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22
Oct

Words from the Road: Loch Ness

   Posted by: Dan   in Better Know Our Route, Quest

When Drew and I decided to tackle a stretch of the Great Glen Way, we knew it wouldn’t be easy. The shores of Loch Ness were calling to us, though, so we had to give it a shot and push for a two-night camp to make a test of my recovering strength.

With two weeks of hiking between me and the bout of food poisoning that greeted my arrival to Scotland, it was slow going at first. Our packs are heavy but we eventually got into a bit of a rhythm… that was slowed down again when we started climbing.

“I sure am glad I don’t have to climb that. It would be really unfortunate if I had to climb halfway up that tonight, camp there, and then finish climbing it in the morning.” – Wayfarer Dan

Climbing wouldn’t end until a steep descent on Friday morning. And then another steep descent on Friday afternoon, after several more hours of the climb. This was NOT one of our more pleasant hikes of the trip, but the land we were crossing sure was beautiful.

Read the rest of this entry »

 
22
Oct

Words from the Road: Culloden Moor

   Posted by: Dan   in Better Know Our Route, Quest

On April 16, 1746, the last battle to be fought on British soil took place in Northern Scotland, just five miles west of the highland city of Inverness, near a town called Culloden. On Culloden’s moor, an estimated 1500 rebel soldiers, led by a man commonly referred to today as the Young Pretender or Bonnie Prince Charlie, would be mown down by an English loyalist force that would lose only 50 men in the frighteningly fast battle.

Drew and I visited the moor on October 15th, and took as many pictures as we could manage. It was a solemn place, and while the trip was a good one, it is one that will haunt me for a long time.

This is a recreation of the building that stood in its place during the battle. Its predecessor was used to hide flanking troops belonging to the English.

The amazing detail with which the Culloden historians are able to pinpoint the battle tactics of the day fascinates me, and I took over a hundred pictures while we wandered the gigantic field.

Grave stones were erected by local interested parties. The English got one, too, for the 50 soldiers who were killed in the battle.

At a ratio of 30 to 1, the men fighting for the rebel army (calling themselves “Jacobites” and coming from as far afield as France in support of Charles’ claim to the throne) died on Culloden Moor.

Each large clan got their own gravestone, but smaller clans – and the bodies buried without identification – were marked by stones like this one, which reads “Mixed Clans”

So many men died, with such poor records recovered from the Jacobite army as it was routed (where it was routed – a significant portion of the men were just killed), that many men were never identified. In their honour, gravestones for “Mixed Clans” were placed.

For those of you who have read a certain Gabaldon novel, this stone is relevant to your interests.

This picture’s a bit of a throw-away because I like reading strangely non-genre-specific pseudo-historical-fiction. Enjoy, those of you who recognize the relevance!

Drew’s ancestors are Drummonds and Frenchmen; a Lord Drummond commanded the French regiment right here at Culloden, so we thought this an appropriate shot.

I sought out a stone for the MacGregors, my closest clan-relation, but we found a stone that explained that Lord Drummond had commanded the French troops at Culloden for Charles – two close connections to Drew’s family.

The starting battle lines of each army were marked with flags – red for the loyalist British army, blue for the rebel “Jacobite” army.

Both battle lines were marked by giant flags. This was the furthest to the right flank of the Jacobite army – the portion of their army that was hit the hardest, both with cannons and the first to charge and die by musket and sword.

Culloden is a deeply spiritual place, and something entirely unlike anything you can find in Canada. If you ever have the opportunity, I would not pass up a chance to see this battleground.

 

While walking along the river today, the rain was light enough that I could pull out my camera and get shots of the mist-covered mountains, one of which I’ve climbed.

Even though this isn’t working out the way I hoped, the way I planned, it is truly amazing and something I recommend to everyone.

Have an adventure.

Do something crazy.

In costume, if you can bear it, because it makes people really willing to talk to you.

