The last day dawns bright and clear but cold. Breakfast at the Cumbria Park is fine standard English fare and we’re relieved to discover the car has remained unmolested in the slightly cramped car park. Our first port of call is Hadrian’s Wall and happily Birdoswald Fort is just 15 miles distant, but we have to go there and nearly back to Carlisle again as it’s a spur off our main route. It’s a nice run though and we’re soon off the main road and looping through the countryside catching glimpses of sections of the wall in various states of disrepair, most notably at the village of Gilsand where the wall lies alongside the River Irthing. Continue reading “Round Britain – Final Day”
The Britannia Leeds Hotel is our first ‘chain’ hotel and the first hotel that is close to our £50/night budget. It seems to be pitched primarily as an overnight stop for coach passengers, (there are three in the car park), and is clean and basic if a little jaded. Although we tried to take the room + breakfast deal when we checked in, it seems that the night man didn’t manage that and we’re not on the list, requiring a quick trip back to reception and some cash in exchange for a voucher. During breakfast Stu takes exception to Eamon Holmes’ interviewing technique on Sky News and tweets a mildly derogatory comment. This gets picked up and refuted by one of Eamon/Sky’s minions and Stu is quickly embroiled in a multi-person twitter flamefest, which we find highly amusing. Continue reading “Round Britain – Day 4”
Morning dawned wet and grey on Dartmoor. The cooked to order breakfast goes some way to making up for this by being both excellent and plentiful. Out in front of the Inn the landlord had parked his TV-star (Darling Buds of May) Morris Minor next to our Citroen, which makes a nice picture. Our plan today is to head along the south coast as far as Dover, picking off sights as we go along. Continue reading “Round Britain – Day 3”
Today dawned bright and clear, and it was the first time we’d seen our surroundings in daylight. The Battleaxes is situated on a nearly blind bend in a surprisingly busy country lane, so in order to take a photograph of a phone box clad in vegetation, we had to scamper across the road with alacrity. After breakfast we were keen to head off and make a start on the list of ‘great sights’. The nearest of these was the Clifton Suspension Bridge, back in Bristol.
Citroen were due to deliver the car ‘around 9am’ but being a French car delivered by French people on a Monday morning, no-one who was English was very hopeful of this timetable. However despite even the low expectations, time passed. And passed. And passed. At 11am we hear it’ll be arriving soon. Continue reading “Round Britain – Day 1”
Back in the early summer, a colleague (Stuart), and I were asked by a University spinoff company if we would like to take a car from Citroen on a road trip around the country in order to collect telematics data for the company. This data could then compared with the Citroen’s on-board telematics data, found to be far superior (perhaps) and much exchanging of contracts and business would thus ensue. We jumped at the chance because firstly it’s a free road trip, plus being early summer it would allow us to use the light nights to do some awesome photography in some awesome places. In addition it was a free road trip (have I said that?). Unfortunately Citroen were unable to come up with the software-enabled car at the last minute, so the whole project was shelved. Fast forward to the end of October and a couple of new cars make an appearance, and once again we are asked if we want to go. Luckily we both had a 5-day gap in our schedules, so were up for it. This is the story of that trip.
We woke this morning to clear blue skies, the first fully cloudless day of the trip and typically the day in which we leave for home. However the hotel staff tried to soften the blow by sticking us in the conservatory for breakfast so we could watch the sun rise above the mountains of Glencoe and over the loch. Eventually we were ready for setting off – was very surprised to have to scrape ice off the car’s windscreen though. Winter nights come early to these mountains! The journey south down the A82 through Glencoe and skirting Glen Etive was little short of spectacular. Despite our early start many of the car parks were already busy with walkers and ‘Munro baggers’ keen to make the most of the sunny day. I couldn’t resist stopping the car near Buachaille Etive Mór, the gateway mountain to Glen Etive, for a quick snap. If you’re a landscape photographer you’ll already have seen pictures of this by every other photographer out there, so I had to grab one myself. Mine was a bit rushed so I didn’t get the ideal viewpoint (plus the weather probably needs to be a bit more gnarly) but driving a little further on I am sure I did spot the place where all the other photographers stop. Next time…
We hammered on down past Loch Lomond and like we did in June, we stopped for refreshments after a couple of hours at Balloch. It’s very touristy, but the parking is free, they make a good latte and it’s the right distance from the hotel for a break.
Crossing Glasgow is always an experience after you’ve spent any time in the Isles. At any point on the M8 I can see more cars than I have passed in the previous 4 days. I can understand how people who spend longer away can suffer culture shock. From there it was a straight if long run to our late lunch stop at Tebay services on the M6. Again it’s familiar, but it’s the right distance from our tea break and of course just a couple hours from home.
