I was on Ardunan Farm for about a week and a half. During that time, I did manage to zip out and do a few other things. Because there’s bus service into Glasgow from nearby Strathblane and rail device from nearby Milgavie, it would have been easy to get from the farm to lots of other places. Unfortunately, my days were set up such that I couldn’t have consolidated my work and then skipped out for a quick overnight. My break was in the middle of the day too and I didn’t really have enough time to go off-farm on days I was working. I have to admit, I was also pretty tired mid-day. And it was hot – unusually so from what I was told – and heat is highly unmotivating for me.
Instead, I occasionally took a walk across the farm and explored the little stream on one side of the property and the wooded section that Gillian and David have left undeveloped, for use by wildlife. It also happens that a property across the main road had been left to the Scottish version of The Nature Conservancy and was kept up as a public park. I crossed the road and hiked around over there. It was a mix of wooded area, marshy bogs, a lake called Loch Ardinning and then the stream that led into the loch had a series of lovely waterfalls along it. The walking path also traversed some high, open hills and offered a view for miles around. Really picturesque and very peaceful.
One one afternoon, I caught a ride into Mulgavie to poke around the town. Turned out there was a “makers market” in the town hall. It looked a lot like something in which any. My friends might be participating!!
Oh yes! Almost forgot. The other reason I was at the fair was to see if I could find a drop spindle for spinning up the wool we’d all picked up in the Cotswolds. And, Gillian told me she had a spinning wheel tucked away in storage that someone had given her. She didn’t know what type it was or whether it was in working condition. Of course I got all excited and when we went to have a look, found she was in possession of an old Ashford Traditional with most of its necessary parts. And although Gillian and David keep sheep, they’ve never kept or worked with any of their own wool. (Whuh?!?!?!) So We ordered a couple of new bobbins and the apparatus needed for the tensioning. Then I dusted, cleaned and oiled the wheel. The next step would be finding clean, carded fiber with which to work. And then I could teach Gillian to spin! Luckily there was someone at the makers market with dyed yarn and fiber. When I returned to the house, you can probably guess at the first thing I did…
At one point, Gillian announced to me that I would have the next day off. Apparently they give their volunteer one full day off a week and mine would be tomorrow. “Oh, crap!” I thought, “I’m not at all prepared for this!” Since she told me at dinner, which was usually at about 9 or 9:30 pm, I tried to stay up that night looking on Google maps and getting information. As the crow flies, the farm is just 30 minutes south of Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park. I really, really, really wanted to get to a large body of water. This whole trip started out of an image I’d had in my head all last year of me, walking on a cool, windy and rocky coastline. I’d planned to do a lot of that during my five weeks in Aberdeen. Instead, I found myself at an inland farm, miles away from any shore. And it was hot. Ick. So Loch Lomond would be the nearest, largest body of water available to me.
But try as I might, I could not figure out how to get there. The routes to and from the villages were convoluted. I would have had to transfer buses at least four times and was still not sure that at Balloch, at the south end of Loch Lomond, that I could really get to the water. From nearby Milgavie, the West Highland Way walking path went right up to Loch Lomond and all along one side of it. But there was a two day hike from Mulgavie to that point at the Loch. I finally gave up and went to sleep.
In the morning, I decided I’d just go down to Strathblane, take a bus north toward the Trossachs and see what I could see. Which is exactly what I did. I walked down to the village and found a bus stop. The bus schedules are always posted right there, though I still wasn’t sure if I was reading them correctly. Most run frequently in the morning and at the end of the day, tapering off to intermittent service during the day and in the evening. Saturday has a different schedule. Sunday as well. Oh, and I always had to think carefully about which side of the street I was on. Once I waited in Glasgow for a half hour, watching buses on the other side of the street go by three times. When my bus finally came, the driver told me I wanted the bus stop on the other side because he was heading away fro the center of town, not toward it. Aurgh! Only had to make that mistake once.
The bus went north, winding through country roads, past green holds with (of course) sheep grazing. Just twenty minutes along was Glengoyne distillery. I made a mental note to either tour it on my return in the afternoon or to make a quick run there on one of my working days. I had to hop off the bus in a small village called Balfron to transfer to another bus headed north to Aberfoyle. With a wink, the bus driver let me know I’d have just enough time for a coffee and a “wee bite” at the bakery across the street before my next bus would come along.
I also had time to hop into a small pharmacy and pick up conditioner and a hairbrush. Both there and in the bakery, I felt like a foreigner. No matter where you go or what you try to do, everything is just different enough to make you wonder if you’re doing things correctly. And the moment you open your mouth, you’ll get that look of “I’m trying to understand you but you do talk a bit funny, dear.” People are friendly and certainly helpful. And thank goodness they are because navigating your way through even simple tasks, like reading a bus schedule or buying something to eat, takes just a few more ounces of effort than you would have thought.
The second bus, heading north toward Aberfoyle, went through some beautiful villages. I wish I’d taken pictures. I was too busy looking. Each town was surrounded by green fields, then the bus would turn a corner and you’d find yourself on “high street”, a continuous line of little, Scottish style buildings with whitewashed stone walls and strep, slate roofs. Blink and you’d be through the town, back in green fields stretching away in every direction. Killearn. Boquhan. Balfron. Dalmary. Gartmore. The rhythm repeated again and again. Wide, green fields and sheep. Turn a corner. Around the curve, suddenly town. Turn another corner, no town and back to green fields.
Eventually I arrived in Aberfoyle, a town somewhat larger than these others, with a High Street that stretched farther, had bigger buildings and streets that radiated outward. Aberfoyle sits at the southern edge of The Trossachs National Park and is something of a gateway to everything beyond. Cars came and went. Large tour buses moved through the town, full of visitors. Occasionally a pack of motorcycles would wind through, fully loaded with travel gear. “Me! Me!” I wanted to shout at them. “I can ride! Take me with you!” But of course I didn’t. No helmet. Or boots. Darn it.
There was a large, prominent information center right in the center of town. It was full of beautiful, large scale maps and informational displays about the park. I was able to speak at length with someone there about everything you could reach and do from Aberfoyle. If you had a car. Run up to Lake Katrine and take a sailboat out onto the water? Drive the lovely road to Ben Lomond? Home to the nearby waterfalls? Nope. Couldn’t get to any of that, though I did learn that with 24 hours notice you can hire a driving service to get you anywhere you want in the park. But not today, dear.
“Okay”, I had to admit defeat. “What’s the closest body of water I can walk to?”
“Oh, right up the road. There’s a lovely wee loch just over there. Walk straight through town and you can’t miss it. About a mile, I’d say.”
I shouldered my pack, took out and extended my walking stick and set off toward Loch Ard.