Sue North

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Tag: Road trip

UK Recap – Scotland by Car!

Oh my goodness, this post is long overdue. We took another hiatus from the blog to focus on our home and self-care. January and February were all about hibernating and settling into the house. We’ve now had the chance to host both of our families in the new place, and it’s really starting to feel like home to us.

 

I kept meaning to write a quick recap of our travels to Scotland in October and early November, but was not able to to find the time or energy until this weekend. The stories and memories are not as sharp as I’d like them to be given the trip was 3 months ago, so there will be more photos and less description than usual. I apologize!! We plan to get back to blogging more regularly during our travels this spring and summer, when we begin hiking, canoeing and camping again.
 

 

Scarborough, England
Our UK adventures began in Scarborough – a seaside town in the north east of England. We were treated to sunshine and relatively warm temperatures given that we were visiting in early November. Fiona and I treated ourselves to coffee and breakfast sandwiches on a patio by the waterfront, happy to have left the cold temperatures behind us in Ottawa.
 
Fiona and I spent the day playing tourist, visiting Scarborough Castle and St. Mary’s Church as well as the Scarborough Market Hall. We learned from the boys that food in Scarborough had been less than stellar, as they’d found most meals lacked flavour (few condiments!) or variety. On our last day in Scarborough we managed to find a delicious lunch spot named Relish, tucked in an alleyway within walking distance to the market. We’d highly recommend stopping in for a bite or hot drinks!
 

 

 

 

The next morning we boarded the train bound for Scotland. It had been a short 2 night stay in Scarborough, and we were eager to begin our road trip from Edinburgh through the Highlands.

 

Edinburgh

We began and ended our road trip in Edinburgh, and this allowed us to stay in both the Old Town and New Town neighbourhoods. During our first visit, we stayed in a lovely, well-placed Airbnb rental  on the Royal Mile (Old Town). The unit was right beside Edinburgh Castle and allowed us to walk almost everywhere we were interested in seeing. We started the day with a castle tour, and finished with a hike up Arthur’s Seat. It was late afternoon and sunny, and we found the trails and hill to be quite busy. We’d recommend visiting earlier in the day, potentially the morning as we later heard from friends who also visited that it was far less busy at that time. It is a popular spot, so do not expect to be alone up there! The views were worth it though.
 

 

Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh

 

Stirling Castle

We visited two more historic sites near Edinburgh – Stirling Castle and Lithlingow Palace. Stirling Castle is beautifully restored and rich in history. This is somewhere to take your time. The gardens were beautiful even in November, so I suspect in spring and summer they would be spectacular. We found Lithlingow Palace to be unexpectedly enchanting – it was great for a quick walk through as it is not restored / inhabitable.

 

Linlithgow Palace

 

Glencoe
 

 

We picked up our rental car in Edinburgh, landing a larger than expected Mitsubishi Outlander. Antoine had previously honed is left-side driving skills during our 2016 trip to Australia, so he took the wheel for entirety of the trip. We left the freeways behind us, journeying on winding roads through Loch Lomond and the Trossochs National Park. We were booked for the evening at Loch Linnhe Waterfront Lodges, but we took our time along the roads, stopping to enjoy the views and photo opportunities when we could. Antoine managed like a expert on the tiny narrow roads with no shoulders, often hugging along the sides of lochs as we wound our way through hills and mountains. It was a bit scary meeting lorry trucks on tight turns on these roads, but it was worth it for the spectacular scenery!

 

Ben Nevis from Cow Hill trail

 
 

 

We enjoyed a lovely Scottish dinner at The Holly Tree Hotel. The next day we took our breakfast loch-side on the deck of the cottage before hitting the road again, bound for Ben Nevis. Ben Nevis is the tallest mountain in the British Isles. We were not looking to summit Ben Nevis, as we hadn’t the gear or the time on this trip. So we visited the visitor’s centre to ask for advice on moderate day hikes with great views nearby. We chose the Cow Hill hike, an 11km circuit route with beautiful views over the town of Fort William, down Glen Nevis and Loch Linnhe.
 

