A Travellerspoint blog

Grab your bikini, quick!

England (finally) heats up

sunny 23 °C

Summer at last! Poor rain-soaked England rallied the troops and finally managed to turn on the sun, at least for a week or so. So we hit the beach. Driving south to Swanage in Dorset, we were joined on the motorway by literally thousands of like-minded sunseekers, creating the mother of all traffic jams and turning a two-hour drive into a five hour crawl of pain. Still, we all put on our best smiles as the sun had got his hat on and was coming out to play, as the song goes. Coming from Australia, I’ve seen my fair share of packed beaches. I grew up at Cottesloe Beach in W.A. and now Sydney’s Bondi is my local. Never have I seen a beach so busy. Ne-ver. There were youngies and oldies, fatties and skinny-ies, babies, families, trendies… you name it, they were there turning an unflattering shade of lobster. And there were beach balls, tents, mats, towels, windbreaks, kites, boats, huts, blow-up animals, liloes and even flagpoles (yep, two separate, forward-thinking beachgoers had brought their own flapoles so their mates could track them down). It was a rainbow of colourful chaos, like a clown had thrown up.
Our visit coincided with the annual beer festival in nearby Studland (no, I’m not making that name up), at the ye-olde Bankes’ Arms. With over 200 different beers and 30 ciders all in one tent, we could see we’d be there a while. Throw in some live music, a barbeque and a gorgeous sea view, and a fine afternoon-that-became-evening was had by all.
We did all the English-beachy things like getting sunburnt, eating breaded scampi with chips laced with vinegar, licking clotted-cream ice creams on the pier, fighting for our place on the sand and collapsing each evening with a (warm) ale.
The day we left, it rained, and the grey skies kept the temperature to a minimum. Well, I guess that was the English summer over for another year.

Posted by millie t 30.09.2007 23:03 Archived in England Comments (0)

Yet Moor adventures...

The hills are alive with the sound of baas and oinks

semi-overcast 16 °C

Driving south from Scotland, we were able to get a real feel for the English countyside. As we swept past open fields and wound down narrow lanes (often right behind a tractor who was conveniently going exactly the same way), the sun came out and we were able to see England in all her summer glory. First stop was the epic Hadrian’s Wall and Housesteads roman fort, apparently built to keep the Scottish Barbarians at safe distance. Still (sort of) standing after all this time (close to 2000 years), they could show Multiplex a thing or two. Next, it was off to the Yorkshire Moors for a Bronte moment. And we were just in time to see the heather blooming, creating a deep purple carpet for miles around, and only adding to the brooding, windswept landscape the moors offer. We saw grouse scuttling through the scrub, pheasants fluttering out of our way, and literally hundreds of sheep with a death wish. Well, to be fair, it was kind of their paddock – they are free to roam wherever they want across the moors which, unfortunately for drivers, includes the road. Things they like to do on the road include:

- walk into the middle and stop abruptly, looking the other was
- sit on the very edge to eat the grass but appear as if they may wander into said road at any given moment
- rush straight across for no apparent reason as soon as they hear a car
- variations on above that cause a) heart attacks for driver and passenger, b) a seriously decreased life expectancy for them, judging from all the carnage displayed along our route.

Having made it to a settlement without bloodshed, we decided not to push out luck by continuing the drive. Instead, we had two highly amusing and slightly odd nights in the area. The first was in an old blacksmith’s forge, so ancient that is appears in the Domesday Book (11th century), and so petite that we couldn’t stand up straight downstairs without banging our heads. We thus appeared as two young hunchbacks limping about any time we wanted to go in and out. The second said on the brochure, “a romantic farm stay in the heart of the moors”. Brilliant. We needed some romance after all that sheep-dodging. On checking in, we noticed a somewhat powerful odour but, too polite to mention, ignored it. Well, I ignored it for a few minutes until I decided to ask, “Err, what sort of farm is this exactly?” Response? “Pig”. Riiiiight. Nuff said. The smell, plus the squealing, was a little off-putting, but once we got over the initial shock, we (well, me, Mike is always well behaved) got on with it. I didn’t want to be the fly in the, um, oinkment. I mean, it was slightly unporktunate but we’d be bacon the real world soon enough. Needless to say, I took the ‘eggs only’ option at breakfast the next morning.

Posted by millie t 30.09.2007 22:48 Archived in England Comments (0)

We take the high road…

…and make it to the “Heelans”

overcast 15 °C

The Scottish Highlands (or Heelans as the Scots pronounce it) are famous for lots of things, including but not limited to:
1. Whisky
2. Lots of old castles
3. The rugged beauty
4. Haggis
5. Heelan Coos (or Highland Cows)
6. Braveheart (although I think this is only to outsiders and it’s best not to mention Mel Gibson to any self-respecting Scotsman - uncool)

