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Clare

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  1. When we came to Northumberland for the first May bank holiday earlier this year, we did a really nice walk near a village called Harbottle. We enjoyed it so much that we decided that it was worth repeating on this trip to Northumberland too The walk starts from a Forestry Commission car park just outside Harbottle. Harbottle is just under 40 miles from where we're staying in Hexham, so we had a drive of about an hour to reach the car park. I thought it might be busy being a bank holiday, but when we arrived there were only a handful of other cars in the car park. There had been quite a lot of other people walking in the Simonside hills yesterday; this seemed deserted in comparison. It was good to park without any problems anyway and we set off along the trail, following a sign uphill towards the Drake Stone. This is one of those walks where you get most of the uphill out of the way straight away. The path led us quite steeply uphill through a forest, then out into an open area of moorland. Before too long we had a view up to the large stone we were walking towards. The Drake Stone sits on a hill above Harbottle and is said by local legend to have supernatural healing powers. The path to get to the top was a bit steep and rocky in places, although not as steep and rocky as the Simonside walk had been yesterday. The views across the surrounding countryside were lovely when we turned around. Soon we had made it to the top This was the enormous Drake Stone. It was so large it was actually quite hard to fit it all in a photo! The views from the top were great, even though it wasn't the sunniest of days. Once we'd finished admiring them, the next part of the path led us around the Drake Stone and down the other side of the hill. We were walking towards Harbottle Lake. The path was a bit steep again in places, but I was better prepared for Northumberland this time around and had remembered my walking pole The walk instructions had warned that the area around the lake could be boggy. It didn't seem too bad today, but we did find some boggy bits as we climbed up through the nearby forest on the next section of the walk. The path through the woods was lovely. Though there were a few steep bits here too. This bit was definitely a lot easier with a pole Once we came out of the forest, the path levelled off into a nice flat track. I loved the views of the heather here... ...and also the views of the patchwork fields. I loved walking past all these cows slightly less Soon we were back down to the level of the road, which we crossed. We then followed another path alongside a river and through fields. From here we had a view back up towards the Drake Stone on the hill above us. Soon we were back in the village of Harbottle, not far from where we'd left the car. When we came here last time, we had a drink in the beer garden of a pub here which is also home to a pizzeria. Today we had come back planning to eat and we weren't disappointed! We split a meat pizza and a bolognese pizza between us; the bolognese in particular was amazing It was a great end to what has been another fun walk in Northumberland
  2. When we woke up this morning it was a lovely bright sunny day in Hexham We didn't have firm plans for the day in advance, but when we saw how nice the weather was we decided to make the most of it and try out a walk which I'd seen described online as one of the most scenic in Northumberland. The walk was in the Simonside hills near Rothbury, a drive of about 30 miles from where we were staying in Hexham. The walk started from a Forestry Commission car park, hidden down a narrow single track road. It was the sort of place you can only find if you already know it's there! Luckily there was plenty of place to park though, and the parking was free. We set off following a path through the trees. The route initially led us through the forest, which was really beautiful. We had tantalising glimpses of views as we walked. The path soon began to slope uphill and before long we were out of the trees. The walk was a circular one, only 4.5 miles long, but the description suggested it would take 3 hours. The path continued to lead uphill and our efforts were soon rewarded by a view of the hills beginning to appear through the trees. There was about 250m of uphill to do in total (it was very sunny, that's why I'm pulling a strange face in this photo ) We were climbing to the top of this hill. There were some beautiful views as we went up, but it was quick a steep, rocky path. Eventually we made it to the top Well, I think this bit was the very top! There were some amazing views from up here. I could see why it was described as one of the most scenic walks in Northumberland (Standing on this rock wasn't as scary as it looks ) Now that we were at the highest point, a relatively flat path led us across the top of the hills. There were wonderful views in all directions. Eventually the path began to gradually lead downwards. There was lots of heather everywhere and it looked amazing. The only problem was that it also seemed to be a habitat for a lot of flies! I don't seem to have got bitten by anything, but I feel like I spent a lot of time trying to swat them away from me. Soon the descent became quite rapid. We were now quite a long way below where we'd been walking. The path was easy now, starting to lead us back towards the trees. There was still lots of heather everywhere, but fewer flies down here We were most of the way through the walk now, on the final stretch back towards the car park. The last bit of the walk took us along a forest road... ...and then down through the forest itself. We made it back to the car and then headed to the nearby village of Rothbury for a late lunch Rothbury itself seemed like a really pretty village. We had a bit of a stroll around before getting back in the car to head back to Hexham. We've been really lucky with the weather today and managed to get away from people while enjoying great views, so all in all it's been a very successful day
  3. Another bank holiday, another trip to Northumberland It feels like we've been to Northumberland quite a lot over the course of the past year, but it's a really lovely part of the country and - most importantly for a bank holiday - it's quite remote and (hopefully!) going to be a bit quieter than holiday hotspots like Cornwall. We made a reasonably prompt start from home this morning, but ran into a bit of traffic on the drive north. Some of the delays seemed to be caused by people travelling to Leeds for a festival, so the congestion eased up a bit once we were past the junction for Leeds. I'd planned for us to stop en route to Northumberland at a place called Fountains Abbey. I'd wanted to stop here on previous trips north but hadn't been able to, because it's a National Trust property and during the pandemic it was mandatory to book a 30 minute slot. Home to Fountains Abbey was a journey of about 136 miles and with a distance like that it's almost impossible to predict when you are going to arrive. So I'd always had to find other alternatives which didn't require prebooking to visit. We'd actually driven past Fountains Abbey earlier this year when we visited the nearby Brimham Rocks. One advantage of "Freedom Day" having passed is that it's now no longer required to prebook for the National Trust. So today I was quite excited that we were finally going to get to visit Fountains Abbey It was after 1pm by the time we arrived and parked. Initially the car parks looked quite full, but it turned out there was a large overflow car park with plenty of space. Phew! Before long we had our first glimpse of the abbey. The abbey was founded in 1132, as a very enthusiastic National Trust volunteer explained to us at the entrance. It survived until 1539, at which point it was dissolved by Henry VIII. As you can tell from the pictures, the abbey is quite a popular place to visit and there were certainly plenty of visitors today! Once we left the main lawn behind and started following some of the paths around the grounds, we got some quieter views though. The ruins were really impressive; it was clearly an enormous monastery in its day. I knew that this National Trust property was a World Heritage Site, but what I hadn't realised until a National Trust volunteer explained to us is that it's not because of the ruins of Fountains Abbey, but because of what's located next to it. This is Studley Royal Water Garden, which is apparently one of the best preserved examples of a Georgian water garden. This isn't the sort of garden which has flowers; it's more of a landscaped garden with different pools and water features. It was a really pretty place to walk around, even though it was quite a cloudy day. At the end of the water garden we found a tea room, so we stopped for a quick coffee. Then we strolled back along the opposite side of the water garden... ...and back towards the abbey. From this side we could see what enormous windows it must have had! Then it was back in the car for another 75 miles or so towards Hexham, where we're staying in a cottage I found on Airbnb. It's got a cosy living room... ...a little kitchen... ...and an outdoor area with a beautiful view of the countryside The bathroom is rather posh... ...and the bedroom looks lovely too. I think it's going to be a nice place to stay for the next few nights
  4. It was a bit damp again when we woke up in our lodge in Barstobrick this morning. This definitely hasn't been a holiday for sunny weather, although somehow I have still managed to pick up a bit of sunburn Even though it wasn't a sunny morning, the view from the lodge was lovely. We'd been provided with a leaflet about a local walking trail, so once we'd had breakfast and checked out we decided to give it a try. We were able to start walking right from where we'd been staying. The walk started off fairly sedately, but it soon began to climb higher. The good thing about climbing higher was that we had some good views out across the surrounding countryside. We were walking towards this monument, on the top of Barstobrick hill. It was erected in memory of the inventor James Neilson, who invented something called the hot-blast process which apparently increased the efficiency of smelting iron. The trail we were walking on was called the Hot Blast Trail We were rather out of breath by the time we got to the top, but the views were pretty. And we could see for a really long way The path uphill had been quite wide and easy to follow, but the path downhill turned out to be considerably narrower. I wasn't really thrilled about how steep it was Parts of the path were also quite overgrown, so we had to push our way through bracken at times. It felt like quite a remote part of the country and we didn't see anyone else doing the same walk. Once we got down the hill the path became more sedate again, leading us through a forest. We also passed through a pretty garden before ending up back at where we'd left the car. Before we set off on the journey home, we stopped for coffee and cake at the Barstobrick cafe The drive home was 275 miles - so rather long(!) - but we've had such a great holiday that it definitely felt worthwhile
