5/16/2018 6 Comments
Hiking, Biking, Kayaking Along The West Highland Way
This time last year I was diagnosed with an eating disorder and sent to an inpatient care facility with restrictions on any and all physical activity or movement. Now I’m backpacking the West Highland Way in Scotland. My God really did that! Let me tell you more about Him!
I was sent to 24 hour inpatient care in April of 2017 at the end of my senior year in high school. I had to miss out on prom, yearbooks, senior trips, final dance recitals, and all the big events associated with that time in life. Through it all though, I kept Jesus as my hope, joy, and motivation while I was going through treatment. He is beyond faithful: He continued to bless me + give me strength, and I was restored to a normal healthy weight within a single month, allowing me to come back home early, walk across the stage + graduate from high school, go on my senior trip to Alaska + go skydiving, and start college on time that fall — all things that my doctors told me were impossible to achieve based on my health. Yes, they were impossible for them to make happen, impossible for me to make happen on my own, but nothing is impossible with God. His love is unconditional + His power is unmatchable.
Now one year later… Scotland!
Day 1: Charlotte to Glasgow
The four days leading up to my departure, I was having excruciating stomach pains, dizziness, nausea, and constipation, and it appeared as if I was not going to be able to go on the trip. However, to spare the not-so-pretty details, God answered all prayers with His healing hands and I was back to normal on the day that I was set to fly out. That morning I arrived at the Charlotte airport around 8am to meet up with the rest of my group that was going on the trip to Scotland. Our first flight was to Newark, NJ landing at 12:38 pm, and our next flight was not until 7:40 pm so we had a long layover time to walk around the airport, play some card games, and do some last-minute bonding before our trip together. The flight to Glasgow was about 7 hours so we were fed a couple meals on the plane and had some time to rest before our first big day!
Day 1 (Part 2): Glasgow to Loch Lomond
We landed in Glasgow at 6:42 am local time, which was still 1am the previous day back home. We immediately met our Active Outdoor Pursuits team and guides for the week (the best people ever!!), geared up, and set off to begin the West Highland Way. We set out from Milngavie at 9am, trekking 12 miles through lots of small towns and pastures. We arrived in Drymen around 3pm where we switched over to mountain bikes for a 14 mile ride with incredible views of Loch Lomond from above. It was such a beautiful sunny day (not typical of Scotland weather) to begin our trip! We finished up around 5:15 pm that evening and made our way to the hostel that we would be staying in for the night. Once we quickly dropped off our bags, we drove to Glengoyne whiskey distillery for a private tour and whiskey / chocolate tasting. Afterwards, we headed back to the hostel where our guides cooked us up a spaghetti dinner. We hung out, got showered up, and finally after the longest day, we hit the bed around 11:30 pm.
Day 2: Loch Lomond to Inverarnan
I woke up around 7:15 am the next morning to have breakfast and get my things together. We began the day on canoes for 6 miles across Loch Lomond. It was much more typical Scotland weather of being cold and rainy, but it was not too bad since we were already on the water. We stopped to have lunch on top of a waterfall where we also dropped off our canoes and began hiking the rest of the way through the most beautiful mossy rocks, waterfalls, and rainforest-like environment along the loch. I was definitely feeling like Frodo Baggins on his journey with the ring across this terrain. The sun finally came out near the end of our 7 mile hike and we made it into camp at Inverarnan around 5:20 pm. We had some time to freshen up and sip on some hot tea before heading over to dinner at the Drovers Inn. When you first walk into the pub, the walls are covered in various taxidermized animals and the waiters are dressed in kilts with strong Scottish accents. It was the perfect first night out venue in Scotland. I got the vegetarian bangers and mash and enjoyed spending the evening making friends with my fellow peers and guides. Afterwards, we headed back to camp and fell asleep under the stars — my favorite day by far!!
