A Travellerspoint blog

3rd UK Lockdown: November 2020 - March 2021

Hove

semi-overcast 10 °C

NOVEMBER 2020 to MARCH 2021

Since the epic all day drive from the far north (Scottish Border) to the far south (Brighton & Hove) of England, in November 2020, we have been in Hove following the rules dictated by the third National Covid-19 Lockdown. Those rules meant we could only venture out for food shopping and local exercise. We were also not allowed to see anyone outside our household. Schools and universities were closed and people were encouraged to work from home where possible. This was all very depressing but we counted ourselves lucky, as many people had it far worse than us.
At the start of January 2021 things looked very bleak and the NHS was at breaking point. There were around 60,000 new cases per day, hospitals had a daily intake of up to 4,000 new patients and the average daily death toll was 1,500. Fortunately this was the worst it got and by late January the situation began to improve. The lockdown and a rapid Covid-19 vaccination program was having a positive effect. By the end of March we had seen a massive improvements. Daily cases were down to around 4,000, hospitalisations around 200 and deaths were averaging less than 50 a day.
The speed at which vaccinations were being given was particularly impressive, with over 30million people receiving their first dose by the end of March, more than half the adult population of the UK. I had my first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in mid-February and Anne received her first dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine in late March.
On 22nd February the British Prime Minister (Boris Johnson) set out the government roadmap out of lockdown and back to some sort of normality. He set out various dates at which normal service could resume, all dependant on an improving Covid-19 situation. The vaccination program was the key driver of this. The first cautious step was to allow children to return to school on 8th March. This progressed to small groups (up to 6 persons) being able to meet outside from 29th March. The key date for us was 12th April, as this was the day self-contained accommodations were able to re-open. We were now able to travel again, but only in the UK and with the knowledge we could be invited for our second vaccination at any time.
As for going abroad that is still a bit of an unknown. May 2021 was initially suggested but that was soon ruled out and now it’s a matter of just wait and see. The original optimism was based on the rapid progress made with the UK vaccination program. But this now seems to be exceptional when compared to other parts of the world. The situation was also compounded by a new wave of Covid-19 infections in mainland Europe and a chaotic roll out of the vaccination program in the EU.

So, as it stands, we have another tour around the UK planned. Starting on the 12th April and extending until the end of June. During that time we will monitor the Covid-19 situation and make a decision as to whether we can continue our travelling lifestyle.

For now we conclude with some images taken during lockdown and hope our next blog portrays a more upbeat message.

Coffee & Walnut Birthday Cake. Baking kept me busy during the lockdown

Coffee & Walnut Birthday Cake. Baking kept me busy during the lockdown

Lockdowns meant an end to our world exploration and I got confined to the kitchen to cook for the boys

Lockdowns meant an end to our world exploration and I got confined to the kitchen to cook for the boys

When not cooking, board games were our other pastime, this one seemed particularly appropriate. We lost more often than we won

When not cooking, board games were our other pastime, this one seemed particularly appropriate. We lost more often than we won

On windy days, paragliders take off from Devil's Dyke, South Downs NP

On windy days, paragliders take off from Devil's Dyke, South Downs NP

South Downs National Park (on our doorstep), on one of our many local walks

South Downs National Park (on our doorstep), on one of our many local walks

Another walk on the South Downs NP

Another walk on the South Downs NP

South Downs NP Scenery

South Downs NP Scenery

2021 was a cold winter for South of England. Dusting of snow on the South Downs NP

2021 was a cold winter for South of England. Dusting of snow on the South Downs NP

Made walking a bit slippery on the South Downs NP

Made walking a bit slippery on the South Downs NP

Wintery scene on Hove sea front, a rare phenomenon in Brighton & Hove

Wintery scene on Hove sea front, a rare phenomenon in Brighton & Hove

The same tower i360 (aka the Donut by the local) 162 meters or 450 feet

The same tower i360 (aka the Donut by the local) 162 meters or 450 feet

The Donut of the i360, the 360 degree tower dominating the seafront

The Donut of the i360, the 360 degree tower dominating the seafront

Hardy bathers, this is January 2021

Hardy bathers, this is January 2021

Paddle borders, perfect day as no wind and no waves, not a common occurrence in Brighton & Hove

Paddle borders, perfect day as no wind and no waves, not a common occurrence in Brighton & Hove

Hove Beach which goes on and on and on for 4 miles

Hove Beach which goes on and on and on for 4 miles

Low tide on the beach, a different outlook

Low tide on the beach, a different outlook

Reflection in the wet sand of Hove beach at low tide

Reflection in the wet sand of Hove beach at low tide

During lockdown businesses came up with initiative ideas to attract customers back whilst still complying with lockdown rules

During lockdown businesses came up with initiative ideas to attract customers back whilst still complying with lockdown rules

Shoreham aircrash memorial: Eleven distinctive steel arches - each uniquely commemorating the men who died when a Hawker Hunter jet crashed on to the A27 during an air display at Shoreham Airport in August 2015

Shoreham aircrash memorial: Eleven distinctive steel arches - each uniquely commemorating the men who died when a Hawker Hunter jet crashed on to the A27 during an air display at Shoreham Airport in August 2015

Adur River at high tide

Adur River at high tide

You can decorate your houseboat in any fashion you wish

You can decorate your houseboat in any fashion you wish

Some houseboats look like are in need of TLC

Some houseboats look like are in need of TLC

There are ever more bizarre example of houseboat

There are ever more bizarre example of houseboat

More conventional ones as well

More conventional ones as well

Shoreham pedestrian bridge over the river Adur

Shoreham pedestrian bridge over the river Adur

River Adur at Shoreham where houseboats are moored. This one is an old WW2 mine sweeper

River Adur at Shoreham where houseboats are moored. This one is an old WW2 mine sweeper

Murmuration of Starling over Brighton Palace Pier, one of the few places you can see it in the UK

Murmuration of Starling over Brighton Palace Pier, one of the few places you can see it in the UK

Murmuration always changing shape

Murmuration always changing shape

Brighton Pier, or Brighton Palace Pier is also a favourite for murmuration of Starlings

Brighton Pier, or Brighton Palace Pier is also a favourite for murmuration of Starlings

Starling gathering at the end of the day above the West Pier

Starling gathering at the end of the day above the West Pier

Winter time is the opportunity for fantastic sunset in Brighton & Hove, West Pier mades a beautiful setting

Winter time is the opportunity for fantastic sunset in Brighton & Hove, West Pier mades a beautiful setting

Posted by MAd4travel 14:14 Archived in England Comments (1)

UK Road Trip 2020 - South to North and Back (Northumberland)

Route: Seahouses (Northumberland Coast) - Hove

overcast 15 °C

NOVEMBER 2020

Back in England, we were now on the last leg of our UK Road Trip. The plan was to stop at two locations on our way back to the south coast and then spend the period before Xmas in Devon. That plan soon turned into disarray when the government announced a 2nd National Lockdown to tackle the increasing numbers of Covid-19 cases. This announcement came soon after our arrival in Northumberland and meant we would have to return to the sanctuary of Rob’s place in Hove at the end of our week’s stay.
The announcement was a blow but it wasn’t going to affect our enjoyment of the Northumberland coast. We had rented a cottage in the small fishing village of Seahouses and were surrounded by beautiful coastal scenery. In the high season, Seahouses is a buzzing northern coastal resort, but this time of year it is much quieter. This enabled us to fully enjoy the small harbour and cluster of local shops that surrounded us.

The weather during our stay wasn’t bad for November in the north of England, which meant we could get out each day of our stay. In addition to exploring Seahouses itself we took walks along the coast both north and south of our base.

Our first excursion was very local as we took a stroll along the sandy beach that connects Seahouses to the village of Beadnell a few miles to the south. It was windy when we started the walk which turned to gale force by the end. The wind was coming of the land which created the strange phenomenon of the wave spray being blown back out to sea. Even with the bracing conditions the walk was very pleasant and we felt refreshed, if a bit sandblasted, by the time we got back to the cottage.

Windy walk on Seahouses beach

Windy walk on Seahouses beach

Gale force winds playing with the waves

Gale force winds playing with the waves

Sanderlings

Sanderlings

Common Redshank

Common Redshank

Turnstone so called because it uses it bill to flip over stone to find its prey

Turnstone so called because it uses it bill to flip over stone to find its prey

The following day the wind had dropped making it more pleasant for coastal walking. This time it was a circular walk along the cliffs and across farmland. We started in the pretty fishing village of Craster and past by Dunstanburgh Castle (see below) on our way. We also took the opportunity to pick up some local produce from the Craster Seafood shop.

