Monday, July 31, 2017

July Highs and Lows 2017

The first half of July was all about teaching and preparing lesson plans, but then the three-week summer break started. The Sheboygan-Esslingen summer exchange program got underway this month, and the weather has been fine in my opinion - not blazing hot, enough rain that we didn't have to do much watering in the garden, and pleasant much of the time. Opinions of the weather are relative, though - lots of people have been complaining.

On to the monthly re-cap.


  • My friend and Sprachpartnerin, Hedda, visited me after school one day, and we had Kaffee und Kuchen together, talking non-stop for several hours. Despite the generation separating us in age, we never seem to run out of topics!

  • meeting three times with one of my former students, who'd asked me to help him prepare for his C1 German test. After our first meeting I told him I wasn't sure there was much I could do for him, since my German is not clearly better than his! I told him I noticed he was using words and phrases I don't use - that are beyond what I have ever needed to say. We continued to meet anyway once a week, and I'm sure he did well on his test.

  • the visit of our good friend, D, a German teacher in the US. He came along on the day trip to Ulm (see below) and helped with the tour. At the end of that day he and I parted from the group and came home, where M was ready to grill for us. The next morning we took a walk through the fields near our town, and then he was off on his next adventure.
  • receiving and reading this book - Erzähl mir von Deutschland, Soumar. I contacted the writer to ask if there are plans to translate it into English, but there are not. A publisher has to be interested in it first. I sent him the link to my review, and he liked it enough to put it on his Facebook page. 


  • My cracked front crown broke off (a large corner of it), which made smiling and teaching awkward for about a week. I'd already had an appointment scheduled a week later to start the process of getting a new crown, and since I was in no pain the dentist told me to just keep the appointment. So for a week I tried not to smile. Impossible for an American.

  • A man was murdered in the middle of the day at "my" grocery store - about a mile from our house, where I shop 4-5 times per week. There was an altercation between two men, and one of them pulled out a knife and stabbed the other repeatedly. There was talk of "OMG, none of us are safe anywhere any more!" and "I'm not shopping there any more...", and of course blaming Merkel for letting refugees in (neither of the men was a refugee). I went shopping there the following afternoon when they re-opened and was not afraid. Benefits of having lived in America? We read about stuff like that happening nearly every day, though admittedly the weapon of choice is usually a gun.

  • learning of another murder that took place in Konstanz (similar to the story above, it sounds like it was an altercation between several men early in the morning at a disco). I read some comments on a Fox news site so mainly conservative Americans were commenting, and they were all similar - close the borders, Merkel is ruining Germany, "See?? #45 is right and now Germany is seeing it too!" (No, he isn't and no, we're not.)

    This one was amusing, though: "Germany still has discos?"  A responder replied, "Yeah, Europe is a little behind the times. LOL"  "Disco" is the word used in German for a place opened at night where people can drink, listen to music, and dance. Yep, we still have those here. Not in the US?

Exchange Program Activities

  • I am involved with an exchange program for 7th/8th-grade students living in my hometown, Sheboygan, Wisconsin, and its sister city, Esslingen. The Americans fly here in July with a chaperone for three weeks, and then the whole group (Americans and Germans) fly together to Sheboygan for three weeks.

  • I took the train to  Esslingen to meet the group for ice cream and a Stadtführung (town tour) led by one of the German lads, who is a youth city tour guide! Usually my Schwiegermutter or I give that tour, but this was a nice change.

  • I drove the car to Esslingen another day for our evening Welcome Party and buffet and thankfully didn't encounter any serious problems during the drive.

  • Our first group day trip was to the beautiful little town of Tübingen, where I gave the Stadtführung and then released the students for lunch and free time, followed by a little more tour and a stop in the Stadtinfo for souvenirs.

