Glencoe (The Highlands)

Glencoe (The Highlands)

15 Jun 2016 – 17 Jun 2016

Commission

For more mediocre photos taken with fancy cameras, take a look at our UK set on flickr.

Noha

Why did you come to Glencoe?

We wanted to see landscapes and not cities. We were looking for a good base to do that without a car. In our very rushed planning, our skimming of guidebooks made it sound like a good choice.

What is your impression of Glencoe?

Glencoe is a very small village. It is one street lined with Bed&Breakfast places, one café, one museum and a convenience store. There might be a few private houses. We couldn’t really find out if locals who are not involved in tourism live there.

Glencoe is named that way because it lies on a glen between the mountains. Anywhere you look, you will see breathtaking mountain views (at first glance it reminded me of Kotor in Montenegro).

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Peter

Why did you come to Glencoe?

Noha originally had the idea to go to Scottland, first to Edinburgh and then to Inverness and Loch Ness. We realized that Loch Ness is actually quite well-known in the US and thus probably very touristy, so we started to look for other places in Scottland, preferably with some hiking opportunities. Thanks to some guide books (which make every single location sound like a can’t-miss-it) we settled on another very well-known (but not to us) site in Scottland, Glencoe. Glencoe is a village in Glen Coe, and a glen is basically a valley in the Scottish Highlands.

What is your impression of Glencoe?

Glencoe village itself it small, basically a single street. A little further away is a slightly larger village, meaning maybe three or four streets, called Ballachulish, which is the site of a former slate quarry. The villages seem to have no industry but tourism, with every other house along the village street a bed-and-breakfast. Of course, no one comes to Glencoe to see the village — the main attraction are the valleys of the Highlands, with beautiful green mountains topped by bare stony peaks.

Unfortunately for us, most of the hikes with the dramatic Highlands scenery are not accessible from Glencoe village without a car. We found a few nice walks, and one that I wish we had done, but I will get to that later. Suffice to say that my impression of Glencoe is that to really enjoy it, you need to have a car, or else get very familiar with the limited bus service routes.

Whom did you interact with?

Unfortunately again, not many people aside from quick chats with our hostess over breakfast, some men at the pub who were playing dominos next to us, waiters at the Laroch restaurant and Tourist information workers. Glencoe doesn’t exist on couchsurfing, and I think our only chance was to talk to other American tourists who came following Rick Steves, but since we are looking to interact with locals and since this is the longest time we are together since November, I don’t regret much not trying harder.

How did you feel about this surfing experience? What were your interactions with your hosts like?

We booked a room at Duniere guesthouse. Peter only found three addresses for guesthouses in Glencoe and this was the only one that replied. I was a bit apprehensive that it wouldn’t be good but it was perfect. It is well located, very well kept and clean that I didn’t feel at a hotel (where a minimum wage worker is cleaning only on the surface), I felt at home. We had breakfast every morning in the dining room. While it doesn’t compare to Juie’s breakfast in York (can anything really compare to that?), it was delicious and served very nicely at the table and Ann made for a joyful atmosphere. We slept well, and we even had our own TV where I enjoyed watching some british dating shows 🙂

How did you spend your time in Glencoe?

Day 1: We arrived at Glencoe by taking a 3 hours bus from Glasgow (we arrived to Glasgow from Edinburgh by train in one hour). Ann’s husband (I forgot his name) checked us in, and I could hardly understand his accent. We then took a walk and went to a nearby village (1Km away) called Ballachulish. We wandered around the village looking for a place to eat. We only found one restaruant/bar called Laroch and one depressing looking cafeteria. We couldn’t get a seat in the restaurant so we sat in the bar. The atmosphere of the bar was lively. There was a mix of tourists and. A group of scottish men sitting next to us were playing Dominos. The Europ Cup game between France and Albania was playing. We enjoyed the whole scene, eating and watching. We had lentil soup, burger and fish and chips. We walked back home, watched the rest of the game (France scored two goals), then we watched a dating show called “frist dates” which unlike the American equivalents, was a very classy and seemingly-honest show.