Craster Harbour and the Unnamed Soldier monument

Craster Harbour and the Unnamed Soldier monument

Craster Harbour

Craster Harbour

Dunstanburgh Castle

Dunstanburgh Castle

Just north of Seahouses is the small town of Bamburgh with it’s impressive castle. The castle is perched on a hill, looking out to sea on the east side and to Bamburgh town on the west. We had been told that the inside was even more impressive than the outside but Covid-19 restrictions prevented us finding out on this occasion. We instead took a walk around its perimeter and adjacent town. It was during that walk that we stumbled across a plaque celebrating the heroine Grace Darling. Her story struck a cord with us and it is told in the following Wikipedia link:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grace_Darling

Bamburgh Castle view from the car park

Bamburgh Castle view from the car park

Bamburgh Castle

Bamburgh Castle

Bamburgh Castle view from the beach

Bamburgh Castle view from the beach

A bit further north of Bamburgh is Budle Bay and the location for our next walk. We parked near Bamburgh golf course and walked along the cliffs towards Budle Bay. A great expanse of beach spread out beneath us and the Farne Islands were very visible out at sea. After descending the cliffs our walk took us into the Waren Burn estuary where a large variety of water birds call home. After watching the birds for a while we turned back towards Bamburgh, along the beach this time with the cliffs towering above us.

Budle Bay beach

Budle Bay beach

Budle Bay Beach

Budle Bay Beach

Little Egret

Little Egret

Oyster Catcher and Black Headed Gull in winter plumage

Oyster Catcher and Black Headed Gull in winter plumage

Brent Goose

Brent Goose

Herring Gull

Herring Gull

Mallard Duck

Mallard Duck

Oyster Catcher

Oyster Catcher

Curlew

Curlew

Lindisfarne Castle from Budle bay

Lindisfarne Castle from Budle bay

Farne Islands

Farne Islands

For our last day in the area we had a bit of an adventure. We visited the Holy Island of Lindisfarne (see below). Connected to the mainland by a tidal causeway the adventure was to drive across to the island. From Seahouses we followed the coastal road north until we arrived at a sign displaying tide times and safety warnings. Before leaving home we checked the safe crossing times and were able to continue our journey without the fear of an advancing tide. Either side of us was the sea water left by the retreating tide, ahead of us loomed Holy Island and behind us the dry land of the Northumberland coast. A unique and enjoyable little adventure.

On our way to Lindisfarne

On our way to Lindisfarne

Crossing to Lindisfarne at low tide

Crossing to Lindisfarne at low tide

Markers for foot crossing at low tide to Lindisfarne

Markers for foot crossing at low tide to Lindisfarne

We had limited time on the island due to the safe crossings for the causeway. But as the island isn’t very big we didn’t feel rushed in our exploration. We parked on the edge of the only town on the island and started our walk. Our route took us into town, past attractive traditional building and to the priory on the far side.

Priory, Lindisfarne

Priory, Lindisfarne

After a brief look round the priory we past by the harbour and continued on to Lindisfarne castle. From the castle our path took us along the edge of the beach, past a nature reserve (not many resident birds this time of year) and eventually looped back to the car park we had started from. A varied and enjoyable walk undertaken on a cool but sunny autumn day.

Lindisfarne view of its castle from the harbour

Lindisfarne view of its castle from the harbour

Fishermen Cabins

Fishermen Cabins

Lindisfarne Castle

Lindisfarne Castle

View toward the mainland from the Causeway

View toward the mainland from the Causeway

We then safely negotiated the causeway once more and retraced our route back to Seahouses.

By now the country was back in a national lockdown and we had to go home and stay put for a month, just like the rest of the UK population. Not having a home to go back to we had to rely on the generosity of Rob once again. The other issue was that we were in the far north of the country and Rob is in the far south. We therefore reluctantly left our cosy cottage in Seahouses and drove 400 miles (640km) south the following day. Fortunately the journey wasn’t as bad as we had feared. With most people travelling the day before, the roads were quiet, it only took us six and a half hours including stops.

We had planned to spend the Xmas period with Rob, so our stay in Hove extended all the way to the new year. It also signalled the end of our travels for 2020. Not a good year for anyone, but ours had been better than many.

Any hope of resuming out travels at the start of 2021 were dashed by a Covid induced third National Lockdown. A new, more contagious variant of the Coronavirus, was now at large amongst the British population and only a full lockdown could get it under control. At the time of writing we didn’t expect to be going anywhere until probably March at the earliest. However, the role out of Covid-19 vaccines does provide us with optimism for the rest of the year.

Personal Observations & Interesting Facts

Dunstanburgh Castle
The castle was built by Earl Thomas of Lancaster between 1313 and 1322, taking advantage of the site's natural defences and the existing earthworks of an Iron Age fort.
Thomas was a leader of a baronial faction opposed to King Edward II, and probably intended Dunstanburgh to act as a secure refuge, should the political situation in southern England deteriorate. The castle also served as a statement of the earl's wealth and influence, and would have invited comparisons with the neighbouring royal castle of Bamburgh.
Legend has it that he saw himself as a modern day King Arthur. However, even his loyalist followers said he could only ever be 50% of the great man. So not wanting to be a ”halfur Arthur” he abandoned this dream.
Thomas probably only visited his new castle once, before being captured at the Battle of Boroughbridge as he attempted to flee royal forces for the safety of Dunstanburgh.
Thomas was executed, and the castle became the property of the Crown before passing into the Duchy of Lancaster.
Dunstanburgh's defences were expanded in the 1380s by John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster, in the light of the threat from Scotland and the peasant uprisings of 1381.
The castle was maintained in the 15th century by the Crown, and formed a strategic northern stronghold in the region during the Wars of the Roses, changing hands between the rival Lancastrian and Yorkist factions several times. The fortress never recovered from the sieges of these campaigns and passed into decay.
As the Scottish border became more stable, the military utility of the castle steadily diminished, and King James I finally sold the property off into private ownership in 1604.
It became increasingly ruinous during the following centuries and was placed into the guardianship of the state in 1930. When the Second World War broke out in 1939, measures were taken to defend the Northumberland coastline from a potential German invasion. The castle was used as an observation post and the site was refortified with trenches, barbed wire, pill boxes and a mine field. Today the the castle is owned by the National Trust and run by English Heritage.

Dunstanburgh Castle

Dunstanburgh Castle

Bamburgh Castle
The site of today’s castle was originally the location of a Celtic Brittonic fort known as Din Guarie and may have been the capital of the kingdom of Bernicia from its foundation in c. 420 to 547. After passing between the Britons and the Anglo-Saxons three times, the fort came under Anglo-Saxon control in 590. The fort was then destroyed by Vikings in 993, and the Normans later built a new castle on the site, which forms the core of the present one. After a revolt in 1095, supported by the castle's owner, it became the property of the English monarch.
In the 17th century, financial difficulties led to the castle deteriorating, but it was restored by various owners during the 18th and 19th centuries. It was finally bought by the Victorian era industrialist William Armstrong, who completed its restoration. The castle still belongs to the Armstrong family.

Bamburgh Castle view from the town

Bamburgh Castle view from the town

Lindisfarne
The Holy Island of Lindisfarne, commonly known as either Holy Island or Lindisfarne, is a tidal island off the northeast coast of England, which constitutes the civil parish of Holy Island in Northumberland. Holy Island has a recorded history from the 6th century AD; it was an important centre of Celtic Christianity under Saints Aidan of Lindisfarne, Cuthbert, Eadfrith and Eadberht. After the Viking invasions and the Norman conquest of England, a priory was reestablished. A small castle was subsequently built on the island in 1550.

Lindisfarne causeway in the background at low tide

Lindisfarne causeway in the background at low tide

The causeway

The causeway

Posted by MAd4travel 13:20 Archived in England Comments (2)

UK Road Trip 2020 - Southern Scottish Highlands

Route: Drumsmittal (Black Isle) - Tomintoul (Cairngorm National Park) - North Ballachulish, Fort William

rain 10 °C

OCTOBER 2020

We may have finished our NC500 adventure (see previous blog) but we hadn’t finished with Scotland yet. Our next location was the Black Isle, just north of Inverness on the eastern coast. Although not really an island, the Black Isle is almost entirely surrounded by water, with the Cromarty Firth on its north shore, the Beauly and Moray Firth’s in the south and the North Sea to the east. We were staying in a beautiful modern cottage in the hamlet of Drumsmittal, close to the Moray Firth.