 

Isle of Skye
After completing the hike, we hopped back in the car bound for Isle of Skye. We’d planned two nights in this region, with one stay in an Airbnb called the Boatbuilders Cottage in Breakish and a second evening at the Raasay House on the Isle of Raasay. I think that we all adored our time on the Isle of Skye. The winding roads, stunning vistas, ample hiking possibilities… It had it all! We would highly recommend having a car when visiting the Isle. There is so much to see, but it would be challenging without a vehicle. Fall was also an excellent time of year to visit. The weather  was nicer than expected and the stops were less busy than during the summer months.

We used Earth Trekkers “Isle of Skye One Day Itinerary”  blog post to plan our route, visiting the Fairy Glen, Quiraing, Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls and Old Mann of Storr. We missed the hike at Quiraing by accidentally continuing down the road beyond the parking area, and were not able to hike Brother’s Point due to the soggy state of the trail. But it’s incredible how much you can see and do on Isle of Skye in one day! We would love to return and complete more hikes and possibly camp one day; getting to see it by car was breathtaking though. We finished the day in Dunvegan, where we found the castle to be closed for the season. We made up for this with a stop at the oldest bakery on Isle of Skye for tea and desserts – the bakery opened around 1870!
 

 

Raasay House and Isle of Skye in the distance

Filled with tea and treats, we set off to catch the ferry in Sconser to the Isle of Raasay. Cory had found a neat place for us to stay at Raasay House, which ended up being one of our favourite and most memorable accommodations on the trip! Raasay house was build in 1747, and has quite the history. We were pleasantly surprised to have our rooms upgraded upon arrival. The boys enjoyed the pingpong table in the games room while Fiona and I got ready. We later gathered in the library for drinks by the wood burning fire before enjoying a fancy meal at the restaurant. It’s a very special place, and we would’ve loved to spend more time adventuring the Isle of Raasay. Next time!!
 

 

Inverness
The last destination on our roadtrip was the town of Inverness. We travelled eastward along the A82, stopping to visit the Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle. While we didn’t spot Nessie during our visit, Mother Nature really cooperated with us by giving us sunshine and pleasant fall temperatures. Everyone was incredibly charmed by the town of Inverness! We stayed in a converted church Airbnb along the riverfront in the centre of town. We walked about town, stopping to pick up souvenirs for our family and friends. The town had a neat vibe to it, and Fiona was left dreaming of a move to Inverness. That evening we enjoyed wood fired pizzas and drinks at the Black Isle Bar in central Inverness. Like many restaurants in the UK, dogs are welcome to join their owners for dinner. I wish that this was something we had here in Canada!
 

 

The next morning we hit the road again, destined for Edinburgh to spend our last evening in Scotland before taking the train back to London. All in all, we travelled approximately 980km across Scotland by car. We really loved our time here, and Cory and Fiona were an amazing couple to travel with!
 

 

Scotland Travel Tips: If you’re going to visit castles or other historic sites in Scotland, it might be economical to get the Explorer Pass. We luckily visited during the winter season, so we received an extra discount on the purchase price. This meant that our passes were paid for after only 2 castle visits! Unluckily, there were a number of sites that were closed or only open on limited days of the week due to the season.
 

 

 

 

And lastly, when planning a visit to Scotland make sure to pack a raincoat and rainboots. During our trip it always seemed to be threatening to rain, but in the end we actually only had one full rainy day while the others were spotty showers and some were full sun. We were very fortunate for November!!
 

 

That’s all for now 🙂 Thanks for reading, and your patience while we were away from the blog.
 

 

Liz & Antoine

Stewart-Cassiar Highway (#37) – Stewart and Smithers, BC

Thank you for your patience waiting for what will likely be the last big story from our Yukon travels! It took me far longer to get this posted than I expected, as Antoine and I had a busier week than planned. More on that in a blog post to come 😉 In addition to these “storytelling” posts which were written while on our trip, I am planning to craft up a summary post detailing our trip route, campsite locations, highlights and summarized expenses for the trip in case this proves useful for anyone planning a trip to the Yukon / NWT. But for now let’s get back to the tales from our last bit of adventuring…

 

There are two routes you can take to get to the Yukon via British Columbia. The first is the Alaskan Highway (1) route, which we travelled on through the Northern Rockies to Watson Lake, YT in early August. When planning our route back to Ottawa, we decided to take a different return route via the Stewart-Cassiar highway (37). We expected our adventures to be over once we left the Yukon, so we’d originally planned fairly long days of driving along this route. My cousins had travelled along this highway in early August on their way to the Yukon, though, and had some must see recommendations for us. As a result we departed the Yukon a few days earlier than expected in order to stop in their two favourite little towns along the 37: Stewart and Smithers, BC!