Day 2: We woke up on time to eat breakfast as it is only served between 8:00 and 8:30. On the table next to us were two young americans making fun of the level of details in Rick Steve’s guidebook. On the table behind us were two Australian women and the son of one of them. One of the women started “small chat” with the hostess which happens to be the most racist I have ever heard. She complained about how her niece who lives somewhere in Australia is bothered by how changed the place was due to immigration (And all the boats coming with the refugees). She complained about how muslims don’t speak English :”If you come to a country , you have to speak its language!”. We found that pretty ironic that she would say that, as English is not the native language of Australia but if I try to list every ignorant remark she made, this will be a very long paragraph. The hostess unfortunately sympathized with her, mentioning that it is the same thing in London where nothing is the same anymore.

We had decided to take a day trip to a port town nearby called “Oban” to see an isle next to it. The first bus was at 11:30 so we wandered in Ballachulish, walked closer to the quarry, and got some information from the tourist office. We arrived to Oban, only to find that the next boat to the island we wanted to visit (Mull) doesn’t leave before 14:00 and takes 50 minutes. Since the last bus from Oban back to Glencoe is at 16:40 (why oh why?!). Instead, the nice lady at the tourist information office (who had just come back from the dentist) suggested that we take a walk to a nearby village called Dunbeg, passing by Ganavan sands. We took her advise, bought lunch from a nearby café, walked all the way to Dunbeg stopping occasionally to look at the landscape on the beaches. We arrived to Dunbeg two hours later, and realized that we can’t even go see the castle if we want to catch the bus back to Glencoe. We ate our lunch by the bus stop, took a bus from Dunbeg to Oban, visited a bookstore very quickly to buy a scottish novel called “Sunset Song”, then ran to Costa to buy tea and ate our fruit scones, then took the bus back to Glencoe.

Back at Glencoe, we took a footpath that lead to nowhere, climbed a small hill and took some pictures, then went back to the hotel. We had a dinner reservation at Laroch restaurant (same one from yesterday but this time we made sure to get a reservation because it was my birthday). We arrived to the restaurant, and were seated on a nice table by the window. There was a game at the bar between Germany and Poland and a local band playing very loud scottish music. Dinner was the best meal we have had in a long time (I know I said the same about the dinner we had in Edinburgh but this one topped it). We had mushroom and rosemary soup, lamb crusted with herbs and a probably the best fish fillet either of us ever had. For dessert, we had strawberry and vanilla ice cream, and a white chocolate and Lemon cheescake. While I was at the bathroom, Peter asked the waitress to put a candle for me, and she sang me happy birthday when I came back. Then I got my gift which you see as the header image.

Whom did you interact with?

We stayed in a BnB, so only the owners on check-in/out and at breakfast, and various service people. I’m sure Noha related on her side some of the questionable comments we overheard from one of the owners when she chattered with other guests over breakfast.

How did you spend your time in Glencoe?

In the morning in Edinburgh we stopped to have an early lunch and then took the train to Glasgow, followed by a bus to Glencoe. When we arrived we met the husband of the pair who owned the BnB, whom we had trouble understanding because of his accent. Then we walked to Ballachulish and strolled around before getting dinner in Laroch, the one real restaurant in town, which happens to be excellent.

The next day (Noha’s birthday), because of the rain, we decided to go to Oban rather than stay in Glencoe. We first had a hearty, traditional British-style breakfast — eggs, tomatoes, mushrooms, sausage, hash browns — and then walked to Ballachulish to catch the bus. We had originally wanted to take a boat from Oban to Mull, one of the Inner Hebrides, so we headed to the port, but found out that the next one was leaving at 14.00, meaning that it was impossible to go and then come back in time to catch the final bus back to Oban at 16.45. We went to the Tourist Information and the employee there recommended that we instead walk along the coast to the Ganavan Sands (a beach) and then walk further to a town called Dunbeg, where the remains of a castle are located. On the way to the sands we found a small field with some nice views. At the beach we immediately headed along a bike path through some gentle hills towards Dunbeg. By the time we arrived it was a little too late to continue to the castle, so we stopped in Dunbeg, had our lunch (some sandwiches bought in Oban), and then took a bus back to Oban, with enough time to buy a book and eat some scones before the trip back to Glencoe. In Glencoe we stopped to walk along a path above the quarry, then we ate at Laroch and celebrated again Noha’s birthday (but on the real date this time) and I gave her a gift, a picture of us I had commissioned by Kelly Miller.