Tübingen Rathaus, with our group in front
(I'm telling them some stories focusing on the Marktplatz.)
  • The next day we took the train to Ulm where I led them again through part of the town and the Münster (minster - church). I sent them on a scavenger hunt to find various figures throughout the church (the Man of Sorrows, St. Peter, St. Martin, the Spatz/sparrow that is the town mascot...), and they seemed to enjoy the activity! I thought we'd be in the church for about 15 minutes, but at 40 minutes they were still going. 
my friend showing and telling the students about Stolpersteine

  • Now the group has a week and a half to spend with their host families before they fly to Sheboygan. 

Have you had a good month?

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Family Trip to Scotland: Attractions 1

Traveling with young adult children is fabulous! They can go off on their own including exploring a biggish city and navigating public transportation, make their own plans, have their own fun in the evening when all M and I want to do is sit with a glass of wine and not be responsible for anything, and they help with cooking and clean-up without being asked.

What kind of entertainment did we (and they!) find throughout the trip to keep everyone happy? I've already written about the castles and castle ruins we visited. But what else did we see and do?

Fingal's Cave

We took a wildlife boat tour from  Tobermory to the islands of Lunga and Staffa. Fingal's Cave is on Staffa, and it's a geological wonder. So beautiful and inspiring is it that Felix Mendelsohn composed his "Hebrides Overture" after visiting the cave in the early 1800s.

After disembarking from the boat adventurous visitors walk up some steps and along the volcanic wall gripping tightly to the rail or rope, and eventually come to this cave. The basalt rock formed into hexagonal columns when lava from a volcanic eruption cooled abruptly millions of years ago. The cave was (re-)discovered in 1772 and has been a popular attraction for nearly 200 years.

Just so you're aware...

This is how one approaches the cave. There is a rope to hang onto on the cave wall side, and nothing but thin air to keep you from tossing over the side into the icy ocean water. And it is quite a long way down. It is both exhilerating and terrifying.

the mouth of the cave

basalt columns seen from the stone path on the way to or from Fingal's Cave
Side story: This is Gus. Gus is a Curly Coated Retriever and he is not happy. Gus' human was attempting to navigate that precarious pathway into the cave holding onto Gus' leash with his infant child strapped to his back in a baby carrier and a big camera dangling from his neck. It was pouring down with a relentless, windy, thick, misty rain, making the path even more treacherous. Gus' other human was already in the cave, and Gus was pulling to hurry his human, baby, and camera along. As the human hesitated and started to doubt the wisdom of his next step, I asked him if he would like me to hold the dog while he explored the cave (I was on my way out). He said, "Oh, I don't want you to have to stand here in the pouring rain!" There was no shelter anywhere on the island anyway, so whether I held onto Gus or headed back toward the boat that was no longer at the dock, it didn't make any difference. So he handed me the dog's leash with a grateful look, said, "His name is Gus. He's a good dog!" and disappeared while Gus shot me a "What the hell?!" look and pined after his humans.

My three dog-loving kids came out of the cave to find me hanging onto Gus, and they made instant friends with this dog who didn't want anything to do with them. We crouched down to lower our center of gravity (Gus is a strong dog!) and held on while being pelted with rain. His grateful humans, including the infant who I'm sure was also thinking, "What the hell?!", returned and Gus breathed a sigh of relief before marching off with them with nary another look in our direction. 

Glenfinnan Viaduct

Once back on the mainland, M drove us along single-track roads from the western-most point of the UK (Kilchoan at West Ardnamurchan) to Glenfinnan (or Gleannfhionnainn, in Gaelic). Here we had planned to see the Glenfinnan Viaduct as well as the monument to the Jacobites.  Unfortunately, the weather sucked and I just wasn't in the mood. My daughter snapped this decent photo, but we didn't wait to see if a train would pass over on it.
seen in Harry Potter, on a day more pleasant than this
There's a nice visitors center there with plenty of information presented museum-style about the Jacobite uprisings. Here is the viaduct on a nicer day from a different perspective, when we rode the Jacobite Steam Train in 2007:

Falkirk Wheel

We've been hearing about the Falkirk Wheel for years, but I never really looked into what it was. We had a lengthy stop here because it's where our rental car finally gave up the ghost, and we had to wait several hours for a tow truck. Better here than in the middle of the motorway, eh?