 

Bear Glacier on Highway 37A to Stewart

 

Our first stop was Stewart, BC which is a 45 minute detour from the highway along the Glacier Highway (#37A). This highway takes visitors past over 20 glacier formations that are visible from the road, including Bear Glacier. It’s a twisty, beautiful route through the mountains down to sea level – the scenery was quite a contrast from what we’d become used to in the Yukon with lush, towering trees reminding us of a rainforest. The town of Stewart (population: 500ish) is located at the head of the Portland Canal, the fourth longest fjord in the world at 90 miles. Stewart is considered Canada’s most northerly, ice free port. Based on recommendations from Paul and Nat, we stopped in for drinks that evening at the funky Bittercreek Bar and Lounge. This eclectic little spot is filled with local oddities, serving up craft beers from nearby Terrace B.C. Live music was starting at 7:30pm, but we couldn’t stay to enjoy it as we’d planned to spend the night camped outside of town.

 

We hit the road around 6:45pm bound for Salmon Glacier. This is the world’s largest road accessible glacier, and the fifth largest glacier in Canada. The road to the glacier also crosses the Canadian-American border. Stewart is located only 3km from the Alaskan border and the town of Hyder, Alaska. After our quick jaunt into the U.S. we continued down the road and back into Canada, hoping to camp nearby the glacier. Sadly weather was not on our side, with rain in the forecast for most of the night and next day. The mountains were also socked in with clouds, which made viewing the glacier difficult that evening. We continued past the summit viewpoint and found ourselves a nice campsite on a side road. We quickly fell asleep listening to the sounds of rain on the car roof and a nearby waterfall.

 

Salmon Glacier on a rainy day

 

The next morning the clouds had lifted a bit, but rain persisted. Visibility of the glacier and ice fields had improved though, and we stopped periodically along the route to take pictures. We planned to stop at the Fish Creek Wildlife viewing area on our way down to see grizzly and/or black bears feeding on coho, chum and pink salmon spawning in the creek. The constant downpour put a damper on these plans, and we decided not to stop in as we’d had many bear viewings just along the highway 😉 After a quick stop at the Canadian Border Services building, we were back in Stewart and Canada! We enjoyed a delicious breakfast by the window at Temptations Bakery & Deli before departing, bound  for Smithers BC. We were hoping to leave the rain behind us!

 

Main street in Stewart, BC

 

Fortunately Mother Nature was on our side and the weather improved steadily as we made our way to Smithers, BC. We arrived mid-afternoon at the Twin Falls Recreation Area just outside of Smithers. Nat and Paul had recommended this spot for camping, but it was full when we arrived. We forgot that this was Sunday of labour day weekend…! We’d been on vacation so long we were never quite sure what day of the week it was! We took a short hike to the bottom of the waterfalls, and then debated starting out on the steep, longer Glacier Gulch hike. I was still recuperating from a cold and was leaning towards a more relaxing afternoon in Smithers, though. Antoine sensed that I wasn’t up for the adventure, so we hopped in the car and headed to the recently opened Smithers Brewing Co. for some not exactly well earned pints.

 

Over a lovely hour of craft beers, we hatched our next plan. There was a second recreation area was located outside of town, about 20km down a forest service road. For those who are not familiar with camping in British Columbia, recreation areas are free camping spots located throughout B.C. This site was also only 15 minutes away from the hike we wanted to do the next morning beginning at the local ski hill – Hudson Bay Mountain. This was another Paul and Nat recommendation! After a fun drive down a dirt road in far better shape than the Dempster, we arrived at the Dennis Lake Recreation Area. We joined one other camper, and a third joined us shortly after. The site really only had room for 3 campers, or maybe 4 if someone was tenting. We couldn’t enjoy a campfire due to the fire bans across B.C., so we set up our car tent and cooked dinner lakeside. Afterwards we curled up in our camp chairs for a Netflix night in our cozy tent home theatre. Oh the life!

