West Family Travels

Robert is a world famous travel writer with having pieces appear in National Geographic Traveler, The New Yorker and Cottage Life Magazine. Robert when he isn't travelling lives with his family in Edmonton, Alberta.
Living in: Edmonton, Canada
  • Day22

    Escape from the Gulf Islands

    August 24 in Canada ⋅ 🌧 14 °C

    I am now sitting in Victoria airport waiting for my flight to Edmonton. WestJet has a direct flight which is very convenient. We will be home in an hour and fifteen minutes. Previous non direct flights on Air Canada ended up taking all day to get home. At least there is someplace where one can fly directly to from Edmonton.

    The last days of my trip went well. I arrived in Long Harbour on Mayne Island on Monday just after lunch. It was a pretty gentle ride into the town of Ganges. Norma and Rob live at the end of Bedis Road. There is quite a steep hill leaving Ganges after the Emco bakery, not as bad as the Scharf hill on Pender but I got off and pushed to save my legs. Once I got to Bedis Road, it was much easier riding until the final hill to Norma's house. Norma and Rob's house sits at the top of a very steep hill which reduces the bikeablity but commands spectacular views of the Ganges harbour. I can sit for hours watching the boat activity in the harbour. It is very relaxing. Rob was away for work so I had alot of opportunity to visit with Norma. It felt like she was the first person I had talked to in 2 weeks.

    On Tuesday, I did a very long bike tour of Saltspring Island including Ruckell park, Fulford harbour and then looping around by Cusheon lake road. With a little hike at Ruckell park, I was gone for about 5 hours. Was I ever tired when I got back to Norma's. I had brought my bike out to the Gulf Islands about 5 years ago but I had forgotten how steep the hills were. Of course I was 5 years younger then. Norma goes to bed every night at 8 so I wasn't under any pressure to stay up later. I must have fallen asleep by 8:30. My wife makes me stay up until 10. It will be tough when I get home having to stay up so late.

    Obviously I was up early Wednesday morning. I wasn't looking forward to the fully loaded bike to Fulford harbour to take the ferry to Schwartz Bay. I also realised when I woke up that it was raining very hard. Fortunately Norma offered me a ride to the ferry. I was surprised that my bike could fit into her Prius but it did with room to spare. Norma had to work on Wednesday so we decided it would be best to get the 7:45 ferry. There was lots of traffic waiting for the ferry and by the time we arrived, trucks and cars were already disembarking. I don't know how Norma did it but she managed to drive between the flow of disembarking traffic and the traffic waiting to embark getting down to the terminal. Thank god for small cars. Thankfully as a walk on or bike on I got preferred boarding so unlike with a vehicle, there is never a concern about not getting on the ferry. The pedestrian board after the cars. I was quite surprised that all of the cars waiting but the very last one squeezed on. There was an angry exchange between the driver and the ramp attendant that I couldn't hear. When he backed up one of the other pedestrians told him they didn't feel it was fair that they hadn't let him on. He told us that he had missed the ferry last night resulting in him missing his flight to Edmonton and his ongoing connection. He was now going to miss his flight again. Talk about a hassle. It was so bizarre that he had left things too late to arrive at the ferry in a timely fashion. Just a few minutes earlier and he would have made it on.

    I biked from Schwartz bay down to our BnB in Victoria. It was raining moderately hard. It is usually so dry out her in the summer that they are probably pretty happy for the rain. The ride was really easy after all of the hills on the Gulf Islands. The trail is known as the Lochside trail. Previous years, we have rented bikes with the children and biked the southern part of the trail. I had always wanted to bike the whole thing. Interestingly the southern part of the trail was the most scenic so I didn't miss out on anything.

    The Lochside trail connects with the Galloping Goose Trail which goes to Sooke and beyond for a total of 55 k. Much of it is an old railway bed so again no big hills. On Thursday I biked out to Langford and beyond on the GG trail stopping at the 25 km mark before returning to Victoria. I wish I could have said that I had done the whole thing but I think it would have killed me. With a bike around Royal Roads university, 50 km was enough. Wow is there ever a lot of building going on in Langford. I think everyone in Canada must be retiring here.

    My last day in Victoria was reserved for a bike through Oak Bay ,Uplands and the University of Victoria. It rained pretty hard by the time I got to Cordoba Bay so I took a coffee shop break. I checked out U of Vic and their bookstore. I felt a little nostalgic for the start of the school year and University. In the afternoon I toured the Royal BC museum. They had a great traveling Mayan artifact exhibition. I also took in their extensive West coast natives exhibition. I love all that potlatch stuff, totem poles and masks. By then it was time to swing around the YMCA to collect Andrew who was returning from Camp Thunderbird. We were so happy to be reunited. After there weeks of solitude one really starts to appreciate one's friends and family. We ate supper out and later that night my son Christopher showed up for a visit. He seems to have really matured as a camp counselor this summer. Andrew and I were quite tired so he left for his friends house where he has been couch surfing all summer after hitting me up for some cash.