The wheel works as a lock - boats navigating the Union Canal and the Forth and Clyde Canal drive into a caisson which is then sealed, and the wheel turns, lifting or dropping the boat and caisson to the other canal. The energy used by the wheel is equivalent to eight electric teapots. 

The visitors center offers lots of information, and visitors can buy a ticket to ride a boat on the wheel from bottom to top or vise versa. It truly is something to behold.

On the way to Edinburgh from Falkirk, we saw the Kelpies from the cab of the tow truck - we would have otherwise stopped there as well, for another attraction.

Kelpies - small-scale model at the Falkirk Wheel parking lot

With my next Scotland post I'll write about the attractions we visited in Edinburgh.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Book Review: Erzähl mir von Deutschland, Soumar

"Beschreib mal Zuhause. Was ist das?"

"Da, wo man sich sicher fühlt. Dahin kommt man, wenn man müde ist oder allein sein will. Dann kann man nach Hause. Man kann tun, was man will. Man kann sich entspannen. Und alles gehört dir. Dein Bett, dein Sofa, dein Tisch, deine Bücher."

For me one mark of a good book is that I am genuinely sorry to finish it. Erzähl mir von Deutschland, Soumar, by  Florian Schmitz was such a book for me.

There was so much in this book I could relate to, and it was probably good for me to see Germany through a German writer’s critical eye. I see my own passport country through a similar eye, and I get the feeling I come across as unpatriotic to other Americans. I even lost a friend once, who, just before signing off, wrote something about me hating America. I love and value my American friends very much, but I do not have a positive impression of Americans in general, nor do I consider the U.S. the "greatest country in the world" as so many do. It’s a strange reverse-xenophobia. 

Florian Schmitz is a German who, after his studies with a degree in Literary Studies and Spanish, got the message from Germany (the Job Center advisors, for instance) that “We don’t need you.” He had the wrong skill set (at least on paper) after graduation to be valued by German employers, so he left the country and moved to Greece. Throughout the book Schmitz compares life, culture, and people in Greece to those in Germany, and through Soumar, his Syrian friend, we hear comparisons between Syria, Germany and Greece. What I find so interesting is that Soumar sees Germany in a more positive light than Schmitz does, although Schmitz comes across to me as realistic, not negative.

Soumar was on his journey/flight from Syria to Germany in 2016 when he and Schmitz met through Schmitz’s people-magnet dog, Nondas, on a Greek ship. They stayed in contact, and this book describes Soumar’s journey in four parts, their friendship, and their conversations about topics like religion (they are both atheists), war, humanity, integration, food, football (soccer), weather… The book allows readers to eavesdrop on conversations between two people I would enjoy spending time with. They ask each other deep and difficult questions, and the answers are equally deep. 

My book is all marked up with notes and underlined quotes, such as:

A southern European’s advice to Germans: 
Zieht euch endlich den Stock aus dem Arsch und macht eure eigenen Regeln.”
 ["Get that stick out of your butt and make your own rules!"]

At the same time, German punctuality and organization is good! 
Soumar: “Es ist gut, dass man sich auf Leute verlassen kann.”
  ["It's good that you can rely on people here."]

Soumar on religious strife:
Wenn jemand denkt, dass ein anderer dumm ist, weil er eine andere Religion hat, dann hat er diese Dummheit selbst in sich.“
  ["When someone thinks that someone else is dumb for practicing a different religion, then the stupidity lies in him."]

Schmitz on AfD and PEGIDA supporters:
Ich glaube, dass die meisten schlichtweg an einfachen Lösungen interessiert sind…Und dabei sind sie an eine Partei geraten, die so tut, als könne sie die Grenzen dicht machen und dann ist Deutschland sicher. Das ist natürlich Schwachsinn.“ 
  ["I think most of them are simply interested in easy solutions. And they found a party that says closing the borders will make Germany safe. That's ridiculous, of course."] 
  I would add potus fans to Schmitz' description as well.