A few pictures from the past week appear behind the jump: Read the rest of this entry »

 

Today, according to the original plan, we were meant to be arriving at the hostel in which I am already lying as I write this ‘blog post. Rain is pattering against the windowpane.

We learned yesterday that when it rains in Inverness, the sidewalk glistens and the poetry carved in to some of the paving stones on Church Street becomes easier to read… even if one is less inclined to want to stop and read it. I have been wondering about it for a week now, though, so I stopped. Drew didn’t.

The room where we are staying wouldn’t fit six, but is perfect for the two of us. It overlooks the River Ness and if you squish up close you can see the castle to the right.

We have been walking hard for the last week. On three separate days we clocked over 30  kilometers. We saw Culloden city and Culloden House, but missed the battlefield because of the cycling route that we were following, sparking the need for a second trip (come on, twist my arm). We walked south to Craig Dunain and climbed it to the top, panting and sweating on a summer-warm day. We have walked a circuit around the Ness Islands so many times even its spectacular beauty is becoming commonplace to us.

Yesterday was the first day that the weather hit us hard, with a cold rain that soaked us through within hours. We opted to take it easy for the day, allowing for the fact that we had covered a total of 70 km in the two days prior and both slept poorly last night. Tomorrow we aim for another 30 km, rain or shine.

More pictures will be coming soon as well – some from the mountain, some from Culloden House, some from random walking in Inverness. It’s a small city but a beautiful one, with poetry in the sidewalk stones.

As of right now, we are 79 km behind our target for this point in the trip. The 3 days I was out of commission with food poisoning put us 81 kilometres down, so we are right on track except for that and we have a few days at the end which will hopefully provide the opportunity to complete our goal. We are still pushing forward, making every effort to make up those 79 km in the course of our planned walks.

Wish us luck, and talk to you all soon.

 
8
Oct

We Are Thankful

   Posted by: Dan   in Personal

It is chilly here in Scotland — the perfect temperature to put us in mind of Thanksgiving in our home and native land, parts of which look shockingly like the landscape around us.

Today, we are thankful for our family and friends, so far away yet so supportive.

We are thankful for how small the world has become, to allow an adventure like ours.

We are thankful for how large the world yet remains, for such an adventure to still be the stuff of dreams.

We are thankful for John Ronald Reuel Tolkien and the millions of stories he has sparked.

We are thankful for other authors, filmmakers, and dungeon masters for taking those sparks and planting them in our minds and hearts.

Drew is thankful for his friends, like Dan, who seem to find ways to drag or push him into hapless adventures; to his family, who have helped support him when he needs it (sometimes a result of previously mentioned adventures); and for the opportunities he has had in the last few years that have kept his life anything but dull. He is also thankful for all the people around him who share, enjoy, or at least tolerate his quirks, tardiness, and questionable sense of humour.

Dan is thankful for the internet (for making him feel better while he was sick), for Drew (for never blaming him no matter how frustrating the situation), for all the amazing women in his life (Brittany, Jenn, and all the non-Wayfarers as well), and last, but not in any way least, for Victoria, who has done so much more for this trip than he ever expected (most recently, handling our Twitter account and making sure his spirits remain high even when they try to plummet).

We are both incredibly thankful for all of you. Every pair of eyes reading is someone who is helping with each exhausted step we take. Every dollar donated is one that shows us this is all worthwhile.

Who and what are you thankful for today?

 

Yesterday, laden with bags and hoping for a better middle to our adventure than the start, Drew and I hopped on the ScotRail from Glasgow to Perth and from Perth to Inverness.

The Scottish countryside is the single most beautiful place I have ever seen. While those who know me can confirm that I haven’t exactly traveled the world, I can say that even the most stunning pictures don’t do this country justice.

Inverness is quite a pretty city. With roughly 72,000 residents, I knew it would be smaller than Glasgow (sitting at almost 600,000), but I hadn’t put it together just how much smaller until we really looked around this morning and ran out of city within two hours.