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For our only full day in Glencoe, and the only full day with decent weather on practically the whole UK trip, we stayed in town to do some walks. After breakfast we headed to the small forest Lochan, but I misled us and we ended up on the orbital track heading along the Old Road. We made a few back and forths, and at one point passed by a hike up the Pap of Glencoe. We decided to go up for a few minutes to see the view, and take some pictures, but did not want to do the whole hike as it was listed as 3-4 hours and we wanted to go to Signal Rock later and then to the beginning of the Lost Valley hike. We headed back to town for lunch, then back out to Signal Rock, again along the orbital track. We finally reached An Torr, the forest around Signal Rock (so-called because it was supposedly where the signal was given for the Glencoe massacre), found the rock itself (I think? It was very low and not marked out), and then continued on the path to an inn. At the inn we asked if it was possible to walk to the Lost Valley hike and it turns out it’s not safe, as it would involve walking along the highway without any sidewalk space. So we walked to the end of the orbital track at the highway then turned back, and eventually found the Lochan path that I had missed (which was stunningly obvious and very well-marked, I just missed it because it looked like a road for cars). We walked around in the woods and found the small pond, then walked back to town and further to Ballachulish for our third dinner at Laroch.

Day 3: We woke up on time for breakfast again. After breakfast, we went on a walk that was recommended by the tourist office that would take us to loch glencoe. We got lost and couldn’t really find the right path. We started exploring another walk which took us through a beautiful landscape. But instead of continuing, we decided to go back to Glencoe so that we have time to each lunch before starting another walk we had planned. We ate lunch at Glencoe café which included a delicious cheese scone. We then set out to walk towards a sight called Signal Rock. The plan wat to walk to Signal Rock, then continue to a sight (viewpoint) called the tree sisters, and from there we could also walk a little bit in the “lost valley”. We started walking and found ourselves going the same road where we were earlier (And couldn’t find the path for the loch glencoe). At that point, we finally understood why we couldn’t find the other one. We continued to Signal Rock, we found instruction for a walk inside Ann Torr forest that leads to signal Rock. We followed the path only to find it blocked from every side. We walked back outside, stopped at a rest stop, then found a sign explaining that the site of Signal Rock is temporarily closed. We asked at the rest stop if it is feasible to continue to the three sisters, but were told that it would be dangerous to walk on the highway to reach it. We continued walking hoping that they were wrong, but they were right. We walked back to Glencoe, and found the path to Loch Glencoe (Loch means lake) that we couldn’t find in the morning, we walked up to the lake, took some pictures, got attacked by midges (small mosquitos), then walked back among pine trees (some 16th century lord whose wive was a native of Canada was homesick so he tried to make her a place that looked like home). To sum it up, we walked for around 7 hours, but didn’t reach most of the view points we wanted to see, however, we did walk in some nice nature and we learned our lesson that we will need a car next time.We went back to Laroch restaurant (We just can’t get enough), and had another delicious meal. In case you are curious, we had the mushroom soup again, the herb crusted lamb again, duck and for dessert we had the strawberry and vanilla Ice cream again, as well as some banofee tart. We had originally intended to eat at the bar (For the ambiance) but we couldn’t find a place because many people were there to watch the Spain-Turkey game (Spain won). Fortunately, we had foreseen this and reserved a table at the restaurant just in case. When I called to make a reservation, neither I nor the person who picked up could understand each other’s accents. I made the reservation under the name of “Peter”, but they put it down as “Teresa”.

We went home, sadly packed and went to bed.

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What did you like about Glencoe? What do you think Noha liked about Glencoe?

It’s beautiful, the low green mountains and valleys are some of the most beautiful I can recall seeing. It’s also quite peaceful and for long stretches we didn’t pass by any other walkers.

At first Noha did not like Glencoe. She found it depressing when we first arrived. But after we found some life at Laroch and then took some walks around, she liked it and didn’t want to leave.