    All in all I enjoyed myself on my solo bicycle trip. Despite the marketing,some of the Gulf Islands because of their hilly nature don't lend themselves to a bicycle trip. Mayne Island and Saturna were bicycle able, Pender and Saltspring were not conducive to biking. It took me a while to accommodate to the solitude. Over the last 17 years since starting a family I have sometimes yearned for solitude and certainly on this trip my wish came true. Sometimes one has to be careful for what one wishes. People were quite friendly and I enjoyed all of the people I met and chatted with. I accomplished a lot of reading which was pleasureable. I think people on the Gulf Islands quite enjoyed talking books. It is much more enjoyable then talking about politics.

    This will be my last blog for my Gulf Island trip. Until my next trip as Rick Steves likes to say 'Happy travels'.

    Rob
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  • Day17

    Robinson Crusoe of the Gulf Islands

    August 19 in Canada ⋅ ⛅ 14 °C

    I have had a very pleasant stay on Saturna Island. Saturna island is the way I thought all Gulf Islands should be. It is fairly sparsely populated with 60 percent of the island owned by Parks Canada. As it is much more sparsely populated than the other Gulf Islands, I had to travel from Pender back to Schwartz Bay to get there. It took all day. I did have a very interesting conversation with a Russian man from Vladistock Russia who now is a first engineer on the large ferry that runs from Sidney to Vancouver.

    I was very fortunate to have stayed my 4 nights at the Saturna Lodge a boutique hotel on the island. I had tried to book at the Breezy Bay BnB but they took 6 weeks to get back to me which I thought was a bad sign. I went and checked it out and it wasn't as nice as the Saturna despite having a nicer website. The power of the internet to distort reality. Laura who runs and owns the lodge is a fire cracker of a person. She has endless energy. Originally from Surrey she had worked in the tech sector in Seattle and San Francisco. She drives a Lexus convertible. About six years ago Laura purchased the place and has been upgrading it. She has obviously brought some more worldly ideas to the lodge and island. I wonder if she has ruffled some feathers of the people on the island in doing so. The Saturnia that I have met seem to be moving much slower than Laura. I really wonder the motivation behind people who after retiring from one career take on the the responsibility of running such a place. Laura strikes me as someone who can't sit still.

    My first evening on the island I bicycled out to Narvaez Point which was about an hour away from Saturna Lodge. I met Ida a BCIT student from Guelph Ontario heading out on her bike to Narvaez bay. It was nice to have some one to bike with and talk to. At the point, I left Ida and wandered around. It was very scenic. It looked like a farm had been located there at one time. No whales. I biked back through the forest to the lodge.

    On my second day on Saturna, I biked out to the east point about 18 k from the lodge. It took me about 1.5 hours. The point is the location of a lighthouse and is now a Parks Canada site. They had two of the red parks Canada chairs. I told a woman who had a place on the island and came and sat beside me that it would make my day if I saw a whale. She thought that I had a slight chance. The point is supposedly known for whales but having biked by many whale watching signs I have become skeptical that one would ever see a whale from such a location. She left and I sat reading my book in the red chair. After a while I noticed a flotilla of boats off shore. The chairs were located in the shade next to a building converted into a small museum. They loaned out binoculars which I borrowed and off in the distance I could make out Hump back whales surfacing and blowing in the water. They were quite far off but just the same I saw some whales. Some people asked me what type they were. I told them I was from Alberta and that I had no idea. The boats left and I lost interest. I wandered the point a little and then came back to sit in the chair. It was occupied so I sat on a nearby bench and started reading my book again. After about 15 minutes someone shouted Orcas. I jumped up and there were four Orca whales swimming and surfacing only 25 metres off shore. In my excitement, I forgot to start the video on my phone and only caught literally the tail end them with my camera. It was spectacular. The world was finally coming to me. I continued sitting there hoping they would come back. They never did but a Bald Eagle carrying a huge fish flew over. A navy frigate went by and a helicopter flew over very low. It was my most exciting day of the trip.

    My third day of the trip I had booked another little kayak trip. When I turned up at 1 I was the only person booked on the trip. Their policy was to take the tour even if only one person was booked. It was very pleasant to be back on the water paddling and seeing the shore from the kayaks. Cedric my guide from Victoria was pleasant to chat with. Very strangely he had never heard of the Alberta oilsands. I thought he was pulling my leg at first but no it was for real.