Daily total: 120 miles
Up early again today to pack the car with what seems like just as much stuff as we brought with us. I had expected that we’d eat out way through a deal of the baggage we brought, but nope, we seem to have replaced a lot of it. But eventually it was done and we said goodbye to Croft Cottage and Lower Milovaig for the last time. The 9 miles of single track to Dunvegan didn’t seem to go any quicker even though we’re used to it by now, so the two-lane blacktop was greeted with a cheer. Speed could now be made retracing the route we followed yesterday, but I was compelled to screech to a halt as we rounded Loch Harport just below Struan. The weather was so clear and the water so still that the reflections across the loch were nearly perfect. I had to grab a picture.
On the road again we made a slighter earlier (for us) stop for a coffee at the Sligachan Hotel under the brooding peak of Glamaig in the Red Cullin. The car park was packed with the cars of walkers, all out on the hills, but there were a number of photographers manipulating tripods round the Sligachan River and trying to catch the fleeting sunlight on the hills. I counted five of them at one point (not including me with my little Panasonic). I took some tripod-less snaps as the sun disappeared and went into the hotel for a coffee.
From the Sligachan Hotel it was a non-stop hour’s run to the ferry terminal at Armadale. We arrived a full hour before our sailing just as the previous ferry was leaving. The CalMac man-who-does-everything/harbourmaster smiled sorrowfully at us – he must have thought we’d missed our sailing – but he presumably ditched that idea when I went and collected my pre-booked tickets for the next ferry from him. With an hour to kill we sampled the delights of Armadale (which are not extensive) and had an ice-cream. It wasn’t long before the waiting park was full of other vehicles with a couple of coach loads of passengers ambling about. The ferry duly arrived, and for once my position in the front of the queue translated into a position at the very front of the boat.
The 40 minute crossing of the Sound of Sleat was totally uneventful on a flat calm water, though the views were lovely. Driving into Mallaig on the other side was a culture shock, being a busy place, both as a ferry port and the terminus of the West Highland Line (but more on that anon). We grabbed a parking place and a decent cafe for a spot of dinner.
Heading back towards Fort William I was determined to make a stop at Genfinnan, both to see the ‘Harry Potter’ viaduct and the monument. When it turned out that it was Scottish National Trust-owned so we could park and get in for free, my Yorkshire-ness was fully tickled. A whole group of people were stood at the foot of the car park overlooking a rather insipid view of the viaduct, waiting it seemed for a train to come along. I got fed up of that so donned my boots for a muddy climb to the better viewpoint. About 3/4 of the way up the steep climb I heard a train’s whistle, so for the first (and hopefully last) time in my life I turned into a fell runner and sprinted the last few vertical yards. I was rewarded with a fine view of the viaduct, across which the “Hogwarts Express” (sorry, “Jacobite”), obligingly puffed. Magical.
Back down at the bottom we had a walk over to the monument at the head of Loch Sheil. I rather foolishly decided the climb the damn thing. It wasn’t much different from a castle tower going up until the last bit where you had to wriggle through a loft-hatch-sized opening onto the top of the monument. Not the smartest thing I have ever done as I clung to the top and grabbed a few pics without looking down.
Back on the ground (thank God) there was a piper playing for a coach party, so we latched on to that and got a few very biscuit tin pics of the girl (for it was a girl piper) in front of the Loch.
On from there and through a busy Fort William to our overnight stop at the Isles of Glencoe hotel at Ballachulish. This hotel has a truly special location at the side of Loch Linnhe and is built is a style slightly reminiscent of an Alpine lodge. Our room had two massive Velux windows overlooking the Loch, but I was quickly out of the room again trying to capture the last light on Sgorr na Cìche (the Pap of Glencoe) before the sun set behind me.
Broadford, Armadale and Clan Donald
Daily total: 140 miles
Having pretty much travelled a great deal of northern Skye, the plan today was to see a bit more of the south. Since we arrived on Monday we hadn’t been further south that Portree, so today was the plan to right some of that. Early plans to hit the road to Glen Brittle or perhaps Elgol were scuppered by the weather. The Cullin was under a great deal of cloud, so we felt there was no point in going to look at what you cannot see. Instead we headed for Broadford. Well, we didn’t set off that early but we had barely got 1/4 of a mile down the road when we were flagged down by an elegantly dressed couple stood besides their hire car, sat on the grassy verge. They were French (or possibly Belgian) and it emerged that she had swerved to avoid an oncoming car and now their car was stuck fast. It didn’t look very stuck, so we all endeavoured to push it out. Turned out it was really stuck, with one wheel hanging over a ditch and spinning uselessly. I was really annoyed – here I am with a Land Rover and no blasted tow rope so I couldn’t pull ’em out. We offered a lift to the garage at Dunvegan (9 miles), but she managed to call out someone to give them a tow off the bank, so we left them waiting at that point. I wonder what tales they will tell when they get home.