I am happy to say that we sampled, or at least viewed all these things, bar, obviously, blue-faced Braveheart who is long gone, I mean filming must have wrapped, what, ten years ago?
There are whisky distilleries everywhere, so if you like your tipple to take the hair off your chest, this is the place for you. (Unfortunately am too weak for this most fierce of bevvies and discovered am more a ‘Cardonnaaaay’ type gal).
The castles are breathtaking, and often in various stages of disrepair from, “needs the guttering done”, to “What? No roof is totally the new black”. So gorgeous.
Next, the rugged beauty of the place cannot be surpassed. The hills, the heather, the thistles, the open plains, the immense lochs must be seen to be believed. We pulled in for a picnic at Loch Ness for obvious reasons. It was, obviously, raining so we squatted under a tree and looked out for Nessie. No sign unfortunately, and the only monsters I encountered were huge swarms of Scottish midgies (apparently a hazard of travelling there in July) with only one wish: to bite as much of my exposed skin as humanly, or I suppose midgily, possible. Luckily, as it was typical Scottish summer weather – cold, rainy and a little bit miserable, the only bits of me sticking out were my face and my hands, keeping bites to a minimum. We even over-nighted in a super-cute B&B called Caledonian House in the Ness-side town of Fort Augustus in the hope that Nessie would appear in the wee hours, but to no avail. However, Mike did utilise this stop to sample “haggis, neeps and tatties” in a local Scottish restaurant. Which basically translates to sheep stomach, sweedes and potatoes served with oatcakes. Hmmm. I had local mussels instead – my stomach couldn’t stomach a stomach.
Then it was off to Kingussie, “Home of TV’s Monarch of the Glen”, to search out some Heelan Coos. You know, those, huge, hairy, golden-haired cows with big horns and kind face. We stayed in a fab B&B called Ruthven House, that was conveniently located next to a whole field full of Heelans. Aside from communing with the local wildlife, we went hiking, although our trek to the summit of Cairngorm Mountain was cut short when the weather closed in and the temperature dropped to around zero degrees. Unfun at the best of times, but especially without gloves and a beanie, so we quickly scarpered back down again to the base where it was a toasty 13.
I should also point out that I am, through my Mum’s family, a McPherson. Mum was one, my grandma is one and so on. So it was only right that I went in search of the “seat of the clan”, which is in Newtonmore, just five minutes away. There was even a McPherson museum there, dedicated to all the famous McPhersons. And yes, a picture and a letter from Elle were proudly displayed. Bizarrely, the man in charge of the museum knew my Australian-based family, and had been matey with my great, great uncle, a soldier in India. The world is just too small, right? The motto of our clan is “Touch not the cat without a glove”. Brilliant. I’d gone around all these years touching cats barehanded, unknowingly. Or was that touching cats that weren’t wearing paw-accessories? Well, whichever, I shall try to adhere to the motto.
After a week in the Highlands, we wound our way South, to the bright lights and big city of Edinburgh. We did all the predictably touristy things. Walked the Royal Mile, clambered about the castle, went to the pub, bought a tartan scarf, listened to a bagpipe player wearing a kilt, dashed in and out of the rain. And although we had a great time in Scotland’s capital and the pretty little border towns of Jedburgh, Kelso and Melrose we visited before driving back across the border, our hearts had been captured by the wild highlands. We would happily paint our faces blue and gallop across those plains any old time.

Posted by millie t 26.09.2007 02:45 Archived in Scotland Comments (0)

"The pipes, the pipes are calling..."

