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Everything posted by Clare

  1. The good thing about staying in the middle of Devon is that it gives us lots of options for where to travel. Yesterday, we went north to Exmoor. Today, we decided to go south to Dartmoor. Our first stop was a place called Castle Drogo, right on the edge of Dartmoor. Castle Drogo isn't a real castle, having been constructed between 1911 and 1930. But the property is owned by the National Trust and has a reasonably large car park, which you can park in to do walks on the estate, even if you're not interested in visiting the property. The estate includes views of the Teign Gorge and I had found a walk on the National Trust website which we were planning to attempt. We had a great view as soon as left the car park behind and started walking towards the main path. It was quite cloudy and overcast this morning, but that just made the views towards Dartmoor look more atmospheric As we headed towards the woods, I was surprised to see that there were still bluebells out The path led us above the treeline initially. As we walked, we began to have views down into the gorge of the river Teign. The landscape was quite rocky on this side of the gorge. And the gorge itself was so deep that we couldn't even see the river at the bottom. The path was absolutely beautiful though After a while the path led us quite steeply downhill through a wood... ...until we eventually found the river Teign We crossed it via a bridge called Fingle Bridge, which was built in the seventeenth century. From here a flatter path ran alongside the river for a while. We could see back up towards the opposite side of the gorge where we'd started and it looked like we were going to have a long walk back up to the car! For now, the path was mostly flat though Eventually we came to a bridge... ...and crossed over the river. From here the path did lead back uphill, but it was gentler than the way we'd come down. I was amazed when, partway along this path, we came across some wild ponies As we emerged from the woods, there were some beautiful views once again. The path led all the way around the side of the hill. We had some great views back down towards where we'd been in the gorge. Once we got back to the vicinity of the car park, we were able to look at where we'd been on the map. We'd walked from the "you are here" sign all the way down to Fingle Bridge, then along the far side of the river and back up. It was only a four mile walk, but with all the up and down it felt longer! We had some refreshments in the National Trust cafe before setting off on our second activity of the day, which was a scenic drive across Dartmoor. We followed a beautiful road, which took us to the small village of Postbridge. We parked for a while in Postbridge and went for a stroll. Postbridge is famous for having a clapper bridge, similar to the Tarr Steps. This one is estimated to be 700 years old It doesn't feel scary when you're standing on it because it's quite wide and flat, but it looks very high above the river when you see it from a distance. Our roadtrip ended in Tavistock, which turned out to be a pretty little place. We had a stroll around, admiring this beautiful church. We had actually been hoping to find some food in Tavistock, but drew a bit of a blank. The owners of the cabin we're staying in had recommended a pub with good food, so we decided to drive to that instead. Unfortunately that was also unsuccessful, as it turns out to be closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. But in the end we did find a lovely place where we were able to sit outside in the sunshine Tim tried a Devon pasty, which looks very similar to a Cornish pasty, but apparently is chunkier and has less swede. I opted for a slightly less exciting cheese baguette We had puddings too, before heading back towards the cabin for an evening of attempting to find a strong enough phone signal to post a blog
  2. It had rained quite a lot overnight and was still quite damp when we woke up this morning. During breakfast we just managed to get enough of a signal to check the forecast, which suggested it was actually going to be a reasonably dry day, with not more than a 30% chance of rain at any point. After a short morning stroll around the area where we're staying, we decided to head north today towards the Exmoor National Park. I had invested in a Devon guidebook prior to this trip, and one of the things it recommend as being a highlight of Exmoor was a place called the Tarr Steps. Google had suggested this was only around 35 miles from where we were staying, although the journey ultimately took longer than I expected thanks to the small and winding roads! We arrived some time after 11 and were happy to find that there was both space in the car park and a parking machine that accepted cards A small path led downhill from the car park. The path took us to the Tarr steps, which are what is known as a "clapper bridge" across the river Barle. It's essentially a bridge made out of huge slabs of stone, thought to date from at least medieval times. The bridge was a bit busy when we arrived, but soon emptied out a bit so that we could take some photos Although the bridge looks like it's been here forever, it's actually been washed away several times by floodwater and had to be rebuilt. Luckily the river was nice and calm today! We followed a short circular trail which leads alongside the river. It led us through a pretty forest... ...with some lovely views of the surrounding countryside. After a while we crossed the river... ...on a normal bridge this time... ...and walked back in the direction we had come. We had a final view of the Tarr Steps... ...followed by a bit of an uphill climb back towards the car. Our next destination was a place called Valley of Rocks, about a 20 mile drive away across Exmoor. We got a little glimpse of the sea as soon as we parked, which was exciting It was a rather unusual landscape, in some ways a bit similar to the Brimham Rocks which we visited on the way to Northumberland last month. Some people were climbing to the top of the rocks, but we didn't fancy that. Instead, we walked towards the sea. We followed a narrow coastal path. We didn't have to walk very far before we turned round and found the most amazing views I didn't know what to expect from the north Devon coast, but I didn't expect it to be quite this beautiful. It was difficult not to keep taking the same photos over and over again Obviously it wasn't a circular walk this time around, so we had to be careful not to walk too far. It wasn't a hardship to turn around and walk back towards views like these, though! All in all we've had a lovely day in Devon And the weather turned out to be a lot sunnier than I expected when I got up this morning
  3. I had planned to take a week of work in June for a while, but planning an actual holiday to take has been complicated. Firstly, by the fact that I've handed in my notice at work, so for a while it wasn't clear if/when I was going to be able to take off all my holiday. Secondly, by the fact that our trusted cat sitter is also on holiday this week. In the end we decided that the best solution would be to go away for two short breaks of three nights each, that being the longest we can leave the furry members of the family unattended, and make a trip home in the middle to top up the water and cat feeders Having spent all our holidays since Covid so far driving north to Northumberland and Scotland, this time we decided to try something different and explore another part of the UK. And so, a couple of weeks ago, Tim booked a place for us to stay for a few nights in Devon. As soon as we started driving south, we got reminded why we normally prefer driving north So many people everywhere! We struggled to even get out of Nuneaton due to road works, then got caught up in a lot of slow-moving traffic as we navigated the M42 around Birmingham. Things picked up for a bit once we made it to the M5, but before long we encountered an ominous warning sign, informing us that there was a delay of 30 minutes between junctions 14 and 20. There did indeed turn out to be quite a delay as we made our way very, very slowly around Bristol. We were actually planning to leave the motorway slightly after Bristol for a detour to Cheddar Gorge. When researching earlier in the week, I thought this looked like a nice place to break the journey and I'd calculated that if we left home around 10.30, we ought to be there by 13.00. We did actually manage to leave home shortly before 10.30, but with all the delays on the roads it was around 14.30 by the time we were finally driving through the small village of Cheddar. Cheddar looked... busy! The car parks in the village itself all looked full and for a moment I thought we might have a repeat of our experience in Scotland last week where we'd driven a long way to get somewhere, then found that it was impossible to park. But there are a lot of parking spaces along the gorge itself, so in the end we found somewhere without too much difficulty. We had to pay £5 to park; rather frustratingly, the car park machines only take coins, but luckily it was possible to pay via an app as well. Cheddar Gorge is a bit unusual, in that the south side is owned by the Longleat estate and is quite heavily commercialised, with all sorts of paid attractions. You can pay to climb some steps to the top of the gorge on that side, for example, and in normal times there are also caves that you can pay to go into, although I think those are closed at the moment because of Covid. The north side of the gorge, however, is owned by the National Trust and it's perfectly possible to walk around it without buying any expensive tickets. My plan was to follow this walk from the National Trust website, which started from the National Trust information centre. The centre seemed to have closed down, but we found the right place anyway and set off up a small lane. This quickly turned into a grassy path, leading quite steeply uphill. The National Trust instructions were full of warnings about how the path could be muddy in places. We were lucky today in that it was very dry, but I can imagine parts like this are a nightmare when it's been raining. In parts the path was also very rocky. In the excitement of actually arriving somewhere and being able to get out of the car, we'd forgotten to put our boots on so we were going up in trainers. Wouldn't really recommend In some places the uphill climb was made easier by steps. It was still pretty steep though! Eventually we climbed out of the wood and passed through a gate, from where we had a nice view down to the (very flat) countryside below. The path led alongside a wall for a while... ...from where we got our first glimpse of the gorge. There was still a bit more uphill to go... ...but the views were definitely compensating for the climb now. At one point we could even see down to the sea. The path levelled off for a while and we enjoyed the views of the gorge. Cheddar Gorge is the largest gorge in England. It's definitely a very popular tourist destination and we did encounter far more other walkers than we've done on any of the walks we've done in Northumberland. Although it looks quite cloudy in the pictures, it was actually really bright so I struggled to keep my eyes open for a photo The path ultimately led along the length of the gorge and then downhill. The downhill was a bit gentler than our route uphill had been, which was good. Before too long we were down at the main road which runs through the gorge. The National Trust walk instructions required us to cross the road and climb up the opposite side of the gorge. We had a look at it, but the path looked even steeper and more uneven than the way we had come, so we decided to give it a miss, Instead, we started walking back to the car along the side of the road. There were actually some really good views of the gorge from the road. A lot of the time there was a bit of a path by the side of the road as well, so you could stay away from the cars. We passed several groups of people who were climbing the rocks. Before too long we'd made it back to where we parked the car. We still had around 90 miles to drive before we got to our final destination of Petrockstow. Fortunately, the traffic was nowhere near as bad now that we were past Bristol We arrived some time before 7pm and checked in. This is rather unusual accommodation for us - we're staying in a log cabin! It's absolutely beautiful inside, with a living room... ...kitchen... ...and bedroom. The only catch is that there's no WiFi! But it seems like I've got (just about) enough of a phone signal to use my mobile data allowance to post the blog
  4. The apartment we'd booked in Hawick was really lovely, but the blinds on the windows weren't very thick and the shape of the windows meant that the blinds didn't fully cover them. This was the resulting brightness in our room prior to 5am. That meant we had a reasonably early start to the day. We couldn't complain about how beautiful and sunny it was once we stepped outside in Hawick though After yesterday's failure to park, today we were planning to visit a (hopefully!) less popular tourist attraction; a small waterfall in the Kielder Forest. The car park was around 30 miles south of Hawick, and we were relieved to find when we arrived that there was just enough space left to park From the car park, a marked trail led us past a farm... ...and then towards the forest. From there we followed the path through the forest, alongside a stream. We crossed a bridge... ...and had a view of a tiny little waterfall. When we reached the main waterfall, it was much bigger Perhaps not quite as impressive as an Icelandic waterfall, but still very pretty. The best thing about it was that we had the views all to ourselves, which is quite unusual for a beauty spot on a bank holiday From the waterfall, the remainder of the trail took us back uphill... ...across the bridge by the smaller waterfall... ...and then alongside the river. At one point, as we were walking higher above the river, we could hear loudly gushing water nearby. We looked down and realised we were now walking past the top of the waterfall The path continued through the forest... ...finally coming back out in the open by the car park. It was a fairly short walk compared to our hillfort trek on Saturday, but a pretty one. And it was definitely a bonus to be able to enjoy the waterfall without hordes of other people
