Santiago: el corazón cosmopolita de Chile

In the immediate foreground of this photo is dark vegetation, beyond which far below are the buildings of the city of Santiago with the Andes rising behind them. The city and mountains are a little bit pink with the evening light and covered in a slight haze. Above the haze the sky is blue.

Santiago is the cosmopolitan heart of Chile, and has lots to explore. I visited initially with a friend and make regular return visits to see my girlfriend’s family.

This post has a quick overview of what I think are some highlights, and then goes into more detail neighbourhood by neighbourhood. Hopefully there is something useful in here to guide your visit to this excellent city.

All of the bolded location links below will take you to Google Map locations if, like me, you like to plan your travels by geography.

Quick Overview: the highlights!

Go to Lastarria, a hip neighbourhood where you can eat the best gelato (Emporio La Rosa) and take a stroll in Cerro Santa Lucía (park on a now-extinct volcano). Barrio Italia is a trendy neighbourhood with cafes, boutiques, and antique furniture, which is fun to wander.

Chilean Food & Drink

Eat: ceviche (“seh-VEE-cheh”; white fish ‘cooked’ in citrus juice with onion and herbs), hot dogs (yes, actually – a ‘completo’ is topped with chopped tomato, avocado, and mayonnaise), sopaipillas (deep-fried sweet potato cakes), maní confitado (candied peanuts), and empanadas (usually ground meat, but you can also find cheese and/or spinach, in a pastry).

Drink: pisco sour (made from the Chilean liquor pisco), or if you are so inclined, try a ‘piscola’ (pisco + coca cola), and of course: wine. Chile is known for its wonderful wine. Try a carmenere, (“car-men-AIR-eh”), a smooth red wine made from a uniquely Chilean grape.

More details by neighbourhood

A map I made so you know what I’m talking about!


Sign at Emporio La Rosa declares in Spanish, 'this is one of the 25 best ice cream places in the world'.
Emporio La Rosa: the best ice cream in Santiago.

In the super hip neighbourhood (barrio) of Lastarria, head to Emporio La Rosa (for the best gelato. It is a local favourite with classic flavours as well as flavours unique to Chile, like lucuma (made from lucuma fruit, a magical fruit that tastes a lot like dulce de leche) and miel de ulmo (subtly sweet and made from the nectar of the flowering ulmo tree). They have a few satellite locations, but the Lastarria location is the original and the best.

So many delicious ice creams!

Grab an ice cream and sit on their lovely corner patio (ideal for people-watching) or sit in or stroll the nearby Parque Forestal, and then walk around the neighbourhood – with lots of great shops and cafés there is lots to explore!

I strongly recommend visiting the Centre Gabriela Mistral (the GAM) which always has interesting exhibitions. Even if you don’t go inside, the covered courtyard/plaza is a great place to sit and people-watch and check out whatever rotating art display is on at the moment. (Last time, I was lucky enough to see this one.)

A tribute at the GAM to these important women from Chilean history (in *knitted* form!) Gabriela Mistral and Violeta Parra.

Also, I very strongly recommend visiting the Museo Violeta Parra, a beautiful, modern museum dedicated to the artist and musician who renewed and reinvented Chilean and Latin American folk music. You can listen to her music and marvel at her incredible embroidered tapestries. I was so thrilled that the museum has text in Spanish, English, and Mapudungun (the language of the Mapuche people indigenous to Chile.)

Near Lastarria is Cerro Santa Lucía , a park on an abrupt hill (actually a small extinct volcano) in the middle of the neighbourhood where you can find great views and cool basalt columns. Also a great location for the favourite pastime of Chilean teenage and young adult couples: making out in parks.

This photo shows the view from the top of Cerro Santa Lucia in central Santiago. The photo shows the trees in the park below and the long staircase that you must climb to get up to this viewpoint. There are also tall buildings and office towers of the downtown area in the near distance. In the far distance, obscured slighted by a thin layer of haze or smog are the Andes mountains. Above the haze, the sky is blue.
View from the top of Cerro Santa Lucia

Barrio Italia

Barrio Italia is a trendy neighbourhood worth a wander with lots of nice cafés, restaurants, and furniture stores! This neighbourhood was settled by immigrant artisans in the 1800s and is full of beautiful handmade furniture, crafts, and antiques.

Bellavista & La Vega

North of Lastarria across the Mapocho River is Bellavista with more shops, cafés, and restaurants – another fantastic neighbourhood to stroll around and explore.

This photo taken in the Bellavista neighbourhood of Santiago shows a street corner with two historic buildings painted bright orange-red and a third newer building next to them with a turquoise glass facade. There is graffiti and murals on the sides of the red buildings and in the background, a construction crane and palm tree rise up from behind the buildings.
Street corner murals and street art in Barrio Bellavista

If markets are your thing, west of Bellavista you’ll find La Vega Central, a huge produce market. The nearby Mercado De Abastos Tirso De Molina is friendlier for buying a bite to eat and housed in a really interesting market building, and Mercado Central is just across the river from that.

