Day 8: FROM THE BORDERLANDS TO SCOTLAND
It was 6:35am when I awoke. After having seen the TripAdvisor info regarding the Housesteads Fort of Hadrians Wall (which we were targeting for today), we were under the impression that the place wouldn’t be open until 10am. So we took our time getting ready though part of me wanted to be there early to ensure that we would be in the complex as soon as possible. We weren’t sure how popular this place was nor how much time we would be spending here knowing that we had at least two waterfall excursions to do before checking into Edinburgh for the night.
In any case, Julie didn’t feel the sense of urgency so it wouldn’t be until 8:10am when we would finally leave the Romney Apartments for good and be on the road heading right into the Borderlands where we expected to visit Hadrian’s Wall at the Housesteads Fort.
The drive was dominated by going north on the M6, which was very smooth (something I came to expect of European motorways). Yet none of these roads required toll from what we experienced, and that was something unusual since I had always thought most of the motorways were in good shape typically they required tolls. At least that was my impression on the mainland of Europe.
Eventually, we followed the GPS towards the Housesteads Fort, and we would end up arriving at the car park at about 9:30am. The car park was mostly empty because we were one of the first ones here. While I was busy reading the signs at the Visitor Center, a worker wielding a leaf blower told me that we didn’t have to wait until 10am to go up to the ruins.
So with that, I followed his advice, but not until after I relayed the news to Julie and Tahia. And after getting past the visitor center, sure enough, there was a path that went uphill along a well-developed walking path cutting through some pastures before getting past a gate and making the final climb up to the Housesteads Fort.
The place was mostly ruins, and I guess this was pretty much a part of Hadrian’s Wall as its genuine self. No re-creations – just ruins and signs interpreting the ruins. Looking out the backside of the Housesteads Fort, we did see Hadrian’s Wall, which could be distinguished from the typical walls to hold in livestock (namely sheep) by the width of the wall itself.
I was hoping to find a way to get a pretty classical look at Hadrian’s Wall from the Housesteads Crag, but from what I could tell, that would require a bit of a walk that we weren’t prepared to take. And we just didn’t feel compelled to spend too much time here. I guess we had gotten too used to the Roman ruins throughout Italy last year, and this was pretty ho hum compared to those experiences.
Indeed, Hadrian’s Wall was no Great Wall. But its existence in such a seemingly out-of-the-way place underscored the turbulent struggles between the Scots and the English in these borderlands. And perhaps such a legacy of war and turmoil might explain (at least according to the book “American Nations”) how our folks from Appalachia descended from Scots-Irish fleeing war-torn lands if they had the means, and would ultimately become the stereotypical hillbillies.
So after having our fill of the Housesteads Fort, we returned back to the car and got there at 10:35am. Next up was the first waterfall of today, which was the Gray Mare’s Tail.
After going back to the M6, then flying north on the highway, we would eventually have to go back onto more narrow rural roads until we’d ultimately arrive at the car park for Gray Mare’s Tail at 12:15pm.
We could see right from the car park that there were steep and narrow trails on both sides of the stream responsible for the Gray Mare’s Tail Waterfall. The first path we went up was the one to the left, which was for the 10-minute (in each direction) hike up to a frontal view of the impressive 60m waterfall itself.
We were holding onto Tahia tightly because the trail here was quite narrow. Plus, any slip and fall towards the dropoffs would mean a certainly fatal tumble several hundred feet down towards the river. Indeed, concentration was in order.
Once we got to a barricade discouraging further progress closer to the waterfall, we took the obligatory photos before heading back. Although it looked like some people managed to get around the barricade, we opted to be content with the views from this spot before turning back and getting back to the car park.
And once we returned back to the main footpath near the bridge, that was when we split up. Julie and Tahia would go back to the car while I was going to climb the opposite side of the valley via the trail leading up to Loch Skeen. I told Julie that I would be back at the car by about 2pm, though it was about 12:30pm when I headed up.
Little did I realize that the walk up to Loch Skeen was actually about 2.5 miles return (said to take 2-3 hours), and that I didn’t really give myself enough time to be back at the car by 2pm due to this underestimation of the time commitment. In any case, I sweated and breathed heavily as I went up the slew of steps all the while taking photos of the increasingly beautiful view of the valley as well as alternative views of the Gray Mare’s Tail.
As I went higher up the track, it was narrow enough that people coming in opposite directions of traffic would have to arrange on the spot who would yield and who would keep going. After all, there simply wasn’t enough room to consistently have people coming from the opposite direction trying to squeeze by each other with these dropoffs. Really, the most efficient way of passing by people was to have someone take the initiative and step off the main track so the others could get through without unnecessarily endangering their lives by tip-toeing to avoid the dropoffs and the people at the same time.
