Edinburgh, Isle of Skye, and Scottish Highlands; July 28 - August 6, 2015

Scotland was an add-on to our main activity, England's Coast-to-Coast walk, but it's certainly a worthwhile destination in its own right.

We began with a day in Edinburgh, where Tim met us for the rest of the trip. The city was thronging with international tourists, though we hear it's even more crowded when the famous festival is on. Lots of tourists made for plenty of street entertainment, including the kilted-fire-juggler-on-a-precarious-platform in photo 1.

From Edinburgh we rented a minivan and hit the Highlands. The first stop was Aviemore, gateway to Cairngorms National Park. Aviemore was also thronging with tourists, though mostly of the British outdoorsy persuasion. In the Cairngorms we began our routine of scrutinizing the hourly weather forecast and trying to time our outdoor activities to coincide with the better-weather windows; overall we did fairly well. The Cairngorms comprises the highest plateau of mountains in Scotland and is considered one of the wildest, bleakest regions. We enjoyed an excellent hike (photo 2) on the Cairn Gorm mountain itself.

Our centerpiece destination in Scotland was the Isle of Skye, where we spent several nights. En route to Skye we enjoyed the attractive town of Inverness, and we lucked upon a local festival in the small seaside village of Shieldaig, where the town was cheering on a rag-tag children's boat race in what must have been frigid water (photo 3).

The pleasant town of Portree (photo 4) was our home-base on Skye, though eventually we saw most of the island. High winds and swollen rivers prevented us from reaching any summits in the Cuillen Range, an area that's captured the imagination of many mountain enthusiasts recently thanks to a remarkable video, but we did take several spectacular hikes in unique terrain; photos 5-8. Of course we stopped in at Skye's gateway town, Kyleakin (photo 9), historic center of the Akin clan (alternate spellings Aiken and Aikin). The Dunakin castle isn't in quite as good condition as some others in the area (photo 10), though given the steep entry fees at many Scottish castles, Dunakin did provide excellent value for money (photo 11).

Lastly we made our way from Skye to Glasgow through the West Highlands, an area known for its many beautiful lochs among high (relatively speaking) mountains. We planned our overnight in Spean Bridge with thoughts of scaling Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the British Isles, but once again poor weather foiled our plans. Instead, we settled for shorter hikes (photo 12), tracking down a photogenic Scottish bull (photo 13), and -- never exactly our favorite -- viewing scenery from the car window. We knew Scotland would be a risk weather-wise, but on balance we did spend a good amount of time outdoors. In addition to the hikes, Emily maintained her daily running regime, and Tim brought his bicycle, timing his training rides to enjoy the many tiny winding roads in relatively dry spells.

Our last evening, a friendly grocery store clerk asked where we're from. "Sunny California, eh? What the heck ya doin' on holiday in Scotland? How d'ya like our weather, ha ha!" We didn't exactly have an answer, but we also agreed we have no regrets about our add-on destination.

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