Cerro San Cristóbal

Nearby, just north of Bellavista, you can take a dodgy/fun (depending on how you feel about these things) funicular up Cerro San Cristobal for amazing views of the city and the Andes.

This photo, taken from the funicular carriage looking down, shows the steep rail tracks of the funicular rising up the hill through the trees; buildings of the city are in the background, a little hazy in the evening light.
Take the funicular up Cerro San Cristobal for a great view.

Note that the view of the mountains is likely to be better earlier in the morning or right after it rains when the pollution is lower. (Your weather app might tell you that this is ‘haze’, which is a nice way of saying ‘smog’.)

In the immediate foreground of this photo is dark brushy vegetation including the fronds of some kind of palm tree. Beyond the vegetation in the distance and far below are the buildings of the city of Santiago with the Andes rising behind them. The city and mountains are a little bit pink with the evening light and covered in a slight haze. Above the haze the sky is blue.
Panoramic view of Santiago and the Andes at dusk from the top of Cerro San Cristobal.

Although I have never taken it, the cable car up Cerro San Cristóbal is open again.

Downtown & Plaza de Armas

Plaza de Armas  in central Santiago is a grand public square in the heart of a bustling, pedestrian-oriented downtown.

Off of the square, the Precolombian Art Museum / Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino hosts an impressive collection.

A central rope forms a semi-circle and from it hundred of smaller ropes fan out, each with knots tied at different points along the ropes.
Incan data storage: this quipus (knotted cord) was used by the Incas to keep their accounts by way of the quantity, type, and position of knots on primary and secondary cords. This 586-cord quipu holds 15,024 items of data.

A 10 minute walk from Plaza de Armas is the Plaza de la Constitución and La Moneda Palace, which is the seat of the President of the Republic of Chile. This was the site of the infamous US-backed military coup on September 11, 1973 that violently ended Salvador Allende’s presidency and marked the beginning of the Pinochet dictatorship. 

Quinta Normal & Barrio Yungay

Across the road from the Quinta Normal metro station is the heavy, heartbreaking, important, educational, and beautifully done: Museum of Memory and Human Rights / Museo de la Memoria y Derechos Humanos in Barrio Yungay. First introducing human rights investigations and inquiries all over the world, the museum then takes you through Chile’s own relatively recent turmoil with the Pinochet dictatorship and the many killings and disappearances of dissenters that happened during that era.

This photo of the exterior of the museum shows the dramatic square architecture and large concrete plaza in front of the entrance.
The Museum of Memory and Human Rights

Nerdy aside: Check out the excellent film ‘NO’ (2012) with Gael Garcia Bernal playing the ad executive who comes up with a campaign to defeat Augusto Pinochet in Chile’s 1988 referendum. Although I haven’t seen it, I hear ‘Nae Pasaran‘ is excellent as well. It is a documentary about the Scottish workers who, in solidarity with Chile, refused to repair aircraft engines that were part of Chile’s military fleet and likely involved in the 1973 coup.

Next to the metro station is Parque Quinta Normal, which is beautiful for a stroll, especially after you’ve visited the Museo de la Memoria. Inside the park are the free Museum of Science and Technology, Natural History Museum, and Railway Museum. There is probably someone near the Quinta Normal metro station selling maní confitado (candied peanuts) from a little food cart, if you’re feeling snacky.

A 10 minute walk away through some beautiful streets is Peluquería Francesa, a nice cafe and restaurant in an old and interestingly decorated building that also still houses a classic barber shop.


The West Highland (Half)Way: Kinlochleven to Fort William (Day 4)

The West Highland Way is a beautiful and classic walk in the highlands of Scotland, and I would heartily recommend sections of it or the full 95 miles for a challenging and worthwhile trek. My friend and I walked the second (and arguably better) half of the West Highland Way in October 2018 over three and a half days.

This post is about our Day 4 walk from Kinlochleven to Fort William. You can also check out the overview of our itinerary, accommodations, and food, and notes on & photos of the walks from Crianlarich to Tyndrum (Day 1), Tyndrum to Glencoe (Day 2), and Glencoe to Kinlochleven (Day 3).

Kinlochleven to Fort William

Thursday, October 4, 2018

The walk from Kinlochleven to Fort William is 15 miles and took up about 7.5 hours. Fort William is the end of the West Highland Way (Mile 95)!

For breakfast we bought some instant oatmeal cups from the Co-op (thankfully open by 8:00 am) and headed back to the hostel to eat them with tea and instant coffee. Free cereal at the hostel meant we could top-up our stomachs before heading out.

The start of the walk from Kinlochleven is upward and through a woodland. Once you emerge, that’s it for tree cover.

A misty view of Kinlochleven from the top of the hill to the north of the town.

The forest we were hoping to find (and which is shown on the map) for some cover from the rain and wind was no more: all logged. All of the existing trees are pretty far off of the actual path.

Once you reach the top of the hill out of Kinlochleven, you follow a hydro road for a little while:

Construction taking place on hydro access roads north of Kinlochleven. The West Highland Way follows one of the hydro access roads for a short way.