As a result, we ended up walking south along the River Ness, which provided yet more stunning scenery. There were (many) times when the only evidence of humanity we could see was the pavement beneath our feet and the occasional lamp post–less than an hour out of the city. We crossed beautiful bridges following the Great Glen Way, a route from Inverness to Fort William that we were, not so long ago, planning to walk down in the other direction starting on Tuesday morning. (Such is life.)

We walked 28 km today, instead of the 22 km we had planned on the original schedule. I’m relieved to be able to report that we’re making headway on the mileage we lost last week.

Tomorrow we’ll be waking up early and starting a two-day camp. We intend to visit Culloden Moor and walk along National Cycle Route 1, which runs through Inverness and alongside the famous battlefield at Culloden. We’ll be camping overnight on Monday and returning to our new home base hostel in Inverness on Tuesday evening. That means we can leave a lot of our modern gear (changes of clothes, the netbook I’m using to blog, etc.) at the hostel to keep as much weight off of my still-recovering shoulders as possible.

For those of you in Canada, have a happy Thanksgiving. I hope you’ll check the ‘blog after your turkey dinners for a few thoughts on giving thanks and on our Thanksgiving here in Scotland.

For those of you in America, well, it’s Columbus Day so, uh, enjoy your day off.

For the rest of you: Sorry. It’s Monday.

 

Recovery from illness is never a fun road. The past few days have seen me sitting in hostel lobbies, watching everyone around me wander in and out on tours and adventures. I’m glad I waited and mended, because I feel worlds better today, but I’m not sorry I pushed Drew out the door so he could see some of the area while we skipped three days of our walking route.

Yesterday I felt up to a short walk, so we decided to do what turned into a 10km, self-guided scenic tour of the city of Glasgow. I’m sure that there are things we missed, but after seeing an old friend (enemy?) in Waterstones, I couldn’t resist pulling out my camera and making my way through the city streets.

This post could get long and picture-heavy, so I’m going to put the aforementioned picture and the rest behind the cut: Read the rest of this entry »

 

Getting sick is never convenient, but sometimes the timing is worse than others. Anyone who has come down with a head cold on the first day of a vacation will understand my current predicament.

A head cold I could have kept walking through. Food poisoning, unfortunately, I couldn’t. Worse, my bout of food poisoning seems to have brought friends–low blood pressure, light-headedness, weakness, and dizziness that have kept us from moving on with the trip for the past two days even though my stomach feels better.

I’ve been told to stay on bedrest for a few days and then to stick to “1-2 weeks without heavy exertion.” Walking isn’t hard when you’re well, but I’m pretty sure that 20-30 km a day counts as exertion in any doctor’s books (and may be beyond what I can do right now) so we’re currently reassessing our options.

We’re planning on staying in Glasgow for the next few days and then travelling to Inverness on the 6th of October. We’re going to skip Fort William altogether. In Inverness, we’ll be setting up a home base and then walking every day without our packs. This will give me time to recover and rebuild strength even as we continue with the walk and, hopefully, make up for some of the mileage we’ve already lost.

At this point, it is entirely possible that we won’t be walking the full distance that we originally set ourselves. It is certain that we won’t be walking the original route–it’s already too late for that, even if we left Glasgow tomorrow.

But don’t mistake realism for giving up.

Provided that I am fully recovered, which seems likely, we will be walking the second half of our route as planned. We’re also going to be making up as much lost distance as we can before then, by walking within cities and by making day trips and shorter overnight hops around Glasgow and other cities.

This means we’ll be able to post more ‘blogs than expected because we’ll have internet access more often. I’ll be talking both about my recovery and about what I’m learning in the UK; about travel, adventures, and the differences our modern world makes in all of those things.

I hate being sick and I hate what this has meant for the trip. I miss my girlfriend, I miss my family, I miss my friends. I even (though I never thought I’d say this!) miss my work. Goodness knows, I miss the galumphing dog that loves to greet me with a headbutt and a wagging tail every evening. But to give up and return home now would mean betraying the Quest, and we’re not about to do that.

