Day 17 – last day in Edinburgh

This morning I set off at 10ish to make my way to Charlotte Square and the Edinburgh Book Festival, where my faithful Scottish friend Fiona Potter was meeting me.

It was near deserted when I arrived but filled up fast. A number of pavilions and coffee places, the spectacular Speigeltent, (one of which regularly turns up in Auckland), and hordes of school children. Soon my friend arrived and great was the rejoicing thereof.

I know Fiona because of Outlander and through twitter, and we met for the first time in 2015 when I came to Scotland to drive myself around the filming locations. She is someone I always hope to see when I come. Again in 2017 she showed me around New Lanark – the cotton mill and town not far from her home. Today we enjoyed a long catchup and then browsed the books. I purchased a paperback about a man living in the wilds of the Highlands with an endeavour to save a number of threatened Scottish creatures from extinction.

I was hearted to see my favourite author’s books on sale:

We ate a salad for lunch and then headed in to the Speigeltent to hear two crime/thriller authors discuss their books. It was refreshing to hear some of their stories and ways of writing their characters and plot outlined.

Time for a restorative cup of tea and then the walk back to one of the main streets to go our separate ways. I hope I have opportunity to see Fiona again!

I am now hunched in my hovel of a room resting and considering the plans for the evening. I’ll leave you with this multi-coloured floral facade I passed on the way home.

Day 15 – Edinburgh

It is 1.17am and I’ve just made it home from the Edinburgh Tattoo. This will be short on words and heavy in pics. Drove up through Northumberland’s splendid hills and valleys and at the top of a long ascent suddenly found this:

I was thrilled! Then I continued through a few pretty towns and before you know it was in the Edinburgh suburb of Leith. I found my guesthouse and by a series of phone calls and codes found my humble room for the next three days. It’s basic. To my dismay the bathroom/toilet is up another flight of stairs, I can’t open my window, and the slats on my bed are broken or in the process of.

On the plus side I’m in Edinburgh! It seems clean, and there’s a small sink in my room.

I also saw two familiar figures busking by the railway station:

Then I remembered it’s the Fringe festival too! I napped for a bit and then set out for the Royal Mile and Cockburn St where I settled in for chicken nuggets and chips and good Scottish ale:

The streets are teeming with tourists! I was even able to make use of my rain poncho:

I had 6 hours to kill and each one of them seemed to drag. I found an interesting play to go to which took care of an hour, made plans to see more, and sat chatting to an Irish couple there to see the 10.30pm Tattoo as well. There were two shows tonight.

Anyhoo, eventually 10 came around and I wound my way in crowd up to my seat:

I was wearing long sleeves and my polar fleece but I tell you now, it was not enough!! I froze! Still, the show was good and our kiwi contingent were excellent.

I was carried along by the crowd afterwards and found myself by the railway station where I used Uber for the first time. Had to pay 2.5 x the usual payment but right now it feels very worth it.

I’m for bed!

Day 16 – Edinburgh

My past felonies have caught up with me and I was seized and cast into the depths of Edinburgh prison! Actually I paid something like £14 for the privilege! It was an excellent adventure and a mixture of spooky effects, short rides, dark voiceovers and torture.

I escaped uninjured and hope the accusations don’t stick!

But I get ahead of myself. I set off to find breakfast on the bus with a £4 day pass – finding myself heading to The Southern Cross on Cockburn St.

Ah, the architecture of Edinburgh! I love it.

I also loved my first decent flat white in a while:

Then it was on up the cobbled streets of the Mile enjoying some sunshine and festival crowds.

Lest I be enjoying myself too much John Knox, founder of Presbyterianism, scowled at me from the Cathedral frontage.

Further down the Mile I walked and merely by accepting flyers thrust at me received this many by the time I reached The World’s End.

Best of all I encountered this superior owl.

Walking back towards the railway station I passed Edinburgh prison, which is how I found myself incarcerated.

I purchased some salads and fruit from a supermarket to eat back in my room and lay down for a restorative rest.

This evening I’ve been back to the Vue complex for dinner and a movie, and am now sipping tea and biting down on shortbread.

Goodnight all!

Day 14 – Northumberland and those Romans

I was out of signal range for about 24 hours and am now sitting in a parking bay writing a quick belated blog beneath this HUGE welcome!

Last night amidst strong winds and scattered showers I travelled towards a small town called Haltwhistle. Here I would follow a rough farm road 3 miles inland to stay overnight at a B&B farmstay.

Before getting there I visited a very informative visitor’s Centre at Cawfields which featured a great 3D film on this amazing Hadrian’s Wall and the life of a common roman soldier at this bleak northernmost outpost to the Roman Empire.

