Scotland - at war with the weather

Scotland – at war with the weather

Scotland was a dream of mine that had finally materialized. Together with one of my dear friends we had a dream at high school. We wanted to visit Scotland. The plan was to go there with tents for a kind of survival. We meant real survival. It was long before tent has became my second home. We weren’t able to realize our plans. We had no funds and no equipment to go. However, Scotland stayed in my head. It was a hidden dream somewhere deep in my heart. Nowadays, many of my dreams are no longer dreams. Nevertheless, Scotland was one of these dreams that stayed not realized. Finally the time had came. After all these years I was finally going to Scotland.

Scotland by Maciej Zawieja

Green fields, snowy peaks, iconic rocks and cold lakes served as a kind of utopia in my head. I was planning to get to Scotland several times. First time my dream was to go there on survival. Second time I was thinking of Scotland as a great place to cycle. However, the actual trip was different than all my previous plans. It was a mix of survival and luxury. Currently, I am a full-time worker, therefore I had to book holidays to be able to travel. At least I didn’t have to worry about money so much as before. I love these inexpensive and challenging trips, but they are just a part of the full spectrum of ways to travel. Also, at this trip I wasn’t alone. In past I used to travel alone and meet other adventurers on my path. This time I went with friends: Piotr, Marta and Łukasz. We traveled around half of Scotland in a week. To make that possible we hired a car.

Preparations

At the beginning we had a different plan. We were going to go to Austria to ski. However, when I discovered that there are direct flights from Bydgoszcz to Scotland I stated to push the team to change plans. They liked my idea too and the plan had changed. We decided to hire a car and to take tents with us. The plan included one night at the airport, two nights in hostels and the rest under the millions of stars. I was responsible for preparing the itinerary. I did it the same way as always. I had focused mostly on the places to visit, a draft of a route, food prices, packing matters etc. I had even prepared a possible day-to-day plan. Our tickets were for March. Both the weather forecasts and historical data were stating that the temperatures can drop down below zero degrees. We had to prepare mentally for the challenge. I had a few doubts at the beginning, but well, when the comfort temperature of your best sleeping bag is 12 degrees and you’re going to sleep at the temperatures around zero, then you can have some. It was too late to resign.

Scotland trip on map

The map above shows our planned route. The actual route wasn’t much different. We’ve added Neist Point to the trip and we’ve skipped Glenfinnan Viaduct.

At the 1st of March we had packed our bags and headed to the airport. Our flight was delayed about an hour. The adventure begun.

The trip

Monday

Our flight was in the evening. We were going to spend the first night at the airport in Glasgow. After a pleasant flight we went through border gates and set up ourselves at a comfortable corner of the airport. For me it was just another night at the airport, but for my companions it was the first one. Nevertheless, nobody complained as they are all people who slept on the floor or in the tents plenty of times before.

The first challenge waited for us in the morning. It was the time to get our car. We had no idea what make we were going to receive. We didn’t even know if they will really give it to us, because there were plenty of problems with making reservation. The company required a specific type of a credit card. Additionally, there were problems with insurances and the amount of money they wanted to block on our account. When we were discussing the matters with them via phone and Internet, they wanted us to have a thousand pounds available to block, however, in the reality the company has blocked less than forty pounds. We lost a little bit on the exchange rates. Sadly in 2015 British currency was really expensive. Thankfully, all of our fears were dispelled fast. We received a nice, quite new Opel Astra. From now on, it was a ‘life saving’ metal box for us.

Our car

Snow, rain, sun, snow, rain, sun and so on… Scotland at its best. I could talk about it for ages. Łukasz was the driver of our pretty box. The beginnings were not easy. The wheel is on the wrong side (sic!). People are riding on the wrong side of the road (sic!) and there are more roundabouts than the number of gains of sand in the universe! We knew all of that before coming, nevertheless, knowing and experiencing is a different story. There were some curbstones ‘at the center’ of the road that Łukasz didn’t notice but, all in all, after some time of adaptation we were near the speed limits on the empty streets at countryside.

Our first destination was Tesco… and the second was Decathlon. 🙂 We were surprised with the prices there. The earnings are 3-4 times higher, but the prices are comparable to these in Poland. In general they are about 30-40% higher. Some products like peanut butter are even cheaper, but it’s a story for later. When we had all we needed then we headed north. To the great wilderness! The best wilderness in Europe! We were so excited.

The weather was great. Sun! Blue sky! And a moment later:

Unpredictable Scottish weather

During the day it was raining, snowing, hailing, raining, sunny, raining and so on. Just in one day. We’ve decided to climb The Cobbler. It is a small peak north form Glasgow. After about 2 hours of driving we found a nice parking space just next to the mountain. Additionally, there was a nice space for tents, therefore, we decided to stay there for the night.