With the weather better than forecast we spent our first day exploring the Black Isle. This activity is very doable in a day as the Isle is only 25 miles (40 km) long and 10 miles (16 km) wide. Having completed the almost mandatory visit to the nearby brewery (Black Isle Brewing Company) and made our contribution to the local economy, the exploration began. The plan was to follow the coast from our base in the south west.

Black Isle Beers

Black Isle Beers

Our first stop was at Chanonry Point, a spit of land that juts out into the Moray Firth. We were here to see dolphins, but there seemed to have been a mix up in the arrangement as there was no sign of them (they hadn’t received the sea-mail). The view out into the Firth was nice though, as was the stroll along the beach.
Next stop was the small town of Cromarty on the most easterly tip of the Isle. Here the Cromarty Firth and Moray Firth combine and spill out into the North Sea. It is also another good place to see dolphins, but again our arrangements seemed to have gone awry. What was very visible though, were the retired oil rigs that were anchored in the Cromarty Firth, a sign of the change in our energy sourcing. We walked along the seafront and around the town before continuing our journey.

Disused oil rig in the Cromarty Firth

Disused oil rig in the Cromarty Firth

More disused oil rig in the Cromarty Firth

More disused oil rig in the Cromarty Firth

Our route now took us along the north shore of the Isle as we followed the Cromarty Firth inland. We drove past more old oil rigs and extensive mud flats before the road ended at the Cromarty Bridge. We crossed the bridge and finished our day circling back to the cottage.

Having got to know the Black Isle the previous day it was now time to visit one of its more quirky attractions, Munlochy Clootie Well.
Clootie wells are found in Celtic places and are linked to ancient healing traditions. The rag or cloot is dipped in the well and tied to a tree in the hope that a sickness or ailment will fade as the rag disintegrates. A many hundred year old practice that has endured to the current day, this site is believed to date back to the 7th century.
The site is only small and didn’t take long to walk around. The cloths hanging from the trees were from the modern day as older garments had long since varnished into the soil. If you didn’t know what you were looking at you would think someone had been fly tipping (illegal disposal of waste or rubbish), but once informed it made much more sense.

Clootie Wells

Clootie Wells

Clootie Well was situated in an attractive wood so we thought we would extend our walk. Unfortunately the bridge across a small river was broken which abruptly curtailed that idea.

The edge of Munlochy Wood

The edge of Munlochy Wood

Undeterred, we sought out another woodland and restarted our activity for the day. The trails at Learnie Red Rock are designed for off road biking but are also suitable for hikers, although cyclists have priority so we had to stay alert. Our route took us up into the forest around the top then back down to where we had started. Mostly in tree cover but a few gaps did allow us to see the shores of the Moray Firth from our elevated position. The hike turned out to be longer than we had expected, mainly due to the nature of the trail. Being predominantly for use by cyclist the gradient was shallow so we zig-zagged a lot when we descended through the forest, consequently extending the distance travelled.

Walking in the rain

Walking in the rain

Water droplet

Water droplet

Being so close to the Scottish Highland’s capital, Inverness, we thought we should visit it. The River Ness runs through its centre having arrived from Loch Ness a few miles up stream. This seemed like a good point to start our visit. Attractive stone buildings line the western side of the river whilst most of the commercial part is on the eastern side. We ambled around the streets and investigated some of the local shops before returning to the tranquility of the Black Isle.

River Ness in Inverness

River Ness in Inverness

All too soon our stay on the Black Isle was over and we were on the move again. Our destination was the Cairngorms National Park, still in the Scottish Highlands but further south.
When we were in the area last, back in 2012, we visited the site of the Battle of Culloden. But didn’t have time to go to the near-by Clava Cairns. Therefore we made this the first stop of the day.
Clava Cairns is a pre-historic burial site dating back 4000 years (see below). Set in a small woodland and away from any noise pollution the place seemed to have a special tranquility. Having the site to ourselves really added to the atmosphere, as did the quietness. The silence was only broken by the occasional caw of crows. We walked around the site visiting each of the three cairns, marvelling at their construction and the standing stone that surrounded them. Information boards by each cairn explained what you were looking at and provided a sense of their importance. A magical start to the day.

large_f4decf00-3648-11eb-8448-858e426878e3.jpegClava Cairns

Clava Cairns

Clava Cairn

Clava Cairn

large_f3fd6fb0-3648-11eb-8448-858e426878e3.jpeg

Next stop was less exciting. A food shop at Tesco’s.
It was then onwards south towards the Cairngorms National Park (see below). There may not have been much sun but it was dry, allowing us to enjoy the beautiful scenery. Autumn was now in full swing so the colours of the trees were spectacular.

Autumn colour all around

Autumn colour all around

Our next stop was unplanned but one that exceeded our expectation. From the road we spotted a herd of Highland Cattle and stopped for a photo. All the animals looked well cared for and in good condition. We stood at various points along the fence and Anne began to take photos. It wasn’t long before the farmer arrived and we got into a conversation about the herd. He was very proud of them and rightly so. He was very informative and we learnt a lot. For example: how to tell a cow from a bull (the horns turn up on a cow and forward on a bull), that they are the oldest registered breed of cattle in the world and that they are extremely hardy (they are perfectly adapted to remain outside even in the harshest of winters). He also told us an unusual story.
A few years ago he was approached by a bride-to-be requesting a couple of his cows to be her bridesmaids. First, thinking it was a joke, he didn’t take it seriously. However, it soon became clear that she was very serious and he eventually attended the wedding as custodian for two of his best cows.

Some beautiful Highland Cattle

Some beautiful Highland Cattle

More Highland Cattle

More Highland Cattle

I can see you!

I can see you!

Highland Cattle and farmer

Highland Cattle and farmer

The day was completed by our arrival in Tomintoul and our accommodation for the next week. We had rented a cottage at the far end of the village which turned out to be a good base to explore from.

The weather forecast for our stay in the Cairngorms National Park didn’t look very promising. Rain had been forecast for every day, which turned out to be correct. But in between the wet weather the sun shone allowing us to do something each day.
We managed three beautiful hikes, each encompassing the varied terrain the park had to offer. We climbed up hills for the view, traversed colourful forests and splashed across very wet moorland. All the time enjoying the scenery and nature, less so the paths that had turned into muddy streams.

Cairngorms scenery

Cairngorms scenery

Hiking in the Cairngorms

Hiking in the Cairngorms

More scenery , more walks

More scenery , more walks

another beautiful but muddy walk

another beautiful but muddy walk

Orange sheep, really orange!

Orange sheep, really orange!

When we weren’t out hiking we explored the towns and villages close by.
The largest of these was Grantown on Spey, the local market town that provided us with provision for the week. Much smaller was our home town of Tomintoul which had the Whisky Castle, a whisky drinkers delight, selling hundreds of different malts from all around the country.
However, our favourite none hiking day involved a visit to the Glenlivet Whisky Distillery. We initially wanted to do a tasting tour but Covid-19 had put pay to that, instead we did a bit of tasting in the distillery shop. To be perfectly accurate though, the actual tasting was done outside the shop. Fully masked up, sanitised and temperature taken we were allowed into the shop. The staff would then provide an explanation of the whiskies they had on display. Based on what we were told we selected two malts to try. We would then be given a glass of our selection and asked to step outside to taste it, as masked couldn’t be removed inside. A 15 year old single malt was the clear winner and we duly bought a bottle to take away with us.

View of Glenlivet distillery

View of Glenlivet distillery

Glenlivet Distillery

Glenlivet Distillery

Shop and tasting room at Glenlivet

Shop and tasting room at Glenlivet

A wee dram of Glenlivet best

A wee dram of Glenlivet best

A very enjoyable experience that capped of a day that had started with a scenic country drive and a visit to a 16th century Packhorse Bridge.

