It’s been 11 years since I was last in Scotland and 45 years since I called it home as a teenage exchange student at the University of Stirling – I was anxious to share some of my favorite spots with Joanie on her first visit to the country. These photos aren’t representative of all we saw and did, but will give you some idea.
Since this trip to the UK was primarily a trekking holiday, I’ll share an old hiking story from my year in Scotland. On one of my first excursions off-campus, I joined the university mountaineering club for a “walk” at Glen Coe, of which I still have indelible memories. Setting my eyes again on the peaks these decades later, including its new visitor’s center, allowed me the chance to confirm that my recollection of being scared s**tless was not at all unfounded. At one point, I told Joanie, I distinctly remember having to straddle a knife edge and pull my bottom inch by inch across the ridge with very high and steep cliffs on either side – this with no safety ropes and no way to escape by retreat once we started. The displays about the ridge line, named Aonach Eagach, lent some credibility to these memories…
… as does Wikipedia’s description:
The Aonach Eagach is a rocky ridge lying to the north of Glen Coe in the Scottish Highlands, boasting two Munro summits. In length the full ridge continues for 10 km from the Pap of Glencoe at the west to the eastern end at the Devil's Staircase. The central section, some 2 km in length, is very rocky and the route along it requires scrambling ability. The slopes to each side are extremely dangerous, with steep grass and scree slopes hiding even steeper slopes which end in cliffs on both north and south sides of the ridge. The Aonach Eagach is usually regarded as the most difficult horizontal 'scrambling' ridge in mainland Scotland.... local climber Noel Williams warns that there are no other ridges in the area that are "so narrow and so difficult to escape from once committed. Some sections are extremely exposed.... there are no safe descents on the south side of the ridge."
Having seen the highest summits in Wales (Snowdon) and England (Scafell Pike), we were excited that the weather allowed us to also take in views of the grand daddy of them all: Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Scotland, the UK, and the British Isles. In many previous visits to the nearby town of Fort William, only once before had the weather permitted me even a glimpse of the famous peak.