Then gravel track:

Two walkers ahead of us on the gravel track through Lairigmor.

Which passes by an old ruined cottage:

Ruins of an old cottage on Lairigmor on the West Highland Way north of Kinlochleven.

It is hard to imagine anyone living here: it’s wildly beautiful with the mountains sloping up on either side and lots of space for sheep grazing, but oh wow the driving rain and wind. The sheep are still here being grazed but the humans are gone. Except for those of us crazy enough to be walking here.

Once through this wide-open and exposed pass, we turn north into a narrower valley and it’s a *little* bit more protected. We lose some elevation and have lunch in a sort of stand of trees (more or less the only one that provides any shelter on this section of the Way) – more cheese and oatcakes and chocolate and fruit that we’ve been carrying with us.

After a bit more up and down along the slopes of a narrower valley, we finally emerge onto the forestry road (near the ruin of an old fort) that takes you all the way down to Fort William. We were lucky that the clouds had broken so that we could see Fort William and Ben Nevis ahead of us. Ben Nevis is a *big* mountain.

The gravel forestry road that leads downhill to Fort William. There is a West Highland Way thistle signpost in this photo and Ben Nevis looms in the background.

Quickly the clouds closed in again and we headed down. (Our attempt to walk to the old fort failed – we couldn’t quite manage it energy-wise at this point.)

We passed a couple of women on our way down with whom we’d been leap frogging and exchanged banter. My friend said, “A little wet, eh?” and one of the women said, “Wet?? Us?? Nooooo!” and then we all laughed because there was nothing else for it at that point.

We arrived at the B&B, hung up all our wet stuff, showered and changed and went for a celebratory dinner at The Crofter. Sausage and mash has never tasted so good. Beer has never tasted so good! (In the photos below it looks as if I have maybe never had a beer before in my life.)

Hop to:

The West Highland (Half)Way: Glencoe to Kinlochleven (Day 3)

The West Highland Way is a beautiful and classic walk in the highlands of Scotland, and I would heartily recommend sections of it or the full 95 miles for a challenging and worthwhile trek. My friend and I walked the second (and arguably better) half of the West Highland Way in October 2018 over three and a half days.

This post is about our Day 3 walk from Glencoe to Kinlochleven. You can also check out the overview of our itinerary, accommodations, and food, and other notes on & photos of the walks from Crianlarich to Tyndrum (Day 1), Tyndrum to Glencoe (Day 2), and Kinlochleven to Fort William (Day 4).

Glencoe to Kinlochleven

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

This section of the walk was 10 miles long and took us just under 5 hours. From Glencoe to the bottom of Devil’s Staircase took us 1.5 hours, an hour to climb Devil’s Staircase, and then 2 hours 45 minutes (including a short-lived lunch break) from the top of Devil’s Staircase all the way down to Kinlochleven.

In the morning, we had a breakfast of instant oatmeal cups we carried with us and then a quick (and not terribly worth it) coffee and tea at the lodge at 9:00 when it opened. 

Today it RAINED! We got very wet. Pretty easy going to the bottom of the Devil’s Staircase, the clouds shifted and we could see a little of Glencoe. Thankfully the Kingshouse Hotel (although very under construction) has public washrooms open, so we made a quick pit stop there. 

A misty morning, but relatively easy-going from Glencoe Mountain Resort to the bottom of Devil’s Staircase.

We fuelled up with a little energy bar and some squares of our Oreo Cadbury chocolate bar and then hit the hill. Thankfully the Devil’s Staircase is entirely switch-backs, which makes it manageable, if cardio-intensive.

At the top of Devil’s Staircase, taking stock of our life choices. Omg we are so wet.

Once at the summit, more amazing tundra-like hills and eventually you can see a beautiful blue lake off to the east. The clouds broke and the rain stopped briefly (so we could see the lake) and have a quick lunch (cheese and oatcakes, etc. carried with us), but the rain started again and so we packed up and moved on. In general, we did a lot of leapfrogging with other groups of walkers in this section. 

On the West Highland Way heading towards Kinlochleven the clouds broke briefly for a view of the lake.

We eventually came to the edge of the epic downhill to Kinlochleven where a few brave folks have houses and there are power lines and the hydro facilities at the top of the incredible long hydro-electric pipes that run all the way down the mountain to the town. No kidding they do well with hydro electricity here, there is so. much. rain.

If you value your knees, hiking poles are essential on this section of the hike. Once at the bottom of the downhill, at the edge of Kinlochleven, we went to the ice climbing centre for a toilet and to take off our rain layers and to have a tea before heading to the hostel to check in. 

The climbing & ice climbing centre in Kinlochleven is in an old hydro electric building.

We received a very warm welcome at Blackwater Lodge (they are used to wet walkers), quickly got our things hung up in the drying shack, had showers, and then went for dinner at the Highland Getaway Inn where we enjoyed non-deep-fried(!) fish and vegetables(!), a glass of wine, and an after-dinner dram. Back to the hostel for a solid sleep!