I learnt some latin in the classroom – ‘knowledge is power’

And after enlisting in the army headed out to find Hadrian’s Wall. This was once huge – 3 metres? – high, and spanned the narrowest breadth of Britain

It was thrilling to stand where the romans had an outpost 2000 years ago.

I got back in to the car and headed to my farmstay wishing I had a 4WD to negotiate the rough road.

After 5kms of this I found it – outside of signal range.

Last night I made my own dinner from salads bought at service centre off M6, and settled in listening to rain and watching the ENTIRE series of BBC Pride and Prejudice. Bliss!

This morning I had my muesli and swung out to go north – enjoying the huge expanse of rolling Northumberland hills and plains.

In 1.3 hrs I’ll be in Edinburgh!

Day 13 – and now I’m sitting down with the Brontes in Haworth

I didn’t find Darcy – I found Heathcliff! Shucks!

Actually, it would seem I’ve landed some fabulous places to stay despite myself. Leaving the green and purple hills of Sheffield and the Peak district I rolled on to the M1 and pushed north today, heading for a place called The Weavers Guesthouse in an unknown town of Haworth. How was I to know I would almost be staying at the Bronte’s parsonage which is directly across the car park behind me.

I drove up in to Yorkshire in increasingly murky weather, an appropriate condition to see the Moors in. Did I hear “Cathy? Cathhhhhyyyyyy?” In the wind? Maybe.

Please squeal along with me when my GPS directed me around the corner and down a cobbled street. My B&B was at the top but needed to circle to come back up and park in the car park behind. I had stepped back in time nearly 200 years.

Having some time to spend before check in I went in to the Apothecary cafe and ordered the lunch special of Yorkshire pudding.

Next I negotiated the cobbled street and up to the Parsonage museum to see just how the Brontes lived and where Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre were written. I get goosebumps thinking that I am walking just where these sisters all shopped and lived.

Here is just where those books and others were written:

They paced around that table discussing their stories.

The rest of the house is full of memorabilia. It is hard to believe how short their lives when you consider the impact of their work. Charlotte lived the longest and watched her brother die of drugs and alcohol at 31, her four sisters of consumption or tuberculosis, her mother of cancer.

There are letters and ink pots and quills and even the blood-flecked handkerchief belonging to Anne (only 28 when she died).

It was all very fascinating and quite moving. That was Charlotte’s dress in the cabinet. I could have fitted my hands around the waist. If I go back through the stones I would be a phenomenon of towering stature.

After paying homage to this incredible family I pulled my hood up over my head and set off for my car, where I listened to my audiobook until the B&B opened. It is 5 mins walk from the Parsonage!

I am thrilled at my lodgings.

They look out from first floor directly on to the cobbled street.

I’ve been out for a wet walk and unearthed some more treasures like this Apothecary shop:

There in the time of the Brontes and no doubt where many a cure was hopefully sought.

This vintage shop my sister would love:

This sheep in the art gallery:

And this gorgeous prospect:

I’m coming back in the morning to investigate these when they open.

Day 12 – a step into Elizabeth Bennet’s world

Yes, today has been all about Pride and Prejudice. 20 mins from where I am staying are the rising hills and rocky formations of the Peak district. To my delight a copy of the book rests on a shelf in my room.

This morning, after sorting breakfast out in the cupboard outside my room, I set off to stand, like Lizzie, contemplating life from a jutting promontory.

I feel I captured it perfectly, although if you look closely you will see MY shot has a row of parked cars in distance, and my contemplations were disturbed by a rowdy group of children readying to hike just beyond my self-timer on tripod. Still, it’s the attitude that counts.

I, like Lizzie, then felt obliged to search out Pemberley – aware that Mr Darcy was absent – and set off (towards Chatsworth). Who knew, he might turn up!

I passed heather on the fields, narrow lanes, leafy glades and 30 mins later my GPS guide proclaimed ‘arrived!’ Sadly, no vehicle traffic allowed so I continued down to the village of Baslow and parked in a pay and display there. I had just enough money for two hours and silently congratulated myself on the small size of parking lot and desultory groups preparing to come too. I truly would have the place to myself with perhaps a housekeeper to show me around.

The walk was promising – over a wee bridge and past a thatched cottage.

At any moment I would be on the tree-lined drive. Brisk walkers and groups of people with dogs straining on leads passed me (do ALL English people own dogs? – just asking). Around the corner my excitement notched up.

Surely – any minute now – that broad facade would swing in to view. But no. To my chagrin I was told by a passerby that it would be over 2 kms to the house! I quickened my pace, remembering last night’s Eton’s Mess and e v e n t u a l l y in the far distance could make out a haze of monumental size and shape. I sat for a while to catch my breath.