Back on the road and somehow managing to resist the temptations of the short ferry ride to the island of Raasay from Sconser, our first stop was Broadford, which despite being located under the majestic bulk of Beinn na Caillich (the Red Hills) seemed rather an uninspiring strip mall of a place. There was no tempting anyone to visit Skye Serpentarium and Reptile World (not even with a coffee shop) so we had a drink in the imaginatively-titled Beinn na Callaich Cafe, a quick look round the town and then moved on. All too soon we hit the end of the road at Armadale – lunchtime saw us overlooking the harbour and eating our butties. Retracing our steps slightly we decided to visit the house and gardens of the Clan MacDonald.
Well, we had done MacLeod place yesterday and it seemed unreasonable to take sides in the battle. Also it was the preferred choice over the Talisker Whisky Distillery tour (sigh). But despite this it turned out to be very interesting. Whilst the MacLeods had a full-sized castle to play with and the MacDonalds had only a ruined mansion house, the MacD’s made up for it with their museum and visitor centre.
Modern and well laid-out, it was crammed with stuff including a full-sized stone circle and an ancient Skye racing skiff. I am glad we went and spent the afternoon there looking round the museum and gardens.
However I do think the MacDonalds have missed a trick – visiting the restaurant for afternoon tea I was disappointed that the menu included a ‘100% Beef Burger’. I mean come on, your clan name is MacDonald, your family has been cooking meat on that spot for at least a millennium, what would YOU be tempted to call that burger?
Arriving back at Lower Milovaig after a long day, I was glad to see that our stranded tourists had gone. All that was left was a long grove in the verge where the underside of the car had been extricated. At least they got away, and there didn’t seem to be any signs of mechanical mayhem.
After a lot of driving on the previous two days we decided that staying a bit more local might be the ticket today. First stop was Neist Point, the most westerly point on Skye and the location of a much admired lighthouse. The car park is at the very top of the cliffs and you have a choice of a vertignous descent down the cliffside path to the light itself or a steep climb up the nearby hills for a panoramic view. I chose the latter this morning and indeed the views are spectacular, looking out over the light across the Little Minch to the Outer Hebrides beyond.
From there we headed to Dunvegan and the chance to fill up with diesel at the most laid-back garage-cum-meeting-for-a-chat place ever. On to the end of the road and a look round Dunvegan Castle and gardens. This has been the seat of the MacLeod family for at least 800 years and like all semi-aristocratic families they don’t seem to have ever thrown anything away. The castle ( the upper floors are still very much occupied by the family) is rammed with all manner of stuff from throughout the ages.
The gardens were also impressive; well laid-out with nearly all the plants labeled clearly. Just to show, there were two separate waterfalls alone, as well as a formal garden and a walled garden. We got caught by a shower, but luckily were able to retreat to a potting shed that doubled as the garden museum to wait it out.
Leaving the castle and from the town’s car park we happily ate our sandwiches looking out over the harbour towards the twin flat-topped mountains known as MacLeod’s Tables.
Leaving Dunvegan we headed back out on the Portree road, but soon turned off onto the a minor road leading to the peninsula called the Waternish. Almost immediately we stopped at the Fairy Bridge, which is just a little bridge carrying the old road with the new road running alongside.
The legend is, if you first enter the Waternish by the Fairy Bridge, then you will forever belong to the Waternish. I think they miss a trick by bypassing it with the new road though! Carrying on up there, with lovely views overlooking Loch Bay and Dunvegan Head, it’s not long before we reach the ruins of Trumpan Church. I am not entirely sure who did what anymore, but this was the site of a massacre of the MacLeods by the MacDonalds. Or maybe it was the other way round? Anyway, in retaliation for some other massacre where one lot trapped another in a cave and smoked them to death, on this occasion the second lot burnt down the church with the first lot inside.
The astonishing thing to my mind is that they remember those days fondly, whist we, the Sassanach (literally, [Anglo]-Saxon speakers), are still reviled for what seems a lot less violence over a much shorter period. Anyway, despite all the feuding it is a beautiful place and well worth a visit on a lovely day like today.
On the way back we were tempted in to a place called Skye Skins. Basically a business where they prepare sheepskins for sale, either as rugs or for further processing into there goods. The USP, as it where, was they offered you a tour of the workshops before showing you the shop. That was actually very interesting though the prices in the shop were even more so! Sad really, as I wouldn’t have minded a few hints, but £800 for a patchwork sheepskin rug is a wee too rich for my blood.