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  1. 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!
  2. 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
  3. When we woke up this morning it was immediately clear that it wasn't going to be such a sunny day as yesterday. The sky was quite cloudy, but the weather forecast suggested that it was going to stay dry until mid-afternoon at least, so we were hopeful that we could fit in a day's worth of activities before things turned wet. As this holiday was quite spontaneous we haven't done a lot of research in advance, so the plan for today was to follow two more recommendations from the tourist leaflet which we picked up in Aviemore. The first of these was to visit Craig Phadrig, a wooded hill above Inverness. It was only a few miles away from where we are staying in Culloden, so we had soon arrived and were consulting the information board about walks. There seemed to be two marked trails, yellow and blue. The yellow was slightly longer, so we decided to start with that one. The trail took us through a pleasant wooded landscape. After 15 minutes or so of walking, we emerged at a viewpoint from where we could see out across the Moray Firth. We'd soon completed the yellow walk, so began to follow the blue one instead. This one led more steeply uphill, towards an ancient hill fort on the top of the hill. Once we got to the top we just had to imagine that there had once been a hill fort here There wasn't any visible trace of it. The views were pretty though Both walks complete, we got back in the car and set out on the road around Loch Ness again. Not quite as sunny today, but it was still pretty. I read last night that Loch Ness is so deep, it contains more water than all the lakes in England and Wales combined Our main destination of the day was a place called Glen Strathfarrar which, like Glen Affric, the leaflet had recommended as being a really beautiful spot. We found it without too much difficulty, but what the leaflet hadn't explained was that the road through the glen is a gated private road and in order to enter by car, you need to have arranged a permit. You can visit the glen on a bike or by foot without a permit, so we decided to walk and see how far we could get. The small road runs through the glen for miles. It follows the route of the river Farrar, which gives the glen its name. At first the road led through forest, which was nice and shady. Then the landscape began to open up a bit and we got some better views Although we were walking on a road, there wasn't a lot of traffic. At one point we were passed by the postman and another time a jeep with people sitting on the roof(!) whizzed past us. Otherwise it was very quiet and peaceful. We didn't meet any other walkers and only a couple of people cycled past us. This was definitely a good place to come to achieve social distancing The road climbed upwards for a while, leading towards a flatter boggy area. There was so much heather here. From looking at the map, we could tell that there were several lochs in the glen and we were hoping that we might be able to walk as far as the first of these. Unfortunately, as we walked further it became clear that the weather up ahead of us wasn't too good. We persevered for a while, but the clouds looked progressively darker and then we felt the first spots of rain start to fall. We made the decision to turn around, in the hope that we could out-walk the rain back to the car park Surprisingly, we actually managed this and the return route looked a lot brighter We followed the road the way we had come, through the forest... ...and alongside the river. By the time we got back to the car we were both rather tired, having clocked up over 24,000 steps! We were definitely in need of a rest, but there was one final destination which we wanted to investigate: a waterfall called Dog Falls which we had seen signposted at the start of Glen Affric yesterday. We were only a few miles away from the road to Glen Affric and it was a very scenic drive. We found the car park for Dog Falls and paid £1 to park, then followed a signposted trail towards the falls. They weren't very far away, but when we got there we found them somewhat... underwhelming! The viewpoint wasn't as good as the one at Plodda Falls yesterday, so for a start it was difficult to even see the waterfall (it starts in the bottom left hand corner of this photo). There were some nice views down the river, though. Eventually Tim found a part of the viewpoint where he could hold his phone over the fence and get a shot of the actual waterfall I guess it might have been more impressive if we hadn't been to Plodda Falls yesterday! We turned around and walked back along the river towards the car, passing another small waterfall on the way. It was around 5pm by this point and starting to spot with rain, plus we were getting close to having walked 30,000 steps, so it felt like time to head back to Culloden and get some food
  4. When we woke up this morning it was a bright sunny day in Culloden The place where we're staying is really beautiful. While I was still sleeping, Tim got up and had a stroll around outside. This is the house which has our apartment in it. Once I'd got up and we'd had breakfast, we went for another stroll together around the nearby roads. Although it was only about 09.30, it was already starting to feel warm in the sun. I should probably have taken this as a prompt to go back and put sun cream on, but I didn't think! We got in the car and started driving. Our rough plan was to drive along the eastern shore of Loch Ness towards Fort Augustus. Unfortunately, the Sat Nav didn't quite find the road we were hoping for and we ended up following a different route through the mountains instead. While I was initially disappointed not to see Loch Ness, the views from the road were stunning. When we were getting close to Fort Augustus, we saw a sign for a small parking area and decided to take the opportunity to get out of the car for