Soon I could make out a tiny stream of cars constantly gliding up the hill to the carpark below the huge building. You can imagine my dismay to realise I had approached from the back AND could have parked closer! Comforting myself with the thought that Lizzie walked to the village herself, I slowly – and painfully (sciatica) – approached the entrance. Here I purchased a sausage roll and drink and sat down to contemplate the grounds and the long snake of cars.

Refreshed, I paid to view the garden and was relieved to find a ‘train’ inside the gate. I was on it before you could say “MrBingley”.

Finally! Pemberley as I remembered her!

I did beg the train driver to take a wee diversion back to the village but he thought I was joking. A light rain began to fall which made the train an even more exemplary choice.

Back at base I entered the shop and there, at last! Was Mr Darcy. Sadly not the real one.

Ah well.

Taking Jane Montague’s advice I purchased an ice cream and strolled for a bit, then headed out to make the long trek back to the car. I have never been happier easing in behind the wheel. But I LOVED Chatsworth!

On to find the other familiar place from the book – not far away is Haddon Hall ‘the most perfect house to survive from the middle ages.’

From within these walls they filmed aspects of the inn where Lizzie and the Gardiner’s stayed, and where that letter about Lydia was delivered. More importantly, this elegant manor with worn flagstones, faded ancient tapestries, and sparse original carved furniture has been preserved and added to since the 11th century. It was much smaller than Chatsworth but I welcomed the smaller crowds and the warmth of the hosts and helpers.

The original approach to the manor was by foot up a steep path in the corner by the garden.

Stunning views!

A very interesting ramble:

The garden was wildly lovely:

The glass panes looked very old:

It was now 3.30 – and I was beat. On sudden impulse I decided to eat at the manor restaurant with an early dinner instead of going out tonight. Good choice! Here is the view from my window and here what I ate:

All in all a wildly satisfying day immersed in the world of one of my favourite books. I need to mention that the first place I drove to this morning were the Redmires Reservoirs – series of three deep pools that supply water from up in the hills above Sheffield. They are fed from various small streams in the Moors.

Goodbye Darcy! Be there next time!!

Day 11 – Sheffield

The day started with the usual sturdy breakfast at the Hilton with my friend Glyn Blythman, some farewells with friends setting off for home, and then a trip in Glyn’s car to Birmingham airport to pick up my rental car. This airport is the first one I’ve encountered with no free drop off – you pay £3 to go to a nearby siding. We both hastily hugged goodbye and I rattled inside to the Europcar booth.

At the booth I went through the lengthy ritual of declining insurance (my travel insurance covers the car) declining the upgrade for xxxx£ – and finally, (confronted with a bill twice the amount quoted on my online booking,) declined the GPS navigator in favour of using my trusty iphone app. At last I left with the keys to a compact diesel manual shift car, and walked the 10 mins to the rental carpark.

It took a while to adjust seat, work out how to start the car without an actual key, and set up my phone. Nevertheless, the audible directions did not come on, so with beady eyes darting from screen to road I managed the hair-raising trip away from airport to the M1 and beyond. After half an hour I pulled in to a service area and prised my fingers from the wheel.

Here I had a healthy lunch of salads and a coffee.

An hour later I pulled back on to the motorway and headed towards the Peak district. My GPS was set to a town in heart of it called Bakewell, and no small amount of the incentive for choosing this target lay with my memory of a bakewell tart.

I glided off the motorway and in to leafy forest and a slight rise in ground which steadily increased. It was lovely. To my surprise Bakewell is a large market town in the heart of the Peak scenic area. The carpark was busy – I later found that Monday is market day – and I paid for parking and set off into town over a bridge covered in locks and keys, as in Paris.

Before long I’d found Bakewell Bakery and a table in the patio. I asked for tea and a scone and enjoyed a very pleasant break swatting at wasps but biting down into clotted cream. I am not sure why UK scones are always hard, crumbly and cold – but the cream goes a long way to make up for that.

Once back on the road I was thrilled when my now audible voice on Apple maps (I changed from Google) led me on a tiny winding path towards Sheffield through the beautiful hills and dales of this area. I could hear the strains of the music from Pride and Prejudice when Keira Knightley stood on a rocky tor and gazed into the valley beyond.

And wait! Was that a Highland coo and calf?!!

At its peak the heights were covered in purple heather and rocky outcrops and for a moment transported me straight to the Highlands.

Tomorrow I hope to investigate these places more closely.