When I got to about the two-thirds point of the trail, I could see that there was a huge mat of purple wildflowers on the slopes of the fell that I was on. It was too bad that the weather was mostly cloudy because I could just imagine how colorful this scene would be had the sun provided direct light.
Up to this point, I was also getting alternate views of the Gray Mare’s Tail since I was on the opposite end of the valley. The view of the falls was more angled from here, but it was no less dramatic. Eventually, I would get past the main drops of the falls, but as the trail flattened out a little more, I noticed there were still a couple more smaller tiers of waterfalls on the same linn.
Some people were chilling out at the top of the falls, but was on a mission to keep going to Loch Skeen since I knew this lake was something most people do together with this waterfall. And beyond the falls, I could see the trail pretty much undulated amongst more purple flowers blooming where there were stones or stream.
As my watch was getting past 1:20pm, I started to get concerned about whether I would be back at the car park later than I wanted to be. With my belief that we might miss out on Falls of Clyde later today (thinking they’d close at 4pm), I had to hasten my steps and start running. At least the trail running was made easier with the flatter terrain beyond the falls.
But as my watch continued to get later and later (now towards 1:30pm), I started to wonder whether I would have to quit and go back without having witnessed the Loch Skeen.
It wouldn’t be until about 1:40pm when I would finally be at the shores of Loch Skeen. Given the overcast conditions, there was a lot of gray but the purple from the wildflowers wouldn’t really reveal itself boldly without the sun. I tried to improve my position by scrambling up the immediate hillside to try to photograph the lake from a higher vantage point.
I was only able to get so high, but I felt that my photo compositions weren’t that great. So eventually, I quickly had my fill of Loch Skeen at 1:45pm and proceeded to quickly head back the way I came. This time, I did more trail running knowing that I wasn’t going to be back at the car park before 2pm as I had promised Julie earlier.
And while it seemed to take forever to get to Loch Skeen, my trail running got me back to the top of Gray Mare’s Tail by 2pm, and by 2:25pm, I rejoined Julie and Tahia at the car. Since I was concentrating on my balance and the trail itself on the descent, I really wasn’t paying much attention to the divine valley view down below. Nonetheless, with the rental car regained, it was time to proceed onwards to New Lanark and the Falls of Clyde.
With the worry of the falls being closed and inaccessible by 4pm, I was making haste as we had to drive back through Moffat then back onto the M6 north. Julie was complaining to me that we didn’t stop to get a lunch since Gray Mare’s Tail. After a short delay from some road work (funny how these things always happen when you’re in a hurry), we then took some local roads towards the town of Lanark, then we followed the road signs towards New Lanark.
Once we got to New Lanark at 3:30pm, there were signs pointing me towards a car park. It turned out to be the place to leave the car then walk down the hill towards the UNESCO town of New Lanark itself. I wasn’t sure why this place was UNESCO, but I’d guess it had more to do with the Industrial Revolution and the water works here.
The signs led me towards the Falls of Clyde visitor center, which was mostly unmanned. A lady who worked here told me that I could do the walk on my own and didn’t require me to pay an entrance fee. So I guess I was worried about missing out on this hike for nothing after all. She was helpful in giving me the right map and telling me where the trail began, which was actually back up the steps then passing through a pair of stone archways.
Next to the industrail buildings near the visitor center was the first waterfall called Dundaff Linn. The view from the trail wasn’t great so I kept going on the well-established path. It didn’t take long before I went past a sign at a fork indicating that the alternate path was to avoid high water if the Clyde River was flooded or the hydro schemes would release water.
Then, when the boardwalk ended, I walked onto what appeared to be a road that led me past a house where the front was full of posters and stand-up signs talking about how CEMEX (a multi-national Mexican company) wanted to quarry the area around the Falls of Clyde and essentially destroy the Clyde River. Of course, it could be argued that having a hydro scheme on the river was also detrimental to the Clyde River as well, but I wasn’t going to dwell on the irony of it.
Once I went past the Bonnington Power Station (where I could really hear the hum of the electricity generation as I went past some of the generators), the trail then left the pavement and went back into the bush. This part of the trail pretty much followed a long line of diversion pipes (probably to feed a turbine so the work done by the flowing water would spin the turbines and thus spin the Faraday loop to make current.