  5. We had a long day of travelling ahead of us today as we left Mull behind and travelled back towards southern Scotland. It was rather cloudy and wet when we woke up this morning, so we didn't have much of view from the ferry as we headed towards Oban. It was a smooth trip though, and we arrived back on the mainland around 11am. We had around 4 hours of driving ahead of us before we reached our destination for the evening, which is just outside Castle Douglas. We wanted to break the journey up a bit, so after the first hour or so of driving we stopped at a place called the Falls of Falloch, towards the top of Loch Lomond. We were hoping for a bit of a walk here to stretch our legs and get some steps in, but it turned out that the falls weren't very far from the car park. We probably walked for less than 10 minutes before we arrived at the viewpoint It was a pretty little waterfall, but there wasn't much scope to walk any further, so soon we were back in the car and driving down the side of Loch Lomond. We had a journey of about 15 miles or so to our second destination of the day, which was in the Argyll forest park. I'd found a short circular walk which we could do, starting from a forestry car park outside the small village of Succoth. The walk didn't get off to the most promising of starts, leading us steadily uphill on a winding path. But once we got to the top, there were some beautiful views. We were able to look down to Loch Long, which is a sea loch. Once we were at the top the path flattened out a bit and was easier to walk on. We followed the track through the forest, with some great views of the surrounding mountains. Every so often we got glimpses of the loch through the trees. Eventually the path began gently sloping downwards. It led us back down to the valley and we had a pretty walk through the fields. We could see the village of Succoth where we'd started in the distance. And we could also look up towards the forest on the hill behind where we'd been climbing. Once we'd walked back to the car, we drove to a nearby hotel and had the first proper meal out of this holiday We ate out on the first few days, but only in Wetherspoons, and we've since been completely self-catering on Mull. Tim had an enormous burger and I had what might possibly be the world's cheesiest macaroni cheese! We were extremely full by the time we'd demolished the food, but still had about 3 hours of driving to get to our final destination. It was a bit of a tedious drive as it involved circumnavigating Glasgow and getting stuck in a lot of traffic. It was close to 7pm when we finally arrived at Barstobrick, near Castle Douglas, where we're staying the night in a wooden lodge. It's small but comfy, and there's a lovely view out the window It looks like it's set in a nice bit of countryside, so we're hoping to explore a little bit before we check out tomorrow morning
  6. The weather was quite grey and cloudy again when we woke up this morning, so it was hard to tell how the day was going to turn out. Our plan was to visit another small island off the coast of Mull today - Iona. Iona is located only about a mile off the coast of Mull, but off a part of the coast which was quite far away from where we were staying. The ferry leaves from the small town of Fionnphort which was about 40 miles away, so we started the day with a scenic drive across Mull. And it really was a scenic drive! We passed by mountains and waterfalls as we made our way down towards the very bottom of the island. The weather did all sorts throughout the course of the journey, and at one point Tim caught sight of this beautiful rainbow in the distance We arrived in Fionnphort and parked the car. Iona is largely a car-free island and so visitors aren't allowed to bring cars across on the ferry without a special permit. The car parking machine didn't take contactless, but luckily we were able to pay for parking via an app. Fionnphort was a pretty little place. The weather had really brightened up now too We had just missed a ferry so we had a bit of a wait. The ferry between Mull and Iona is a proper ferry, not like the small boat we took to Ulva yesterday, so it theoretically runs to a timetable. During the middle of the day the timetable just says "runs frequently", so it was a bit hard to know exactly when it was going to turn up. We bought tickets for the ferry from the ticket office in Fionnphort and I was pleasantly surprised at how cheap they were; it only cost us £7.20 for two people return. We boarded the ferry when it arrived and got a seat on the deck. We then proceeded to sit and wait for a very long time before it departed. It seemed to have been waiting for two things - the local postman and a coach full of tourists. Vast quantities of people got off the coach and onto the ferry, which was then rather full to say the least! Once we got moving the crossing to Iona only took around 10 minutes. First impressions were that it's a really beautiful place Most people come to Iona to visit the abbey and we had a great view of it from the harbour when we got off the boat. The population of Iona is around 130 people and most of them live in Baile Mòr, which is where we'd arrived. It really just seemed to consist of this row of houses along the sea front. Assuming that most other tourists were heading north to the abbey, we had decided to do a walk on the southern side of the island. Iona isn't a large island; it's around 1 mile wide and 4 miles long, which makes it smaller than Ulva. Our walk started on the east coast of the island, taking us along by the sea for a while. The sea was a wonderful shade of blue and we passed sandy beaches too. The route we were following eventually turned inland and led us all the way across the island to the western coast. The path we were following here was across a piece of land which doubles up as a golf course and grazing land for sheep There didn't really seem to be anyone playing golf today, so we were able to enjoy the views without worrying about being hit by a golf ball There were some fantastic views of the coast as the path led us higher, up a sandy bank. We followed the track uphill for a while... ...and eventually came to a small loch. The track led us around the side of the loch. We then emerged onto a piece of moorland, covered in beautiful heather. I really loved how purple it was From here the path led quite steeply downhill towards a beach. This is the beach where St Columba is said to have landed when he arrived in Iona from Ireland in 563. It was a rather rocky and pebbly beach! The walk description had said it was a beautiful place to relax but walking across this many rocks was really quite difficult. It wasn't a circular walk, so we decided to retrace our steps back towards the golf course. By the time we got back to the ferry port, the weather had taken a bit of a turn for the worse and the sky was no longer so blue. The sea was still a beautiful shade of turquoise though and we had some lovely views of the abbey as we waited for the boat to take us back to Mull. The ferry soon arrived and we had a final view of Iona as it pulled away. Then we just had to repeat the 40-mile journey back across Mull to our cottage. We'll be leaving Mull tomorrow morning to head back to the mainland. The weather might not have been perfect here, but it's definitely been an interesting place to visit and we've seen some really beautiful places
  7. It was rather grey and cloudy again when we woke up this morning and it looked like the sort of day when it might rain. It wasn't actually raining though, so we decided to set off and hope for the best. Our plan for today was to visit a small island called Ulva, just off the coast of Mull, and to get there we needed to drive across the island in the direction of where we had been yesterday at Loch Ba. A small ferry makes the journey from Mull to Ulva on demand between the hours of 9 and 5. It's a passenger-only ferry, so we needed to park the car. When we arrived at the car park outside the ferry terminal I was surprised by the fact that there were quite a lot of people also there, presumably waiting to take the ferry to Ulva. I had thought it was probably a minority interest, but we hadn't seen this many people on Mull outside of Tobermory! We got out of the car to put on our boots and that was when the heavens opened. The downpour was torrential and we got back into the car in the hope that it would pass. I was also hoping that the noisy crowds of people might get on the ferry ahead of us, leaving us to have a quieter and less busy crossing. The rain soon eased off and so we ventured out of the car and towards the pier which we assumed the ferry was leaving from. There was a long queue of people, which we joined and waited. We waited and waited and waited for what felt like a very long time, and I was quite surprised because I thought the crossing was only supposed to be quite short and that the ferry more or less turned up whenever anybody wanted it. The only saving grace was that the place where we were waiting was quite scenic. Ultimately it turned out that we were waiting in the wrong place The horde of people had been waiting for this boat, which was on some sort of sightseeing cruise. We should have been waiting a bit further around the corner for this little boat, which is the Ulva ferry. I knew it was a small boat, but I hadn't realised it was quite that small Once we were on board the boat, the journey to Ulva only took a couple of minutes. The distance between Ulva and Mull isn't more than a few hundred metres. There were some nice views from the boat as we went across though. The tickets for the ferry cost £6 each (return), which we paid at a small kiosk once we arrived on Ulva. In return for the £6 we also got a map of the island, showing a number of different walking trails. The island is bigger than I expected - about 7.5 miles long and 2.5 miles wide - so we certainly weren't going to walk around all of it today. We chose to do a walk called the Livingstone Walk, which was about 5 miles long so felt manageable. The route started off with a forest road, which was quite easy to walk on. All the different trails were marked with wooden signposts, which made it easy to follow the one we wanted. Once we emerged out of the forest, the views of the island were really beautiful. There was lots of bracken, plus yellow flowers... ...and purple heather everywhere There had been two other people on the ferry with us and they had decided to do the same walk. They were faster walkers than us, so they overtook us somewhere around here. We didn't encounter any more people on Ulva until we got back to the ferry terminal in the afternoon As the path climbed higher we had views of the sea and the coast of Mull in the distance. The signposts continued to let us know that we were on the right track. The path started to get narrower at this point, as it led downhill. At one point we thought we'd lost it, but some smaller arrows set us back on the right track and before long we were standing outside a ruined cottage, which belonged to the grandparents of the explorer David Livingstone (hence the name of the walk!). From here the path became really quite difficult to follow. It didn't seem like many people had walked this way recently and so in some places the route was almost completely overgrown with bracken. We persevered though and were rewarded with some wonderful views of the coast. There were some really unusual-looking rocks here... ...and some amazing cliffs. It was fantastic to have all these views to ourselves The population of Ulva is currently only 11 people, so it's not really a surprise that we didn't meet anyone else as we walked! The final section of the walk was probably the most difficult, as we descended quite steeply through woodland. I didn't really enjoy having to limbo under this tree, but I made it Once we got out of the woodland, there just remained a fairly easy stroll back towards the ferry. Then it was just a short journey back across the water to Mull. Ulva is a really beautiful island and definitely worth visiting