    My last day on the island was my hiking day. Laura gave me a ride up War Burton ridge. The ridge went along the entire length of the south island and commanded wonderful views looking out over Pender Island. I walked along the ridge pretty well the entire way to Narvaez bay before catching a fire road back to the road which I had to walk on to get back.It was still early in the afternoon. I met some people at the grocery store who were heading out to east point. I had nothing to do so I caught a ride with them back to east point seeing that I had such an exciting time there before. When I was out on east point I saw some hump back whales but they were farther off in the distance then Friday and with the binoculars you could just make them out spouting. I started discussing books with a couple of American women who had retired to Mexico. They didn't like visiting the states. They were up visiting their friends who had retired to Victoria from the US foreign service. They were good enough to give me a ride back in their little Honda Civic. They all detested Donald Trump.

    I have spent so much time on these Gulf Islands alot of it by myself that I am starting to feel like a modern day Robinson Crusoe. I am also starting to have some pretty unusual thoughts. Things I never thought about when I was at home in Alberta. I have been thinking that perhaps global warming is real. I sometimes think that we should be burning less carbon and that a carbon tax would be a good idea. I know these are crazy ideas but I can't stop thinking about them. Maybe when I get back to Alberta I will need some type of government counseling. Would conversion therapy work to rid oneself of these environmental ideas. Maybe that is why the province of Alberta won't get rid of it.

    I am now off to Saltspring Island to visit our friends Rob and Norma. I always tell Rob and Norma that they have the best Air BnB on the island so I am looking forward to the visit.

    I have read another 2.5 books since my last update. I read Tara Westover's biography about growing up with a dysfunctional survivalist Mormon family and about her difficulty letting go of the family despite their significant dysfunction. I read a book called Bad Blood about a start up company called Theranos in Palo Alto California who had tricked people into believing that they had developed a method of laboratory testing only requiring a pinprick of blood. Through business and political connections, legal threats and a dynamic president known as Elizabeth Holmes and intimidation, they were able to maintain this serade for ten years before being exposed by a writer for the WSJ. They were able to raise 900 million dollars from investors. It was a very well written book. Finally I am working my way through the book called Wilding. The book is about rewilding an estate in Sussex. Rewilding is letting the land revert to it's original form which allows the return of natural plant and animal species. It is what I believe my neighbours are doing in Edmonton. I always thought they were too busy to do yard work however having started to read the book I believe that they are just rewilding their property by letting all the weeds grow even if some of the weeds are invasive non resident species. In fact they are so successful with rewilding their property that they were able to attract a family of skunks to live under their porch. My other neighbour Synovia was quite upset with the skunks but hopefully when I loan her the book on my return she will understand the wisdom of rewilding. I see my role in the neighbourhood as that of a peacekeeper.
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  • Day13

    Good bye to Pender Island

    August 15 in Canada ⋅ ⛅ 19 °C

    I have now finished my 5 days on Pender Island. The first day was quite challenging. The north part of the north island is separated from the south island and south part of the north island by a significant hill called the Scarf hill. My accommodation was changed for the first night to the South Island as there had been a death in the family at the BnB I was supposed to stay at and the owners were off to a funeral. I wasn't feeling that well as I think I had picked up a flu bug. By the time I reached the Band B which was quite remote, I was just exhausted. There was no place around to eat and I didn't have the energy to bike back to the commercial area on the north island. The B and Bs owners John and Judith were very kind to me. They made be supper and the next day gave me a ride into town to buy groceries and ferry me to my next B and B. Judith and John were from Port Huron and Judy who was. Canadian had taught in Sarnia. She had gone to Teachers College in London Ontario where I am from so we had a lot in common. With my high level of computer skills and knowledge I was able to help her set up an Air BnB account. I met her later in the week and she happily reported getting her first booking.

    I took a rest from biking that day and did a three hour hike. Initially I hiked up Mt Norman for a commanding view of the Gulf and San Juan Islands. A fellow who was obviously in much better shape then I was biked up the mountain on his fat tire bike. A group of adults at the top starting chatting with him. He was a biologist on the island who studied bats. He also was a photographer who ran photography tours to exotic places and worked as a biologist on tours to the Antarctic. He gave us an in-depth talk on bats. It was all so very interesting. Afterwards I hiked down to Beaumont bay on the ocean which was a very pretty Parks Canada campground. I met Matt and his father Mich who had paddled over from another part of the island. They were economic refugees from Alberta who had left Calgary after the boom went bust. Matt and his brother had got jobs in the trades on the island and were successfully working towards their journeymen tickets in plumbing and carpentry. I guess there is a shortage of tradesmen on the island and unlimited work for those trades here.

