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About Me

Found 11 results

  1. Breakfast was included in the price of the hotel we were staying at in Hawick last night, so we made the most of it this morning; both to get our money's worth and because we weren't sure when we would next find food. We had another fairly long day of driving ahead of us today, ultimately travelling to the ferry port at Ardrossan, from where we were due to catch a ferry to the Isle of Arran in the evening. Ardrossan is just under a 3 hour drive from Hawick if you go directly, but we weren't in a hurry and decided to take the more scenic route, with a diversion to visit Culzean Castle. The route which the SatNav ultimately took us on was very scenic indeed, initially taking us on small mountain roads through the Borders, where we had to keep our eyes out for sheep on the road. At one point a hare ran across the road in front of us and another time we saw something small that looked like a stoat. It was quite an adventure! As we got further across Scotland the roads became bigger and we eventually arrived at Culzean Castle sometime just around 1pm, after about 3 hours of driving. We've been to Culzean Castle twice before - once in 2010 and once in 2011 - when we were driving around Scotland, but we didn't have a blog back then. It's a National Trust for Scotland property and so we were able to get in for free with our English membership cards. The unique thing about Culzean is that it's right by the sea, so it wasn't long before we had some lovely views. It was a bit hazy today, but not raining at least Culzean is set in quite a large estate and there are various signposted walks which you can follow. We started following one known as the "Lion path", which led us past this ruined gate. Through here is the entrance to the main castle itself. We abandoned the trail after a while and started exploring the walled garden instead. There were some really pretty flowers here... ...and some slightly scary-looking vegetables! I always imagine walled gardens as being small, but this one was quite extensive. We did a complete loop around the edges of it... ...and I was surprised to find when we reached the far corner that there were even some palm trees here Some of them were really quite big! After the walled garden, our next stop was the Swan Pond. There is a trail which you can follow all the way around the pond, but we were looking for the start of a different trail, called the Dolphin Trail. The Dolphin trail was described as a coastal path, which sounded like a lot of fun. We found the signposts for it and soon had some great views out across the sea. There were some nice beaches in places, although at other times the smell of seaweed was quite strong! The signs for the trail were a bit confusing and we had initially walked in the opposite direction to the one I'd expected, which meant we ultimately came round in a loop and had to try the path again, walking in the other direction. In this direction the path was a bit more wooded. There were still some great views though. The path eventually brought us back around to the front of the castle. The grounds here were lovely too. We didn't go inside the castle; I suspect the best views are probably from the outside. Instead we followed a continuation of the Dolphin trail, which took us right down to the sea. As we walked along the beach we had some brilliant views back towards the castle. From there it was quite a steep climb up, back towards the car park. We had been going to get a snack at Culzean, but it was quite busy because of Father's Day and there was a huge queue for the cafe. We decided instead to drive in the general direction of Ardrossan, in the hope of finding somewhere to get a late lunch/early dinner. When we'd been looking at the map earlier, we'd identified Kilmarnock as a fairly big town on our route which might have restaurant options. Unfortunately, finding something to eat once again turned out to be a bit problematic. We tried stopping at what looked like a large pub/restaurant outside Kilmarnock, but were told that they had no free tables until 8pm When we drove into Kilmarnock itself, first impressions were that it looked rather run-down. We were greeted by a sign informing us that Kilmarnock was "Scotland's most improved town", but it looked like there might still be quite a lot of room for improvement! We ended up eating at a drive-through McDonalds, which may not have been quite what we'd planned but it was at least very filling Once we'd eaten we set off towards Ardrossan, where the ferry terminal for Arran is located. We had a bit of a wait until it was time to check in for our ferry. The tickets say that the last check-in was 19.30, with the ferry due to depart at 20.00, but when we got to the ferry terminal some time after 19.00 there was no one there. The ferry itself eventually turned up shortly after 19.30 and we were waved aboard. It's only a fairly short journey to Arran so I wasn't sure whether this was going to be one of those ferries where you're not allowed to leave your car. But it turned out that it was one where we were allowed up on deck, which was nice It was still quite bright outside and so we had some lovely views as we sailed closer to Arran. As you can see in the pictures, the sea was lovely and calm today so it was a very smooth crossing. The ferry pulled into Brodick, the main town on the Isle of Arran, at 20.55. From there we had a short drive across the island to the small village of Blackwaterfoot where we are staying. We pulled over to look at the beautiful views, then realised the hotel we're staying in is actually just across the road. I booked the hotel at quite short notice and chose it purely on the basis that there were two hotels on Arran with vacancies and this was the only one out of the two which served breakfast. It turns out to have been a really good pick, because this is the view from our bedroom window It's exciting to be on a new island and we're definitely looking forward to exploring more of Arran tomorrow.
