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Day 5 – October 14, 2010

View from Ben Lomond, looking east

Ben Lomond is a 3192 ft. high munro whose trail starts close to the youth hostel at Rowardennan, and that was my agenda for the day – to climb to the top. It’s a long and arduous climb, much harder than the hardest climb I’ve done till date (Torna fort close to Pune). Ben Lomond starts off slow, but after you cross the first third of the climb it starts to show it’s true colours. Steep and rocky slopes twisting around the shorter hills surrounding the peak lead up the side of Ben old boy there, testing your strength and will to climb. The initial climb was aided by this fantastic view of two RAF jets flying no more than 150 ft. above Loch Lomond, between the hills surrounding the loch. I was at an altitude above them and the view was stunning and very uplifting.

And so I trudged on to the top. After a while a pattern started to emerge. I would climb for 10-15 minutes, then look up and realize the top wasn’t any closer than it appeared the last time I had checked. A well-known four-letter expletive would then effuse from my mouth, partly from the seeming lack of progress, and partly from knowing that I was determined to get to the top. There was a long plateau section that lent relief for about 20 minutes. It must be a ridge between the surrounding hills that form the initial ascent, and Ben Lomond itself. Once the ascent of Ben Lomond commenced, it dawned on me that this was going to be much harder than I had anticipated. In all my wisdom I had decided not to carry a bottle of water with me, hoping that the small amount I had at the base would be fine, and I’d manage the ascent with the two cans of Red Bull. Dumb. I nearly decided to give up, with the last 20% of the climb remaining. Getting up there with around 8kg. of glass and metal wasn’t easy, and the strain started to show. It was also getting colder and colder with the wind picking up.

At that time I met these two Scottish girls, Emma and Amanda, who were also on their way to the top. Seeing them moving ahead and aided by some friendly banter I kept moving upward, albeit at a much slower pace. Eventually, after what seemed like ages, I managed to get to the top. The brochures for Ben Lomond say that you should keep aside 5 hours for the whole thing. Well, it had taken me almost 4 hours to get to the top, so I wondered how much I’d need to add to that in order to get to the base.

The view from the top is fantastic. 360 degrees of visibility, and only then does one realize how big Loch Lomond really is. Being a clear day I could see way out into the distance, and looking southwest I thought I could make out some peaks far away that might have been the Isle of Arran, but I can’t be sure. I spent about half an hour there, shooting and looking around. It really felt like I had come into the highlands of Scotland now.

The hike back down to the base ended up taking me much lesser time than I had anticipated. I completed it in a couple of hours, chatting with Emma and Amanda on the way down. They’re both schoolteachers, or so I gathered, from some place close to Glasgow and were on a weeklong holiday of their own. I bid them farewell at the base and decided to drive back to the SYHA at Loch Lomond. I was planning to drive up to Glencoe the next day and I’d have to take the same route, so it would be better if I went back the same evening seeing how I had some time before nightfall.

And so I ended up back the Loch Lomond SYHA in the same room I had stayed in earlier. Met up with one of the guys who had been there the last time I was there. Andrew, from Jamaica, is working in London and was up in Scotland to attend a workshop for a week (something to do with energy transformation in the human body, i.e. some psychokinetic mumbo-jumbo, not too far from Indian tantric tales!). We got chatting, and were joined by our new Australian roommate, Ben, who was also on a short holiday around Scotland. Stayed up the latest that I have so far on this trip, talking and exchanging tales of the past with Andrew. Good fun. Great day.

Day 4 – October 13, 2010

The walled garden at Balloch Castle Country Park

So I was back at Balloch Castle Country Park today. This is a large area surrounding a recently built ‘castle’ and comprises of vast open spaces as well as off-best tracks across a wide covered area. Parts of the park run close to the shores of Loch Lomond, and there is another area with a beautiful walled garden. It feels like a mini-nature reserve and is definitely worth a leisurely walk around if you have the time. The variety of colours on offer is immense, with almost every conceivable shade of green, along with a generous assortment of yellows, oranges, reds and magentas. It’s a veritable goldmine of colour if only you’re ready to walk a little bit.

Wasn’t sure whether I’d want to go back to the hostel at Loch Lomond today. I’ve been there two nights now and it doesn’t seem to make much sense staying at one place for so long when I’m out here to explore. Decided to go ahead towards Rowardennan, which is on the eastern shore of Loch Lomond (the Loch Lomond SYHA is on the western side). The road to Rowardennan starts off being a fast, if narrow, two-lane affair, but beyond Drymen turns first into a narrower version of the same, and then a short distance from Rowardennan starts resembling Indian roads down to the broken, patched-up and shoulder-less tarmac we’re so used to seeing on our main roads.