Pack Horse Bridge

Pack Horse Bridge

Our last location in Scotland before crossing the border back into England was close to UK’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis.
The day started with a pleasant drive through the Cairngorms and north towards Inverness. A stop for food on the outskirts of Inverness was followed by a drive down the northern shore of Loch Ness. By now the weather had changed completely with rain affecting our view and making any monster sighting impossible. A brief pause in the rain coincided with our planned stop in Fort Augustus at the western end of the loch. This gave us time to visit the impressive lock chambers, that allow boat access between the Caledonian Canal (see below) and Loch Ness. We finished our town visit at a local artisan glass blowing shop.

Fort Augustus Lock on the Caledonian Canal

Fort Augustus Lock on the Caledonian Canal

Glass blower

Glass blower

With the rain returning we left Fort Augustus and continued our journey. The landscape was now more mountainous with a wild beauty that is present on the west coast of the Scottish Highlands. Just before Fort Williams the rain abated which allowed us to take another break. This time with the bonus of being able to see Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest mountain at 1,345m (4,413ft). A dusting of snow covered its upper reaches and probably the summit, although low clouds obscured that from our view.

On the road to Fort William

On the road to Fort William


Commando Memorial

Commando Memorial

Ben Nevis from the Commando Memorial

Ben Nevis from the Commando Memorial

A short drive now completed the journey for the day and got us to our accommodation for the next five nights. A beautiful loft apartment in North Ballachulish with stunning views out over Loch Linnhe.

View across Loch Linnhe from our accommodation

View across Loch Linnhe from our accommodation

View from the Ferry departure to the other side of Loch Linnhe

View from the Ferry departure to the other side of Loch Linnhe

It rained at some point on each day of our stay, but with a bit of careful planning this didn’t restrict us too much. On the only day that was a complete wash out we visited the M&S Foodhall and got our enjoyment from that. On the other days we explored the natural beauty with hikes in the surrounding area.

After a morning of rain the sky cleared and allowed us to leave the apartment. Our destination was Glen Nevis and its impressive waterfalls, strengthened by the recent wet period. A single track road got us deep into the glen before we park up and had to walk the rest of the way. Our goal was to reach Steall Falls (also known as An Steall Ban - “The White Spout” in Gaelic) Scotland’s second highest waterfall, with a single drop of 120 meters (390 feet).
Our path weaved up into the forest, crossing numerous streams, before arriving at a group of large boulders were the River Nevis squeezes through a narrow gorge.

Hiking in Glen Nevis

Hiking in Glen Nevis

It's raining but still beautiful autumn colours

It's raining but still beautiful autumn colours

Just Wow

Just Wow

Rushing water over boulders

Rushing water over boulders

Beyond the gorge the landscape opened up into a lush alpine meadow with Steall Falls crashing down the mountain side in the far corner. A magnificent sight, and that’s coming from a couple that have seen some impressive waterfalls. Unfortunately for us, at this point a heavy downpour arrived. The decision was to take our photos from a distance rather than getting completely drenched trying to get closer. We will get a closer look on our next visit.

Steall Falls

Steall Falls

We retraced our steps in the relative dry of the forest and were greeted with sunshine when we arrived back at the car park. This made for a bright and sunny drive out of Glen Nevis and back to the apartment.

Glen nevis

Glen nevis

Glen Nevis

Glen Nevis

Having gone north to Glen Nevis the previous day we headed in the opposite direction the following day. Destination, the very scenic Glencoe. Heavy rain was forecast for the afternoon so we went out in the morning.
It was a short drive along the banks of Loch Linnhe and Loch Leven to reach Glencoe. An unplanned stop punctuated this journey when we saw a Red Deer stag grazing in a field next the road. We parked up and got out for a better view and take a few photos. The stag was far enough away for us not to disturb it but close enough to get a good view. We watched him for about 15 minutes then continued our journey.

Red Deer Stag

Red Deer Stag

Red Deer Stag

Red Deer Stag

By the time we reached Glencoe, the little sun there was had disappeared behind the clouds, but it was still dry. With mountains towering either side of us and waterfalls tumbling down their slopes, the scenery was magnificent, even in this increasing cloudy conditions. We lingered for a while to take photos then progress to the start of our planned walk of the day.

Glencoe

Glencoe

Glencoe views

Glencoe views

Glencoe, next time I may try to stay in this cottage!

Glencoe, next time I may try to stay in this cottage!

Glencoe

Glencoe

Today’s hike was in a small forest wedged between the glen and Loch Leven. It had a number of paths to chose from, all interlinking and of varying length. We selected a shortish route knowing that rain was on the way. But when it didn’t arrive we kept extending the walk. Finally we felt we couldn’t push our luck any further and headed back to the car. An inspired choice, because no sooner had we got into the car than the rain poured down.

Glencoe walk

Glencoe walk

The rain continued for the rest of the day but we were not bothered. We could enjoy our comfortable apartment whilst watching the weather though the window, as the rain drifted across the loch and incased the surrounding mountains.

It continued to rain throughout the night and into the following day. Any ideas we had of doing something that day had been dashed. We were also low on food, so decided to make the activity of the day a trip to the M&S Foodhall.

Fortunately the weather was much better for our last day in the area and we took advantage of it with a walk along the western end of the Caledonian Canal (see below). The walk started at an area called “Neptunes Staircase”. A combination of eight locks, each 180 feet (55m) by long 40 feet (12m), lifting boats by 64 feet (20m) in around 90 minutes.

Neptune Staircase looking down

Neptune Staircase looking down

Neptune Staircase looking up

Neptune Staircase looking up

The walk took us west along the banks of the canal until we reached the waters of Loch Linnhe. In addition to seeing life on the canal, we got our best views of Ben Nevis and was treated to the sight of a steam train (The Jacobite we think) as it passed through Banavie railway station.

View of Ben Nevis from Neptune Staircase

View of Ben Nevis from Neptune Staircase

Steam Train leaving Banavie station

Steam Train leaving Banavie station

Steam Train

Steam Train

Loch Linnhe

Loch Linnhe

Looking across Loch Linnhe towards Fort William

Looking across Loch Linnhe towards Fort William

It was now time to leave this beautiful area and also Scotland, for the drive today would take us across the border and back into England. With a bit of time to spare we decided to take a scenic route south. First we followed the banks of Loch Linnhe, then turned east just as the Isle of Mull came into view. Across the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park and on to the main road towards Edinburgh. East of Edinburgh we joined the coastal road all the way back into England and the start of the last leg to our road trip.

Leaving Scotland

Leaving Scotland

Leaving Scotland

Leaving Scotland

Personal Observations & Interesting Facts

Clava Cairns
The Clava Cairns is a Bronze Age cemetery dating back 4,000 years but the site was still in use thousands of years later The three well-preserved cairns each have a central chamber. But while the two outer cairns have entrance passages, the chamber of the central one is enclosed. Each cairn is also surrounded by a ring of standing stones.
Midwinter was an important time of year for the society who built the cairns.
The three prominent cairns form a line running north-east to south-west. The passages of the two cairns are also aligned towards the south-west, suggesting that the builders had their eyes on the midwinter sunset. The standing stones also suggest a focus on the midwinter sunset – they are graded in height with the tallest facing the setting sun in the south-west.
Considerable thought must have gone into the planning and construction of the graves. The midwinter solstice would have marked an important turning point in the year - many similar monuments across the British Isles have a similar alignment with movements of the midwinter sun. Such sites can tell us about beliefs of past societies and how they understood their world.
The cairns’ burial chambers were cleared out long ago, but we can tell from similar monuments that only one or two people would have been buried in each cairn. It would have taken a large number of people to build the Clava Cairns, indicating that these were perhaps resting places for important individuals.

Clava Cairn

Clava Cairn

Clava cairns

Clava cairns

Clava Cairns

Clava Cairns

Clava Cairns

Clava Cairns

Cairngorms National Park
The Cairngorms National Park covers an area of 4,528 square kilometres and is the largest national park in the UK. The mountain range of the Cairngorms lies at the heart of the national park, but forms only one part of it. Hill ranges, such as the Angus Glens and the Monadhliath together with lower areas such as Strathspey and upper Deeside, make up the rest. Three major rivers rise in the park: the Spey, the Dee, and the Don. The Spey, which is the second longest river in Scotland, rises in the Monadhliath, whilst the Dee and the Don both rise in the Cairngorms themselves.
It has a resident population of around 18,000 and welcomes almost 2 million tourist eat year. It's also a haven for British wildlife and has the only population of Reindeer in the UK. They now roam the high Cairngorms, after being re-introduced in 1952 by a Swedish herdsman. The herd is now stable at around 150 individuals.