  5. It was a beautiful sunny day this morning when we woke up in Hawick. I'd decided it might be nice to do something in Scotland today rather than travelling to Northumberland again and when I was researching options last night, I found a National Trust place called St Abb's Head. It looked like it would have some beautiful coastal walks, and it was only about 50 miles away from Hawick, so we decided to give it a go. We had a lovely drive through the countryside towards the coast, with blue sky everywhere. It was only when we got within a couple of miles of St Abb's Head that we saw what looked like a large black cloud on the horizon. As we got closer, we found that the entire coastline was swathed in mist. And when we got to the National Trust car park at St Abb's Head, we found that it was both tiny and absolutely full. Oh dear! We didn't have a back-up plan for the day, so we weren't quite sure what to do. In the end we drove a few miles down the road to the nearby town of Eyemouth, where we eventually managed to park by the harbour. When we got out of the car I was slightly confused about why there was a crowd of people looking down into the water. It turned out there was a man feeding seals From the harbour we followed signs for a coastal path. It was quite windy and I was wearing my coat, but other people were getting ready for a day at the beach As you can see from the photos, it was quite misty here too. The coastal path led us along the top of a small cliff. From here we could see back towards the town. Or, at least, we would have been able to if it wasn't so misty! From the top of the cliff we could just get a tantalising glimpse of what the scenery at St Abb's Head would have been like on a different day. What we could see looked really beautiful The clifftop was supposed to be home to a fortress. It was another one of those fortresses where there isn't really much left to see. There were a few canon dotted around though. There wasn't a lot else to see in Eyemouth, so headed back to the car. Looking at the map, we realised that we weren't very far from Berwick-upon-Tweed, so we decided to give up on the idea of spending the day in Scotland and head back to England instead. Admittedly, Berwick is England's most northerly town. According to Wikipedia, it's located further north than Copenhagen We made it to Berwick without any difficulties and managed to park on the second attempt. The first attempt failed as, although we found a car park where parking was free, it required getting a special parking disk from the visitor centre. Luckily we then found a long stay car park, which was also free and didn't require a disk. The long stay car park was actually in a great location, because we were able to climb up straight from there onto Berwick's ramparts. There was a really nice path which led along the ramparts for quite a long way. On a clearer day I think there would have been some really good views of the sea. As it was, we could just make out a misty kind of blue in the distance I didn't know what to expect of Berwick, but it seemed like a really pretty little town. We continued past various fortifications... ...and came to a place where we had a view out over the river estuary. It was still quite misty in some directions... ...but as we turned a corner we could see that things were starting to look a bit brighter inland. At this point we got our first glimpse of a series of bridges across the river Tweed. First of all there was an old bridge, which looked a bit worse for wear. Beyond that was a more modern road bridge, which looked rather ugly. And beyond that was a very impressive-looking railway bridge. Once we got past the road bridge, we had a better view of the viaduct. There was a nice path along the river here, so we were able to stroll along, getting closer to it. At one point we were even lucky enough to see a train go across it The weather had definitely improved now and it was really sunny, though still a bit windy. We got closer to the viaduct and eventually walked underneath it. From the opposite side we could look up towards Berwick Castle. The path continued along the river, out of the town and into the countryside. It obviously wasn't a circular walk though, so we figured this was the point at which we'd better turn back. We had some clearer views on the way back, passing a lighthouse which definitely hadn't been visible earlier. The view of the sea from the ramparts was now a lot clearer as well Berwick was a really nice place to visit and we had a good time, even if it wasn't quite what I had originally planned
  6. When we woke up in Hawick this morning, the weather was not as sunny as the forecast had promised. The sky was rather cloudy and it looked distinctly like it might have been raining overnight. It was dry now though, so before we set off towards Northumberland for our main adventure of the day we decided to have an early morning stroll around Hawick. When we first visited Hawick last year, we were told to visit Wilton Lodge Park, which is apparently one of the best parks in Scotland. It's certainly a lot bigger than our park in Nuneaton. Once you get to the edge of the park and turn around to walk back to the town, there are some lovely views of the hills behind Hawick. I particularly liked this view with the bright yellow gorse. The park was so large that we accidentally got 7,000 steps walking around it So I was quite pleased to have an excuse to sit down for a while, as we had a drive of around 50 miles to get to our destination in Northumberland. We were planning to drive to a place called Breamish Valley in the Northumberland National Park. It was a very scenic drive, first of all through the Scottish Borders to Kelso, and then south into Northumberland. The day was still quite cloudy though and the views were all rather hazy. We were looking for a car park called Bulby's Wood, from where a marked trail was supposed to start. The car park itself wasn't terribly well marked so it took a while to find it, but we got there in the end and parked on a large grassy field next to a river. The walk was a suggestion from the Northumberland National Park website called the Breamish Valley Hillfort Trail. It was only 4.5 miles, which sounded like a manageable distance, although it did start by leading straight uphill from the car park. By this time the sky had cleared up and it looked like it might actually turn into a sunny day We certainly felt rather warm as we continued to trek uphill. Before long the river and the car park looked very far beneath us. Very far indeed! At the top of the hill was the Breamish hillfort. The walk was supposed to feature the remains of five different hillforts. This one was by far the most impressive; I ultimately struggled to even figure out where the final two were It didn't feel like it would be worth doing the walk to see the hillforts. But it was certainly worth it to see the views The good news was that now we had got to the top of the first hill, the path flattened off for a bit and the walk became a bit easier. We followed a grassy path across the top of the hill until we got to the remains of the second hillfort. There really wasn't a lot to see here, but in the photo below you might just be able to make out some bumps in the ground, which apparently were the remains of the fort's ramparts. From here the path became steeper and narrower, leading downhill through a small gorge. The path was well signposted, so there was no chance of getting lost. From here we had another uphill climb to the top of a hill called Cochrane Pike. There was supposed to be a hillfort here too, but to be honest we couldn't see it There were great views in all directions though From the top of the hill we followed a nice grassy path again. As you can probably tell, it was a little bit breezy up here! After a while, our path began to take us downhill. We had walked across the top of the hill above the trees in this photo, before climbing down into the gorge and back up again, so we could see that we were now starting to swing back round in a circle towards the car park. The path downhill was quite steep at times, but it was definitely easier going down than up. At the bottom of the hill was a little stream which had to crossed by stepping stones. It required quite a big step! Then it was another grassy path to take us back towards the car. Somewhere here we missed another hillfort or two! Even if we didn't find all the hillforts, it was a fun walk with some great views We were quite thirsty by the time we had finished, so drove to the nearby town of Wooler to find something to drink. Wooler was a pretty little town. And it had some patriotic bunting! From there it was another hour or so to drive back to Hawick. Once I got back inside the apartment I could see that I look rather... pink! It seems to have been a mistake not to wear suncream today, although it definitely wasn't obvious when we woke up this morning that the day was going to be so bright and sunny!
  7. We enjoyed our trip to Northumberland for the first May bank holiday so much that we were keen to return to the same part of the world for the second bank holiday. The only problem was that we hadn't booked anything in advance, and the second May bank holiday falls during school half terms, meaning there is a lot of demand for accommodation. When we started searching on booking.com at the start of this month, we couldn't find anything suitable available in Northumberland at all, just a handful of apartments which felt more like they were on the outskirts of Newcastle. That was disappointing, until we hit upon the idea of looking for accommodation just across the border in Scotland too. That turned out to be more successful, and we ultimately managed to book an apartment in Hawick, the small town in the Scottish borders where we first stayed last August. Driving from Nuneaton to Hawick is quite a trek (258 miles), so we wanted to make a stop en route. Last time we were in Northumberland we had looked into visiting a place called Hamsterley Forest in Durham. We didn't manage to fit it in in the end, because it was raining so much on our final day that we just had to drive straight home, so today felt like a good opportunity to make amends. We left home around 10.30 and it was some time after 2pm when we finally made it to the vicinity of the forest. It turned out to be quite a confusing place to arrive at for the first time, with numerous signs to different car parks in all directions. We eventually parked in a small car park which felt like it was in the middle of nowhere and found a picnic bench to eat our lunch. Once we'd had some food we set out to explore and soon found ourselves on a riverside path. Much to our surprise, this turned out to be a Gruffalo-themed trail. As we walked along we found several sculptures of characters from the book. First of all we found the owl... ...and then the snake. The view on the opposite side of the path was really pretty too, as we passed a field covered in bright yellow flowers. Having walked along this path for a mile or so, we came to the forest's visitor centre and main car park (where we probably should have parked!). There was a cafe here so we stopped to get a coffee and I had a slice of the most amazing chocolate orange cake, which tasted just like a jaffa cake! From there we retraced our steps back along the Gruffalo trail... ...and found that the path actually continued, higher, on the opposite side of the road from where we had parked. As we walked on this side, we had a beautiful view of the forest. We also found more Gruffalo sculptures. There was a squirrel... ...a fox... ...and my absolute favourite, the mouse The drive from the forest to Hawick was another two hours or so, so we needed to make our way back to the car. We arrived some time after 6pm and found the apartment we'd booked without any problems. It was self check-in, which definitely makes life easier. Considering it was one of the few available places left on booking.com, it really is a nice apartment. We've got a spacious living room... ...a small kitchen... ...and a bedroom with some rather startling cushions! It's really centrally located in Hawick too, so as soon as we step out of the door we have this view of the town hall All we've had time to do this evening is get some food in Hawick, but we're looking forward to exploring the local area on both sides of the border over the coming days
  8. We didn't have fixed plans for today, so once we'd had dinner last night we started to do a bit more research on the local area. In the course of doing so, I came across the Northumberland National Park website, which has a useful facility to search for walking routes based on distance and level of difficulty. I came up with a few possible options and we narrowed it down to the Drake Stone and Harbottle walk, which was described as being a moderate circular walk Northumberland is a huge county and so the starting point for the walk, a Forestry Commission car park just outside the village of Harbottle, was a 44 mile drive away. It was a very scenic drive though and the weather seemed to be holding up okay, with only a few spots of rain as we got closer to our destination. We parked the car and began following an uphill track, which was signposted as "Drake Stone". I was slightly unnerved when we passed a sign which seemed to imply that we were near a Ministry of Defence shooting range. The landscape was very scenic though, as we continued to climb higher. I maybe hadn't read the walk instructions attentively enough to appreciate quite how much uphill there was at the start of the walk, and so when we reached this cairn I thought perhaps we were at the top. I certainly felt out of breath enough for this to be the top It turned out there was still quite a way for us to go. Our destination, the Drake Stone, was the large rock on the top of this hill. The path upwards was quite narrow and a bit challenging in places... ...with lots of rocks to clamber over. But eventually we made it to the Drake Stone! Legend says that this large stone has supernatural healing powers. Our path led us around the stone and down towards a small lake. There were several other large rocks in the landscape. I had a great view from this one The route led us down towards the shore of the lake. The instructions for the walk warned us to stay on the path, because the shore of the lake was very boggy. As we walked we had great views back towards the Drake Stone on the horizon. I was slightly disconcerted by another warning sign as we began to leave the lake behind and climb uphill again, towards a forest. The path carried on straight through the forest for quite some time. At times it was a bit muddy underfoot, though there were often logs placed to help you find your way across. Some were easier to balance on than others! After a while the path began to lead quite steeply downhill. Sometimes a bit too steeply for my liking If this was a moderate walk then I was glad we hadn't chosen a difficult one! Once we left the forest behind us, the path widened out to a much easier trail. The views across the Northumberland national park were really beautiful. The path was leading us downhill, towards a village and the main road. A sign had warned that there was a bull in the field, but luckily we only met these rather placid cows. We crossed the main road and followed another path alongside the river Coquet. This part of the walk seemed far more relaxing As we strolled through the fields we realised we could see up to the Drake Stone, on top of a hill on the opposite side of the river. The final bit of the walk took us back across the river, to the small village of Harbottle. The weather was getting a bit cloudier by this point, but we just managed to sit outside in the beer garden of the local pub for a quick drink and then walk back up the road to the forest car park before any drops of rain fell Unfortunately, the weather forecast doesn't look too good for tomorrow, so this might be the end of our adventures in Northumberland for now. But we've really enjoyed visiting this part of the world again and I feel like we'll be back again at some point in the future
