My Life in Motion


Accounting for 8% of the country’s landmass, the expansive Vatnajökull glacier is Iceland’s largest ice cap, and is clearly visible from space. Its scale is impressive and its beauty staggering. The Vatnajökull National Park includes the area of Skaftafell, a popular tourist draw as it sits near Route 1, the Ring Road that circumnavigates the country. Whilst the glaciers that curve down from the ice cap are visible from the highway, this is really an area for getting out on foot and exploring.

Whilst reading up on my trip to the land of fire and ice, I came across a recommendation for a half-day hike in this national park, known as the Skaftafellsheiði loop. I had set off early from Kirkjubæjarklaustur to make the most of the morning, but had managed to find myself with little in the way of supplies. As a seasoned hiker, I know how foolish it could be to head off on such a hike having had no breakfast and with little more than water and nuts for sustenance, so I was forced to wait for the cafe at the visitor’s centre to open at 10am to get something more filling.

It’s a popular tourist destination with a large campsite next to the visitor’s centre, and a myriad of walking routes of varying intensities starting here, as well as a base for glacier hiking companies too. The visitor’s centre has information boards detailing the local geology and this is the only place in this section of the park with facilities. From here, walks either start by cutting through the campground to the west, or by cutting past the visitor’s centre to the east.

Image source: www.vatnajokulsthjodgardur.is THE LOOP TRACK IS HIGHLIGHTED IN BLACK

THE LOOP TRACK IS HIGHLIGHTED IN BLACK. (Image source: http://www.vatnajokulsthjodgardur.is)

I really recommend doing the hike in a clockwise fashion, as for me the views just got better and better and the best view was saved till the return leg. The Skaftafellsheiði loop begins by following the marked path through the campground that indicates the track for Svartifoss (S2). On leaving the campground, the path immediately starts picking its way up the hillside and it isn’t long before the expanse of the Skeiðarársandur ‘wasteland’ can be fully appreciated. This was an exceedingly popular section of trail as the waterfall is less than an hour to reach, so is a suitable destination for people short on time. When the path eventually reaches the summit of this section, Magnúsarfoss comes into view and from here, one of many path junctions can be found. It is possible to walk the loop track without going to Svartifoss, but it’s not much of a detour to include this on the walk, so I continued to follow the signs for S2 and head up river.

Wasteland near Vatnajökull


First, there is a viewpoint on the east side of the river which looks upstream to Svartifoss. Here the path splits, but keeping to S2, the path picks its way down to the river bed where you can walk up to near the base of the waterfall. As beautiful as all Icelandic waterfalls are, I was actually more drawn to the rock columns that appeared to dangle from the cliff edge like basalt stalactites. Crossing the bridge near the falls to the west bank of the river, the path climbs back up onto the plateau where the signs for Sjónarsker (S3) are to be followed.

Looking upstream towards Svartifoss


Basalt columns behind Svartifoss

It felt really barren and desolate on this section of the plateau, the ground rocky underfoot, and the vegetation patchy and low. But despite the gloom of the grey skies, it was possible to see across the sandur (wasteland) to the Skeiðarárjökull glacier. There were far fewer people on this part of the trail, and those that were, were all heading on the same route that I was. From the viewpoint at the track junction, in quick succession, we all took the S3 route to head up the plateau. The path continued on its rocky way heading towards the mountain peaks with the braided river behind me, snaking its way across the plains.

Looking across to the Skeiðarárjökull glacier

The path through the stony plateau

Hikers following S3 towards the mountains

Braided river cutting across the sandur

Finally the vegetation began to change as first dense grass and then small bushes began to spring up. The track varied in its roughness, but for the most part was on the flat until finally it started on one of many inclines up the flank of Skerhóll to a short plateau prior to one of the steeper sections. To the east, the snow-tipped mountains peaked intermittently through the clouds that constantly circled them and to the west the peaks of Skaftafellsfjöll dominated the backdrop.

Vegetation becoming more prominent

Walking through the alpine bushes

Boardwalk through the alpine vegetation

The first small ascent

Wispy clouds over the neighbouring mountain range to the west

Looking ahead to the steepest section

Clouds over the mountain tops to the east

With the ongoing ascent up the steepest (though by no means challenging) section, the views to the west grew ever more impressive. The expanse of the Morsárdalur valley became visible and the Morsárjökull glacier came into view. This long plateau provided plenty of opportunity to ogle over this valley and the low clouds over the neighbouring mountains in both directions continued to provide a dramatic backdrop for what was for me, an impressive vista.

Looking across the valley to the west

Beautiful snow-capped mountain

Morsárdalur valley

Morsárjökull glacier peaking behind the nearby ridge

Another small ascent lead to the highest point of this hike, with a couple of options for a final view over the valley. The first of these was a rocky knoll, and further up, and ignored by what few other hikers there were, was a dead-end path that lead to a large rock which was the perfect spot for lunch with the most incredible view to the Morsárjökull glacier and its terminal lake at the bottom of a large cliff where waterfalls cascaded down from an immense height. I spent a long time here on my own, lapping it all up.

Looking towards the final ascent

Incredible ice cap and waterfall

Cloud shrouded mountains

Cloud shrouded mountains to the west

The path about to head east

Panorama from the rocky knoll

View from my lunch stop

Panorama from the lunch rock

Only when my solitude was disturbed did I leave there. Backtracking only a short distance, the loop track starts to head east. Banks of stale snow shrouded parts of the track and I had to crunch and slide my way across to follow the otherwise well-marked trail. Skirting the foot of Kristínartindar, a path separates to head up its summit after rounding its flank. Normally I would have taken this route to summit the 1126m peak but not only did I not have time, but the cloud base had dropped and the summit wasn’t visible. It would have spectacular views on a clear day, but I didn’t see the point that day. Surprisingly (or perhaps not, given my experience on Ben Nevis, Scotland’s highest peak), most people turned up this route despite the inevitable lack of view. Instead, I continued on S3, crossing more snow and a small stream before the path turned south to skirt another mountain base. As it turned the corner at the end of the mountain, the Hafrafell mountain peaks to the east came into view. The terrain once more was barren, although a little bird flitted around the rocks along side me. I saw in the distance a steady stream of people walking up the path that I would be heading down, and on reaching the junction with it, the view in front of me just blew me away.

Crossing a snow bank

Large bank of snow crossing the path

More snow to cross

The view down the plateau

The low cloud shrouding the trail up Kristínartindar

Looking east to the mountains of Hafrafell

Little bird accompanying me on the trail

Rocky terrain

I wasted no time in taking the left track to Gláma where the vista was one of the most incredible sights I’ve ever seen, and one of the highlights of my Iceland trip. Below me stretching for miles was the massive expanse of the Skaftafellsjökull glacier curling down from the giant ice cap. A mix of brilliant white and dirty morraine, I felt like my jaw was dragging on the ground as I looked at it, and I felt excited to be there. There was so much to take in, as even the jagged cliff edge of the surrounding mountains was dramatic.

Skaftafell glacier

The top of Skaftafell glacier

From Gláma, the S3 track heads south along the cliff top of this spit of land, with the glacier in constant sight. This whole section of the track was popular, with some people just walking to Gláma and back, and others doing the loop track anti-clockwise. For me, this section was the highlight of the hike, and I was glad to have it as the end portion of the hike. Whilst the western half of the loop was still incredible, I feel that walking it in an anti-clockwise manner might have made the west side seem less so after the incredible views on the east side. I think leaving the best till last is the way to go. There are various view points along the route, and at one particular spot where some rocks jutted out, I took the opportunity to do a little rock climbing down a path onto a promontory for a more solitary viewing spot. Here, the dramatic cliff face seemed so tall, and the people walking along the clifftop path appeared tiny in comparison.

Giant cliffs towering above the glacier

Skaftafellsjökull halfway along

Eventually, the path neared the terminal lake where a collection of icebergs floated on its surface. Here at Sjónarnípa, the S3 split into the S5 which stayed on the outer edge of the spit of land, and the S6 which cut inland. I followed the S5 which slowly began to descend towards a lookout over the terminal lake. I lingered here a while to absorb the view of the glacier a little longer, but eventually I had to push on, and I left Skaftafellsjökull behind and followed the S5 round the front of the hill. It was a long descent down Austurbrekkur where the track was undergoing maintenance making it a little uncomfortable under foot in places. This section felt like it took forever as the visitor’s centre, now within sight, slowly got nearer. Passing above the centre, then above the campsite, it emerged from the bushes to join the lower path that headed to Svartifoss. Then it was just a matter of turning left back down the hill and cutting through the campsite back to the facilities.

Terminal lake

Panorama at the terminal lake

Skaftafellsjökull terminal lake

To really make the most of this park, a minimum of 5-6 hrs needs to be dedicated to complete this loop, or better still, stay the night to enjoy several of the walks here. With more time, I would have walked to the terminal lake of Skaftafellsjökull as well as hiking up the Morsárdalur valley. Whilst I’ve read about many incredible day and multi-day hikes in Iceland, I think this is a definite must for those of average fitness to include on any Iceland tour.

Iceland’s Southern Coast

Iceland’s Ring Road, Route 1, took me east from Skógafoss where it snaked round a mountain and led me down to the coast. The little settlement of Vik rests near the black sand beach where the Atlantic waves pound the shore. The Atlantic Ocean at VikFinding my way to the car park by the beach, I took myself onto the sand and looked out at the uninviting surf and the expanse of water in front of me. Standing on the shore by Iceland’s most southern village, looking directly south there is no landmass until you hit Antarctica. Amongst the gloominess of the grey sky, and finally away from the crowds of the morning, it was easy to feel isolated and I embraced the solitude.

It’s a popular place to stay and being so small, accommodation here books out fast. I had tried to book my stay 6 months in advance of the trip, and already prime areas in Iceland were booked out and I had to change my plans a couple of times. With no affordable accommodation available here, I was forced to head east to find somewhere to sleep that night. Black sand of Vik beachBut despite this, I had a few hours to enjoy the place. Walking along the sandy beach, the calls of sea birds filled the sky as they circled around the cliffs that dominate the western end of the beach. I watched them for a while before turning and pounding the sand in the other direction.

Memorial Statue at VikThe expanse of black sand spreads east for quite some distance, but I walked it as far as the river mouth where a man made water break juts out into the sea. Lupins at VikA path lead through a beautiful patch of lupins to a memorial for those lost at sea. I absolutely adore lupins and they were in full bloom throughout my trip to Iceland. Riding Icelandic ponies at VikSome Icelandic ponies trotted by with their riders as I meandered amongst the flowers, and I looked up at the church which sat below the cloudy peaks that frame the village.Lupins in flower

















Vik from the churchThe church itself is elevated enough to give a good view over the village and out to sea where a collection of sea stacks sit close to the cliffs to the west. Yet more lupinsEven here the lupins were everywhere and I followed a path up the hill a little to admire them some more. Vik's kirkAcross at the cliffs, I had read about a walk up the cliff face and tried to make it out. On seeing where it started from, I drove across to the small area at the end of some houses and left my car behind to start the hike.










VikBy now, I was a little low on fitness, so I puffed my way up the zig-zagging path that picked its way up the slope towards the top of the cliff. Vik coastlineVik grew further and further away as I climbed until I reached the top and looked over the village directly and out to sea. Clifftop pathWith the occasional sheep and bird for company, I followed the well-trodden path along the cliff top, hoping to see puffins but spotting none. ReynisfjaraFirst approaching and then passing the sea stacks, it eventually came out at a building with an unknown purpose and here the path petered out. I kept walking west though and not far from here found myself at the top of more cliffs overlooking the expanse of another black sandy beach, Reynisfjara, which was backed by a large lake.