I drove down into the suburbs and found the ivy covered house where I’ll be staying two nights. It is all very salubrious here with a large bedroom, kitchen nook and shared spacious bathroom. I met both my hosts and their two dogs and had a brief lie down.

At 6.45 I walked 6 minutes away to the corner pub ‘The Loxley’ where I gave my order to a disinterested blonde bar maid.

Trying to stick to the healthy option I ordered a Mediterranean chicken salad but received the chicken and bacon one instead.

It was very nice. All would have gone swimmingly for my figure if I hadn’t ordered the Eton’s Mess, which fortunately is blurred so you can’t see how bad it was. I ate it all.

I have now returned to my room to watch some Netflix.

Bon nuit!

Day 9 and 10 – Birmingham

This was a full on weekend enjoying the fans and stars of Outlander in the Hilton Hotel (haven’t seen the outside world since Friday lunchtime).

There were very strict filming and photography rules in place so you won’t see as much as I COULD have taken. My words will have to do!

I am ensconced in a comfortable dble bed room in a distant wing of the hotel, which has meant my walking has increased hugely ( judging by the level of pain in lower back).

Downstairs a huge group of Outlander fans from Europe, America, Pacifica and the UK are milling around in the vestibule and bar area. Final farewells are happening and some diehards are heading towards the hall for the third night of partying.

Friday night we gathered there to welcome four of the stars of the show – Lauren Lyle, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Lotte Verbeek and Ed Speleers.

After a brief introduction they left and the party began.

Saturday was a jam-packed programme. Some earnest souls frantically bought as many of the photo sessions and autograph-signing as they could and possibly never visited the bathroom all day. I paced myself and only bought two photo sessions and one ‘meet and greet’ but still found it a task to move between the Q&A sessions and extraneous activities.

There was a LOT of queuing:

I managed a photo with Ed who plays Stephen Bonnet in the show –

Then had to rush to sit in on Q&A session with Steven Cree and Lauren Lyle. These two are born comedians and very relaxed on stage.

There was time for a brief lunch outside before I scuttled along to sit at a table with 16 others – joined by Maria at one end and Lotte at the other. For twenty mins we chatted to both and it was my favourite part of the weekend. No photos allowed. Got to ask Lotte about the blood bath which she loved doing, and Maria about her experience acting without looking at the other actors. Both were great to talk with.

Straight after that they headed into hall for Q&A and I collapsed on my bed briefly.

At 3pm another Q&A with David Berry, Duncan Lacroix and Ed Speleers took place that was lively indeed. They all rib each other mercilessly.

Straight after that we lined up in long queues for autographs – these were free for first one so I dragged out my Gabeaux Tapestry book and prepared to use it for this purpose. The lines were SO LONG that by 6pm when I had booked a table for dinner with Glyn, I’d only managed to get Steven’s, Lotte’s and Maria’s. Ne’er mind I thought,

Enjoyed a refined pork dinner with Glyn in a fairly empty restaurant, and at 8pm headed back to hall for the costume competition. (People were still queuing for signatures).

This was the funniest part of the event. All 7 of the stars of show were judges and sat at table together heckling and commenting as each costume paraded forth.

The favourites were a gigantic mis-shapen dog (Rollo) and the redcoat he attacked,

And a pair of women in skin coloured outfits with body parts on display who called themselves ‘Murtagh’s Wetdream’ to Duncan’s utter delight. I did not know where to look.

When a woman swathed in a flowing robe came out after ‘The Bacara’ was announced, knelt down and cast it off. I wasn’t sure what to expect. It certainly wasn’t the blood red body suit she wore, which got Lotte standing up to give her a standing ovation.

A refined ‘gentleman’ in wig and pastel satin 17th century pants and jacket minced out and bowed to a delighted David Berry – ‘Lord John’s friend’.

Those were all wonderful. There was a bee train which was called ‘It all started with a book’ – mobile library with the people dressed in book covers from series.

After we recovered from the costume competition we moved on to the party – a DJ playing while many got up to dance.

Sunday started – for me – with another photoshoot and one that I was front of the queue for.

Duncan was happy to hug a kiwi – which was about all I managed to get out.

There followed Q&A from Lotte (which I missed) then from Steven Cree which I attended. This is one man who could have chatted for an hour without any questions or prompting!

I had a brief break and then went straight back in to hear David Berry and Maria Doyle Kennedy.

Both of these two were generous and gracious. Love them.

I missed the last Q&A and managed dinner before the closing ceremony. (Can’t seem to change font back sorry)

In amongst the programme there were many opportunities to meet with fans from around the world. One or two had bought my books and so I did my own mini-signing ceremony.🤣

There was a good kiwi contingent there as well.

All in all a very worthwhile trip across the world to attend.