The next day (our last!) we walked from from Kinlochleven to Fort William.

Hop to:

The West Highland (Half)Way: Tyndrum to Glencoe (Day 2)

The West Highland Way is a beautiful and classic walk in the highlands of Scotland, and I would heartily recommend sections of it or the full 95 miles for a challenging and worthwhile trek. My friend and I walked the second (and arguably better) half of the West Highland Way in October 2018 over three and a half days.

This post is about our Day 2 walk from Tyndrum to Glencoe. You can also check out the overview of our itinerary, accommodations, and food, and notes on & photos of the walks from Crianlarich to Tyndrum (Day 1), Glencoe to Kinlochleven (Day 3), and Kinlochleven to Fort William (Day 4).

Tyndrum to Glencoe

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

The walk from Tyndrum to Glencoe is 18 miles in all – a long one! – and the saving grace for us was some incredibly good weather. From Tyndrum to Bridge of Orchy it took us 2.5 hours, and from Bridge of Orchy to Glencoe Mountain Resort it took us 5.5 hours for a total of 8 hours.

We enjoyed a lovely breakfast cooked right in the lodge kitchen by Kate – scrambled eggs and salmon and real coffee in a French press! We both got a packed lunch with a cheese and pickle sandwich, fruit, crisps, snacks, and sweets.

Walking out of Tyndrum on the West Highland Way towards Ben Dorainn on a miraculously dry day.
View from the West Highland Way towards Ben Dorainn. This section of the path cross-cuts hill slopes and runs parallel with both motorway and railway.

What a day! Windy walking from Tyndrum to Bridge of Orchy, but no rain and incredible views. We stopped at Bridge of Orchy and had tea on a picnic table outside and used the washroom.

A wee tea break in the sun at the Bridge of Orchy Hotel
Looking back at the Bridge of Orchy & eponymous hotel.

Onward and upward through a woodland which opens up as you approach the top of the hill. It is pretty exposed although on this day we’re lucky with some blue sky above.

Leaving Bridge of Orchy involves a bit of a hill climb.
There is still some purple heather to be found on the moors this late in the season.

We emerge on the top of an extremely windy hill with a big cairn (probably everyone who comes up here adds a rock). What views!

At the top of the hill between Bridge of Orchy and Inverornan there is a large cairn and on a clear day there are great views of Loch Tulla.

Has Scotland ever had weather this good?? Unlikely. We head down towards Inverornan Hotel.

Inverornan Hotel is visible From the top of the hill.

Past Inverornan, we get onto the Roman road over Rannoch Moor. We have a quick stop for lunch sitting on the side of the road eating our sandwiches. The road over Rannoch Moor is long but the weather was so good we just enjoyed the views. We passed lots of mountain bikers on this section of the Way.

Through Rannoch Moor, the West Highland Way is a hard-packed Roman road from which we enjoy sweeping viewsThrough Rannoch Moor, the West Highland Way is a hard-packed Roman road from which we enjoy sweeping views.

It’s so tundra-like and heather-y and wet in the low-lying parts of the moor.

A panoramic view of Rannoch Moor near Ba Bridge.

We reached the summit and began what felt like a very long (albeit gentle) decent into Glencoe. Incredibly, we could see the whole valley and the mountain Buachille Etive Mor.

Slow decent into Glencoe on gravel track (say goodbye to that nice straight, hard-packed Roman road, friends.)

We checked in to our tiny hobbit house pod at the Glencoe Mountain Resort.

Hobbit house at Glencoe Mountain Resort. Cute, right?

Hard to beat the views from the hobbit house.

View from one of the hobbit houses at Glencoe Mountain Resort at sunset.

We had another fried fish dinner at the lodge, and a beer, and then headed to bed.

Very retro family-run ski hill vibes from the lodge at Glencoe Mountain Resort. [Image description: interior of a ski lodge with wood paneling, several sets of tables and chairs.]

Our worries that we would be cold at night were for nothing – in fact, neither of us slept particularly well because it was so steamy. I clawed my way out of my sleeping bag at some point in the night. The pods are well-insulated to say the least.

The next day we made the much longer 10 mile walk from Glencoe to Kinlochleven.

Hop to:

The West Highland (Half)Way: Crianlarich to Tyndrum (Day 1)

The West Highland Way is a beautiful and classic walk in the highlands of Scotland, and I would heartily recommend sections of it or the full 95 miles for a challenging and worthwhile trek. My friend and I walked the second (and arguably better) half of the West Highland Way in October 2018 over three and a half days.

This post is about our Day 1 walk from Crianlarich to Tyndrum. You can also check out the overview of our itinerary, accommodations, and food, and other notes on & photos of the walks from Tyndrum to Glencoe (Day 2), Glencoe to Kinlochleven (Day 3), and Kinlochleven to Fort William (Day 4).

Crianlarich to Tyndrum

This section of the walk was 7 miles long and took us 3 hours, including lots of stops to look at wild mushrooms and adjust our layers.