  9. When we came to Northumberland for the first time last summer, one of the things we wanted to do was see some of Hadrian's Wall. We initially assumed this would be relatively easy to do, but it turned out to be surprisingly difficult and on our first trip we failed to track down any of it at all. On the way back from our Scottish islands trip in September, we were more successful and visited a section of the wall by Cawfields quarry. When I was researching things to do this weekend, I realised that the cottage we are staying in is really close to some of the sites along the wall and in particular to Housesteads Fort, so that was where we planned to visit today. Slightly confusingly, Housesteads Fort seems to be owned by the National Trust, managed by English Heritage and have a carpark owned by the Northumberland National Park. In practice, this means that you can get in for free with a National Trust card, but you need to pre-book your slot on the English Heritage website and pay £3 for parking before you leave. It doesn't seem to be the most popular of National Trust destinations; it only occurred to me to book a few days ago and there was still plenty of availability for mid-morning slots. We were booked to arrive at 11am, so we had a leisurely start to the morning, enjoying the local bacon, eggs and bread which the owner of the cottage had left for us. Then we jumped in the car for a short 4-mile drive towards the fort. We arrived, parked and found that it's actually a 0.5 mile walk from the carpark to the fort itself. A 0.5 mile walk up this hill We made it to the top, slightly out of breath, and found a small museum. It was open, but didn't look wildly exciting, so we decided to give it a miss. Instead we climbed slightly higher to the fort itself, which we entered through the south gate. Housesteads Fort was built in 124 AD. There are quite a lot of visible remains here, including houses, barracks and latrines. We also had a good view of Hadrian's Wall itself, leading up to the fort. Although it was a bank holiday weekend, it wasn't terribly busy here. And although I'd been expecting it to rain, the weather just about managed to stay dry. The National Trust website had suggested a walking route from the edge of the fort, but initially we struggled to find our way on to the path. In the end we had to climb down from the fort, go around this farm and back up again. We found the path eventually There were some beautiful views out across the countryside. We were right at the bottom edge of the Northumberland national park, so the views in this direction were towards the Pennines. On the opposite side, the path was just below Hadrian's wall. The path was a bit up and down at times. The sun had come out now and it actually felt quite warm walking in the sunshine. There were still some dark clouds on the horizon, though. After a while the path led downhill, alongside the wall. We passed a farm... ...and had a view down towards a small lake. It's hard to see in the photos, but on the left hand side of the lake are Hotbank Crags, topped by trees. Our route took us up to the top of the crags. It should have been a really scenic path. Unfortunately, there were lots of annoying black flies everywhere (all the black dots on the photo below are flies in front of my camera, not birds in the sky!) From the crags the path led steeply downhill, back alongside the wall. As we descended, we got a glimpse of what is apparently one of the most photographed trees in the UK. This is Sycamore Gap, although from this angle it wasn't completely clear how the location gets its name. Once we climbed further down and walked past the tree, it became clearer. The sycamore tree is situated in quite a dramatic dip - or gap - in the landscape We enjoyed the view for a while, before turning around to retrace our steps in the direction of Housesteads Fort. The weather got progressively colder and windier as we did so, and we only just made it back to the carpark before the first rain drops started to fall. It rained quite heavily for a while, so after a brief stop in the village of Haltwhistle to pick up some supplies, we headed back to the cottage for the rest of the afternoon. We were lucky that we managed to get such a scenic walk in before the weather turned
  10. For this bank holiday last year, we had booked to go on a long weekend to Monaco. Well, really a long weekend in a place called Menton in France, because Monaco is way out of our budget, but the objective was to visit Monaco and add another small European country to our visited list. The pandemic meant that trip ultimately didn't happen, but this time last year EasyJet gave me the option to rebook the cancelled flights for May 2021. Back in May 2020, this seemed like an excellent idea; I didn't think for one minute that we wouldn't be back to normal life by May 2021! Little did I know Obviously life is not yet back to normal and my flights got cancelled for a second time. For a while I assumed we would just spend this weekend at home, but when restrictions started to ease a bit in the UK it became clear that it should at least be possible to book a self-catering stay within England. We enjoyed our trip to Northumberland so much last year, that we decided to take the opportunity to head up to the same part of the world again We didn't make a terribly early start this morning - and Northumberland is quite a long way away from Nuneaton - so today has predominantly been a day of travelling. When researching the route a few days ago I did, however, track down a place for us to make a stop around halfway through our journey. This rather unusual landscape is Brimham Rocks, a short diversion from the A1(M) in the general vicinity of Harrogate. I'd never heard of Brimham Rocks before, but the land is owned by the National Trust and we were able to use our membership cards to park for free in the carpark. We followed a path, signposted as a scenic route, through the rocks. Some of them were enormous, and there were some very unusual shapes. I wished I could better remember my geography lessons to understand how/why they'd eroded in this way The walk through the rocks wasn't a very long one, but that was fine because the weather was constantly on the verge of threatening rain. We did find a small picnic area, where we just about managed to eat our sandwiches before a shower hit. Luckily the shower wasn't too heavy, so we just got slightly damp as we took a different route back to the car. From the edge of the rocks there were some nice views out across the surrounding countryside. From Brimham Rocks we had another two hours or so of driving before we reached the cottage we are staying in, near a small place called Bardon Mill. It's really cosy inside There's a nice bedroom... ...and a well-equipped kitchen, where the owners have even left us some food (including local bacon) for breakfast By the time we'd checked in the weather had improved a bit, so we went out for a stroll to explore the neighbourhood. There are a few other houses around, but otherwise we're pretty much in the middle of nowhere. There were some beautiful views as we walked around the surrounding lanes. Even if the weather isn't forecast to be great this weekend, it looks like this is going to be a lovely place to stay
  11. We've just got back from a very exciting trip around the Scottish Highlands and Islands. It was a pretty adventurous itinerary, which took us to Orkney and Shetland, as well as both the Inner and Outer Hebrides, plus all the way around the north coast of Scotland. Having just put our entire route into Google Maps, I calculate that we have driven a total of 2,672 miles, which averages out at 167 miles per day. The longest day of driving was day 16, when we travelled from Hawick to home via Hadrian's Wall. The detour to Hadrian's Wall took us further west than I'd expected, so we ended up coming home via the M6 rather than the A1(M) as initially planned. The shortest day of driving was day 11, when we racked up a mere 92 miles on the Isle of Skye. The most painful day of driving was definitely day 15, with our unexpected diversion on the way back from Glen Coe Of course, this holiday hasn't just been about driving. We have travelled on no fewer than 11 ferries over the course of the two weeks, covering an estimated 445 miles at sea. The longest ferry journey was the crossing from Kirkwall to Lerwick, which took eight hours on the way out, while the shortest was the crossing from Yell to Unst, which probably took less than ten minutes. The choppiest crossing was without doubt Lerwick back to Kirkwall, where the waves were so big that it was hard to stay on your feet if you stood up. The ferry journeys around the Hebrides were a complete contrast, with the boats barely feeling like they were moving. The consequence of all this driving and sailing is that we haven't taken as many steps as we would on a regular holiday. My total for the fortnight is 174,088 which averages out at 10,880 per day. Perhaps the most surprising statistic is that this holiday surpasses Iceland as the most expensive trip we have ever been on I knew holiday accommodation in the UK was expensive, but I don't think I'd appreciated quite how bad value it was compared to what you could get for the same money in most other European countries we've been to. Over the course of two weeks we've spent the following: Accommodation £1,658 Eating out £483 Groceries £119 Petrol £373 Parking £10 Ferries £670 Total £3,313 £3,313 is without doubt the most we've ever spent on a single holiday. But, this trip was 16 days so the cost per day is £207. Iceland was £2,855 for 11 days, so at a cost of £259 per day it is still technically more expensive. The accommodation in Scotland feels like it was ridiculously pricey, working out at £118 per night. I guess in some cases that did include breakfast, but still... if we'd been able to go to Croatia/Montenegro/Albania as planned, the accommodation cost would have been around £45 per night. The ferries were also quite expensive, particularly the Northlink ones to Shetland and Orkney. The return fare for two people plus a car from Scrabster to Stromness was £191, while the return fare between Kirkwall and Lerwick was £331 (but the latter did include a private cabin on the way out, which was definitely worth the money). In contrast, the CalMac ferries in the Hebrides were pretty cheap. Uig to Tarbert was £46, Leverburgh to Berneray was only £21 and Lochboisdale to Mallaig was £81. Catching all these ferries did mean that we were able to visit an incredible number of islands. I've just been trying to add it up and, including those islands which we were able to drive to via a causeway, I make it 17: Orkney - Mainland, Lamb Holm, Glimp Holm, Burray, South Ronaldsay Shetland - Mainland, Yell, Unst, Trondra, Burra Inner Hebrides - Skye Outer Hebrides - Lewis and Harris, Berneray, North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist, Eriskay Over the course of the holiday we've seen some amazing landscapes. One of the strangest must surely be the Gloup on Orkney... ...although the sight of submerged warships of the Orkney coast was also pretty surreal. The Fairy Glen on the Isle of Skye was so beautiful it didn't look real... ...and the views at the Quirang were pretty amazing too. We just about managed to see the famous Old Man of Storr before the rocks were swallowed up by clouds... ...and we saw another "old man", the Old Man of Hoy, on our trip out to Orkney. The holiday has also involved several waterfalls. We kicked things off with the waterfalls at Low Force... ...and High Force... ...before visiting the falls at Corrieshalloch Gorge later in the trip. On Skye we visited Mealt Falls... ...as well as the similarly named Lealt falls. The road trip has taken us past some historical sites too and we've visited no fewer than three different standing stones. We started with Stenness on Orkney... ...before visiting the Ring of Brodgar slightly down the road. Later, on Lewis, we also visited the Callanish standing stones. There have been some pretty towns too. We made an unscheduled stop in Dollar... ...had lunch in Pitlochry... ...and didn't quite get what was so special about Cromarty. Thurso was so grey we didn't bother taking any photos of it, but Stromness was much more attractive... ...and Kirkwall was memorable for its enormous cathedral. We admired the Scandinavian houses in Scalloway... ...and found Lerwick to be a sleepy little place... ...though admittedly there was more going on there than in the metropolis of Mid Yell Back on the mainland, we enjoyed revisiting Ullapool until we failed to get into a restaurant. Having microwave meals for dinner may have been the low point of the trip Once we got to the Outer Hebrides, we found Stornoway to be a colourful town. And of course, Glen Coe is a village with great views. Of course, the holiday involved a lot of driving north and we managed to visit several "most northerly" points. We started with John O'Groats for an obligatory signpost photo... ...before visiting the true most northerly point on the mainland at Dunnet Head. On the recommendation of a barman in Orkney, we then visited Britain's most northerly inhabited island, Unst, and walked along its most northerly peninsula. We also visited the Butt of Lewis, which is definitely the most northerly point of the Outer Hebrides, even though its not the most northwesterly point in Europe as the Bradt guidebook claims. However, the absolute star of the show as far as I am concerned is the sea. I suppose it should have been clear to me when we planned a trip which involved visiting lots of islands that we would see a lot of the sea, but that didn't really occur to me until partway through the holiday We have definitely seen some fantastic coastlines and beaches on the trip. During our day on Orkney we watched the waves crashing against the cliffs at Yesnaby... ...and the waves were no less impressive at Eshaness on Shetland. The sea was a lot calmer around the sea stacks at Mangersta on the Isle of Lewis, although my hair is testament to the fact that the wind was blowing just as hard The beaches on Shetland surpassed my expectations... ...but they were nothing compared to Luskentyre beach on the Isle of Harris. Meanwhile West Beach on Berneray was in a league of its own and definitely one of the highlights of the whole holiday Overall we've had a fantastic time and I think it's fair to say that we've had as much adventure as it's possible to have without getting on a plane! I'll finish the blog with my personal favourite view of the whole holiday: the old bridge at Sligachan on the Isle of Skye in the sunshine
  12. After our late finish last night, we didn't make a very early start to the day in Hawick. It was around 10am by the time we checked out and our first destination was the nearby town of Galashiels, where we stopped off at McDonalds for breakfast We had another fairly long day of driving ahead of us to get home. Our plan was to stop off in Northumberland and try to track down Hadrian's Wall. We'd actually tried to find part of Hadrian's Wall previously, when we were in Northumberland for August Bank Holiday, as a lady at our hotel had recommended that we go to Hexham to visit it. We'd driven through Hexham on the way back from Kielder Water one day and even followed a short driving route which was signposted as being a Hadrian's Wall tour, but failed to see anything which looked like a large wall! I think part of the problem was that there are lots of forts and other sites which you can visit along the length of the wall, but most of them are run by either English Heritage or the National Trust and in the current climate, you have to book your visits to both in advance. I'd thought about trying to fit in Hadrian's Wall when we were driving up through Northumberland at the start of this holiday, but when you've got a journey of more than four hours, it just felt too difficult to predict within which half hour interval we might possibly arrive at one of the sites. So ultimately we visited the waterfalls of High Force and Low Force instead. On the way back I was more confident of success though, having googled and found a car park at a place called Cawfields where the internet suggested that it was possible to park and walk to a part of the wall without having to pay to go inside anywhere. We put the postcode into the Sat Nav and off we went. It took around 90 minutes to get from Galashiels to Cawfields. The car park is owned by the Northumberland National Park and is located on the site of a former quarry. We paid £1 for parking and set off down a path in search of the elusive wall. After climbing up a slightly muddy track, we got our first glimpse. There was indeed a reasonable stretch of the wall here Finally, we'd found it A small path enabled us to walk alongside the wall for a while. We didn't want to go too far though, because we knew we still had quite a few hours in the car ahead of us to get home. Luckily there were no accidents or major delays today and we made it back home by 7pm after what has been a really exciting holiday