  8. The weather forecast had said it was going to be cloudy with a light breeze today. It certainly looked cloudy when we woke up but it wasn't raining, so after breakfast we set off in the car across Mull to the small village of Calgary where we were planning to do a walk. We parked in a small parking area next to a teashop and art gallery, which is the starting point for a woodland sculpture trail. A series of paths leads through the woodland, taking you past a number of sculptures and artworks. Some of them were better than others This one was a fairy house in a hollow tree... ...this one was a mosaic, possibly representing the local beach... ...and this one was called the Leaf Seat. We passed through a willow tunnel, which was quite fun... ...and then around the corner we found what was definitely my favourite sculpture We haven't seen any real deer, although there are supposed to be a lot of them on Mull, but this was definitely a cool substitute We walked through a second willow tunnel... ...then exited the woodland, walking towards the main road. The main reason for coming here was actually to see the local beach. The beach at Calgary is supposed to be the largest and most attractive on the Isle of Mull. Our first impressions were that we have probably seen better beaches in the Hebrides! Luskentyre Beach on the Harris was bigger and West Beach on Berneray was more isolated. On our last holiday we'd also seen some pretty impressive beaches at Kiloran Bay on Colonsay and Machir Beach on Islay. Compared to these, the beach at Calgary didn't wow us. But we may now just have impossibly high standards for beaches In fairness, I think Calgary wasn't helped much by the weather. Despite the forecast saying that it was going to be cloudy but dry today, it had started raining pretty much as soon as we got out of the car at the start of the woodland trail. That meant that everywhere looked rather damp. I can imagine it would look different on a sunnier day We followed a track around the edge of the beach. The sandy area is really quite small; the rest of the coastline is rocky. We made it as far as this little pier, before we turned around to retrace our steps. It was pretty walking back towards the sand We walked back into the woodland and followed a higher path this time, which gave us views back out across the bay. Then we just had a rather long set of wooden steps to negotiate before we made it back to the car. From there we drove along the coast of the island for a while. It was supposed to be a really scenic drive, but it was raining quite torrentially for a while and we couldn't see very much! We did, however, get a glimpse of a waterfall from the road and pulled over into a small car park to take a look. This is Eas Fors waterfall. We only had to walk a few steps to get a great view of it Then it was back in the car, heading towards our final destination of the day: Loch Ba. This was supposed to be an excellent place to walk and see the mountains of Mull without actually having to climb any of them. Unfortunately, although the rain had eased off a bit it was still rather misty, so we weren't going to get all the views today! It was still a really pretty place to walk though. There was an easy flat path to follow around the edge of the lake. We could have continued for quite a long way but the weather was starting to get worse again, so we turned around once we got to these trees. Then it was time to retrace our steps back to the car and get back to the cottage to dry out Tomorrow is forecast to be cloudy with a light breeze too, so it remains to be seen how much it's going to rain
  9. It looked like it had been raining overnight when we woke up in our expensive hotel this morning. The room definitely wasn't up to much, but the view from the window was good; we could see the port of Craignure where we'd arrived last night. Breakfast was included in the price of our room, because I'd got some sort of deal by using the booking.com app. When I'd been looking at booking online originally, breakfast was going to cost an extra £25 each per person Despite the fact we hadn't had to pay that, we definitely wanted to make the most of it this morning. It did turn out to be quite a posh breakfast offering. We could have started with oysters if we'd wanted to! Instead we opted for a breakfast platter as our first course; I had the pastry platter (which consisted of a pain au chocolat, a cinnamon whirl and a croissant!), while Tim had the cold cuts platter (which consisted of ham, cheese and salami with toast). That was only the first course and was followed by a full Scottish breakfast. I opted out of having haggis with mine, though Tim was brave enough to try it. I was happy to get potato scone with mine We may not have eaten £25 worth of food but we definitely ate enough that we weren't going to need any lunch! We checked out of the hotel and drove a few miles down the road in the direction of Craignure. Our first stop for the day was Duart Castle, which I had seen from the ferry yesterday evening. We didn't want to actually go into the castle, which at £8 each seemed rather expensive, but I'd read on the internet that you could park for free and there were a number of marked coastal trails. We followed the first path we found, which led us into some woodland. However, after two minutes it led us out of the woodland and back to where we'd started! After consulting the map, we eventually found a path towards the coast. The weather was starting to improve and there were some really lovely views. Describing the grounds as having coastal trails turned out to have been a bit ambitious, but we were able to stroll down to the beach. There weren't exactly marked paths, but we wandered around and enjoyed the views. From down here there was a good view back up towards the castle too. It looked a bit more impressive from this angle than it had from the car park. It seems like they are doing some work on it; there was quite a lot of scaffolding. Duart Castle definitely isn't somewhere to come for a long hike, but it was a nice place to come and stretch our legs From the castle we drove about 25 miles north across the island in the direction of Tobermory. We were looking for a Forestry Commission car park called Aros Park where I was also hoping we could do a short walk. We parked and after walking into the forest for two minutes, found ourselves at a viewing gallery for this enormous waterfall From the viewing platform there were some lovely views out across the coast too. We followed a marked waterfall trail through the forest... ...and soon found ourselves at the bottom of the falls. It turns out those were the Upper Falls and when we continued walking along the trail... ...we eventually found the Lower Falls too From the bottom of the Lower Falls we could see out across the sea to Tobermory. It's famous for the colourful houses along its sea front, so I was excited to just about be able to make them out We followed another path round the corner, towards an old pier. From here we had a slightly better view. We started heading back to the car park, but took a detour when we saw another trail signposted around a small lake. It was pretty and we had a nice stroll around it... ...before climbing back up to the Upper Falls. Then we got back in the car and drove another 5 miles or so past Tobermory, to a place called Glengorm Castle. The castle there isn't open to the public, but there's a coffee shop and it's possible to walk around the grounds. The walk instructions we were following took us along a grassy path below the castle. It didn't take long before we had some amazing views of the coast. The weather had definitely picked up now and I may have been overly cautious in bringing my coat on this walk Once we'd walked for a while we had a view back up towards the castle itself. The path continued around the corner... ...and we had a view towards three standing stones. From there we walked through some fields of sheep... ...and I was really glad that we didn't have to walk through the adjacent field of cows! They had some really big horns Once we had walked through the fields, the path began leading us down towards the sea. It was really pretty here in the sunshine There was supposed to be an ancient fortress here somewhere, but we didn't start climbing up the rocks to explore. I had initially expected this walk to be circular, but now it was clear that it wasn't. We turned around and started walking back the way we had come. Soon Glengorm Castle came into sight again on the horizon. Once we got back to the castle we visited the coffee shop, where we enjoyed some ice cream and iced coffee. After the torrential rain yesterday it was a surprise to be able to sit outside in the sunshine with ice cream Then it was back in the car to drive a few miles back down the road to Tobermory. There's a free car park on the outskirts of Tobermory and from there we had some great views of the colourful main street. It was rather sunny, hence the squinting It's a really beautiful little town Our plan was to walk along the main street to the Co-op. We found it without any difficulty, though had to queue for 10 minutes or so to get in. They are taking social distancing more seriously in Scotland at the moment, so there was a limit to how many people were allowed into the store at any one time. It wasn't the end of the world waiting with views like this though Once we'd stocked up on some mince and chicken, we had a drive of another 5 miles or so down the road to checking into the cottage where we're staying for the next few days. It's a lot more spacious than the hotel room we had last night! We've got a kitchen... ... a rather colourful living room... ...and a choice of two bedrooms. There's also a little garden with some beautiful views out across the sea First impressions of the Isle of Mull today have been really good and it seems like this is going to be a really lovely place to stay