Seabird cliffs at ReynisfjaraBelow me there were plenty of cars and tourists, but I was level with the soaring fulmars who thermalled around me, coming and going from their nests. Sea birds and sea stacksShortly after I arrived, I spotted a paraglider who was also making good use of the thermals to float with ease over the scene below. I was completely on my own and it felt great to have this view to myself after all the clamour of bus loads of tourists to the west. The sky was still so grey but it didn’t detract from the peacefulness. Retracing my steps along the cliff, I still saw no puffins, and finally made it back to the path that returned me to my car. I bade Vik farewell and continued on my journey east. The landscape turned barren as the ring road crossed a glacier flood zone and headed inland, and before long the heavens opened and a deluge came down. I discovered that my rental car was a little lacking in good windscreen wiper blades, and I had to slow right down as I struggled to see far in front of me. It remained this way for the rest of my drive.

I spent the night in the small settlement of Kirkjubæjarklaustur (or Klaustur for short), a completely unpronouncable place that was little more than a petrol station, a small shop and a couple of accommodations. The owner of the place I was staying pointed out a couple of walks in the area, but with the rain, I decided to get up early to do one of them rather than head off that night. Crater lake above 'KlausturSo duly setting my alarm, I was rather disappointed to wake up to fog. Crater lake above 'KlausturNonetheless, I decided to take the path up the cliff face behind the village that leads to a crater lake above the settlement. PtarmiganI couldn’t make out the far side of the lake through the low cloud and it was so quiet. The path down to 'KlausturI followed the path for a short distance but didn’t want to go too far when there was no view, but as I turned to head back, my attention was caught by a ptarmigan. KlausturThese birds can also be found in my native country of Scotland, but I have never seen one. I was stoked. It flew to the cliff edge as I made my way to the top of the path down, and the cloud by now had lifted a little that I could see the village below me.

















Once again I cursed myself for not having got food supplies as I found myself with nowhere open to get breakfast but even worse, nowhere to get supplies for the hike I had planned for the morning. Foss á SíðuI had no choice but to push on, and the ring road brought me past yet another beautiful waterfall, Foss á Síðu, and a little further to Dverghamrar, a collection of basalt columns. Foss á Síðu from DverghamrarAt this early hour, the road was quiet, and a couple of camper vans were parked up here, their curtains drawn and their occupants still. Basalt columns at DverghamrarI had the place otherwise to myself as I wandered around.Leaning tower of basalt at Dverghamrar




















But eventually the ring road reached the wasteland, an area of barren sand and stone which is a glacier run-off zone from the expansive Vatnajökull glacier, Iceland’s largest ice cap. It felt eerie crossing this, but finally I reached the turnoff to the Skaftafell/Vatnajökull National Park office and I was one of the first cars to arrive. I had read about a hike here which would take half the day, but with no supplies, I was a little annoyed to be yet again reminded of the lack of early opening at Icelandic eateries. I reached a quandary: set off on a half-day hike into the wilderness with just water and nuts for sustenance, or be sensible and hang around until the cafe opened and get better supplies. I cursed my lack of forward planning with regards to food supplies, but I knew that having adequate food was the way to go, so I bummed around the visitor’s centre for over an hour waiting for the cafe to open.

The hike turned out to be one of the best hikes I’ve ever done, and I returned to my car at the end of it, tired but satisfied. With just 10 days to circumnavigate the island, there was so much to fit into each day, so there was little time to hang around before moving onwards. The views were incredible as the road hugged the base of the glacier and the snow-capped mountains dominated on the inland side of the road. I saw a turn-off to a glacier lagoon at the last minute and missed it, wondering whether I should turn back and take it but all of a sudden I was at the world-famous

Although the main carpark is across the river on the east side of the bridge, I pulled in at a smaller car park on the west side of the river. Right in front of me, floating on the river that leads out to the sea from the lagoon were some large icebergs. Iceberg graveyardRather than head straight to the lagoon though, I followed the river to its mouth at the sea and walked onto the black sand to admire the iceberg graveyard, where lots of iceberg shards bobbed in the shallows or lay strewn across the beach. Glacier ice remains on the beachHere, I was very much amongst the crowds again, but I didn’t care when there was so much beauty to draw my attention.

Ducks on the riverBack at the river, some ducks snoozed on the banks, oblivious to the goings on around them, not caring about the giant ice bergs that bobbed on the water just behind them. Icebergs under the bridgeFollowing the river to the lagoon was a surreal experience, and whilst I had expected it to be amazing, it still blew me away. Jökulsárlón lagoonAlthough the glacier edge looked distant, there was so many icebergs close to the shore that there was no need to go on one of the boat trips out on the lake. Jökulsárlón lagoon panoramaIt is a recommended excursion here, but having done the same kind of trip in New Zealand, I had opted to save my money and not do it here, and I didn’t for a minute regret that decision. Iceberg bluesThe icebergs were so close, I didn’t feel that I missed out at all.Jökulsárlón glacier and lagoon










Crossing the bridge near the lagoonEven as I stood there, the movement of the tide pushed against the river causing the icebergs to be in constant movement, some quicker than others. Iceberg panoramaI crossed the bridge and joined the hordes of tourists on the other bank to just wander around and admire them. Massive iceberg on the lagoonThe sun glared on the water from this side but with the tidal movements of the icebergs there was a constantly changing view as I meandered along the eastern shore, and as the hours headed well into the evening, a large flock of arctic terns noisily fed on whatever shoal of fish lay hidden below the surface. Duck in front of iceberg in front of glacierBoats continued to plough across the water touring the icy behemoths whilst I remained in my reverie enjoying the sight. Arctic tern flying over icebergsI returned to the western shore and sat on the bank of the lagoon and watched the moving icebergs until an evening wind left me cold.








It was a long drive with the Vatnajökull glacier for company as I made my way to Höfn, my rest stop for the night. Out on a little peninsula off the main ring road, it was a quiet little place. The tiny cafe I had dinner in was packed with locals and tourists but away from here, it felt sedate. Statue at HöfnThis next morning, the cloud was back and the glaciers just peaked out below the cloud base, the summit shrouded out of view. I headed past the small fishing harbour to the tip of the peninsula where a statue overlooked a small wetland reserve. Vatnajökull glacier viewed from HöfnFrom here, following the coast north, a walking path followed the western flank of the peninsula, and I had it almost to myself, being joined by a friendly cat for a while.








Duck at HöfnThere were oyster catchers and ducks all along the shallows, and I watched them lazily as I made my way to the golf course before turning round and heading back again. Wetland wading birdOnce back at the wetlands, I followed the narrow path round this area too which was full of bird life. Höfn wetlandOnly when I was leaving were other people starting to appear. Wading bird at the wetlandsThe small visitor’s centre was by now open so I had a wander round there which had a rustic display area with information about the fauna of the area as well as exploration and glaciation. Höfn viewed from the wetlandsI’d managed by now to kill enough time for the supermarket to open, and I was able to grab some breakfast and snacks for the road, ready to head north.

Never Far from the Madding Crowd

I had read that Iceland’s tourism numbers were fast exceeding its capacity to cope. Amongst these articles I read worrying reports about some tourists lack of respect at sites leading to erosion and flora damage by crossing barriers and straying off walkways. I’ve visited places before where natural beauty has been marred by over-commercialisation for the tourist buck (Niagara Falls in Canada being one example) or lack of crowd control affecting the experience (Macchu Picchu in Peru and parts of New Zealand being some examples), so I was intrigued to see how Iceland fared in this matter. Whilst some people like to wax lyrical about the difference between a tourist and a traveller, and what makes a person one or the other, the affect of global tourism opening up the world to more and more foot traffic, irregardless of the owner of that foot, inevitably has an impact on more and more places.

Having left the crowds of Þingvellir National Park behind, I made the drive to the second of the 3 main attractions of the Golden Circle: Haukadalur. There were people everywhere, on both sides of the road and wandering across at will when I arrived at the very large visitor’s centre. There were buses pulled up and all the car parks were full. I went round a couple of them before I was lucky enough to nab a space as someone was leaving. There were cars and people everywhere as I headed into the visitor’s centre for a look around. There were no free tables at the eateries, so I resigned myself to surviving on the cookies and hot chocolate I’d had earlier, and once again kicked myself for not taking the time the day before to visit a supermarket.

HaudakalurBut my goal was to visit one of Iceland’s (and the world’s) most famous geysers, Strokkur. Strokkur geyser at restThe ‘original’ geyser, Geysir, is in this area also, but Strokkur erupts so regularly, that its predictability has made it a large draw. A marked path leads to Strokkur past a bubbling stream and some small bubbling pools. Despite the signs warning about the risks of burns and not to cross the barrier, I saw several people stick a shoe or finger into various parts of the stream as they walked along.




Strokkur starting to eruptSince moving to New Zealand, I’ve discovered that I love geothermal areas. It fascinates me to see steam billowing out the ground and I enjoy watching mud bubble. I joined the large crowd round the perimeter fence of Strokkur and joyously watched as it erupted and soaked some people across from me. Averaging an eruption every 6-10 minutes, it was easy to watch this happen over and over whilst wandering around the region. It was also amusing watching people trying to pose and take selfies right at the point of eruption.

Lupins behind StrokkurBehind Strokkur was a lupin-covered hillside where a path lead up to the summit. Lupin riverI love lupins, and the purple contrasted against the Martian red landscape on one side of the hill and the lush green valley on the other side. View from the hill summitIn the distance, snow-speckled mountains donned the horizon and from my perch I watched Strokkur go through its eruption cycle as the crowds milled around. Snow-speckled mountainAfter coming back down, I had a look around a few other pools of note before retracing my steps back to my car.Looking down over Haukadalur

Mineral pool at Haukadalur





















The highlight of my day was what lay to the north-east. Following the road to the end of the tarmac, I turned in at another packed car park, and found the only place to park was at the end of the drive, right by the road. GullfossI hustled my way past a myriad of slow walkers and came out at the top of a cliff, hurried down some steps and raced over to the barrier at the top of the gorge. In front of me was the most beautiful waterfall I have ever seen: Gullfoss. The third icon of the Golden Circle, this staircase waterfall has an average summer water flow of 140 cubic metres per second and with the sun out overhead, a glorious rainbow arced over the cascade.

Rainbow over GullfossFollowing a lower walkway down towards the top of the waterfall, the roar of the water accompanies the changing vista as the river disappears into a deep crevice. Disappearing into the deepI couldn’t stop looking at it, and clearly neither could anyone else that was there. Lower Gullfoss panoramaIt was hard not to get carried away with taking photos, there was just so much to take in. Upper tier of GullfossI enjoyed wandering along side the river on the lower walkway and then headed back up the stairs to get a viewpoint from above. Gullfoss from aboveI couldn’t get enough of it, and even if I turned my back on the falls and looked across the plains, I was gobsmacked to see an expansive glacier on the horizon. Lower tier from aboveIt was surreal. Upper Gullfoss panoramaAfter doing my best to fill the memory card on my camera, I finally filled my stomach at the cafe before making a point of wandering along the lower path again, this time keeping my camera firmly hidden away.

When I returned to my car, parked as it was near the road, my vision was drawn to a hitchhiker trying to grab my attention. Normally I wouldn’t do this as a solo traveller, but I was going where he needed to get to, and it was hard to ignore him when he was right there, so I agreed to take him with me to Selfoss, my destination for the night. His English was broken, and I found it difficult to concentrate on both driving on the opposite side of the road as well as trying to interpret what he was saying. We managed to muddle through some reasonable conversation whilst I negotiated people on the road and my first experience of driving an unsealed Icelandic road until we parted ways on arriving in Selfoss.

Many of the accommodation places I stayed in in Iceland had a curfew time for checking in, and I was eager to get to Selfoss in time to get my key, so I didn’t stop anywhere on route. Kerid volcanic craterHowever, having checked in, and with hours of daylight still ahead, I backtracked to Kerið, a volcanic crater next to route 35. Curlew at KeridIt has a small entrance fee to give access to a perimeter walk around the top of the crater and then down to the lakeside within. Crater wallAlthough it was still daylight, the sun was low enough to put the lake into shadow, but it was a lovely spot to walk around. Back in Selfoss, I was lucky to get the last table at a busy little cafe for a late dinner. My body clock was confused with the long hours of daylight and eating dinner at 10pm became the norm on my trip.