Friends, if you are into mushrooms, you will enjoy this section of the walk. [Image description: a little red-capped mushroom pokes through a carpet of green moss.]

Catching a 10:30 train from Glasgow, we arrived around 12:30 in Crianlarich where we dropped off some bags in the bike shed storage at Crianlarich Scottish Youth Hostel. (Leaving our bags here has to do with trip logistics unrelated to our walk, but it is worth mentioning that this is a thing you can do. The hostel were very happy to let us leave our bags for a few days in their locked bike shed for a donation.)

We bought sandwiches and crisps and drinks from the little convenience store near the hostel and ate them on a picnic bench outside before setting off on to the trail. 

We had a gentle kind of mist-turned-rain for most of the walk, but we were mostly in woodland and pretty covered. It was slow going at first as we determine the best layering combination for ourselves. Side note: I am very very pleased with my new hiking poles. We walked past St Fillan’s Priory ruin and graveyard and saw a farmer on a quad herding sheep with his sheep dog. 

Near St Fillan’s Priory and graveyard, we can see green hills and a nice gravel path ahead of us, plus lots of sheep!

This section of path from St Fillan’s Priory to Tyndrum is easy-going and a great warm up for us.  

The gravel path leads through scrubby, heathery terrain with a hilly backdrop near Tyndrum.

Our host Kate checked us into the lovely, cozy, and relatively modern Kilbride Lodge B&B! It was nice and warm so we could hang up our clothes to dry.

We changed clothes and headed for dinner a short walk away to the Real Food Café where I ordered fish and chips and my friend ordered venison sausage and we both had a bottle of beer (Innis & Gunn to be specific.) We did not expect my friend’s venison sausage to be battered and deep fried, but hey that’s the local custom. The mushy peas were very good and homemade.

The next day we made the much longer 18 mile trek from Tyndrum to Glencoe

Hop to:

The West Highland (Half)Way: Overview

The West Highland Way is a beautiful and classic walk in the highlands of Scotland, and I would heartily recommend sections of it or the full 95 miles for a challenging and worthwhile trek. My friend and I walked the second (and arguably better) half of the West Highland Way in October 2018 over three and a half days. This is a little account of our adventure, which will hopefully offer some helpful information for other walkers.

This post is an overview of our itinerary, accommodations, and food. You can also find notes on & photos of each section of our walk: Crianlarich to Tyndrum (Day 1), Tyndrum to Glencoe (Day 2), Glencoe to Kinlochleven (Day 3), and Kinlochleven to Fort William (Day 4).

The itinerary (how far and how long)

It’s not too difficult to find a variety of suggested itineraries on the Internet with the official West Highland Way website and Walk Highlands site being good places to start.

I walked the better part of the West Highland Way in October 2011 on my own in two parts: Milngavie to Tyndrum (53 miles) over 4 days, and then Tyndrum to Kingshouse (19 miles) over 2 days. I remember a good portion of the southern section of the Way (mainly along Loch Lomond) being a bit of a slog with lots of climbing over tree roots. Although I was not very fit in 2011 and I had elected to carry what turned out to be way too many things, I have since heard others agree that the Loch Lomond portion of the Way is challenging. Remembering this and knowing we had limited days for our walk in 2018, we decided to do only the northern section. 

Below are mileage and hours walked for both my solo 2011 walk and the 2018 walk with my friend. I have been inconsistent with tracking when my hours count includes or excludes breaks. If we are just walking on relatively flat ground and not stopping to take photos and dawdling, we do about 3 miles per hour (which is exactly what the Naismith Rule, named for the Scottish mountaineer, tells us) but if we include breaks, lunch, photography, &c. then it’s about 2 miles per hour.

2011 Walk Itinerary

  • Day 1: Milngavie to Balmaha – 18 miles (8.5 hours)
  • Day 2: Balmaha to Inversnaid – 14.5 miles (8 hours)
  • Day 3: Inversnaid to Crianlarich – 13.5 miles (7 hours)
  • Day 4: Crianlarich to Tyndrum – 7 miles (3.25 hours)
  • Day 5: Tyndrum to Bridge of Orchy – 6.5 miles (2.5 hours)
  • Day 6: Bridge of Orchy to Kingshouse – 12.5 miles (4.5 hours)

2018 Walk Itinerary

Accommodation & Food

Although things have changed a bit since then, here’s where I stayed in 2011:

  • Inversnaid: a lovely hostel in a converted church with meals for a fee and a good drying room
  • Crianlarich: the mainstay Scottish Youth Hostel has good kitchen facilities and a short walk away: shops and the Rod & Reel Pub (good food & pints, visited in September 2018)
  • Bridge of Orchy: the affordable bunkhouse at the Bridge of Orchy Hotel is unfortunately no longer open; they have a restaurant with food for purchase
  • Kingshouse: the Kingshouse Hotel which is undergoing extensive renovations and will open again in 2019

In October 2018, we stayed at the following places (with some notes on amenities and food options):

