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Published: March 11th 2009
This past weekend I went with an IFSA-Butler sponsored trip to Loch Lomond. They always do good things, though this was the first trip of the semester, which means TONS of people. It was quite a festive bunch, though slightly exhausting. To deal with the large amount of people Butler hired out an entire hostel, the Loch Lomond Youth Hostel to be specific. The Loch Lomond youth hostel is not your normal backpacking hostel though. It's a castle. An honest to god Castle out in the middle of nowhere. Converted in 1945 using relief funds contributed by American Trade Unions, it has preserved the grand feeling in all of the main rooms, conference rooms, dining rooms etc, while the rooms all became your basic hostel rooms. My favorite part architecturally was the beautiful stained glass thistles in the main stairwell.
We left from the Uni on Friday evening, and once we were settled at the hostel had a huge group meeting where we were informed of the next days activities. We were given the chance to choose two activities out of a variety; abseiling (rappelling), high ropes, mountain biking, hill walking, gorge walking, cave walking, kyaking, canoeing, etc.
As most of those involved heights I decided to go with those that didn't, so Katy and I chose to go with the option that involved cave walking and canoeing. Of course, there being limited room in each of the paired activities we had to sign up beforehand, and due to the ridiculously large number of people, this involved me fighting my way through a crowd of equally determined students, pen in hand to claim our spots. It was a nightmare, but I came out triumphant!
That night we watched Braveheart. In a Castle. In Scotland. How epic is that?! It was a fun experience, though this time around watching it, i was able to see some of the cheesy-ness and several historical inaccuracies, which I will not bore you with. That didn't stop me from feeling the urge to take up broadsword and fight during the battle scenes, and me being me, didn't stop me from tearing up once or twice (my excuse: I'm a girl). We headed to be directly after the movie as the next day we had to be up at 7 for our activities. Caves
The next morning dawned grey and rainy
Me in Cave
Photo Taken By Melissa Davis
as we set out for the Benmore activity center where we met our guides and were split into groups. We met our activity leader, a slightly crazy man named Andy who had the nickname Scratts (?). He greeted us enthusiastically asking if we were ready to do some truly crazy things with ropes in caves. We were mildly shocked, and seeing our expressions, his took on a defeated look. He cheered up pretty quickly though, reworking his plan for the day from absolutely insane caving to a more "normal" approach. I should explain at this point, that I should have known better than to assume that it would just be walking around in a cave á la Linville Caverns. 'Walking' to a Scot is never actually walking as we know it. Hill walking is intense hiking, usually akin to what we would define as backpacking or camping. Similarly, Cave walking entailed anything but walking, more on that soon...
We were fitted out with waterproof rain jackets, pants, helmet and harness. A good amount of the girls in our group were from St. Andrews (the other school) and were whiney to the point of wanting to pull out some of
Cave 1 exit
Photo Taken By Melissa Davis
the Braveheart moves that we'd seen the night before... Those that know me know that I have no love of heights, but these girls were flipping out because it was the thing to do: A sample of the conversation, before we had so much as left the center: "I absolutely cannot do this. There's just no way. I mean like really, I'll have a panic attack" "I'll have a panic attack too!" "Lets hold hands while we have panic attacks!" Bless. their. hearts.
After a short hike up a hill near the center we got to the entrance of the cave, a hole in a small outcrop. We were instructed to go in, and wait in a small antechamber until Andy clipped a rope onto my harness and lowered me down through a narrow fissure to the bottom. The drop was 50 feet at least, and I was really nervous, but once I was down, I was thrilled!! Caves are so much fun, and this one was unique in that it wasn't a limestone cave like we have in the states (ALERT: THOSE THAT DO NOT WISH TO READ GEEKYNESS PLEASE SKIP TO THE NEXT PARAGRAPH) but was instead
a schist cave. Schist is a metamorphic classification of rock, so it was formed at high pressure deep in the earth. When it was uplifted tectonically, it was no longer stable at the new, less intense pressure, and split into massive fissures, which were eventually partially covered at the surface to form caves. The schist itself shines in any form of light, and there were quartz veins everywhere!
We played in there for a little while, and while the space was narrow, the ceilings were absolutely massive- easily 60-70 feet in places. Luckily we didn't have to go that far to get out, and climbed out only a short ways. Once out our guide decided we had time for one more cave should those of us who were, as he termed it, "nuts" want to try. Five of us did, and so he sent the rest back to the bus and led us to a smaller cave. This one was not as stable as the first, essentially being formed of really large boulders all stacked on top of each other. There was a small chamber that we crawled up into, and then a different way to get out. The
Photo Taken by Katy Black
exit was a foot and a half wide crevasse called St. Thomas' Passage. We were instructed to crawl through, feet first, on our bums, until we got to the end. This is where it got interesting. The exit was a hole 8 inches tall and not terribly wide, that we had to squeeze through. Obviously, I did it! Terrifying at the time, but such an incredible rush! I can certainly see doing more caving in the future. Canoes, and… Coming home?
The afternoon was spent more sedately, canoeing on Loch Eck in the perpetual Scottish drizzle. That was a lot of fun too, and the countryside around us was splendidly rugged in the way that only Scotland can be. Exhausted, we returned to the hostel to fight over showers, and turn in for an early bedtime.
The next day was far more sedate, we went to a Nature center, wandered around the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond, and then went to a wool center where we had the opportunity to buy things that were made from wool, and other equally Scottish things. Also at the center were some lovely raptors, and a sheepdog exhibition, which is always fun
to see, even in the pouring sleet and rain as we saw it. Then the bus ride back to Edinburgh!
All in all a good weekend and a nice break. If you’ve read this far, thanks, I know this was a fairly long one, about just a weekend. Though there haven’t been many entries this semester, that’s all about to change… In two weeks, I’m done with class (yes. Done. In March.) Then I have a period of 6 weeks before my first exam. It’s a weird system, but I’m not complaining! I told a classmate about how we do it in the states (a few days between class ending and exams, then only 2 weeks max for exams) and she said with horror “but then you’ve no time to revise!” I just laughed. Expect lots of travel blogs during that period! Slainté!
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