Day 3: Inverarnan to Tyndrum
I had porridge and hot tea for breakfast and then headed out at 9am for an 11 mile all-day trek out of Inverarnan. We considered this our “rest day” since we were only hiking, which is half of what we do on the other days. Unfortunately, my GoPro camera would not turn on this day, so I settled with taking some pictures on my phone. It was very cold, wet, and muddy throughout the hike passing through lots of cow pastures and wooded forests. It blows my mind how varied the terrain of Scotland is — each minute brings a new surprise! We made it to our hostel for the evening in the small village of Tyndrum around 3pm. I was super thankful for the early arrival because my left hip flexor began to give me a lot of trouble and pain near the end of the trail so I had some time to rest it. We went over to Tyndrum Inn at 6:30pm for dinner, and then laughed the night away with my friends and guides.
Day 4: Tyndrum to Bridge of Orchy to Glencoe
We began the morning with a 7 mile bike ride out of Tyndrum through the freezing cold rain. It was so much fun flying fast downhill and splashing through lots of mud. We arrived at Bridge of Orchy around 11:15 am and dropped off our bikes to then begin our hike 12 miles to Glencoe. There were gorgeous views of mountains and moors along the way. We reached camp around 5pm and then headed over to dinner at a local pub where I got vegetarian haggis made from kidney beans, lentils, and nuts. After dinner, we went over to some lookout points around Glencoe to see some gorgeous sunset views of waterfalls and mountains including the famous Buachaille Etive Mor.
Day 5: Glencoe to Glencoe Village
Took a later start this morning to tackle the Devil’s Staircase at 10am which was an 11 mile hike through strong winds over big rocks. My peers and I were all beginning to break down physically by this point with hurt knees, hips, shoulders, but we all made it (with very little complaints)! I definitely felt God with me along the whole way because despite the amount of pain I had felt the past few days, when I was in that moment, the negative thoughts never crossed my mind and I felt an unexplainable strength inside that pushed me up the incline. Once down the other side of the mountain, we entered into Kinlochleven at 2:45 pm and geared up for sea kayaking. We set off on Loch Leven around 4pm in cold rain and pulled into camp at 6pm. We warmed up with some hot tea and coffee and then headed out to dinner at 7:30pm. The pub we went to was completely packed so while we waited for a table to open up for us to eat at, we hung around playing pool and engaged in conversation with the locals. So many people had their dogs running around and hanging out and everyone was so friendly. Two of my friends and I talked with some men from Germany and we shared a bit about our travels through Scotland and various other places around the world. A group of us stayed there quite late just having fun and waiting for the rain to clear up before heading back to camp.
Day 6: Glencoe Village to Fort William
The rain was swept away and we were welcomed with a beautiful sunny day — thank you Jesus! We set out on our kayaks around 9:20 am across Loch Leven and into Loch Linnhe. We passed by a small island that had tons of seals popping their heads in and out of the water all around us on the kayaks. We pulled up on shore for a lunch break with a nice view of the loch and mountains. I went to the bathroom in some bushes and ended up sticking my hand in stinging nettles, which as the name implies, caused stinging, tingling, and redness. As we continued paddling, we sang lots of songs and had a good time out on the water. We had nice views of Ben Nevis, the tallest peak in the UK, and pulled into the pier at Fort William around 3pm. Once we unloaded our kayaks, we walked to the official West Highland Way endpoint landmark. This was also the same date and location for the end of the Scottish Six Days Trial so there were lots of motorcycles and cheering as we wandered around Fort William. We then made our way to Newtonmore to the Active Outdoor Pursuits main hub and hostel where they prepared us a full meal. After dinner we got showered and met back up at a nearby pub where we enjoyed our last night with the whole team playing pool, singing along to classics on the jukebox, and just having lots of fun. It was bittersweet, but we plan on keeping in contact with everyone!
