Gylen Castle

Getting sick while traveling put a kink in our plans. On September 2, about 12 days into our trip I woke up feeling quite ill. We had a COVID test kit with us and I tested positive for COVID. We were able to extend our stay at the Pennygate Lodge in Craignure. After a few days there we moved to an apartment in Oban for a few more nights. This meant we would not be spending time at the Iona Abbey as planned, but it did give us a few more days to explore Oban. Once we were feeling better we decided a trip to the Isle of Kerrera was in order. To get to the island we walked the short distance to the wharf where we hailed a taxi to take us to the Kerrera Ferry.

This is a small ferry that can only carry a dozen or so people, we ended up having to wait for a few crossings, which didn’t amount to much time, since the ride across the channel takes all of 10 minutes. That said, if you do plan to visit the island allow plenty of time in the event that you end up waiting.

Once on the island it’s a two mile walk to Kerrera Tea Room and the castle. It’s a very pretty walk past farms and pastures overlooking the Sound of Kerrera. We passed through a number of gates, being sure to close them after passing through. At the top of a rise just before reaching the tea room we found a gate with a sign “It’s all downhill from here.

It was just after noon when we reached the tea garden. The Smoked Spanish Chickpea Soup and fresh bread was a welcome treat after the walk. After lunch it was a short walk to the castle where we spent some time exploring the ruins.

The castle which overlooks the Firth of Lorn was built in 1582 by the Clan MacDougall but only occupied for a short time. It was burned by the Covenanters in 1647 during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms.

Once we had explored the castle, and peeked through the windows we made our way back to Oban and on to Kilmartin on the the afternoon bus. You can view more photos online. Here’s the track of our walk on the island.

Carnassarie Castle

Today, September 11, marks our 22nd day of travel in Scotland. We’ve had many adventures over the past three weeks. Some of those adventures will eventually make their way into this blog, but for today, I’ll share today’s walk to Carnassarie Castle. And, of course, at the top of the news is the passing of Queen Elizabeth II. That caused us to revise our plans to return to the Edinburgh airport for our return flight. Nevertheless, it didn’t stop us from lacing up our hiking boots this morning and going on a walk after a hearty Scottish Breakfast at our B&B here in Kilmartin, Old Manse.

Our track led us along several country paths, up into the hills, through woods and past babbling streams. Then we climbed a hill to the castle where we spent quite some time going up and down many flights of narrow circular stairs to admire the view. The castle was built between 1565 and 1572 by John Carswell who had been granted the land by the Earl of Argyll. Carswell would become the Bishop of the Isles and was instrumental in translating the Book of Common Order into Gaelic, which became the earliest book to be translated into Scots Gaelic.

The overcast sky with threat of rain provided some nice soft lighting to set the castle in a surrounding landscape of green rolling hills and woods.

After climbing all the stairs and poking into rooms and windows, we found a spot to break out our lunch of cheese and crackers.

We returned to the town of Kilmartin by retracing our steps, walking by an apparently abandoned caravan which seems to have a picturesque spot along the track. Back in town we stopped at the museum café for a bowl of hot lentil soup, muffins and coffee. The museum is closed at the moment for renovation, but that didn’t deter us from enjoying a cool pleasant day in the area of Scotland which is known for it’s archeological significance, with ruins going back over 5000 years.

Ruby Mountains

Continuing on our road trip to New Mexico, on the afternoon of July 10 we left Highway 80 near Elko Nevada and drove 35 miles up into the Ruby Mountains. Our campsite at Thomas Canyon Campground was situated at an elevation of 7600 feet. While most of the drive across Nevada is arid desert, Thomas Canyon is in a lush grove of Aspen surrounded by wildflowers. We spent two nights here, giving us one day to take a delightful hike up the canyon.

We were happy to find that fires were permitted and we bought firewood from the camp host. These days one isn’t guaranteed a campfire, given dry conditions with high fire risk. The next morning we fired up the Dutch oven for a breakfast of hash brown crusted quiche. A delicious breakfast before we set off on our hike. The hike goes 2.25 miles up the canyon, so up and back we logged 4.5 miles.

The hike climbs from about 7600 feet to 8900 feet, hiking through aspen groves and through meadows of wildflowers following Thomas Creek for much of the way. Here’s the track of our hike.

In the evening I took my big camera out and grabbed my tripod to see what I could find in the late afternoon light. Lo and behold I found a sunlit grove of trees that looked like fall color in the last rays of light. Some of these image will be in my art store shortly. You can view more photos in an online gallery.