 

View from the dock at Dennis Lake Recreation Site

 

We woke late, yet again, that morning. This is what happens in quiet camping spots when we don’t set an alarm… The sun was shining and temperatures rising, so we packed up camp and readied ourselves for the Crater Lake hike. The trailhead begins slightly left from the green t-bar at the Smithers ski hill. As it was Labour Day there were many people on the trail, including families with young children and lots of dogs. The trail was fairly easy to the lake, so we decided to continue on past the crowds with a summit bid to Hudson Bay mountain. The mountain was shrouded with clouds when we began our climb, but we got a glimpse of the summit as we neared the top. Unfortunately the distance was a wee bit deceiving. We arrived at the top ridge around 1:30 and quickly realized we had no hope of reaching the summit as our driving destination beyond Prince George was over 4 hours away. Slightly disappointed, we started our descent back to Sue the Subaru.

 

Crater Lake

 

Along the way we met a group of “Smitherites” who informed us that we’d missed signing a guest book near the top. Bummer! We also met a hiker named Serge from France who was visiting Canada for work. The long weekend had given him the opportunity to explore some local mountains in B.C. We hiked the rest of the way down the mountain with him, with Antoine and Serge conversing in French on a variety of topics including his travels, his love for the Canadian mountains, and life in France. It was a great opportunity for me to practice my oral comprehension 😉 We exchanged contact information and promised we’d let him know if we ever travel to the French Alps in the future!

 

This exchange was one of many we had with travellers over the past few weeks on our trip. We met lots of visitors from outside Canada, including travellers from Belgium, Switzerland, France and Germany. Ironically we met less Canadians on our travels, especially on the more northern parts of our journey. It reminded us of one of the reasons we planned this adventure in the first place: Canada is a huge, diverse and awe inspiring country filled with natural wonders. Antoine and I want to spend as much time as possible exploring this amazing country we call home. Canadian destinations don’t seem to get nearly enough credit, but travellers outside Canada seem to know how lucky we are and flock here to consume Canada’s natural splendours. As Serge explained to us, the Rockies are just as inspiring as the Swiss Alps, with far fewer people and development. It was a wonderful reminder of how lucky we are to call this beautiful country home! We can’t wait to continue exploring it.

 

Our last 5 days of travel were spent visiting friends and family in Alberta and Northern Ontario. Thanks to my Aunt Joan, Al & Val, Britta,  and my parents for graciously hosting us along the way – your awesome company, delicious sustenance and comfy beds after five weeks sleeping in our car were much appreciated!

 

For our last hike of the trip, we took a quick trip to Canmore Alberta while visiting Britta in Calgary. We’d planned to hike the Ha Ling Peak trail, only to find that it was closed for updates.  After some last minute research, we decided uponGrotto Mountain trail. We could not complete the full loop and make it back to Calgary for dinner, so we only adventured up until the Echo Canyon portion of the trail. Echo Canyon is a popular rock and ice climbing area. The views of Canmore and warm, sunny weather made this a worthy adventure!

 

Liz and Britta in Calgary

 

After three nights in Alberta with friends and family we hit the highway again, making it to the Ontario-Manitoba border in just one day. This long day of driving was worthwhile as it allowed us to spend two nights and a full day in Sault Ste. Marie with my parents! We arrived back in Ottawa on Monday September 10th after 38 days on the road. We could truly not have asked for a more memorable trip 🙂

 

Thanks so much for following along on our journey across Canada.

 

Liz & Antoine

 

The Dempster: Blackstone Uplands (km 78) to Inuvik, NWT (km 737)

After an incredible two nights in Tombstone Territorial Park, we packed up and hit the Dempster Highway for real this time, starting our multi-day drive to the Arctic Ocean. The Dempster Highway is the only road in Canada that takes you across the Arctic Circle. This 737 km gravel road takes visitors through 10 of Canada’s 217 ecoregions, which are large areas of similar landform and climate with different ranges of plants, animals and soils. Prior to the trip my Uncle Craig mailed us a copy of the Dempster Highway Travelogue, and this little guide proved very useful informing us about neat features at various km markers along our route.