a stroll. I saw some other people coming down from a viewpoint on the far side of the road, so we decided to give that a go. We didn't have to walk far before we began to get some excellent views Not quite Loch Ness, but it was still very pretty! The path climbed upwards, but it didn't feel as steep as the walk we did at Aviemore yesterday. The higher we climbed, the further into the distance we could see. It was a spectacular landscape, and there was lots of purple heather to admire too. I had assumed it would be quite a short walk, but we continued climbing higher above the road. Rather than leading to a single viewpoint, the path seemed to provide new views every time we turned a corner. We passed another small lake which was shimmering in the sunshine. Eventually we seemed to have finished climbing upwards and followed a flatter section of the path along the top of the hill. When we turned around we could still look back towards the first lake we'd seen... ...and there were some amazing mountain views too. We weren't sure how long the trail was going to be, but it was tempting to just keep going. After a while it started to lead downhill... ...and as we turned a corner we got our first glimpse of another lake. This was Loch Tarff. It was only a small loch but it was really pretty, with a few small islands in the middle of it. We realised that the path was leading down towards it, so we decided to follow it the whole way down and then return to the car via the road. As we got closer to the lake, the views were even better. We could have stood and looked at them all day. We needed to get back to the car though to continue with the rest of our day, so once we got to the end of the path we retraced our steps along the road. Fortunately it was the sort of road which is quite pleasant to walk on We ended up driving straight through Fort Augustus, as it didn't look like there was a whole lot to see there. From there we got onto the main road, which leads around the western shore of Loch Ness. Finally, we could see it Loch Ness is huge, and we followed the road around it for about 18 miles to a small town called Drumnadrochit. There's a Loch Ness monster exhibition there which I think we visited on our first road trip around Scotland in 2010. Today we decided to give it a miss and took a small side road leading away from the lake, signposted towards a place called Cannich. We were planning to drive to a place called Glen Affric, which a leaflet we'd picked up from tourist information in Aviemore yesterday had described as one of the most scenic places in Scotland. We got a bit sidetracked though, when we stopped at a Spar in Cannich to buy some water. The lady behind the till recommended that we drive to the nearby village of Tomich to get lunch and told us that from there we would be able to visit a waterfall called Plodda Falls. We were feeling pretty hungry at this point so we decided to take her advice! Soon we were in Tomich, having lunch in a beer garden with a beautiful view It was so good that we stayed for pudding too! From Tomich it was only a few miles to the waterfall, which is located on some Forestry Commission land. We followed a wide trail through the trees. There were two waymarked trails - a white one and a green one - with the green one being longer. We decided to follow the green one. The green route led us quite steeply downhill, which is always a bit disconcerting when you know you have to go back up again to get back to your car. Eventually we emerged at a river bed. From here the path led back up again. Partway up we saw a signpost to a viewpoint. I debated whether to follow it because it seemed to involve going downhill yet again, but I'm glad we did, because when we reached the bottom this was the view we got of the waterfall The problem with having been to Iceland is that it ruins all future waterfall experiences for you; nothing can compete with the likes of Gullfoss and Dettifoss. But for a waterfall outside of Iceland, this one was pretty impressive. From where we were standing at the bottom of the falls, we could see a viewing platform at the top. There was some more uphill to do to get there! When we did, we found the views from the top weren't actually as good as from down below. It was hard to capture in a photo anyway, but you can see the views more clearly in the video Once we left the platform behind, there was just a bit more uphill to do before we got back to the car. Then we were finally on our way to Glen Affric! There's a single track road which leads through the glen and there are various parking places to stop and admire the views. The road runs alongside Loch Beinn a' Mheadhoin, one of two lochs in the glen. We got some spectacular views of it as we drove along, but unfortunately in the photos we tried to take it was obscured by trees. The road comes to an end at the far side of this loch, before you get as far as the second loch, Loch Affric. We left the car in a carpark here an started following a signposted viewpoint trail. In what seems to have been the theme for today, this involved walking uphill. It was worth it though, as we were soon able to look down the glen towards Loch Affric. It was really beautiful - I can see why the leaflet described this as one of the most beautiful places in Scotland. There was definitely a lot more we could have seen and done in Glen Affric, but it was after half five now and we were feeling tired, so it was time to head back towards Culloden. I think today easily wins the prize for most scenic day of the holiday