Kirk in SelfossThe next morning I again realised that Icelanders don’t really do breakfast out. River at SelfossNowhere was open to get a meal, and the cafe I had eaten at the night before only served coffee and cake when it finally opened. Route 1 crosses the river into SelfossI took a brief wander along the river bank under the bridge where highway 1 enters the town, but then, like every day of my trip, I had so much to see and it was time to continue east.











SeljalandsfossSeljalandsfoss is a 60 metre tall waterfall not far off Route 1, and once again, it was a mission finding a place to park. Buses, camper vans and rental cars littered every spare piece of grass or gravel, and people were tripping over each other to get a selfie or a group photo. Walking behind SeljalandsfossThe sun wasn’t yet high enough to illuminate the falls so the area was in shadow. The path that goes behind the falls was muddy, and it was impossible to walk this route without getting quite wet.Seljalandsfoss from the little knoll








Small waterfall along the cliff faceAlong from here, a path leads along the bottom of the cliff past a little stream and wildflowers to another waterfall, Gljúfrafoss which is hidden behind some rocks. GljufrafossOnly a handful of people ventured this far and although it was still impossible to get the place to yourself, it was an altogether more intimate experience here and it was beautiful. Top of GljufrafossI had noticed a couple of paths eroded into the cliff face, and assumed that this was evidence of people wandering out of bounds. Bottom of GljufrafossI was quietly annoyed about people’s disregard for the flora here, but a sign at this second waterfall stated that they were in fact recognised paths but ones to be taken at your own risk due to the steepness of them. One led up to a rickety ladder which gave a precarious view down over Gljúfrafoss. The other led up the cliff face to the top of the cliff.





Gljufrafoss from the cliff topAssuming you have no fear of heights, this is a must-do here. Seljalandsfoss from the cliff topThe whole time I was at the summit, I saw only 2 other people and a path leads along the cliff in both directions. Fulmar flying near the top of SeljalandsfossIn fact it is possible to stand right at the top of Seljalandsfoss and look down over the falls itself and the tiny people below. It felt utterly peaceful up there and I watched the bus loads of people move on for the day knowing full well they’d missed out on this gem. Some fulmars nested on the cliff edge and I watched them for a while before picking my way back down the slippery path to the bottom. By now the sun had risen high enough to cast the falls into sunshine and I admired them some more before pushing east.








I remember when I lived in Aberdeen in 2010, the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland erupted, sending an ash cloud into the sky that disrupted flights in Europe for several days. I remember walking out my flat a few days later and smelling rotten eggs, the sulphuric smell drifting on the wind. I couldn’t believe that 6 years later I was driving across the land that had been affected by this eruption. Past here, I pulled in at Skógar, and followed the signs to Skógafoss, yet another of Iceland’s famous waterfalls. Despite the sun having been left behind and the skies thick with grey clouds, once more I played the car park game, driving round and round in an effort to find the slightest piece of unused gravel or grass to abandon my car on.

SkogafossThis waterfall falls down over what used to be coastal cliffs, but now sits around 5km from the sea following coastal retreat. SkogafossA similar height to Seljalandsfoss, only much broader, the spray from the curtain whipped quite some distance from the falls, so anyone walking along the river bed was keeping their distance as they posed for their photos. SkogafossI decided to risk my camera by marching past them all and skirting the edge of the rocks to not only get closer to the falls but to get out the way of those hanging back whilst managing some photos without other people in them. Then I headed up the cliff to a viewpoint overlooking the falls where there was a queue for the best vantage spot. Higher still, a platform has been erected at the top of the falls and beyond that, a stile leads to the start of a long distance walk up the river.


At the top of SkogafossLike many people, I followed the river for a while past more waterfalls and round a few bends above the gorge. Up river from SkogafossThe further upstream I went, the more the crowds thinned out, and it was possible to again feel some peace away from the cacophany of voices. Another waterfall far upriver from SkogafossThere was the occasional drizzle and a cloud hung low over the nearby mountain top. It was a beautiful and dramatic landscape even with the grey overhead. Back at the bottom of the falls, I noticed a lot of people were staying in the local campsite. There was certainly plenty of people coming and going, but still with an afternoon of exploring to do, I was hoping to leave the crowds behind as I forged my way eastwards towards the coast.

Right to the Golden Circle

Sometimes you have a dream and it remains that way, never materialising into reality, and sometimes that dream just takes a long time to reach fruition. This was Iceland for me. Back when I lived in Scotland, long before the thought of moving to New Zealand had ever entered my head, I dreamed of visiting the land of fire and ice to the north. There seemed to be neither the time nor the money to make it work, and so it remained only a wish until finally in June of this year, it became real. In fact I booked my flights from Glasgow to Reykjavik several months before I’d even booked my flights from New Zealand to Scotland. This trip was happening, come hell or high water, and my plan was to spend the longest day of the year in the land of the midnight sun.

There was just enough time to watch a movie on the Icelandair flight, the credits rolling as the plane hit the tarmac, and as often happens, a large grin crossed my face as I stepped out and into the airport. I was excited and also rather nervous, as I had booked a hire car to allow me to circumnavigate the country, and for the first time in my life I would be driving on the opposite side of the road, and doing so from the opposite side of the car. I’ve driven in 5 countries, all ‘lefties’ and this was my first time on the right. I made the short walk to the rental office, packed up my car and prepared myself to get out on the road. Despite 11 years of driving manual, I have since spent over 4 years driving an automatic. Thankfully my rental car for my Scottish road trip had been a manual, allowing me to get used to changing gears again because now I found myself with a gear stick and an arm that wasn’t used to moving one.

After a few deep breaths, I eased out of the parking lot, set off on the road, and hit a roundabout. That was just cruel. In fact there were 3 roundabouts just to leave Keflavik, the small town where Iceland’s main airport is situated, behind but finally I was on the open road and surrounded by barrenness. I knew the island was volcanic, but I wasn’t prepared for the lumps of lava rock that sat either side of the road, and there was little vegetation to see for miles. Arriving in the evening, and with hours of daylight still ahead, I was in no hurry to get to my hostel, so when the turn-off came, I turned off the main road and followed the signs through the blackened landscape until I reached the Blue Lagoon, Iceland’s famous geothermal spa.

I’d pre-booked a ticket which was recommended, and having done so it was an easy process to get in, receiving my wrist band and pointed in the direction of the locker room. I had to be helped to get my locker to lock as it was a little confusing, but I was eager to get into the pool. A requirement at all geothermal spas in Iceland is to shower naked prior to entering, and private cubicles were available for this. Following the signs, I headed downstairs and out the double doors, and there I found myself walking into the lagoon, a place I’d heard so much about for many years. It was absolutely packed, with GoPro toting tourists everywhere. I briefly regretted not bringing mine in purely for some water-based photos, but I quickly put that aside and got on with enjoying myself.

Blue LagoonPriority number one was finding the silica mud that is free to apply to your skin for a facial. I located the booth and lathered it on, then duly spent my time wandering around the different parts of the lagoon, testing what temperature I preferred and allowing myself to unwind after the mild stress of getting used to the car and the road. One of my favourite things about the place was the in-lagoon bar. Using the electronic wrist band as currency, food, drinks and treatments can be purchased with a swipe, and these are then paid for at the end of the visit. I had heard about Skyr, an Icelandic dairy product, so I got hold of a Skyr smoothie and sipped it whilst walking around the lagoon. It was one of those marvellously surreal experiences that you have when travelling.Blue Lagoon

Blue Lagoon bar

I tried the sauna and steam rooms but found them so hot it felt like my throat and nostrils were on fire, so most of my time was spent in the very large lagoon. Blue Lagoon from the balconyEventually though, I grew hungry, and headed into the cafe for some expensive food and another Skyr smoothie. Outside the Blue LagoonEver aware that I still had a bit of driving to do to reach my hostel, I finally got changed and did a bit of exploring of the facilities before leaving. Outside Blue LagoonEven the walk back to the car park takes you past silica lakes and large lava rocks, and whilst the cloudy skies detracted from it slightly, it felt other-worldly. I took my time, watching some birds flit between the rocks, but then it was time to get back on the road and retrace my route back to the highway.


I was exceedingly grateful for the GPS routing on my phone as although Reykjavik is deemed a small city by worldwide standards, it was big enough to feel that I would have got lost without it. I’d picked a hostel away from the city centre as I was heading east early the next morning. It was in a very residential part of the city, and whilst the route took me to the correct street, it had me pull in at a block of houses. Thankfully one of the residents was able to point me in the right direction, and I was soon to discover how the nation as a whole is exceptionally friendly and welcoming and eager to help. The hostel room numbering was a little confusing so I couldn’t find my room very easily, but then it was lights out to get some sleep, only to appreciate that it was still daylight outside until well after midnight.

I had an early rise to set off on my circumnavigation around the island. I was driving anti-clockwise, and my first port of call was the Þingvellir National Park to the north-east of Reykjavik. I discovered early on that driving in Iceland was actually really enjoyable and my previous worries about driving on the right side of the road were unfounded. Although I had my GPS navigating me, the signage on the open road was easy to follow, and although it is a stunning country, I managed to find the scenery not too much of a distraction. The traffic at that time of the day was light and I had large sections of the road to myself, despite being part of the renowned Golden Circle.

I hadn’t bothered to buy food having read that the visitor’s centre near my destination of Silfra had a cafe, but I was dismayed to find it closed when I got there, and it wasn’t opening for hours. I found throughout my whole trip that Iceland eateries are late openers, and dining out for breakfast was a very difficult thing to do. I knew I’d end up starving but there wasn’t much choice, and I silently kicked myself for not seeking out a supermarket the night before. Whilst the businesses were closed, nature was open, and I made my way to the meeting spot where my morning tour was due to start. Being part of the national park, the car park had a charge, and the machines only accepted card payments.

River leading to ThingvallavatnTo one side lay a large lake, Þingvallavatn visible down a river where geese and their young waddled about on the banks. Church in Thingvellir National ParkUp river from the car park, a pretty little church adorned the riverside, and climbing up over some lava rocks, I found a track that led me up the wall of a chasm and down into a large rift valley. Thingvellir National ParkThis whole region has been created by tectonic plate movements as the North American and Eurasian plates move apart from each other, and the whole area is riddled with fissures and valleys as a result. Tectonic fissure at SilfraI followed the path up to the top of the rock and from the viewing platform I could see out over the landscape, both dramatic and at times barren. Thingvallavatn from the viewpointI tried to guess where I’d be going for my tour, but as the clock ticked on, the crowds of people that would become a constant accompaniment to this part of Iceland started to appear, and I made my way back down into the fissure, and up over the lava wall to meet my tour guide.Silfra fissure


















I don’t remember how or where I found out about this tour, but when I read that it was possible to snorkel between the two tectonic plates, I knew I had to do it whilst I was here. The company that runs snorkelling trips also offers diving trips too, and there were regular tour times running each day. So regular in fact, that there was a constant flow of people kitting up and heading to and from the entry point, and it was a busy place to be. Whilst pick-ups are available in Reykjavik, a few of us had driven ourselves there, and in the end we had to wait quite a while for our guide to arrive from the city. Then the long process of preparation began.