  10. We had a long day of driving ahead of us today so we made a fairly early start, setting out straight after breakfast in the hotel. We were due to catch a ferry from Oban to the Isle of Mull in the early evening and the journey from Whitehaven to Oban was around 227 miles. The first part of the journey was not very exciting as we drove across Cumbria towards Carlisle, then onto the motorway which would take us across southern Scotland towards Glasgow. We navigated the outskirts of Glasgow, before driving on a bridge across the river Clyde towards Dumbarton, where we wanted to visit the Asda superstore This is where we stopped to stock up on food when we were on our way to the Isle of Islay earlier this year and, while I hadn't seen any specific advice this time about it being difficult to buy food on the Isle of Mull, a bit of googling had identified that the biggest supermarket on the island seems to be a rather small Co-op on the high street in Tobermory. It seemed to make sense to stock up in advance! Once we'd bought a reasonable amount of non-perishable food and wine, we got back in the car and began the more scenic part of the journey, which took us along the shores of Loch Lomond. The weather forecast today had been sunshine and showers. The further we got into Scotland, the more we seemed to have showers rather than sunshine! We parked at the small village of Luss to stretch our legs near the lake. It's a pretty little place, but as you can see it was rather damp today. And Loch Lomond itself was looking rather misty! When the shower turned into heavy rain we got back in the car and continued northwards towards Oban. The rain was torrential for a while, but the sky began to clear up a bit as we got closer to our destination. We stopped about 25 miles outside Oban for a short walk. The path took us alongside Loch Awe; not as well known as Loch Lomond, but this is the third largest freshwater lake in Scotland. Behind us we could see a mountain with a large waterfall running down it... ...while in front of us we had a view towards Kilchurn Castle. The castle is a ruin but it still looks quite impressive And it's definitely in a really pretty location. As you can probably tell, the weather was still a bit windy even though the rain had eased off We walked around to the opposite side of the castle to get a better view of the loch. The rain was starting to pick up again by this point, so it was time to head back to the car. It took slightly longer to drive the remaining miles to Oban than I'd expected; the roads were quite slow and winding. In the end we arrived around 16.50, which gave us just an hour until the final check in time for our ferry. We'd been hoping to get a nice meal in the town, but given the time constraints all we were able to do was park the car and rush to the local Wetherspoons where we at least knew we'd be served quickly. Oban looks like a pleasant little town. Slightly bizarrely, there's what looks like a replica Colosseum on a hill behind the town We made it through our meal with plenty of time to check in for the ferry and soon we were on board for the short ferry journey to Mull. The trip only takes around 45 minutes from Oban, so it wasn't long before we got our first views of the island on the horizon. We sailed past what looked like a castle on our way into the port of Craignure. Before long we had arrived on a brand new island It's difficult to find accommodation on the Isle of Mull; at least, it's difficult in August and at short notice. So I'd struggled a bit with making bookings for this holiday. I managed to find what looked like a nice cottage to stay in, but unfortunately it was only available from Saturday night, and all the Saturday ferries to the island were completely booked up. I could get a slot on a ferry for this evening, so in the end I decided to go for it and spend the first night in a rather overpriced hotel just outside Craignure. As it was the only place on the island with availability when we needed it, we ended up paying a rather extortionate £200 for one night. This is what £200 gets you on the Isle of Mull Not exactly worth what we've paid, but we intend to try and get our money's worth out of breakfast in the morning!
  11. When we woke up this morning the weather seemed distinctly better than it had last night After breakfast we had a little stroll around the gardens where we're staying and then set off in the car. We were heading towards Ennerdale Water, the most westerly lake in the Lake District, and also one of the least visited. It wasn't terribly easy to find, which perhaps sheds some light on why it's less visited, but we got there in the end - even if the journey was a little slow at times As soon as we parked and walked out of the car park, we had a beautiful view of the lake. While there were other cars in the car park, there weren't many other people visibly around, which was nice. I'd deliberately tried to find somewhere which would be reasonably quiet despite the fact that it was school holidays, and it seemed like I'd succeeded It's possible to follow a circular trail around the lake, which is about 6.5 miles in total. We decided not to do the full loop, because the final stage of the walk would involve climbing across Anglers Crag, which you can see in the photo below. The walk description referred to it as "a short exposed scramble" so I didn't really fancy it Instead we planned to walk along the opposite shore of the lake, turning around and retracing our steps before we got as far as Anglers Crag. It was a really lovely walk, even if the sky wasn't as blue in the Lake District as it had been nearer the coast. There were little bits of sunshine through the clouds at times though We reached the far end of the lake and crossed over a river. There were some spectacular views here. The path continued to be quite flat for a while, leading us towards a forest. We walked around the end of the lake... ...and then started walking alongside the other shore. The path started to get a bit rockier here... ...but the views were still really lovely. We continued walking for a while... ...but decided to turn around at the point I didn't fancy crossing this stream Then it was back the way we had come. Across the river again... ...and back to where we'd parked the car. From Ennerdale we drove back towards Whitehaven and decided to go and have a look at the coast. We ended up at a place called St Bees Head, a few miles south of Whitehaven. It was no longer looking quite so sunny at the coast... ...and there were some rather large waves! We walked along the sea front for a little way. There was a walk you could do along the cliffs here but it was incredibly windy by this point, so it didn't really feel like the day for it! Instead we decided to head back to the hotel and enjoy our nice room
  12. We had a long day of driving ahead of us today, with approximately 300 miles to cover. We didn't want to just drive straight home though, so we made a reasonably early start from Newton Stewart. While overall we probably prefer staying in Hawick, the advantage of overnighting in Newton Stewart was that we could drive home via the M6, and that meant that we would be able to stop off in the Lake District without making much of a detour Tim had found some National Trust walks in the Lake District online and we decided to try one which started from the small village of Hartsop. It wasn't a place we'd ever heard of before but we had a really scenic drive there, starting with a drive through the Galloway Forest Park as we left Newton Stewart, and then driving along the shore of Ullswater as we got closer to Hartsop. The walk instructions started from a car park in the village, but that was unfortunately full by the time we arrived. Luckily an enterprising farmer had opened up a field and was charging £5 for parking. £5 felt a bit steep, but it did give us an opportunity to get change from some of the Scottish bank notes we'd acquired during the holiday. We'd deliberately taken cash out in Dumbarton in case we weren't able to pay for things by card on Islay and Colonsay, but then we hadn't actually ended up needing to use it. Just the views from the car park itself were impressive. From where we'd parked it was only a walk of five minutes or so towards the official start point for the walk. The walk was quite easy initially, taking us along a small tarmac road. The views were already spectacular without us needing to walk anywhere. The road soon started to lead uphill. It was a bit tiring, but the scenery made it worthwhile We climbed increasingly higher. The track was leading us alongside a small stream. Before crossing the stream, the route unexpectedly required us to climb over a stone wall. This hadn't been mentioned in the National Trust instructions! I made it across in the end and then thankfully there was a proper bridge to cross the stream. The path was then quite narrow for a while, taking us up the hillside and away from the stream. This then led to a wider track, which was much easier to walk on. We were walking towards Hayeswater reservoir. The lake is actually natural, but was dammed and used as a reservoir for the town of Penrith until 2005. It was in a really beautiful location and definitely worth walking to From the reservoir we had to turn around and retrace our steps a bit. We passed the steep little path where we'd come up from the stream... ...and continued on a wider path which ultimately took us downhill. On the way we passed little waterfalls on the stream. The path led us back towards the village of Hartsop. On the way we had to negotiate a field of cows. I wasn't a huge fan, but luckily they just stared at us as we went past! Then we were pretty much back where we had started and it was time to set off on the long drive home. The Lake District is really beautiful and it was a great place to end the holiday
  13. Last night we made the most of our final views of the sea from the cottage on Islay. We were leaving on a very early ferry this morning - 07.00 from Port Ellen, with final check-in at 06.30. Our experience with driving on the narrow roads on the island over the past few days meant that we felt we needed to leave a full hour for the drive to Port Ellen, so we checked out of the cottage at 05.30. That was a pretty early start and we hadn't had any breakfast before we left, so I was pleasantly surprised when we boarded the ferry and found that the canteen was serving a full cooked breakfast, complete with "tattie scones" The sea was very smooth this morning and we had a scenic journey back towards the mainland. The journey back to Kennacraig on the Kintyre peninsula took around 2 hours and 20 minutes. From there we had a drive of around 4 hours to our ultimate destination of Newton Stewart in the south of Scotland. We broke the journey at a National Trust place called Crarae garden. Crarae garden is just outside Inveraray and from the car park we had great views of Loch Fyne. There weren't very many other people in the car park; this definitely seems to be a lesser-visited National Trust place. So much so that it wasn't actually manned; the visitor centre was closed and we were just able to walk around the gardens without showing our membership cards. The gardens themselves were really beautiful, with a series of colour-coded trails. We followed the red trail initially, which took us alongside a river... ...from where we had a view of a little waterfall. Every so often we caught glimpses of the loch... ...and there were some really colourful trees and bushes. Once we'd completed the red trail we attempted the white one (of course, not choosing the easy route!). The hard version of the route involved quite a few steps, but we were rewarded with some good views. In general there was probably a bit more climbing up and down than is usual in National Trust gardens... ...but it was a really lovely place to visit, and so cool that we had it almost to ourselves. The final trail was blue, taking us towards views of Loch Fyne. The views from the marked viewpoint weren't necessarily much better than the views from the car park, but never mind We retraced our steps back towards the car... ...and confirmed that we had successfully completed all the trails From there it was a fairly long drive to Newton Stewart, where we are staying overnight in a hotel. We managed to get booked into the hotel restaurant for an early dinner, which was good, and then went for a brief stroll around the town. We've got another fairly long day of travelling ahead of us to get back home tomorrow, but the travelling has definitely been worth it for the experiences we've had on Arran and Islay