San Bruno Mountain

On May 16 we met a few friends for a hike on San Bruno Mountain. This is a state park covering 2400 acres representing an island of rugged open space in the middle of a highly urbanized environment. It is also home to a number of plants and animals that are endemic to the mountain.

It promised to be a warm sunny day as we departed Berkeley, but when we parked at the trail head we were confronted with a chilly and blustery wind with fog billowing over the ridge. I promptly broke out all my layers. We hiked the Summit Loop Trail starting at the parking lot just off of Guadalupe Canyon Parkway.

I was surprised at the diversity of habitats. This included coastal scrub, oak woodland, chaparral and riparian habitats. There are also a variety of wildflowers. This year the spring wildflower display was not as magnificent as it can be. Even so we saw a variety including iris, aster, foxglove, lupine and poppies.

I was also surprised with how lush and green the the mountainsides were. We hiked through tree tunnels and past glens of ferns. Quite a difference from our usual hikes in Tilden Park. Perhaps since the mountain captures the fog off the coast it gets more moisture than the East Bay Hills, providing more diversity.

We stopped where the trail crosses Battery 59 Road, just short of the summit and opted to retrace our route back to the car. This was deemed to be the preferred route, rather than continuing the loop with the idea that the rest of the loop is not quite as interesting. We were on the trail for a little over two hours and logged 4.5 miles. Definitely a place to revisit with diversity of plants and animals.

More photos are available in an online gallery.

A Hike in Fern Canyon

We spent the week of September 12 in Mendocino with members of our kayaking club. On Wednesday the 14th we took a break from paddling to go for a hike in Fern Canyon.

This is a lovely hike that follows the Little River. The trail winds along the river, crossing the stream a number of times on bridges and meandering through tall redwoods and the fern-lined canyon. Once we had hiked up the canyon, we opted to continue on the trail up to the Pygmy Forest. Here the tall redwoods give way to pines and cypresses stunted by extremely acidic, low-nutrient soil that sits on top of a layer of low-drainage iron hardpan.

We were happy to have some overcast since it can be quite warm in the Pygmy Forest. The soft light from the overcast also made for excellent photography. I prefer the soft light to the harsh shadows and highlights that can happen with direct sun. I also found that the railings on the bridges were a perfect place to park my Gorilla Pod and my trusty Sony RX100 camera in lieu of my tripod. Walking through the dwarf trees feels like walking through an enchanted forest.

We returned to Fern Canyon by an alternate trail, making a loop. When we returned to camp we had logged 11 miles. You can view more photos of our hike here and you can view more details of our track here.

Calella to S’Argo

Continuing our walking tour of the Costa Brava, this post covers our walk from Calella de Palafrugell where we spent two nights at the Hotel Sant Roc, the nights of June 16 and 17 and on to S’Argo where our tour ends.

At Hotel Sant Roc we had a lovely dinner on the terrace with a view of the town below with some color in the sky as the sun set. With a day off from walking we spent some time exploring the local environs including the the beautiful botanical gardens at Jardins de Cap Roig; also the home of a renown music festival. A trip to the beach was in order also where I rented mask, fins and snorkel from a local dive shop to explore some of the underwater life around the rocks just off the beach. We could easily have spent a few more days here, or a few weeks. A beautiful spot overlooking a picture postcard city. And even though we weren’t on the walking route we logged 9 km just touring the gardens and the town.

Alas, on June 19 we put our hiking boots on and continued our walking tour, hiking over rocky headlands, and along the clear turquoise waters of the Mediterranean, past quaint fishing hamlets and beautiful beaches. It seems that swimsuits are optional on many of the beaches along this stretch. We observed that nude sunbathing seemed to be more popular with middle age men.

The evening of June 18 found us at Hotel Ancora in La Fosca. Having logged 10 km. With some of the day left we walked to the waterfront in Palamos where we were hoping to watch the fishermen unload the day’s catch. We arrived well after the last boat had unloaded, so we toured the Museu de la Pesca, which turned out to be quite an exhibit and well worth the time and the cost.

June 20 we were once again on the trail, walking from La Fosca to Hotel San Pol in S’Argo. This stretch of the tour took us along miles and miles of white sand beaches, walking along the promenades adjacent to the beach. Many apartment buildings and hotels that line the beaches have their windows shuttered with the tourist season yet to come. Many carnival rides and vendors were setting up on the beach, and it looks like this is going to be a busy place soon.