Despite being the height of summer, the water temperature was just 3oC, so there was a lot of layers to get geared up in. I already had a base layer on under my clothes, but on top of this went a thermal body suit, a dry suit, a head mask and gloves. A few of us were of a build where our dry suits weren’t water tight enough around our necks, and so we had to have the indignity of a collar put on. For all intents and purposes, this was like a broad cable tie around your neck that was ratcheted up until water tightness was achieved. About half of our group needed this and it was not pleasant at all. I immediately felt lightheaded, but one of my tour companions was feeling immensely claustrophobic with his on and he was struggling to hide his agitation. Kitted up for a snorkel in 3oCWith all the checks that needed to be done, the kitting up process felt like it took forever, and even after we made our way to the entry point, the amount of tours taking place meant there was quite a queue to get in the water. My lightheadedness had eased but a couple of my tour mates pointed out that my lips and skin were turning a shade of blue, so our guide was called over and he had to loosen up my collar a notch. It still felt unpleasantly tight, but my colour was pink again within a matter of minutes, just in time to get in the frigid water.

Silfra fissure under waterIt really is the clearest water I have ever swam in. Snorkelling Silfra fissureI was a little disappointed to discover that there was no aquatic life, but the crystal clarity and the changing depths of the rocky chasm still made for an interesting snorkel, and although my face which was uncovered was freezing, I was more than content ploughing my way through the snorkel route. Silfra fissureHalf an hour passed in no time at all, and having first headed near the lake then veering off to another channel, we reached the exit point, and I didn’t want to get out. Silfra fissure snorkelWaiting till every one else had hauled themselves up, I pulled myself out about 34 minutes after getting in.Aquatic plant in Silfra fissure

















Divers crossingThere was a much needed hot chocolate and cookies waiting for us back at the van where we got out of our gear and were then left to our own devices. Silfra fissure panoramaI took a wander back down the path to where we’d come out at the end of the snorkel, and then watched some geese for a while as they nibbled at the vegetation. SilfraBy now into the early afternoon, the place was packed and the car park was full. Silfra, Thingellir National ParkAside from the snorkelling and scuba diving, there are various walks in the area to explore the geology as well as viewing one of the country’s many waterfalls. Geese in Thingvellir National ParkAn Icelandic flag flies near here to mark the location of Iceland’s first parliament in 930AD, with sessions being held there until 1798. Goose and goslingOne of the downsides about being so close to the waterway was the incessant swirling flies that flitted around your face. They never landed nor bit but their constant dancing close by became very annoying.

















It became clear on reaching my car that people were fighting over parking spaces, so I made somebody very happy when I signalled I was leaving and gave them my spot. I still had a lot of ground to cover in the Golden Circle and I’d really only just started.

Ben Lomond

In 2002, the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park was born, encompassing 720 square miles of mountains, lochs and forests. To the north-west of Scotland’s largest city Glasgow, it is an easily accessible playground for the outdoor enthusiast. From water sports to hiking and family activities, there are plenty of options for enjoyment, and for hikers like me, it encompasses not only the earlier sections of the West Highland Way, but 21 Munros (Scottish mountains >3000ft).

I enjoy hiking mountains, not just for the exercise and achievement in doing so, but mainly for the reward in the view at the top and the satisfaction of ticking another summit off the list. I don’t personally see the point in hiking a mountain when it is poor weather, as the view is my favourite part, but yet nearly a week after summiting Ben Nevis in low cloud, I found myself with just one chance at hiking Ben Lomond and a poor weather forecast to contend with. Without my own transport, it didn’t take much to convince my brother to drive me there and join me on the hike, and so, despite the predictions, we set off from my parent’s house on the nearly 1.5hr drive to the car park at Rowardennan.

Within the trees on the banks of Loch Lomond, the large car park (cash payment only) was nearly full despite the grey clouds that hung overhead. Aside from the munro, there are a few local walks as well, but it seemed that Ben Lomond was a common destination. On stepping out of the car, I was immediately overwhelmed by a large swarm of midges. When I used to live in Scotland, midges were a presence but rarely an annoyance for me. Perhaps my blood wasn’t that attractive, or perhaps my memories are selective, but of my 29 years of living in Scotland, and many trips to the west coast, I can only remember a couple of occasions where they were a pain. Now however, I had the allure of foreign-tasting blood, and in just a t-shirt, my arms were soon blackened with the largest concentration of midges I have ever seen. The ones that weren’t munching on my arms were swirling around my face, and my patience quickly went as I waited for my brother to get geared up.

The last time my brother had hiked Ben Lomond, the start of the track was being upgraded and there was a detour from the information centre. On this day, the track had reopened at its original location behind the information centre and we set off, hounded by the midges the whole time. Starting in the lower forest where the view was minimal, we reached a clearing where shortly after we were sent on a diversion as the next section of track was being upgraded. The track was still obvious but a little rougher under foot, and with less trees, it soon became obvious that the summit of Ben Lomond was nowhere to be seen.

Looking up at the clouds

Despite gaining altitude from the beginning, the midges continued to follow us, and through bracken we continued our gentle climb until we reached a bridge which led us onto grazing land. Below us, Loch Lomond was disappearing into the distant cloud, and now Ben Lomond stood in front of us, low cloud swirling around. Like Ben Nevis the week before, I was amazed at the number of people out hiking on such a poor weather day. Groups of kids were out doing a charity walk and they showed me up with their youthful fitness. They stopped often though, so eventually we passed them by as the path continued its steady climb.

Looking down towards the hidden Loch Lomond

The path up Ben Lomond

Looking towards the summit of Ben Lomond

A light drizzle started, and whilst my brother kitted up in his waterproofs, I decided to press on without as I was quite warm from the effort. It wasn’t particularly heavy at this stage, but by now we were in the cloud, and I had no idea how far we had to go with no point of reference. I just followed my brother and the well-trodden path, but the higher we got, the more I noticed people giving me a strange look as they came down in wet weather gear and I plodded on in capri-pants and a t-shirt. At about 850m, the path began to zig-zag, and on turning a corner at a low false-summit, it was like walking in to a wind tunnel, and I found myself suddenly cold and wet. It was a mission to put on my waterproofs in the driving wind and rain, and I was aware of plenty of soaked-looking people emerging out of the mist above us.

Duly kitted up, we pushed on for the final summit push. Unfortunately, the weather meant I spent most of the time staring at my feet, so the summit push is a bit of a blur. There was an initial steep section followed by tracing the outline of the eastern corrie, a rocky plinth that gave brief shelter before we were left exposed again for the final trail along the summit ridge until the summit emerged from the gloom. It was so busy here despite the now heavy rain, that we couldn’t even get a photo at the summit marker, having to make do with a photo on the path at the summit edge. We could have been anywhere. I couldn’t believe how many people were up there, but with the rain quickly drenching us, there was no point hanging around.

View from the summit of Ben Lomond

Obligatory summit photo at Ben Lomond in the rain

There are two options for descending: back the route you’ve just come up, or going down the Ptarmigan route. I assumed with the weather that my brother would want to do the quicker, easier route back down, but having done it before, he suggested we take the Ptarmigan route so despite not being able to see it through the clouds, I followed his lead and was amazed at the barely visible path disappearing over the cliffs. Had I been on my own, I would never have even noticed this as a path, it was so discrete in the clouds. I certainly didn’t feel unsafe, but it was a shame to miss out the views that I’m sure this route would afford on a good weather day. It reminded me somewhat of the hike I did on Little Mount Peel in New Zealand with a rapid descent over rocky drops in altitude towards the summit of the Ptarmigan.

Looking down towards the Ptarmigan Route in the driving rain

Crossing near a series of small peaks (of which one is the Ptarmigan), the path turns to descend back onto the green-covered hillside. The rain was still ongoing, and despite having not eaten and both being quite hungry, there was nowhere sheltered to stop. By now several hours into the hike, my jacket was starting to lose it’s waterproof abilities and I could feel myself getting damp within. As we continued on a now gentle descent down the front face of Ben Lomond, the grass changed to bracken, and we could just about make out Loch Lomond through the occasional break in the clouds.

Following the Ptarmigan Route down the face of Ben Lomond

Loch Lomond just about visible through the clouds

Eventually we found ourselves back in the forest above Rowardennan and we followed a burn as it made its way down towards the road. Then it was just a matter of walking along the tarmac back to the car park where we tried to warm back up in the car, eating our lunch surrounded by the midges that sneaked in with us. Whilst I’m very glad I ticked another Munro off the list, it reinforced why I don’t enjoy hiking when there isn’t a view involved. Perhaps on a sunnier occasion when I’m next in the country I might try this one again, but for now, I’m going to leave the mountains for better weather.

Edinburgh Rocks

Despite my protestations that Glasgow is a better city than Edinburgh, I do love a good visit to the Capital city. With friends in the past and present living there, I’ve had ample opportunities to visit, as well as attending theatre shows and exhibitions with my family throughout the years. From summer festivals to the winter markets and Hogmanay, there is something on all year round. So there was no doubt in my mind that Edinburgh would be a part of my trip home.

On a Saturday in the middle of June, I boarded the bus into Glasgow’s Buchanan Bus Station and managed a quick turnaround there to get on the Citylink bus to Edinburgh, and settled in for the journey looking out at the grey skies that persisted the whole way. I had a good bit of outdoor sightseeing planned, so was a little disappointed at the forecast that had been issued. Undeterred, I was looking forward to catching up with a couple of friends, and was met by one of them on getting off the bus. Not yet festival time, there was still a buzz in the air as we left St Andrew’s Bus Station, and I was reminded immediately why tourists love this place.

Wig on a gargoyle - Edinburgh humourArriving mid-morning, our priority was brunch, and we set off in search a cafe that my friend recommended. Amongst the grand buildings of George Street, we worked our way to Frederick Street where Urban Angel was, and after filling our stomachs, it was time to burn it all back off again. There are a few spots in Edinburgh to get the classic views, and Calton Hill is one of them. At the eastern end of Princes Street, one of a collection of paths leads up steps to the top of the hill where a collection of monuments and an observatory are scattered across its summit.

Leith and the Firth of ForthBy now several weeks into my holiday over-indulgence, I was beginning to feel immensely unfit, a thought which raised some concerns for the multi-day hike that was coming up in just a couple of weeks. Edinburgh Panorama from Calton HillPushing those thoughts aside, there is much to see from here, with views north over Leith and beyond to the Firth of Forth, and over the city centre to the south-west. Edinburgh Castle stands tall on its rocky promontory across the city and the distinctive peaks of the Salisbury Crags and Arthur’s Seat lie almost directly opposite.

Scott Monument peaking from behind the Balmoral clocktowerThe clouds were considering breaking up a little and small patches of blue pock-marked the sky above us. Edinburgh’s Old Town has a distinctive look about it, with many buildings of grandeure and turrets and towers aplenty. From here I could spy my next target, one of Edinburgh’s many famous landmarks, the Scott Monument. For all my previous visits, I had never realised that you could climb up it, so this would be something new for me. By the time we’d retraced our steps down the hill and along Princes Street to its base, the sun had come out with gusto and the warmth was welcomed.

Jenners on Princes Street from Scott MonumentBuilt to commemorate Sir Walter Scott, construction began in 1840, a few years after his death. Princes Street gardensStanding at over 60metres high, a series of spiral staircases lead up a total of 287 steps to multiple viewing platforms at different elevations. Edinburgh Castle overlooking the National GalleryOverlooking the Princes Street gardens and Princes Street itself, it quickly became one of my favourite viewpoints of the city. Jenners looking up St David StreetWith every level gained, the view grew more expansive, and even the tower itself was something to admire, with statues and detail adorning it at every level. Calton Hill behind the BalmoralWith the clouds all but gone, we could see for miles in every direction. Waverley Station and looking further to Arthur's SeatThe only downside was that the higher we climbed, the narrower both the staircase and the viewing platforms got, making it quite awkward to negotiate the large numbers of people that were up the tower with us. Looking west along Princes StreetEspecially at the top, there was a queue to circumnavigate the platform, followed by a queue to get back down again. It was the height of the tourist season, a weekend, and a sunny day, so it was hardly surprising.






