Cairngorms scenery

Cairngorms scenery

Cairngorms scenery

Cairngorms scenery

Caledonian Canal
The canal connects the Scottish east coast at Inverness with the west coast at Corpach near Fort William. It runs some 60 miles (97 km) and reaches 106 feet above sea level. Only one third of the entire length is man-made, the rest being formed by Loch Dochfour, Loch Ness, Loch Oich and Loch Lochy. These lochs are located in the Great Glen, a geological fault in the Earth’s crust. There are 29 locks, four aqueducts and 10 bridges in the course of the canal.
It was constructed in the early nineteenth century by Scottish engineer Thomas Telford, and cost £910,000.

Posted by MAd4travel 12:16 Archived in Scotland Comments (1)

UK Road Trip 2020 - South to North and Back-Scotland's NC500

Route: Scotland: Killin - Inverasdale - Lochinver - Farr Bay - Tain, Castletown - Inverness

semi-overcast 8 °C

OCTOBER 2020

NC500 Route

NC500 Route

During our travels we have been fortunate enough to go on many beautiful road trips, so when we heard that Scotland’s North Coast 500 (NC500) had been rated as the 2nd best coastal road trip in the world (Pacific Highway, USA - rated the 1st) we thought we should check it out. Anne also has an ambition to travel the whole coast of Britain and this was a good section to add to her achievements so far.
The NC500 is a 516-mile (830 km) scenic route around the north coast of Scotland, starting and ending at Inverness Castle. We planned to do the whole circuit but start from a different spot. With the challenge set, we left the village of Killin and drove north.
It would be several hours of driving before we joined the NC500 but we didn’t have to wait until then to get some stunning scenery on our journey. The first area with an overdose of beauty was Glencoe. The road cut its way through a deep valley (glen) with towering mountains on either side. Hundreds of rivers tumbled down their slopes, forming waterfalls where the gradient was too steep. With the weather being quite pleasant at this point it was hard not to stop and go for a walk. Instead, with a long drive ahead, we limited our stops for photo’s only.

Glencoe

Glencoe

View of Highlands approach to Glencoe

View of Highlands approach to Glencoe

Our route kept taking us north until just after Fort William where we went west. By now the weather had changed and heavy showers were interspersed with glimpses of sunshine. Finally just before Loch Carron we joined the NC500.

Eilean Donan Castle, where 3 sea lochs meet, frequently appears in films, doc etc

Eilean Donan Castle, where 3 sea lochs meet, frequently appears in films, doc etc

We were now driving on single track roads, fortunately with frequent passing places to allow us to squeeze past the numerous camper vans that seemed to be doing the route in the opposite direction.
At this point in the road trip we had a new challenge. As we wouldn’t be self catering again for a few days, we needed to find places to eat. Normally it wouldn’t be a problem, but with new tighter Covid-19 restrictions coming in to force (to try and tackle rising cases), many eating establishments were closing their doors. We eventually found a cafe in the coastal village of Gairloch to have our main meal of the day.

Fed and refreshed, and with rain still falling, we continued the journey to our accommodation for the next two nights. Along the banks of Loch Ewe and out on a peninsula pointing towards the Isles of Lewis and Harris, lay a small hamlet called Inverasdale, this is where we were staying. Run as a bed and breakfast by two very friendly hosts we had a comfortable room in a beautiful location.

View from our B&B at Inverasdale

View from our B&B at Inverasdale

Already the NC500 was living up to its reputation as we can’t remember the number of times we said “just look at that stunning scenery”. Mountains, valleys, wild rivers and waterfalls were all around us and that’s before we mention the wild coastline we were following. We were on an adrenaline rush of scenic wonderment.
Although the rain had stopped, the weather on our only full day in the Inverasdale area didn’t look very promising. Undeterred and with our wet weather gear on, we went out to explore. First stop was the end of the peninsula, where on a clear day you can see the Isles of Lewis and Harris. But it wasn’t a clear day so we settled for a short walk around a war memorial site and visited some sea arches.

The Arctic Convoy War memorial at the end of Loch Ewe

The Arctic Convoy War memorial at the end of Loch Ewe

Looking toward the Arctic Convoy War memorial and remains of anti Aircraft batteries WW2

Looking toward the Arctic Convoy War memorial and remains of anti Aircraft batteries WW2

Arch at the end of the road

Arch at the end of the road

Firemore Beach

Firemore Beach

However, the highlight of the visit was the sighting of a rare White-tailed eagle gliding along the cliff edge. An enormous and magnificent bird with the only UK population found in this part of Scotland. A real treat and a first for us.

White-tailed-sea-eagle (courtesy of the internet from countryfile.com)

White-tailed-sea-eagle (courtesy of the internet from countryfile.com)

The day’s activities were completed by a visit to one of the beautiful beaches in the area. This was followed by lunch in a local hotel restaurants, which was still open to non-guests. By the afternoon the rain had returned so we were happy to relax at the B&B.

The following day was very different. The sun was shining, the sky was blue and the clouds on top of the mountains soon cleared to present a beautiful day. This was lucky as we had an action packed day ahead of us.
A narrow road hugged the coast, passing more spectacular scenery before we reached the first stop of the day, the Corrieshalloch Gorge.
This mile-long canyon, through which the River Droma rushes, takes its name from the Gaelic for ‘ugly hollow’. But that’s as far from the truth as can be.

Loch Ewe

Loch Ewe


View on the NC 500

View on the NC 500

Corrieshalloch is one of the most spectacular gorges of its type in Britain and provides striking evidence of how glacial meltwater can create deep gorges. We walked through the surrounding woodland to get a variety of views before crossing over the Victorian suspension bridge. From here and the nearby viewing platform we could look down to see river crash over a series of waterfalls as the River Droma made its way to Loch Broom.

Looking towards Loch Broom from Corrieshalloch Gorge

Looking towards Loch Broom from Corrieshalloch Gorge

Corrieshalloch Gorge

Corrieshalloch Gorge

Corrieshalloch Gorge

Corrieshalloch Gorge

Corrieshalloch Gorge

Corrieshalloch Gorge

With lots still to see, we pushed on to the lovely town of Ullapool for an early lunch. Ullapool sits at the end of Loch Broom where its waters flow out into the Atlantic Ocean. It's an attractive town and we couldn’t resist investigating its shops and harbour front, especially our stop at the West Coast delicatessen.

Loch Broom Reflection

Loch Broom Reflection

Looking down Loch Broom toward Ullapool

Looking down Loch Broom toward Ullapool

After lunch our route took us north once more, more beautiful scenery, until we reached our next stop: the Bone Caves.

Part of a Geopark - See next photo for more info

Part of a Geopark - See next photo for more info

Geopark Information board

Geopark Information board

In 1889, whilst undertaking a survey, two geologists uncovered animal bones buried in the mouth of a number of limestone caves. Later excavations found hundreds more bones. These were of creatures that roamed the area thousands of years ago and included Polar Bear, Brown Bear, Lynx and Wolf. How they got there is still unclear but believed to have been deposited by glacier movement. Later finds were even more interesting as they were bones of humans and dated back 5000 years. In this case they were thought to be burial sites.
Although the caves have since been emptied of all their artefacts they can still be visited, and that was next on our list.
From a small car park a trail wound its way up a valley, crisscrossing the River Loanan as it went. By now we were losing the sun and the wind had got up but this didn’t deter us. Deep into the valley the trail turned steeply up hill. We followed it and finally arrived at a number of shallow caves, the home of the bones. After a quick look around and fearing we were about to be blown of the ridge we descended back into the valley and returned to the car park.

Trail to the Bone Caves

Trail to the Bone Caves

View from the trail

View from the trail

Inside one of the Bone Caves

Inside one of the Bone Caves

View of the Bone Caves from the trail

View of the Bone Caves from the trail

Our route back provided us with an unexpected discovery, the birth of a river. We came across a spout where clean clear water was bubbling up from underground. This had been created very recently as the water hadn’t yet worn away the grass it now flowed across. Further down the valley this new river formed a tributary as it joined the River Loanan.

Birth of a River

Birth of a River

We were now not far from the final destination of the day, but still had a couple of sites to check out. Both on the shore of Loch Assynt, Ardvreck Castle and Calda House are ruins and didn’t take long to look around. Which was good as we were a bit knackered by then.