This part of the hike was gradually uphill, and at roughly 4:15pm I finally saw the second waterfall on the Clyde River called Cora Linn. This was a very attractive two-tiered falls that had quite a bit of character to it. However, the initial overlook had lots of foliage blocking parts of the falls.
I guess this was the waterfall that the lady at the visitor center told me was typically her turnaround point of the hike. She thought it might have been a bit much to keep going, but a sign said the Bonnington Linn was only 3/4-mile away so I went for it.
The trail flattened out as it passed by another view of the Cora Linn, then went into a short gorge above the falls. The trail was near the top of the gorge and there was a lot of overgrowth so there really wasn’t much of a photo op here. There were a few more designated lookout areas (one on top of Cora Linn, one of the river in the gorge, etc.), but they weren’t anything that noteworthy. However, there were some branches of the trail that went away from the gorge and I suspected that they might have been for the Peregrine Falcon viewing, but I wondered if they were closed since I saw signage suggesting that.
I’d eventually get to a lookout where I saw some waterfall with a thin-flowing creek having another waterfall adjacent to that. I wasn’t sure what falls this was, but the view was at a severe angle so I kept going.
Eventually, I would reach signage saying that I was entering a reserve (going the other way), and shortly thereafter, I found myself at the Bonnington Weir, which was another dam with transformers (undoubtedly another hydro power station). I was able to cross the weir like a bridge over the Clyde River, and then I found myself at the end of the red trail and the start of the purple trail.
A sign here said that there was no access back to the other side of the Clyde River for the next 3.5 miles so there was no way I was going to finish off this hike as a loop. But it was only another 0.2 miles to get to the view of the Bonnington Linn.
By about 4:45pm, I finally made it to the Bonnington Linn view, which turned out to be that same waerfall I had seen earlier. It consisted of two drops, but they were significantly smaller tha the Cora Linn. I guess I could see why the lady at the visitor center tended not to continue past Cora Linn. Still, this waterfall appeared to have seen better days as there was a lot of bare rock above and next to each tier. It was possible that it might have been a spectacular sight where the entire span of the Clyde River would drop, and thus make this waterfall more compelling than it currently is.
Knowing that Julie and Tahia was waiting for me, I hastily made my way back towards New Lanark. I’d eventually make it back to town at around 5:25pm, and as I was slowly making my way towards the hill where the car park was, I checked out a bit more of the town itself since I was curious as to why this place was UNESCO.
Well, as I was doing my exploring, I saw that there was a more direct view of Dundaff Linn, and I got to see a waterwheel close up. At the same time, I also get a sense that the town had some kind of an old-school charm about it, but it also had that stale feeling given all this industrialism here (which I’d imagine was the very thing that made this town UNESCO since it must’ve have figured in the Industrial Revolution).
Finally at 5:45pm, I returned to the car thus completing the roughly 3-mile return hike. It turned out that Tahia and Julie had walked into New Lanark, but they didn’t do the walk to Cora Linn. They did get a bite to eat at a cafe in town so they seemed to be in a much better mood than the time we had just arrived.
Now we could focus on getting to Edinburgh though I knew that the parking situation there might be a bit on the chaotic side until we find the hotel and get some advice about it. By about 7:15pm, we’d get to Hunter Square, which seemed to be real close to the Royal Mile, but the parking situation looked bad here. So I illegally stopped the car so Julie could find the Ibis Hotel and check in while getting some advice. I got lucky in that a car pulled out and so I promptly took that spot.
Tahia and I were keeping each other busy while waiting for Julie, and when she came back, she told me where the car park structure was and it looked like it was many blocks away. So given that, I decided that we should take our stuff up to the room before heading into the parking structure so we wouldn’t have to carry all this stuff for several blocks.
It wouldn’t be until about 8:10pm when we finally got to the St Johns Hill car park.
After a bit more of indecision about where to eat on this night, we had gotten a taste of the charm and bustle of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh at almost 9pm. As much as I wanted to explore this place and really get a feel for it, I had to content myself with the limited sightseeing so we could find an Italian place to eat since Julie was in the mood for it.
We’d ultimately find this place in a side street called La Locanda, and it turned out to be quite a find as the ravioli and salmon dishes that we got were very good. Even the tiramisu dessert was good (Tahia had no trouble digging into this), and even though we had to pay about 40 pounds for the whole meal (think nearly $80 USD), we were very satisfied at concluding our long day here.
We got back to the hotel at 10:15pm. It had been sprinkling outside, which I was sure would foreshadow a rainy day tomorrow. Still, we had two full days to enjoy in town, and we all looked forward to being charmed by the Scottish capital of Edinburgh…