Life in a refugee camp: 
“For a few days it’s ok, but for years it’s terrible…Can you imagine? It can’t be compared to a concentration camp like Bergen-Belsen, because the people can come and go, have enough water and a warm meal. But to be constantly surrounded by people is not good. One never has peace and quiet or any real privacy, and everyone has to share the kitchen and bathroom. When people are forced to live like that, no matter where, eventually there will be problems.”*

[*Some people in both Germany and the US have said refugees living in camps should be happy they’re out of the war zone. They should feel lucky to be where they are. Ok, but I wonder how long the people saying that would be able to stand conditions in a refugee camp. One day, perhaps?]

And one of my favorite exchanges (the one at the top of this post):
Schmitz: „Describe home. What is that?“
Soumar: „A place where you feel safe. You go there when you're tired or want to be alone. Then you can go home and do what you want. You can relax. And everything belongs to you - your bed, your sofa, your table, your TV, your books.

Soumar tells the story of his three-week odyssey from Damaskus to Bremen in his own words, and it is much like the stories several of my former students have shared with me. It’s becoming very familiar to me – the fear, the uncertainty, the smugglers and traffickers, the police, the maltreatment by police and officials in Hungary, the boat motors that konk out in the middle of the sea, the exhaustion, the relief upon reaching a Greek island, the hunger and thirst, lack of showers, the understandable mistrust, the connections made with other refugees and information shared via Facebook of where to go and whom to look out for, crossing borders under the cover of darkness…and the “Alter, du hast es geschafft!” upon finally reaching Germany.

I think this is a very important book and I wish it were available in English. Anyone who wants to lump all Arabs/Syrians/refugees together into one pot and label them should meet Soumar in this book. I recommend it to expats, travelers, immigrants, wanderers, those living in multicultural families and communities, and anyone wondering what struggles refugees, immigrants, and expats face from day to day.

On Goodreads I gave this book five stars, which for me is rare. But if I don't like the beginning of the next book I have lined up, I might just start this one from the beginning again.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Things That Make Me Think...WTF?!?!

I live in a small village (ca. 2000 inhabitants) connected to a larger (but still small) community (ca. 25,000 when the populations of all the small villages are counted). The Kernstadt (main city of the community) has a population of about 6000. I truly love it here - it's quiet, not much happens, folks are friendly enough, and there are plenty of opportunities to get involved.

This afternoon - just a few hours ago - I learned from the Facebook group "Blaulicht News", which normally informs locals about where Blitzer (speed cameras) have been set up and where accidents have happened and traffic is backed up, that a man had been stabbed to death at the grocery store where I do all my shopping. There had apparently been an altercation between two people inside the store, and one pulled a knife.

Having lived in America for 44 years, this doesn't come across to me as anything terribly unusual. I see the US as a pretty violent place. I've experienced very little violence personally, but it's all around us - we love violent TV shows and movies and violence is not edited out when movies are shown on TV, seemingly every third person has a gun stashed somewhere or displayed in the back window of his pick-up truck (some are carefully locked in gun cabinets), and the more violent the video game, the better kids like it. We read almost daily about shootings in malls, schools, and neighborhoods (a shooting where only one person is killed is hardly newsworthy anymore). Violence is just a part of American culture. Sadly.

This kind of violence is less common here, though, in our small town in southwestern Germany. A similar incident did happen at the other local grocery store a few months ago, but I don't think that victim was killed.

As long as there are humans on this earth, there will be violence. We just have to hope we're not involved, and preferably nowhere near it.

So what made me sit down at my laptop to write this blog post? A discussion on social media about the incident before reliable details were even available.

One person (I'll call him Herr Klugscheißer) wrote a snarky remark: "Yeah, and of course we can't ask about the nationality of the perpetrator!"  [Facepalm. Here we go again.]

Another (Herr Dingsbums) threw some blame at Angela Merkel for her "Wir schaffen das!" and letting many migrants & refugees into Germany. 