Ardvreck Castle

Ardvreck Castle

Calda House

Calda House

Ardvreck Castle and Calda House in the background

Ardvreck Castle and Calda House in the background

The end of a long but very enjoyable day came with our arrival in Lochinver. We were here for two nights and crashed out early at our guest house ready for more fun the next day.
A good nights sleep prepared us for a day of local exploration. I say a good night, but one that was disturbed a couple of times by what sounded like a cattle outside our bedroom window, too tired we didn’t get up to investigate. We later found out it was a randy Red Deer stag calling out to all the does in the area. We also had the pleasure of his company the following night, earlier this time fortunately.

Red Deer Stag outside our bedroom window at night, very noisy rut call

Red Deer Stag outside our bedroom window at night, very noisy rut call

Red Deer calling

Red Deer calling

We awoke the following day to a beautiful view out of our bedroom window. Below us was the pretty fishing village of Lochinver with a few small vessels going about their daily business. Beyond that we could see mountains and forest as our eyes followed Loch Inver out towards the Atlantic Ocean.
A short drive out of town was the protected inlet of Loch Roe. We were told that if you were lucky you could see Otters there. We positioned ourselves at several good vantage points overlooking the loch but never managed to spot an Otter. However, our efforts were rewarded with nice sightings of Common Seals in the water and lounging on rocks, together with another randy Red Deer stag on a hillside and a number of sea birds resting between meals.

Loch Roe

Loch Roe

Common Seals

Common Seals

Sea birds

Sea birds

Red Deer on a cliff

Red Deer on a cliff

Pleased with the morning’s wildlife activities we were ready for lunch and returned to Lochinver to get fed. As previously mentioned, finding somewhere to eat these days is not a simple task. Many establishments in Lochinver have found it difficult to comply with Covid-19 regulations so our lunch time options were limited to one place. Set on the edge of woodland and with views of the harbour, An Cale Cafe served us a very nice lunch and got us ready for the afternoon activities. With the weather now on the turn we limited ourselves to a look round Lochinver before returning to the guest house.

View from our bedroom to the other side of Lochinver

View from our bedroom to the other side of Lochinver

View of our B&B in Lochinver

View of our B&B in Lochinver

The next day we were on the move again but with heavy early morning rain the drive didn’t look that pleasant. Fortunately, the rain eased quite quickly allowing us to enjoy the journey. The route hugged the Atlantic coast and was mostly on single track roads. The scenery was breathtaking as the road wound around mountains usually with a sheer drop to a loch below. Small forests gave way to moorland and water was everywhere, in the rivers we crossed, the lakes we past and waterfalls that plunged down either side of us. Very few people live in this part of the country so villages were few and far between, all this added to the wildness.

Northern Highlands view on the NC500

Northern Highlands view on the NC500

The only thing to spoil the pleasure of the drive was the constant flow of camper vans coming in the opposite direction. Although pulling over to let them pass did allow the driver to see the scenery better whilst stationary.
After a couple of hours we reached the north coast of Scotland and our stop for the day, Smoo Cave. A steep stairway got us down to the entrance of the cave, then a wooden walkway allowed us to get inside this large combined sea and freshwater cave. From a safe distance we were able to witness the river that crashes through a hole it has eroded in the roof of the cave and also see where the sea water enters at high tide. The cave name is thought to originate from the Norse word 'smjugg' or 'smuga', meaning a hole or hiding-place.

Smoo Cave

Smoo Cave

Smoo Cave with fresh water coming in waterfall and sea water at cave mouth

Smoo Cave with fresh water coming in waterfall and sea water at cave mouth

By now the weather was quite nice with even a bit of sunshine. We therefore decided to take advantage and walk to the nearby headland to take in the views.

Cliff walk from Smoo Cave

Cliff walk from Smoo Cave

Our route now took us along the north coast to our next accommodation in Farr Bay. By now the weather had changed again, allowing us a quick look at the beach before we took cover in our cottage as the rain poured down again.
We were self catering once more, there was no searching out places to eat, having shopped before we left Lochinver. We would be able to prepare our own meals.

Farr Bay Beach

Farr Bay Beach

Footsteps in the Sand at Farr Bay Beach

Footsteps in the Sand at Farr Bay Beach

As is the whim of Scottish weather, the rain had cleared overnight leaving us a sunny start to the next day. It was time to visit a castle that boast one of the best views in Scotland. A short drive to the town of Tongue got us to the start of our hike up to the aforementioned castle: Castle Varrich. The route was first through farmland, then Varrich wood, before a steep climb up to the castle itself. Although now only a ruin with a few walls still standing, it was clear that Varrich had never been a very big castle but had some amazing views. On one side you could see all the way down to the town of Tongue and across the moorland beyond. On the other side you looked down sheer cliffs into the Kyle of Tongue where the Kinloch River cuts its way out into the Atlantic Ocean. The castle is believed to be the ancient seat of the Mackay Clan. Built in the 14th century on top of an existing Norse fort. It was thought to incorporate the caves under the main structure as a safe area during attacks.

Castle Varrich

Castle Varrich

View from Castle Varrech looking towards Kyle of Tongue

View from Castle Varrech looking towards Kyle of Tongue

Our second day of exploration was much more local as we did everything on foot from the doorstep of our comfortable cottage. Once the rain stopped we walked west to the small town of Bettyhill then up on to the Cliffs. From here you had a great view all around: the cliffs on the other side of Farr Bay, the beach in the bay, the amazing rock formations and the weather out at sea. In the distance we could see dark clouds forming as they drew water up from the sea. These same clouds would then deposit their load whilst the sun shone to create a perfect rainbow.

Cliff across Farr Bay

Cliff across Farr Bay

On our way back to the cottage we stumbled upon an interesting structure in the local graveyard. Known as the Farr Stone this is a Pictish rectangular slab dating back to between 800 and 850 CE (AD). The basic design is a ringed cross, which has been elaborated with decorated panels all produced with great skill to be in harmony with each other. Despite local tradition, there is no mystery about its origin. It marks the grave of an important local person.

Farr Stone

Farr Stone

We were then on our way again, fighting the morning rain as we made our way along Scotlands north coast towards Thurso. Since leaving Farr Bay the scenery had changed. The mountains had gone and been replaced by a much flatter landscape. There was now also a greater level of habitation.
Our first stop was in the hamlet of Dunnet to visit the Dunnet Gin Distillery. Covid-19 had put pay to any tour options but the distillery shop had lots of thing to buy. Having contributed to the local economy we left the Gin Distillery and retraced our steps back to the town of Thurso. It was time for a food shop.
Stocked up, we left Thurso and drove out into the countryside in search of our next accommodation. In an area known as Tain, surrounded by fields and amongst a cluster of houses, we located our cottage. A beautiful property that was well equipped and comfortable would be our home for the next four nights.

The weather over the next few days was variable to say the least. We had strong winds, heavy rain and sunshine, sometimes all on the same day. Suffice to say this limited our activities a bit, but we were happy to stay in the cottage when the weather was at its worst.
We did manage a walk in Dunnet Forest and visit to Dunnet Head though. The forest was not all that spectacular but it gave us a bit of exercise.
Dunnet Head on the other hand was much more exciting. The headland here is the most northerly point in mainland Britain and is on the same latitude as southern Norway. It is also only a few miles from the southern shores of the Isles of Orkney, but with the treacherous waters of the Pentland Firth standing in your way. We considered a day trip to Orkney, but decided to leave it to another occasion when we would have more time to do it justice.

We have done. Most northernly point in mainland Britain

We have done. Most northernly point in mainland Britain

View of the Orkney Isles from Dunnet Head

View of the Orkney Isles from Dunnet Head

That brought us to the final leg of our NC500, a one day drive south towards Inverness. The day wasn’t a direct drive from A to B though, we had some interesting things to see on route.
Just before we started down the east coast we had one final stop to make in the north. The small village of John o’ Groats (see below) represents one end of the longest distance between two inhabited British points on its mainland, with Land’s End in Cornwall lying 876 miles (1,410 kilometres) southwest, being the other. The reason for visit was purely touristic, to see the signposts and to be able to say we have been to both John o’ Groats and Land’s End.

More John o'Groats Signs

More John o'Groats Signs

Another John o'Groats signage

Another John o'Groats signage

John o'Groat signs

John o'Groat signs

From John o’ Groats it was only around 10 miles to our next stop of the day, the ruins of Bucholie Castle (see below). There is no formal access to the castle so it required a muddy trudge down a farm track and along the cliff edge to reach it. But it was worth it, the views were magnificent and the setting amazing. You can’t actually get into the castle because of its position perched on an outcrop, or very close due to the crumbling cliff edge. But it was well worth the effort, especially as we had it to ourselves bar a few birds birds and a curious Seal that watched us from the water below.