  13. We had another early start on Saturday morning, with our alarms set to go off at 05.45. Our ferry back to a place called Mallaig on the mainland was at 07.35 and we needed to check-in at the port in Lochboisdale before 06.45. The port was probably only four miles away, but it wasn't the easiest of journeys down small one-track roads, so we wanted to make sure that we had plenty of time. When we stepped outside of the B&B to load our bags into the car, the sun was only just rising. We checked in without any difficulties and then had a bit of a wait before we could drive onto the boat. The ferry didn't seem to be completely full, which perhaps wasn't a surprise considering how early in the morning the departure was, and so once we got on board there were plenty of places to sit. It turned out to be a really pleasant journey, on another very calm sea. It wasn't long before we had a view out towards the mountains on the Isle of Skye. The only disappointing thing about the boat was the lack of opportuntities to get breakfast. I think there normally is a proper restaurant but it was closed because of Covid-19, leaving only a small outlet called "The Coffee Shack" serving refreshments. That meant that our only options for breakfast were coffee and chocolate. Still, there are worst breakfasts you can have It was actually a fairly long ferry crossing from South Uist and we weren't due to arrive in Mallaig until 11.00. This was the best route for getting home though, because it would take us as far south on the mainland as possible. The other options would have been to take a ferry back to the Isle of Skye, which would then have necessitated driving across the entire Isle of Skye, or to take a ferry from Stornoway to Ullapool, which would have landed us quite far north. We arrived in Mallaig promptly at 11am. We were starving by this point, so our first plan was to drive to Fort William, about an hour away, to get lunch. We made it to Fort William shortly after midday and walked through the town centre until we found a nice pub to get lunch. It was nice to finally get a proper meal after our early start. Then we couldn't resist leaving having a little stroll by the coast before leaving. As we walked alongside the water, we found a demonstration in favour of Scottish independence. Support for independence seems to be strong in this part of the country and there were lots of people beeping their horns as they drove past. We also found a shop in the centre of town selling independence-related merchandise! Fort William is a really beautiful place and it was lovely to be here in the sunshine again. Once we'd finished admiring the views, we got back in the car and drove towards Glen Coe. Glen Coe isn't more than half an hour away from Fort William, but it's such a lovely place that I wanted to stop for a quick stroll and a coffee. I'd forgotten how long it took to get served in the Glen Coe cafe though, so the coffee break took a bit longer than I intended! It was around 4pm by the time we were leaving Glen Coe and getting back in the car to complete our drive to Hawick. We still had a fair few miles to cover, but we'd done the drive before a few weeks ago and we were planning to let the Sat Nav take us on the quicker motorway route this time, rather than a more scenic diversion we took through the Loch Lomond national park last time around. Unfortunately, what I didn't know was that there had been an accident on the main road, the A82, which leads out of Glen Coe and through Bridge of Orchy. We left Glen Coe on a small road, heading towards the A82. The views as you leave the village are really spectacular. We were expecting to get more great views as we continued through the valley, but we soon reached a huge traffic jam which stretched as far as the eye could see. It didn't appear to be moving and we could see lots of people ahead of us in the queue turning around. A bit of googling revealed that there had been an accident and that the road was closed in both directions for an unspecified amount of time. The accident had actually happened near Bridge of Orchy, which is 22 miles from Glen Coe, so the tailback was already enormous. We decided it would be better to turn around and take a diversion rather than wait. The only problem was that, when you're in the middle of the mountains, there tends to only be one road leading to the place you need to get to. Taking a diversion meant retracing our steps back to the village of Glen Coe and then continuing around the coast in the direction of Oban to a place called Connel, from where we would be able to get onto a road which would take us back to the A82, south of where the accident had happened. That was a solution to the problem, but the diversion in itself was 63 miles. The journey was complicated by the fact that we kept getting stuck behind ageing camper vans, who were driving at 30 on roads which should have been 60, and most of all by the fact that at Connel we needed to cross Loch Etive on a bridge. What we didn't realise when we started the diversion is that this bridge is single track So we spent around an hour in a queue of two miles or so waiting for our turn to get across. All this meant that it was around 10pm by the time we finally arrived in Hawick! Not the most enjoyable part of our road trip, but at least we were staying in a place that we've been to several times before, so we knew where we were going and had the code for the key box to check in
  14. This morning was a very early start, with alarms set for 6am. We were due to catch a ferry at 08.35, which doesn't sound like an unreasonable time for a ferry, but it was departing from a port called Leverburgh which is situated at the bottom of Harris. Our booking confirmation with the ferry company stipulated that the latest possible check-in time was 08.15 and it was a journey of 56 miles from where we were in Stornoway to the south of Harris, so I had calculated that we needed to check out of the apartment at 06.45. In reality we ended up running around 10 minutes late but Tim managed to make up the time on the drive and we arrived at Leverburgh around 08.10. I was fairly annoyed when we got there to find that there were no staff members to check us in at all and we needn't have bothered getting there more than 5 minutes in advance to be loaded onto the ferry! It was a fairly small car ferry and the journey across to the island of Berneray only took one hour. We had to remain in our cars throughout the journey, which was happily a nice smooth one I hadn't been planning for us to spend much time on Berneray. In fact, initially when I booked the ferry tickets I thought that Berneray was just the name of the port we were travelling to on the island of North Uist, as opposed to being a separate island in its own right. It was only when reading the Outer Hebrides guidebook over the past few days that I realised Berneray was an island, albeit connected to North Uist via a causeway. The entire island only has an area of around 10 square kilometres so it definitely isn't a big place but the guidebook had suggested that it had a very impressive beach, so we decided to investigate that before moving south to North Uist. Following the instructions in the guidebook, we drove down a tiny road with a signpost towards a picnic spot. This led to a grassy area where we were able to park and follow a path through the sand dunes towards the beach. The beach was marked on the map as "West Beach". The sands stretch for approximately four miles, all the way down the west coast of Berneray. As with Luskentyre beach yesterday, the expanse of golden sand and turquoise sea was incredible. I think this beach was slightly better than Luskentyre though, because at 10am in the morning we had it all to ourselves It was so beautiful that we couldn't resist going for a walk. We must have walked several miles down the sands and then several miles back, because by the time we left the beach we both had over 10,000 steps on our FitBits. It was one of those situations where you just want to get around the next corner. But corners on beaches can be quite deceptive When we eventually did get to the corner, towards the northern edge of Berneray, we had a view back towards where we'd come from on the Isle of Harris. It was a really lovely experience to have a beach like this to ourselves. And it even got so warm towards the end of the walk that I was able to take my fleece off Once we'd finished exploring the west beach, we decided to have a quick drive around the rest of Berneray to see whether there were any other sights we might be missing. We found that there is an east beach too, although its not as big as the west beach and seemed to have more seaweed. Otherwise, Berneray was mostly green and full of sheep Tim had noticed that the island had a shop and bistro. The impression I'd got from the limited research I'd done was that there weren't a lot of places to eat on either North or South Uist, so we decided to take advantage of having found somewhere on Berneray and get some lunch. I was particularly impressed when we parked outside the shop and found this weather-forecasting stone It turned out that the bistro had a lovely terrace and the weather was surprisingly warm enough for us to sit and eat outside. By the time we'd finished lunch and were ready to leave Berneray it was around 1pm and we'd somehow managed to spend 3.5 hours on an island that's about 2 miles by 4 From Berneray we crossed to the island of North Uist via a causeway. North Uist is a much bigger island and it has its own sandy beaches, which we'd probably have been more impressed by if we hadn't already had so much fun on the beach at Berneray. Our main plan on North Uist was to stop at a nature reserve by a place called Balranald. The guidebook had said that it was possible to park here and that there was a 3-mile marked nature trail. We found the car park and started following little red arrows around the trail. The path took us past more sandy beaches... ...through a grassy area with grazing cows... ...and then past an increasingly rocky coastline. We passed small lochs... ...some of which had to be crossed... ...and enjoyed the views out to sea. It was amazing, because one minute there was a bright blue sky like in the picture above and then the next minute a mist started to roll in and we could barely see the sea. Luckily we could still see the red arrows marking the path. The path led us up and down over sand dunes, before finally coming back in a loop to where we'd parked the car. Once we got back in the car we drove down to the bottom of North Uist, crossed a causeway onto the small island of Benbecula, and then crossed a final causeway onto the island of South Uist. We're staying in a small B&B on South Uist, not far from the port of Lochboisdale where we're departing by ferry tomorrow morning. The room is fine for one night and the host is a very friendly lady who booked us a table at a local restaurant so that we could get an evening meal. Our reservation wasn't until 19.30 so we still had some time to explore. It was a gorgeous sunny evening as we drove around the bottom of South Uist. When looking at the map I realised that there was one more island we could drive across to on a causeway: Eriskay. One final island was too tempting an opportunity to miss, so off we went across the causeway Eriskay is another tiny island, of a similar size to Berneray. It was really pretty though, and from here we had a few out across lots of little even smaller islands. It was beautiful, especially with the sun starting to set. Once we'd admired the views for a while it was time to drive back across Eriskay to South Uist. We had no idea what the restaurant which had been booked for us was going to be like, but luckily it was fine. Tim had a Thai curry, I had a chilli con carne and we both had a beautiful dessert. It was a nice end to what has been a fun but slightly tiring day in the Outer Hebrides
  15. It wasn't exactly sunny when we woke up in Stornoway this morning, but it wasn't raining either. The forecast had suggested that today would be dry but cloudy, which was good enough for us. With planning this trip at such short notice, I hadn't fully appreciated how large the island of Lewis and Harris actually is. The guidebook explained that it's the third largest island in the British Isles (after Great Britain and Ireland). That meant that seeing the sights we wanted to see today was going to involve a fair amount of driving. We set off around 10am and initially retraced our journey from yesterday, driving down to the town of Tarbert on the Isle of Harris. There's a famous gin distillery there and we'd wanted to visit the shop when we got off the ferry yesterday afternoon, but unfortunately it closed at 4pm and so we were just slightly too late for it. Once we'd completed our shopping we drove further south on Harris, towards a place called Luskentyre. We initially missed the turning we were looking for, because a lot of the road signs around here only have the place names in Gaelic and I didn't immediately realise that the sign to "Losgaintir" was the one we needed to follow. It wasn't too difficult to turn around and we knew we were heading in the right direction when we began to get views of golden sands. This is Luskentyre beach. It was recently voted as one of the top 25 beaches in the world in a Tripadvisor poll. A beach like this certainly wasn't what I would have expected to find in the Outer Hebrides. There were miles of golden sand and the sea was a beautiful turquoise shade of blue. If we'd had a blue sky, I think the photos would have looked quite tropical. But in reality it was a bit cold and windy It was lovely to visit though and amazing to find such a wonderful beach with so few people on it. Definitely a contrast to the pictures of Bournemouth beach which have been in the press this year! Once we'd been for a walk on the sands, it was time to get back in the car and drive towards Lewis. We were heading to the western side of the island, towards a region called Uig (not to be confused with Uig on the Isle of Skye!). This part of Lewis seems really mountainous and we had some stunning views as we drove. We were heading towards a small place called Mangersta, which turned out to be a little difficult to track down. With the help of Google maps, we eventually found the location we were looking for and parked up by the side of the road. Mangersta is famous for its cliffs and sea stacks and a picture of the sea stacks here features as the cover on the Bradt guide to the Outer Hebrides. There didn't seem to be a defined path here, so we just walked across the grass towards the cliffs. Here were the sea stacks which we recognised from the front of the guidebook They were really beautiful and the sea looked unbelievably calm again today. The view in the opposite direction was pretty impressive too. Sea stacks successfully located, we began to retrace our route back towards the centre of Lewis. There were more scenic mountain views as we drove towards a place called Callanish. We spotted more golden sands in the distance too. Callanish is famous for its standing stones, which are one of the most visited sites on the Outer Hebrides. The stones here are thought to have been erected around 3000 BC. They were interesting to see but honestly, I think the Ring of Brodgar on Orkney was probably more impressive. You could get really close to these stones though and there weren't many other people around. They're in a really scenic area too, with nice views down towards a loch. Normally there's a visitor centre here to explain more about the history of the place, but like many other things it is closed this year because of the pandemic. From Callanish we drove further north, towards a place called Port of Ness. From Port of Ness a small road leads a couple of miles further north to a place called Butt of Lewis. There's a lighthouse here at the northernmost tip of Lewis. The Bradt guidebook, rather bizarrely, claims that this is the most northwesterly point in Europe. It clearly isn't, but it is the most northern point of the Outer Hebrides and as we've visited a few other "most northern" points this holiday, it was fun to visit this one too That was the end of our whistle-stop tour of Lewis and Harris. Tomorrow morning we're taking a ferry to North Uist and working our way down to the bottom of South Uist, from where we're taking a ferry back to the mainland on Saturday morning.