Wish us luck and send good thoughts. Don’t forget to check here every couple of days (or Facebook, or Twitter!), and please do tell your friends and family about two crazy Canadians who are doing everything in their power to make it through a cursed Quest to raise money for something that has touched us all.

Remember to donate when you can. Every single dollar we see go into those accounts is helping to motivate us.

You are all fantastic. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for the outpouring of support we’ve been getting and I look forward to seeing and speaking with you soon.

 
1
Oct

Words from the Road: Glasgow

   Posted by: Dan   in Quest

When an adventuring party in Dungeons and Dragons needs to cross a river or a part of the ocean like we did on Sunday morning, they go down to the docks and hire a boat.

In modern UK it’s not quite that easy – much better to talk to P&O Ferry, who does all the crossings between Larne, Ireland, and Troon, Scotland.

We woke bright and early on Sunday morning, scarfing down a quick meal before heading to the harbour before 6:30am. There were a dozen or so other foot-passengers waiting for the boat as well when I checked in and was told the bad news: Larne to Troon had been cancelled due to high winds and rough seas. The good news was that they would be giving us a ferry to Cairnryan and then sending us by bus up to Troon port. Even though my stomach was starting to bother me, the ferry’s foggy portholes and comfortable seating made for an interesting little trip.

If it weren’t for the delay of more than an hour and a half it wouldn’t have bothered me; we saw some of Scotland’s beautiful Ayrshire countryside from the bus, including some great castle ruins and a whole lot of cows.

By the time we got to Troon, rain was coming down. It was 11:00 already, so we decided on an early lunch. Our waitress Natalie was kind enough to find us some alternate directions to Glasgow. Which is when things started going really wrong.

Unable to find a proper street map of Troon, we asked a local who – after telling us she didn’t understand why our directions would point us a certain way, we should go this way, instead! – pointed us down a road… which is where I have to tangent onto two things: road signs and spoken directions.

Road signs in the UK are absolutely ridiculous. Roughly as ridiculous as purple unicorns, in fact: they’re not what you’d expect, and that’s because they’re just not there. They don’t exist, no matter how much you may wish they did. When they’re there they aren’t somewhere that is necessarily visible to the naked eye; you have to search at each street corner, and hope and pray that someone thought “this street should be marked somehow!”

And when you finally think you might be lost, asking someone for directions may not be as helpful as you would like because, well, directions in the UK revolve around landmarks you’re not familiar with. “Just go a wee bit down the street here and you’ll pass a wee church and a big church; turn at the big church – not the wee church, mind, the big one – and take the second left after… no, maybe the third, aye, the third.” And before you think I’m exaggerating, yes, those are exact directions I got from someone yesterday afternoon.

We got almost 50 minutes down the road, having run into some Canadians from Orangeville who were having remarkably similar problems (but with access to a car, so perhaps less annoying), before getting back on track with the help of, without a word of a lie, a young man with bagpipes wearing a kilt.

So we walked back, much more careful about streets and landmarks. We turned right immediately after the library, and then left again when we came to the end of the street (according to the map, at least; the driveway for the building started right there too, so it was a bit misleading). Then we were on the right road and started walking along the shore, a beautiful site that was marred only by our frustration with the wrong turn so early on. One or two more helpful citizens later and we’d cemented the fact that we knew where we were going.

Part of our Google directions took us on a bike path, right through a wilderness reserve that was absolutely beautiful and reminded me so strongly of Ontario that it felt like home. We stopped a few times along the reserve, both to rest and to drink it all in. Trees and streams everywhere, not a building in sight; only the asphalt of the trail showing me that there were humans about at all.

Apparently there are biking trails that could have taken us all the way up to Glasgow, only occasionally by highway. It’s something to think of if I’m ever silly enough to do something like this again.