North East Coast of Scotland

North East Coast of Scotland

Bucholie Castle

Bucholie Castle

Our route now took us further south to the town of Wick and our next stop, Castle Sinclair. The visit this time was much more organised with a dedicated path to the site and boards to explain what you are seeing. Castle Sinclair was much larger than Bucholie and more of it has survived. In fact the ruins are the combination of two castles, one built in the 15th century and another in the 17th. Its setting was once again on a cliff edge, spectacular, but a little less wild than Bucholie. This time we could get inside and explore some of the remaining structure, making it all a bit more real.

Castle Sinclair

Castle Sinclair

Castle Sinclair

Castle Sinclair

Having now had our fill of history for the day, we had a late lunch and continued our drive south. Just before Inverness the NC500 turns inland, but we didn’t.
Although this would mean we wouldn’t complete a whole circuit, we had covered 483 mile (777km) of 516 miles (830km), which suited us fine. Instead we continued on to the Black Isle where new adventures awaited us.
Does the NC500 deserve the accolade of being the 2nd best coastal road trip in the world? Based on the west coast section I would say most definitely, it would be a tougher sell if just based on the east coast.

Personal Observations & Interesting Facts

Less obvious sights of the NC500
Together with the more obviously amazing things we saw whilst driving the NC500, there were a few unusual things as well:

We were surprised by the number of derelict churches we saw. Usually sitting in open ground surrounded by graves stones, walls intact but with the roof missing. This was probably the result of shrinking communities, people moving away in search of work, and the congregation numbers falling accordingly. It would then become unviable to keep the church open.

It was nice to see red telephone boxes again. Most towns and villages had at least one and they had a telephone and phone book inside. Although we didn’t use one we assumed they were all in working order.

Although for the most part the weather en route was pretty good, rain was never far away. This meant rainbows and lots of them. Almost every day we would see one and usually quite clearly. So much so their sighting was no longer a surprise.

Highland Rainbow

Highland Rainbow

Two very different types of vehicle appeared to represent transport on the NC500. There were a lot of Camper-vans. Not the mobile homes you see in north America, but smaller versions more suitable for UK roads. These seemed to cater for small families or young couples. Then at the other end of the scale, Porsche’s. Usually travelling in a small convoy and driven by more mature travellers.

Finally, crows. On the west coast of the Scottish Highlands there only seemed to be Hooded Crows, whilst on the east only Carrion Crows. There were a few exceptions but this seemed to be the general rule. The dividing line between the range of the two species appeared to be around Thurso, an area we spent time in. It was though there was an invisible barrier in this area preventing the Carrion Crows from venturing any further west, meaning that they congregated in vast numbers.

John o’ Groats
The settlement takes its name from Jan de Groot, a Dutchman who once plied a ferry from the Scottish mainland to the Orkney Isles, which had recently been acquired from Norway by King James IV. Local legend has it that the "o' Groats" refers to John's charge of one groat for use of his ferry, but it actually derives from the Dutch de groot, meaning "the large”.

Bucholie Castle
In 1140 the notorious Norse pirate and robber Svein Aliefson built himself a fortress called Lambaborg on the site. However, this only lasted 12 years before his castle was besieged by Earl Rognvald whose displeasure he had incurred. Svein's henchmen had slain an important local nobleman in an argument over rents. The nobleman's son had complained to the Earl who arrived with a strong force to arrest Svein. Svein refused to hand over his personal henchman, Margad, to the Earls justice and secured himself and sixty of his men in the castle. When his provisions are almost exhausted he and his companion-in-arms, Margad Grimson, got themselves lowered to the sea from the hundred foot high castle rock by means of a rope and then both swim along the shore to safety to escape from the Earl.
The present visible structures were built by the Mowat family, who were granted the lands by King Robert the Bruce. They lived in the castle until 1427 when together with their followers, were burned to death in the chapel of St Duthac at Tain by MacNeil of Creich.
The castle stands on a peninsula 100 feet high, cut off from land by a trench 7 feet wide and 9 feet deep. The keep which rose from the edge of this trench measured only 14 feet by 20 feet in total. Only the west wall, standing 30 feet high, and part of the south wall remain. The walls of the vaulted basement are 4 feet thick, but on the floor above only about 2 feet thick.

Posted by MAd4travel 07:21 Archived in Scotland Comments (2)

UK Road Trip 2020 - South to North and Back (Third Leg)

Route: Scotland: Galloway Forest - Killin

semi-overcast 12 °C

SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2020

It was only a short drive from our base in Hexham, Northumberland before we crossed the border into Scotland. With time available we decided to follow a scenic route to our next location and drive most of the SWC300.
The South West Coast 300 (SWC300) is a scenic 300 mile drive that hugs the south west coast of Scotland. Once across the border we turned west and followed the northern coast of the Solway Firth. Our route took us through quaint Scottish villages, past ancient monuments (there seemed a lot of Abbeys in this part of the world) and vast mud flats on our coastal side.

Mud flat at Solway Firth

Mud flat at Solway Firth

After driving for a couple of hours we arrived at the Galloway Peninsula and what we hoped would be the highlight of the drive. Down at the southern tip of the peninsula is the Mull of Galloway where a lighthouse looks out into the Irish Sea. Here it is possible to see Seals, Puffins and Gannets to name but a few of the animals that call by on occasions. It is also possible to see the tip of Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man on a clear day. The Mull was our destination.
Numerous narrow lanes and single track roads got us to the Mull and with a light breeze and the sun shining it was both spectacular and beautiful to behold. We did a circular walk along the cliffs and around the lighthouse but didn’t spot any of the more exotic residents or were able to see the distant land masses mentioned. But it was very enjoyable all the same and made a perfect break to our journey.

Driving to the Mull of Galloway

Driving to the Mull of Galloway

Mull of Galloway

Mull of Galloway

Mull of Galloway, Scotland most southerly point

Mull of Galloway, Scotland most southerly point

From the Mull our route took us north, still following the coast and with more stunning scenery, until we headed inland soon after the coastal town of Girvan.
Our final destination for the day was also our base for the next five days, the small village of Straiton. We had rented a traditional one story house at the southern end of the village which gave us easy access to the Galloway Forest.

Our accommodation in Straiton, traditional Scottish single story house

Our accommodation in Straiton, traditional Scottish single story house

With the sun shining and a light wind, there was no time to waste, so we were up and out to explore the Galloway Forest (see below). The scenery in the northern part of the forest is quite different in the south and our aim was to explore both. Today we were going to the south and the area known as Glentrool. A beautiful drive through the middle of the forest got us to our destination on the banks of Loch Trool.

Driving through the Galloway forest

Driving through the Galloway forest

After a short walk up to Bruce’s Stone, a stone commemorating the 1307 battle between the Scottish King Robert the Bruce and the English Earl of Pembroke. We started walking around the loch. The route first took us away from the loch and into a forest at the foot of steep hillsides. Our path wound through the forest and crossed a number of rivers before arriving on the south side of the loch. From here we walked along the edge of the loch for about half its length before retracing our steps back to the start. We chose not to circle the loch as the scenery seemed nicer down our end.

Memorial stone to Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland and the battle of Trool in 1307

Memorial stone to Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland and the battle of Trool in 1307

Loch Trool hike

Loch Trool hike

View down Loch Trool

View down Loch Trool

There was a complete change in the weather the following day so our activities were limited to a short visit to the local market town of Maybole and a walk around our village late in the day. The trip to Maybole served two purposes: one to get some provisions and the other to see some of its historic building, the latter was cut short by heavy rain.

Maybole Castle

Maybole Castle

As we awoke to sunshine the next day the exploration of the Galloway Forest’s northern section was a must. A hike up “Cornish Hill” was recommended so that’s what we did. As expected the scenery was quite different to the south. Although it did start in dense forest it soon opened up and we were treated to the sight of rolling hills and small upland lochs. Once out of the forest we gained height fairly quickly but the going was not too strenuous. Once on top of the hill the views were magnificent and well worth the climb. We then descended back into the forest and finally circled back to where we had parked the car.

