Saturday, October 17, 2009

Northern England/Scotland Road Trip

I'm convinced that any journal, blog etc is at it's best when events are recorded soon after they's the best way of capturing exactly what occurred, including the raw emotion attached to those events. Well, as much as I believe that, it may not always be the case with this blog but we will keep trying! ;-)

So, this little road trip is our longest chunk of travelling since we've been in the UK. Can't give you every detail or I'll be here for hours, but here's a rough itinerary and some of the highlights...

We set out on Sun Oct 4 from Cheltenham and headed for the Lake District in northern England to a place called Millom - the home town of my (Sal) good friend Belinda who about a year ago migrated to Oz. We hung out with Belinda and her family for a couple of days while they were visiting home and were a bit spoilt with having her Mum's house to ourselves! The scenery in the Lake district is beautiful and we lapped it up during a ride on a steam train and a 'memorable' drive down an extremely windy road over the top of a mountain called Wrynose Pass. While in the Lake District, we also visited the villages Keswick, Windamere and Bowness. Bowness was probably our favourite place in the district - we adore quaint little villages set into the hillside on the side of a lake. The day we were there was quite cold but the air was still and the clouds were so low they were flowing over the mountains - stunning. This was the first time we'd seen clouds that low but of course it's not really that much of a novelty over here. We went to Muncaster castle, visited an owl sanctuary - amazing creatures and saw our first pebble beach. We ate out with Belinda, Michael (her partner) and their friends and tried black pudding - yuck!! What was even more gross was the smell of Tim's farts a bit later - so bad you could literally cut the air with a knife!! Vomit material! We won't be feeding Tim black pudding again that's for sure! For those of you who don't know what the stuff is, it's basically Pig/Cow blood with thickeners! Yeh that sounds appetising doesn't it!! But it's on all the menus here and people actually order it!
So.. from the Lake District we drove to Edinburgh, Scotland (Oct 7) where we couch surfed with Angie for 3 nights. We absolutely loved this place! We just couldn't believe the age and beauty of this city, it literally felt like we were walking back in time with so much history every where we looked. We have only been to a few castles, but have been too stingy to pay to enter them (or maybe we thought the price was ludicrous!!!), however we could not complain about the price or even contemplate skipping the famous Edinburgh Castle. I'm sure that those of you who have been into a good castle or two can agree that it's a bit like walking into a movie set or something. To imagine that people actually inhabited Edinburgh Castle and many people were held prisoner there was extremely surreal. Ok, now I'm really sounding like a novice traveller!! I'm not someone who really gets into the history side of things (although I probably should), but I was definitely interested in this one! We joined a 20 minute guided tour of the castle with an older dude (Jim) who really knew his Scottish history! He also spun a few entertaining yarns and we were intrigued by his obvious genuiness and love for his country. After the tour finished, we managed to have a chat with him and he told us about a place called Glen Nevis in the Highlands that we 'must' visit....we tucked this one away in our memory.
In Edinburgh we had the best Indian curry we've ever eaten, although we did order a tad too much but couldn't complain about being able to take a doggy bag home! :-) We spent alot of time wandering around the city just admiring the surroundings - we did so much walking in those 3 days and Edinburgh is certainly not flat! In fact, the whole city is built on multiple levels! It was the most walking I had done in a while, but I was so stoked to be able to do it. It's amazing how much you appreciate being able to walk when you haven't been able to for some time. In Edinburgh we also tried haggis in a sausage which was pretty bad - although it was probably because I just couldn't get past what I knew was in it! Mmmmmm, brains, liver, tongue, kidneys. We were game enough to taste it again later and found out that it can actually taste nice - sort of like a good meat pie without the pastry. So I guess now u know what you're really eating when you bite into a good Aussie meat pie eh?!
From Edinburgh we headed for Fort William in the Scottish Highlands (Oct 10). I don't think we really knew what to expect because the only thing we could say was 'WOW' as we drove into the mountains. When you see something that magnificent, it literally leaves you speechless. And it's even harder to put into words here. We had decided that we wouldn't book accommodation for the next few days, we would 'wing it'. Now, for those of you who know me well, know that when it comes to venturing into the unknown, I don't really like to 'wing it', I'd much prefer to plan or maybe the better word is 'control' what I can to make sure everything works out. Well, for me this was a little step toward trying to control things a little less!! ha! And it was definitely the right decision!! In Fort William, we found this little B&B just out of town and what we got was such a treat. A little house set on a fairly secluded property with mountains as the backdrop, generous, friendly and 'go the extra mile' hosts, gorgeous room with a comfy bed and a breakfast feast to die for!! We didn't want to leave there, but the hosts were off to Turkey!
We were in the vicinity of Glen Nevis and after hearing about it from the Edinburgh Castle tour guide, we knew we should definitely check it out. Little did we know, it was a bit of a hike/climb....I didn't know if I was ready for that yet but I thought - stuff it, I'm gonna give it a go! It was so worth it! The trickling water, greenery, rocks, steep drop offs and mini waterfalls on the way up were pretty amazing. What was even more amazing was what we found at the end of the 2m wide opened up into a wide open space with an incredible body of water gushing down the side of a mountain (otherwise known as a waterfall ;-) We were in awe.
We left Fort William and made our way to Portree on the Isle of Skye (Oct 11). Despite the things we'd heard about how beautiful Skye is, we felt a bit sad to leave the heart of the highlands and were a bit underwhelmed with the scenery at first. Then we really had to remind ourselves to hold back from comparing and just appreciate what each place has to offer even if it doesn't seem as beautiful as the last. We arrived in Portree when we were losing light and hadn't found any accommodation. We stopped at a B&B and saw the room, but the host was rude and unfriendly and we knew it just wasn't right. If we are going to pay the money to stay in a B&B we want to enjoy the experience and have some connection with the host. Anyway, we drove around the town for a while and to cut a long story short, we found a room right on the harbour of Portree with a million dollar view (maybe not quite that but almost) for a bargain price!