Please note, no information about the victim or perpetrator (Täter) was available yet. All that was known was there was one person with a knife and one dead person. And it was reported that the Täter was in custody.

Can someone - anybody - explain to me what difference it makes what the nationality of the Täter is?

Herr Klugscheißer was surely cleverly implying that the Täter was probably a foreigner/migrant/refugee. 'Cuz Germans don't do stuff like that, I guess. [Never mind the 27-year-old German in Altenfeld who stabbed and killed two of his three children last month because his wife said she was leaving him. The third child survived.]

Herr Dingsbums was definitely implying that the Täter had to be a refugee, because "Wir schaffen das" was directly about refugees fleeing from their war-torn homes.

How would the conversation have gone if Herr Klugscheißer had asked his question?

   "What's the killer's nationality?"
   "He's German."

Or maybe:

   "What's the killer's nationality?"
   "He's Syrian."
   "SEE?!?  I told you they're all violent! They should never have been let in!"

Or this:

   "What's the killer's nationality?"
   "He's Turkish."
   "Of course! Damn foreigners! Why are they even here?"

What about this one:

   "What's the killer's nationality?"
   "He's American."
   "Figures. They're all mad as balls. Why can't those nutjobs stay in their own country?!" 

I can assure you it wouldn't have gone anything like this:

   "What's the killer's nationality?"
   "He's Syrian/Turkish."
   "Hm. I know lots of really kind Syrians/Turks. What a tragedy for the victim's family."

Why would someone need to ask about a killer's nationality? The only reason I can come up with is so that the asker can then spout off about his views about all people with that same nationality. Is a murder more acceptable when the killer shares our nationality? Is a crime somehow worse when a "non-native" commits it? What the hell?

If the Täter had not been already apprehended and was at large, then a description of the person is both fair and important! But that was not the case here.

People who ask such questions in a public forum (actually even out loud at all) are not the sort of people I want to know. The question is as ridiculous to me as "Is the Täter overweight?"  "Does the Täter have brown eyes?" Was the Täter drinking a Coke before the attack?"  These questions could all be important if police are searching for him (or her). But otherwise, what the hell?!?

Herr Klugscheißer also seemed to be implying that he will be unfairly deemed racist or anti-immigrant for daring to ask the question. I'm pretty confident in saying that a person who is not racist or anti-foreigner/anti-immigrant would not ask the question like that: "Hrrumpf. Of course we can't ask about the Täter's nationality!!"

How about: "It's terrible that this happened in our community! Do we know anything about the people involved?"  There's nothing inherently anti-others in that question, but many people would probably not ask that either - but just wait for the details to come out in the news rather than participating in the rumor mill.

Asking a question does not make a person racist.
Assuming that a criminal or perpetrator has a certain skin color or comes from a place other than white Germany or white America does.

Relating such a story to someone else and including the [confirmed] detail that the killer is an American/Syrian/Turk/German does not make a person racist or xenophobic.
Adding an editorial comment or snarky remark about Americans/Syrians/Turks/Germans does.

At least in my book.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Family Trip to Scotland: Castles and Ruins

When we started planning our June trip to Scotland, my son, who is studying history, said he would like to see some castles. He saw plenty of castles on his two European trips in 2007 and 2008, but he was young then and has a different perspective by now. Despite living in Germany for 4+ years, I'm always game for a castle - as long as it's not Neuschwanstein - and especially ruins. So I knew we could happily honor his request.

These are the castles and castle ruins we visited during those 12 days.

Duart Castle, Isle of Mull

seen from the ferry
Duart Castle is not far from the ferry port town of Craignure, and it's the seat of the Maclean clan. Years ago on M's first trip to Mull with his parents and sister, his father got gently scolded by a shepherd for driving a bit too fast along the road leading to the castle. "Ye should slow down, m' friend. That would be easier on yer shock absorbers and on my sheep!"  When they were having a cuppa tea in the coffee shop after touring the castle, the shepherd appeared - he was Sir Charles Hector Fitzroy Maclean - the laird of the castle! He died in 1990, but M recognized him on several family photos displayed in the castle.