  16. When we opened the curtains on Skye this morning we found it was a genuinely sunny day outside. Typical for the day we were leaving The good news was that our ferry to the Outer Hebrides wasn't until the afternoon, so we had a few hours to enjoy Skye in the sunshine before it was time to check in. As we checked out of the cottage and began driving towards the main road, the views towards the mountains were even clearer than they had been yesterday. We hadn't made firm plans for this morning, but the mountain views looked so good that we decided to start driving towards the viewpoint at Sligachan. Everywhere looked so different as we drove in the sunshine compared to what it had been like the day we arrived. As we got closer to Sligachan, the views of the mountains were even better. Once we arrived and parked, the views of the old bridge were fantastic. I could have stood and admired them all day Our ferry was leaving around 2pm from the port of Uig on the Trotternish peninsula, so we needed to drive further north. As we did so, we suddenly realised that we had a really clear view of the Old Man of Storr on the horizon. It was really cool to see it without yesterday's clouds From there we drove on small roads around the tip of the peninsula. We passed an open air museum, which I think is about what life used to be like on the Isle of Skye. It was closed because of the pandemic but we could see the exterior of the houses and there were some great views out to sea. The sea looked unbelievably still and calm today; nothing like it had been on Shetland and Orkney. Eventually the road led us down to Uig. Our ferry across to Tarbert on the Isle of Harris would be leaving from this pier. We checked in for the ferry and then had an hour or so to sit waiting in our car. After what seemed like forever, it was eventually time for us to board... but when Tim turned the key the car wouldn't start Oh no! It seemed like it might be a problem with the battery. It was rather awkward as we were queuing in a line of cars which were all supposed to be driving on to the ferry in a specific order. I thought for a few minutes that our road trip might be coming to a rather unexpected end! But one of the ferry operatives, together with another customer, gave the car a push and on the second attempt it started again. Phew. The only problem then was that now we'd missed our slot to get on the ferry, so we had to wait while queues of caravans and 4x4s were loaded until there was another slot for cars. We squeezed on towards the end and settled down for what felt like a very quick and smooth ferry journey compared to our Shetland crossings. We only just about had time to eat our packed lunch plus buy and drink a coffee, before the ferry was pulling in to the port of Tarbert. Then we just had to hope the car started again! Luckily it did without any problems and it's been absolutely fine since Tarbert is on the part of the island called Harris, whereas the accommodation I had booked was in Stornoway, which is in the Lewis part, so we now needed to drive across Harris. First impressions were that it is very mountainous. We were following a main A road, which took us through the mountains and past some beautiful lakes. After we'd been driving for a while, we passed a sign welcoming us to the Isle of Lewis. To be honest, I'm not sure I understand why part of the island is called Harris and the other part is called Lewis; I'm going to have to read up on it in the guidebook Once we'd crossed the border into Lewis, the scenery became a bit less dramatic and it wasn't too long before we reached the town of Stornoway. I struggled to find any available accommodation on booking.com at all in the Outer Hebrides, so we're staying in an apartment I booked via Airbnb. We've got a nice big kitchen... ...a living room... ...and bedroom. We settled in and then went out for an evening stroll around Stornoway. With a population of around 8,000 people, Stornoway is the biggest town in the Hebrides. The population of the entire Outer Hebrides is around 27,000, so a significant proportion of the population lives in Stornoway. It felt like a small place to us as we strolled around it though! There's a big harbour here and we could have got a ferry directly to Stornoway from Ullapool earlier in the week, but that would have meant missing out on the visitng the Isle of Skye. Just outside the centre of Stornoway is Lews Castle. This is a Victorian castle, built from 1844 - 1851 for Sir James Matheson, who had recently purchased the entire Isle of Lewis The castle has some nice grounds, which we were able to stroll around. In particular, from the grounds we had a great view down towards the colourful houses on the waterfront. Exploration of Stornoway complete, it was time to head back to the apartment. What we've seen of the Hebrides has been promising and we're looking forward to exploring further tomorrow
  17. When I checked the forecast for today before going to bed last night, the weather today was supposed to be a mixture of clouds and light rain. But when we opened the curtains this morning, the world seemed to look a bit brighter than we had expected. Overnight, the weather forecast had changed so that it was now predicted to be dry and cloudy for the majority of the day, with rain only after 4pm. After the past few days of rain, we wanted to make the most of any small improvement in the weather so we made a prompt start to the day after breakfast. We'd really enjoyed the views as we'd been walking along the small road outside the cottage last night, but as we started driving down the road again this morning we realised that yesterday we'd actually been missing a key part of the view. We definitely couldn't see those mountains yesterday! The cloud had really lifted this morning and everywhere we went the views were clearer than yesterday. There wasn't a lot of wind for a change and the sea looked really calm too. It would probably have been a great day to take a ferry We were driving towards the Trotternish peninsula, which is the northernmost peninsula of the Isle of Skye. This is where some of the island's most dramatic scenery is located, and it's the part of Skye which everyone wants to visit when they come here. There's a main road which forms a loop around the peninsula and my impression is that a lot of people drive it in an anti-clockwise direction, which is probably the most natural way to go if you're starting from the island's capital Portree as several of the most popular sites are quite close to Portree on the eastern side of the peninsula. We decided to drive around it clockwise, which worked better from the direction we were coming from. It also had the added bonus that we were more likely to be able to park at the first attraction on our list: The Fairy Glen. Everything I'd read about this online indicated that parking was severely limited here and the official Skye website recommended parking in the nearby town of Uig. That would have been a hilly walk of several miles though, so given that it was still quite early in the day we decided to try our luck with getting one of the closer parking spaces. Our luck was in and Tim just managed to squeeze us into a space As soon as we got out of the car, we could see that we were in an unusual landscape. The glen, which is officially called Glen Uig, is full of these strange bumpy little hills. I don't think there is a specific legend about fairies here. I think the location has just become known as "The Fairy Glen" because it looks so otherworldly. It certainly doesn't look like anywhere we've ever been before. A steep path led up from the road, taking us into the centre of the glen. The great thing about being here comparatively early was that we didn't have to share the place with many other people. From the centre of the glen, lots of little paths led upwards over the bumpy hills. The glen is only a small place, but it's really beautiful. The big rocky hill in the centre is known as Castle Ewan, which seems like a strange name. Some people climbed to the top of it, but we didn't fancy that! Instead we admired the views and then, as it began to get a bit busier, walked back down to the car park. There was actually a great view of a waterfall from the car park itself. Leaving the glen behind, we drove back downhill towards Uig. This is the village that we'll be catching the ferry to the Outer Hebrides from tomorrow. Our next destination required driving slightly north and then inland, following a road signposted towards the Quiraing. The Quiraing is another of Skye's really unique landscapes. The unusual shape of the countryside here was apparently formed by a series of landslips. This is another place which is firmly on the tourist trail and the single track road we were following led to a huge parking area, full of cars and motorhomes. Once we started walking though, it was pretty easy to lose people There is a hike of several hours you can do which leads right up to and around the rocks here. We didn't want to do the whole thing, but it was fun to follow the path for a while and enjoy the unusual views. It wasn't just the views of the mountains which were impressive.... ...the views out to sea were pretty good too We probably walked for 15 minutes or so, after which the path got increasingly steep and narrow so we decided to turn back. The views walking back were just as good. Driving back down the road to continue our route around the peninsula was very scenic too. Our next stop was a place called Kilt Rock. This viewpoint is famous for having a rock which (apparently!) looks like a kilt, plus a waterfall called Mealt Falls which pours over the side of it. The waterfall was pretty, but I'm struggling to see how the rock resembles a kilt Not to be confused with Mealt Falls, a little further down the road is a viewpoint called Lealt Falls. There's a viewing platform here which sticks out over a gorge. The waterfall was pretty and there were also some good sea views. Our final planned stop for the day was a few miles further down the road: the Old Man of Storr. There was a huge parking area here and construction work underway to make it even bigger. Storr is one of the most visited places on Skye because it's starred in various films. As you can see from the photos, the clouds were starting to descend again at this point in preparation for the promised late afternoon rain. The views out to sea were still quite clear though. There is a walk of several kilometres which leads all the way up to the famous rocks. It led quite steeply uphill though and we decided not to follow it, because it looked probable that before we got to the top, all the rocks would be covered in mist anyway. Instead we followed a lower level path for a while which gave us some great views of the surrounding area... ...as well as up towards the rocks. By the time we turned around to walk back to the car, they were indeed disappearing into the mist. Itinerary for the day completed, we drove back towards Portree to pick up more supplies from the local Co-op. On the way back from there, we drove through the village of Sligachan again where yesterday we'd taken photos of the old bridge. The low cloud hadn't reached here yet and the change in the view from yesterday was amazing. We could see lots more mountains which hadn't been visible at all yesterday It was a nice end to what has been a really fun day on Skye. I'm so glad we got one day that wasn't completely wet
  18. When we woke up on Skye this morning it was rather damp and misty, but not raining as hard as it had been when we arrived yesterday evening. The rain had been so strong yesterday that we hadn't even taken a photo of the outside of the little cottage that we're staying in. The unpredictability of the weather meant that we didn't have firm plans for today, but we were keen to explore some of the island. We drove towards a village called Dunvegan initially, which is only a few miles up the road from where we're staying. There's supposed to be an impressive castle and gardens there, which we were hoping we might get a view of. Unfortunately, it turned out that that wasn't possible. The castle is closed because of the pandemic and the gardens, which are open, would have been £12 each to go in, which didn't feel like a good use of money! We had a pleasant drive though After Dunvegan, we followed a smaller road towards the Duirinish peninsula. This is the westernmost point of the Isle of Skye. The small road led us to a car park, from where we could walk to a lighthouse on the edge of the peninsula. The surrounding landscape was quite rocky. The path was easy to follow though and mostly a concrete surface, which was actually good given how wet the ground was after yesterday's downpours. As you can probably tell, it was another windy day There were some cliffs here, although they weren't quite as impressive as the ones we saw on Shetland last week. In some ways the landscape was quite reminiscent of Iceland, because it was so dark and black. After about half an hour of walking, we caught sight of the lighthouse in the distance. This is Neist Point lighthouse, which was built in 1909. Once we'd finished admiring it, it was time to climb back up to the car. On a clear day you can apparently see the Outer Hebrides from here, but that clearly wasn't going to be possible today! Our next plan was to drive to a place known as the "Fairy Pools". These are a series of little waterfalls which fall into beautiful rocky blue pools and they're one of the most visited locations on the Isle of Skye. We found the car park without too much difficulty, situated in what looks like it must be a stunning valley if it wasn't quite so misty. We paid to park but were warned by the car park attendant that we would get our feet a bit wet if we decided to walk to the pools. We set off down the path towards the start of the walk to see what he meant. A gravel path led us down towards a river, which itself contained a couple of waterfalls. Not quite the fairy pools, but as close as we were destined to get. The path to the pools involved crossing the river via stepping stones. All the rain yesterday meant that the stepping stones were currently below the water and this was the sight which greeted us of people trying to cross We didn't fancy getting our feet this wet - and it looked like it could actually be dangerous if you fell in - so we decided to retrace our steps back up to the car park. We made our way back to the main road and drove to a place called Sligachan. The weather looked like it might be brightening up slightly and we could even see the smallest bit of blue sky behind this mountain. Sligachan is famous for its old bridge and on a clear day there are supposed to be fantastic views from here. It obviously wasn't a clear day today, but it's still a really pretty location. And there was certainly a lot of water in the river after yesterday's rain. From Sligachan we took the main road to Portree, the capital of the island, where we wanted to stock up on some provisions. Once we'd completed our shopping trip we put the postcode of the cottage into our Sat Nav, expecting it to take us back via the main road. Instead, the Sat Nav came up with a presumably slightly shorter route which took us on a single track road through the mountains. It was quite wild, but there were some beautiful views. Once we got back to the cottage we had a late lunch and then decided to go out for a stroll around the area where we're staying. We can't see the sea from the cottage, but it isn't very far away. The cottage we're staying in is the little white building in this photo. The coast around here is absolutely beautiful, with tiny little islands dotted in the sea. There's plenty of wildlife too. We passed some cows... ...a field full of geese... ...and plenty of sheep. It was still drizzling a bit, but great that the weather had brightened up enough for us to be able to see the view We walked for a couple of miles before turning around and heading back to the cottage and a log fire for the evening The weather doesn't necessarily look much better for tomorrow, but we're going to try to make the best of it.