Is there anything you disliked about Glencoe? Do you think Noha disliked anything about Glencoe?

Again, the whole car thing. I wish it were easier to get around without one, or that at the very least the bus schedules weren’t so limiting.

How did the reality compare to your expectations for Glencoe?

It was much more popular than I expected, with a constant stream of (mostly American) tourists.

Any regrets?

I wish we had done the hike on the Pap of Glencoe, rather than the walk to Signal Rock. The latter was disappointing. I think we would have been fine on the Pap, I don’t think there are any dangerous sections.

Did you learn anything new?

Noha and I were both pretty put off by how openly one of the other guests started talking to one of the BnB owners about her dislike of immigrants (in Australia, in this case), and how readily the owner agreed with her general sentiments. Is this something that white people feel totally comfortable discussing loudly together upon first meeting? With a non-white couple sitting a few meters away?

How do you feel about this experience so far?

I hate to keep hammering on this, but I really wish we had rented a car. I was a disappointed that we didn’t get to really enjoy some of the area, especially as we were leaving Glencoe (it was sunny and beautiful, natch) and saw lots of people heading to the Lost Valley hike in their cars (and a young German couple by bus, clever). I almost feel like I want to return to the area just to do that hike and the Pap of Glencoe, but chances are that we’ll decide that we want to see something new on our next UK trip. Maybe some day we could return with a car to the general area (perhaps Fort William, another popular base) and try to get the most out of it.

Additional comments?

A little further on…

What are your expectations for ???

We don’t know exactly what our next trip will be, but we will certainly return to the UK before Noha’s visa expires.

Day 4: We woke up later than intended because the alarm didn’t sound because it was only set to weekdays. Luckily, I woke up at 8:00, looked at my watch, then we scrambled to get ready with our bags (our bus was at 9:30). We ate breakfast and caught the bus to Glasgow. We arrived to Glasgow with only 30 minutes to walk to the train station, get our tickets and catch the train to London. We had reserved seats (to guarantee that we can sit next to each other). Unfortunately, we found ourselves seated among a big loud group who insisted on playing music loudly (this is a 4.5 hours ride). We went to the silent car, to find the rest of them there. When the conductor told them to turn off their music as it is the quiet car, they decided they couldn’t tolerate the silence and went to the loud car. Here we are sitting on the train writing the blog. I am putting pressure on Peter to finish writing all three entries from this holiday on this train ride. Understandably, if we don’t do it now, we won’t do it when we get home back to the daily grind. We spend the night in London, and then tomorrow each makes his way home. Because we wanted to squeeze every minute of our short vacation, we would only arrive home at midnight only to go to work early next morning.

What did you like about Glencoe? What do you think Peter liked about Glencoe?

I was very touched by my birthday gift and the amount of thought that Peter put into it. Not only the idea, and the execution but the details. If I decided one day to print this poorly written blog to keep it as a souvenir book, this would make for the perfect cover.

Even though we couldn’t make it to the Mull island because of the limiting bus schedule from Oban to Glencoe, the walk that we took to Dunbeg was probably the most beautiful walk we had on this trip. It reminded us of the landscape in Brittany, we walked by beautiful empty beaches and almost saw no one during the whole walk.

I know I keep coming back to it but Laroch restaurant which has no competition being the only restaurant is at the level of quality that you would get in foodie cities like New York. In addition, the people who work there are really nice and since the whole village goes there it has a very nice atmosphere. If we were staying a week, we would have still not been bored of eating there every day.

The whole stay was perfect (even if we missed on things because we didn’t have a car). We talk about coming back and staying longer, but knowing us, we will end up wanting to see a new place instead.

I think Peter appreciated the landscape and the atmosphere same as I did.

Is there anything you disliked about Glencoe? Do you think Peter disliked anything about Glencoe?

They only two things we disliked were the limited bus schedule, and the racist conversation we had to hear between the Australian woman and our hostess. I understand that there are plenty of people who talk and think like that (otherwise Donald Trump wouldn’t still be a candidate for presidency) but to get to the level of audacity to talk so openly in a room where there are some non-white people sitting and with someone you just met, still shocked me. If this is how she talks to people she doesn’t know, what does she say to people she knows? Planning KKK activities?