Stained glass inside Scott MonumentWe took a quick look at the stained glass windows on the lower level as we made our way back down, and back out in the sunshine, my friend headed off for the afternoon and I wandered around some tourist shops waiting for the arrival of another friend. Scott Monument stained glassI found some Edinburgh Rock, a rather sweet and sugary candy that I hadn’t had since I was a kid, and parked myself up on the sunny roof space of the Princes Mall until my friend arrived. Balmoral Hotel from the roof of the Princes MallWe made a beeline for the Royal Mile which was packed with locals, tourists and buskers. In direct line with Edinburgh Castle at its western end, the High Street section is a broad pedestrian thoroughfare, lined with bars, restaurants and tourist shops, and the outdoor seating that sprawled outside was packed at every venue.


We watched a busker swallow a sword before heading off down hill to the lower Royal Mile which is open to traffic, and at its end, Holyrood Palace and the relatively recent addition of the architecturally unique, Scottish Parliament building. Queen's Gallery at the end of Royal MileLast time I’d visited, my friend and I had gone inside the Parliament building for a tour, and at certain days and times, this is a regularly offered possibility depending on sittings. But our target on this occasion was the ice cream van parked up at the bottom of Salisbury Crags. By now it was very warm, and I was not dressed for a hike. I had been keen to get up Arthur’s Seat, a climb I’d only done once before, but on such a warm day, and having already found Calton Hill to get me in a puff, I was suddenly in two minds.

St Anthony's Chapel ruinsMy friend suggested we head only as far as the St Anthony chapel ruins just a little up the hillside, and that seemed more than fine by me. St Margaret's LochMunching on our ice creams, we took our time and enjoyed the view over St Margaret’s Loch below us. Looking down from Arthur's SeatAfter a respite, and watching the other walkers push on upwards, we opted to go up to the top of the Crags and see how we felt. It was a busy place to be with friends and families, walkers and joggers making a steady line both up and down the hillside. Once again, after having a rest on a lower plateau, we decided we’d gone all that way up, we might as well keep going, and so we summited Arthur’s Seat which was absolutely packed. The last time we’d come up here, we had taken an alternate route up, so it was nice to have done it differently. Once again, the view is phenomenal, looking out over the city to the west and the Firth of Forth to the north.



We had plans to meet back up with my other friend that night, but there was still plenty of time ahead of us. Returning to the Royal Mile which is littered with closes (alleys), we went to Mary King’s Close, one of many parts of Edinburgh that is haunted. Rooftop view from Camera ObscuraUnfortunately they were booked out for a few hours, so instead we headed up the hill to Camera Obscura, a place that I hadn’t been to before. Tower viewed from Camera Obscura's roofDating from the mid-19th century, it has become an interactive world of illusion with the Camera Obscura itself still occupying the top floor. Scott Monument viewed from Camera ObscuraThe roof has an outdoor space providing yet another view point of the city and as the demonstrations of the camera are timed, we had a little time to enjoy the vista before heading indoors.Flag on top of Camera Obscura






Head on a plate, Camera ObscuraAfter the camera’s demonstration, we worked our way down the six floors filled with optical illusions, negotiating the maze of mirrors and a vortex tunnel. Even as an adult, this was fun, so although the entrance fee is rather pricey, there was plenty to look at and explore, and worth doing once if you have a lot of time in the city. We took silly photos in the various interactive sections and wandered round the large gift shop at the bottom before heading off in search of dinner.



We chanced our luck at a rooftop Thai restaurant on Castle Street and were rewarded with a table on the balcony. Presumably named after the large river that runs through Bangkok, Chaophraya was fantastic. Cocktails at ChaophrayaWe sipped on glorious cocktails in the evening sun, and enjoyed delicious food before it was time to head back to the Royal Mile. Edinburgh CastleThe restaurant was upstairs off Castle Street, and walking down this street, we were overlooked by the greatness of Edinburgh Castle. There was still hours of daylight ahead, being only a few days away from the longest day of the year, but the lowering evening sun cast a different light on the old buildings as we headed up the hill to the Royal Mile.



Catching up with my other friend again, the three of us joined the crowd at the meeting place for our City of the Dead tour. Edinburgh, like many old cities, is rife with ghost stories, and there are plenty of opportunities to go ghost hunting. Another activity I’d not done here, I’d managed to convince my friends to join me on the hunt for the Mackenzie Poltergeist, supposedly one of the World’s most documented poltergeists. As a regular solo traveller, I will do almost anything on my own quite happily, including gallivanting across the world and volunteering in countries where English is not the first language. But doing a ghost tour is not one of the things I would do on my own, so convincing people to join me had been the first step.

From the very beginning, I knew it was going to be good. Our tour guide was an absolute Character with a capital C. He really made that tour, and was amazing at building up the hype and buzz around the haunted graveyard. Greyfriar's Bobby statue outside the graveyardOur destination was Greyfriars Kirkyard, perhaps more famous because of the fable of Greyfriar’s Bobby, a little dog that wouldn’t leave the side of his master’s grave, resulting in him getting his own statue on the street outside. Greyfriar's Bobby headstone inside the KirkyardBut amongst the ‘true’ story of the ‘wee dug’, was tales of death and crime and Harry Potter. Indeed, for those who read the books of J K Rowling, who wrote them nearby, there are a lot of familiar sounding names related to this graveyard.








The culmination of the tour is entering the locked section of the graveyard, the Covenanters Prison, where the poltergeist activity is said to be at its highest. With regular reports of people being physically injured, our guide had us in the palm of his hands by this point, having expertly weaved his tale of the history of the site. The tension amongst the group was palpable as we crowded into a vault near the entrance. To find out what happens next, I cannot recommend this tour enough. For us though, afterwards we made our way back to Waverley Station to see off one friend, then St Andrew’s Bus Station where I left my other friend behind to take the bus back to Glasgow, more than satisfied with my day in the Capital.

Exploring Myths and Memories

Out of the dark and cold waters of a Scottish loch, illuminated by the midnight moon, there comes the beautiful form of a horse. Broad muscles and mane dripping with water, he finds a poor soul to whom he laments a tale of loneliness, tugging at their heart strings before leading them back to the water’s edge. Enveloping them in his spell, he leads them out into the darkness and drowns them. The mythical Kelpie, or water horse, is a long-standing feature of Scottish folklore, although the stories vary depending on their source. It is said that many lochs in Scotland have their own Kelpie, and mariners of old used to relate tales of Kelpies coming out of the sea during storms to sink their ships. In some stories, the Kelpies take the form of a woman on land, to seduce some unsuspecting man before leading them to water and drowning them.

Before I moved to New Zealand in 2012, I must have seen or read about a public art piece that was planned for Falkirk in Scotland, so when finally they were constructed and opened to the public, I knew I would have to visit them on my next trip home. The Kelpies are two 30m high steel structures shaped as horse heads beside a section of the Forth and Clyde canal. Representing both the heavy horses previously used in Scottish industry and agriculture as well as the transformational change of Scotland’s waterways, they have become an iconic structure in Scotland’s Central Belt.

30metre high KelpieAfter a nice lie-in in Glasgow following my road trip round the north coast and the previous day’s hike up Ben Nevis, I set off with my parents on a very cloudy day to go visit the steel behemoths. Mane of the KelpieThe sculptures have proven to be a popular place to visit, and even though there was an occasional drizzle, there was plenty of people about. Swans by the canalLike so many things, they have their critics but I personally love them. KelpiesI think they are stunning. Kelpie sculpturesIt is possible to walk round them and view them from different angles, and nearby the canal played home to some swans with their cygnets. Eye of the KelpieMy parents had been here before, but they were more than happy to come again.Kelpie head

Forth & Clyde canel by the Kelpies
































Falkirk Wheel from inside the canal boatIt was only a relatively short drive from there to the Falkirk Wheel, a boat lift opened in 2002 to connect the Forth and Clyde canal with the Union Canal, and the only one of its kind in the world. Sailing the aquaduct at the top of the WheelBuilt to help regenerate the canal network and to link Glasgow with Edinburgh via the waterway, it is an impressive feat of engineering even if some people do think it’s ugly. Canal boat outside the visitor centre at the Falkirk WheelGranted, it has weathered quite a lot, and doesn’t look as grand as it does in pictures from when it opened, but it was still worthy of a look. Falkirk Wheel and aquaductThere is a large visitor centre next to it, and my parents and I enjoyed a wander round the large gift shop and a meal in the cafe whilst we waited for our boat trip. Canal boats parked up at the Falkirk WheelTwo canal boats alternate at taking passengers onto the wheel and up to the top, passing through a tunnel and out the other side before making a return trip. Reflections at the Falkirk WheelUnfortunately, the heavens opened whilst we were on this trip, so we didn’t get to experience much in the way of views at the top. But it was a pleasant and relaxing hour, as well as time well spent with my parents who I only get to see every few years.












That night I met my best friends for a night out in Glasgow. In April, I enjoyed going to see The Proclaimers, a Scottish duo, on their New Zealand tour in Christchurch. So when I found out that Ladyhawke, a musician from New Zealand, was touring the UK, I thought it only fitting to see her in Glasgow. One of Glasgow’s best known music venues is King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, which has a bar downstairs, and an intimate music venue upstairs. It had been many years since I’d last been there, and these days, thanks to a back injury in 2013, I prefer to enjoy gigs in a seated arena where I don’t get jostled or spend hours on my feet. The support acts as well as Ladyhawke herself were fantastic, but I felt old amongst the younger music lovers, feeling sore from being on my feet throughout the whole gig. Aside from having to stand, King Tut’s has seen some major names play there, and it is worth checking their gig guide for any stay in the city.

It was obvious the following day that my run of good weather had well and truly ended. Having lived in Aberdeen in the north-east for 5.5years, I had friends that I wanted to catch up with, and setting off on the 3hr drive north from Glasgow, it wasn’t long till I hit torrential rain that refused to give up. It’s never a good sign when your car’s wiper blades struggle to keep up with the force of horizontal rain that is lashing at your windscreen, and this went on for the majority of the second half of the drive. The Granite City that sparkles in the sunshine, looked dour and grey on such a miserable day. I flitted from friend to friend, unfortunately short of time to spend as much time with most as I would have liked to. I got a beautiful surprise from some dear friends in Aberdeenshire who had put a lot of effort into a surprise den for me, and after many hours catching up, I went to bed under the stars.

The rain continued in Aberdeenshire the following morning, and although lighter, went on into the afternoon. I managed to get lost on some back roads trying to take a short cut to the coast, ending up much further north than I’d planned, and nearly an hour late for meeting some more friends. I was in Scotland in the run up to the ‘Brexit’ referendum and it was an interesting time to be back in the country, with lots of opinions and discussion abound. I was intrigued and curious listening to my friends put forth their varied opinions on the matter, amongst catching up with everyone on the movement of their lives since I had left.

Despite the thick clouds and showers, my friend had dogs needing a walk, and I have a favourite spot north of Aberdeen to go seal watching, so we drove to Newburgh beach to face the elements. Grey seal in the Ythan riverLuckily we managed a dry spell to walk along the south bank of the river Ythan to the North Sea, where curious seals swam close by, eyeing us up as the river’s current moved them along. Eider ducks at Newburgh beachThere are always seals hauled up on the north bank of the river mouth, an area that is a nature reserve where people and dogs can’t go. Seals hauled up on the beach at NewburghBut on this occasion, the numbers of seals were incredible. Seals, seals and more sealsIn all my visits when I used to live there, I had never seen this many and we watched them for a while before the return of the rain.













Footdee in AberdeenI couldn’t leave Aberdeen behind without a drive down the promenade, a place where I spent many an evening walking its length listening to the crashing waves on the shore. Footdee, AberdeenAt the southern end near the harbour is Footdee, a historic fishing village which I had a quick wander around before setting off on the long journey south. I took a detour to Kirkcaldy in the Kingdom of Fife to visit another friend before following the Firth of Forth west and then onwards to Glasgow.




