Exploring the urban and rural landscapes of Edinburgh, Scotland

“It is what Paris ought to be…And you can imagine, if the climate were but towardly, how all the world and his wife would flock into these gardens in the cool of the evening, to hear cheerful music, to sip pleasant drinks, to see the moon rise from behind Arthur’s Seat and shine upon the spires and monuments and the green tree-tops in the valley.  Alas! and the next morning the rain is splashing on the windows, and the passengers flee along Princes Street before the galloping squalls.”

~Robert Louis Stevenson

Contrary to Stevenson’s description, the sun shone down on us in Edinburgh today.  We walked along the Royal mile from the castle to the Palace of Holyrood and climbed up to Arthur’s seat where students were able to take in a view of the entire city.

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Off to Wales today where there will be no internet or cell service.  We’re wondering how everyone will manage……

There will likely be no opportunity for blogging until we reach London on July 23….. stay tuned……

A bus, a boat, and two trains as we relocate to Edinburgh, Scotland

A long day of travel and an introduction to one of Scotland’s finest cities…..  We managed to get all the students on the bus by 7 a.m. to catch the ferry from Armadale to Malaig.  When we told Kathleen, our bus driver, that we would be traveling to Edinburgh, South Wales, and London for the remainder of the trip, she said in true Scottish fashion, “I don’t like London; it’s too busy…You don’t want to stop or you’ll get an umbrella up your backside.”  I think you had to be there to appreciate this comment and the tone with which it was delivered, but these few words communicated a great deal about Kathleen, the character of the people on Skye, and at least some of what it means to live north of the border…. They also made me, Ned, and Kathleen laugh together at life and the absurdity of the divisions created by cultural and geographical differences.

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From Malaig to Glasgow on the west highland railway (known as one of the most scenic railway journeys in the world).  Unfortunately, it was not so scenic today because of the persistent rain and wind…. but the students got a thrill out of seeing some memorable scenes from Harry Potter….

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Then the train from Glasgow to Edinburgh, Scotland……  where we finally arrived at around 4:15 p.m.

Preparing for departure from Skye

Today was our last day on the Isle of Skye.  The students took a quiz on the course reading in the morning and were given the rest of the day to complete their Skye journals, pack, clean the bunkhouse, say goodbye to all the new friends they’d met, and watch the world cup final with the locals in the Inn next door.  The proprietors of the Inn made us all feel welcome, and the students are sorry to leave the familiarity and comfort of their hospitality and vivacity.

I took a hike out to Talisker bay and made some friends of my own…..  Who would have thunk it….Peacocks in Scotland?

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Talisker bay was quite beautiful.  It was a 10-mile round trip–but well worth it.  Most of the walk was along a single track road, which eventually turned into a trail along the shore towards the bay.   There’s a waterfall at the bay that cascades down towards the ocean, and the lush green landscape that surrounds it is quite breathtaking.

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Mist and rain in Carbost, Isle of Skye

Today we took a break from hiking and touring.  A few students accompanied Ned and I on a short walk in and around the village of Carbost.  Others decided to lay low and catch up on some of their reading.  The weather today was a little more typically “Scottish” than it has been.  We could barely make out the outline of the Cuillin mountains in the distance beyond Loch Harport, and the rain was coming at us sideways as we stretched the hoods of our rain jackets over our heads to keep ourselves dry.


Tour of Skye

Today we took a break from hiking in the foothills of the Cuillins.  Roddy, our bus driver for the day, took us on a tour of the island.  Roddy’s grandmother was born and raised on the Isle of Skye, and he shared fond memories of summers spent on the island.   Skye is a place like no other, and the sense of community is infectious.  It’s clearly a place where people make an effort to “know” each other and “look out” for each other.   Both Roddy and Mike, who was our tour guide in the Cuillins, had a story to tell about many of the people and places we encountered on our travels.

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Views from Kilt rock (named for its basalt columns, which give the coastline its pleated, kilt like appearance).  Wouldn’t be complete, of course, without the requisite pipers and kilts.


Old Man of Storr (a 50m high pinnacle visible for miles)

Entry from Ned: We spent most of the day today circumnavigating Skye by bus hopping in and out to take photographs around practically every corner: sea cliffs along the Totternish Peninsula, shops in Portree (Skye’s largest metropolis), thatched “Black Houses” at the Skye Museum of Island Life, the grave of Flora Macdonald (of Bonnie Prince Charlie fame), Dunvegan Castle (didn’t actually go in because we couldn’t justify the steep admission fee), and the “other worldly” Fairy Glen where the little folk worked their weather magic and made it rain. This evening we’re hunkered down reading about “wildness” in nature while a gentle rain and mist falls. Tomorrow is a rest day, although a number of students have expressed interest in doing a walk in full rain gear just to experience “normal” conditions.

