The back story: For those of you who don't know the reason why anyone would jet off to The UK for three weeks, by herself, I'll fill you in briefly... It's all about a man. Isn't it always? Duvain and I met here in Texas last Thanksgiving and have maintained a veeeeeery long-distance relationship since then. This was my second trip to see him in 2010. It sounds very romantic, I'm sure, and in some ways it is and in other ways I just wish I could call him up and say "Hey! Let's go to the movies together!". We've had to make the most of each trip and I can honestly say that we did our very best!
Duvain (finally) gave me permission to use his real name so you guys, meet Duvain...I adore this man.
The beginning of my three week vacation started out so not good. I was delayed here and there and everywhere and ended up arriving in Manchester, England 7 hours behind schedule. The positive thing, though, was that my luggage arrived with me unlike the last time it was delayed by 4 days. I actually did a fist pump high in the air when I saw my bright blue suitcase come through the conveyor belt.
I was prepared for some cold, cold weather when I got there so I was a little surprised that it was a bearable cold and really didn't need a heavy coat. Little did I realize that that would only last like 4 minutes and I'd be walking around with my foot in my mouth the rest of this trip. The first few days we took it easy and I adjusted to the 6-hour time difference. We went for a nice long walk, visited with his family and rode the bikes around.
(It was definitely cold by the time we took this picture. Hence the reason I wore a hat with puppy dog ears. Henllan, North Wales. I'll never make fun of Duvain's hats again. Now I know they serve a very real purpose.)
A few days after I arrived the skies opened up a tad and it snowed this gorgeous fat, fluffy snow that just blanketed the area with white. Duvain thinks I have skills that I actually do not posses and suggested snow boarding and I was all "Sure! I'll try it out!". All was fun and exciting until I flipped on top of my head and probably lost a few IQ points. It was fun, though, and I'm willing to try it again someday with maybe a helmet and full body armor.
The next week was spent exploring some of the places I'd been to last time I had visited. I had wanted to climb Snowdon mountain again but the weather was something we hadn't accounted for so Duvain and I spent some time at the base of Snowdon, in a car park, watching for shooting stars. We saw 5 shooting stars seperately and 2 together. We both made a lot of wishes that night. We saw more shooting stars on a night hike to Aber Falls with three of his nephews. The five of us stopped and lay on the ground and took turns yelling and pointing with such enthusiasm when we'd see a shooting star. I haven't ever seen so many shooting stars in such a short period of time in my life. There's something about being away from buildings and light pollution and people and just staring at the sky waiting to see your very own light show. I noticed last night, with much dismay, how few stars I can see from my front yard. I miss those stars.
(We visited Betws Y Coed three times and I'm hoping by the looks of this picture you can see why. It was such an idyllic little town with a picture-perfect setting, especially with all the snow.)
Before leaving for my trip we discussed going camping in Scotland. Normally it doesn't snow until later in the year but I guess Mother Nature knew I was coming so she blasted out tons of fresh snow just in time for us to head out for our camping adventure. We loaded up the car with lots of food, hot water in thermos', two different kinds of tents and the warmest sleeping bags we could get our hands on and we set out to trek across Scotland.
PLEASE GO TO SCOTLAND, I BEG YOU. It was GORGEOUS and I sort of fell in love with the mountains and the trees and listening to everyone talk. We walked around a grocery store in Scotland and I was so amused with the Scottish accents that I forgot that we were there to look for food. Due to the weather, again, my plan of climbing Ben Nevis (the highest mountain in The UK) was foiled but we did walk up part of it and someday I'd like to go to the top of Ben Nevis.
(Here I am walking sideways down Ben Nevis because of the icy patches and the lack of proper climbing shoes. We hiked only about 20 minutes up and then back down but the views were spectacular.)
We ended up camping for two nights with the temperature dropping to an ass-cold MINUS THIRTEEN DEGREES CELSIUS (19F). The first night was, uh, strange to say the least. We stopped in a village in Scotland that we could have sworn was the setting for an awful horror film. We stopped and inquired about local camp sites at a hotel and the lady offered us a "deal" because of the horrible snow storm. Her version of a deal was approximately $125 a night. We were on a shoestring budget so that was a negatory. We decided to walk around the village to get a lay of the land and decide if we wanted to camp there. It was about 8:30 pm when we started our walk and even though we passed dozens of homes with their lights on and curtains wide open we didn't see a single sole walking outside or even inside their houses. People in the UK walk all the time so I was shocked to not see one single person walking their dog or coming back from a trip to the neighbors house. About 45 minutes into our walk we decided that the lady at the hotel must have been the ringleader who collected stranded travelers and served them up on platters as a Scottish delicacy to the next day's travellers. We high-tailed it out of there quick. It was the epitome of creepy.
