, not topos.
  3. Chad and I both had loaded the GPX trail for the Ben More summit trail. We knew that the oldest cache was off the left most loop of the trail.
  4. We thought we were prepared.

You start out up a wide farm road that winds back and forth through a sheep field. Ahead loomed Ben More and it looked steep, but we were not daunted.

The first bit of trail, once off the road, wasn’t the most discernable path. It was more like “choose the way you best think you should go and keep going”.

Fortunately we’re fairly seasoned hikers and had no problem spotting fresh boot prints as we picked our way up.

The path went from fairly indiscernible trail to muck to rocks to rocks & muck to just rocks, with various combinations therein.

Basically, everything you’d prefer not to walk on; it was more like climbing the worst, most uneven staircase you’ve ever imagined with no visible end in sight.

With short sharp cutbacks because it was indeed, that steep. Also, it was squishy, even when you didn’t expect it. I don’t know how, but this entire country, we would come to find out, was pretty squishy.

Climbing was hot work and we were both soon back down to t-shirts. But the wind was ferocious. So basically my arms were numb and my back was soaked; and we’ll not discuss my hair as I was sans hat at the time.

After a terrible amount of going up, up, up, up I realized that the cache, which I foolishly thought would soon be ours, was not simply right off the trail. No, rather it was .19 mile OVER and most likely on a lower topo line which would require crossing a few dips in terrain, some running water and a small waterfall.

Translated that means we were walking horizontal (more or less) on the side of a hill that was, in my estimation, ridiculously steep and soppy wet. At one point it was so steep that I just sat down and slid because it was easier. By the time we got to the general vicinity of ground zero I was beat. I’d had to layer up because I was starting to feel that perhaps letting my exposed skin go numb was not smart and so I was both cold and hot, which happens from time to time when outdoors.

Fortunately the search for the cache itself was brief and soon we were wallowing in our glory. Which was about the time a couple of cachers from Austria appeared out of absolutely nowhere and scared the life out of us.

At this point, we had realized that we should have gone ahead and summited Ben More first and grabbed the cache on our way back down. We also were thinking that perhaps we should have taken the other side of the loop. As we sat there, getting ready to gear back up, Chad patted me on the knee and said, “If you’re up for it we should just go back to the trail and hit the summit.” If I’m up for it? Really? Does he even know me? Has he not been married to me for 16 years? If I’m up for it, indeed. Hrumph. So yes, we climbed back up/over to the trail we’d left, all the while me thinking that the pain in my knee was not going to get any better and that dear god in heaven I really, really wanted to be done with this. I also very much wanted to summit that ridiculous mountain.

We hit the trail more or less where we’d left off. I looked at my Garmin. We had .39 mile up to the top. It was not going to be a gentle climb. Not at all. Slowly we went. One foot, the other. Repeat ad nauseum. Up. Up. Up. This. This is why I walk and hike and go to yoga and all that other nonsense. It’s not to live longer. It’s so I can do this – climb a 3820 foot mountain for no good reason other than it’s here and I’m here. This is why. The reward was spectacular.

It really was a long brutal climb, but we made it.

It was windy and crazy and you could see for miles. That ridge, that’s the loop normal folks use to ascend the mountain. Normal, non-idiot folks who look at things like topography maps and don’t assume that just because they come from a mountainous state, that all 3800 foot mountains are created equal.

As usual we took photos, but they never really capture what you are seeing. Which, of course, is why people climb mountains in the first place. We’d started at 2:15, we hit the summit at 5:55 – not too bad considering our detour for the cache.

Why yes, we are badasses.

We did not dawdle because we were a bit under a time crunch to get to our next place of lodging. Plus the wind was truly ridiculous in it’s ferocity and I was still dealing with being half soaked with sweat and half freezing. Not to mention, I really, really wanted to take my shoes off and never put them back on again!

Going down was brutal. If I thought up was terrible, this made up seem lovely. I’d mucked up my right knee and each step was new pain shooting everywhere. I didn’t tell Chad. I just hoped I hadn’t hosed up our entire vacation.

Below is the elevation profile of our hike. The dip is where we left the trail and headed for the oldest cache. So if you look at basically the last half of the elevation profile, you can get a good idea of how steep Ben More really is. And it’s foolishly steep. The flat parts are our walk from and back to the car a half mile from the trailhead.

And this what our tracklog looked like. You can see where I lost the trail heading back down and was a little West of where I should have been. Not that the trail was that discernible to begin with. Basically I ended up in a slightly squishier section of the sheep pasture.

We arrived at the car at 7:30. That extra .5 of a mile back to the car, oh my god. It felt like miles and miles. But we did it. And I would do it again. I said that the next morning, even as I was shuffling around the hotel room, trying not to move my knee. I would do it again in a heartbeat

As usual, more photos to be viewed and enjoyed in the gallery!

chris on June 23rd 2015 in Geocaching, Travel