  2. This is a holiday which has been planned completely at the last minute. I handed in my notice three months ago and yesterday was my final day at work. It wasn't finalised until quite recently that I would be able to finish yesterday and take the coming week off as holiday and that uncertainty, combined with the general uncertainty caused by Covid, meant that we hadn't booked anything in advance. I only starting looking at possible destinations on Monday night and it was Tuesday/Wednesday before I was actually making plans and bookings. But we do now have a plan and quite an exciting one, which involves visiting several new Scottish islands. We really enjoyed the islands we visited in Scotland last year, so hoping that this trip will be equally fun. The first step for today was just to get as far as Scotland and so I booked a hotel room to stay overnight in Hawick, which is fast on its way to becoming our most-visited Scottish town! While there isn't anything particularly exciting in Hawick itself to necessarily merit coming here so many times, it's in a really convenient location and around 260 miles from Nuneaton, which is about the limit that feels reasonable to travel north in one day. With so many trips to Northumberland and/or Scotland since the pandemic started, I've been running out of ideas for places to stop en route. There are plenty of National Trust places that look interesting, but you still have to book a slot on weekends and it's prohibitively difficult to predict what half hour slot you might arrive somewhere in when travelling such long distances. After a bit of googling for non-National Trust places on Wednesday night, I came up with the suggestion of stopping at a place called Aysgarth Falls in the Yorkshire Dales national park. It was in the right general direction, just a slight diversion from the A1M, and it looked really pretty in photos. We didn't start packing until this morning, so it was around 11am before we left home and probably about 2pm when we pulled up at the car park for the falls. Unfortunately, in what seems to be becoming a bit of a theme for this year's travels, the car park was completely full and, with numerous other people circling round trying to find places to park, there didn't seem to be much chance of finding a space. Slightly disappointed, we drove back up the small road we'd come down to the main road where we had just driven past what looked to be a pub serving food. I thought perhaps that if we had lunch now, by the time we'd finished eating then the car park might have calmed down a bit and we'd have more luck getting a space. This seemed like a good plan, but we made the cardinal error of committing to going into a pub and being allocated a table without actually seeing what was on the menu When the menu arrived it was.... limited. There were only four main options for lunch, of which the only one I could conceivably stand a chance of eating was a steak and mushroom pie. I wasn't wildly enthusiastic about this, but figured I could probably pick the mushrooms out and it was definitely the best available option. Tim asked for mine to come without the unspecified vegetables mentioned on the menu and to swap what looked like very chunky chips for skinny fries. Unfortunately, the day continued to go not quite according to plan when the kitchen was out of skinny fries. Tim negotiated for me to have bread instead, which seemed to cause great commotion in the kitchen and necessitate two further trips to our table by the waitress, first to ask whether I wanted sliced bread or homemade bread, and secondly to ask whether I wanted white or brown Eventually the food came and the pie hugely surpassed my expectations; the meat was really nice and I didn't find a single mushroom in it! The bread was very nice too, although slightly bizarrely after all the fuss of asking me whether I wanted white or brown and me asking for white, I got a mixture of both types. This had all taken quite some time, so by the time we'd also had pudding and then settled up, it was nearly 4pm and I was feeling optimistic that the car park for the waterfalls ought to have quietened down a bit. We drove back down the road and the good news was that there were indeed now a handful of spaces available We parked and started following a sign posted trail towards the Middle and Lower Falls. There are three parts to the waterfalls, with the Upper Falls being the smallest. It felt like we only had to walk a few hundred metres from the car park before we reached the Middle Falls. This time last week we had been in Wales, visiting the enormous waterfall at Pistyll Rhaeadr. This one didn't seem quite as impressive, although the view was perhaps slightly better from a distance. After another 10 minutes or so of walking, we came to the Lower Falls. Initially we saw them from a distance... ...and then we were able to climb down onto the rocks and get a closer view. From here we could look down the River Ure in one direction... ...and get a close-up of the falls in the other direction. Perhaps our waterfall expectations are just too high, but overall we found them a bit underwhelming and decided to give walking to the even smaller Upper Falls a miss! Instead, we got back in the car and drove onwards for another couple of hours