The SYHA at Rowardennan (16.25 GBP per night) is much smaller than the one at Loch Lomond, and does not offer access to the internet, but it’s location more than makes up for it. Situated right on the shore of Loch Lomond’s eastern side, it has a narrow concrete path that goes right into the waters of the Loch. I arrived late in the evening, around 6.30-7pm, and it was misty at the time. The opposite shores of the Loch aren’t too far away from where the hostel is located, but the mist only made it possible to see a faint outline of the land, which being comprised of hills rising up right from the shore of the Loch gave the whole place a very mysterious ambience. That, combined with the path leading into the loch where I stood shooting for some time, made for a slightly disconcerting time. What Lies Beneath, anyone? It was beautiful, seeing waves gently rolling on to the path, and vanishing as they rose up towards my feet. The faint outline of the hills in the distance and their reflections in the waters of the loch; a small island in the middle of the loch between the two shores also rendered a ghostly blue in the near-night. It’s a scene I won’t easily forget.

Day 3 – October 12, 2010

SYHA Loch Lomond

Contrary to my expectations I didn’t move around a lot today. Spent most of my time at the small village/town of Balloch close to the hostel. There is a place called the ‘Loch Lomond Shores’ over there which has a visitor’s centre along with a gift store and the works. There is a small place for families to have a picnic or just hang around. The whole place is built around the southern end of the loch and has a few short walks.

The other place nearby is the Balloch Castle Country Park (entry free). Didn’t get to spend too much time here. Came in around 5.30pm and left an hour later, having only seen a small part. Will come back tomorrow..

It was a little cold today, and I think I might have caught a little bit of it. My throat feels scratchy but I’m hoping it doesn’t aggravate and I don’t have to deal with the usual consequences of a cold, cough, and fever.

Day 2 – October 11, 2010

George Square, Glasgow

So I (or my groggy, tripping self) got to Stansted airport at 00.25 owing to my flight being at 08.30, and there being limited transportation options from my aunt’s place in Hanwell to the bus pick-up point at Gloucester Place. Some holiday this! Anyway, got there, found an empty row of check-in counters against whom other passengers like me were resting, so I decided to grab one for myself too. Slept on and off for about three hours when a security guard came and told everyone there to get up because it was time for staff to start coming in for duty. Great. :/ Had to spend the remaining five hours roaming around aimlessly, sometimes in and around the check-in counters, others in each on the many cafes at the terminal. Finally got the check-in call around 8am, and completed all formalities in a short while.

Boarded the flight to Glasgow at 8.40, and as soon as the plane started moving out of the bay I realized that I left my 45GBP brand-new jacket, which I had bought the previous day, at the boarding gate! My only jacket for Scotland, waterproof to boot and brand-new on top of that! NOOO!!! But then neither am I Madhavan, nor was this a movie, so feigning a heart attack or other terrible ailments was beyond my sleep-deprived brain. And so I fell asleep. Landed at Glasgow after what seemed like many lifetimes of drifting in and out of consciousness. Despite my lost jacket (sniff, sniff) I managed to stay upbeat about things. I decided to pick-up the same jacket again from another outlet of the same store I had bought it from, in Glasgow. Took my rented car into Glasgow and realized I was hopelessly, terribly lost. No GPS, no map, no sense of direction. Stopping and asking for directions is not quite as simple as it is India, where you can afford to suddenly go left, stop by the roadside and check with anyone walking by. That lead to a torrid 3 hours before I finally somehow stumbled into George square in Glasgow (don’t ask how, I have no clue!), and involved another frantic two hours of trying to find out where I was, running back to the car to get another parking slip for 15 minutes, and repeating the whole thing after another 15 minutes. At this point you might wonder why i didn’t just get a slip for an hour or two right away. Oh, but I did try to, except the parking machine had ideas of its own and it decided to swallow my two 2 pound coins, but give me a single slip for 15 minutes (it’s 60p for 15 minutes of parking, so ideally I should’ve got a slip for 45 minutes). So I said thanks to the machine for shafting me, and went on with my sprints across different parts of the square till some kind soul told me exactly where my shop was (a mere 5 minutes away on foot, as I found out much to my chagrin and relief ). I finally managed to get my jacket after a good two hours of running around like a headless chicken. I thank the almighty that he gave my sleep-deprived brain enough sense to get hold of one really good map of Scotland while I was running around. That helped me get on my way towards Loch Lomond, which was to be my first stop of my Scottish sojourn.

Loch Lomond is about half an hour from Glasgow, and I was headed towards the Scottish Youth Hostel at Loch Lomond (17.75 GBP per night), which was up a small pathway off the A82. The hostel was formerly a castle, and gave me my first flavour of Scottish heritage. The interiors of the castle, oops… hostel, are made of carved wooden roofs and carpeted floors running from edge-to-edge with wooden walls on all sides. There are stained glass windows up the stairway, which lend the building a very old-world charm to the building, and you can’t help but be impressed when you first lay your eyes upon them. The views from the upper floors, where the rooms are, are fantastic, overlooking the Loch and the hills in the distance. The gardens around the hostel are very well maintained, and are a pleasure to behold. In fact, I spent my whole evening taking pictures of and from the garden, never venturing out of the boundaries of the hostel compound. This is going to be a great trip!

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