 

For example, the travelogue informed us that Dall sheep reside along the mountainside at km 178.4. Their trails down the mountain to Engineer Creek are visible from the roadside, and we were able to spot three of them bedded down on the mountain with our binoculars. We were surprised by how white they were!

 

We stopped for a quick fish at km 195.5, where the distinctly red Engineer Creek meets the blue Ogilvie River. Antoine sent up the drone for some cool shots while I attempted to catch my first arctic grayling. No luck here either! 🙁 But views of the Ogilvie mountains made up for my poor fishing skills. This range of mountains differed from the Tombstone ranges, as they are comprised of light grey limestone rubble slopes and tall spikes of rocks known as tors. These are only found in unglaciated terrain! Here’s a shot of the Ogilvie-Peel viewpoint, which shows the northern fringe of these mountains. We couldn’t wait to return to this area on our way back down the Dempster for more fishing and some day hikes!

 

Engineer Creek meets the Ogilvie River

 

The driving got increasingly dicey as we left the Ogilvie River region and entered the Eagle Plain Plateau. It seemed that the maintenance crew forgot about this section of the road, with huge potholes and slick conditions slowing our drive to a crawl. There were also limited options for camping along the Eagle Plains portion of the highway. Paul had identified a nice spot near Eagle River at km 378 in his Garmin InReach, but it was rained out, with recent tire tracks indicating someone had been stuck. Rain was in the forecast for the next day, so we decided to camp further along at a gravel pit off the highway around km 387. We set up in our two vehicle T formation, with a tarp to keep us dry while we cooked delicious one pot meals on our camp stoves. In the evening we wandered back to the highway to snap some photos, picking Labrador leaves and rose hips for tea later on our drive.

Our gravel pit “campsite” in Eagle Plains

 

We woke up early the next morning prepared for a long day of driving to Inuvik, NWT. By 9:30am, we’d reached the Arctic Circle! The Mackenzie Mountains lay in front of us, shrouded by thick low lying clouds. We were a bit bummed as the views would have been epic, but at least it was rain and not snow! The clouds were even thicker and the wind even wilder once we reached the Yukon-NWT border at 10:30am. Oh wait, I mean 11:30!!! We were on Mountain Standard Time now – 1 hour ahead.

 

Arctic Circle viewpoint – Mackenzie Mountains hidden by cloud

 

Highway conditions improved immensely once we reached NWT. We could now start travelling faster than 30km/h. We reached the first ferry crossing of the Dempster at the Peel River around noon on Tuesday August 21st. This cable ferry had been closed down the week prior for three days due to rain, so we were happy to find it functioning despite the inclement weather. In the winter the ferry is replaced by an ice bridge. After the short ferry ride we had a quick lunch in our vehicles thanks to continued rain at Nitainlai Territorial Park. We stopped shortly after for more snacks in Fort McPherson. This community of 900 sits between two ferry crossings on the Dempster. We were lucky to spot a spunky silver fox just outside of town. He was sporting a summer black coat with a white tail and skipped along the highway for quite some time while we sat parked watching. I wish I’d been able to capture a photo – he was beautiful and the first wildlife we’d seen in some time.

 

Description of local foxes at the Tombstone Interpretive Centre

 

The next ferry crossing at the Mackenzie River was even more beautiful, albeit a little slow with two stops including the community of Tsiigehtchic. The Arctic Red River joins the Mackenzie River near the ferry crossing. 2 hours later, we rolled onto the 12km stretch of paved highway that leads to Inuvik, NWT! According to our travelogue, Inuvik is Canada’s largest centre above the Arctic Circle, with a population of 3,400. That night we treated ourselves to dinner and a stay at Happy Valley Territorial Campground, centrally located in Inuvik. What it lacked in asthetic appeal, it made up for in amenities. Laundry and free hot showers! They were a welcome warm up before heading to bed in 1 degree temperatures. What more can you expect from the Arctic?!

 

Next up: the new road to Tuktoyaktuk and the Arctic Ocean!

 

Thanks for following along on our journey 🙂

 

Liz & Antoine

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