  19. The weather forecast for today had predicted prolonged heavy rain across the entire Scottish Highlands, and sure enough when we woke up in Ullapool this morning that did indeed seem to be the case. It was the sort of morning where you really felt like staying indoors, but we needed to check out of our accommodation by 10am and we also had a fair bit of ground to cover today, so we had no choice but to venture out into the rain. We were driving south from Ullapool, through a very remote and sparsely populated part of Scotland, on a route which ought to have had amazing views. Sadly, it was so misty and cloudy that it felt like we were probably going to miss most of them. I had also hoped that we would be able to stop at some beautiful National Trust gardens near Poolewe, which we'd visited last time we were in this part of the country in June 2011, but this was most definitely not the sort of weather that you wanted to be walking around a garden in. We decided to change our plans and visit a National Trust waterfall at a place called Corrieshalloch Gorge instead. Corrieshalloch Gorge is only about 12 miles away from Ullapool and it was in the direction that we wanted to drive in anyway, so off we went. We hadn't been driving for very long when to our surprise, we caught sight of a completely different waterfall by the side of the road. It looked dramatic enough that it was worth making a u-turn and finding somewhere to park and take a closer look. After that diversion, it was only a few miles until we got to the car park for Corrieshalloch Gorge. A path led down from the car park towards the waterfall. The path took us down to a gorge, with a narrow bridge across it. From the bridge we could look down the gorge and see two separate waterfalls pouring down into it. The gorge itself was impressive and the water beneath us was flowing very fast. I was a bit underwhelmed by the waterfalls, which seemed a bit on the thin side. I noticed that there was a viewing platform sticking out from the side of the gorge though, so we decided to walk towards that. Once we got to the viewing platform, all became clear! The bridge we'd been standing on was across the top of the main waterfall This view was a lot more impressive (even if a bit damp). We walked back up to the bridge and I realised we could see the water rushing down from the top of the waterfall. Once we'd finished admiring the waterfall, we got back in the car and continued on our route, through some beautiful countryside towards Poolewe. It was definitely too wet to stop in the gardens there but we were starting to feel hungry after last night's microwave meals, so we decided to stop in the nearby village of Gairloch in the hope of getting an early lunch. Gairloch was a pretty small place, but we followed a sign towards a hotel which looked like it was open and serving food. Luckily it was indeed open and we ordered two big meals. Tim had a the roast beef... ...while I went for the steak. We finished it off with cheesecake; mine was Baileys and chocolate, while Tim's was raspberry ripple. Gairloch looked like it would be a pretty little place if it wasn't pouring with rain. Unfortunately, it was still extremely wet though! After Gairloch, the drive continued to be extremely scenic. We drove past lochs... ...and mountains too. Everywhere was very atmospheric in the mist, but it would have been amazing in the sunshine. The rain didn't let up at any point and as the day wore on there were more and more instances where we just saw water pouring off the mountainsides on the road. Eventually we reached a small place called Kyle of Lochalsh, from where there is a bridge across to the Isle of Skye. Islands with bridges might be the best sort of islands We then had to drive a fair way across Skye to the small place called Harlosh where we are staying for the next few nights. The accommodation here is really nice. We've got a comfy bedroom... ...a spacious living room... ...and most importantly, a proper kitchen Now all we have to do is hope that at some point it stops raining!
  20. The crossing from Shetland was indeed quite rough last night and I was glad that I had invested in some seasickness tablets before I went on holiday, just in case. They seemed to work really well and I felt absolutely fine (unlike most of the other passengers!) even when the ferry was crashing against waves so strong that it was difficult to stand up. The waves did become a bit less violent after Fair Isle as promised, although it wasn't until we started getting closer to the coast of Orkney that the sea truly became calm. We arrived in Kirkwall shortly before 11pm and promptly drove the couple of miles to the hotel we were staying at in the town centre. At £130 for a night, this hotel was definitely well above my normal holiday budget, but I had chosen it on the basis that it was one out of only two hotels in Kirkwall which said they had a 24-hour reception. Reception was indeed still open when we arrived. We checked in and found that the room was perfectly nice, but I'm not sure it was worth £130! We got up this morning and attempted to get our money's worth out of breakfast, before setting out to drive across to Stromness on the opposite side of Orkney's Mainland. That journey only took 15 minutes or so and so shortly after 10am we were checking in for our boat back to the real Scottish mainland at Stromness ferry terminal. I was rather concerned when, during the check-in process, we were handed the following piece of paper. Personally I had thought that yesterday's crossing was quite rough, but we hadn't been given a piece of paper warning us about it. Did that mean that today's crossing was going to be worse?! I spent the next 45 minutes or so until we were able to board panicking slightly Happily, in the end it turned out not to be too bad. There were definitely some big waves, but I don't think the sea was rougher than it was on the journey from Lerwick last night. It was a bright sunny day as we left Orkney and we got another view of the sea stack, the Old Man of Hoy, in the distance as the boat pulled out. Tim took a video out on deck to try and capture what the big waves were like. We did reach the port of Scrabster, just outside Thurso, about an hour behind schedule in the end, so perhaps that was the reason they'd given us the paper warning about delays in Stromness. Although we were now back on dry land, our journey for the day was only partially complete. We still had a significant amount of driving to do before we reached our ultimate destination of Ullapool for the night. We were driving across the north coast of Scotland as far as the village of Durness, which is essentially as far northwest as you can drive, before turning south towards Ullapool. The views as we did so were fantastic. Although we were technically driving along a main A road, in mainly places the route was only a single track. That meant it was often slow progress, as we had to keep pulling into passing places to allow vehicles coming the other way to get past us. The road felt a lot busier than when we'd driven along here before in 2010 and 2011, and in particular there were a lot more caravans and camper vans. That's because, since we were last here, the road has become part of a tourist attraction called NC500 (North Coast 500), a scenic 500-mile route around the north of Scotland, designed by the tourism authorities to bring more visitors to this remote part of the country. They certainly seem to have succeeded, to the extent that when we ultimately reached Durness we found that there weren't any parking spaces left and we couldn't actually stop. It was still a beautiful drive, well worth doing though And we still managed to get a glimpse of the golden sands on this part of the coast, even if we weren't able to park and walk down to them this time. Once we'd passed Durness and began to drive south towards Ullapool, the weather took a turn for the worse. We still had some great views, but it was clearly becoming cloudier. The weather looked quite threatening over the mountains in the distance. By the time we reached Ullapool it was properly pouring with rain. There appears to be a yellow weather warning for rain over this part of Scotland tomorrow, so I don't think things are going to get any brighter! We found the apartment I'd booked and checked in without any difficulties, although it's a bit of an unusual one. We've got quite a large living area... ...plus two bedrooms like this (and a bathroom), but no kitchen; there's just a microwave and a fridge in the corner of the living room. It's fine for one night though and accommodation is so difficult to come by in Ullapool that at the point I booked it was a choice between this or two single rooms in a hotel! The apartment is on the edge of town and once we'd settled in we decided to walk towards the centre in search of somewhere to get dinner. Rather than walk along the main road, we followed a sign for a riverside path. There was certainly a lot of water in the river! Within 10 minutes or so we were in the town centre. We remembered from the previous times we've visited that Ullapool is in a really pretty location It doesn't have much in the way of eating establishments though and I think the fact that it was a Saturday night, combined with the facts that capacity is reduced due to social distancing and some places weren't fully open, meant that we failed to get into a restaurant. Never mind, we had passed a Tesco on the walk in so we adopted plan B of picking up some ready meals to microwave in the living room Not a very glamorous end to what has otherwise been a fun day!
  21. The weather forecast hadn't looked great for today and when we woke up this morning we could hear the wind howling and the rain pouring down outside. We decided to make a relaxed start to the morning and go to get breakfast at the Fjara cafe where we'd eaten on Wednesday morning. It felt like longer than that since we'd arrived on Shetland! The view from the car park outside the cafe was still pretty, but the sea looked a lot choppier than it had yesterday. Typical when we have a ferry crossing this evening Breakfast was just as good as it had been on Wednesday and by the time we'd finished eating, it looked like the weather might be starting to clear up. We had plenty of time before checking in for our ferry to Kirkwall at 16.30, so we decided to start by driving down to Sumburgh on the southern tip of the island again. We enjoyed seeing the views again, although the sea looked pretty choppy here too. As we were driving back down from the lighthouse at Sumburgh, we caught sight of an amazing rainbow above the airport. It looked even more beautiful above the beach. Our main plan for the day was to drive to the northwestern peninsula of Northmavine. As ever on Shetland, wherever we drove the views were wonderful. In some places the weather still looked quite dark and cloudy... ...but overall the day was brighter than the forecast had led me to believe. The Eshaness peninsula is famous for its cliffs and it wasn't long before we started getting views which suggested that we were heading in the right direction. We drove through a heavy burst of rain as we followed the signposts towards Eshaness, but once we got to the car park things were looking sunny again. First impressions were that the cliffs were indeed very impressive. A signpost directed us to a coastal walk around the top of the cliffs. It was quite windy, but the wind was blowing us away from the cliffs rather than towards them, so we were able to get close enough for some good photos I thought the path might be short, but actually we were able to walk for a really long way. The route led us all the way around this large rocky inlet. From here we could see back up to the Eshaness lighthouse where we'd started. From here the path continued far into the distance along the cliff tops. The views were really stunning As we walked we also passed numerous pretty little lakes like this one. Overall the ground was quite boggy, so we were glad that we'd changed into walking boots. We turned a corner and saw more amazing views. It was hard to resist taking photograph after photograph. The waves in the sea were absolutely incredible.... ...as was the white water swirling beneath these cliffs. The sky was a bright shade of blue now so the colour of the water was gorgeous, but I was hoping that the waves might calm down a bit before it was time for us to board the ferry to Orkney It was tempting to just keep following the path indefinitely. It was mid afternoon by this point though so I knew that sometime soon we were going to have to turn around. Cliff top walks are beautiful, but they're not circular When we did start walking back towards the lighthouse car park, we noticed that the sky was looking greyer. Somehow the weather managed to turn from brilliant sunshine to violent hailstorm within five minutes, and we got completely soaked on the journey back! Never mind, it was a wonderful walk and a great end to our time on Shetland Tim turned up the heating in the car to help us dry out and we began driving back towards Lerwick. Looking at the views now, you wouldn't know that it had ever rained! We arrived back in Lerwick around 16.30, just on time to check in for the ferry which set sail on schedule at 17.30. The journey back to Kirkwall seems to be slightly shorter than the journey out, so we'll be arriving on Orkney around 11pm this evening. The captain warned that the sea might be rough as far as Fair Isle, but so far it doesn't feel as rough as the weather we had on the way from Scrabster to Stromness the other day We're staying overnight tonight in a hotel in Kirkwall, before driving across to Stromness tomorrow morning and taking the ferry back to the mainland to continue our journey around the north of Scotland.
