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Death Wish Dervla

A satnav with attitude

Oberammergau

The trouble with having to get up at 4am, is that you don’t sleep at all, for worrying about having to get up at 4am. The taxi arrived at 5, and by 6.30am we were through security at Heathrow, after having negotiated the increasingly people free check-in system where boarding passes are ejected so fast from terminals that they fly across the room, and there’s no one around to tell you where to go. Not the most user-friendly system by any means. Early morning is definitely the time to travel to beat the crowds and queues though.

Our Lufthansa flight to Munich was slightly delayed, but the pilot made up the time during the flight, and before long we were trying to figure out which train ticket to buy at the airport train station. We had to change at Munich’s central station, and then again at Murnau, but for 28 Euros between the two of us we certainly weren’t going to complain about the price. The equivalent wouldn’t get you very far at all in the UK. In contrast, Germany’s trains smelled much less of pee, were almost always on time, were well air conditioned, and the tickets tell you which platform you should be on – none of this faffing around waiting for announcements, and being left in the lurch if you can’t hear them.

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On reaching Oberammergau, our base for the next 5 nights, I supervised the bags whilst Rich nipped into the Lidl next door to buy enough supplies to get us through to Monday – supermarkets in Bavaria don’t open on Sunday. Whilst he was gone, a little old lady came and sat next to me in the bus stop, and with my very limited German, and her limited English, we had a very pleasant conversation. Eventually we were able to establish that I wasn’t American, and that she was on the way to visit her children in the next village.

When Rich returned, I tried calling the taxi number written on a big sign outside the railway station, but no one answered, so I phoned the owner of our apartment, intending to ask if she’d mind calling us a taxi, but instead she insisted on coming to collect us. We’d booked one of two apartments at Ferienwohnungen Gerhard Fischer, and fell in love with it immediately. With three little balconies, a double bedroom, sofa bed, good sized kitchen and living area, the website photos don’t do it justice. On a very hot day (31 degrees C), it was lovely, cool and quiet – all we could hear were crickets.

Rich cooked a very tasty dinner of chicken skewers and salad, and we ate on the front verandah with a view to die for. Eating outside during the summer definitely seems to be the done thing here, and we could hear glasses and cutlery clinking from neighbouring gardens. Before it got too dark, we then followed the footpath than runs directly in to the woods from the house, round to the main road, and caught a glimpse of some of the murals for which Oberammergau is famous. It’s an extremely picturesque town, with a very welcoming vibe, and already we felt very relaxed. Goodness knows why we’d not thought of coming to Southern Germany before!

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View from verandah

Falls of Dochart

To make the most of our final day in the Trossachs, we all drove to the South shore of Loch Earn, before heading to the village of Killin. Rich and I drove in our wetsuits to save having to bare all at the lochside, as the road runs directly alongside. Big sis and brother-in-law looked in awe (or more likely disbelief!) as we went swimming in the rain. The water temperature was definitely cooler than Loch Voil’s, but not uncomfortably so, and is to be expected given that Loch Earn is that much bigger and more exposed. As a wild swimming spot though, unfortunately some inconsiderate campers had left all their rubbish on the beach, and made one area a very obvious toilet spot, rendering it a no go area for other visitors. Read the guidance on wild camping in Scotland people! Leave nothing but footprints, innit.

Next stop – the village of Killin, on the west tip of Loch Tay, a very long loch which thanks to prevailing winds, even has its own tide. We parked in the small car park closest to the bridge and Falls of Dochert, had a quick look at the very lovely waterfalls, whilst dodging traffic on what is quite a narrow bridge, before piling in to ‘The Old Smiddy’ for lunch as a thank you pressie from big sis and brother-in-law. The former blacksmiths is cosy, picturesque and very amenable. I couldn’t not order Cullen Skink –  a traditional Scottish haddock soup, and it was delicious. I even got to enjoy a rare gluten free pud – fruit meringue.

To work off our lunch, Rich and I then walked almost three miles along the former railway line, around the lake shore, and through riverside meadows – a wonderful way to end the week. After having avoided the Trossachs for so long, I’d learned my lesson, and will definitely return.

