Taking a Lap Around Scotland

My ~$10 Ryanair flight from Dublin to Glasgow was as fast and easy as it was cheap, in no time I was outside the airport with my thumb out ready to see what Scotland would bring.

After one short ride from a woman with her curious daughter I was downtown a short walk from the brewery. Of course a brewery, my default landing spot in any city, but this one in particulars head brewer was also my Couchsurfing host.

I met her right away, but she was working so I only had time to ask her what her favorite beer was and have a pint poured. This pint didn't last long, as her roommate just then swung through and offered me a ride back to their place.

I wound up spending a few days there in Glasgow before getting moving to the countryside. I wandered the city on my own the first day, one of the highlights being a Brew Dog tap room, the most well known brewery in the country and known worldwide for making some great and even epic beers.

One of these epic beers is called "The End of History" and clocks in at 55% alcohol thanks to a process of ice distilling the beer, because of this there were only 11 bottles ever produced. When I noticed one behind the bar, easily recognizable since the bottles were all stuffed in either taxidermy stoats or grey squirrels, I had to inquire.

Alas, the bottle was empty and simply on display, but the bartender pointed to their other staggeringly-strong beer called "Sink the Bismark" which held it's own at 41% alcohol. This one was for sale, but with a price too rich for my blood.

"Are smells free?", I inquired half-jokingly.

He laughed, but reached for the bottle, "Yeah, sure! There's no carbonation so I can open it and give you a whiff"

The hoppy, boozy aroma blew a warm smile on my face, legendary.

"Ah, a wee splash wouldn't hurt", he said seeing my reaction, he then carefully tilted the bottle into a glass until an amount between a drop and splash hit the bottom. I lit up and graciously took in the aroma a few seconds more before knocking back the tiny taste.

I graciously thanked him as I headed back to the streets in complete contentment ready to continue on the day, not knowing that just down the road I'd get an even better shot at this rare elixir.

After a day of popping in and out of places zig zagging the city I wound up back at the brewery for a night of getting to know my brewer host better along with her friends and co-workers. During all that I met a brewer from a different place in the city, so the next day I met up with him to check out his spot, we wound up downing beers in the grain room with another brewer for a quite a while.

After a short interlude for food I was back at my host's brewery until they got off work, then the lot of us mobbed out into the city for a night of general shenanigans that had me in for a hazy following day. I actually spent the next night with someone else I'd met in all the commotion, but come the following day I was sharp, ready to see what was beyond the city to the north.

After a long walk through the city I hitched a few rides amidst the intermittent heavy rains between. The last ride came from a guy who spent his days patrolling wealthy estates in the Loch Lomond area. He dropped me off in a narrow glen where I could make camp for the night without concern, save for my first encounter with the midges -- tiny mosquito bastards that swarm in like clouds of smoke set on biting you to death in the otherwise most beautiful of Scotland's scenic havens.

I walked the northbound road along the water when morning came until a truck driver scooped me up, he had sandwiches and tea to share until we parted at the next junction. I walked a long ways down the next narrow road until a guy named Nick scooped me up. He grew up in Ohio and usually hitchhiked himself, but recently acquired a car and had been jogging it around Scotland for several months now.

He got me as far as the bigger town of Fort William where I was aiming for. I got some WiFi at Wetherspoons (my default check-in spot in the UK, a chain restaurant/bar known for low prices in big spacious locations) and I got word that Dan was not far behind me. I met Dan while in Ireland, a New Zealander tripping around the world for a spell who was now coincidentally in Scotland as well.

I soon met up with him; he'd walked the same long walk across Glasgow as I had and he too had hitched five rides to get up to town. Our idea was to climb Den Nevis, the highest peak in the UK. We scoped out a campsite halfway between town and the trailhead. The midges got pretty hectic quickly and we decided to walk back to Wetherspoons for a beer and a bite-free evening.

Dan had the pack that most new and short-term world travelers have, he lugged the burden begrudgingly back to town where we had some beers and chatted until night fell, then back to the campsite finally where the midges had at least calmed down slightly.

 We both stashed our packs when it got light again and walked a bit breezier to the trailhead to begin a our accent. We rocketed on up past others hiking, past waterfalls and alpine lakes and finally nearly to the top where there was still a fair bit of snow. I marched through it sockless in my Keen sandals for longer than I expected, finally reaching the tops without much feeling left in my toes. I sat and enjoyed the on-again-off-again view through the clouds as I rubbed the feeling back into my feet and finally put on the pair of socks I'd indeed brought for this moment.

As beautiful as it was I think we could both chuckle to ourselves thinking that this short hike was indeed the highest point in the UK. We skipped our way on down, other managed to sled part way through the snow at the top. We retrieved our bags and made our way to town for some food, then just like that we were pointing our thumbs in different directions once again.

I got a ride up the road a ways, walking along with a great view of the valley below me until a couple French guys picked me up. They were just touring around for a few weeks on vacation, I ended up spending a few days with them as our paths aligned. That night we drove looking for a place to park and camp, battling midges at every pass, finally settling on a decent spot. It wasn't midge free, but inside their giant tent we were safe to talk and drink some local beers they'd scooped up earlier.