towards Hawick. It actually turned out to be an unexpectedly scenic drive, because rather than taking us back to the A1M, the SatNav drove us through the Yorkshire Dales national park and across into Cumbria, before taking us over the border into Scotland. With arranging the holiday at such short notice, I'd been struggling to find accommodation even in Hawick, which normally has a reasonable amount of options to choose from. We're therefore staying for tonight in a fairly small hotel with a random extra bed in the room Tomorrow should be more exciting as we are driving further north to the town of Ardrossan, where we are catching a ferry to the Isle of Arran. Unfortunately, the ferries were also really booked up at such short notice, so it will be a long day; I think it will be around 21.30 by the time we are finally checking into our hotel on the island.
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. 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!
  6. 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
  7. 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
  8. We had a relaxed start to the morning in Hawick before setting off on what would be a long journey home. As with yesterday, we didn't necessarily want to travel by the most direct route, and instead had planned what we hoped would be a scenic diversion. Our diversion meant that, when we left Hawick, rather than driving south we actually drove slightly northeast toward the Northumbrian coast. In total it was a journey of around 50 miles on small roads, but it was extremely scenic as we travelled around the edge of the Northumberland National Park. Our destination was the small village of Bamburgh, which is famous for its historic castle. We knew we were getting close when we saw this view on the horizon. What we hadn't realised was that Bamburgh was an incredibly popular tourist destination. Having driven for miles through Northumbria hardly encountering a single soul, it was a surprise to arrive in Bamburgh and find it packed to bursting. It was so busy that, after several attempts at driving around the castle car park in search of a space, we decided to give up and see whether the Sat Nav could direct us to another car park. The Sat Nav identified that there was another car park about 2 miles away, so we decided to give that a go. We found it without any difficulty, but it turned out to be located on the edge of the Lindesfarne Nature Reserve and it would have been a difficult walk back into the village along a main road. We got out of the car to take a brief look at the view, before jumping back in and driving back towards Bamburgh. On our second attempt in Bamburgh we got lucky and Tim managed to find an empty space along the main road. We parked and got out for a stroll. The village itself is extremely pretty. The church of St Aidan's was originally built here in 635, although the present church dates from the 12th century. But the most impressive thing about Bamburgh is definitely the castle. A Celtic fort was originally built here in the fifth century, coming under the control of the Anglo-Saxons in 590. At this point the settlement was known as Bebbanburg rather than Bamburgh. The fortress was ultimately conquered and destroyed by the Vikings, but the Normans later built a castle on the same site and the origins of the present day castle stem from that time. Earlier this year we'd been watching a DVD of 'The Last Kingdom' about the Saxon Uhtred from Bebbanburg, so that made visiting Bamburgh particularly exciting It would have cost £11.85 each to go into the castle, so we decided not to do it today. It looks like an enormous site and it would have been a rush to get around everything quickly before continuing our long journey south. But it was possible to stroll around the green underneath the castle and walk up to the entrance walls for free. As we climbed up the slope towards the castle, we had a good view out across Bamburgh. A game of cricket was being played in the middle of the village green. Soon we arrived at the castle entrance. From here we had a great view out to sea We could see out towards what I assume were the Farne islands. It was a really lovely place We were able to get a little way inside the castle courtyard... ...where there was a display of the life of the castle through the ages. That was all we could see for free, so we headed back downhill again. Hopefully we'll be back in this part of the world again some day and have time to go inside properly There was just time for a final stroll around the green... ...before we needed to head back through the village to the car. From there we had 247 miles to drive to get back home. We probably added a few on to that by following a signposted scenic route which took us around some more of the Northumbrian coastline, but it was well worth doing Overall we've had a really great holiday, despite the fact that it wasn't quite what we had originally planned for this week in August. My rough calculation is that we've driven around 1,500 miles and walked approximately 144,000 steps, so it's definitely been a busy week The accommodation hasn't been quite as cheap as it would have been in Latvia, but the views at places like Glen Coe and Bridge of Orchy have more than made up for it!
  9. We were always going to have a big day of driving ahead of us today, with the shortest route from Culloden to Hawick being around 209 miles. This route didn't look like it would be terribly exciting though, as it would involve retracing Wednesday's journey through Aviemore, Pitlochry and Perth. Although that had admittedly been a really scenic route, we felt like we'd rather try something different. Looking at the map last night, we came up with the idea of driving across Scotland to Fort William, and from there taking the road through Glen Coe. We had stayed in Fort William during both our 2010 and 2011 trips to Scotland and remembered it as being a really beautiful place. The start of our journey saw us retracing the route from Culloden to Fort Augustus which we'd followed on Thursday, driving past the viewpoint at Loch Tarff. Resisting the temptation to get out of the car and do the walk again, we continued on to Fort William, arriving just before midday. Although the town felt small to us, it's actually the second largest in the Highlands (with Inverness being the biggest). The population of Fort William is less than 11,000 though (and the metropolis of Inverness is actually smaller than Nuneaton!). The main thing we remembered about Fort William from our previous visits were the views. The town is situated on Loch Linnhe, one of Scotland's sea lochs. When we've stayed here before, it's been in guest houses with beautiful views out across the loch. Today we paid for an hour of parking in the town and followed a path down to the beach. From here we were able to stroll through a garden alongside the loch. The flowers, combined with the views, were really beautiful. I particularly liked these pink flowers The weather was much sunnier today than it had been yesterday and I'd remembered to put sun cream on for a change. We were also wearing midge spray, because the midge forecast for Fort William and Glen Coe looked particularly bad. There weren't any midges here though and so we were able to enjoy the views unmolested The views were so nice that it was tempting to keep walking indefinitely, but we had a long day ahead of us so we needed to get back to the car. Our next destination was Glen Coe, which we had also visited during our 2010 and 2011 trips. That was a long time ago though and I hadn't remembered quite how spectacular the journey was going to be. As we followed the road alongside Loch Linnhe, it was so beautiful that we had to make an unscheduled stop to take some photos Just look at the views! We were really lucky to be here on such a sunny day; I can imagine that if we'd been here in the rain on Tuesday, it wouldn't have been possible to see a thing. The place where we'd been taking photos was a small settlement called North Ballachulish. From there, we crossed the loch via a large bridge (not the best photo as taken through the windscreen!). From there it was only a couple of miles until we reached the small village of Glencoe. Just driving through the village looking for parking was a scenic experience! We found a small forest car park just outside the village and left the car there. From there we walked back into Glencoe in search of somewhere to get lunch. We found a small cafe where we were able to get a sandwich and some excellent cake Tim even had some Irn Bru! Lunch complete, we walked back towards the car. The car park was next to a small lake, so we followed a trail to get to a viewpoint. The water was so clear here that you could see the reflections of the mountains in the lake We didn't have time to walk too far, because we still had a long journey ahead of us to get to Hawick. Leaving the car park behind, the first part of our journey was down this single track road with incredible views. After that we joined the main road, but the views were no less spectacular. The road through Glen Coe is supposed to be one of the most beautiful drives in the UK and it's easy to see why. You could spend all day on the road if you stopped at every viewpoint. We were trying not to do that, but eventually we had to give into temptation and pull over. I don't know what the name of this little loch was, but it was in a really lovely location. Tim couldn't resist capturing it on video And I was particularly excited when we found these purple thistles growing; you couldn't really hope for anything more Scottish! Time was pressing on though, so reluctantly we had to get back in the car and continue our journey south. The rest of the journey was actually pretty scenic too. We passed through Bridge of Orchy again, realising to our surprise that it actually wasn't particularly far from Glen Coe, and then we followed a small road through the Loch Lomand and Trossachs national park. After that the scenery became a bit flatter, although we did get an unexpectedly good view of Stirling castle. It was 8pm before we finally made it into Hawick, where we are staying in the same accommodation as last Saturday. That made things really easy, because we knew exactly where we were going and were able to let ourselves in with a key code. All that remained was to walk to the local Wetherspoons to get some dinner. And, of course, come back to do the blog
  10. The apartment which we were staying in in Hawick was very well equipped, to the extent that the owners had even provided croissants for us to have for breakfast It was a nice dry morning in Scotland, so once we'd eaten them we set out to explore a bit more of the town. I forgot to mention in yesterday's blog that "Hawick" is not pronounced anything like I expected. In my head I was calling it "Haw-wick" but it turns out it's pronounced more like "Hoyk" We'd been recommended to visit Wilton Lodge Park, which is supposed to be one of the best parks in Scotland. It wasn't actually too far from where we were staying, just a few streets away and across the river. When we got to the park we found it had actually won a prize for best park in the UK in 2019 It was nice, but not sure it was quite impressive enough to deserve that title It was quite a large park though and so we were able to do quite a long walk. By the time we'd done a circuit and were heading back towards the town it was after 10am, we'd walked 8 000 steps and we were starting to feel the need for a second breakfast. We ended up back in Wetherspoons for brunch, where I had a quorn sausage roll for the bargain price of £2.80. Scotland seems to be good value for money so far. We checked out of our apartment just after 11. The aim of the day was to drive to Dumbarton, a small town on the western side of Scotland, not far from Glasgow. We didn't want to just have a boring motorway drive towards Glasgow though, so we planned a slightly longer but much more scenic route, initially driving cross-country in the direction of Dumfries. The route took us through some really beautiful countryside. We didn't pass through many settlements, but we saw an awful lot of sheep The road we were travelling on unexpectedly turned out to be closed for repairs not far outside Dumfries. There were no diversion signs so we had to make up our own, travelling on this somewhat smaller road. The smaller road took us to Lockerbie. We'd attended an Esperanto congress in the town, in this hotel, during a weekend in 2011. I didn't remember this large turreted tower from last time we'd been here though. Luckily Lockerbie is only a few miles away from Dumfries, so we were soon able to get back on track. We'd visited Dumfries during our first trip around Scotland in 2010, but I didn't remember a lot about it except that we'd visited quite a lot of sites linked to Robert Burns, including possibly his grave, on some sort of walking tour which had been recommended to us by a man in the tourist information office. The town itself didn't look particularly scenic as we drove through it today, but we found a place to park down by the river and got out to stretch our legs. The river Nith flows through Dumfries and there are lots of bridges over it. We followed a path alongside the river for a while until we got to this enormous weir. We still had a couple of hours of driving to do to get to Dumbarton, so at this point we decided to cross back over the river and retrieve the car. We successfully arrived in Dumbarton in the late afternoon, having got caught up in some traffic that was heading into Glasgow. We're staying for one night in an apartment here and it was surprisingly spacious, with a large living/dining room... ...plus bedroom. This one was £72 for the night, so more expensive than Hawick. Booking.com had advertised it as having a mountain view, which I was a bit sceptical about, but it did actually turn out to be true! We didn't know a lot about Dumbarton when we booked to stay here, but Tim had read that it had a castle. Once we'd settled in to the apartment, we set out to try and find it. After a few minutes of walking, we got a glimpse of it from a Lidl car park Getting closer to it and taking a good photo without a car park in the way turned out to be more challenging. We walked for quite a long time until eventually we emerged on a road underneath the castle rock, which terminated at a grassy area overlooking what appeared to be a rather muddy beach. It turns out this is the estuary of the river Clyde. From here we found a path which led to a little park around the back of the castle. It was really quite pretty here... ...and the views along the river in the other direction were more scenic too. We were starving and had walked nearly 20 000 steps by this point, so began retracing our steps back towards the town centre in search of something to eat. Tomorrow we will be setting off across the country, towards Dundee
  11. When we got home from Narvik on 4 January, I was already counting down the days until our next holiday. Over the course of January and February, we planned a really exciting year of international travel. We were going to start off with May bank holiday trips to Monaco and Liechtenstein, aiming to cross two small countries off our list of unvisited places in Europe, before spending the August bank holiday in Luxembourg. Luxembourg was a country we had visited before, but only briefly in 2010 as part of an Esperanto event in Germany, and I have a grand total of six photos to remember it by, so I was keen to go back. I was lucky enough to be able to book two weeks off work in June for the first time in years and we planned to spend those island-hopping around the Azores. We enjoyed the Azores so much when we visited in 2018 and although we had an amazing time, we were conscious that we had only explored one of the nine islands. With two whole weeks to play with, we were hoping to visit no fewer than six this time around. I dedicated several weekends to a very complex set of bookings which including internal flights, ferries and multiple different car rentals. I then had another week off in August for which we booked flights for Latvia, planning to spend most of our time hiking in one of the national parks. That was going to be good training, because we had an amazing trip planned for my final two weeks of in September which, after flying to Croatia and having a brief stop-off in Montenegro, was going to involve hiking in the Albanian Alps. 2020 felt like it was going to be a very exciting year! And then, of course, Covid-19 happened I think I've probably spent almost as much time as I spent originally booking my holidays trying to cancel them again and get money back from various sources. We spent the weeks when we would have been in the Azores at home, but now that it's August and things are starting to open up a bit more it felt like it would be a shame to let the Latvia week go to waste. We made a rather last minute decision this week to try and book a trip to Scotland, which turned out to be surprisingly difficult. The combination of school holidays and everybody wanting to get away somewhere after having been cooped up for weeks of lockdown meant that booking.com was reporting the entire country of Scotland as being more than 90% fully booked I wanted to try and stay away from people as much as possible, which meant avoiding the larger cities like Glasgow and Edinburgh, and once those were excluded from the booking searches there was hardly anything available at all. I had pretty much given up hope of finding anything by this point, but Tim did some additional searching and eventually came up with a viable itinerary for us. This will be the third time that we've had a holiday involving driving around Scotland, but the previous two were a very long time ago. In 2010 we spent the best part of two weeks travelling along the west coast, all the way along the north coast to John O'Groats and then back down the east to Edinburgh. It was a really exciting experience, although looking back at my albums I don't seem to have taken a lot of photos. In 2011 we visited Scotland again, just for a week this time, and drove a somewhat shorter version of the same route, ultimately ending up in Lockerbie to attend the Scottish Esperanto Congress. Since 2011, all our holidays have been abroad and our only trips to Scotland have been to attend a couple of Esperanto conferences in Edinburgh or, in my case, to spend several weeks of January each year auditing on an industrial estate in a place called Larbert. So, while spending a week in Scotland wasn't quite what I expected to be doing in August 2020, it's nevertheless nice to have an opportunity to travel there again and after the year we've had, just leaving Nuneaton at all feels quite exciting The first destination on our roadtrip is Hawick, a small town in the Scottish borders which I had never heard of this time last week. Hawick is nearly a 5-hour drive from Nuneaton so we tried to make a relatively prompt start this morning, leaving home around 10.30. We certainly got more of a lie in than we would have done if we had been flying to Latvia! 