Between the long stretches of white sand we climbed up steps, over trails, across rocky headlands down steps to tiny sandy beaches, up more steps, around more rocky headlands. Up and down, up and down. Each headlands giving a postcard view of the beaches below and the turquoise waters of the Mediterranean.

Along the promenade in Palamos we ran into several other people that were on the same walking tour as us. They recognized us by the “Macs Adventure” luggage tags we had on our day packs. We walked with them for several miles for the last stretch of our walk to S’Argo. They were staying in a different hotel, the S’Argo Hotel, having booked a “deluxe” package through Macs Adventures, we went on to Hotel Sant Pol which while not “deluxe,” certainly met our needs. We had walked 20 km (12.4 miles). In the evening we raised a glass of wine to toast completing our “Hidden Gems of the Costa Brava” walking tour having logged 77.4 km (48 miles).

Rocky Paths

On June 9 our walk takes us to the top of a mountain, Mare de Deu del Mont where we spend the night in simple hotel that had been a monastery. The next day we hike down the other side of the mountain to Besalu.

A word about rocky paths is in order. After several days of hiking mountain trails Joann said she didn’t realize how rocky the Pyrenees are. I replied that if the Intuits have 200 words for snow, then the Catalonians must have 200 words for rocky paths. Here are some of my favorites.

Steep trail with loose rocks, ploughed by wild boars. This looks like a tilling machine had gone down the trail and turned over the dirt and rocks, making everything in the trail loose dirt and rocks.

Then there are the rocks that roll around under your feet, the steep, slick limestone slabs with a sprinkling of oak leaves and pine needles to challenge your confidence in secure footing. Fist size rocks, ankle high rocks, rock falls with knee high boulders. The list could go on.

Many of the trails we walked are little used, little maintained and  sometimes subject to erosion.

At several places on our walks we saw branches that had been cut, presumably to clear the trail for walkers, but the cut branches are usually left in the middle of the trail. Initially I would pick these up and cast them aside, and then I had the revelation that perhaps erosion control is more important than personal convenience. Perhaps the branches are left to help control erosion.

 The walk up the mountain was easier than we had expected. Even so we logged 11.2 miles  (17.5km) with close to 3000 feet of elevation gain. It was 6:30 pm when we reached to hotel, overcast and starting to rain lightly.

June 10 we start down the mountain to Besalu. Another long day, neither of us are very fast going down hill with aching knees. Joann had thoughts of taking the taxi down with our baggage, but we persevered and took our time. Near the top of the mountain we were hiking through lovely pine forests with lush grass and wildflowers. By mid-day the pine forest had given way to the oaks of the lower elevations.

At 4 pm we reached the little town of Beuda. We were hoping to buy a snack here. In this part of the world business close after the lunch hour and remain closed to 6 pm or so. Nothing is open, and there isn’t much here to begin with. We see a couple of people leaving a restaurant, so we step inside, The manager takes pitty on us, and we have coke and fruit salad.  There is also an ancient church here, Church Sant Feliu de Beuda first documented in 1004.

It’s 7:35 pm when we reach Casa Marsial, our accommodations for the night. We logged 12.7 miles (19.2 km). Even so, after dinner, I have to explore the bridge which was well lit and looked like an invitation for some nighttime photography.

Oix to Sales de Llerca

On June 8 our hike takes us from Oix to Sales de Llierca. Our accommodations in Oix is a 16th century farm house that has been converted to a small hotel. Nothing fancy in the way of accommodations but comfortable. Likewise the food is good, but nothing fancy. The view from our balcony looks out over tile roofs to the green hills beyond.

Oix is a tiny hamlet with no stores so we ask the manager to make us lunches. We’re on the trail at 9:50 am. Hiking through oak woodlands and grassy meadows, past white, blue and yellow wildflowers. We also see yellow Scotch Broom and I wonder if it’s an invasive here like it is in California.

I’m dragging a bit, perhaps too much wine with dinner. It takes me awhile to get my hiking stride. Mid-morning we stop for a snack in the shade of some small oak trees that look much like the live oaks of California, except much smaller in stature. At 12 pm we stop near an abandoned farm house and we each eat half a sandwich saving the second half for a later snack, since we’re anticipating a long day.

Later in the afternoon we cross a ridge and the town of Sales de Llerca comes into view. We’ve seen nobody on the trail since leaving Oix. As we approach the medieval bridge over the river Llierca we see a few hikers and a few people swimming in the river.