Part of the problem with directions is Google, which uses one street name when the street has four, only two of which are on any given sign. A fine gentleman on the bike path with his two sons gave us the best news we’d heard all day: we were on the right track and, in fact, on the road that would lead us all the way to Glasgow. “Just keep following the signs up ahead,” he told us. “As long as the roundabout exit says Glasgow, just take it. You’ll get there.”

So we did. We walked another two hours or so after meeting him, and the sun was sliding beneath the trees on the horizon when we thought we should make camp. The highway shoulders were much smaller than we had anticipated, forcing us between walking on the road – we weren’t ever honked at, and I can only imagine it’s because we looked so funny rather than because we weren’t frustrating some people – or walking through wet grass. We alternated depending on how heavy traffic was, but eventually came to a flat ground that we pushed through to find a camping site.

We came into a small forested area near a subdivision of Irvine, where we poked a bit at the ground, hoping to find something without so many roots. Eventually Drew decided to set off on his own, sans heavy pack, to search something out. We both took off our packs and he left me to watch them in the dying light of the sun.

As soon as my pack came off I was swept with a wave of nausea, something I’d felt twinging that morning but hadn’t actually succumbed to. Cramps in my stomach redoubled, and I had to sit down with the pain. Standing up made me light-headed. Something was definitely wrong, and only the adrenaline of being on the trip and the exhaustion of the pack had kept it down.

When Drew returned I let him know, and we hurried to set up camp on the stretch of beautifully flat grass he had found nearby. The tent went up easily, and we pushed everything inside as carefully as we were able. I was asleep twenty minutes later, around 8pm. Drew had cracked a glowstick – one of our nods to D&D’s “adventuring pack,” where you can buy an item called a sunrod that operates on a similar principle – and was reading to pass the early evening by.

I woke again throughout the night with cramps and waves of nausea, thankfully never having to run outside. The rain came down heavily at one point, and I am happy to say that our tent worked in every way but one (it’s too short; the feet of our sleeping bags got wet). We finally woke ourselves at almost 10am, and I knew as soon as I woke up that there was no way I could walk today.

We packed slowly, Drew having spoken to a gentleman named Richard who was out walking his dog and told us that the train station in nearby Irvine could get us to Glasgow.  Before we finished, Richard had returned with an offer to drive us to the station itself.

Let me say this now: the kindness of people we have met, from Marleen in Belfast to Richard in Irvine, has been unsurpassed by anyone I’ve ever met before. Going so far above and beyond their call to help out strangers… we could not have come even this far in our adventure without Marleen, and I’d be significantly more miserable right now if not for Richard.

I’m fairly certain it’s food poisoning. I’m even more certain that I won’t be up to walking tomorrow morning either, given how hard it is for me to even walk up the stairs, much less do it with some light-as-feathers bags that I have with valuables that I don’t want to leave in the hostel luggage room.

Drew and I are looking at alternatives for the next few days to ensure that we are still walking the full distance, to make up for the distance lost today and the distance we will surely be losing tomorrow and maybe even the next day. The advantage to us staying here overnight is that we’ll be able to ‘blog about those changes fairly soon – you won’t have to wait ’til the 8th of October for our next check-in, but unless this illness gets worse overnight instead of better, we are still very solidly finishing this trip, even if part of it has to be done by train and made up for by walking in the city.

We’re a little discouraged by all the early setbacks, but we’re not giving up. We’ve still got plenty of time to reschedule, remap, and finish up the full 500 mile walk by the end of the month. Thanks for all your support and well wishes!

 
1
Oct

Words from the Road: Larne

   Posted by: Dan   in Quest

This post is being posted on October 1st, but was written on September 29th from Larne, Northern Ireland, and that’s why it is dated as such. Check out our “Journal” page to get all the latest updates!