    The next day I got back onto the bike and did the south end of the north island and tackled the Scarf hill to get back to the commercial area. I also needed to get my confidence back after the first day. After navigating the hill back to my BnB and having a rest I hiked around Magic Lake to Roe Lake and then down to the very picturesque Shingles Campground also on the water and also run by parks Canada.

    On Tuesday I had booked a kayak day trip with Pender Island kayaking. It was somewhat kayaking lite after the previous multiday trips we have taken but it was still fun to get out onto the water. What was very interesting was that I met some Ex Edmontonians on the trip who had recently moved to Victoria who had been good friends with my neighbour Ray Cislo through cross country skiing. I wondered whether they were also economic refugees from Alberta.They were Emma and her son Will Eckerman. Talk about a small world. The guide Tavin was a 16 year old islander. It was interesting to learn about her experiences growing up on the island and her experiences with home schooling and then high schooling in a one school classroom. It sounded like they had a pretty dynamic teacher and the curriculum was geared towards learning all about the island's history, biology and geology. She was very knowledgeable about all island things because that was pretty well all she had studied. I wonder how she will cope if she ever has to leave the island.

    My last full day on the island I spent on the north side. I biked up to the North island and did a low tide walk starting at Clam Bay along the shore of Navy channel. before coming out at an access point farther down the shore and the walking back to my bike. I don't think I saw anyone for the whole time. Afterwards I biked to the very far north of the island and climbed up George Hill. I think it was the warmest day on the island getting up to 25 degrees. On the way back I swung by the Pender Island chocolate shop for two well deserved chocolates and 2 litres of water. They had a very pleasant area to sit in the shade and I read my book.

    I am slowly getting use to the solitude of solo bike travel on the islands. I have been reading alot including the following books: Midnight in Chernobyl. It is all about the Chernobyl nuclear disaster the severity and magnitude I had never appreciated. It was a bit of a tome but wonder whether you Jack would enjoy reading it. I read The seven deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. I am typically disappointed by murder mysteries but this book was excellently written. I would highly recommend it. The last book I have read is Maisie Dobbs another mystery book. It was the first of a series. It had to develop all of the characters so I think that I would have to read the next one before passing comment. It was not as good as the Evelyn Hardcastle book.

    The urban planning on this island is poor. The main residential area Magic Lake was built on the south side in the 70s. The commercial area built in the 90s including a grocery store, pharmacy, restaurant bakery, credit union post office and more was built on the north side separated by this massive hill from the main residential area which made the island not terribly walkable or bikeable for residents. If you lived on the island you would most likely need a vehicle.

    Despite being marketed as a bikeable island I am not sure I would come back here to Pender biking. In addition to the massive hill other parts of the island are also very hilly. There are bicycle racks everywhere on the island including all the trail heads. I didn't meet many other cyclists on the island and I never saw another bike in a bike rack. I think that I would go back to Mayne biking but not Pender. I am now off to Saturna and I am hoping it is more easily bikeable.
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  • Day7

    Tour de Mayne Island

    August 9 in Canada ⋅ ⛅ 17 °C

    Today marks my last day on Mayne Island. I have kept myself busy biking for a couple of hours a day and going for a daily hike. Biking on the island is quite a challenge as for a prairie cyclist it is extremely hilly. I seem to spend much of my time in either my bottom gear going up the hills or in my top gear flying down. I have learned that when going down hill at great speed to stay away from the edge of the road. Even a small drop off the side of the road at a fast speed could be catastrophic. Despite it being the summer there is not alot of traffic on the islands.

    The hikes I have done have been St. John's point where I met Toni and Alison and had a pleasant chat. They were ex Albertans and were happy to hear about the state of things in the province. I hiked point Edith but never met anyone. Point Edith is on private property but the owners also ex Albertans allow people to hike the point as long as they respect the property. On the one side of the point one can walk out on along the shore along on siltstone/mudstone. It has great traction and has been carved very intricately by the water. At the point I had my lunch and looked out towards Twassen in the distance. The pt also commands a wonderful view of the beautiful cottage that the owners build maybe ten years ago. Cheryl and I actually met one of couple when we here before. She happened to fall off her E bike and I helped her up. The hike back from the point is on the other side along cliffs looking out over Campbell bay and a seal island. My third day I hiked through Henderson park. I got a little disoriented in Henderson park and then I heard someone calling my name which was very odd. It turned out to be Alison from my first day of hiking. It felt like something out of a movie. We had a little chat and she pointed me in the correct direction and I continued my hike up vulture ridge where I had a text conversation with my brother. The third evening I hiked the Bennet Bay point a very short hike and chatted with Tricia who suggested a water taxi to get me from Pender Island to Saturna.