How did the reality compare to your expectations for Glencoe?

Before we arrived to Glencoe, I was regretting our decision to come, thinking that it will be a boring isolated village. We arrived, and the bus let us on the highway, and we found our guest house in front of a gas station on the highway. I found the whole setting depressing and I wished I could go home. An hour later, after having seen the other side of the village, and finding everyone who lives there in the pub, my outlook changed 180 degrees, and I wished we could stay long enough to know the place better and make some friends. We both expected that it would not be so difficult to reach good view points and the islands near Oban but we were wrong.

Today, leaving Glencoe, was the first day on this whole trip we see a cloudless sky. Too bad it only happened on the day we have to take an 8 hour trip to get to London.

Any regrets?

On our last day, we should have continued on the walk of (Pap Co walk) that we didn’t continue in order to have time to walk to the lost valley.

Did you learn anything new?

The most obvious lesson is that if we want to see landscapes in this area we have to brave driving on the left side of the road.

We finally understand what would be the ideal trip for us. We no longer have any appetite to see big cities, it gets even to be boring if we don’t get to meet interesting people there. What we would love to do, is stay for more than a few days in a nice village (even less touristy than Glencoe) and get in the rhythm of life there, and take occasional hikes around. This is not an easy thing to do because, in a way, we want to recreate the Ardèche experience, which is hard to do if you don’t know someone there who will invite you and show you around. Ardèche, being the most beautiful region we saw (in France at least) isn’t even mentioned in the type of guidebooks we use.

How do you feel about this experience so far?

In the middle of this English holiday of one week, while being bored in Edinburgh (probably because the bad weather and our uncomfortable accommodation), I wondered if I lost my taste for travel forever (at least in Europe). But leaving Glencoe, I wished we didn’t have to leave so soon and I know that I still have the same appetite as before.

When we travelled for 18 months in a row, I expected the great time we have traveling for a week will be multiplied continuously for the whole duration of 18 months or two years. But the reality is that, while our very long honeymoon was the most interesting and rich time of our lives, it doesn’t have the same level of enjoyment you have in an experience that you know is more limited. Same comparison of wishing to live forever, we know that life being short makes you appreciate it more. A better comparison (using our favorite activity), eating your favorite food in big quantities will make you appreciate it less. However, working for 95% of your life just to finance enjoying the remaining 5% is not a good equilibrium. We did improve things slightly by moving into a society that respects work-life balance more and almost doubled our vacation (and slashed our income in half as well), but there is still plenty of room for improvement. I am still looking for a solution.

Additional comments?

I am afraid this could be our last blog entry. I am not sure that we will have the stamina to keep writing such details when we have such limited free time. But if it is the last entry, then this makes for a good ending.

What are your expectations for ????

We don’t know when is our next travel destination. We hope it will be in the U.S. sometime in September/October.

*** BONUS CONTENT: LONDON EDITION! ***

We left Glencoe around 9.30 (passing by the Lost Valley hikers, as noted above) and eventually arrived to London around 17.00 or so. Determined to make the most of our holiday, we deposited our bags at our AirBnB close to the station and walked down to the major touristy sights (Big Ben, etc.) a few kilometers (four?) away. From Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, etc., we walked to Piccadilly, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, and back to Soho, where we had our last big meal of the trip. The next day we finished our mini-tour of London by going (via the outrageously expensive tube) to the National Gallery, something we had dreamed about ever since finishing Gombrich’s Story of Art. It disappointed us actually, perhaps we had somehow built it up in our heads to Louvre-like levels — or as Noha pointed out, to Vienna-Kunsthistorisches-Museum-like levels. Still we found some good stuff that we had wanted to see for a long time, especially van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait, Uccello’s Battle of San Romano with its foreshortened fallen soldier, and Holbein’s Ambassadors (which I knew from Berger’s Ways of Seeing, not from Gombrich). With that, we have cross-off London on our travel list, as otherwise to us it resembled many other big cities, especially New York, so we don’t have a strong desire to return.

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