Come morning I laid in my bivy as I watched the cloud of hungry midge scum increasing their swarm just outside my bug netting. I gradually plotted my escape. Once I started hearing some movement from the French tent I made my move, unzipping my bivy with well planned precision whilst lifting my legs and stepping out in one motion, grabbing my jeans with my other hand in a hurry to put them on. I never had a chance. One leg halfway through my pant leg and my arms were caked with the population of God's mistakes. I abandoned the pants-on process to brush them off and took off running into the field, surely looking like a maniac from afar.

I outran them after a sprint and managed to get my pants on. I stood catching my breath whilst also strategically luring them back to me. Once they caught up I went running on back to my bivy to pack up. The guys were emerging from their tent and dealing with the chaos on their own as well. Before long they gave up on the idea of properly taking the tent down, they simply jammed the whole thing in the back of the car and we gunned it out of there down the road a ways where they could properly disassemble it without the midge bombardment.

We cooked breakfast further down the road by the water, now on Isle of Skye. While there we stopped into the Talisker distillery where we went on a tour and dig a bit of tasting as well. We kept rolling around that day, stopping to take pictures and take short hikes near lighthouses and the like -- the beauty stretched on and on. By night we'd reached a hostel where we plopped down, jaunting out with some others we met for a short visit to the nearby pub.

I cruised a little further with them in the morning, eventually hopping out at a roundabout where our roads diverted from each other. I got a ride there from a Chinese family that did a ton of traveling and then scored just one more ride into Inverness where I had a Couchsurfing host to stay with. I lapped around the city and explored on my own until meeting up with him and his girlfriend for dinner and a night of sharing stories.

I had another rainy day of hitchhiking on route towards Aberdeen the next day. The last of three rides came from a ball bearing salesman just north of Aberdeen directly to the actual Brew Dog Brewery -- of course. I got word from my Aberdeen host, Hannah, that she would be at a house party later, so that gave me plenty of time to sample several beers and even take the tour. While at the bar a guy next to me told me how he'd been coming for years and lived just a ten minute walk away. He treated me to an entire glass of Sink the Bismark -- I was living in an undying heaven.

At last, with a decent buzz all around and to-go bottle in my bag, I walked out of the brewery and to the road where I managed to hitch just one ride from a guy heading into Aberdeen, he took me directly to the house party where Hannah was enjoying the barbecue. I met up with her and some others at the party, sipping away into the night.

Somewhere in the chaos of the night we'd arrived back to her place. She went climbing the next day so I took off to wander the city in my typical fashion, winding around the streets to see what I'd run into. I popped in and out of pubs and a brewery, munched on a deep fried mars bar and found myself walking along the beach until looping back to Hannah's later in the day. She had some friends over for a good night of cooking and catching up.

After a good sleep I walked out of town dangling my "Edinburgh" sign by my side. A guy with his son saw the sign and gave me a ride just shy of Dundee. A couple heading to Glasgow gave me my next ride, showering me with culture that ranged from there story of climbing Kilimanjaro to getting us all lunch at KFC, "This is the best, right?" they asked as if we'd found a hidden Scottish gem.

The next ride I got was from a guy excited about a yurt he'd just belt, he took straight into the city of Edinburgh. I wandered the city for several hours, twisting through the old stone streets and weaving through crowds of tourists at times, popping into dark pubs to drink their "craft beer" attempts to catch up with the USA.

Finally I reached my host Jonas' place where we got to know each other a bit, walking around a park where we harvested elder flowers for a concoction he'd make at some point down the road. I did some much needed laundry when he left for work in the morning, then set out into the city to wander once again.

I reached a strip that looked up at a castle on the cliff, a sea of tourists all around. As I bopped through it I saw a poster advertising a temporary M.C. Escher exhibit at one of the museums. I instantly perked up, I recognized him as an artist I loved growing up for his tricky perspective drawings. I decided I'd go give it a peek.

I walked a ways until I got there, only to be disappointed (but not surprised) to discover that there was an entry fee to the gallery which was more than what I was willing to pay. Since I was there I figured I'd pop in anyways to see if there were a couple drawings to see before the entrance at least. I did just that, and sure enough, there was plenty to see. A whole room in fact. And then another room... and then the realization that I'd so confidently (and unknowing) simply walked past the ticketing and security and was in the actual exhibit. Good times, I spent an hour or more inspecting every single piece in every room in the expansive exhibit of trippy drawings mixed with bits of history about his life.

Later I met up with another Couchsurfing host, Simka, and her friend for a beer as they excitedly talked about plans of future travels. I spent the night at Jonas' again, but after another day of kicking around the city I met up with Simka and he boyfriend for a night of passionate travel talk over a cooked meal and some beer sampling.

It had been a good lap around Scotland, the next day I'd cross the imaginary border into England and continue my rambling. On to the next thing, always.

June 17, 2015 to June 30, 2015