    I hung at both Campbell Bay beach and Bennett Bay beach but found Bennett Bay beach friendly. I had a long chat with Robin a semi-retired Professor one day on Bennett Beach about retirement, living on Mayne and about books he had read. He recommended 21 rules for the 21 century which I have just checked out of the Edmonton public library as an electronic book. I don't need any more weight to lug around so from now on it is electronic books.

    Yesterday I took the ferry over to Galiano for the afternoon for some different scenery. Galiano is a long skinny and very hilly island. It was even Hillier then Mayne. I made it about 2/3 of the way down the island but had set a turn around time of 1.5 hours. On the way back I stopped at a little regional park called Resort Cove. It consists of a stone ledge by the water where one can sit out and enjoy the water. There were all these Harley Davidson vehicles parked which had been on my ferry. I could not see any of the riders until I got down to the water and they were all drinking and smoking pot. I just left and bikes back to Sturdies bay. The hills really took there toll on me on the way back. After a brief stop at Morningstar beach I hit the coffee shop and bookstore before taking the ferry back to Mayne. Was I ever exhausted.

    Other notable events during the week were meeting George a retired school teacher from Lethbridge on the ferry and the subsequently at the grocery store who invited me for supper which was sweet of him. It was a real bachelor supper. I also met Emma again at the Farmgate store. Cheryl and I had met Emma three summers ago on her last day of work before departing for grade 12 on a sailing ship. She gave Cheryl her blog site and Cheryl has been following her adventures that year and subsequently in Ireland and now in London where she is attending University. I said hello and got a selfie with her.

    Today I am off to Pender Island so I will have to pull myself together for the trip. Everything has to go in the Panniers.
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  • Day3

    Victoria and Mayne Island

    August 5 in Canada ⋅ 🌙 19 °C

    I was going to call this trip the Gulf island bicycle trip but I think that could misrepresent the situation so I settled on Gulf Islands with a bicycle. It is a holiday on the Gulf Islands and I will be using my bicycle.

    My middle son Andrew and I flew out on Saturday. We got a little surprise when we went to check in our luggage including the bike. I had called WestJet twice and they had told me that long as I took off the pedals and twisted the handle bars they would provide the bag and there would be no problems. When I got to the check in the agent told me that they don't provide bags and I couldn't take the bike on the plane. I protested so she called her manager who was really cool. A plastic bag fitting the bag appeared and all was well. Edmonton must have a low ranking for bike friendliness.

    We made to Victoria and bussed into town. The Victoria buses are fitted with carriers for bikes. When we transferred buses we accidentally transferred onto the northbound 72 instead of the southbound 72. We got off in Sidney and got turned around. A woman from Michigan we talked to at the bus stop asked me if Andrew was my grandson. It is a little bit of a dementia land out here. Since then I have been introducing him as my grandson. We were staying pretty close to the Victoria (Emily Carr) art gallery so we walked over to check it out. I love all that Group of Seven Emily Carr stuff. Afterwards we headed back to make supper for ourselves and for my oldest son Christopher who is working as a volunteer counsellor at the Victoria Y camp. I have not seen him since the end of June. When he has weekends off he comes into Victoria and couch surfs at other counsellor's places. He came over with two of his friends Clara and Michael. We had a nice visit.

    Andrew and I headed off to Witty's lagoon on Sunday with a borrowed skim board. An interesting fact about myself is that my goal in life is to become a professional skim boarder. Skim boarding is surfing on the edge of the rising water. One runs, throws down the board jumps on it and skims along the surface. If you do everything right you can go about 4-5 metres. If things don't go well you can end up tumbling in the water. It is like gambling. A good ride is worth several bad rides. We took the bus to Witty's transferring in Langford. I didn't realise but the second bus ran only every 2 hours. We lucked out and only had a 15 minute wait. It was still a long trip. Public transit users are always suffering. The bus driver told us the return times for the bus and we were very punctual being at the bus stop. We persisted withe skim boarding for about two hours taking turns. Andrew finally had a spectacular wipe out probably because he was getting tired as was I. He took a while to get up and I thought it was best to cut our losses. We met a retired pathologist on the beach and he knew some of the paths in Edmonton and one of my favourite surgeons, Dr. Halgren who retired several years ago. After a 1.5 hours bus trip back to Victoria we were just exhausted so took it easy after supper.

    This morning we were up early and a cab picked us up to take Andrew to the downturn Y for the 7:45 bus trip to camp Thunderbird where he will be for the next 19 days. After dropping him off I headed back to our Air BnB got my gear and bike and cycled/coasted 10 blocks down hill to the bus stop. I took the bus to Schwartz Bay to catch the ferry to Mayne Island. I caught the express bus. It was much easier than biking. That is when I realised that calling this a bike trip was really misrepresenting the situation.