The castle keep was built by Lochlan Lubanach Maclean in the 14th century and additional buildings were added 200 years later. Improvements have been made throughout the centuries, and although it fell into neglect and disrepair after the Mcleans lost possession of it, the current laird's great-grandfather purchased the ruins in 1911 and spent a fortune restoring it. Clan gatherings are hosted here occasionally, and if you take the shuttle from the Craignure dock to the castle, the driver will ask if any among you are Macleans - the clan chief wants to know.

You can stroll the grounds at no charge, or pay to go inside for a self-guided tour. Information is posted in each room, and visitors can go up to the battlements for a view across the Sound of Mull, Lismore Island, the mainland, and Lady's Rock (at low tide). Duart can be seen in the Sean Connery movie Entrapment, which we quite like! It pretends to be Connery's character's residence, and several scenes were filmed here.

Adult Admission: ₤6.50, ₤11.00 including shuttle to & from Craignure

Did Mary, Queen of Scots stay here?  No. She never came to the island, silly twit.

Glengorm Castle

This might be cheating because Glengorm is not a castle you can visit and tour, but this is where we always stay on Mull - in a self-catering cottage or flat. It overlooks the coast in the north of Mull.

The castle was built by James Forsyth in the 1860s after he bought the Sorne Estate and ran the tenants off the land. The name "Glengorm" means "Blue Valley" and was suggested to him by one of the evicted tenants. She was snarkishly referring to the bluish smoke rising over the estate from the burning houses of the evicted tenants, but the bitter irony was lost on him because he didn't speak Gaelic. He died shortly before the castle was finished. 

The current owners, Tom and Marjorie Nelson, are warm and friendly, and Tom's mother has written a lovely book about the castle's history.

Admission: Not applicable

Did Mary, Queen of Scots stay here? No. She lost her head in 1587 and Glengorm wasn't built until 1860.
Castle Library
Incidentally, if it had not been the gorgeous day it was,
M and I would have had our wedding ceremony in here (in 2006).
Instead, we got married on the lawn next to the castle.


Edinburgh Castle

We really only snoped around this one this time. We did the tour a few years ago, but for whatever reason we were underwhelmed. I've read that Stirling Castle is far more impressive and has been tampered with less over the centuries. We also apparently couldn't take photos inside because we have none. It looks quite impressive from a distance, though.

Adult admission: ₤17.00

Did Mary, Queen of Scots stay here?  Yes! She even had a baby here - the future King James VI of England and I of Scotland, as in the King James Bible.

Holyrood Palace

Holyrood is in Edinburgh at one end of the Royal Mile, and it is well worth a visit. Visitors are not allowed to take photos inside, but they are allowed in the abbey ruins. I have long wanted to visit Holyrood, and I was not disappointed. The tour is self-guided with an audio guide, which is perfect. You can decide how fast or slowly to go through the palace and how much detail you want to pay attention to. 
Abbey ruins
Adult Admission: ₤12.50, includes audio guide

Did Mary, Queen of Scots stay here?  Yes. She lived here in the 1560s. Her secretary and favorite, the Italian David Rizzio, was murdered in her chambers in 1566, while she stood helplessly by.

Tantallon Castle

These adventurous ruins are east of Edinburgh near North Berwick on the coast. It was built in the 1350s and effectively destroyed by Cromwell in 1651. Visitors can explore the ruins at will (it's well sign-posted but I recommend buying a guide for the full story) and climb several different staircases to find various hallways, battlements, and even a prison with a loo! Even if it's a warm day, bring a jacket because it's windy on the coast and up in the castle! Don't leave a single corner unexplored.

Tantallon may be a bit of a challenge for anyone who is afraid of heights, but there are railings and high-enough stone walls that there is really no danger of falling, You could jump over those, but why would you do that if you're afraid of heights? The one photo above makes it appear as though there are no railings, but I'm standing behind it - you can't actually walk along that battlement shown without the railings.

