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West Highland Story

Scottish working title: Mommy, What’s a Drover? I don’t know, something to do with the West Highland Way?

A musical about two youngsters from rival Saskatchewan cities who fall in love…with bacon.

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Twelve hours of flights, including a delightful afternoon of leisure in the Qatar airport, and a five hour time change (the first of many lovely tricks we would soon play on our bodies) found us hurtling through the bowels of London on the to-this-day amusingly named Tube.

Checked in to our conveniently located King’s Cross dorm room by 12:30 AM, pre-bed urination complete by 12:35 AM (didn’t really have to go but gave it my all, just the same) and by 12:40 AM we were watching curiously from our bunks as our roommate, an unlikely mixed dorm candidate who almost certainly grew up in an era fearing communism and snickering about swing dancing, demonstrated startling agility by washing her feet in the sink.

The following four and a half hours, the grand total of our unsatisfying but useful stay in the Clink 261 hostel, offered up a standard array of dormitory pleasures. Old man snoring belligerently – check. Thin mattress and squeaky springs – of course. Astonishing level of street noise – you bet. Group of drunks stumbling in at 3:30 AM slurring all sorts of things, none of them in English, and none of translating to “Quiet, there are people in here trying to sleep in vain” – naturally.

Ah, dorm living. It simply has to rank right up there with having urethral blockages cleared by a helpful neighbour using a refillable pen cartridge, or watching The Bachelor.

Castle of Edinburgh
Mingling with the locals

Now, the reason for our short stay in London, besides the previous paragraph in its entirety, was a very early train up to Scotland, where we planned to do a little sightseeing in Edinburgh, one of our top UK bucket list destinations, a place described by some as “the most beautiful city in Europe”.

We had carefully researched where to stay, so as to avoid another dorm debacle, and were working hard to convince ourselves that a one-hour nap and quick shower could miraculously undo the effects of three months of being asleep for hours while everyone in the UK was still watching Eastenders and valiantly attempting to digest copious amounts of meat and carbs. Of course, I’m referring to the five hours and fifteen minute time change (Remember? Those funny fifteen minutes? Because Nepal’s not just a hilly suburb of India? And don’t you forget it.)

Now a brief description of Scottish people, guaranteed to be both heavily biased and of questionable accuracy.

Helpful and friendly, extremely friendly, a cynic might even say smacks-of-ulterior-motive friendly, or at least vaguely-hoping-for-a-wee-bit-of-time-touching-your-junk friendly.

The Scottish accent is irresistibly endearing, like dogs in sweaters or hot lesbians. And it seems to be the perfect combination where we can actually understand enough to get the joke but not quite enough to realize it’s at our expense. A bored Canadian, short of sleep and struggling to amuse himself, once compared the Scottish accent to a drunken Englishman tongue kissing an Irishman with a mouthful of Guinness. Beautiful, exactly.

A lot of Scots smoke. Discuss.

Not as prevalent in the country pubs, or among the independent sheepherding crowd, but in Edinburgh there is an astonishing amount of very, very white cleavage. White, as in freshly laundered toy poodle, that sort of white.

Devil's Staircase

On we moved to the transportation portion of our journey, the first of many portions in fact, in this little whirlwind British stopover we had so casually arranged from the leisurely torpor of an internet café in India. And our first real instance of culture shock. Never mind the efficient London underground, the McDonald’s on every corner, the toilets that practically beg you for the challenge of disposing of toilet paper – we sat down on the train, glanced at the wall, and discovered…an electrical outlet. Right there. On the train. As obvious and accessible as heroin in parliament.

Ever skeptical, we quickly tested it out. It worked! This must be some kind of trick, right? How could this one mobile transportation vessel truly have more available electricity than the entire city of Kathmandu? Sure, it also has more square footage of clean carpet and its very own supply of paper towel, but power, on demand, at any time of day, with the wiring hidden inside the wall? It was all just too much. If I hadn’t taken some deep breaths and started reciting baseball lineups in my head who knows what would have happened.

Now, as everybody knows, Scotland is renowned for its incredible weather and unbeatable beaches. People come from all over the globe to enjoy the long hot days, clear blue skies and bright sunshine. In fact, along with Hawaii, soaking up some rays on an idyllic Scottish beach is probably the world’s most iconic image of paradise (and a pastime local redheads refer to as a Ginger Fry).

Which is why we were so shocked when our first few days were spent suffering through typical Irish weather instead – cold, foggy, misting rain, and the kind of occasional drizzle, which at least made us feel good about following the advice of the wise hiking packing list that suggested we haul a rain jacket all over the world, just in case.

