Day 21 – and down I go to the Lakes

I’m staying tonight in a rambling edifice of a ‘hotel’ called Broughton Craggs and situated near a town dubiously titled Cockermouth. That must be why I picked it. Is this the origin of the Cocker spaniel breed? Is this where roosters first crowed – “Cocker Doodle doooooo!” I’ll never know. Suffice it to say I feel I’m barely over the border from Scotland perched on the northwestern edge of the Lake District. Here was where – if they weren’t actually involved in endless skirmishes with the Scots, an arrow or two must have landed now and then on these soft green pastures.

I know I am well and truly in England because 1) I am cast on bed after a particularly heavy roast dinner, cooked in exactly the same way my Grandmother cooked it: peas, slightly dry meat, gravy, chunky carrots, completed boiled to death broccoli and cauli and 2) the traffic on the road here was thick with holidaymakers heading elsewhere – Blackpool? – for Banks Holiday weekend.

It was with dragging feet I lugged my carryon bag out to the car this morning, messily packed with an assortment of crushed and slightly worn garments. I must refresh the contents with some relatively clean ones from the big bag in the boot/trunk of the car.

I farewelled Glasgow as I drove through without having stopped to shake her hand this time. Soon I was plunging south toward Carlisle and on impulse pulled off beforehand to go west and view my last Scottish castle: Caerlaverock near Dingwell. I enjoyed a circuit of tiny roads twisting over one lane bridges on the way, at one point coming perilously close to hitting the tractor/trailer approaching on bend from other direction. Eventually I negotiated the castle car park and got out to stare at the quaint square frontage of this moated fortification. It was under siege once to King Edward 1 who eventually captured it. As with all border castles, it has led a far from peaceful existence.

I had my last taste of Scottish fare IN Scotland: a tasty Cullen Skink soup, and set off for the south, never noticing when I passed in to England.

Rather than sightsee after that drive, I’ve read my book in the parlour with a pink gin, and had dinner. I’ve climbed the stairs and down two passages to my room in a remote wing. I appear to have been nestled in the wing that houses a noisy grown family and their dog – 6 adults in all – and the walls are very thin. It makes for a good story but I’m baffled when the rest of the edifice is empty.

There’s an extra long trip tomorrow – 4 hours – to get to Stratford-upon-Avon. I’m looking forward to immersing myself in the Bard’s musings.

Day 20 – last full day in Scotland

Loch Lomond and the view from the water up the loch to the mountain peaks in the distance. I felt a wee whimper escape knowing it could be a while – if ever – before I could come back. You truly are in my blood Scotland!

I emerged from my comfy single room this morning into the common room a few of us were to enjoy breakfast in. Last night had been a bit restless – another firm (read hard) mattress and no comfortable way to lie on my side with no give underneath and two very soft feather pillows forcing my head down on to the bed. Inspiration struck at around midnight at my most desperate. I pulled one pillow down to butt level and it flattened out in a feathery softness, stuck a cushion under the head one, and was finally able to sleep. You may think this is too much information but THE single most important item on a travelling holiday is a good bed. When hosts expend such extravagance on tissue boxes, soaps, shampoos, biscuits etc I wonder why a simple foam topper doesn’t occur to them. Rant over.

I’m possibly edgy because I’m leaving this country tomorrow for the more domesticated south – delightful though that is.

After a pleasant chat with a Bristol man over a Scottish brekky, being watched by a couple from Swtizerland who studied us closely from the other side of table, I set off for a nearby lakeside town called Balmaha. Not much beyond a hotel, good cafe and huge carpark and info centre. Here’s where a vast number of walkers set off on the vast number of walking trails. I meandered down to the lake edge with its black choppy waters and discovered the path leading to a boat trip around the loch.

20 mins later about ten of us were speeding in a partially open vessel out among the chilly waters and many little islands poking prettily up in the water. It was a delicious experience, lasting a little under an hour and giving some sweeping views of the distant rise of the mountains. Deep heartfelt sigh.

Trudging through pools and light rain afterwards I found a seat at the cafe and had a flat white and bacon roll.

The rain was setting in. Turning the car north I headed for Aberfoyle – the gateway to the Trossachs. Had a wander, licked a Scottish Tablet flavoured ice cream, and made another impulsive decision. I was too late to sort out a train ride on the Glenfinnon (sp) viaduct, featured in Harry Potter but I do love trains. Perhaps a bit of a ride from the nearest station would suffice. Nearest station was just down the road from my B&B in Balloch, so I drove back and found parking. Unable to buy a ticket at the station I found myself swept on to the train to Glasgow, considering a long ride there and back. One minute before the train pulled out I leapt back off it and it pulled out. Whew. I’d even now be making my way home if I’d stayed on that seat.

Instead I did what I vastly preferred and went back to the cosy lounge in B&B to sip tea and read the book I’d bought at Edinburgh book fair.

I’ve been back to The Settlers in Bannoch for that excellent salmon meal and am now snuggled in bed with rain outside again.