  22. When we first planned our trip to Shetland, our intention was to stay on the Mainland island. But when we were killing time in a bar in Kirkwall on Tuesday night, the barman recommended to us that we try visiting two of the other islands, Yell and Unst, explaining that it was really easy to get across to them on the ferry. Once we were settled into our apartment in Lerwick last night, we started doing a bit of research on the ferries to see whether the journey really would be doable. Some of the details were a bit confusing, in particular the timetables, but it did look like it ought to be possible to travel from Lerwick all the way to the top of Unst and back again as a day trip. The ferries between the islands are run by the local Shetlands Council and the fares seemed pretty reasonable, with a return fare from Mainland to Unst via Yell costing just £20.30 for the pair of us, plus the car. Effectively you are only charged for the first journey from Mainland to Yell, and you would only be charged for the journey from Yell to Unst if you hadn't originally travelled from Mainland that day. One critical point we picked up from the internet though was that the fare can only be paid in cash and no change is given, so you need the correct amount. We didn't have any cash on us at all, having used up the small amount we did have in paying various car parking charges, so after breakfast we set out into the centre of Lerwick to try and find a cashpoint. The centre of Lerwick turned out to be really pretty. This was the main street, but it didn't feel very busy. We found a bank without too much difficulty and got the cash we needed. We then needed to find a shop to break one of the notes in; we'd taken out £30 so with the fare being £20.30 and the ferry not giving change, we needed to acquire some coins too. That wasn't the simplest of tasks, as it seemed like most places in Lerwick didn't open until 10am, but we managed to find a post office and break £10 buying some chocolate. With that sorted, we got in the car and drove north across the Mainland island. The ferry to Yell leaves from a place called Toft in the northern part of the Mainland island. Unfortunately, when we put Toft into our Sat Nav we got zero results (which has been the case with several places on Orkney and Shetland). But there really aren't that many roads around here and the main routes are pretty well signposted, so we managed to make our way towards Toft without any difficulties regardless. It was another very scenic drive We arrived at Toft having just missed a ferry at 10.45. Luckily, the crossing to Yell is quite short (around 20 minutes) so we didn't have long to wait before another ferry arrived. We had been quite confused on the local website about whether you needed to book a place in advance on the ferry or not, but when we arrived at the ferry terminal it all seemed quite simple. There were separate lanes to queue in, depending on whether you were booked or unbooked. The booked vehicles were then allowed to board the ferry first, with the unbooked vehicles following. There was plenty of room for all and, because the crossing was so short, everyone remained in their vehicles throughout, ready to drive straight off the ferry again once we reached the other side. It was around 11.30 when we arrived on Yell. This is the second largest of the Shetland islands, around 19 miles from end to end. The population of the entire island is less than 1,000 people The guidebook had made it clear that Yell wasn't exactly brimming over with sights. Two thirds of the islands is covered in what the author described as "uninspiring peat moorland". There was definitely a lot of that, but we found it quite pretty nevertheless The biggest settlement on the island is the village of Mid Yell. We stopped there on our journey across the island because it was getting close to lunchtime and the guidebook had mentioned that there was a pub here. We had a look but couldn't see any sign of it. We did find a beach though While we were admiring the views, a local came to speak to us and we learned from her that the pub had closed down last year. She recommended that we climb up a bit of a hill outside the town for some better views. It was really pretty up here She also recommended a beach for us to visit but we were keen to press on to Unst, so weren't sure whether we would have time to fit it in. We left Mid Yell behind, driving north across the island to a ferry terminal at a place called Gutcher. We arrived about 5 minutes too late for the 12.35 ferry, which was the final one before a lunchtime pause. Oops With no ferry and also nowhere to have lunch (the closed pub had previously been the only place to eat out on Yell!) it turned out we did now have time to explore the beach. The beach is known as the Sands of Breckon. We parked in a small carpark beside a farm and followed a trail downwards. There was a sign at the start of the walk warning people to stick to the trail as the sand dunes are fragile. We concentrated very hard on sticking to the trail but somehow ended up being on the wrong trail or, at least, on a trail which never quite led us down to the actual beach We did get close enough for some lovely views though Visiting the beach successfully occupied the time until we could catch the 2pm ferry to Unst. This was an even shorter ferry journey, taking only around 10 minutes. Unst is the third largest of the Shetland islands and the most northern inhabited island in the UK. Our aim was to drive across Unst to Hermaness, which is the northernmost headland of the island. It didn't take long before we saw the headland appearing in the distance. On the way we passed more beautiful golden beaches. The quality of beaches on Shetland has really surprised me Progress along the main road to Hermaness was slow at times We made it to the car park in the end though and then walked down towards this white building, which was the visitor centre for the nature reserve which covers the headland. Unfortunately it was closed because of the pandemic, so we had to climb back up the road again. There were some good views of the sea from the bottom though. From the end of the car park a signposted path led upwards onto the moorland. The underlying ground was very wet and boggy, but luckily there was a wooden boardwalk along most of the route. We hoped that the path was leading us towards some cliffs, at which point we would officially be at the most northerly point of Unst. We weren't sure how long it was going to take to get there, though. The path led us up steps... ...and across seemingly endless moors. A certain frisson of excitement was added to the proceedings by the fact that one of the reasons that Hermaness is a nature reserve is because it is home to the world's third largest colony of great skuas. These are large, ground-nesting birds with a nasty habit of diving at the heads of anyone who accidentally gets too close to their nests. I was hoping that they weren't going to be in an aggressive frame of mind given that it was September and any chicks must be long since grown up, but still... The walk was actually only a mile and a half but because it was fairly steeply uphill (105 staircases today!) it felt a lot longer. Finally we made it and got our first view of the cliffs There were some beautiful views of the sea. And it was quite amazing to stand here and know that there is no other land directly north of these rocks. It was definitely exciting to be here We did encounter a couple of other groups of walkers, but overall it felt incredibly remote. Definitely no problems with social distancing here Once we'd finished admiring the views, we had to retrace our steps back to the car. As we did so, we did encounter a few great skuas in the distance. Luckily they didn't seem in the mood to attack! Soon the car was in sight. Then all that remained was to drive back across Unst, take the ferry to Yell, drive across Yell again and back to the mainland, where we might finally get some food! As we were crossing Unst, we passed this unusual site which looked like a Viking village and longboat! We made it back to Lerwick without incident and found an Indian takeaway not far from where we're staying. It's been another exciting day on Shetland Tomorrow is our final day here, with a ferry back to Orkney in the evening followed by a brief overnight stop on Orkney before we return to the Scottish mainland on Saturday.
  23. The sea was quite calm as we left Orkney and I think we both fell asleep fairly quickly, despite the fact that we could hear a chorus of car alarms going off somewhere underneath us. As we were boarding the ferry, one of things we'd been asked to do was to disable the alarm on our car. We weren't sure whether the car had an alarm, much less how to disable it. The helpful staff member had recommended that, if we weren't sure, we should follow a number of steps including leaving the car window slightly open to override the alarm system. At the point at which we were going to sleep, Tim remembered that he'd forgotten one of the steps: leaving the car unlocked. Unfortunately, I didn't think it was allowed to go back down to the car deck once the ferry was in motion, so we just decided to leave it an hope for the best. Shortly after we'd fallen asleep, we were woken up again by someone knocking on our door to tell us that ours was one of the car alarms going off. Oops Luckily the staff member was very helpful and, when Tim explained what had happened, took the keys and went back down to the car deck to unlock the car for us, leaving them behind reception for Tim to collect again in the morning. After all the car alarms had been similarly sorted out, the night was a lot more peaceful! At some point in the early hours of the morning when we were further out to sea, the sea did become a lot rougher and we were both woken up at various points by huge waves. Sleeping on a boat felt harder than sleeping on a train, because the movement of the waves was more unpredictable. But booking the cabin definitely made it possible to get some sleep at least The ferry was due to arrive in Lerwick at 07.30 and I had my alarm set for 7am. That turned out to be unnecessary, because the captain made an announcement at 06.30 to wake everybody up I wasn't terribly impressed at losing some of my intended sleeping time, but once I'd come round a bit I had to admit that it was fun to be able to look out the window of our cabin and get a first glimpse of Shetland. We had a kettle in our cabin so we were able to have a coffee while we enjoyed the view. I also made use of the free onboard Wi-Fi to google "best place to have breakfast in Lerwick" and came up with a place called Fjara Café Bar, just outside the centre of town. We disembarked from the ferry and headed straight there. It turned out to be a really lovely place, with great views out across the water, and the breakfast was so good I decided it was worth taking the overnight ferry just to eat here From the car park outside the cafe, we could see back towards the centre of Lerwick... ...as well as further out down the coast. Because we'd booked this trip at pretty short notice we didn't have firm plans for today, so while we were waiting for our food we spent some time reading the Shetland chapter of the Highlands & Islands guidebook. Having consulted that, we decided to drive west in the first instance, towards the town of Scalloway. The guidebook had said that the views upon approaching the town were spectacular, and indeed they were. We hadn't been on Shetland very long, but we'd already noticed that some of the houses looked far more Scandinavian in style than British. Looking at houses like this, we could easily have been in Iceland or Norway rather than Scotland. It was lovely to see some colourful houses too, because everything in Orkney yesterday had been very, very grey! We parked the car in Scalloway and had a walk around. It felt like a small village, but historically it was the capital of Shetland, losing out to Lerwick in 1708. During the Second World War, Scalloway was the headquarters for an operation known as the "Shetland Bus", which provided support to the resistance movement in occupied Norway. I wouldn't fancy crossing the sea to Norway in a small fishing boat, but technically Shetland is closer to Bergen than London The main landmark in Scalloway is the castle, whose ruins you can see in the picture below. While we were admiring the view towards the castle we got caught in a sudden burst of rain, so we jogged back to the car to move on to our next destination. When reading the guidebook this morning Tim had realised that from Scalloway you can drive across a bridge to another couple of small islands, Trondra and Burra, so that's where we were heading next. The weather brightened up considerably as we were driving along, and by the time we reached the bottom part of Burra the sun was shining. We parked the car in a small car park and followed a signpost towards a beach. This was Meal beach. I'm not quite sure what I expected from Shetland, but it definitely wasn't golden sands like this. It was a really beautiful place to visit Once we were back in the car, we drove back to the main island (also called Mainland!) and began driving south towards the sourthernmost tip of Shetland. We travelled at a slow pace, pausing to take pictures from roadside viewpoints. Away from the one main road, most of the other roads were single track. There wasn't a lot of other traffic though! We were exceptionally lucky with the weather today, getting views out towards smaller, presumably uninhabited islands... ...and also of cliffs on the coast of the main island. Several of the roadside parking places that we stopped in had signs asking people not to litter. At least, we assume that's what they're saying Every time we turned a corner, the views seemed more spectacular. We followed a turning down a small road, which was signposted "Loch of Spiggie". The loch itself didn't seem anything special... ...but the drive to get there had definitely been worth it. We took a diversion to another beautiful sandy beach... ...and then we were almost at Sumburgh Head, right at the bottom of the island. Sumburgh Head Lighthouse is right at the end of the road. The lighthouse itself is closed at the moment because of the pandemic, so we were the only people in the car park. It was worth coming for the views of the sea on both sides The cliffs here were pretty impressive too! In order to get anywhere else we had to retrace our steps pretty much as far as Lerwick. Leaving Sumburgh Head behind, we drove past Shetland's main airport. The road actually crosses the runway here and on the way to the lighthouse we'd had to wait at a level crossing barrier while a plane landed. We still had some time to kill before we were able to check into our apartment at 15.00, so we drove towards the west of the island. We were following a road towards a place called Sandness. There was absolutely nothing there, but the drive to get to it was spectacular. We passed several little lochs... ...mile and miles of countryside covered in heather... ...plus a large quantity of sheep, who had a tendency to wander out across the road! Once we got to Sandness we turned around and returned by the same route to Lerwick. Once in Lerwick we stopped at a small supermarket to stock up on some supplies, then headed to the accommodation to check in. It was another self check-in with key codes, so we managed to sneak in slightly early We're staying here for two nights and have got a lovely apartment. The bedroom has a desk, which has been useful for catching up on the blog And the living room has big windows with an amazing view of the hills behind Lerwick. Our first day on Shetland has been great and I'm definitely looking forward to exploring more tomorrow
