It started at 8:45 am, 15 minutes before we were all supposed to meet at Partick to make the 9 am train to Balloch. Frantic texts between severely hungover, half alive college students read: we're not going to make it. And by "make it" we meant there was a strong chance of collapsing on the street and projectile vomiting over strangers, securing our destined image as those American students that can't handle a late night out. After putting on whatever was within reach and stuffing whatever snacks we could into our backpacks, we sprinted down Great George Street in the cold Glasgow morning air to take the Hillhead subway to Partick where we had planned the night before to meet. After realizing upon arrival that we were not required to take the 9 am train with our pre-purchased tickets, therefore rendering our rushing somewhat unnecessary but maybe still a lesson learned (who am I kidding we will never learn that 4 hours of sleep is not enough when planning to explore the Scottish country side), we wolfed down a much needed greasy breakfast and waited for our 9:30 am train to arrive.
When we arrived it was gray, what a surprise. We didn't know it but a winter storm was preparing to shower us with huge, perfect snow flakes. Onnika, Adam, Ula, Adam's flatmates Patrick, Jeff, Dilpreet, Tom, and Marco, and I headed straight to the information office of Balloch village and collected a few maps for ourselves. We didn't really have a plan, as Loch Lomond is the largest Loch in Scotland and we weren't necessarily feeling daring enough to do any hard core hiking. So we choose what looked like two promising castles as final destinations and started following the east side trail along to Balloch Castle.
The nausea and blaring headache that had previously decided to take root in my stomach and head started to settle and subside. I felt an overwhelming feeling of fresh air relaxing all of the tense and jittery feelings that had controlled me since arriving in Scotland. As exhilarating as starting this adventure has been, I did not anticipate how equalling exhausting it could be to start life in a completely new place. This was our first real venture into the Scottish country side, and simply strolling along the Loch side trail was everything I needed and more. The gray sky made it so that it was difficult to distinguish where the water ended and the sky began, which some would say was a pity we couldn't experience it in better weather, but I found totally dreamy and romantic. Especially once the snow started to drift down in big, fat flakes, it felt like being in a scene from some Gothic film. The cold didn't even bother us until the very end of the hike when our feet were wet, and we started to crave a warm pub lunch and a hot chocolate. For some of us, Marco as he is from Mexico, it was the first experience with snow, and definitely for all of us, our first experience with snow in Scotland.
After walking for some 40 minutes (stopping every two seconds to take a photo), we came upon a large field with a wee castle perched on top of a hill, this was in fact not Balloch Castle but a much smaller castle halfway there. We oohed and aahed and took many group photos in the snow that was starting to fall much heavier. We took a look at the map, conferred, and decided to try to hike to the real Balloch Castle even though we couldn't exactly determine a path. After following along the bank and coming to a fork or two in the road, we started along an "off the beaten track" trail that we hoped would take us to the castle; though at the time it didn't entirely matter if we were going the right way, we were too bewitched by the wintry scene that was slowly but surely engulfing us. After passing a few snow covered water falls, and stopping to take a few photos on top of some very impressively large tree trunks, we found ourselves finally higher up and along the path to the castle doors. Little did we know it was the same castle as before, and not very surprising knowing us, we had managed to basically hike up and around arriving at the top of the hill we had been taking photos in front of earlier. It was still impressive and worthwhile all the same. From there we continued on to find the gardens, passing dozens of adorable families who made us all secretly wish we had tiny toddlers in snow suits and gorgeous dogs to go sledding with on the weekend.
Content, and defeated by cold and hunger we eventually decided to locate a warm place to sit, have lunch, and discuss the day. Collapsing into our seats once we finally found a place, we quickly ordered all of the hot, comforting food that we could, and remained there for two hours while our shoes and coats dried. For a simple countryside day trip, it was a simply perfect day; and as we headed back to the train, the snowfall subsiding and the evening starting to turn dark, we all agreed that the day turned out unexpectedly well. And that we should do it again.