  • Tyndrum: the cozy Kilbride Lodge B&B run by the lovely Kate
    • Hot breakfast included (with *real French press coffee*) and bagged lunch for £7
    • We ate dinner at the Real Food Cafe in Tyndrum (many options; I had fish & chips and a bottle of beer)
    • Glengarry House B&B is also so lovely and offer a wonderful (seemingly bottomless) breakfast (stayed in September 2018)
  • Near Kingshouse: at Glencoe Mountain Resort in a “hobbit house”
    • Need to bring your own sleeping bag or rent one (we rented for a £5 fee.)
    • They have some pretty harsh TripAdvisor reviews, but don’t be deterred: think of this as slightly elevated camping and your expectations will be about right. Still, it will be good when Kingshouse Hotel is open again.
    • We ate an ok dinner at the Glencoe Mountain Resort Lodge (limited options; I had fish & chips and a bottle of beer)
    • For breakfast the next morning we had our own instant oatmeal cups that we carried with us (there is a kettle in the hobbit house); for lunch that day we ate oat cakes, cheese, fruit, bars, and chocolate that we carried with us.
  • Kinlochleven: the very walker-friendly Blackwater Hostel
    • Big kitchen, bedding included, good drying hut, towels for rent
    • We ate a delicious dinner at the Highland Getaway Inn (lots of options; I had salmon, mashed potatoes & veggies, glass of wine, and dram of whisky)
    • There’s a Co-op in town for groceries
  • Fort William: 6 Caberfeidh B&B
    • We booked here because the Fort William Backpackers Hostel was full.
    • Fine enough but not terribly walker-friendly (we were soaked when we arrived and they didn’t really know what to do with us.) I am sure there are better places to stay in Fort William, although this place had the advantage of being a short walk to the high street and to the train station. And it had a rain shower.
    • We had an excellent celebratory dinner at The Crofter on the high street. I can also recommend Cobb’s near the train station. Both friendly, warm, and cozy.

Walking map

I strongly recommend getting a paper walking guide to follow along and help with the planning process. I’ve used & found very helpful the West Highland Way Footprint map. (That link will take you to the UK-based book, map, and guide supplier Cordee because let’s avoid Amaz0n whenever possible with its appalling workers’ rights. Workers make poor wages while the CEO has become the richest person on earth. Income inequality is killing us.)

Notes from the walk

Now for the more detailed notes and photos from our October 2018 walk:

Bristol & Bath Railway Path

I cycled the 25km (15.5 mile) Bristol & Bath Railway Path in July 2018. I opted to cycle the round trip (50km) in one day, which amounted to 3.5 hours of riding time (1 hour and 45 minutes each way, not including breaks.) Some folks opt to cycle one way and take the train back (from Bath Spa station to Bristol Temple Meads station.)

Rent a bicycle from Bristol Bicycles & Jake’s Bikes in Bristol and head to the Bristol & Bath Railway Path website to learn more and download maps and leaflets.

The Bristol Bath Railway Path is a shared walking and cycling path that was the first-ever established section of the National Cycle Network. As the name suggests, the Bristol & Bath Railway Path was set up along the disused Avon Valley railway line – a totally brilliant re-purposing of space. The railway infill and right-of-way are already in place, so why not take advantage of the existing infrastructure? I only wish there were more beautiful paved cycle ways like this connecting major (and not-so-major destinations.)

With my rented bike from Jake’s Bikes (a comfortable, upright Dutch-style Bristol Bicycle with a few gears), I followed their handy printed map to the start of the path.



It was a little hairy getting to the start of the path: the cycle lane consists of painted lines on the edge of a busy road and I ended up hopping on to the sidewalk for bits of it.

It didn’t take long to find the start of the path and then the blissful and relaxing experience of riding on separated bicycle infrastructure began.

The path is about 25 km (15.5 miles) one-way all the way to Bath and is nicely paved with a very lovely tree canopy that keeps it cool on a hot day and, I imagine, would keep the rain off a little, too.


There are a couple of stops along the way:

The first, Warmley Railway Station, was a station on the old rail line. The station platform is still there (with ramps, I should add, making access with walking frame, wheelchair, or bicycle a possibility) and has a café, offering a great rest opportunity. Just across the road, continuing towards Bath is the beautifully restored Warmley Signal Box. (I should note that this is one of the only places that you need to cross a road.)


After passing through a gate and crossing the rail tracks, I came upon the second stop: the Avon Valley Railway. For me this was a delightfully unexpected gem. Volunteers have restored this rail station and a section of the railway in order to operate a steam train that takes retro railway enthusiasts on a short ride.


I stopped at the Avon Valley Railway Station for a tea and cake, which I enjoyed sitting on one of the picnic benches on the platform. The Avon Valley railway runs alongside the walking and cycle path. At a platform a little further down the pathway, I was delighted to see that the front end of the train looks just like Thomas the Tank Engine (thank you English childhood!)


There are other opportunities to get off the path at the towns and villages along the way, including a few signs for bicycle repair shops for riders experiencing technical difficulties, but my goal was to get all the way to Bath and back.