We reach our accommodations at Can Serola at 6:35 in the evening having logged 12.8 miles (20.3 km). Can Serola is on a hill about 2 miles above Sales Sales de Llierca. A beautiful old house in a beautiful setting. Here we’re served an exquisite five course dinner with olive paste on toast, creme of broccoli, green salad with goat cheese pastries (simply out of this world, like little philo dough pastries stuffed with cheese and fried), a beet dish with julienne beets, walnuts and goat cheese, and the main course of roast duck with fruit, and wine. My mundane English descriptions hardly do the meal justice. Our Macs Adventure itinerary may include meals with some locations and other locations we may be free to eat in local restaurants, depending on what facilities are near our lodgings.

No Fat Friars

June 7. Our adventures today take us to an ancient church after a long walk. The day begins with breakfast at Can Blanc and then a walk to the bus station in Olot, a 30 minute walk. Olot is a city of 34,000 people nestled in the Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park. We had hiked through part of the park on previous days. An interesting city with a mixture of architectural styles: stone farm houses, modernista, and a glassy and glamorous market place.

From the bus station it’s a 15 minute trip to Castellfollit de la Roca (pronounced something like Castle-fo-leet). Our terrible pronunciation led to some confusion with the bus driver, but after checking our tickets he assured us we were getting off the bus at the right location.

The town was quiet when we arrived. No tourists in sight, a few cats wandering the narrow streets, and a few local folks out and about. One of the locals greeted us and pointed out some sights. He tried to warn us about the path down the cliff to the valley below, saying it was “muy mal,” and dangerous. We thanked him and proceeded to walk down the rough steep cobbles. I was after a photo vantage point that would show the town on the cliff.

Castellfollit de la Roca

From Castellfollit de la Roca our itinerary included a taxi ride to Oix (pronounced Oich), where we checked into our lodging, ate a quick picnic lunch and embarked on an afternoon loop walk up the valley. The hike took us along a stream, through lush thickets of trees and ferns, through a cow pasture and on up the canyon. At 2:12 pm I made a note in my journa “song birds, cow bells, wind in the trees, butterflies.”

Higher up the canyon the trail became quite steep and rocky, with a metal bridge at one point that looked rather tenuous.

It was 4:30 when we reached the Santa Maria de Escales Church. The church was mentioned in a historical record of 1092. With the effort it had taken us to reach the church I declared that there were no fat friars here. The door to the church was locked, but there was a window in the door through which you could view the interior.

I took a few photos and then we were anxious to make our way back down the canyon by another route. We took our time since both of us find going downhill hard on the knees. It was close to 7:55 pm when we returned to Oix, having logged 10 miles on our afternoon walk. Between the morning walk to the bus station, walking around Castellfollit , and our afternoon walk we were feeling hot and tired. A cold beer sounded appropriate.

A cold beer at the end of the hike.

Santa Pau and a Loop Hike

On June 3 we made our way from Girona to Santa Pau by bus, finding the local bus stop near our apartment in Girona. For this leg of our trip we’re carrying all our luggage. I carry a day pack and a travel pack. Once we start our walking tour our luggage will go by taxi and we’ll go on foot with just our day packs.

We transferred buses in Olot where we had few minutes for a snack; coffee, apples and coke. Once in Santa Pau we found our lodging at Hotel Sal Sastre right across the street from the castle. We spent some time walking around the medieval town.

On June 4 we began our Macs Adventures walking tour with a loop hike from town up to a high point at Santa Maria Finistres. Here there is a hermitage which has some historical significance. We had a very quite picnic lunch here. This is truly a place of solitude. From the time we left town at 10 am and when we returned at 3:45 pm we had the entire trail to ourselves. The trail was a moderately steep track up the mountainside passing through beechwood and oak forests. Our feet crunched through the leaves on the trail and there was no sign of anybody else having used the trail recently. We clambered over a couple of fallen trees and passed a number of sections in the trail that had been rooted up by wild pigs, as if a roto-tiller had gone through. I would imagine that some sections of the trail could be slippery following a rain, with slippery leaves and mud but with dry conditions we had good footing. It’s a very pretty hike through the cool shade of the forest, passing by farms and pastures closer to town. When we came out of the forest we could see our town on the hill in the distance.

Having returned to town, we had logged 10 miles. The Macs Adventure hike is a nine mile loop. We manged to add a mile with a trip to town in the morning to buy bread, cheese and salami for our picnic lunch. After 10 miles it was time for a cold beer.

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