Where we did end up camping was in a visitor center car park on Loch Lomond. I have stop for a second to to say that it's so different over there versus here. Over there (in the UK) it's not strange to pitch a tent in a place that's not in a designated camping spot. There's no cause for alarm when you see someone walking late at night, even in the frigid cold. People spend time outside despite rain/snow/hot or whatever is thrown at them. The Land Reform Act of 2003 basically states that anyone can be on any property, private or not, as long as they act responsibly. This is the exact opposite of all the "keep out" and "private property" signs I'm used to in the US. So while Duvain was perfectly content sleeping in a car park by a lake I was a paranoid mess half of the night and had to talk myself down from a horrible anxiety attack because I thought we were going to be a front page news headline like "TWO CAMPERS ABDUCTED!!". He was snoozing soundly while I was listening to the last sounds I would hear ever in my life. You don't know fear more than when you HAVE to pee in the middle of the night, in the dark, by the water, with the ghosts and goblins ready to attack you. It's comical now, sure, but at the time I was a mess.
The second night we camped was less scary but was way more eventful. We discovered that all the campsites were closed so we had to find our own site. There was so much snow that we needed to find a suitable place. I spent the whole time looking for a spot saying things like "Hey, look, it's a hotel, how about that?" and "Oh! A hostel, I bet they have room for us!" but Duvain became temporarily deaf to my voice and found us a spot to camp. I didn't realize at the time, because it was dark outside, that he picked a mountain to camp on! That meant is was even more ass-cold and windy. The Cairngorm mountains became our home for the night. Oh it was comical to see us squeeze into Duvain's one-person high-altitude tent. We were both smooshed up against the wall of the tent and could barely move a muscle. I got condensation water up my nose during the night and it was a process to move my hand from down by my side up toward my face. Right before we dozed off to sleep I asked Duvain if we needed to worry about an avalanche. We were on a mountain and I happened to be on the mountain side of the tent. He dismissed me saying something about it was fine and not to worry about it. I found out later that the thought crossed his mind, too, but he didn't want to mess around with moving our tent!
(Fortunately a snow plow had come by earlier in the day so despite the 5 feet of snow we were able to find a spot with very little snow, only about a foot or so. Yes, this is where we slept. Crazy, no?!)
The next morning when I peeked out of the tent I was greeted with the most amazing view of the valley below and a lovely sunrise that cast a pink shade on everything. We were higher than the low-lying clouds and the ski lodge car park where we camped was rapidly filling with early-morning skiers. Everyone that drove by us and saw our tent gave us this incredible look like were were completely insane and it's true, we were completely insane. But I tell ya, it was such a great expierence despite the cold and the fact that I could have sworn that I was getting frostbite on my fingers at one point. I don't know hardly anyone who would have done what we did in such extreme temperatures. I also know I wouldn't have attempted such a crazy adventure if it weren't for that crazy man. He's got faith that I can handle most anything and even though he's sparse with his words I know he was proud of me and of us for attempting something that most people will never in their lives even consider attempting.
On our journey back home we stopped in Edinburgh for a few hours to take in city life. It was a lovely place to spend time in, especially with all the winter weather surrounding us. I felt like I was in a movie set with the street festivals, outdoor ice skating rinks and the snow that came down. We took our time walking through an outdoor German festival, came upon a BBC program being filmed and walked among the locals and tourists on our way to Edinburgh Castle. Hearing actual bag pipes being playing by what I assume was an actual Scotsman on the streets of Edinburgh was amazing (You can see the dark, shaky video here). I was positively giddy that *I* was in Scotland walking in the snow with an amazing man listening to bag pipes being played.
Our drive back home was long and tiresome, neither of us could keep our eyes open for long which I think is a good sign of an excellent time. We absolutely wore ourselves out to the point of near exhaustion. We got home and in bed around 3am after driving for hours and hours in some insane road conditions and after unloading the car of all our camping equipment. We stayed put for a few days until it was time for our next adventure in Spain...
To be continued....
The rest of the over 1,000 photos can be seen here.