Crossing the canal on an old bridge, I started to see houseboats – Bath is close!


Once you arrive at the edge of Bath,  you leave the separated pathway of the Bristol & Bath Railway. I rode on a short section of road (it was relatively quiet and drivers seemed pretty well aware of the cycle path and proper safe distance etiquette) and connected to the lovely Avon & Kennet Canal Towpath.

You cannot be in a rush on the canal towpath as it is narrow and shared between people on bikes and on foot, but it offers nice views of the canal and it’s fun to look at the canal boats. (I cycled past a particularly dire-looking situation with several folks working to bail out a partly submerged canal boat. It looked like the situation was in capable hands, but that cannot have been a good day. I do hope they succeeded.)

The canal gets vaguely more industrial the closer you get to Bath…


Then the canal tow path spits you out into the centre of town. I locked my bike at the bottom of Southgate Street and walked up past the Roman Baths and Bath Abbey.


M&S, reliable for having quasi-public toilets convenient for cyclists, also apparently have their own beer. I picked up a can and headed back to Bristol to enjoy it.




Making People Places: Glasgow

This post has some observations from a short trip to Glasgow in late September 2018. The feature image shows a view from the Glasgow Necropolis on a surprisingly sunny day in the city.

Find other Making People Places posts about Montreal, Bristol, and the Millennium Bridge / St Paul’s Corridor in London.

Blessed with some sun for our day in Glasgow we walked around the centre of the city to see some highlights and I couldn’t help but notice some interesting public space elements along the way.

Busy pedestrian Buchanan Street in Glasgow on a sunny Sunday

On Sauchiehall Street near Buchanan: an old bright red police box, giant planters as vehicle barricades, a variety of bollards, trees, and lots of interesting paving patterns.

Bollards and paving treatment on a pedestrianized portion of Sauchiehall near Buchanan Street

Sauchiehall Street near the Glasgow School of Art is being transformed to include wider sidewalks and separated bike lanes and trees – hurrah! I did not manage any good photos and it isn’t much to look at when we visited in late September 2018 as construction is still ongoing. This is work was begun before and now delayed by the tragic fire at the Glasgow School of Art.

BT digital advertising kiosk on Sauchiehall Street

A development about which I am harbouring some scepticism is the installation of BT InLinkUK digital advertising panels. I spotted one going in on Sauchiehall and another in operation on (I think it was) Trongate Street.

Having done some research on these digital kiosks for work, I am well aware that they are likely going to become a lot more common and ride in on a weird wave I can only clunkily describe as ‘hyper-connected surveillance capitalism but hey we’re giving you free wifi’. Although these units come at no cost to taxpayers (they are installed and maintained and run entirely from ad revenue) and claim to bridge the ‘digital divide’ by which some folks (wealthier, higher class) have ready access to the Internet and others (poorer, lower class, street-involved) do not, I’m just not convinced that this development is as good as it first seems under late stage capitalism. I’m waiting to be proven wrong. BUT I DIGRESS.

BT InLinkUK digital advertising kiosks will replace 2,000 public telephones around the UK.

The Glasgow Necropolis which, like many Scottish cemeteries functions quite a lot like a park and busy albeit quiet public space, is a sight to behold. On this beautiful mostly-sunny day that still managed to retain a good measure of Scottish moody greyness, it was stunning. It’s an amazing point from which to view much of the centre of the city (as you can see in the header photo of this post.)

Glasgow Necropolis

Also for work-related reasons I’ve taken an interest in wayfinding map stands and public toilets and in Glasgow near the Cameron Memorial Fountain there was an opportunity to see both in one photo! Sadly, though, this underground public toilet is, like most of them, a relic of the past.

Disused underground public toilet and map stand at at Sauchiehall Street & Woodside Crescent


Fife Coastal Path: Pittenweem to St Monans

Pittenweem is a delightful, sandstone-y village of on the south coast of Fife.

While staying here in early September, I walked a short section of the Fife Coastal Path. I’m determined to sample as many long-distance walks as possible while we’re in the UK: I rambled along a little of the Cateran Trail in Perthshire in late August, walked the Mendip Way in mid-September, and the northern half of the West Highland Way in October.

Pittenweem to St Monans is a short and very gentle gravel path section of the Fife Coastal Path offering beautiful views of the sea. I covered the 1 1/4 miles (one way) in half an hour. The day was beautiful with blue skies.

Pittenween has a working harbour (you can bet any seafood you have around here is fresh as it gets.)

In the UK you can always count on some good signage to assure you that you’re on the right track.

The views on the way to St Monans do not disappoint. I’m also fascinated by the tilted sedimentary beds that stick up out of the water creating parallel ridges and line almost the whole coast of Fife. They are visible at many places along the Coastal Path and in St Andrews.


Just east of St Monans are remains of salt panning industry which was important here in the late 18th century when salt (along with fish and wool) was one of Scotland’s top exports. The windmill pumped water into the salt pans which were then heated with fires burning local coal.