Culzean Country GardensWith my hire car due back at lunchtime, I set off early the next morning to head south to visit a place that I hadn’t been to since I was a school kid. Cottage in the Country GardensNestled amongst bush on the Ayrshire coast on the west of Scotland, Culzean Castle and Country Gardens is a popular addition to the National Trust of Scotland. Fountain by Culzean CastleBuilt in the 18th century, the castle sits on a clifftop and is one of Scotland’s most photographed castles. Panorama at Culzean CastleIt even features on one of the Scottish bank notes. I took a wander around the gardens first which open to the public ahead of the castle. It was threatening to be a scorching day so it was actually a nice reprieve to step inside out of the sun and take a look around.










Stairwell in Culzean CastleInside the castle, there are resemblances to a stately home, and it was built for the Marquess of Ailsa, clan chief of the Kennedy Clan. Ceiling detail in Culzean CastleReputed to be haunted, I wandered around unawares enjoying the views out to the sea through the large windows. Harp in Culzean CastleBack outside, a path lead down to a stony beach near where the entrance to some sea caves at the base of the castle lay. Kitchen hearth in Culzean CastleNear a gas house, another beach gave a prospect back towards the castle as it perched on the cliff.Sea cave below Culzean castle

Culzean Castle courtyard

Culzean Castle on the cliffs































Stables and courtyard next to Culzean CastleI had unfortunately picked a day where several bus loads of school kids had come on an end-of-year visit, and every inch of grass around the old stables was covered in children noisily chasing each other. Culzean Castle through the archwayI left them to it and looped back through the old archway and across the bridge to the gardens below the castle where the sun now illuminated the scene. Culzean CastleHere it was more peaceful and deserted but before long it was time to make the drive north back to Glasgow, returning my rental car ahead of the next adventure.

Ben Nevis

I followed the A82 south for an hour from Invergarry, all the while looking to the mountains as I passed, all of them hiding their summits in the clouds. I’d lived in Scotland for over 29 years of my life, but it took moving to the other side of the world to make me keen to summit Scotland’s highest peak, Ben Nevis. At 4,414ft (1346m) it far surpasses the minimum requirement of 3000ft to make it a Munro. Munro bagging is a popular past-time for serious hikers and hobbyists alike. I didn’t really get into hiking until I was 25, by then living in Aberdeen in the north-east of the country. I acquainted myself with the eastern edge of the Cairngorm National Park, and whilst I did a good bit of wilderness hiking with my then partner, up peaks that I have no idea what altitude they went to, I’ve only knowingly hiked one Munro, Lochnagar, and this was a favourite hike to head off to on a good day.

So when I took the turn off at the edge of Fort William up through Glen Nevis and into the car park, I was in two minds about what to do. This was my only chance on my trip to get up there, but I wouldn’t normally hike a mountain unless there is a view at the end of it. I popped into the visitor centre to ask their advice. The girl at the desk could only guess where the cloud base was, and advised that the section within the cloud was dangerous with poor visibility, as was the summit due to the potential for losing the path and walking off a cliff edge. Having come this far, I decided to hike up to the cloud base to atleast get some exercise, and make a judgement about going higher based on what I could see. I got chatting to a couple in the car park who had never been up either, and they laughed at me when I said I probably wouldn’t summit because of the warnings. I wondered at their foolishness, or cockiness when they seemed less prepared than me for a mountain hike. There have been concerns in the past that the hike has become rather touristy with people attempting it rather unprepared, and not giving it its due. I could see how this could be the case, and have seen similar issues in the mountains of New Zealand.

From the pay and display car park at the visitors centre, the long ascent starts as an easy riverside walk downstream to a bridge over the river Nevis. On the far side of the river it backtracks before a sign points up between a wall and a fence where it meets the path at the Ben Nevis Inn. Despite the weather forecast, it was a very busy route with a steady stream of people visible ahead and behind me. Early on, the ascent began and as I tracked my way up the hillside and along the glen I could see the clouds swirling around the nearby mountain tops. Even being overcast, it was a beautiful view up and down the glen.

On route to the Ben Nevis Inn

The rocky path going up the hillside

Looking back towards Fort William

Glen Nevis

By the time the path from the youth hostel joined the track and a couple of zig-zags broke up the monotony of the climb, I was already feeling the strain of 2 weeks over-indulgence on my road trip. Despite a southern summer of hiking, I was not as fit as I could be. The track is quite uneven and rocky under foot. Some parts of this lower section are a bit uncomfortable as a result, and many footsteps have eroded smoother paths at the side in an effort to avoid this. After crossing a footbridge, the path curves round the hillside to start the ascent up Red Burn valley, and it now became glaringly obvious that the summit was nowhere to be seen within the cloud base.

The meeting of two paths

Footbridge over a small gully

Looking back after turning up Red Burn valley (the end of the West Highland Way is visible across Glen Nevis)

Hiking up Red Burn valley, the summit is hidden in the clouds

Having never hiked it before, I had no idea how much altitude was invisible, but I was resolute in my decision to hike to the cloud base and make a judgement call from there. I joined the steady stream of hikers who zig-zagged up the new path route to a low plateau where the dark waters of Loch Meall an t-Suidhe came into view. Several people had stopped here for a snack or a breather, and some track maintenance was being done on the section that passes by the loch’s side. After this short flat section, the path climbs again, meeting a path that heads left round the north face. Turning right, I had to stop almost immediately to kit up as a drizzle was starting. Behind me there were still many people on route up, and as I looked at the path ahead of me, there were several people on their way down.

Loch Meall an t-Suidhe

The start of the rain with the summit in the cloud

Looking back down on the loch

The route snakes round the contours of the mountainside, crossing the Red Burn before eventually hitting the start of the real ascent. From here upwards, the path zig-zags up the slope, changing early on from a well marked path to a large boulder field and a narrowing of the path. After just a couple of bends I reached the cloud level, and spurred on by the now steady stream of descenders, I pushed into it to assess the visibility. I could see about 3-4m ahead and behind and decided that I’d keep going up until I felt uncomfortable with the lack of visibility.

With no point of reference, the hike became a long trudge upwards across first boulders and then scree. I lost track of how often it curved left then right then left again. There was a constant appearance of figures emerging from the gloom ahead of me and I had no idea how high I was climbing. I just followed the vague figures in front of me, and took reassurance from the regular stone piles that denoted the path route.

I came upon a junction and turned right like everyone else, and a little further on I became aware of a large group of people emerging from the cloud. I was surprised to find them standing at the bottom of a large patch of snow. The path led right up to it, and I paused briefly to watch people gingerly pick their way up, several people slipping on the way up and down. The main ream of footprints seemed to have resulted in an overly packed icy zone, so I tried to pick a path through fresher snow, still briefly sliding a few times before reaching the top. From the top of the snow, the bottom was barely visible through the cloud.

After the snow, the path continued to climb, although the gradient began to level off, and I surmised I must be near the summit. But emerging from the cloud was stone cairn after stone cairn, and still the path continued. Eventually I had to ask a descending hiker how close I was, and was relieved to discover I’d reach the summit in another 10 minutes. The visibility remained the same, and with no other reference than the regular stream of fellow hikers and multitude of stone cairns I pressed on wondering if I’d know when I got there.

But despite the lack of visibility, the summit became very obvious when I finally reached it. Emerging from the gloom, the ruins of an old observatory appeared, and behind that a rudimentary hut shelter raised up on boulders. I looked for an obvious summit marker, and soon found two of them, the higher one up on a plinth with a queue of people waiting to have their photo taken. It was cold and damp, but there was no way I was summiting Scotland’s highest mountain and not getting a photo to prove it.

At the summit of Ben Nevis

The summit shelter and observatory are just visible through the cloud

The other summit marker

Some hikers make use of the summit shelter

I didn’t want to wander too far with no idea where the gullies or cliffs were so I stuck to the obvious landmarks. Sheltered spots were in high demand, and I couldn’t believe how many people were out hiking that day in such poor weather conditions. I hunkered down in as sheltered a spot as I could find free, leaning against the wall of the old observatory, to enjoy my lunch. It wasn’t long until I was joined by other hungry hikers and I noted several that had come up with their dogs. It was a convivial gathering of like-minded people, but the coldness and drizzle meant that nobody wanted to hang around longer than necessary to refuel.

Ruins of the observatory

The doorway of the old observatory

Just past the observatory is an official cairn with a plaque denoting it as a war memorial. Once more I followed the figures disappearing into the clouds, able to make out the well trodden track across the many boulders of the summit plateau. Finding myself back at the snow bank I watched as nearly every single person on the descent fell over. I decided that there was no better way for it, and swiftly sat down on my butt and pushed off, tobogganing gleefully down to the bottom with ease. Further on, I kept an eye out for the junction, knowing that this would be the one place I could go awry in the poor visibility. Thankfully there was still a steady stream of ascenders and right where I thought it was, I got confirmation from some figures emerging below me from the cloud.

Cairn with plaque

Heading across the boulders near the summit plateau

I felt an overwhelming sense of achievement as I picked my way back down the zig-zag, still with no reference to gauge how far I was travelling. I was in a world of boulders and scree, the mountainside barren around me. I noted that the cloud base had dropped lower whilst I’d been at the summit, as I returned to the wider path near the base of the zig-zags and couldn’t see the loch.

Tracking across a scree slope

Picking a way through the boulders

The loch hidden from view

Finally the surrounding mountains broke through and I could see Glen Nevis again. The loch reappeared, and shortly after, the relentless zig-zags came to an end. I crossed back over Red Burn and at the junction by the loch, I looked up at the summit to see nothing but cloud. Retracing my steps past the loch and down into Red Burn valley, I was able to take in the scenery a bit better. The burn itself tumbles down the mountainside in a succession of waterfalls from high up the slopes of Ben Nevis.

Panorama below the clouds

Descending Ben Nevis

Crossing Red Burn

Loch Meall an t-Suidhe

Land of clouds

Red burn cascades from the clouds

Red Burn

I didn’t realise it at the time, but looking across Glen Nevis to the far side of the valley, I was staring at the final descent of the West Highland Way, a multi-day hike that I would be walking in a few weeks time. As the valley opened up in front of me again, I trudged past the turn off for the youth hostel and made my way to the Ben Nevis Inn where several hikers sat outside in the beer garden enjoying a drink. Down the hill, and back along the river, I crossed the bridge back to the car park and eagerly took off my hiking boots ready for the long drive back to Glasgow. There are varying reports about the time needed to summit Ben Nevis, and had it been a better day I would have spent a lot more time at the summit. In the end, I summited in 3 hrs and descended in 2.5hrs, satisfied to knock off the King of all Munros.

Glen Nevis

Ben Nevis Inn

Bridge over the river Ness

North Coast 500 – Wester Ross

I remember when I was young, sitting by the waterfront at Ullapool with my family enjoying some fish and chips, when a wasp flew inside my brother’s can of Irn Bru. This is one of a few memories from this place from my childhood, so when I reached Ullapool at the end of a long day driving from the north coast, I immediately felt happy. View from Ullapool's front streetThe sun was shining and the town was bustling. Ullapool's front streetAfter a much needed dinner and cider, I took a wander along the shoreline and round the coast past the caravan park to look for otters. Evening sunshine from UllapoolInstead I found midges: lots of them, and they drove me so crazy I had to abandon my plans to watch the sunset and head indoors.







Caledonian MacBrayne's MV Loch Seaforth berthed at UllapoolThe next morning was a little overcast, and after watching the comings and goings of the CalMac ferry making preparations for its sailing to Stornoway on the island of Lewis, I boarded a little boat at the pier bound for a cruise around the Summer Isles. Inside the seacaveA small archipelago sitting near the end of Loch Broom, the sea loch that laps on Ullapool’s shores, there are a few tour options to explore them via different company’s trips. We first went in search of sea eagles, drawing a blank, before crossing the loch to visit a sea cave and then moving on to motor around the islands themselves. We were briefly joined by a lone harbour porpoise, but there was plenty of bird life to grab attention for the rest of the sailing.