Bass Rock is a feature visible from the ruins. This little island was a refuge for Saint Baldred in the 8th century, a royal residence (there was a castle here in the 1400s), a garrison in the 1500s, a state prison in the 1600s, and finally a beacon - a lighthouse was built on the island in 1902, and a lighthouse keeper lit the lamp every day until 1988! Now the lighthouse is automated and the island is a bird sanctuary.

Adult Admission: ₤6.00

Did Mary, Queen of Scots stay here?  Yes, in 1566 on her return to Edinburgh after a royal progress in the eastern Borders.

Hailes Castle

These castle ruins are accessible by a single-track road not far from Tantallon Castle. My photos don't show much, but again one can climb around a bit. There are signs telling what you're looking at, there are two pit prisons, a kitchen and dining hall... And it's quiet there. The car park is large enough for 2 1/2 cars. If you visit Tantallon, which I highly recommend, do not miss a stop at Hailes.

Admission: free

Did Mary, Queen of Scots stay here? Yes - as you can see from the above sign, in 1567, before her ill-fated marriage to her third and final husband, Lord Bothwell.

There are other Scottish castles and ruins I still want to see when we return - Linlithgow, Callendar House, Stirling Castle, and others. 

Which castles in Scotland do you recommend??

Previously in this series:

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Family Trip to Scotland: Hills and Hikes

One of the reasons we like to go to Scotland is that we enjoy hiking. Not like the hardy locals, I guess - whose definition of hiking is much more radical than ours. We like to go for long walks that result in great views and photos. We learned this time that strenuous is definitely ok as long as we have a good guide to help us along. We still grumble a bit about our embarrassing failure in 2015 of hiking to Speinne Mor (the highest point of north Mull) but turning back after sinking thigh-deep into a bog.

However, on this trip we did several familiar hikes and one new one. For Liv they were all new, and it was fun to have a first-timer with us on the island.

Glengorm Coast, Laorin Bay, and Loch Mingary

On our first evening at Glengorm, all three kids (and I say "kids", but they are all over 20) took off after unpacking to walk to the coast. I can't blame them at all, but they misjudged how far it was and realized they should have brought water and a snack!

Awww... a brother and sister photo
On our first morning the kids slept in more than we did, and M and I set off for our first walk. We walked to Laorin Bay and were rewarded with seals! OMG, they are so cute! Granted, they didn't do much other than float, sink, and pop their heads out again to watch us watching them. But still... It was our first sighting of seals in five visits to the island.

In the afternoon the kids wanted to join us for a walk, and since by then it was raining, we all geared up with our best waterproofs and set off for the nature hide on Loch Mingary. While there we saw several red deer including a fawn, a bunch of birds (I don't appreciate the species as I should), more seals, and lots of rocks that pretended to be otters as well as waves that acted like whales.

The window boards open, but the driving rain made us decide to
peek through the slats on this side instead.
By now I am fully convinced that there are actually no otters on Mull. We tourists are lured by tales of otters that used to make regular appearances, but they've all moved on to quieter and more private places. I don't know why they are so appealing - technically I think they are sea weasels. But they're adorable and I have found them so since I was young! Maybe it's a conspiracy, and the otters only show themselves to the locals and those they deem worthy.

S'airde Beinn, the crater loch

A few days later four of us went on a 6-hour hike to the crater loch, S'airde Beinn. We'd arranged this hike with Kerry, Glengorm's ranger. She packed a lunch for each of us, and we set off at about 9:15 from the castle. We walked first along a comfortable road, then up the side of a waterfall, across two bogs, up a very steep hill, and we at last reached the crater loch.

Al tries to help Liv navigate the boggy bits to keep her feet dry as possible.
The final climb was steep, but worth it.