Walking through St Monans to the west side of the village affords beautiful views of the old church and cemetery.


The walk back to Pittenweem provides a lovely view of the town.


This mer-lady greets tired walkers as they arrive in Pittenweem.


Fancy more posts about long-distance walking? I walked the northern half of the West Highland Way in October 2018.

Making People Places: Bristol

This post contains some of my observations of public spaces in Bristol on a trip there in July 2018. The feature image shows a view from the canal edge to the pedestrian bridge that leads to Millennium Square with colourful balloons and flags (for Pride!) on sale at a cart in the foreground.

Find other Making People Places posts about Montreal, Glasgow, and the Millennium Bridge / St Paul’s corridor in London.

Bristol Canal

This is the place to be on a warm sunny weekend, and on a warm sunny weekday for that matter. (I wonder how this space works on a cool and drizzly day?)

Café patios spill out of historic buildings onto the cobbled streets that line the canal, and everyone and their dog is hanging out by the side of the canal, many legs dangling off the edge towards the water.

Spotted another heavy duty outdoor ping pong table by the canal provided by Ping! – “on a mission to bring ping pong to the people”. I wonder where one can borrow paddles and a ball from?

Millennium Square

Millennium Square feels like it has been recently redeveloped. It is bordered to the east by a newly renovated (or purpose-built?) building filled with hip restaurants with patios, to the south by an above-ground structure that leads to an underground car park, to the west by a casino, and to the north by the Bristol science centre, compellingly named ‘we the curious’.

Our trip to Bristol coincided with Pride, the ‘official’ version of which in Bristol consists of a parade followed by a kind of private event / outdoor party with live performances held in a large fenced-off section of Millennium Square.

Unfortunately, I didn’t take any photos of the space during Pride as we mostly gazed around wide-eyed while we passed through. Needless to say it was busy with people lining up to get into the event, plenty more milling about outside, and still others drinking on nearby patios.

(Rather than pay the fee to go into the performance area, we went to Castle Park where lots of folks were having a more relaxed and free celebration on the grass in the shade. The number of young people walking around in big queer gaggles wearing 6-colour rainbow pride flags as well as bi and trans and asexual pride flags just made my heart swell. I digress.)

I did catch Millennium Square after the Pride celebrations were over and the fenced-off event was gone, on a quiet Sunday evening with the weekend coming to a close.


Bristol Shopping Quarter

When I see high streets like Broadmead in Bristol’s central ‘shopping quarter’, I immediately wonder how we can bring this to Vancouver (e.g. Robson Street.) Here, two broad pedestrian streets with tons of shoppers milling about, tables and chairs, benches, and trees cross and converge at a circular plaza. Bollards and bike racks at the entrance to the street tell us: this space is not for cars, and here’s a place to put your bike so you can stroll down the street on foot.

Places to sit and rest and people watch, spots to grab some shade, and some interesting art make this is a lovely space that is about more than simply shopping.

The Bearpit

Not only is this a handy landmark for walking and bus rides around Bristol, but also an interesting public space. Sunk in the centre of a large traffic circle with stair and ramp access at a few points around the edges, the Bearpit is a unique plaza-like space. I observed people walking or cycling through*, skateboarding, folks who were likely street involved or homeless sitting under the trees at one side to keep cool, and a handful of businesses on the south side all closed and boarded up. It feels like a space that could be well-loved by all but isn’t.

*The Bearpit is where Jake’s Bikes is located, where I rented a bike for my cycle along the Bristol Bath Railway Path.

There is a group of vendors that ran businesses on the south side of the Bearpit until early in 2018 when they abandoned the site due to safety issues. They have put forward a £3.5 million plan to redevelop the site and rename it ‘The Circle‘, envisioning a food hub and community space.

As much as I can read and learn more about the background of the site, I know I can’t access the personal feelings I would have and community knowledge I would gain if this space were in my neighbourhood, but it is not difficult to get a sense that there is tension here.

From a jurisdictional standpoint, the Bearpit is part of three different city wards and it is not a park but is public highway. Although I am not sure of all of the implications of this in a Bristol context, no doubt it means that there are a lot of different stakeholders here. Significant stakeholders include the Bearpit vendors, who are concerned about people using drugs in the space and want to see greater police enforcement.

They also want to “[m]ake the space politically-neutral, and remove political slogans from the Cube“. Meanwhile, the Peoples Republic of Stokes Croft note the importance of the Cube for political expression: “Where public space is continually eroded, the relative freedom of the Bearpit, which is hard-won, offers hope.” (The PRSC offer a brief visual history of the kind of messaging the Cube has displayed.) I tend to side with the PRSC here: public space serves a crucial political function and I’m sceptical that removing political murals from the Cube is the answer here. (Not to mention that there can be no such thing as a ‘politically neutral’ space; space *is* political and removing political slogans from the Cube is a political act in itself.)

Public toilet-related aside: The Bearpit vendors also want washrooms provided for staff, but I say why limit that to only staff?! When will we agree that washrooms access is a right and public washrooms essential to healthy public spaces?