Frigate moored at Tanera MorTanera Mor is the largest of the island group, and our tour anchored here to give us some time ashore. Hiking Tanera MorClose to the pier, a post office-come-coffee shop provided sustenance for those who didn’t want to wander, but I made a beeline for the rough track that headed up the hill to a viewing rock which gave a great view over the rest of the island and the smaller islands around it. Summer Isles viewed from Tanera MorThe sailing back to Ullapool gave more opportunity to appreciate the rock structures of the region with more red sandstone slabs evident, and plenty of Lewis schist on display, similar to what I’d driven through the day before in the North West Geopark. Tanera Mor from the viewpoint with Scottish mainland on horizonIn a little cove we found some seals hauled out to dry, and as we headed back towards Ullapool, the sky tried hard to shift its cloudy cover.Returning to Ullapool















Falls of MeasachAfter a delicious lunch at the West Coast Deli on a back street of Ullapool, I got back in my car and rejoined the North Coast 500 to continue my journey south. The A835 hugs the banks of Loch Broom, and then at Corrieshalloch Gorge, the NC500 turns onto the A832. Corrieshalloch GorgeNear this junction, a car park leads to a walk down to the Falls of Measach, a 46metre high ribbon cascade deep within the trees within the gorge. An easy-to-follow track leads to a few different view points of the falls and the head of Loch Broom.


Heading west, the road winds past Little Loch Broom, another sea loch, before joining the coastline near Gruinard Island, then cutting across a finger of land to Loch Ewe. Views on the North Coast 500It was overcast again, so I passed through Poolewe and arrived at Gairloch, my home for the next couple of nights. Loch EweThis had been a place that I’d struggled to find available budget accommodation in, eventually finding a bunkhouse at the Gairloch Caravan & Camping park in Strath. What I hadn’t realised was that I had booked the bunkhouse for sole use, which meant I had my own kitchen, bathroom and tv. After all the previous nights in hostels, I was actually more than happy with this arrangement, and as some rain started to fall, I settled for a quiet night in.

Due to a misunderstanding with a booking I’d made, my boat trip for the following morning was rescheduled till the day after. It was starting to feel like my good fortune with the weather had come to an end. Red PointOn another overcast day, I took the coast road past Badachro to Red Point at the end of the road. Red Point beachHere, the sand is a distinctive red colour, and I had the beach to myself to watch the bird life in peace. I was in no hurry, but eventually other people started to arrive, so I climbed the large sand dune behind the beach for a vantage point before heading off. Red Point from the top of the duneI stopped at another red sandy beach at Port Henderson, and then at Badachro, a place I remembered from another childhood holiday. BadachroAside from the midges, it was peaceful, the natural harbour providing a safe haven for boats to moor, and the waves were ever so gentle on the shore.Badachro




Flower at Inverewe GardensAfter lunch in Charlestown, I headed north a short distance past the little village of Poolewe to Inverewe Gardens, a Botanical Gardens belonging to the National Trust for Scotland. Flower at Inverewe GardensI hadn’t planned on going here, having been here before, but with my plans changed due to missing the boat trip, I found myself enjoying wandering around the woodland and various plant sections all the while overlooking Loch Ewe. Gate at Inverewe GardensDespite the grey skies, it was a beautiful place to be with the flowers in full bloom for summer, and lots of bird life both in the water and amongst the trees. Loch EweIt was a popular place to be that day but it didn’t feel crowded and still retained its peacefulness.Inverewe Gardens by Loch Ewe





Back in Gairloch, there is a beautiful stretch of beach at the head of Loch Gairloch. GairlochPast the church and up the hill, a small car park leads to a lookout and a path leading down to the sandy shore. GairlochWhilst not as red as the beach at Red Point, it still has a slight red tinge to it, and there was a mix of locals and tourists enjoying it when I got there in the evening. Mountain near GairlochI walked its length, and did a bit of rock hopping at the far end before cutting past the golf course back to the road and back up the hill to my car. Gairloch beachIt is such a calming place to be, with the coast well sheltered from rough seas by the deep natural harbour.Gairloch beach




My original plan had been to head off south first thing in the morning and have an enjoyable drive south past Torridon to Applecross, traversing the famous Bealach na Ba mountain pass and on to Plockton. Gairloch from the caravan parkHowever, my rescheduled boat trip wasn’t till lunchtime, and having to check out of the bunkhouse, I found myself forging new plans and sacrificing a section of the NC500. TorridonWith the morning at my beckoning, I left early to head down Loch Maree to Kinlochewe and took the single-track road to Torridon. Loch TorridonThis is a stunning drive, surrounded by mountains on either side. TorridonTorridon is just a small village beautifully set on the banks of Loch Torridon, and being a Sunday the place was shut up and deserted. Red deer farmI took a circular walk along the shoreline, enjoying the calls of the various sea birds. Near a bird shelter, the path cut up to a red deer farm, where the deer sat chewing the cud, not stirring as I passed. Where the path reached the end of the village at its junction with the NC500, an information centre gives information on local walks, flora and fauna. After a look around, I crossed the road to see a wild red deer doe break cover and immediately run away from me, disappearing into the trees as quickly as it had appeared.







Loch MareeBacktracking the single track road towards Kinlochewe, I stopped at a couple of places along Loch Maree. Loch MareeHad I had more time, I would have relaxed here for a while. As it was, I took a short walk along the shoreline to admire the scenery before making my way back to Gairloch. Charlestown harbour, GairlochGrabbing a quick bite to eat, I was then ready and waiting for my trip. I’m a massive cetacean enthusiast, as eager to see whales and dolphins in the wild as I am to travel around the globe, so it was a no brainer that I was going to go whale watching in one of Scotland’s best cetacean viewing locations. I’d been following the viewing reports of the Hebridean Whale Cruises‘ Facebook page, and it had been a very good May and June, so I was hopeful for a fruitful day.

When I arrived, our skipper told us that humpback sightings had been good but it meant a long trip out to try and see them. I’ve seen humpback whales many times before in South Africa, Australia, and the Galapagos Islands, but it is very uncommon to see them in Scottish waters so everybody was more than ok about the long trip to get there. Kitted up in thick waterproof floaters, we set off on the zodiac boat, and I have to admit I got immensely bored and frustrated with what felt like a never-ending ride north. Gannets circle above some dolphinsI don’t even know where we ended up, and whilst I’m not sure of exact timings, I think it was a good bit over an hour before finally we slowed down near some small islands where gannet activity signalled the presence of fish. Humpback whale fin slappingWe came to a stop, waiting and looking around, and finally we got our reward: common dolphins, white-beaked dolphins, diving gannets, and finally, a lone humpback whale. The fish seemed quite deep so surface activity was intermittent and well scattered, but whilst other days had had better views, it was still enough to feel satisfied. Common dolphins are my favourite species of dolphin, and I hadn’t seen them for 11 years, so in the end, I was more stoked about seeing them than anything else.

It was into the evening by the time we returned to Gairloch and now I had a long drive ahead of me to reach my pre-booked accommodation. I didn’t linger, leaving Gairloch and Loch Maree behind and leaving the NC500 at Kinlochewe. This time, instead of turning towards Torridon, I stayed on the A832 before turning south on the A890 at Achnasheen and followed it along the southern shore of Loch Carron before turning off to Plockton. Ice cream at PlocktonIt was a long detour that I could have skipped but Plockton is another place from my childhood that gives me nothing but happy memories, so I was reluctant to miss a return visit. Tide out at PlocktonBy now hungry, I got fish and chips followed by the best whippy ice cream I can ever remember eating, and fought the midges away whilst wandering around the shore. PlocktonWhen the tide is out, it is possible to walk out to a small island via a muddy natural causeway, and I remember fighting off the large, nasty clegs (horseflies) here when I was younger. Island near PlocktonThankfully there were none to be seen, only some stubborn midges.Plockton at low tide

Plockton at low tide











I wished I was staying here the night as it is such a beautiful and relaxing place with opportunities to go kayaking and on boat trips. However, I’d booked my location where it was for a reason, as I had to get to Fort William early the next day. So reluctantly, I left Plockton behind, and managed to waste a bit of precious time by missing the correct turn-off I had needed to take. Eilean Donan CastleReaching Loch Alsh in the lowering sun, I joined the A87, pausing briefly at Eilean Donan Castle, one of Scotland’s most photographed castles. The road snaked past first Loch Cluanie, then branched down the side of Loch Loyne before twisting to follow the northern shore of Loch Garry. Loch GarryThis was my last stop, where a particular viewpoint allows a vista west over Loch Garry which from this very location, is shaped as the outline of Scotland itself. I ended up having to wait here a while as a wide-load with escort made its way up the hill, and I was rather disappointed to discover that the trees occluded a large part of the view so it was difficult to photograph the image that I’d seen loads online. Perhaps there is a walkway through the trees to see it better, but by now near 9pm, I was tired and wanted to walk no further.

When the back log of traffic cleared, I drove down the hill to Invergarry and checked into one of the best hostels I’ve ever stayed at, the Saddle Mountain hostel. Nestled amongst the trees up a track from the main road, it was recently renovated, and the hosts were exceedingly welcoming. Whilst I didn’t get the best of sleeps due to noisy roommates, I was greeted in the morning by the male owner acting as barrista, serving up fresh brewed coffee. I got chatting with him about my plans for the day ahead, and he voiced exactly what I had feared. With the previous two days being overcast, I had noticed that most of the mountain tops had been hidden by low cloud. Following the same road south, I was on route to Fort William for the one and only opportunity that I had on this trip to summit Ben Nevis, Scotland’s (and the UK’s) highest peak. The forecast for low cloud on the mountains remained and my host advised me not to go up. Gutted but hopeful, I set off for Fort William wondering what I’d find when I got there.

North Coast 500 – Sutherland

Northlink’s MV Hamnavoe ploughed through the morning sea fog, finally breaking free as the north coast of Scotland’s mainland grew near. Approaching the Scottish north coast on the MV HamnavoeI was sad to leave the Orkney Islands behind, but excited for the next part of my road trip. It was another brilliantly sunny day away from the fog, and as with each day before, there was so much to see. Thurso seen from ScrabsterDocking at Scrabster, near Thurso on the Caithness coast, it was just a short drive to rejoin the main road which has been branded the North Coast 500. A week had passed since I was last on this route, and heading west from here, I was covering new territory for me, having never been further west of Thurso or further north than Ullapool before.



I took a wee nosy at Dounreay, Scotland’s only nuclear power plant. Having been decomissioned in 1994, it is undergoing the long clean-up process necessitated of a nuclear reactor, and I paused to look at it before heading on. I was keen to enjoy the coastline that I would be following, and it is littered with coves, beaches and cliffs to ogle over. Melvich BeachCrossing into the region of Sutherland, I stopped first at the stunning Melvich beach. The sand had a slight red tinge to it, and I had the place to myself, listening to the surf as I walked its length and back whilst sipping on an iced coffee. It was an utter pleasure.

West of there was a turnoff to Strathy Point, a promontory of coastline jutting north, and a recognised spot for watching sea life. It is a long and windy road that terminates at a farm, from where the farm track allows foot access across grazing land to the lighthouse. Strathy Point lighthouseI reached the lighthouse, and after walking around it, saw with dismay a thick wall of fog moving towards the shore: the sea fog from Orkney had caught up with me. It wasn’t long before the temperature dropped and the coastline was completely shrouded, my visibility dropping dramatically. Fog rolling in at Strathy PointI wandered around the site, trying to kill time in the hopes that it would lift again, but after sitting for 20 mins listening to the silence and getting cold, I decided to cut my losses and move on. There would be no dolphin spotting there that day. I was dismayed by the change in weather given that the rest of my drive for that day was following the coastline. Thankfully, by the time I’d driven back to the North Coast 500, I was back in the sunshine again, and most of my drive remained so, with the fog hugging the coastline just to my right as I worked my way west.