  24. My alarm went off at 06.30 this morning, which I think is the earliest I've set it for since lockdown began! Breakfast in the hotel in Thurso was generous, and in fact for me it was probably the best breakfast of the holiday so far because it came complete with "potato scone" (potato cake). We were booked onto the 08.45 ferry to Stromness on Orkney, which was due to depart from the ferry terminal of Scrabster, located a mile or so outside of Thurso. Once we'd finished breakfast we packed up and were on our way. I'd pre-booked the ferry tickets online a couple of weeks ago, so when we arrived at the terminal we just had to show our booking number and we were given our boarding passes. The ferry company recommended checking in an hour in advance of the ferry - and if you don't check in at least 30 minutes in advance then you're not allowed to board - so we then had a bit of time to kill sitting in the car before we were allowed to drive on. Once we had boarded and made our way up onto the passenger deck, we found that the ferry was nice and spacious. Everything was set up well for social distancing, with one-way systems on stairwells and chairs roped off where you weren't allowed to sit. At some point before we set off, a member of staff came walking around the lounges to make everyone was wearing a mask. We were lucky enough to find a nice table seat by a window. The ferry was due to arrive in Stromness at 10.15, so I settled down to what I hoped would be a good 90 minutes catching up on some reading. It was quite a breezy day outside though, and when the captain made his safety announcement prior to us setting off we commented on the fact that we could expect to have "a bit of motion" during the journey. I think this was code for "it's going to be extremely choppy", because that's certainly how it felt after the first 10 minutes or so! The water still felt relatively calm as we pulled out of the harbour and left Thurso behind us. There were some lovely views back towards the north coast as the ferry began to make its way towards Orkney. As we got further out to sea, the waves became a bit bigger, though. Trying to look down and read began to feel like it was an error of judgement, so I went to sit outside and get some fresh air. That turned out to be a bonus, because there were some great views as we approached Orkney. In particular, as we sailed past the island of Hoy (the second largest Orkney island), there was a great view of its famous sea stack, the Old Man of Hoy. The boat arrived promptly in Stromness at 10.15. Stromness, with a population of around 2,200 people, is the second largest settlement on Orkney. The largest town, with a population of over 9,000, is Kirkwall. Of the two towns, the guidebook had indicated that Stromness was by far the most attractive. It certainly looked like a picturesque little place. We parked the car not far from the ferry terminal and got out for a stroll around. Leaving the harbour behind us, one of the first things we came across was this statue of the Arctic explorer, John Rae, who was born on Orkney in 1813. Walking past the statue, we found ourselves on the main street of Stromness. Calling it a main street makes it sound grander than it was As we followed it along we got glimpses of the sea in the gaps between the houses. The weather forecast hadn't been too good for today, but so far Orkney seemed sunnier than I'd expected. It was nice to stretch our legs after being on the boat, but it didn't take long for us to realise we would soon be in danger of walking out of Stromness entirely. We turned around and retraced our steps back to the main town centre. I'd planned a last minute Orkney road-trip itinerary for today, mainly based on recommendations from the Rough Guide. There was lots to see, so once we were back in the centre of Stromness, we retrieved the car and put our first destination into the Sat Nav. We actually got sidetracked on the way to the first destination when we saw a signpost to a lochside viewpoint. This is the loch of Stenness, which is the deepest loch on Orkney. Just around the corner from the viewpoint was the place we had been heading to: the Stones of Stenness. There are lots of ancient sites on Orkney and these standing stones are estimated to be 5,000 years old, which may make them the oldest henge site in the British Isles. On the one hand, they're not quite as impressive as Stonehenge On the other hand, you can walk right up to them, which you definitely can't do at Stonehenge. Stenness was just the warm-up though, because a mile or so down the road is the Ring of Brodgar, a much larger neolithic stone circle. There are thought to have been 60 stones here originally, although only 27 remain standing today. The stones are believed to have been erected some time between 2500 and 2000 BC. You can't get right up close to them like at Stenness, but there's a circular path which leads all the way around. This is one of the most popular sites on Orkney, but it wasn't at all busy today As you can see from the pictures, we almost had the place to ourselves. Once we'd finished admiring the stones, we got back in the car to drive a bit further along the west coast of the island towards a place called Yesnaby. We were on the biggest of the Orkney islands, known as "Mainland", and the plan was to drive around as much of it as possible today. The Rough Guide had recommended Yesnaby as a place worth stopping to see impressive cliffs and rock formations. We parked the car in what felt like quite a desolate location and began walking along the cliff-top path. It wasn't long before we came across some enormous cliffs. It was one of those days when I wished I'd retained more information from geography lessons, to remember how all these different structures were formed. Looking at the water here, you could see why the boat had felt a bit choppy this morning! The sea was beautiful, but some of the waves were really high. We walked further along the coast and passed some rather stripy rocks. The path involved climbing over a rather difficult stile. Tim thought my attempts to get across were hilarious After the stile the path led us through a grassy area where we had some amazing views down towards the cliffs. Watching the waves crashing, I was starting to feel a bit nervous about another 8 hours on the ferry tonight to Shetland! It's always fun to watch the sea, but it's slightly less fun when you know you're going to be sailing on it in another few hours As you can probably tell from the photos, it was a rather blustery day. We could have stayed and watched the waves for hours, but it was after 1pm and we were starting to feel a bit peckish. We followed the road around the top of the island, towards the town of Kirkwall. We found a nice restaurant to have lunch in and then set out for a stroll around the town. The guidebook had suggested that the only thing worth seeing in Kirkwall was the cathedral. This is St Magnus Cathedral, the most northerly cathedral in the UK. Construction on it started in 1137, at which point Orkney belonged to Norway. Across the road from the cathedral we found the remains of the palace where the local bishops used to live. The site was technically closed today, but we were able to have a bit of a wander round and get some photos anyway. After Kirkwall, the plan was to explore the Deerness peninsula in the eastern part of the Mainland island. The main attraction in this part of Orkney is something known as "The Gloup". The guidebook described it as a collapsed sea cave. I'm not sure I really understand how it was formed, but it's certainly a large hole in the ground What I hadn't realised from the guidebook was that, once we were parked on the Deerness peninsula, there was also a nice walk we could do along by the sea. And the good news was that the sea was looking a lot calmer here As at Yesnaby, there were some really interesting cliffs. We could have walked further, but after a mile or so it started to rain so we turned around to head back to the car. Deerness was the final destination on my route around the mainland island. But, thanks to a series of causeways known as the Churchill Barriers (which were built in the 1940s as part of a system of naval defences), we were able to drive further south across a series of smaller islands onto the island of South Ronaldsay. Unfortunately the weather had taken a turn for the worse at this point, so we didn't get much of a view as we crossed the causeways for the first time, and by the time we reached the bottom of South Ronaldsay, the rain was torrential. We parked the car up for a bit until the worst of the storm passed, and then began retracing our steps back up towards Kirkwall. It was still a bit damp on the way back, but the views were better The causeways are at the edge of a body of water known as Scapa Flow, which was the site of an important Royal Navy base during the first and second world wars. All kinds of ships have sunk here, including a significant part of the German navy which was scuttled in Scapa Flow after defeat in the First World War. The remains of some ships are still visible above water today, although we hadn't read up on this subject enough to know exactly what we were looking at. By the time we had got back across the causeways, the sun was just starting to set. The ferry to Shetland wasn't due to depart until 23.45, and although we could check in up to two hours in advance, that still left us with a few hours to kill. We parked the car in Kirkwall and went for another walk. The cathedral looked really pretty lit up at night We found a bar to sit in and I made a start on the blog, but I only got partway through before it was time for us to be off on our way again. The ferry terminal for Shetland is situated a couple of miles outside Kirkwall, on the edge of an industrial estate, so it's not quite as scenic a location as the harbour in Stromness. The boat was due to arrive around 11pm, but we were warned at the point we checked in that there was a lot of freight to be loaded on and off. That all had to be completed before the cars were allowed on, so it was closer to 11.30 by the time we were allowed to board. We had booked a cabin for the night and I was pleasantly surprised by how nice it was. I think we've had hotel rooms in Iceland and Norway which weren't much bigger than this We settled down to sleep, hoping for a calm sea
  25. The weather wasn't forecast to be quite as good today as yesterday and when we woke up in Culloden this morning, it did look a bit stormy outside. We had a relaxed start to the morning, checking out some time after 10am. Our ultimate aim for the day was to drive as far north as Thurso, but the Highlands and Islands guidebook didn't talk about many attractions on Scotland's eastern coast and our memory from our 2010 roadtrip was that there wasn't necessarily a lot to see. We therefore started out by driving in the wrong direction, taking the scenic road through the mountains towards Fort Augustus which we had first driven along last time we were in Scotland, when we were actually looking for Loch Ness. On that occasion we'd done a really scenic walk to a small loch and we thought that was something which it would be fun to repeat. We had been really lucky with the weather last time we were in this part of the world though and when we got out of the car at the viewpoint today, we were taken aback by how strong the wind was. The plastic bag that Tim was keeping his walking boots in blew away before we could do anything about it! It wasn't actually raining though, so we decided to give the path a try anyway. The clouds were quite low, but we still had a view towards the first lake which we'd seen last time. Even without the sunshine, the mountains here were beautiful. The wind was absolutely incredible though, as you can probably tell from the state of my hair in this photo In the end we decided it was just too strong and we risked being blown off a hillside if we climbed too high. We decided to turn around and walk back down to the car. Our second planned stop for the day was the village of Cromarty, which is situated to the north of Inverness, on the shores of the Cromarty Firth. The guidebook, which had been very critical of Pitlochry yesterday, waxed lyrical about Cromarty and more or less described it as the only place worth stopping on the east coast. When we arrived there around lunchtime and got out of the car, we were a bit confused about why! There was a nice view of the sea in one direction... ...but if you looked the other way, the sea was full of these kind of industrial structures which I assume are something to do with the oil industry. We had a bit of stroll beside the sea anyway... ...and found Cromarty's lighthouse. Personally I think I preferred Pitlochry! We did find a nice hotel where we were able to get lunch though, and like everywhere in Scotland they seemed to be taking their Covid-19 measures very seriously. Not that there were many other tourists in Cromarty for us to try and distance from After lunch we had another walk around the little streets of the village, some of which in fairness were very picturesque. The main thing which Cromarty seems to be famous for is being the birthplace of Hugh Miller. There was an info board in the car park which indicated a Hugh Miller trail to follow with vast numbers of points of interest. Neither of us had ever heard of Hugh Miller, so I had to resort to googling him over lunch and found out that he was a famous Scottish geologist who was born in Cromarty in 1802. We didn't walk around the entire Hugh Miller trail, but we did stumble across the Hugh Miller Institute. Most roads in Cromarty lead to the sea and so it wasn't long before we were back in the vicinity of the car park. Then it was time to put John O'Groats in our Sat Nav and start driving north The drive along the east coast was actually a lot prettier than I expected. Although it wasn't exactly a sunny day, it was lovely to be beside the sea After the detours we'd taken, it was around 6pm by the time we made it to John O'Groats. It's not as commercialised as Land's End is, but there also isn't a whole lot to see. The main attraction, of course, is the John O'Groats signpost and it was particularly exciting to see the distances to Orkney and Shetland, given that those are the next two destinations for our trip What I didn't realise before I first came here in 2010 is that John O'Groats isn't actually the most northerly point of mainland Britain. Instead I think it's the most northeasterly inhabited point, so the journey from Land's End to John O'Groats is the longest possible journey between two inhabited points on the mainland. The honour of being the most northerly point on the British mainland falls to the peninsula of Dunnet Head, which was a drive of a further 12 miles or so from John O'Groats. As well as a lighthouse, there's a path down to a viewpoint where you can see some impressive cliffs. As you can see, the weather was still a bit windy though From Dunnet Head we only had another 10 miles or so to drive to the nearby town of Thurso, where we're spending a night in a hotel. The room is nice although the heating was on full blast at the point we arrived, so it's currently a bit warm. Tomorrow we'll have a fairly early start to catch the ferry from the nearby port of Scrabster across to Stromness on Orkney. We'll then have a whole day to spend exploring Orkney, before ultimately catching the overnight ferry to Shetland. Tomorrow's blog may be delayed until we reach Shetland, depending on whether we find anywhere we can sit and use Wi-Fi on Orkney, but hopefully we'll have some adventures to report when we do blog
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