Day 7: Edinburgh
After a long night, we woke up at 5:15am to have a Scottish breakfast made by the AOP crew before heading off to Edinburgh — toast, scrambled eggs, baked beans, lorne sausage and veggie sausages. I wasn’t feeling too well when I woke up so all I could get down was some toast. Several other members in my group had already gotten sick before we even made it to breakfast at 6:45am. We assume it is some type of virus that has spread around. We left for Edinburgh after breakfast and arrived around 9:30 am. We dropped off our bags at the hostel and split up to explore the city. Some friends and I walked up the Royal Mile to Edinburgh Castle to take a few pictures and then stopped by Deacon’s House Cafe around 11am to get a quick bite to eat. We did some souvenir shopping and wandering around the town for a while. Those who were sick earlier stayed in at the hostel to rest up, and although I was feeling very nauseous and lightheaded, I could not bear to miss my opportunity to explore Edinburgh. At 3:15 pm, my friends and I went to afternoon tea at The Hub which is in an old historic church type of building. We got our choice of a hot drink (hot chocolate, coffee, or tea) and they brought a three-tier platter of food. I got the Scottish roobois tea, and the food consisted of finger sandwiches, scones with berry jam, and desserts including a caramel macaron, lemon custard tart, and a strawberries and cream wafer cup. The total tea experience lasted for a couple of hours, and then we walked down to Victoria Street where Diagon Alley was inspired for Harry Potter. We also saw the Edinburgh Palace and spent some time in Princes Street Gardens to see the front side of the castle. We returned back to the hostel around 6:40pm to rest up a bit before heading back out with a larger group for a late dinner and wander around to different pubs listening to live music on our last night in Scotland.
Day 8: Edinburgh to Charlotte
I only got a few hours of sleep before waking up again at 4:45 am to meet the group in the lobby of the hostel where we then headed over to Waverly Station. We rode on a double decker bus over to Edinburgh airport and boarded our flight back to Newark at 8:50 am. I immediately fell asleep on the plane and took about an hour nap. We landed at 4:38 pm, 11:38 am local Eastern Time. After going through customs, rechecking bags, and security, we had time to grab some lunch in the airport before boarding our final flight back to Charlotte. We arrived around 6pm, my mom and I grabbed some dinner, and then made the journey back to our house arriving a bit after 10pm.
It’s crazy to think how much time was spent preparing for and anticipating for this trip and now it’s already over. Despite the rain on a few days and minor health and technical obstacles, I absolutely loved every single moment of it — 100%, truthfully, honestly. The days seemed to last forever which made the trip so much more worthwhile and fulfilling. It was such an indescribable, once-in-a-lifetime, adventurous experience that I will remember and cherish for my entire life. I had high doubts and worries prior to leaving for this trip because I did not believe in myself to accomplish this goal, but God has shown me that I am made strong and I am capable of these great things because He is working in and through me for His purpose (Philippians 2:13). My weaknesses are a platform to showcase His profound strength, ability, power (2 Corinthians 12:9). Satan tried to bring me down mentally in this way in the weeks leading up to the trip, as well as physically in the few days prior and throughout my journey, but he is no match for the power of my God who is within me. I have now hiked, mountain biked, and kayaked along the entire West Highland Way, and I am eagerly looking above for the next path that He lays before me.
5/17/2018 09:08:54 pm
"Traveling - it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller."
5/17/2018 09:14:13 pm
I loved reading your blog about Scotland!
5/18/2018 08:57:16 pm
I enjoyed reading about your trip to Scotland. You did a great job detailing each day! You can really see how God protected you on this journey.
5/20/2018 10:32:09 am
Fantastic! I loved all of the detail and beautiful pictures you shared. That was such a great account of your adventure, and a wonderful testimony of God’s work in your life.
5/20/2018 10:55:11 am
I haven't been to Scotland physically, but I now feel as if I've been there reading about it and looking at the great pictures. Kristen, thanks for capturing this and putting it online for those of us that may never be able to go there. I really like that small, red cargo truck/van in the last picture. I'd like to drive it around in Las Vegas. Great adventure!
Pappaw & Meemaw Watson
5/20/2018 08:16:48 pm
We are mesmerized with the beauty, very challenging activities and exciting adventures which you captured with your camera and gift of expression. What a wonderful opportunity to see some of God's magnificent handiwork by your being able to take this trip! We look forward to more additions with your passion of travel and love of nature and love for our great Creator, the Lord God. May He continue to bless you and grant you the desires of your heart as you honor and glorify Him.
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