  5. When we woke up this morning we were relieved to see that it had finally stopped raining! Today we would be leaving Dundee behind and driving towards our final destination of Culloden, near Inverness. In total the journey would be around 137 miles and we were hoping that it was going to be a scenic one, taking us through part of the Cairngorms National Park. The first part of the journey wasn't terribly exciting, as we left Dundee behind us and headed in the direction of Perth. But from there things began to look more scenic. We had planned to make our first stop in Pitlochry and it wasn't long before we were driving alongside the river Tummel, which flows through the town. We found a place to park outside the town's tourist information office and set off to explore. It seemed like a pretty town, with lots of large hotels and guesthouses. Having consulted an information board, we began following signs towards a nearby dam. The signs led us to a bridge across the river Tummel. It was a rather strange bridge, which shook slightly as we walked across it. From the middle of the bridge, we could see how large the river is. There was definitely plenty of water in it after all yesterday's rain! In the opposite direction we could also just make out the dam in the distance. The bank on the far side of the river was lined with pretty little cottages. There were lots of beautiful flowers. Once we reached the dam we climbed up a staircase and got our first view of Loch Faskally. This is an artificial lake which was created in 1947 when the river was dammed. You wouldn't know it was artificial to look at it, though. We followed a trail along the side of the lake. When we got to the far end, a little footbridge took us back across the river. As you can see from the photos, it was cloudy on this walk but after the persistent rain yesterday it was just great to be able to go for a walk and not get soaked Once we'd crossed the bridge, we came to a little settlement where there were tonnes of ducks From there we had a slightly rushed walk back into Pitlochry, in an attempt to get back to the car park before our parking expired. We just about made it and soon we were back in the car again, driving towards our second stop of Aviemore. It was lunchtime when we arrived, so we parked the car and set off to find somewhere to get food. We soon found this nice pub, where we were able to sit outside... ...and I had one of the nicest macaroni cheeses I've had in ages The bill came to much less than we were expecting which was slightly confusing, until we realised we'd had an "Eat out to help out" discount applied. After lunch we had a stroll along the main street of the town. We were heading towards a nature reserve just on the outskirts. It didn't take long to find it, and soon we were strolling through the woods. The first attraction marked on the map was a lake, but when we found it it looked more like a puddle There was a marked trail around the edge of the water but it didn't look like it would be worth the effort. Instead, we started following a path which led slightly upwards. Soon we had views back down towards the town. As we climbed higher, we also began to get views of the Cairngorm mountains. The path continued to lead uphill... ...and the views got even better At this point the path started to get steeper and we had to make a decision about whether we wanted to continue to the signposted viewpoint. It wasn't clear how much more uphill there was going to be, but we'd come far enough by this stage that I thought it would be a shame to turn around without making it to the top. We carried on and the path levelled off a bit for a while, leading us over some flatter ground. There was so much beautiful heather The flatness of the path was short-lived and we were soon climbing higher again. The last part of the route was very steep indeed! Finally we made it to the viewpoint at the top The views were definitely worth the climb We could see down towards Aviemore and out towards the Cairngorm National Park. We enjoyed the scenery for a while... ...and then it was time to start thinking about heading back down. There were some great views on the way down too. Almost as good as the views at Bridge of Orchy When we got to the bottom of the path we found a lake. It looked larger than the one we'd passed on the way up. It turned out to be a completely different one and we passed the small one again a bit later. I think the viewpoint we'd been to was somewhere up there on the hill above us. By the time we got back to the centre of town, where we'd been looked rather high. We felt justified in being a bit tired! Luckily all we had to do now was find the car and drive the remaining 30 miles to Culloden. Even the car park in Aviemore was quite scenic! We found our accommodation in Culloden without any difficulties and were able to retrieve the keys from a keysafe. We've got a spacious living/dining area... ...plus a cosy little bedroom. And outside the front door we have a view of sheep! It's a bit in the middle of nowhere, but the phone and internet signals both seem good. And tomorrow looks like it's going to be a rain-free day
  6. When we woke up this morning it was pouring with rain. Not just slightly raining, but pouring torrentially. We had a rather slow start to the day, hoping that it might clear up a bit, but when we checked the weather forecast it looked like it was going to rain all over Scotland for the entire day, so we had to make some wet weather plans! When we'd stayed in Hawick on Saturday night, the owner of the apartment we'd rented had recommended that we visit the small coastal town of Broughty Ferry while we were in Dundee. It was only a few miles away from where we were staying, so we decided to give it a go. First impressions when we arrived was that it didn't look as scenic as I expected, but places are never at their best in the rain! We parked the car on a side street and set off for a stroll towards the beach. The beach was beautifully sandy and there were even some little sand dunes. But everywhere was a bit damp We walked along the esplanade for a while, looking for the castle. It didn't look particularly old to me, but apparently Broughty castle was originally built in 1495! It was closed today so we couldn't go in. We walked back along by the beach instead. In the distance we could see the not very scenic port of Dundee, and also the bridge over the river Tay. We were quite wet by this point and seemed