The next day we did the tourist loop of northern Skye and enjoyed the drive (Oct 12). We managed to get up close and personal with a couple of highland cows on this side of the fence. Weren't really sure how close we should get.......newspaper headline - 'Australian tourists mauled by a highland cow'. Hmmmm, too close would not be a good idea! haha!
Although we had planned to stay in Skye for 2 nights, we thought our time would be better spent back in the heart of the highlands, so we made our way toward Inverness not knowing where we'd end up for the night. What we did stumble across after stopping at several B&B's and losing light, was a 5 star hostel in a place called Drumnadrochit! Yeeeeah! Try and pronounce that one! We scored a double room with an ensuite for £35 a night! Nice!! That price was good enough for 2 nights and because there was alot we wanted to see in the area we decided that's exactly what we'd do!

We used the time to explore Glen Affric National Park. It's the middle of Autumn in the UK, but nowhere have we been struck by the multi-coloured, multi-textured surroundings like we were in this part of Scotland. Reds, purples, browns, greens, yellows of every shade, all within close vicinity to provide such contrasting beauty. I was mesmerised, in awe, stunned, amazed by our creator. It was incredible! We did multiple walks through different parts of the National Park, one where we walked down to Plodda Falls - yes another waterfall. I honestly don't think I could get sick of them! We got close enough to this one to feel the mist on our faces.

Late that afternoon we decided to take a drive to Inverness. Although we didn't have much light left in the day, we just wanted to check it out, have a wander around and get some dinner. We didn't end up seeing much of Inverness because it was bucketing down and we really didn't fancy wandering around in the rain we grabbed Indian takeaway and drove back to the hostel. Hey, at least we can say we've been to Inverness! As for Indian food in the UK, farout it's good! So much better than any curry I've found in Australia. I can now truly understand why all our Pom friends in Oz complain so much about not being able to find a good curry ;-)

The next day (Oct 14) we were off to spend some time with Nessie, but we couldn't seem to catch even a glimpse - that's right, of the Loch Ness monster. I've concluded, that the story of the Loch Ness Monster is one big marketing strategy to attract tourists! Or am I being cynical? Speaking of marketing - what is it with all the pubs over here....they all have 'good food' or 'real food' signs out the front. Is that the best they could come up with? lol
We made our way to Oban as a final stop in Scotland to discover that there was a major festival/singing competition called the MOD going on. The streets of this large sized fishing village were packed with crowds of people, many of whom were wearing kilts. A funny and weird sight was seeing a stocky bloke out front of a pub smoking a cigarette in a kilt!! haha. We drove around for 3 hours, stopping regularly hoping to find an accommodation vacancy with no luck. It was 6pm, getting dark and we were running out of options so we decided to just keep driving in what we thought was the direction of Newcastle (where we were going the next day). Despite finding out that we drove in the opposite direction to Newcastle, we did find a B&B about 15 mile outside of Oban and it was perfect - at least I thought it was in my tired state ;-) The great thing about Scotland is that the view from every window is always beautiful! It's the first thing I saw when I walked into the room and I immediately felt at home.
The following day we were sad to leave Scotland. We both felt such a connection with the place and had been so overwhelmed with the beauty we had encountered. We felt so relaxed and really in travel/holiday mode by this time and we wanted to savour the experience we had had. On our way to Newcastle, we stopped at Stirling in Scotland to visit the William Wallace Monument, which houses the sword of Mr Braveheart himself and we climbed the 247 steps to the top much to my disgust at the time, then to my delight when I admired the views at the top of those 247 steps. Knowing the story of William Wallace through watching the Braveheart movie made this a pretty special experience.
In Newcastle, we stayed with our friend - Carla's brother and his wife. We got along really well and they asked us what sort of things we wanted to see while we were there. I think at the time we were a tad exhausted and although we weren't expecting to feel like this, we just wanted to sleep in and hang around the house for a bit, especially because it was so cold and windy. So this is exactly what we did! I do feel slightly bad for not exploring Newcastle more especially when alot of the young people I work with are from there. We did see and cross the Tyne bridge though, the one that apparently inspired the design of the Sydney harbour.

So Newcastle concluded this little trip and we drove back to Cheltenham on Sat Oct 17, next stop Iceland!!

Btw, do you have any ideas of replacement words for 'beautiful', 'amazing' or 'incredible' because I think I'm going to wear them out ;-)



womble said...

Astounding, magnificent, stupendous?

Keep the blogs coming! I'm loving reading them :)

Love amanda xxx

Cal said...

Oohhh hisssss ¬.¬ Newcastle wasn't good enough to get out of bed for ey?


Well I'm glad you got there safe, and I'm happy you are having such a great time!

Take care you two :)

Cal x

Karen Cummings said...

wow Sally, that was an interesting read, I would love to see it all one day ! Have an absolute ball, it sounds like you are...
Karen XXX

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