  14. When we woke up this morning we were relieved to see that the weather looked significantly better than yesterday It's hard to make them out in the photos, but when we stepped outside the cottage there were several seals in the harbour again. Portnahaven had been pretty even in the torrential rain yesterday, but this morning everything looked even better. We went for a stroll around the village to enjoy the sunshine. From the far side of the harbour we could look back towards the cottage again. And at one point we spotted seven different seals Some were sunbathing on the rocks, while others were just little heads bobbing up and down in the water. It was really cool to see them - Portnahaven has definitely been a wonderful place to stay Because the weather was so good today, we decided to try and revisit some of the places we went to yesterday in the rain. First stop was the Oa peninsula, where we tried to retake a photograph in the same position as yesterday - in yesterday's picture, the hill behind me wasn't visible! The Oa peninsula is supposed to have some of the most spectacular scenery on Islay and we were optimistic about actually seeing some of it today At the end of the peninsula is an RSPB nature reserve with a marked circular trail of a couple of miles. The signs for the trail were easy to follow but I was slightly concerned when they started leading us through a field of cows. I mean, look at the size of the horn on these Luckily the cows seemed fairly placid. And once we got past them there were some amazing views. The coastline is really beautiful here. And the sea seemed really calm today after yesterday's bad weather. The trail was leading us towards a monument on the top of a hill. This is known as the American Monument. It was constructed by the American Red Cross to commemorate two ships which sank off the coast of Islay during WWI. The monument was designed to look like a lighthouse and it definitely does. From the hill on which the monument is situated we had more great views of the cliffs. The cliffs were reminiscent of Shetland at times, although the waves definitely weren't comparable! It was a really beautiful spot and I'm so glad we came back today to see it in the sunshine The weather was so clear that we realised we could actually see all the way back to where we were staying. It was too far away to be captured properly by photos, but in the photo below the tip of the peninsula that you can see in the background is where Portnahaven is and in real life we could make out the lighthouse which is behind our cottage Once we'd finished the walk at the Oa, we started driving back in the general direction of Portnahaven. I wanted to revisit the beach which we'd also seen in the rain yesterday. As we were driving, we realised we were about to pass through Bowmore where we'd seen there was an Indian takeaway and we knew it was open between the hours of 12 and 2 for lunch... We ended up changing our plans, picking up a lunchtime takeaway and driving back to the cottage to eat it. A slightly unusual thing to have for lunch, but given the limited food options on the island it made sense to get a meal while we could Once we'd finished eating - and I'd spent a while sitting in the conservatory and watching the seals! - we set off towards Machir beach. Today we were more successful and found an easy path down to the beach which didn't involve crossing a river The good weather meant we weren't the only people at the beach today. But you couldn't exactly describe it as crowded The sand looked really beautiful in the sunshine. But although it was bright and sunny, it was still quite windy! We walked along the beach for a while, before heading back to the cottage for a final evening of enjoying the sea views. Islay has been a really lovely island to visit and I'm really glad we got to see it in the sunshine as well as in the rain
  15. The weather forecast did not look good for today and, although it looked dry when we woke up, by the time we had finished breakfast the first drops of rain were starting to fall. Our only plan for today was to explore Islay, so we decided to start with a short walk around the village of Portnahaven where we are staying. They didn't make it into the photos, but every so often as we walked along we could see the heads of seals bobbing up out of the water in the harbour The house we're staying in is right at the end of this line. If you look carefully you might even be able to make out our car parked outside the furthest house. The lighthouse in the picture is on a small island called Orsay, just off the coast of Islay. The rain had started off lightly but was beginning to pick up a bit as we circled back towards the cottage and got in the car. Our first destination was a place called Machir beach, supposed to be the most beautiful one on the island. For some reason there was no one else in the car park today as we parked and started walking towards it. Within a few minutes we got our first view of the sand. We didn't ultimately walk down to the sand, because it looked like it would require crossing this stream, but we walked along the dunes for a while We were well and truly wet by the time we got back in the car and drove the short distance to our next destination, an RSPB nature reserve at Loch Gruinart. Theoretically there's a circular walk you can do here but it was a bit too wet for that today, so we just walked down to one of the bird hides, from where we had a bit of a view towards the water, and then walked back. Our next stop was Bowmore, the largest town on the island, where we succeeded in finding a petrol station but failed at finding anywhere to get lunch. We drove on to Port Ellen instead, the town where we arrived on the ferry on Tuesday, and explored lunch options there. We drew a blank with lunch, but did find a hotel that was serving coffee and cake From Port Ellen a small road leads to the Oa peninsula, which is supposed to have the most spectacular scenery on the island. We made our way down the road but the further we drove, the mistier it became. We weren't destined to see the scenery today At that point we decided to call it a day and head back to the cottage to dry out! I think we made the best of the torrential rain today, but fingers crossed the weather will be a bit brighter tomorrow
  16. We only arrived on Islay late last night and this morning we were already scheduled to depart it for another island. This was just a day trip though, to the nearby island of Colonsay. There are only two days per week when a ferry from the mainland to Islay continues on towards Oban, stopping at Colonsay on the way. Wednesday was one of those days and we had decided to make the most of the ferry timetable to have a short trip to Colonsay. The ferry wasn't until 12.15, so we had a relaxed start to the morning in the cottage before driving across Islay to Port Askaig, which is where this particular ferry leaves from. The weather forecast is not great for the next few days and so it was quite damp and misty as we drove across the island towards the port, although not raining heavily. The ferry was on time and we were one of the few vehicles directed towards the queue for Colonsay, with most of the other vehicles boarding the ferry being destined for Oban. We had been expecting just to drive onto the ferry, but had a bit of unexpected excitement when Tim was told to reverse onto it instead We made it on board and soon were on our way to Colonsay, a journey of just over one hour. The ferry lands at Scalasaig, the biggest settlement on the island. The entire population of Colonsay is just 124 people, so Scalasaig is definitely not a metropolis. The island itself is not physically very big either, being around 8 miles long and 3 miles wide, so we didn't have very far to drive to get to anywhere we wanted to visit. The main attraction on Colonsay is Kiloran Bay. This is a huge beach with golden sands. It was a little bit damp and windy today, but I can imagine that on a sunny day it must look tropical here. The beach came highly recommended by our Scottish guidebook. What the guidebook hadn't said was that getting down to the sand was a bit of a challenge. At least, some of us found it a challenge The problem was that on a slightly wet day like today, the rocks were a bit slippery to clamber over. Once I'd made it down we were able to start exploring the beach properly Our next challenge was to cross this stream of water, which runs all across the beach. We followed the stream for a little while as it led into the sand dunes behind the beach. There were some great views out across the sand. Eventually we found a spot where we could cross the water and walk down to the main sandy part of the beach. And there was lots of sand to explore. Lots and lots of sand! We were able to have a good walk along the beach and ultimately get up to 10 000 steps. At the far end of the beach we came across these remains. Not sure whether they're real or some sort of sculpture! From the edge of the beach we walked up along the sand dunes for a bit. We only had to share the views with some sheep. This one in particular was very keen to protect her lamb from us. Some of the sand dunes were quite unusual - look at the ridges on this one. Eventually we had to turn around and retrace our steps back along the beach. It was still really pretty, despite being so misty. Then we just had to get back across the water... ...and climb back up to the car. From there we did a bit of a road trip around the island, finally ending up at Scalasaig again. There was a pretty community garden there. We walked around Scalasaig for a while, admiring the views of the coast. We could look back towards the ferry port where we'd arrived. After a while it became clear that we'd well and truly left Scalasaig behind. We turned around and retraced our steps back to the town. Before it was time to catch our ferry back to Islay, we just had time to drive down to the far south of the island. A tidal causeway here connects Colonsay to another smaller island, Oronsay, so if you're here at a full or new moon you can apparently walk across. There was so much water here today, it was hard to imagine that being possible! Then it was time for us to drive back to Scalasaig for the ferry across to Islay. It's been fun to visit Colonsay today, but it really is quite a small island; I think we would have struggled to spend more than half a day here!