The loch actually formed on an ancient volcanic plug,
not the mouth of the volcano.
We unpacked our lunches - delicious sandwiches and lemon cake from the Glengorm Bakery in Tobermory - and found rocks to sit on, the hill partially protecting us from the strong winds. Then Kerry gave us three options for the return:
  1. go back the way we came
  2. go down on the other side to the road and walk back along the road
  3. take the rough and adventurous route basically making a beeline to the castle, which we could see from where we were sitting.
In this photo if you know where to look, you can see the turret of the castle
peeking up over the trees just a bit left of center.
Of course we opted for #3! This brought us more steep bits, though usually going downhill, boggy bits, another waterfall, two deer, and several types of birds including hen harriers. We had to navigate around piles of coo poo and leap over a small stream, and at one point Al observed that the castle didn't seem to be getting much closer. We were tired by the end, but we all agreed we'd do it again.


Kerry was a great guide, and if you are ever on the north end of Mull, we highly recommend arranging a hike with her. This one was six hours long, but she does shorter walks as well. She gives tons of information about the flora and fauna found on the estate and the island as well as Glengorm history, and she even offers a seaweed foraging course!

Dun Ara, Celtic Pool, and Standing Stones

There is much to be seen at Glengorm, and visitors can walk all over regardless of whether they're staying on the estate or not. There are common sense rules to follow, some of which are 
  • leave the sheep, coos, lambs, and calves alone
  • leave gates as you find them
  • take your garbage with you
  • keep your dog on a leash
Dun Ara is an ancient hill fort right on the seashore, and when you're at the top you can still see the stone "bricks" once used for the fortress.

Dun Ara ("Dún" means fort in Gaelic)
The sign is ruined because the coos keep using it to scratch their butts.

the fort foundations (we're standing "in" the fort)
In the background is Ardnamurchan Point, the westernmost point
of the U.K. mainland. 
Liv: "I think I see a whale!"
Steph: "No you don't."
The Celtic Pool was originally a natural harbor for galley boats used by those at Dun Ara. Apparently a pier and slipway are still visible if you are more observant than we are. According to The Story of Glengorm by Janet Nelson, one of Glengorm's former owners, Mrs. Lithgow, suffered from arthritis and regularly bathed in this pool in hopes that the cold sea water would provide some relief. Since then it's been called "the bathing pool."

the Celtic Pool seen from Dun Ara

The kids took some really cool photos here,
not realizing the tide was coming back in.
They did not return with dry feet.
The standing stones at Glengorm were found during excavations and set upright in their current positions. We put our hands on the stones but were not transported back to 1743 Jacobite Scotland, which was just fine with us. (reference to Diane Gabaldon's Outlander)

Ardmore Shore Walk

The day before we left the island, M, Steph, and I drove to the starting point of the Ardmore Shore walk, which is 6 km from Tobermory. It was again drizzling, so we were bundled up in waterproof pants and jackets. It rained for pretty much the whole walk. It was an easy walk, though, on a forestry track and well-groomed and freshly mowed path.

It's a walk to the sea and another nature hide at Ardmore Bay, through what used to be forest and past two abandoned villages. It's a nice two-hour walk that includes the sea, bracken, Foxglove, wild orchids, a little stream and waterfall, and possibly some wildlife. On a clear day you can see the islands of Skye, Rum, Coll, and Tiree.

Clearly we don't need fine weather to enjoy ourselves on our vacations!

No otters here, either.

It stopped raining long enough for us to take our hoods off for one photo.

This shows the nice clear path.
The pink dot is my daughter, who at this point was
rather done with wet. She had cappuccino on her mind...

abandoned Ardmore Village
This is a photo from 2010, when it was still in the forest.
The Forestry Commission has been quite active since then,
and the area looks very different now.
Steph is also visible in this photo -
the tiny pink dot almost dead center.
One of the best things after a hike is sitting in the Glengorm Coffee Shop for a snack (they have "life-changing" cheesecakes almost every day, according to my kids) and a cappuccino. It warms the insides while you rest your tired feet. And you don't even have to feel guilty about the calories because you just burned off so many by hiking!

Previously in this series: