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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!
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
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
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.