    The timing was perfect. I caught the ferry to Mayne via Galiano. I chatted with a woman from Saskatoon who had moved to Galiano 5 years ago and worked in the spa at the high end hotel. I talked to a woman from Victoria who was with her friends from TO. They said TO had been hot all summer. On the next ferry I met George a retired math teacher from Lethbridge.

    When we got to Mayne Island I finally had to do some bicycling. From the ferry terminal it was a very steep climb upwards. With fully loaded panniers it was a lot of work. I stopped to catch my breath after a few minutes as I was scared of having a heart attack . The traffic went by. I continued slowly making my way to Miner's bay and the grocery store. I met George again. That is the thing about these islands is you meet people over and over. He has a place close to the Blue Vista. I think he felt sorry for me so he invited me for supper on the sixth. I stocked up with the minimum groceries and continued the cycle to Blue Vista. The uphills were hard and the down hills were fast. It didn't take me too long maybe 30 minutes. I dumped my stuff and biked to my favourite beach on the island for a swim in the Pacific to cool off.
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  • Jul11

    Pigeon Lady and Manchester

    July 11 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ☁️ 17 °C

    I showed up at the Manchester Youth Hostel on Wednesday. The hostel had got really good reviews. I had booked a private room which was probably no cheaper than a hotel room. I typically have good experiences at hostels. There are often other single travellers to visit with and there are cooking facilities if you want to make a meal. When I was walking to the hostel I noticed that there was a fairly large music festival going on not very far from the hostel. When it started at 7 pm was it ever loud. When I checked into my room I noticed that there was an LRT line running on a viaduct about two stories above my window. There were also a lot of school groups staying at the hostel. This was the perfect storm for sleep deprivation I thought. I was told the music festival would end at 10:30 pm punctually. I thought that I would go for a walk to a nearby park and read my book to get away from the carnage at the hostel. St.John's park was the site of an old church and a sign read that they believed 22000 people were buried on the site. A little spooky to think that I would be enjoying myself on the resting place of that many souls. I chose a bench to sit on and started reading my book. For the first 5 minutes things went well but then pigeons started to show up. Initially as 1or 2 but then as larger groups. Before I knew it there were hundreds of pigeons surrounding me. Then the squirrels came. Several of them with big bushy tails. I really don't like pigeons and ever since I had squirrels in my attic, I have looked upon them as rats with tails. What was the universe doing to me. What had I done to merit this. Obviously they were looking for food but why me. I sat there for about ten minutes. The pigeons, the squirrels and I. I was too tired to move. I was even too tired to even worry about my risk of getting Cryptococcus neoformans from the pigeons. A type of pathogenic fungus that pigeons carry. I was just waiting for some lemurs with Echinococcus to show up. Something had to happen and it did. The pigeon lady of St. John's park showed up. This very disrumpled ancient lady entered the park with a large shopping bag. She heisitated when she saw me from across the park but realising who she must be I beckoned her over. She told me that she had been coming to the park for 30 years to feed the pigeons. She asked me to join in feeding the pigeons and pulled a five pound bag of bird seed so there I sat in the park feeding pigeons and learning all these interesting things from her. These were the healthiest pigeons that I had ever seen. These pigeons were her pets and she could distinguish them from each other. Pigeons in Manchester often only live a year but her pigeons lived on average 5 she thought. She said that she would even try to catch the sick ones and take them home with her to nurse back to health. No cages but an empty room with a linoleum floor. She was crazy in a kind pleasant way. She had been a school teacher- geography and Latin. She told me she was indebted to the Canadians as during WW2 the Canadian government had sent over hot chocolate powder. No one has ever told me that they were indebted to me. Her Uncle George had been a grain farmer outside of Regina but had returned during WW2 as Canadian soldier. He survived the war but she never saw him again. Her husband had died recently. I didn't have the heart to ask how. Pigeons are a cause of hypersensitivity pneumonitis. After feeding the pigeons, she pulled out the peanuts for the squirrels who we fed. Handfuls of peanuts. After she had a large bag of grapes for the blackbirds. We fed the blackbirds. She told me not to worry about the music as it always stopped at 10:30. Then she announced to me that she had to go and quickly left. Maybe to go off and feed some rats or other vermin. It had been all very surreal. I went back to the hostel, the music stopped at 10:30, the LRT wasn't that noisy and the children were well behaved and quiet. I had a good night's sleep. The universe had went from being out of control back into harmony all in a matter of a few hours. Why do I worry so much. Of course the incubation time for Cryptococcus meningitis is longer than a few days.