Coire Lagan and the “inaccessible pinnacle”

Another climb in the foothills of the Cuillin with views of the “inaccessible pinnacle” and across to the Isles of Eigg and Rhum.  We were blessed with a crystal clear blue sky, which is almost unheard of for Scotland, where one is often challenged to see the surrounding peaks for the mist.  Yesterday, at the fairy pools, we were beset by the dreaded Scottish midges, which seemed to favor some students more than others.  Today, we saw very few midges and were able to rest without issue when we finally reached the blue lochan.  We ate lunch in the shadow of huge slabs, precipices, and the notorious “inaccessabile pinnacle,” and we were quite relieved that we were not required to climb further.  We were more than content to observe the jagged spire looming above us and the climbers traversing it from a distance: but who knows how many future climbers among us may have been inspired by this first venture into the Cuillin’s………

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The day ended with a much needed swim in the loch at Glenbrittle (you can just make this out in the distance below where we are sitting in the second photograph above and the students entering the water below).


Our first day hike in the highlands of Scotland


Today we hiked in the Cuillun hills, a region known as Coire na Creiche–or perhaps more affectionately as “The fairy pools.”   Coire na Creiche refers to a Scottish clan battle, which took place in 1601 between the McDonald’s and the MacLeods.  The McDonald’s were victorious in the battle, and it was the last clan battle on Skye.

We had wonderful weather in Scotland today, and the majority of the students swam in “The fairy pools” on the northern slopes of the Cuillin….


Entry from Ned: We hit the trail big time today with a five mile circuit hike with stops along the way for swimming and journal writing. The sun shone with uncharacteristic intensity, and no real shade along the route to take cover under, we broiled. Maya, Erin and Ashley scouted out an excellent swimming hole (Fairy Pool), and nine of us eventually achieved full-body immersion. The crystal clear water of the Coire na Creiche pours out of the Black Cuillins not much above the freezing point, and had us all gasping for breath. The dunking, however, did provide a welcome break from the midges and the heat. We skidded through a lot of mud and sheep droppings on parts of the trail, and on the return leg dodged alarming numbers of  tourists by taking a less traveled route at a higher elevation. Tomorrow we’ll return to the same general area with a local guide for a hike deeper into the mountains to a hidden glacial tarn – maybe with some more brisk water sports along the way. The weather continues to behave against stereotype, but even if it turns wet and cold the group is well-prepared with the right gear and a healthy sense of adventure.



Wild and Weary; 1st day in Carbost, Isle of Skye, Scotland

After a five hour flight to Dublin, a four hour layover at Dublin airport, another flight to Glasgow, and a 5-6 hour bus trip to the Isle of Skye, Scotland, we all arrived intact at our final destination.  It was 9:45 p.m. by the time we finally arrived., and the sun had not yet set over the village of Carbost.  Our hostess at the Old Inn greeted us with a smile and engaged in some verbal jousting with the students;  needless to say, we all felt at home right away……


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Ashley and Ted looking studious in the common room at the bunkhouse, 1st day of class

Professor, Ned Olmsted, invites students to explore the concept of  “wildness” and the utility of sheep as they embark on their adventures in the highlands of Scotland.


Life in the bunkhouse with a view of loch Harport, Carbost, Isle of Skye.   Students gather for their first class meeting while admiring the view of the loch.


Alas poor Yorick….. Ashley and Eryn discover a rather large bone on the shores of loch Harport and contemplate its origins….


entry from Ned:

It’s 10:00 pm, and a rosy alpenglow has settled on the peaks surrounding the village of Carbost, here on the Isle of Skye. It’ll be another three hours before the last light in the west completely disappears. The forecast called for heavy rain and thunder today for eastern Scotland; instead, we had blue sky and warm temps. We’re headed out tomorrow on our first “shakedown” hike into the Cuillins – an imposing range of bare and scree-covered mountains to the south. Our primary objectives are a series of waterfalls and the so-called “Fairy Pools”, and I suspect the hardier members of our group will so some serious swimming. This morning a handful of folks went into the salty loch which is just out our doorstep, and seemed to survive the cold just fine.

Along with our group, there’s a big crowd (quite multi-cultural) in the pub this evening watching Germany smoke Brazil.  For such a small village so far off the beaten track, there are a good number of cyclists, walkers, sea kayakers and general tourist types either passing through or stopping to have a pint in Carbost’s only (and very popular) pub. It appears that any lingering jetlag has worn off, but tomorrow’s hike will give a clearer idea of just how fit folks are feeling. So far everyone is healthy, and the group appears to be pulling together – they’re all looking forward to doing some real exploring tomorrow, and I suspect some interesting journal entries will arise from the day’s adventures.



Visions of Scotland…


Two days left before departure… thought I’d share of few familiar scenes of Scotland and the highlands from my photo archives…

After arriving in Glasgow, Scotland on Monday, July 7, we will begin the 5-hour bus journey to the Isle of Skye….

First quiz: what exactly does that road sign mean behind the hairy coow below?  Not sure he’s read his highway code….

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