Moorland in SutherlandLike my drive north to John O’Groats the week prior, large sections of the road were dominated with the bright yellow flowers of gorse bushes before the terrain became wilder and the hills of the west began to come into view. Gorse in bloom above BettyhillThe road (the A836 in this section) climbed up over wild rolling hills before dropping back down to near sea level at Bettyhill, a small settlement with another beautiful beach. Sections of the road around here are single track, and following the North Coast 500 from here in an anti-clockwise direction, the road regularly switches from dual direction to single track. Entrance to Bettyhill beachOn such a sunny summer’s day, there was a steady stream of traffic in both directions, as well as plenty of distracting scenery so concentration is definitely required when following this route. Bettyhill beachThere were a few more people at Bettyhill’s beach than there had been at Melvich, but it was still easy to get peace and quiet and soak up the rural vibe despite this.


As the beach was within a deep cove, it was easy to forget the fog, and especially as the road cut inland for the next section, winding its way through the countryside. Fog broaching inland at TongueBy the time I reached the village of Tongue, I was eager for lunch, and up on a hillside as it was, I could see large fingers of fog nearby, trying to creep its way inland. I stopped for refreshments at one of the two hotels in Tongue before following the road down the hillside to where a causeway crossed a large estuary. Causeway near TongueLooking out to sea, the fog threatened to come closer, hiding the entrance to the estuary, and inland some mountains were visible in the distance, whilst Tongue itself was hidden amongst the trees and a finger of fog.

After driving across some stunningly barren landscapes, I was taken aback on coming around a headland to be presented with the beauty of Loch Eriboll. Loch EribollA sea loch, the road joins its banks near a small peninsula that juts into the loch where a handy pull-in allows a safe place to stop and take photographs. There was a regular flow of traffic but yet it was still easy to feel a million miles away from anywhere, and I couldn’t believe that I was seeing these places for the first time despite spending most of my life in this country. Further round the loch, the scenery continued to distract, although there wasn’t always the opportunity to stop, especially on the far bank where, after looping around the head of the loch, the road became a single track road as it wound its way along the far side. There were plenty of cyclists to negotiate, but as I was in no hurry, they were a good excuse to slow down and enjoy the scenery.

My bed for the next couple of nights was at the basic YHA hostel in Durness next to Smoo Cave. The village of Durness is quite spread out along the road in sections, and I reached here mid-afternoon to discover it was blanketed in the fog that had been chasing me all day. It felt so much colder in the fog, but this didn’t stop me from exploring the cave which is one of the region’s most famous attractions. The entrance to Smoo CaveIts largest main chamber has been eroded by the actions of the sea, making it the largest sea cave entrance in Britain, however the smaller chambers to the rear have been created by freshwater running through. Looking out from the insideIt is a steep descent via a lot of stairs to reach the sea level where a river trickles out of the cavernous mouth. The fog enveloped everything giving an eerie feel to the scene. It was a busy place though with people wandering around inside the cave and the paths around it.




Inside the second chamberI stood in the large cavern for a while looking around before following the wooden constructed pathway into a second chamber where a pool of water sits at the base of a waterfall. Walking deep inside the caveFrom here, a local man named Colin runs a short trip on a dinghy across this pool and out the other side where a walk up a small stream leads to a limestone waterfall, a feature of caves that is always impressive to see, no matter how big or small. On the way back across the pool on the dinghy, we pulled up near the base of the waterfall where it was possible to look upwards to the hole in the roof where the river entered. Limestone waterfall deep within Smoo CaveColin told us about his theories regarding hidden chambers and passages behind the wall of rock, and he has now been given permission to do some digging where he is hopeful to find another chamber. Afterwards, I climbed up the other side of the gully, and wandered around the clifftop paths before returning to the hostel for the evening.

I had an early rise next morning to make the short drive to Keoldale to the west of Durness to catch the first boat trip of the day. With booking not an option, it was first come, first served, and with only one chance to do it, I was determined to make sure I made it in time. Keoldale with the Cape Wrath boatIn the end, I was the first one there, with the boat being later than I’d thought due to the tide times. But there was quite a queue when it came time to climb aboard, and with a bit of disorganised chaos, there was a few disgruntled people who got turned away. Whilst the fog was gone, it was a cloudy day, and the little tin boat took us across the Kyle of Durness whilst a drizzle started. We loaded onto the minibuses at the other side, and after a bit more disorganised chaos, we set off on the hour-long 11 mile (18km) trundle to Cape Wrath, the most north-western tip of mainland Britain.

Cape Wrath MOD land107 square miles of barren moorland straddles the cape, most of which is owned by the Ministry of Defence and regularly used for bombing target practice. The only road here was built in 1828 and has seen little maintenance since, so the bus rarely made it out of 2nd gear. It is a wild place, boggy off the track and pockmarked with holes from target practice. During its use, the skies of nearby Sutherland ring out with the sound of high speed fighter jets. The sole inhabitants of the region are the couple that run the cafe at the lighthouse, which marks the end of a hiking trail, the Cape Wrath Trail, a 200 mile walk from Fort William to the south.

Cape Wrath coastlineEventually we trundled into the parking zone next to the lighthouse and were given an hour to have a look around and be back on board for the return journey. Cape Wrath lighthouseThe wild weather meant there wasn’t a lot of bird activity, but the cliffs were still steep and dramatic none-the-less. Cape Wrath coastlineThe lighthouse itself is of a similar style to others on this coastline, and like many was built by Robert Stevenson of the famous Stevenson family (which includes the author Robert Louis Stevenson). There was enough to look at to fill the hour, and then it was time to make the slow trundle back to the pier and the waiting boat back to Keoldale.







Hot chocolate from Cocoa MountainWhilst still cloudy, it was only early afternoon. I took respite from the wind at Cocoa Mountain, a chocolatier in the unlikely location of Balnakeil. Their hot chocolate was made from pure liquid chocolate, and it was just what I needed to warm me up and fuel me for the afternoon’s walk. Church ruins at Faraid HeadNear here, by the ruins of a small church, a car park denotes the pedestrian entrance onto Faraid Head, a peninsula with some stunning beaches and dunes. One of the beaches at Faraid HeadIt is fantastic territory for walking with a path leading up the western beach and cutting through the dunes and eventually reaching cliffs to the north and east. Beach panorama at Faraid HeadIn the north-eastern corner, another Ministry of Defence area is fenced off out of bounds, but near here, the landscape rises into dramatic cliffs which turned out to be prime puffin watching territory. Sand dunes on Faraid Head

Looking back over the peninsula or Faraid Head


Faraid Head coastline with Cape Wrath behindI’d by now had ample chance to spot puffins on cliffs at Westray and the Brough of Birsay but this was the first time I’d seen them on the water’s surface, and there were lots of them. Atlantic puffinI never tire of seeing these birds, to me they are just stunning, and I had all the hours of the day to sit lying on the cliff edge watching their lives unfold below me.

I took my time walking back, enjoying the view over to Cape Wrath and the beautiful beaches and dunes which by now were getting quiet. Faraid Head across to Cape WrathI stopped at the tourist centre in Durness where a path leads down to Sango Sands, another beach, where I had an evening wander before dinner at the nearby pub.Sango Sands, Durness

Distance marker, Durness











Smoo Cave sits below the North Coast 500The following morning, I made the short walk back to Smoo Cave which I was able to enjoy both fog free and people free. Standing above the entrance of Smoo CaveWithout the fog, it was easier to get a sense of perspective which had been slightly misleading with the reduced visibility the day I had arrived. The sheer size of the cave entrance was impressive when compared to the buildings that sat above it. I followed the path to where the river meets the sea, then back up and around to where the river flows across the moorland and down into the cave. Keoldale looking across to Cape WrathOnly as I was leaving were other people starting to arrive, and I set off on the long drive south, stopping first at Keoldale where, without the rush of catching the boat, I had the time to take in the stunning view.

Passing lochs and crossing rolling hills and moorland, the North Coast 500 turns south towards Ullapool in Wester Ross. I had a deadline to meet with a boat tour booked at lunchtime, but that still left me plenty of time to take a few side roads off the main road. On the road to KinlochbervieFirstly, I headed off to Kinlochbervie, a fishing village at the head of Loch Inchard. On the drive to KinlochbervieThere’s not much to the village itself other than the large harbour, but it’s a scenic drive there and back. Soon, the road enters the North West Geopark, a region of geological significance. Driving through the North West GeoparkA mountainous region with interesting rock formations and full of lochans, there is constantly something to catch the eye. Tarbet looking out to Handa IslandI took another detour to Tarbet, a cute little village at the end of the road where the boat to Handa island leaves. With a bit better forward planning, I would have had time to go out to the island which is a Scottish Wildlife Trust nature reserve. As it was, I simply sat on the shore in the sunshine and watched the boat leave before returning to the main road.

Stony beach at ScourieStopping briefly at Scourie, the road continued through the geopark before dropping down to the bridge that splits Loch a’Chairn Bhain and Loch Gleann Dubh at Kylesku. ScouriePreviously this crossing could only be made by boat, but in 1984 the bridge was opened and it’s quite distinctive. Gorse in bloom north of Kylesku bridgePulling in at the Kylesku hotel, I was just in time for the 1pm trip that goes up Loch Gleann Dubh to a view point of Britain’s tallest waterfall. Kylesku bridge spanning the two lochsAlong the way, we got the closest to wild seals that I’ve ever gotten, as there were several hauled up on the banks and dotted amongst the small islands within the loch. Common sealHeading back up the loch, the sunlight created the most amazing reflections on the water of the surrounding mountain sides until we reached a large red scar in the cliff which denotes a fault line in the earth’s crust. Common sealsWe sailed under the Kylesku bridge whilst jellyfish floating around us, before heading back to the pier.Britain's highest waterfall, Eas a' Chual Aluinn

Loch Gleann Dubh

Reflections on Loch Gleann Dubh

Visible fault line on the banks of Loch Gleann Dubh

Sailing under Kylesku bridge

Moon jellyfish

Panorama from Kylesku





































Ardvreck CastleI was excited to stumble across the ruins of Ardvreck castle on the bank of Loch Assynt, as I didn’t know of its existence and wasn’t expecting it. Loch Assynt panoramaNearby a group of European tourists practiced sword fighting, and along the road a group of geology students were studying some rocks near the road. Ardvreck Castle on the banks of Loch AssyntThe whole day had been packed with glorious scenery, and Loch Assynt was no different. Ruins of Ardvreck CastleBuilt around 1590, it is in quite a state of disrepair with only the remnants of one tower remaining which belies its originally large size. I hung around for as long as I had peace before an ever increasing crowd of people trickled in.







The North Coast 500 continues south on the A837 before turning onto the A835, signposted for Ullapool. Lochan an Ais viewed from Knockan CragMy last stop in Sutherland was Knockan Crag, one of the main stops within the North West Geopark. Sculpture at Knockan CragHere, the Moine Thrust fault line runs through, and it was the first thrust fault to be discovered in the world, initially confusing scientists. An interpretation building gives information on the studies in the late 19th and early 20th century, and from here a walk zig zags up the cliff face past the Moine Thrust and some sculptures, up to the top where you can walk along the clifftop and back down again at the other end. Unfortunately, the bus load of geology students arrived immediately after me and I was given little peace or space to read the information boards or view the sculptures on the way up. They didn’t follow me all the way to the top though, so I was able to admire the view over Lochan An Ais in silence. From here, there was just another section of road to complete before crossing into Wester Ross, and reaching Ullapool where a nice cold cider awaited.

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