Camping place by Maciej Zawieja

Climbing the mountain wasn’t hard, but It wasn’t easy either as the snow cover started just about a hundred meters over the car park. We’ve imagined Scotland to be green, but it wasn’t so much in March. The nature seemed to be just waking up after a chilly winter. Nevertheless, it was really beautiful. The yellow-green grasses were making a beautiful composition together with enormous rocks and white snow caps. The whole place was soaked in water. The snow was melting and it was raining a lot. Waterproof shoes were a must.

That day we learned our first lesson. There are no – or almost no – marked paths in Scotland. When you see a peak, you can reach it the way you want. In Poland and other countries in the area there are plenty of marked trails to follow. They are usually prepared for hiking even in winter. It does not apply to Scotland. I love it. It made me feel a little bit like an explorer in pristine lands.

 While climbing The Cobbler by Maciej Zawieja

The walk took about two hours. Next we set up our tents. We cooked dinner and spent some time together. It was early, but we went to sleep soon after dinner. Well, the night…. was THE night. It was the hardest part of the whole adventure. In the evening the weather wasn’t bad. It was cold, but manageable. It was raining a little bit from time to time, but we were safe in our tents. Everything was fine, until the temperatures dropped down below zero degrees at night. It was terribly cold. Łukasz and Marta had better sleeping bags, but Piotr and me had not. We were really struggling. We went to sleep in tents and waked up in igloos. There was a strange noise at night. In the morning we discovered that our camp is all cover in snow. About 5 AM I went out of the tent to cover my physiological needs and I stood there looking around at the area. I was freezing, but we are thought guys. We survived and were ready for new adventures.

Tuesday

Hard times in Scotland by Maciej Zawieja
Hard times in Scotland by Maciej Zawieja

Second day started early. We had a lot of driving ahead of us. We spend most of the day in the car. The weather was unpredictable. We met sun, rain (or course) and even a snowstorm with 10 meters of visibility. We’ve seen a car left somewhere in a ditch. The part of the team at the back seats slept over most of the day. Our plan was to climb the magnificent Buachaille Etive Mòr. It was one of my personal favorites in Scotland. However, when we reached the mountain, the weather was so bad that it was just not possible to go. Visibility was so bad we could not see the mountain from the road next to it. Taking a photo was not possible. It was a little bit disappointing, but also it is a good reason to be back in Scotland soon. Later we reached Fort William. We were planning to climb Ben Nevis next day. It is the highest peak in United Kingdom. Sadly, the weather forecast was really ugly. When seating it McDonald we decided to go directly to Isle of Skye. As we learned later it was a perfect choice. According to forecasts Wednesday was going to be the only nice day at Skye during our trip. It was. This time Łukasz was disappointed a little bit. His goal is to climb all the highest peaks in Europe.

We booked a place in Skye Backpackers and went there. On our way we’ve passed a beautiful castle. It was looking like a place from Game of Thrones. When we reached the hostel it was still quite early. We decided to check out the area. We’ve found some lake at which we took a short hike. We’ve taken some pictures and gathered a few stinky shells there.

 A castle on the way to Sky by Maciej Zawieja

After the ride we went back to the hostel. Unfortunately, check in was still closed. Not far from the hostel we’ve found another castle, just on the other side of a bay. Well… a castle is too much said. It was a ruin, but really pretty one. While we were walking around, it started to rain and when we finally reached it we were completely wet. 🙂 Oh well… Scotland. Then we got back to our hostel, checked in, prepared a dinner, played some game and then we finally went to sleep after a tiring day.

Ruins on Skye by Maciej Zawieja
Ruins on Skye by Maciej Zawieja

Wednesday

Isle of Skye, a pearl of Scotland. The island is filled with rocks, cliffs and mountains. I will never forget the beautiful almost green lands and incredible rocks awaiting to be climbed. This was my favorite day in Scotland. We visited two places: Neist Point Lighthouse and The Storr. The weather was fantastic. I have to admit that the forecast was actually pretty good. We knew that Wednesday will be great a week before and it was. We went to Neist Point first. In order to get there we had to take typical rural roads. They are very narrow and sometimes low quality. Only one car could go at the time and we had to use passing places plenty of times. The driver straggled a bit. It is understandable when you are seating on the wrong side of the car and have this very very narrow roads. We made it. We reached our destination, left the car and went to explore the land. Together with Piotr we went to see the cliffs first. The sun was shining and it was quite warm for the first time. There were some rains coming form afar, but we didn’t care. It is amazing to see so far that you can try to predict when and where form will the rain come to you.

