This is a holiday which has been planned completely at the last minute. I handed in my notice three months ago and yesterday was my final day at work. It wasn't finalised until quite recently that I would be able to finish yesterday and take the coming week off as holiday and that uncertainty, combined with the general uncertainty caused by Covid, meant that we hadn't booked anything in advance. I only starting looking at possible destinations on Monday night and it was Tuesday/Wednesday before I was actually making plans and bookings.
But we do now have a plan and quite an exciting one, which involves visiting several new Scottish islands. We really enjoyed the islands we visited in Scotland last year, so hoping that this trip will be equally fun. The first step for today was just to get as far as Scotland and so I booked a hotel room to stay overnight in Hawick, which is fast on its way to becoming our most-visited Scottish town! While there isn't anything particularly exciting in Hawick itself to necessarily merit coming here so many times, it's in a really convenient location and around 260 miles from Nuneaton, which is about the limit that feels reasonable to travel north in one day.
With so many trips to Northumberland and/or Scotland since the pandemic started, I've been running out of ideas for places to stop en route. There are plenty of National Trust places that look interesting, but you still have to book a slot on weekends and it's prohibitively difficult to predict what half hour slot you might arrive somewhere in when travelling such long distances. After a bit of googling for non-National Trust places on Wednesday night, I came up with the suggestion of stopping at a place called Aysgarth Falls in the Yorkshire Dales national park. It was in the right general direction, just a slight diversion from the A1M, and it looked really pretty in photos.
We didn't start packing until this morning, so it was around 11am before we left home and probably about 2pm when we pulled up at the car park for the falls. Unfortunately, in what seems to be becoming a bit of a theme for this year's travels, the car park was completely full and, with numerous other people circling round trying to find places to park, there didn't seem to be much chance of finding a space.
Slightly disappointed, we drove back up the small road we'd come down to the main road where we had just driven past what looked to be a pub serving food. I thought perhaps that if we had lunch now, by the time we'd finished eating then the car park might have calmed down a bit and we'd have more luck getting a space.
This seemed like a good plan, but we made the cardinal error of committing to going into a pub and being allocated a table without actually seeing what was on the menu When the menu arrived it was.... limited. There were only four main options for lunch, of which the only one I could conceivably stand a chance of eating was a steak and mushroom pie. I wasn't wildly enthusiastic about this, but figured I could probably pick the mushrooms out and it was definitely the best available option. Tim asked for mine to come without the unspecified vegetables mentioned on the menu and to swap what looked like very chunky chips for skinny fries.
Unfortunately, the day continued to go not quite according to plan when the kitchen was out of skinny fries. Tim negotiated for me to have bread instead, which seemed to cause great commotion in the kitchen and necessitate two further trips to our table by the waitress, first to ask whether I wanted sliced bread or homemade bread, and secondly to ask whether I wanted white or brown
Eventually the food came and the pie hugely surpassed my expectations; the meat was really nice and I didn't find a single mushroom in it! The bread was very nice too, although slightly bizarrely after all the fuss of asking me whether I wanted white or brown and me asking for white, I got a mixture of both types.
This had all taken quite some time, so by the time we'd also had pudding and then settled up, it was nearly 4pm and I was feeling optimistic that the car park for the waterfalls ought to have quietened down a bit. We drove back down the road and the good news was that there were indeed now a handful of spaces available We parked and started following a sign posted trail towards the Middle and Lower Falls. There are three parts to the waterfalls, with the Upper Falls being the smallest.
It felt like we only had to walk a few hundred metres from the car park before we reached the Middle Falls.
This time last week we had been in Wales, visiting the enormous waterfall at Pistyll Rhaeadr. This one didn't seem quite as impressive, although the view was perhaps slightly better from a distance.
After another 10 minutes or so of walking, we came to the Lower Falls.
Initially we saw them from a distance...
...and then we were able to climb down onto the rocks and get a closer view.
From here we could look down the River Ure in one direction...
...and get a close-up of the falls in the other direction.
Perhaps our waterfall expectations are just too high, but overall we found them a bit underwhelming and decided to give walking to the even smaller Upper Falls a miss! Instead, we got back in the car and drove onwards for another couple of hours towards Hawick. It actually turned out to be an unexpectedly scenic drive, because rather than taking us back to the A1M, the SatNav drove us through the Yorkshire Dales national park and across into Cumbria, before taking us over the border into Scotland.
With arranging the holiday at such short notice, I'd been struggling to find accommodation even in Hawick, which normally has a reasonable amount of options to choose from. We're therefore staying for tonight in a fairly small hotel with a random extra bed in the room
Tomorrow should be more exciting as we are driving further north to the town of Ardrossan, where we are catching a ferry to the Isle of Arran. Unfortunately, the ferries were also really booked up at such short notice, so it will be a long day; I think it will be around 21.30 by the time we are finally checking into our hotel on the island.