  17. We had another long day of travelling ahead of us today, involving two ferries and a drive of around three hours in between. We woke up in the hotel on the Isle of Arran, where it was still lovely and sunny. After making the most of the hotel breakfast, we just had time for a quick stroll to enjoy the views for a final time before setting off across the island to Brodick. We were booked on a ferry from Brodick back to Ardrossan at 11am. As the ferry pulled out of Brodick, we had some great views back towards the Isle of Arran. We arrived in Ardrossan around midday. From there, we had a drive of 120 miles towards the ferry terminal of Kennacraig on the Kintyre peninsula. Our first stop was not a very exciting one - an Asda superstore on the outskirts of Dumbarton. When I booked the cottage on the Isle of Islay, I got a message from the owner telling me that it would be advisable to stock up on food on the mainland, because there were reports of queues for groceries in the island's shops Dumbarton was more or less on our way anyway, so it made sense to stop off there and stock up on some essentials for the next few days. After we'd done the shopping the journey became a bit more scenic, with the route initially taking us along the shore of Loch Lomond. We stopped at a small village called Luss, where there is a good car park and beautiful views of the loch. We had a short stroll by the waterside. Loch Lomond was a wonderful shade of blue today. It wasn't completely peaceful though, as there were some people out on speedboats It was still a lovely place to visit though And the village of Luss itself is really pretty too. We could have stayed for longer, but we had to press on because we needed to be in Kennacraig for our second ferry by 17.30. We still had around 75 miles to cover, so we got back in the car and began driving towards the small town of Inveraray. We stayed here during our very first Scotland roadtrip in 2010. Today it was just a convenient place for us to stop and get some lunch After lunch we were back in the car to cover the final 40 miles to Kennacraig. We arrived just on time to check in for the ferry and soon we were on our way to the Isle of Islay. There were some great views of the Kintyre peninsula as the ferry pulled out. The journey to the Isle of Islay took 2 hours 20 minutes. The sea was still pretty calm, so it was a pleasant crossing. Eventually we saw the town of Port Ellen appearing on the horizon. It's quite a big town by Islay standards, although it doesn't look huge. We're staying in a cottage I booked via Airbnb, around a 45-minute drive from Port Ellen. We've got a conservatory with amazing sea views! There's also a good-sized kitchen... ...and a cozy living room It's in a fantastic location. And as we were unloading the car, I caught sight of a seal in the water just outside the house I think this is going to be a fun place to stay, even if the weather isn't quite as good as it was on Arran
  18. When we woke up today it was a beautiful sunny morning on the Isle of Arran. The view from outside our hotel is really wonderful. We had a quick stroll around outside to enjoy it, before jumping in the car to start our Isle of Arran roadtrip. Our first destination was actually only a couple of miles down the road. We parked in a small Forestry Commission car park, from where we were planning to do a circular walk. The trees were really dense here and the forest looked so dark! From just outside the car park itself, we had some amazing views. An info board told us that this mountain used to be a volcano. We set off on the walk through the forest. Before too long the path opened up and we started to get glimpses of the sea. It looked such an incredible shade of blue! We were really lucky that the weather was so good today As we progressed along the walk the path became narrower... ...before leading down through some rocks. The route then continued along the shore of what was quite a pebbly beach. As we walked along it we had a great view towards some big cliffs in the distance. The reason for the walk was that it leads to a place called King's Cave. I'm not necessarily a big fan of caves, but this is the one where Robert the Bruce allegedly watched a spider spinning its web. Fortunately, the spider we found there today wasn't too scary The path then led us through another cave... ...and back out into the sunshine. We'd climbed down quite a long way to get to the cave, and now we needed to climb back up. It was quite hard work at times in the sunshine... ...but the views were still superb Ultimately the path was leading us back towards the forest where we had started. We'd walked about three miles by the time we got back to the car. It was barely worth getting into the car, because our next destination was only a mile or so down the road. We parked in a small car park, from where a path led to the Machrie standing stones. Initially the path led us through green fields full of sheep. When we turned around there was a great view back to the sea. After 10 minutes or so of walking we came to this... I was slightly concerned that these were the standing stones, in which case they didn't really seem worth the walk. Fortunately, the path continued to the main standing stones, which were still a bit further along. All in all, walking to the standing stones was probably a 90-minute round trip and we clocked up another 3 miles or so on our Fitbits. It was beautiful walking towards these views though. We came to another small stone circle. And then finally we got a glimpse of the real thing These stones were a much better size. There were only a few of them, so not quite as impressive as the Ring of Brodgar which we'd seen on Orkney last year. They were huge stones though - here's me for scale We enjoyed the views of the stones and then began retracing our steps back to the car. We also caught sight of this solitary stone, standing on its own. This one was quite an unusual shape! We got back in the car and had a longer drive this time, around 14 miles to the village of Lochranza, which is the most northerly village on the Isle of Arran. We parked beside a loch where we had views towards a ruined castle, although quite a small one. There was another circular walk we could do here, towards a place called Newton's Point. As we followed the path we had more beautiful views. We reached a point called Hutton's Unconformity, where the 18th century geologist James Hutton had located a junction between two different types of rocks, enabling him to deduce a theory that the Earth's surface had evolved over a long period of time. I didn't quite understand what we were looking at, but it was interesting anyway The path ultimately led around in a big loop, bringing us back towards Lochranza. We'd walked over 9 miles by this point so I was definitely starting to feel a bit tired. It was definitely worth it for the views though - we were really lucky with the weather today, but I'm amazed about how beautiful the Isle of Arran is, as it's not really an island I've heard a lot about before. We stopped for some much needed coffee and cake on the way back to the hotel, before continuing our drive around the south coast of the island. We didn't get out for any more walks here, but we did get a lovely view towards the small Holy Island which is just off the coast of Arran. Then it was back to the hotel to relax for the evening and enjoy the sea views from our bedroom
  19. Breakfast was included in the price of the hotel we were staying at in Hawick last night, so we made the most of it this morning; both to get our money's worth and because we weren't sure when we would next find food. We had another fairly long day of driving ahead of us today, ultimately travelling to the ferry port at Ardrossan, from where we were due to catch a ferry to the Isle of Arran in the evening. Ardrossan is just under a 3 hour drive from Hawick if you go directly, but we weren't in a hurry and decided to take the more scenic route, with a diversion to visit Culzean Castle. The route which the SatNav ultimately took us on was very scenic indeed, initially taking us on small mountain roads through the Borders, where we had to keep our eyes out for sheep on the road. At one point a hare ran across the road in front of us and another time we saw something small that looked like a stoat. It was quite an adventure! As we got further across Scotland the roads became bigger and we eventually arrived at Culzean Castle sometime just around 1pm, after about 3 hours of driving. We've been to Culzean Castle twice before - once in 2010 and once in 2011 - when we were driving around Scotland, but we didn't have a blog back then. It's a National Trust for Scotland property and so we were able to get in for free with our English membership cards. The unique thing about Culzean is that it's right by the sea, so it wasn't long before we had some lovely views. It was a bit hazy today, but not raining at least Culzean is set in quite a large estate and there are various signposted walks which you can follow. We started following one known as the "Lion path", which led us past this ruined gate. Through here is the entrance to the main castle itself. We abandoned the trail after a while and started exploring the walled garden instead. There were some really pretty flowers here... ...and some slightly scary-looking vegetables! I always imagine walled gardens as being small, but this one was quite extensive. We did a complete loop around the edges of it... ...and I was surprised to find when we reached the far corner that there were even some palm trees here Some of them were really quite big! After the walled garden, our next stop was the Swan Pond. There is a trail which you can follow all the way around the pond, but we were looking for the start of a different trail, called the Dolphin Trail. The Dolphin trail was described as a coastal path, which sounded like a lot of fun. We found the signposts for it and soon had some great views out across the sea. There were some nice beaches in places, although at other times the smell of seaweed was quite strong! The signs for the trail were a bit confusing and we had initially walked in the opposite direction