Tomorrow: the Lake District.

Day 19 – Gartocharn, Loch Lomond

Sadly, my current blog has reached its full quota in space so I am unable to post pics! I’ve decided instead to simply write up the journey and add pics when I post to facebook or twitter.

This morning I enjoyed a leisurely start in my huge apartment in Falkland before going down to the restaurant for a sturdy Scottish breakfast minus haggis and beans (for a change). Now you’d think that would set me up for the day but think again.

By 10am I met up with my two Mancunian friends (Liverpool is close enough, surely). We sipped our coffee and I negotiated the unsteady territory of Paula’s accent and speed of speech. 30 mins later we were joined by Meg Minick who lives in Falkland, and who could provide many little snippets about the Outlander portions filmed in the locale. I believe I have become multilingual if only in accents.

After some rib-crushing farewells we parted company: two to the distant south, one to work in St Andrews and me to my ongoing holiday (shrieks of cackling laughter).

I paid for the house and garden ticket to view the gothic- looking Falkland palace. Up two flights of curling staircase each room boasted an elderly warden who spoke enthusiastically about the room and items in their charge. It is a palace still in the list of royal residences – and has a long and colourful history going back to er, late 14th century/early 15th. Once more Mary Queen of Scots apparently spent time there, and various of her forebears. It was under the care of Keepers for much of its life. Cromwell did some major damage to it, and its ruins were renovated – at least in the front – by the fabulously rich Earl of Bute in late Victorian times. It has the only royal catholic chapel among all the residences of the Queen.

I enjoyed the stories, tried to hold the thread of the kings and queens in chronological order in my head (and failed) and stumbled out into the gardens for fresh air.

Which reminds me: when the girls arrived yesterday they sat on the chair outside Falkland church waiting for me. (Prepare yourselves for a ghost story!) After an hour a portly woman with dog collar on and holding a set of keys came out of the church and introduced herself. Spookily neither can remember her name. She invited them inside but they declined, so she left by way of the gate, locking it behind her. Half an hour later a man in comfortable clothes clutching his own keys stepped through the gate muttering that he liked it left open. When told that the vicar had shut it behind her, he said, astonished, “What vicar?” He knew of no such woman!

Jamie may not be the only ghost in the square.

I had another cup of tea and put the direction to my B&B in Loch Lomond into Apple maps. A mere 1.5 hours later I pulled in to a tiny village called Gartocharn – and had to back track a little way to the Schoolhouse I’d passed. Here – despite the drizzle that has fallen constantly since I arrived- I am installed in a comfy room with ensuite for two nights and couldn’t be happier. I’ve rested, brushed myself down, and gone out in the car to find a restaurant. 15 mins away there was one and I ate a delicious teriyaki salmon on bed of lettuce with the obligatory side of chips.

Home again I’m sitting in bed watching the rain come down over fields beside me.

Until tomorrow then…

Day 18 – a surprise in Falkland

I followed the advice of Fiona Potter this morning and set off along the coastal road north of Edinburgh and following the upper edge of the Firth of Forth. (How I love saying that!)

At Kirkcaldy I took a photo of the huge expanse of ocean and then pinpointed the Dysart harbour and the setting for another famous Outlander scene. In Season 2, Jamie and Claire take ship and it is set here in this quaint harbour.

I settled in for a much-wanted coffee and warm roll, gazing out at the scene above. Then I pointed the nose of the car towards St Andrews and before 30 mins had passed found myself in this golfing mecca, filled with many ancient religious ruins – and some not so ruined – and stopped for proper lunch.

I headed back westwards towards Falkland, my place I was stopping for the night, thrilled to know I’d be staying in Mrs Baird’s lodgings from the show. Loved the rolling pastures and newly mown fields.

Before long I was pulling in to Falkland and I found the carpark and then set off to register and find out if there was a closer place to park.

Please grasp how great my surprise when I was hailed by two women sitting on a seat in the church grounds.

It was Sarah Berry from Manchester and her friend Pamela from Liverpool, both of them driven up to join me (unbeknown to me) in Falkland. They’d been waiting hours!! Both had stayed the previous night in the Art Gallery studio B&B and Sarah had kept the secret of her trip up to surprise me for weeks. I was speechless (for about 1 minute) and we have not stopped talking since.

We’ve had a fine afternoon tea together, seen me settled into my spacious apartment at Mrs Baird’s:

And sipped a spot of pink gin in their own rooms.

We wandered down to the local for a particularly fresh haddock and chips meal and were almost the last ones out at 10ish. Have continued our conversation at their rooms and now at midnight I have walked home looking for Jamie’s ghost at midnight.

It has been a glorious day!

Day 17 p.s. – still Edinburgh

Couldn’t leave Edinburgh without another go at the Festival so I went to ‘The Best of Scottish Comedy’ tonight and cackled away at what I could interpret through thick Scottish accents. My poignant glimpse of the castle as I sought the bus to get home.

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!