to have exhausted the immediate attractions of Broughty Ferry, so headed back to the car. The Visit Scotland website had recommended driving along the A92 towards Aberdeen, which was described as a scenic coastal route, so that was our next plan. The road took us north, through towns such as Arbroath and Montrose, towards Aberdeen. At times the road was quite close to the coast and we could get glimpses of the North Sea, which makes me think that it probably is a really scenic drive on a sunny day. But today was so wet and cloudy that the sea and the sky were just merging into one general kind of greyness, and it wasn't possible to get any photos. We did cross over some impressive bridges though, like this one over the river Esk. The journey to Aberdeen was around 66 miles in total. We arrived in the early afternoon and quickly found somewhere to park. I didn't know a lot about Aberdeen, but had the impression that it might be rather grey. That turned out to be correct! We walked down Union Street, which looked like it must be one of the city's main streets. The building with the large tower is Aberdeen Town House, which was built in 1874. The building with the smaller tower at the far end of the street is apparently the Salvation Army Citadel. The citadel stands in a pretty square. We were incredibly wet by this point, though. Not only was it pouring with rain but there was a strong wind in Aberdeen which was driving it into our faces. All in all the weather was just too miserable to do any significant exploring! We decided to go back to the car to dry out and begin the drive back towards Dundee. Today probably hasn't been the most exciting of holiday days, but we at least attempted to make the best of the weather. And the good news is that tomorrow looks more like it might just be cloudy and/or showery rather than being one long constant downpour Fingers crossed!
  7. Our ultimate aim for the day was to drive from Dumbarton to Dundee, on the eastern side of Scotland. If we took the most direct route, it would be a journey of around 85 miles, but we wanted to have the most scenic drive possible. After breakfast in Dumbarton, we therefore initially drove north, in the direction of Loch Lomond. Our first destination was the small village of Luss, which we'd visited on one of our previous trips to Scotland and remembered as being really attractive. It didn't take us long to arrive and find a car park, from where we could walk down to the shores of the loch. It was a little bit wet this morning, but the views were beautiful even with the mist. We even founds some swans and ducks The village of Luss itself is very pretty too. Apparently it's famous because the Scottish TV series "Take the high road" was filmed there, but I don't think I've ever seen it. It's only a small village, so once we'd had a wander around and finished admiring the lake, it was time to get back in the car. There were some amazing views of Loch Lomond as we continued to follow the main road around the western shore of the lake. The weather began to brighten up as we drove, and by the time we reached the next viewpoint it was starting to look sunny I can't remember what this place was called, but there was a small car park with a path to follow towards a viewpoint out across the water. It was definitely worth stopping to admire the views here After the viewpoint we continued driving north, towards a village called Bridge of Orchy. It was a really beautiful drive By the time we got to Bridge of Orchy the clouds were starting to look a bit darker, though. There isn't much in the village itself but there was a small car park here where we were able to leave the car and walk along a bit of the West Highland Way. We followed the path, climbing up through a forest. It did rain for a while, and when we turned around we could see the hills were disappearing into the mist. After walking uphill for a while, we got our first glimpse of some water in the distance. It was still rather damp and misty when looking back towards Bridge of Orchy... ...but once we reached the high point of the walk and started descending the other side, things started to brighten up We were now getting closer to the water, which turned out to be a lake called Loch Tulla. The path led us past this solitary windswept tree... ...and then began to lead down to this small cluster of white houses which we could see in the distance. It was hard not to just keep taking photos of the same views, because they were so spectacular As we got closer to the loch we could see that the water looked quite dark in places. It reminded me a bit of the black lake which we'd once walked around in Montenegro. The weather was now beginning to look much sunnier Our destination was looking closer too. We were walking down towards the Inveroran hotel, where we were hoping to get some refreshments. Luckily it did indeed turn out to be open and we were able to get a couple of paninis for lunch Suitably refreshed, we then just had to trek back to our car at Bridge of Orchy. The weather had gone off a bit again by this point and it was rather windy! It was still a lovely walk with some great views though! After an hour or so we could see Bridge of Orchy appearing in the distance. The mist had cleared again on the mountains here. The weather was very fast-changing today! We got back to the car some time after 3pm and then had two hours of driving across Scotland to Dundee. First impressions of Dundee from driving through it are that it is nowhere near as pretty as Bridge of Orchy We're staying in a serviced apartment here, which seems like good value for money at £75/night. In addition to the bedroom there's a large living area... ...and a kitchen too. We were feeling a bit tired after our hiking today, so decided to save exploring Dundee for tomorrow and have a night in instead
  8. 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
  9. 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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