    After a good night's sleep and a hearty hostel breakfast, I headed out for a Free tour of Manchester. You take the tour and pay what you want at the end. It was pretty good. We learned about the history of the city, industrialization, suffrage, unionists, the rock scene. The tour started at the Alan Turing memorial. A brilliant mathematician who helped solve the Enigma code in WW2 and build baby the first computer in Manchester after the war but was persecuted for his homosexuality and committed suicide. Sad story well depicted in the movie Imitation game, a must watch if you haven't seen it. Other highlights were the Midland Hotel where Rolls and Royce met for the first time and the Beckhams had their first date. The city hall with a cotton ball on top. The Lincoln memorial. Manchester refused to import cotton from the south during the civil war. A part of town Arnadale? Leveled by an IRA bomb in 1996? Vimto a nonalcoholic drink produced by Quakers in Manchester and now very popular in the Middle East. The tour went on for3.5 hours. I tipped Michael the guide very generously.
    I was really starting to flag but I knew I had to make it to the Science and Technology museum home of the Robinson rocket which the first commercially viable steam locomotive and Baby the first computer built with Alan Turing help. Fortunately the museum was immediately beside the hostel. After a quick look around, I returned to the hostel having been on the go for 5 hours and had a well deserved nap.

    It is now Friday and I'm sitting on my flight to Iceland. I successfully navigated my way to and through the airport. My holiday is pretty well done and I think this is an appropriate last blog. I had a memorable Pooh Bear adventure. I had an unrest cure. I saw some interesting things and met some interesting people. I completed my and my father's goal of a multiday hike in the UK. I am happy to be returning home. I need a rest.

    At times I got a little lonely but writing the blog made me feel I was still in touch with everyone. I hope you all enjoyed it. I appreciated all the comments that people made.

    Rob
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  • Jul10

    Faster train to Manchester

    July 10 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ⛅ 19 °C

    I caught a 9:06 am train to Manchester. I booked well in advance. For an extra 10 pounds, I went first class. It was a treat. The 2 nd class was packed but hardly anyone in first class. I had an interesting conversation with a Scottish businessman heading dow to Manchester. He and his partners ran ski schools in Europe. Ski schools in Europe are independent of the lift operators. He had no idea what Brexit would bring, whether he would require visas for any of his employees. He said the uncertainty was crazy. At one point in his life he had been a Scottish nationalist but really wasn't sure that would work. He didn't hold out much hope for either Boris Johnson or Hunt? I let him get back to work and read the crime novel I had been dragging for the whole trip. I finished it so I can now ditch it. It wasn't that good. It seemed that as soon as I got into England, it stopped raining. Scotland was beautiful but I don't think I could live there as it rains too much and I was lucky to have not had that much rain on my trip. I made it over to my accommodation by 1 and left my stuff while I went and checked out the Imperial War Museum. They had some interesting stuff. I was so engrossed by the displays that I walked beneath a Hawker Hurricane jet suspended from the ceiling without noticing. They had JRR Tolkien's service revolver from WW1. A unique car from Eastern Europe that Jack may recognise. Part of the plane that Rudolph Heist had used to travel to England, part of the Twin Tower from New York. I lasted about two hours but saw pretty well everything. It would have taken longer with Cheryl. Media City where both ITV and BBC are located are very close to the IWM and I noticed walking by that they produce the childre's television show Blue Peter there. Blue Peter is a weely children's show that has been running since 1958. I remember watching it when I lived in England for a year with my parents. We even named our sailboat Blue Peter. It brought back lots of memories. Tonight I am just chilling out again as these travel days exhaust me.Read more

  • Jul9

    Day of travel and rain

    July 9 in the United Kingdom ⋅ 🌧 13 °C

    It was raining quite hard today in Scotland. In fact it rained all night as well. Of course I woke up too early and just lay in bed. I had breakfast at 7:30 and was away by 8:15. I got to the train station by 9. I had to have the car back by 9:30. My train didn't leave Fort William for Glasgow until 11:30 so I just had to chill out at the train station. I had planned on walking around but it was raining too hard. The train to Glasgow was very slow. It is only 100 miles but took 4 hours. It was following in parts the West Highland Way so it had to work very hard and it made multiple stops. It wasn't a long walk in the rain from the Queen Street Station to my hotel which is beside the Central Station. That will be convenient for tomorrow when I catch my train to Manchester. I did Rick Steve's walk of downtown Glasgow. Lots of nice shopping. I changed some Swedish Krona and Swiss Franc we had left over from previous trips at a Mark's and Spencer and ended up eating supper there. I think I am more tired on these travel days then on the hiking and sightseeing days. I am just chilling out tonight. Off to England and Manchester tomorrow.Read more