Loch Lubnaig

After yesterday’s exertions up Ben Vorlich, we wanted to get some fresh air and exercise without pushing ourselves too hard, so opted to follow the Rob Roy Way along Loch Lubnaig. The trail is sheltered in parts so the showers didn’t really bother us, and it certainly wasn’t cold in June. It is a popular route though so you need to be alert to a steady stream of cyclists – not ideal for Rich as I kept having to move him out of the way before there was an accident. Some cyclists seem to be completely oblivious to the possibility that other humans might not be able to hear them. If you’re not hearing impaired, you can also hear the steady stream of traffic from the A84 that runs on the opposite side of the loch. It was easy to tune this out in the rain, but could get annoying in the holiday period when traffic increases.

We stopped for a snack at the Roinn Ghainmheach spit, making a mental note of how perfect it would be as a wild swimming spot should we return, and then retraced our steps to the very friendly Broch cafe on the outskirts of Strathyre. It’s owned by a family who also run a bed and breakfast in the village, and they make muddy walkers and dogs feel very welcome. The food is all home cooked, and our jacket potatoes with beans and cheese went down a treat. I did however make the silly mistake of assuming that as we were in Scotland just after the Brexit vote, and the owners owned a business dependent on tourism, that they’d automatically have voted to stay in Europe. Fortunately they weren’t at all peeved, and it led to a very interesting and jovial chat about politics, protest votes, and eventually to mountaineering and a consensus that west coast Scotland is one of the most beautiful parts of the world.

A perfect wild swim spot
A perfect wild swim spot

 

Ben Vorlich

After a good night’s sleep and with no rain forecast, we drove to the south shore of Loch Earn and parked by the Ardvorlich bridge. The minor road on this side of the loch is lovely and quiet, even at the beginning of the Summer, and there was plenty of space to park by the road side. There were a few people fishing, camping and picnicking on the shore, not surprising given the views.

Our goal was Ben Vorlich, a beautiful and accessible Munro, blessed with stunning views on a good day both from the top, and on the way up and down. Neither of us like ‘straight up and down’ mountain routes, we prefer to relish the landscape, and to enjoy exploring the area, and Ben Vorlich doesn’t disappoint. We were accosted by a friendly pony looking for polo mints in the field at the bottom of the hill, but he left us to it after a few tummy rubs, no doubt having realised that we were keeping all snacks for ourselves. We took on the Ben slowly and steadily – Rich gets tired thanks to being on chemo, and finds walking on scree slopes challenging because of his balance issues, but he’s a little trooper and we made it there and back in one piece.

The view of Loch Earn
Loch Earn from Ben Vorlich

Just as we got back to our car – Skyra, the heavens opened, so we decided to leave the wild swim until tomorrow, and head back to Strathyre. Big sis had read my mind earlier in the day and offerred to buy fish and chips for supper, on their way back from a trip to Edinburgh. I only ever feel like I’ve earned a chip supper after a long walk, and as expected, it hit the spot. This mountain walking lark is hard work.

Balmaha

Today started late after a migraine and two tryptans, but by noon we were headed for the village of Balmaha, on the east short of Loch Lomond. Loch Lomond is the second most famous loch in Scotland – can you guess which is the first? I’ll give you a clue. It may or may not have a monster lurking beneath its surface.

The weather was showery, but this helped keep the midges away. As too did my Chuckling Goat goats milk, kefir and lavender lotion – turns out that it helps repel insects, as well as keeping eczema in check.

Balmaha is one of the quieter Loch Lomond villages, but still gets lots of tourists and so has a huge car park and visitors centre. After parking up we headed straight for the boat yard for the on-demand ferry to the island of Inchcailloch, the nearest island to Balmaha, and a nature reserve. The boat yard runs three lovely old wooden boats, and ours, called ‘Margaret’ was built in 1948. For £20 we were able to purchase a return trip for four people, and had the boat to ourselves. Big sis was very dubious to begin with, possibly because she can’t swim, and had to be ‘gently persuaded’ in to the boat, but once we’d set off she was all smiles.