The road to Neist Point
 Cliffs near the Neist Point, Scotland by Maciej Zawieja
 Cliffs near the Neist Point, Scotland by Maciej Zawieja

Our next stop was The Storr – a wonderful rocks formation. It is one of the most well recognized places of Scotland. Before the trip I had found a video at National Geographic narrated by a photographer who had waited a whole day to get the best shot of the rocks. Inspired by him I wanted at least to get to the top there and take a similar photo. The conditions were much different then what you may know from photographs over internet. The whole area was covered in show. This did not discourage us. I was going up and up through the snow and then I reached the first rock. When I got there I just sat down and enjoyed.  I love the beauty of nature. I love reaching incredible places. This is life.

I had a chance to drive for a moment the car and surprisingly it went well. Not perfect, but really well. At the end of the trip I had a second chance also, then it was going really good. I felt normal when driving it. I am still surprised, I thought that the first think I would do would be to crash into some lantern.

Then we left this magnificent formation of rocks and we tried to find a place to sleep. It was not easy this time. First we left the island. Then we checked out two marked free camping places on the map. We did not reach them. First one just did not exists. To get to the second we had to cross a mountain using again narrow rural streets, after a few kilometers we resigned and turned to Loch Ness.

The Old Storr Man, Scotland by Maciej Zawieja
The Old Storr Man, Scotland by Maciej Zawieja

It was almost dark when we finally found a place to set up our tents. The place was at a small grass field separated by a forest from the road on one side and from the village on the other. We were about 500 meters form the lake. We ate a dinner and went to sleep. Next to a centenary… 🙂 So, the night was very very peaceful. We rested in peace. In the morning… guess what… it was raining! Surprise? 🙂

At the Storr
Morning at the graveyard

Thursday

At the morning we had visited Inverness. It is a very beautiful small city in central Scotland. After refilling our supplies we went back along Loch Ness and then we headed to Plodda Falls. It is a beautiful place with water going down 46 meters. There are two viewpoints. One at the top of the fall and the other somewhere close to the bottom. Both are worth visiting. There is a marked trail that include the falls on its way, but it is really short. To go around the trail it takes about 30-40 minutes and it is more like a Sunday walk than a real trail. 

Next we went to visit Drumnadrochit which is the main village along Loch Ness. There was a tourists information and a possibility to buy some souvenirs. We had also seen Urquhart Castle, but we did not enter it.

This night was much different than the others. We spent it in Advantures above Loch Ness. We slept in a very interesting home(?)… well I do not know how to call it. Take a look at the video below. Also, it was the first night with stars visible above us. So beautiful night.

One night homes above Loch Ness by Maciej Zawieja

Friday

Our adventure was close to the the finish line. We already had made hundreds of miles and even more kilometers. I will remember this day. We had a few nice adventures.

Trying to climb Cairngorms

We tried to climb Cairngorms, however, after about a kilometer going uphill the ski slope we decided that it is getting to be too dangerous. We failed to climb both the first and the second highest mountain in UK. But it is not important. It was a great experience. Take a look at the video above.

Then we headed to Edinburgh. On the way to the city we stopped next to the road in Cairngorms National Park and went to explore the highlands. 

Saturday & Sunday

We spent the night in a hotel. I found a great deal. For a room with 5 beds we had paid 40 pounds in total. On Saturday we went to explore Edinburgh. On Sunday we had visited Glasgow.

The team split for the last night. Piotr and me went to a park in the town nearby the airport. We set up a tent there and spend a night. It was a warm night and a perfect end of the trip. The rest of the team stayed at the airport.

All in all it was a great trip and I will remember it till the end of my life. I was flying back home with a smile on my face.

Thoughts

Scotland is an amazing country. It really is the greatest wilderness I have seen in Europe. There are hundreds of peaks to climb and amazing spots to visit. The weather is the weather. It is raining all the time. In March it can be a little bit cold. Well, it was still winter. I am sure that I will be back to Scotland, sooner or later. This pristine land and hard conditions were a great lessons of humility as well as an excuse for plenty of exciting experiences.

Dear reader – take your friends and go to Scotland. 🙂

Don’t be a tourist who travels for comfort and colored stories to tell at work. Instead experience the world, cultures and people, travel to enrich your personality. Replace a need for fame, applause and pride for being an inspiration.

Being an adventurer is something amazing and you can get plenty of incredible experiences that will affect your thinking, but it is not for everyone. Adventures require and demand many sacrifices. ‘Go out of your comfort zone’ is a great statement as long as being out of it does not make you be a negative character.

See you soon Scotland!

PS. This time in summer.