  • Jul8

    Good bye to Skye

    July 8 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ☁️ 13 °C

    I had to leave Skye today and start heading home. These next 4 nights all involve my trip home. I guess that is what happens when you travel to remote places. That said I still had one more adventure on Skye. I decided that I still wanted to do the hike that I had missed yesterday. Round trip it was about 2.5 hours and it was only moderately difficult. It was called the Camasunary Bay hike and afforded a wonderful view of the Cuellin mountains on the south of the island. The night before I had wandered around Portree which had been absolutely packed with tourists from a Viking cruise liner. The hike to Camasunary Bay could hardly be different. I was at the trail head by 7:30. No one was there. I hiked up and over a significant rise which commanded a beautiful view of the bay a farm house and a bothy. A bothy is a building sometimes maintained and sometimes not for people to stay in overnight when out wild camping. This one was supposedly maintained, kind of like an alpine but. It was at the far end of the beach and I figured I didn't have to check it out. There were some tenters on the beach but all was very quiet. I snapped a few photos and then walked back to the car.
    I had a 2.5 hour drive to Glencoe which is 30 minutes on the far side of Fort William. I guess I booked this B and B to allow me to explore the Glencoe valley. The drive was very windy and busy with traffic. When I did get there I was quite tired so I don't think I'll be exploring that much. The hike also tired me out. On the West Highland Way I also came through the valley so I had seen a fair amount of it alread,y. Perhaps returning the car to Fort William and staying there overnight would have been easier.
    The one fun thing I did on the drive down was stop at Eilean Donon, castle of the McRaes. It had been totally destroyed by the English in 1719 during the first Jacobite rebellion. The had learned that it was harbouring Spanish soldiers. Upon capturing the castle they used Spanish gunpowder found in the castle to blow it up. Fast forward 200 years and the castle was bought by a John McRae-Gilstrap who was married to the English heiress of a malting empire. They spent 250000 pounds rebuilding a better castle then filling it with antiquities that they bought to fill. It was opened to the public in the 1950s and it is the quintessential Scottish castle. It was featured in the Highlander series and was in a James Bond movie. I think there is still hope for the McLean castle. The McLean chief merely needs to marry into some English money to rebuild the castle.
    I am now at my BnB in Glencoe. I went for a walk after supper and just behind the BnB I happened upon Glencoe House, a huge mansion that had been converted into a swanky hotel. When I googled it I learned that this was the summer residence of Donald Smith also known as Lord Strathchona, founder of CP rail, last chief factor of the Hudson Bay, the person Old Strathchona is named after. The BnB was the gardeners and cook's residence. Small world.
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  • Jul7

    Neist Point Lighthouse

    July 7 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ⛅ 13 °C

    I didn't get going as early this morning but was away by 7:30 am. I wanted to see more of the island which I thought I could by doing three small hikes. I headed up to the west part of the island close to the Dunvegan castle. After Dunvegan it was single lane all the way to the Neist point lighthouse. There was no traffic coming out but it was still slow going. In places there were sheep and their lambs just lying on the road. When I made it to parking lot, I could see the lighthouse in the distance requiring a walk out onto the penninsula with massive cliffs on either side. Steps down from the car park had been constructed from concrete as had a path. It all felt very institutional. The lighthouse was surrounded by large buildings, I suspect had been used for military function during WW2 as there was a commanding view of the ocean looking out to the Outer Hebrides. There was tremendous bird activity on the adjacent cliffs. Birds were just soaring on the vectors of the cliffs. I watched one gull soar for several minutes without flapping its wings. Sometimes one can see whales and dolphins off the coast from the lighthouse but no such luck. When I finished at the lighthouse I walked back up the steps to the car park and out to a concrete observations structure which also probably dated back to the war. It commanded even a better view. I imagined how lonely it must have felt back in WW2 at this post watching for German subs.
    I headed back to Dunvegan. A lot of traffic was flowing in to the lighthouse making the single lane very busy. The sheep had been replaced by vehicles. I wonder how many get hit by cars. At one point a farmer had set up some type of feeding bin by the road and all of his cattle were congregating by the road. I felt I was in a cattle stampede. I was happy to have a Ford Fiesta. Lots of Europeans driving campers which difficult to navigate around. After a very long ride I made it back to Dunvegan where I visited the ancient church where many McLeods including many clan chiefs were buried. In 2000 the town's people had dragged this huge stone obelisk like stone onto the promontory overlying the church. Wonderful view from the top. I lost the path and ended the hike early
    I started to head off to my last hike however the TomTom GPS told me it would take 1.5 hours. I somehow took a wrong turn when I thought the TomTom was wrong and ended up in Portree. It was still 60 minutes to the trailhead. I decided to do it tomorrow when I am closer to it when I drive off the island tomorrow.
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