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But these things have a tendency to work themselves out and eventually the indomitable Scottish climate took hold, sun, sun and more sun, allowing us to hike in t-shirts but creating difficult dilemmas like “Should we put on more sunscreen yet?”, “You best wear your hat – sunstroke and all” and “My urine is turning blue again – damn you, Vitamin D!” As to what we were thinking carrying our parkas and all that rain gear, well, I’ll never know.  And if anybody asks us what it was like hiking the Scottish Highlands in heavy fog and driving rain what are we going to be able to say? Nothing, that’s what. A bitter pill to swallow, indeed.

Our healthiest lunch this week

Anyhow, started out with what you could term an “easy” day, a mere ten kilometres of hiking to get things started and ease back into things. The main differences between the West Highland Way and Annapurna Sanctuary are that Annapurna was shorter but a lot more difficult. Hills, hills and, you guessed it, more hills. Not to mention the altitude issue (above 3,000 metres oxygen starts getting harder to come by than handsome Russians).

Whereas, in Scotland, most of our days would involve more distance (capped off by an epic 26 kilometre final day) but far less up and down, which is not particularly surprising when you learn that the highest mountain in Britain, Ben Nevis, is around 1,300 metres, or roughly half a kilometre below our starting point in Nepal.

In fact, overall we found that the Scottish bandied about the term “mountain” a little liberally for our tastes, often in reference to any grassy mound high enough to block out passing sheep trailers. Mind you, if Anna Paquin’s breasts have taught us anything, and I like to think they have, is that even though a mountain is small it can still be spectacular, eminently photogenic or a great place to climb around on for a day or two.

Bridge of Orchy bunkhouse/train station

Another key difference from hiking in Nepal was instead of extremely basic guesthouses with padded planks and frigid outhouses, our Scottish nights were spent in picturesque villages where we were exuberantly  welcomed into prototypical Bed & Breakfasts consistently decked out with all the wonderful decorative touches one would normally associate with matronly Scottish aunts.

Little rooms with angled ceilings and views over High Street, flowered wallpaper, flowered duvets, flowered pillowcases, flowered carpet, potpourri, odd little model cars, crocheted toilet paper holders, tissues, more tissues, a few extra tissues, and walls covered in paintings of soothing barnyard tableaus and small girls in frocks with hats like those the Queen might find becoming. It was like being shrunk and dropped into Barbie’s Dream House, except Ken had far more body hair and Barbie’s toenails were falling off.

The sole exception to our B & B-ganza was our one night in the Bridge of Orchy bunkhouse where we spent the night in a six person dorm built inside an actual train station. In fact, our bunk beds were so close to the platform that at one point I actually looked out the window while lying in bed reading and was alarmed to make eye contact with one of the passengers on the train. Companionably perverted. Like watching your friend screw your dental hygienist in the change room at the Gap.

Drover's Inn, Inveranan

Another great benefit to hiking in the UK is the nightly helping of greasy pub food, following, of course, a greasy pub lunch, and the full Scottish breakfast, which often tends toward the greasy side as well, now that I think about it. I mean, if fried eggs, fried potatoes, fried bacon (!!) and fried sausages would be considered greasy. And a banana. All in all, a little slice of fried heaven, as it were.

Now, whether or not these epic feasts are truly the best starting point for a busy day of hiking is debatable, although it does explain why so many people here go in for stretchy hiking pants. Which is good because I feel there needs to be some very good reason that ol’ Jimmy McDonald, 47 year old bookkeeper, father of 3 and amateur bacon connoisseur, weighing in around twenty stone, is chugging slowly up the hill in front of us offering up a panoramic view of his giant spandex-clad buttocks. Besides the sexual component, I mean.


The one town along the way that particularly exceeded our expectations was Kinlochleven, probably because it was described as an “industrial blight” by our guidebook, presumably due to the small aluminum museum at the start of town.

Nonetheless, we actually found it to be a fairly idyllic mountain town – quiet, clean and apparently the kind of place where when you go into the grocery store you just go ahead and leave your baby sleeping in their stroller out on the sidewalk. She just gets in the way? Punishment for a particularly nasty dump? Wanted a little time for herself? The speculation continues…

Now, about the hiking. Let’s see, I’ve talked about the great weather, the cute little mountains, the long days, the heavy food, I guess all that leaves is our crumbling old bodies. Fourteen days of hiking in the past twenty-three had led to a gradual build up of minor ailments – achy knees, tired backs, Laynni’s handful of hideously disfigured toenails (shudder), sore necks, genital warts, you know, the usual.

Which is why were feeling pretty happy and relieved as limped and groaned our way to the finish line (all three of them) in Fort William, my lone pair of pants barely held together by some ingenious teamwork between Laynni, a spool of brown thread, a considerable amount of duct tape, and more torn leg hair than I care to recount. And my crotch itched.

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