Belfast was an amazingly beautiful city, full of great sights, wonderful people, and exactly the weather they describe in travel books. I’m not kidding, folks, and I’m not being paid by the insidious travel industry* to say this, but Belfast’s weather – indeed, the whole of Northern Ireland, as I’m told – is absolutely unpredictable. Rain will turn to too-hot sun in a matter of minutes. A cool morning will turn hot at 9am and cold by 10, only to rain and be sunny again before lunch.

We started off late Saturday morning, getting a bit of extra sleep with the help of our friends David and Kim, two SCA players from just outside Belfast who were unbelievably generous to us. Their children, Andrew and Zach, helped them serve breakfast (a traditional Ulster Fry, which, let me tell you, was exactly what one needs before going on the road – full of energy and everything’s fried, so if you die, you die happy) while teaching us about the Skylanders. I’ll tell you sometime. Really.

At 9am we arrived at Belfast Castle, a modern castle offering a beautiful view of the city. We didn’t leave the castle ‘til 10; re-packing our bags and getting everything on took what could generously be described as a ridiculous amount of time. Throughout it all, David and Kim waited. Kim took a picture of us pretending to be horses:

Ridiculous, right? Just wait.

About five minutes after the fine folks who had been so patient with us drove away, my leg armour shifted and started pinching and bruising in entirely unpleasant ways. Two minutes of shifting around later and I knew there was no way I could wear them: I would have to take the offer to ship them to us in Edinburgh that our other Belfast friend Marleen, who had shown us around the city Friday afternoon, had given. I took the legs off, readjusted and, with a hearty groan, we were off. Again.

It didn’t take long for the schizophrenic weather to catch up wth us, and we alternated between shivering and sweating like crazy. Less than an hour later and my gorget slipped when I adjusted my pack, cutting off my air supply.

I’m a large man, almost six feet and with a hundred pounds on most guys. I have a great deal of upper body strength and I’m not used to being unable to physically do something that involves brute force. Which is why, when I tried to re-adjust my gorget so that I could breathe, it freaked me out a bit when I found myself unable.

Drew, thankfully, noticed and came quickly. He helped unstrap the gorget and we removed the pack as smoothly as possible… which wasn’t really very smoothly. It was very clear very soon that the pauldrons that I love so dearly would have to go.

Leaving bracers, and chainmail that is the heaviest thing – pack included – that I had with me. The 30 pounds of steel, combined with the extra-thick gambeson beneath it that allowed me to walk in chainmail with a backpack digging into my shoulders without hating life, was causing serious issues with heat regulation that I had hoped would remedy itself in the cooler climes of the United Kingdom. They did not, and so I have come to eat my hat.

Or Paul’s hat, as it were.

No, we’re not giving up. But I am leaving my armour to be shipped to me in Edinburgh. All of it but the (pleasantly visible) bracers are already safely back in Belfast, ready to go. An expensive mistake, but less than if I had tried to continue and, as Paul prophecied, left my armour “piece by piece, scattered throughout the trip.**”

With Marleen’s help we had a very nice lunch, and then – very sore and after a terrifying rolled-ankle incident caused by the armour I’d hung from my pack – got a drive to Larne, where we will start afresh in the morning with a ferry ride across to Scotland. It means that our entire mileage, other than the ferry trip itself, will come from Scottish walking; we’ll be adding some during our stay in Edinburgh, and including some of the wandering we were otherwise intending to do in Ireland. We will still be travelling 500 miles, from Larne Harbour instead of Belfast Castle, but because of the injury (still sore, but entirely walkable, don’t worry – I’ve been exercising it carefully!) and some other problems (like my backpack breaking ten minutes after the trip began) requiring a visit to a store nowhere near our route, we decided that this was worth doing to make sure that we made it the rest of the way.

Don’t worry, folks: we’re still alive, and we’re ready and rarin’ to go. I am more excited than ever to start our trip properly tomorrow, and very ready to step off that ferry in Scotland and do a 25-kilometre hike with a much lighter load on my back.

Next ‘blog will be on Monday evening from Glasgow. See you all then!

(Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter, both being updated this month!)