January Travels

We woke to a crisp, frosty, sparkly morning by Loch Ness, thankful that we’d been warm and were able to continue. We followed the lakeside along to the end [Dorres] and then on to the outskirts of Inverness, before turning to The Cairngorms where we were treated to a full day’s travel of wintery scenes; snow covered hills and roads lined with Christmassy, snow-laden conifers.

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I remembered being given a slender cookery booklet from the Festival Theatre, Pitlochry many, many years ago- a publication that has been lost but that contained recipes for whisky-laden concoctions [none of which I attempted]. We stopped at Pitlochry, a modest one-street town, attractive in a modest way although more yielding to tourists in days gone by, perhaps.

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At last we came to Fishcross.

At the risk of insulting the residents of Fishcross I feel obliged to say it is remarkable only in its unbecoming appearance-in other words, Fishcross is not a town that you would visit for its stunning architecture or historic value, rather there are row upon row of beige, pebble-dashed terraces punctuated by a Spar supermarket and a cat rescue shelter. Hm…

Nevertheless Fishcross is host, not only to a perfectly acceptable camp site but the site has a great restaurant, frequented by local residents, the poor souls.

But Fishcross is an ideal place to stay for a visit to Stirling, a fine and elegant city which has a stonking great castle on a hill top. So the following day, which dawned damp, dank and misty we caught the local bus there [passing the Wallace Monument en route] and ascended the steep cobbled street up to Stirling Castle.

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This is a proper classic castle, such as we used to draw in history lessons at school, for some obscure reason which now escapes me-

The castle has been restored to within millimetres of its long, historical life-even to the extent of its tapestries, which took years to construct and have their own exhibition.

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Outside was no less fascinating, although the view from the battlements was mist-shrouded and atmospheric.

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There was so much to see at Stirling Castle that little time remained before the bus returning to Fishcross but we managed a whistle-stop tour taking in the bagpipe shop, the kilt shop and Darnley’s house [Darnley was a husband of Mary, Queen of Scots]. Then it was back to the delights of Fishcross, taking care to watch out for the cat rescue centre, since this was our cue to exit the bus.

It was time to head south again, striking out firstly to the Lake District, an area that becomes overstuffed with tourists in summer but is undeniably beautiful.

At our lunch stop at Lockerbie services I weakened on my way out of the building and bought scrumptious, mountainous scones and we were entertained by the many cars arriving with dogs and owners to use the surrounding parkland for walkies.

Then we were at Keswick and this was the reward:

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Next January’s trip may well be to the Lake District!

 

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The Ups and Downs of the Highlands

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We moved on, north from Glasgow towards the Highlands and the lochs [lakes], driving through suburbs crammed with beautiful sandstone mansions; first to Loch Lomond, Bannoch and Bannoch Castle. We are limited, at this time of year to sites that are open, yet many are-and all boasting five-star provision.

The castle [pictured above] is picturesque enough in its setting but all that visitors can see of the interior is a torn lace curtain.

Since Glasgow I’d been mentioning to Husband that a faint, high-pitched whine drifted intermittently through our vehicle, a comment that he dismissed in his customary airy fashion.

Loch Lomond, immortalised in song, surrounded by hills and adorned with small leisure craft and a steamer is of course beautiful, although Balloch village is nondescript, apart from some droll touches:
p1060647Having spent the night in Balloch’s excellent site we moved on and towards Loch Ness while I puzzled over the fizzing, crackling sound that appeared to come from the passenger side air vent.

There was little in the way of grocery stores but a plethora of farm shops indicated that my lust for pies might be about to be satisfied and it was. After our visit I concluded that if we lived in the vicinity of such a shop we’d be a] bankrupt in a very short space of time and b] obese.

Back in the van with the spoils the fizzing noise began to be accompanied by a burning rubber aroma, which even dismissive Husband admitted smelling. There were no indicator lights on the dashboard but we halted while Husband peered into the engine. Nothing amiss. We continued, as did the fizzing and the smell. There was a short stop to see ‘The Falls of Falloch’:

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Then we stopped to consume ‘Scotch’ pies here:

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At last we came along the Caledonian Canal side and to the shores of Loch Ness, check-in, plug-in and Horrors! 

The leisure battery under the passenger seat was too hot to touch! This was certainly where the smell had originated. No more plug-in as everything needed to be switched off; no lights, no water, no cooker, no heat-no heat? The temperature was -6C and a light dusting of snow. From Reception I got the number of a motorhome specialist in Inverness. We prepared to vacate and trek up to a hotel in the village. Then the mobile repair fellow messaged to say he’d be with us at 6.00pm.

There was an anxious wait, but he arrived, managed to isolate the offending battery, leaving us with 2 that continued to function and informing us that the stench was of noxious boiling sulphuric acid and very, very dangerous. Lovely. We’d been breathing it in all day. Ho hum…

Thanks to the cheerful, able mobile repair fellow we could plug in, get warm and be lit, waking next morning cosy and snug and to this view:

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TMTE than TOWIE…

               Here in the UK where get our share of reality TV the creative whizzes behind the shows display no signs at all that they are running out of ideas. One such programme is a day-to-day look at life in the county of Essex, a county that has gained itself quite a reputation during the last fifteen years or so, for its characterful populace and their antics.

                I must confess I am not a follower of ‘The Only Way is Essex’ and that all of my knowledge of said show has been gleaned from reading reviews or catching glimpses of the ‘slebs’ in glossy magazines whilst waiting for appointments [as explained in previous posts], but I’m guessing that fans of the programme could be forgiven for thinking that all there is to Essex is London overspill towns, spray tans, vajazzles and estuary vowels [for the uninitiated-Essex edges itself around the mouth of the Thames as it joins the North Sea and the inhabitants speak in a distinctive, unmistakeable accent]. It is easy to gain a preconceived idea of a place.

                I consider myself, as far as the UK is concerned, to be a South Wester-that is to say I was born in the South West I’ve spent most of my life living there, however I did spend some significant periods of my childhood living in both East Anglia [North Norfolk] and Kent, and although I know and recall both of these areas well I knew nothing of Essex until this week, when we journeyed Eastwards to rectify this gaping void of ignorance.

                Of course I was well aware that besides the sprawling conurbations of Basildon and Romford there were whole tracts of beautiful countryside, swathes of marshes teeming with wildlife, charming coastal towns and quaint villages and I have not been disappointed. We made first for Mersea Island in the south-an island only in that a wide, muddy causeway separates it from the ‘mainland’, given over largely to holiday parks, but also home to manicured villages with black, clapperboard houses with voluptuous gardens, village duck-ponds and wonderful pubs. We visited the Oyster Bar, indulging in an enormous sharing platter of crab, prawns, mussels, cockles, smoked salmon, smoked haddock and of course, oysters-accompanied by a Guiness [Husband] and a chilled white wine [me].

                Colchester, towards the East boasts the reputation of being the earliest recorded town in the country, although here my expectations were a little dashed. It is a handsome town, with some fine buildings but not spectacular. It has a modest, well-tended castle but I suspect all vestiges of antiquity were thrashed out of it long ago to make way for the ubiquitous likes of H&M, Marks and Spencer, Greggs and Tesco Express.             

                On again then to the East coast beyond Colchester, where were truly in the depths of the countryside, but near to the ports of Harwich and Felixstowe [across the water to the North in Suffolk]. It is an exemplary scene of rural England. So much for preconceptions-and all about three hours away!