Forget the expensive large boat tours around the loch – this is the way to do it in style, up close and personal. We were dropped off at the island jetty, and arranged to be collected in ninety minutes. We then spent that time exploring the trails to the old farm ruins and burial ground, which it turns out we walked right past as they literally are low lying ruins covered in moss and ferns. Inchcailloch is a beautiful little island, with a small camp site and warden, but it must have been quite a tough life when it was inhabited.

We got a little damp from walking in the rain, and waiting a little longer than planned for the ferry to collect us – so much so that we’d started planning an escape, mainly involving hijacking the rowing boat that another couple had arrived in; so we headed to the nearest pub on the mainland to warm up with a hot drink. We then ate a late packed lunch in the car, before heading back to Srathyre via Aberfoyle to buy some home made haggis from the village butcher. Unfortunately we couldn’t find any neeps (swede) or red cabbage in Strathyre’s small supermarkets, but savoy cabbage and caramelised potatoes did the trick.

Balquhidder

The night bought a bit of excitement, at least for me. On my way back to bed after a toilet stop, out of the corner of my eye I saw something whizz through the air in the kitchen. Sure enough, there was a bat in the house. I don’t mind bats at all, but with a sister sleeping upstairs who’s terrified of them, I didn’t much fancy having the whole village wake to her screams. I opened all the doors and windows so that the poor thing would eventually find its way out rather than flying round and round in circles in a tizz wazz. As it hadn’t made its way out after 20 minutes, I closed the doors and downstairs windows and went back to bed, knowing that I’d be first up and could if necessary try and get it out then. Fortunately, the bat did indeed find its way out, or at least in to the eaves, so I didn’t have to contend with a screaming sister first thing in the morning.

For today’s walk, we headed back to the village of Balquhidder, parked at the village hall, and made our way up through Kirkton Glen to Rob Roy’s Putting Stone, before descending back through the woodlands to the Old Kirk, and Rob Roy’s grave. Or at least his supposed grave – to be honest, no one seems quite sure if it’s his or not. Still, it attracts the tourists and is a beautiful spot.

The weather bought a mixture of sunshine and showers all day, but it was by no means uncomfortable to walk in. We only saw one other walker all day, at the head of the Glen, despite the glorious scenery. So much for the Trossachs being busy. Perhaps they are around the more obvious tourist hot spots such as Loch Lomond, but here it’s still lovely and peaceful.

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Unfortunately, having to walk through quite a lot of bracken towards the end meant that we both had to remove ticks when we got back to the house. We always carry a tick remover with us and it’s worth its weight in gold. We should have remembered to apply the insect repellant as well though, not least because Rich then decided to regale us all with tales of finding a tick in his nether regions. Fortunately such thoughts dissipated after a cosy dinner, before spending the evening counting bats as they emerged into the dark night from the eaves.

The Faery Mountain

I slept well. Unfortunately big sis didn’t, because she could hear the bats in the roof! I don’t mind bats, but understand that they freak lots of people out. I didn’t dare let on that according to Glenvarloch’s visitor’s book, the bats sometimes come out in to the house at night, and fly around!

With the sun shining, after breakfast Rich and I put our shorts on for a walk directly from the house up Beinn an t-Sidhein, which translates as ‘Faery Mountain’. After long drives, we try to have at least one or two car free days, for our minds as much as our bodies – neither of us like sitting down for long. The steep pull up quickly removed the cobwebs, and provided amazing views of Glenvarloch, Strathyre, and the nearest loch – Loch Lubnaig. It got a wee bit windy at the top, so much so that for his safety, Rich didn’t climb up to the peak itself, and as we started to descend, so did the rain. Fortunately the air temperature was still warm, so the rain provided some cooling refreshment as we retraced our steps back to the house for lunch.

After allowing time for lunch to settle, we drove a short distance to Loch Voil, in search of a wild swimming spot. Sure enough we found a small beach opposite space for two cars to park. The water was much warmer than expected and we ended up removing our diving gloves and socks. We kept the wetsuits on but it would definitely have been comfortable just in swimming cossies. The only trouble with wetsuits is that as they’re such a faff to get on and off, you don’t want to waste time taking them off once they’re on! We swam around for half an hour, enjoying the peace and quiet, before getting changed on the beach and making our way back to the village.