Braving Scotland

semi-overcast 15 °C

Entering Scotland from England via road is somewhat of an anticlimax. There’s no sign, no marker, although perhaps the weather got slightly worse, which was saying something. Snuggled up in my new ski jacket (yep, it may have been summer in the Northern Hemisphere but I had to run to an outdoor shop in Cumbria to stock up on woolly socks and a heavy-duty, wind- and rain-proof padded coat) I watched as grey, rain-soaked fields gave way to the industrial outskirts of Glasgow. After managing to negotiate peak-hour traffic in the rain and still stay married, our next task was to make it across the Firth of Clyde, a large inlet that separates Glasgow from the highlands. Unhelpfully, the big bridge was closed, with nothing but a small sign saying ‘Ferry this way’, plus an arrow pointing in the direction of the boats. About, ooh, and hour’s drive later, we made it to the car ferry landing, which was basically a small barge on a chain that putted back and forth across the water. Finally, we were in luck. The boat was about to leave and wasn’t quite full. Although safely on board we were more than a little shocked when this 10-minute trip cost us almost 20 pounds, which is more than 50 Aussie dollars. Still, we were on our way. Ach laddies.
Driving in Scotland is truly an experience to savour. The roads, even the minor ones, are well-sealed and safe. The scenery is breathtaking and you really do see so much from your car. A hugely different experience from whipping along the Autoroutes in France or Italy at 130 kilometres per hour, staring at a grey wall. Scottish driving is actually part of the fun, unbelievably.
After a quick night-stop in a charming and tiny town called Inverary, it was over the sea to Skye for us (thankfully that bridge was open and it was free!). Next challenge. The sun came out. It was warm. People were actually wearing T-shirts – I could hardly remember last time I saw a t-shirt all on its own. And it felt like the whole of Scotland and beyond had descended on Skye to rejoice in the “finally a little bit of summer” weather. Which would have been awesome if we’d pre-booked accommodation. As we were however homeless, we spent an increasingly frustrating day trying to find a bed. When, some time very late in the afternoon, we ran out of an old lady’s B&B who’d totally seen us coming and told us slyly we could have her spare room (literally, it was her spare room – 2 single beds, sharing HER bathroom with 6 other poor souls) for a mere 65 pounds (or over 160 bucks – “ I could stay at the Sydney Hilton for that” I cried in anguish) I lost my ladylike faculties and screeched at Mike, “Drive back to the mainland, we’re leaving, damn it” (although I might have said it a little more unprintably).
Thankfully, the Holiday Gods put their foot down at this, and miraculously we spotted a sweet little motel in the island’s suburb of Broadford, home of Drambuie. “Excellent”, we thought, “A bed, and hard liquor, just the thing”. Two nights later, we were in love with Skye. It’s a beautiful, windswept place with fierce-looking mountains, mysterious lochs, rolling green fields, ruined castles and isolated, white-washed cottages dotting the landscape. Our highlight was stumbling across a sheepdog trial competition down a little back lane. Now, this may have been simply a country-Skye trial, but anyone would have believed it the Dog Olympics, such was the atmosphere, the concentration of the competitors, the excitement of the dogs, the size of the trophy. We were enraptured with these clever, clever animals, their patient owners, and the crazy sheep that were driven mercilessly through gates, around fences and into pens. Some fellow travellers, a carload of Americans, also found the festivities, but unluckily for them, got their people-carrier bogged in the field poor things. After the locals couldn’t budge the car, the driver had some kind of stress-induced tantrum even I would have been proud of and strode off into the middle of the competition ground screaming into his mobile phone that he “didn’t want to be stuck out in the middle of ‘Goddam’ nowhere for the rest of the day”, and to “make it a priority to send a guy out immediately”. Unfortunately, he scared the competing dog and spooked the sheep, got shouted at in thick Scottish accents by the locals, and had to end up standing stock still in the middle of the field pretending to be a tree, looking, umm, sheepish, for the next 10 minutes until the trial had finished. I’m not joking, he really took up the stance of a tree. Naturally, we didn’t laugh at his misfortune. We’d had too many travel-disasters of our own to feel superior by that late stage.

Posted by millie t 26.09.2007 02:39 Archived in Scotland Comments (0)

Water world

Sploshing about in The Lakes

rain 14 °C

Drive around 7 hours north of London and you'll reach the Lake District. Home to the stately Lake Windemere, rolling green hills, England's highest mountains and the lodgings of a certain Ms Beatrix Potter. We set off one lovely English summer day (read rain, rain and more rain - this was The Weekend that South West England seriously flooded) and pulled into Windermere late Sunday afternoon. After negotiating more than our fair share of tourist coaches, stuffed Peter Rabbits and shops selling Kendal Mint Cake (more on that later), we reached our self-catering digs. Sure, they were also part flooded, but it added to the "we're all in this together, so grab a bucket and start bailing" vibe. Quite cosy really.
Four days goes remarkably fast when you're dodging rain storms long enough to dash up mountains, but I pride myself in saying that I embraced my Northern-English roots, not to mention a pair of rainproof trousers and a ski jacket (yes, I went to the shop and bought a ski jacket in England in the middle of 'summer'), and hiked up those hills like it was 100 degrees in the waterbag. As we were practically the only ones brave/stupid enough to be out tramping about, we saw lots of gorgeous sights - lambs frollicking in fields, cygnets bustling after Mummy Swan, even the lettuce patch left for Peter Rabbit in Beatrix Potter's own garden at Hill Top. Ooh, and I have to say, we stopped in for a refreshing ale in Beatrix's local boozer - a mere 10 steps from her front gate. She could totally have staggered home, no need for a cab. She must have loved the convenience, and what a perfect way to soothe the writers' block.
And I can proudly report that I climbed my first mountain. OK, so it wasn't exactly Everest, but it was called High Pike and was, well, very high. It was driving rain for the first half the way up, when I recall whinging to Mike, "Um, I'm really not having very much fun". He tried to shut me up with the aforementioned Kendal Mint Cake, a white, sugary, mint-flavoured mass used by Sir Edmund Hilary on climbing expeditions and native to the Lake District. Italy has pasta, France has croissants, the Lakes have Mint Cake. It tastes a bit like the middle of an After Eight, so it really is the least painful part of climbing up a mountain, quite pleasant really. Anyhoo, after quite a few hours of clambering, scrambling and moaning, I made it to the top, and it really was worth the effort. An amazing view of the whole district with no-one to share it with but Mike, a few curious sheep who probably couldn't believe a human wanted to go to all the effort to gatecrash their high-altitude paddock, and some bird of prey, circling the skies, most likely saying to eachother, "Damn, I really thought she was going to bite the dust a few miles back. There goes lunch".
After four days of hiking, climbing and dodging rain showers, we were completely exhausted and ready to curl up by the fire to read about pesky bunnies, silly geese, motherly hedgehogs and naughty little kittens. Thank goodness for the genius of Miss Potter - a balm to young and old alike.

The_Mountain_top.jpg I did it! Me at the top of High Pike

Posted by millie t 16.09.2007 13:17 Archived in England Comments (0)

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