to the one I'd expected, which meant we ultimately came round in a loop and had to try the path again, walking in the other direction. In this direction the path was a bit more wooded. There were still some great views though. The path eventually brought us back around to the front of the castle. The grounds here were lovely too. We didn't go inside the castle; I suspect the best views are probably from the outside. Instead we followed a continuation of the Dolphin trail, which took us right down to the sea. As we walked along the beach we had some brilliant views back towards the castle. From there it was quite a steep climb up, back towards the car park. We had been going to get a snack at Culzean, but it was quite busy because of Father's Day and there was a huge queue for the cafe. We decided instead to drive in the general direction of Ardrossan, in the hope of finding somewhere to get a late lunch/early dinner. When we'd been looking at the map earlier, we'd identified Kilmarnock as a fairly big town on our route which might have restaurant options. Unfortunately, finding something to eat once again turned out to be a bit problematic. We tried stopping at what looked like a large pub/restaurant outside Kilmarnock, but were told that they had no free tables until 8pm When we drove into Kilmarnock itself, first impressions were that it looked rather run-down. We were greeted by a sign informing us that Kilmarnock was "Scotland's most improved town", but it looked like there might still be quite a lot of room for improvement! We ended up eating at a drive-through McDonalds, which may not have been quite what we'd planned but it was at least very filling Once we'd eaten we set off towards Ardrossan, where the ferry terminal for Arran is located. We had a bit of a wait until it was time to check in for our ferry. The tickets say that the last check-in was 19.30, with the ferry due to depart at 20.00, but when we got to the ferry terminal some time after 19.00 there was no one there. The ferry itself eventually turned up shortly after 19.30 and we were waved aboard. It's only a fairly short journey to Arran so I wasn't sure whether this was going to be one of those ferries where you're not allowed to leave your car. But it turned out that it was one where we were allowed up on deck, which was nice It was still quite bright outside and so we had some lovely views as we sailed closer to Arran. As you can see in the pictures, the sea was lovely and calm today so it was a very smooth crossing. The ferry pulled into Brodick, the main town on the Isle of Arran, at 20.55. From there we had a short drive across the island to the small village of Blackwaterfoot where we are staying. We pulled over to look at the beautiful views, then realised the hotel we're staying in is actually just across the road. I booked the hotel at quite short notice and chose it purely on the basis that there were two hotels on Arran with vacancies and this was the only one out of the two which served breakfast. It turns out to have been a really good pick, because this is the view from our bedroom window It's exciting to be on a new island and we're definitely looking forward to exploring more of Arran tomorrow.
  20. 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.
  21. In the absence of any firm plans, we spent some time this morning trying to generate ideas of places we could visit on the way home. We considered going to Chester, but looked at the map and realised it would involve driving a bit out of the way. In the end we settled on the idea of visiting the Long Mynd in Shropshire, which was more or less on our route. Having made this decision, we went for a final walk around Ruthin and handed the key back to the owner of the cottage. He suggested that we should drive home via Llangollen, which would take us on a scenic road via the Horseshoe Pass, and explained that there was plenty to see around Llangollen, in particular the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. It wasn't significantly out of our way, so we decided to give it a try. The Horsehoe Pass road was indeed very scenic, taking us over the mountains and down towards Llangollen. We followed signs towards the aqueduct, eventually finding a cafe with a car park where we were able to park for just £2. From there it wasn't far to walk down towards the canal. Within a few minutes we had our first view of the aqueduct. Completed in 1805, the aqueduct takes the Llangollen canal across the river Dee. It's the longest aqueduct in the UK and also the highest aqueduct in the world. What I hadn't realised until we arrived, was that there was a footpath alongside the water which meant that we could walk all the way across the aqueduct. It certainly felt high to me when we were doing that, but there were some really nice views. At one point we were even passed by a couple of narrow boats as we walked across. And we also had a view towards what seemed to be a viaduct in the distance. We reached the other side and had a bit of a stroll down the canal, but there wasn't an obvious way to turn it into a circular walk, so after a while we turned around and crossed the aqueduct again. We figured that we ought to be able to find a place to get a good view of the aqueduct from a distance if we walked along the river underneath. We followed a riverside path, which took us towards a viewpoint. From here we could really get a feel for how huge the aqueduct is and how high above the river we'd been when we were walking across it! We continued walking alongside the river, following signs towards a country park. This ultimately brought us right up to the viaduct which we'd been admiring from a distance. This is the Cefn viaduct, apparently the third largest in Wales. At the edge of the country park we turned around and retraced our steps back towards the car. It had actually been quite a long walk - by the time we got back to the car I had 15,000 steps - so we decided to give climbing the Long Mynd a miss for today Instead we had some refreshments at the cafe where we'd parked the car and set off on the journey home. It's been a really fun few days in Wales and in general it feels like a really long week off work with two separate holidays
  22. We didn't do much research for this holiday in advance, so we didn't have a firm plan of what to do today. Looking through suggested walks in the Wales guidebook last night, we came across instructions for a walk around the Pistyll Rhaeadr waterfall. It looked pretty based on a Google image search and it was less than 40 miles away from where we're staying in Ruthin, so we decided to give it a go. The drive was very scenic, though it did take us down some single-track roads where you just had to hope for the best that no one was coming in the opposite direction. The final road to the waterfall was a particularly narrow one, with a car park right at the end. We made it there without incident, but then found that the parking cost £5 and they wanted payment in cash. We didn't have any cash, so this was a bit of a problem! Luckily the man on the gate eventually remembered that it was possible to pay by card in the cafe, so we were able to do that instead. The car park itself was quite scenic, though quickly filling up when we arrived some time after 11. From the car park we followed a small path up through the trees to get our first glimpse of the waterfall. That may not look too impressive, but that was just a small part of the waterfall. The whole thing is much bigger. Opinion seems to vary about whether Pistyll Rhaeadr is the tallest waterfall in Wales or not. The guidebook we have says it is the tallest waterfall south of the Scottish Highlands. Wikipedia, however, seems to think that Wales has a couple of other waterfalls which are higher. Either way, at 73m/240ft it's a pretty big one and we were impressed by it As you can see from the pictures, there were quite a lot of other people around also taking photos. We did eventually manage to climb closer to the waterfall and get some shots without anybody else in them Some of the stones around the waterfall were a bit slippery so you had to be careful where you stepped, but it was worth it for the views. It really is a beautiful waterfall and we had the added bonus of a blue sky behind it today as well. The walking instructions in our guidebook aren't the best, but once we'd finished admiring the waterfall we attempted to follow them and found the starting point for the walk. This led us up through the woods alongside the waterfall and then on a rather steep and rocky path up the hill behind it. The path was a bit challenging at times, but the views were lovely. At some point in the walk I realised that I'd actually been here before, many years ago when I was in the hiking club at university. Although the walk today was quite steep, it definitely wasn't as challenging as the one I'd done back then Eventually we made it to the highest point of the walk, which was the top of the falls. Tim went to a viewpoint near the edge to take photos of the waterfall going over the top. Personally I was too scared of the drop It was a long way down from here! From this point onwards we struggled to follow the instructions from the guidebook walk, but it didn't matter because we'd spotted what looked like a nice fairly flat path that we could use to construct our own circular walk. From the top of the falls we had to retrace our steps downhill a bit towards this path. From there we crossed over a small bridge and continued around the side of the hill. We now had a view back towards the opposite side of the stream, where we'd been climbing up to the top of the falls. We could just make out the path we'd followed, zigzagging up the hillside. We also got a tiny glimpse of the waterfall in the distance. As we followed the path around, the views of the waterfall became clearer. From this distance you could really tell what a big drop it is. The path eventually took us back down to the road on which we'd driven up the falls, enabling us to stroll back to the car. We were pretty hungry at this point so we drove down the road for a while to a small village called Llangynog, where we found a pub with a sunny beer garden where we could sit outside and get some food. The views weren't bad from here either Overall it was another really fun day in Wales