5 hours is a long time to be in the car, particularly on what was quite a warm day, so we wanted to break our journey somewhere en route. Tim did some research before I got up this morning and found a National Trust place called Hudswell Woods in the Yorkshire Dales, where it looked like we would be able to park and have a bit of a walk. It was about 2.5 hours away which seemed like a good stopping point, so we decided to give it a go. I thought the roads might be really busy today, but it actually wasn't too bad in the direction we were travelling in. It took closer to 3 hours to get to Hudswell. When we did, we found the car park didn't actually belong to the National Trust so we would have had to pay for parking, except for the fact that the parking meter was broken. The National Trust seem to own the woods themselves, which we accessed by crossing a bridge over the river Swale. It was surprisingly wide for a river I've never heard of! On the far side of the river there was a notice board with some marked trail. We opted to try a 1.5 mile circular walk alongside the river, which the board warned was "strenuous" and required sturdy footwear. I didn't think the National Trust definition of strenuous would actually mean it was strenuous, although there was a mention of there being a large number of steps at some point. We looked at the map and decided to start following an uphill path, in the hope that that would ultimately result in us going down the steps rather than up them. It was pleasant to walk in the woods and definitely a lot cooler here than we had been when driving in the car up the M1. The path led us along the hillside, running parallel to the river Swale. In some places the slope above us looked very steep indeed. It was very green in the forest and despite the fact that yesterday had been a scorchingly hot day, it was still quite muddy underfoot in places. The information board had definitely been correct to recommend sturdy shoes. Eventually we reached the steps and found, to our disappointment, that we'd somehow walked in the wrong direction and we did now indeed need to climb up them. There were 230 steps in total. To start with I didn't think they were too bad... ...but every time we turned a corner there were more! The description of "strenuous" turned out to be quite apt for the walk after all. The good news was that when we finally got to the top, we found a pub It was in a beautiful location with some lovely views, and very easy to socially distance outside in the beer garden. We stopped for a quick drink, which had to become a very quick drink indeed when it unexpectedly started raining. Luckily it was only a shower and the weather had more or less dried up again as we started making our way back towards the car park. I was not a huge fan of the path back. Let's just say it was rather narrow and the drop down to the river felt very steep. At times we did have some good views back towards the nearby town of Richmond, though. We made it back to the car and had another two hours or so to drive towards Hawick. The main takeaway from this journey was how large the north of England is! I kept thinking that we must be nearly in Scotland by now and yet half an hour later we would still be driving through a seemingly neverending expanse of Northumberland. It was a very scenic journey though and eventually we made it to a viewpoint at the Scottish border From the border, it wasn't far to Hawick. We're just staying one night here, in a little flat not far from the town centre. The owner was waiting for us when we arrived and gave us some very detailed instructions about using Netflix on the TV which went completely over my head. It's a pleasant little place though, with a cosy living room... ...and a little bedroom. There's a small kitchen too, which we were surprised to find that the owners had left well stocked with biscuits and other essentials. It seems very good value at just £60 for the night. Once we'd settled in we set out again in search of food. We'd missed lunch, so finding dinner felt like a priority! On the way we may have accidentally seen the main sights of Hawick. There's a town hall, with a rather unusual turreted tower... ...and a square with a man on horseback. Food options in Hawick turned out to be limited to Wetherspoons or kebab shop/takeaways, so we went with Wetherspoons. It did seem to be very well set up for social distancing at least, with ordering on the app and all staff wearing masks. We had a seat near the doors, which were wide open for ventilation. It was quite nice to have a breeze on a day like today, but harder to see how this is going to work once the weather gets colder! Tomorrow we plan to explore anything we have missed in Hawick, before heading off to our next destination of Dumbarton.
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