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Loch Voil

Stunning Strathyre

To celebrate one of their ‘big’ birthdays, Rich and I took big sis and brother-in-law on holiday to Scotland early this Summer. Having ummed and ahhed about where to base ourselves to give them the opportunity to see as much as possible, we settled on Strathyre, in the Trossachs. One of the joys of driving in Scotland is the much quieter roads, at least away from the cities. Tis one of the few times that I genuinely enjoy being at the wheel. After stopping on the outskirts of Carlisle to do a big Tesco shop,  we arrived at Glenvarloch – our gorgeous holiday home for the week, late afternoon. We’d chosen this house as it provided plenty of space for everyone, including a big kitchen and separate seating areas – very necessary for those who need lots of quiet time!

After a quick stroll to explore the village and a small stretch of the Rob Roy Way trail which runs directly behind the house – yet another reason why we’d chosen it, we settled down to a delicious fish pie for dinner, cooked by sis. There are lots of little fishmongers, butchers and grocers in the area so eating well would not be a problem. This was my first visit to the Trossachs and already I was very pleasantly surprised, having expected it to be much busier and more touristy. In June it was perfect – not bad weather, and low season rates. I suspect that this won’t be our last visit.

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The Reykjanes Peninsula

Breakfast was another communal event at Hrifunes Guesthouse. They’d even bought gluten free products especially for me, which meant that I didn’t have to eat the usual ham and cheese, not that I don’t like ham and cheese for breakfast, but a bit of variety doesn’t go amiss.

By 9.30am we’d packed up Aurora and were on the road, heading back to Keflavik. We stopped at the Bonus supermarket in Selfoss to buy Skyr for us, and chocolate for work colleagues, and then drove along the south coast of the Reykjanes Peninsula to the geothermal area of Krýsuvík. Going via Reykjavik is more direct of course, but then you have to contend with Reykjavik’s traffic, and miss some of the sights. We’d definitely take this much quieter route in future, both to and from the airport.

At Krýsuvík we visited the explosion crater, filled with teal coloured water because of minerals and heat loving algae living within, and after a picnic in the car we then drove the few hundred metres to Seltún. This is what’s described as a high temperature area in geological terms, meaning that it’s geothermal. There are of course lots of geothermal things to see and do in Iceland, it being sited on the Mid Atlantic Ridge n’all, but Seltún is close to the capital, and easily accessible. We followed the board walk around the steam vents, mud pools and geothermal springs, savouring the smell of sulphur, before making our way back to the Hasso office – it was time to say goodbye to Aurora.

Fortunately the handover was hassle free, and Aurora finally got a good wash – cars get very dirty in Iceland because of all the gravel and dirt tracks. We even got a lift back to our final B&B – the wonderfully quirky Guesthouse 1×6, run by a Swiss-Japanese couple who fell in love with Iceland a few years ago. The house was formerly owned by an artist, and each room is fitted out with weird and wonderful beds, carvings and paintings. To top it all off, there’s even a huge japanese style hotpot in the garden! Andreas and Yukiyo provide bathrobes, slippers and shower gel, adding to that special spa feel. We only stayed in for half an hour as we were starting to feel dizzy with hunger, so after quickly getting dressed we headed over to Kaffi Duus, as recommended by our hosts.

We’d not booked a table but fortunately arrived just before the evening rush – if you want to eat after 7pm I’d suggest you reserve a table in advance, especially if visiting in the Summer as it’s definitely seen as the place to eat in Keflavik, and the prices are good. You even get a 10% discount as Guesthouse 1×6 guests! We made up for the silly high prices of langoustine in Hofn by ordering a platter each, so then had to work of all that fishy goodness with a post-dinner stroll along the sea wall. It feels very much like Reykjavik in this part of town, and defintely provides a good alternative to staying in the city – there are plenty of buses, and accommodation is much cheaper. There are also tourist sights such as ‘Giganta’s Cave’ – the home of one of Iceland’s Hidden People. Fortunately Giganta likes children and visitors, although she does snore very loudly, even louder than Rich, which is saying something.

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