  23. As I mentioned yesterday, we didn't have many plans for this trip but one thing we did want to do was visit Conwy. An Esperanto-speaking friend who lived near the town sadly passed away last year. He had a large collection of Esperanto books, some of which Tim was interested in acquiring, and we had arranged to visit his wife to pick those up and take the rest of the collection back to Esperanto House in Barlaston. Conwy is only about 45 minutes away from where we're staying in Ruthin, so it was an easy journey to make and save a lot of courier costs. It was a bit damp and drizzly when we set off, so I decided not to put on any sun cream. That turned out to be an error of judgement; by the time we got to Conwy the sun was well and truly shining and as we were sitting outside in our friend's garden having coffee, I could feel myself starting to turn a bit pink. Oops! Just down the road from where our friend lived we had the most amazing view of Conwy and its castle. The castle is only open for pre-booked visits at the moment so we weren't able to go inside today, but we parked and had a stroll around the town anyway. The castle walls are really impressive. And the town itself is pretty too. We walked through a gate... ...which took us on a path around the outside of part of the castle walls. It reminded me a bit of walking around the castle walls in Carcassonne. And actually today it was sunny enough in Conwy to rival Carcassonne This was as close as we could get to the castle itself without a ticket to go in. It looked really impressive with its Welsh flags flying. We turned around and retraced our steps back towards the car park. As we did so we passed through a small underpass, which had a painted display of the word "welcome" in different languages. One part of the display caught Tim's attention. We do have a bit of a history of stumbling across Esperanto-related monuments in Europe, but I think this is the first time we've found an unexpected bit of Esperanto in the UK From Conwy it wasn't far to drive to Anglesey. Tim's dad's family are originally from here, so we visited the place where his grandad is buried, and then continued on towards Holyhead. We went on a camping trip to Wales in 2011, in preparation for which I think we bought a cheap guidebook to Wales from The Works. This book recommended a walk at Holyhead, which we definitely did part of back in 2011 and vaguely remembered as being nice, so we were planning to give it another go. The guidebook is quite old now but the instructions for how to find the car park were luckily still valid and we followed road signs towards South Stack, where there is an RSPB nature reserve. The car park was no longer free, as the guidebook suggested it would be, but it had one of those car parking machines which only takes coins (which we didn't have) and didn't offer any other options for payment. We decided to park anyway and hope for the best! We followed a gravel path from the car park, which led towards a tower that I think serves as the RSPB information centre. It seemed to be closed today anyway, so we figured we were probably okay with the parking. From alongside the tower we had our first view of the cliffs. While Holyhead is probably most famous for having a ferry port, the coastline here is really beautiful. We soon had a view of the South Stack lighthouse, which was built here in 1809 to warn boats about the cliffs. What you can't see in the photos is that the surrounding cliffs were absolutely covered in sea birds. It was one of those times when you really wish you had binoculars with you! I tried to take a very zoomed in picture on my phone to give some idea of how many birds there were, but it doesn't really do it justice. An information board we saw suggested that they would either be puffins or guillemots. From what we could see, they were black with white chests but we couldn't see any colourful beaks, so we think guillemots. After the cliffs the path continued, taking us up above the lighthouse. We climbed up to a viewpoint... ...from where we could look right down on it. The path then led around a corner, giving us a view of yet more cliffs. Although it was no longer a very sunny day, it was still really bright which is why I am pulling a funny face trying to keep my eyes open for this photo We walked towards the view for a bit longer... ...before turning around and retracing our steps back towards the car park. Luckily, when we got back to the car we hadn't acquired any sort of fine for not being able to pay for the parking! We set off on the drive back towards Ruthin, where Tim couldn't resist taking a video of the beautiful street we're staying on
  24. After a day at home following our trip to Devon, we were ready to hit the road again. The destination this time was Wales and the small town of Ruthin. Not a part of Wales we are familiar with - or a town I'd ever heard of before to be honest - but options for accommodation were fairly limited when we were trying to book this break at short notice. I had done lots of advanced planning for our first break to Devon because I knew we weren't going to have any internet when we got there. We do have internet at the place we're staying in Ruthin, and so we're taking a more spontaneous approach and making up plans as we go. As a place to break the journey today, we decided to try the National Trust estate of Erddig, which is actually most of the way to Ruthin; a mere 20 miles away. We hadn't booked in advance, but it seems like it's possible to park in the car park and do some walks on the estate without actually going into the property anyway. All the estate walks are colour-coded and start from this dovecote, just outside the main car park. We decided to follow the purple trail, which was supposed to be a circular walk of around 3 miles, taking us through some woods. The path started by taking us past some beautiful fields. We turned a corner and had a view up towards Erddig Hall itself. Then we were in the woods. The estate was rather flat, so this was definitely one of the easier National Trust walks we've done recently It was quite a cloudy day, but it still felt very warm as we were walking. At some point we lost track of the purple waymarkers and started following red ones instead. They led us to this rather unusual water feature, known as the "cup and saucer". From there it wasn't too far back to the dovecote where we had started. We tried our luck getting into the property without a booking and enjoyed some ice-cream from the cafe, before setting out to explore the gardens. They were beautifully landscaped, with lots of trees and hedges. We walked right down to the bottom of the gardens, from where we had a view back up to the house. I think the house itself is closed at the moment and in general there didn't seem to be a lot of visitors in the gardens today. When we'd finished exploring we got back in the car for the short trip to Ruthin, where we checked into our cottage. It's really lovely - downstairs is a living room... ...and kitchen... ...while upstairs is the bedroom. It's really quiet too - it's completely set back from the road and you access it via a little passage, which leads into this garden area. We settled in to the cottage and then set out to explore Ruthin. The street which the cottage is off is really colourful. Just at the end of it is Ruthin Castle. It's a hotel today, but we walked up the driveway to have a look anyway. The main castle building looks fairly modern... ...but we found some of the ruins of the old castle too. As we wandered around we even caught sight of what looked like an ancient stone circle, admittedly on a bit of a smaller scale than the ones we'd seen in Scotland last summer Overall Ruthin seems like a really pretty town and I think we're going to have a fun few days staying here
  25. It was time to head home and check up on the cats today, but not before having a final Devon adventure. We'd already ticked off the national parks of Exmoor and Dartmoor, but the Devon guidebook also strongly recommended visiting the East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. This wasn't a place that we were familiar with, but it was a nice sunny day and we decided to give us a try The guidebook had specifically recommended walking along the coastline outside a small village called Beer, so that was where we were headed. It was around 60 miles from where we'd been staying, on the far side of Exeter, but we needed to drive as far as Exeter anyway to get home, so it wasn't too far out of our way. We arrived around 11am and parked in a clifftop car park. Even from the car park itself, the views were wonderful. The cliffs were really unusual - some of them were white, while others were a deep shade of red. The guidebook had suggested a walk, but we didn't really need it in the end because there was a clear path to follow. There were some beautiful views of the sea as we walked. It looked very calm today. There were also some great views of the cliffs. At various points we had the option of climbing down to beaches, but we decided not to. It looked a long way down (and a long way back up!). Plus although they probably look sandy in the photos, in reality it looked like they were mostly pebbles. The path continued indefinitely - it was part of the South West Coast path, which goes all the way from Somerset, around Devon and Cornwall, to Dorset - so we had to be careful not to walk too far. We decided to stop at this point, when the path started sloping quite firmly downhill. Well, we just went a little bit further to get a better look at the view It was really lovely here (though quite sunny, so hard to keep my eyes open for a photo!) We turned around and retraced our steps to the car. There were lovely views walking back in this direction too When we got back to the car we drove a little way down the road into the village of Beer itself, where we found a nice pub to sit outside and have lunch. It was a lovely end to what has been a really fun trip to Devon
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