Cornish hill hike in the forest of Galloway

Cornish hill hike in the forest of Galloway

Cornish hill summit

Cornish hill summit

Cornish hill hike in the Galloway Forest

Cornish hill hike in the Galloway Forest

The day was completed by a forest drive along a timber road to the largest loch in the area, Loch Doon. But that wasn’t the end of the excitement, we were treated to some sheep herding whilst the road was temporary closed.

Herding of Sheep

Herding of Sheep

The following day was also bright and sunny, perfect for our drive north. Today we were changing location, still in Scotland, but over 100 miles further north. We didn’t chose the most direct route but instead went for the most scenic.
From Straiton, we drove west to the coast, then north up the Clyde estuary. To our left we looked out to sea and the Isle of Arron, whilst on our right were the towering hills of the Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park. Many small coastal towns were negotiated, often with ferry terminals serving outlying islands, before the area got a more industrial feel as we approached Glasgow.

Glasgow is Scotlands largest city, but that wasn’t our destination on this occasion. Instead, just before arriving on its outskirts we turned away and over the Erskine Bridge to continue our journey north. The route now became more scenic again as we were soon following the banks of Loch Lomond. We followed the loch for most of its length before turning west into an area of beautiful glens and far less traffic. The road twisted and switchbacked for about 25 miles before arriving at Loch Fyne and the attractive town of Inveraray. This seemed like a good place to take a break and stretch our legs.

Road to Inveraray

Road to Inveraray


Aray bridge, 2 stone arches giving access to Inveraray

Aray bridge, 2 stone arches giving access to Inveraray


Inveraray

Inveraray

Inveraray Harbour

Inveraray Harbour

Refreshed from our stroll around Inveraray we got back in the car and finish the last leg of today’s journey. The route continued to provide beautiful scenery all the way to our final destination.

Kilchurn Castle,constructed in the mid-15th century as the base of the Campbells of Glenorchy clan

Kilchurn Castle,constructed in the mid-15th century as the base of the Campbells of Glenorchy clan

We had booked a two night stay in the village of Killin, on the banks of Loch Tay. A pleasant village with stunning scenery all around, which we felt should be explored a bit before the sun disappear behind the mountains and the temperature dropped away. Therefore, from our hotel at the far end of the village we walk up to the bridge that crossed the River Dochart. Here we were able to get a good view of Dochart Waterfall. More a number of cascades than a waterfall but still impressive all the same.

Dochart falls

Dochart falls

After a hearty meal in the hotel restaurant, it was back to our room to relax and get our body’s prepared for the following day’s hike.
Dinning in the restaurant was a whole new experience in these Covid-19 times. First, to access the restaurant you had to put on your face mask, which was also required anywhere inside the hotel except for your room. Then you had to follow blue arrows to be met by a waiter who showed you to your table, which we had booked in advance. Then everything became automated, to avoid unnecessary contact with others. Using the hotel app, Anne called up the restaurant menu, placed our drinks and food order, recorded our table number and paid the bill. All done and a few minutes later our drinks were delivered to our table with the food following about ten minutes later. Once finished there wasn’t the usual problem of attracting the waiter attention to secure the bill then going through the paying process, because this had already been done, so we could leave whenever we were ready.

Morning view from our bedroom window

Morning view from our bedroom window

Backyard of our hotel

Backyard of our hotel

The weather on the next day was beautifully sunny with very little wind, which was lucky as we only had one full day to explore the area. We wanted to get the best view of the stunning scenery that lay all around us, so we needed some elevation.
The small mountain just in front of the hotel, known as Sron a Chlachain, seemed to hit the remit. Just after 10:00 we started our accent. The path up was steep but at least allowed us to gain elevation quickly. It wasn’t long before the 521m summit came into view and with a final push we were there. From the top the views were spectacular, steep sided mountains all around us and Loch Tay stretching off into the distance. The climb had been well worth it.

Start of the Sron a'Chlachain and Creag Buidhe hike

Start of the Sron a'Chlachain and Creag Buidhe hike

approaching the (fake) summit the ascent of Creag Buidhe

approaching the (fake) summit the ascent of Creag Buidhe

View of Loch Tay and Killin in the valley from the (fake) summit

View of Loch Tay and Killin in the valley from the (fake) summit

Creag Buidhe Summit (530m)

Creag Buidhe Summit (530m)

At this point most people turn around and re-trace their steps. But we had read about a circular walk that took you back down the opposite side of the mountain, so we gave that a go. Our concerns should have been alerted when the instructions said that there was no path to follow at this point, just head down hill into a gully then you will pick another path on the other side. The decent was equally as steep as the ascent and now very boggy underfoot. Our pace was quite slow as we zig-zagged to avoid deep puddles of water. Finally, having wandered around the hillside for about an hour, disturbing Red Grouse and sheep in the process, we finally found the path.

Descending from the Summit (530m) of Creag Buidhe

Descending from the Summit (530m) of Creag Buidhe

When the next instruction said to follow the clear droving trail down into the valley, we knew that the writer had either never done the hike or it was done along time ago. The droving trail was there, but so overgrown it was very difficult to follow. Undeterred, we pushed on and bar a few excursions off track we followed it down into the valley. As the description rightly said, we arrived at a fence. But the gate in the fence was nowhere to be seen. So a bit of fence climbing was now required. This achieved we continued on down hill only to encounter a further fence, one that was not in the description and had barbed wire on the top. With this obstacle carefully negotiated we were now tantalisingly close to the road back home. However, further challenges lay ahead.
Now a wall blocked our path, fortunately for us this one had a hole in it. But it still wasn’t plain sailing. It would be an understatement to say the ground beneath our feet was a bit soft for the final stretch. We were now wading through thick mud best described as a muddy stream.

At last we were on the road with firm dry tarmac under our feet and only a few kilometres back to the village. But we weren’t finished with surprises yet. As we entered the far end of the village we encountered some very strange garden ornaments. One house had a mannequin worker outside it whilst another had a life-size flamingo drinking out of a fish pond. Four and half hours after leaving the hotel car park we arrived back, a little tired but very pleased with our achievement.

Unusual street art (the man is a fake, it's a mannequin!)

Unusual street art (the man is a fake, it's a mannequin!)

Personal Observations & Interesting Facts

Scotland
For those readers who are not native to the UK here is a very brief introduction.
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom (England, Wales Scotland & Northern Island). Covering the northern third of the island of Great Britain (UK minus Northern Island), mainland Scotland has a 96 mile (154 km) border with England to the southeast. It is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, the North Sea to the northeast and the Irish Sea to the south. In addition, Scotland includes more than 790 islands; principally within the Northern Isles and the Hebrides archipelagos.
The Kingdom of Scotland emerged as an independent state during the early Middle Ages and continued to exist until 1707. Scotland subsequently entered into a political union with the Kingdom of England on 1 May 1707 to create the new Kingdom of Great Britain.
In 1999, a Scottish Parliament was re-established, in the form of a devolved unicameral legislature, comprising of 129 members and having authority over many areas of domestic policy.
Scotland’s capital is Edinburgh situated on the east coast. However, it is not the largest city, that is Glasgow on the west coast. The majority of the Scottish population resides in the centre of the country in and around Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Scottish National Flower: Thistle

Scottish National Flower: Thistle

Scottish Words
As with our visit to northern England a number of commonly used local words came to our attention whilst in Scotland. Again, we were fairly sure we knew their meaning but thought it would worth checking for our and other readers benefit. So here goes:

Loch: Is a lake or sea inlet;
Burn: Is a body of fresh water;
Glen: Is a valley, typically one that is long and bounded by gently sloped concave sides, unlike a ravine, which is deep and bounded by steep slopes; and
Ben: Is a mountain.
Firth: Is a narrow inlet of the sea or an estuary.

Galloway Forest
Galloway Forest is operated by Forestry and Land Scotland, principally covering woodland in Dumfries and Galloway. It is the largest forest in the UK, covering an area of 774 square kilometres (299 sq miles). It was also granted Dark Sky Park status in November 2009, being the first area in the UK to be so designated.

When does a Hill become a Mountain
A mountain is a large landform that rises above the surrounding land in a limited area, usually in the form of a peak. A mountain is generally considered to be steeper than a hill, have sloping sides, sharp or rounded ridges. Most geologists classify a mountain as a landform that rises at least 1,000 feet (300 meters) or more above its surrounding area.

Posted by MAd4travel 04:41 Archived in Scotland Comments (1)

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