Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Inverness to Mull via Fort William....

So begins the most pivotal day of the whole trip ! Not words that I say lightly as if things don't quite drop into place it could all end up rather badly.



Let me explain further. The traditional route would have been to travel from Inverness down the A82 past Fort William and to catch the ferry further down at Oban. The Oban ferry goes across to Craignure on Mull. However I had found a different route taking in two different ferry crossings that if my calculations were correct would not only work out much cheaper but also quicker.
Just for piece of mind before setting off and to make sure no booking of ferries was required I checked in with our friend at the Tourist Information Office again. This was actually by now my third visit after calling in previously for a replacement map for the one mysteriously lost if you recall.
The look on his face worried me, it wasn't  just 'oh no not him again'. To say he wasn't familiar with my planned route would be something of an understatement. I wasn't  hearing the soothing words of re-assuarnce that I had hoped for.  He did recall hearing that one of the ferries in question had been out of action for a while due to an accident....He passed on a couple of phone numbers for the ferry operators (which were never answered) and wished us luck. We were going to need it because our only alternative 'The Oban ferry' was fully booked.


I enjoyed the drive to Fort William especially as it once again took us past Loch Ness as well as the splendour of Ben Nevis. Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in the British Isles, located in Scotland, United Kingdom. Standing at 1,345 metres above sea level, it is located at the western end of the Grampian Mountains. Not that we could see much of it as it was shrouded in cloud and mist. Shortly afterwards our first ferry crossing came into view , just as one was pulling away....
The Corran Ferry is one of few remaining mainland vehicle ferries in Scotland. The route crosses Loch Linhe from Nether Lochaber to Ardgour, The wait for the next ferry was only about 20 minutes and the passage took about 15 minutes max. Foot passengers travel for free but £8.20 for a vehicle wasn't bad I thought.  



From the Ardgour side, there are roadway connections to Lochaline, 31 miles (50 km) to the southwest. Although it is probably the longest 31 miles I have ever travelled due to the winding single track roads. It is most certainly ascenic drive to Lochaline across the wild and remote Morvern peninsula. The last 18 miles from Strontian south to Lochaline is along single track roads. The next ferry I felt slightly more comfortable about as it was operated by Caledonian Macbrayne 'Calmac'. This time the crossing cost £11.50 The ferry journey from Lochaline to Fishnish across the Sound of Mull is short but stunning. There is a chance of seeing wildlife, including porpoises, seals and even basking sharks depending on the time of year. Fishnish sits roughly halfway between Tobermory and Craignure. The views over the water to the rugged hills of Morvern are outstanding. So it was with no small amount of relief that we had actually arrived in Mull !


 

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Loch Ness - Foyers Falls , FortAugustus, Urquhart Castle and Drumnadrochit.



Before we departed for the infamous Loch Ness we made a quick detour east of Invernesss to 'Culloden'. It was a bright but breezy morning to visit the site of the last battle fought on British soil in April 1746. The Jacobite forces of Charles Edward Stuart were decisively beaten by loyalist troops commanded by the Duke of Cumberland. We didn't hang around for too long as we had 'Nessie' to find ! We too the B852 to Dores taking the more picturesque south side of Loch Ness. We stopped off at 'Foyers Falls' where they say the more rain the merrier and best to visit after a wet day. Well today it should should be full of mirth and joy at least. By taking a trail through the woods you can view upper and lower falls that plunge a spectacular 200 ft. The almighty roar of the rushing water is as inspiring as the view itself.
 
Carrying on our 'hill country drive' we arrived at the bustling canalside of 'Fort Augustus'. We had a nice wander and a decent pint of beer in the 'Lock in'. The Caledonian Canal connecting Fort William to Inverness passes through Fort Augustus in a dramatic series of locks stepping down to Loch Ness. We quickly moved on as very busy with tourists but there were some nice view points of Loch Ness.
 
 As we made the turn on the A82 to travel the north side of Loch Ness we stopped at Urquhart Castle. It stands magnificently on the edge of the Loch and was formerly on of Scotland's largest castles.Founded in the 13th century, Urquhart played a role in the Wars of Scottish Independence in the 14th century. It was subsequently held as a royal castle, and was raided on several occasions by the MacDonald Earls of Ross.

Our next point of call as we continued our circular route was the splendidly named 'Drumnadrochit'. There is a big Loch Ness Monster visitor centre there, in fact everything seemed to be focussed on the 'mythical monster'. In the gift shop you could just about get anything with it's image on from a fridge magnet to a kilt. I failed to be persuaded of any existence of a monster and suspect if merely hype from the local tourist board. My theory is that what somebody might have seen are otters 'surfing' through the water. We decided to veer off piste via the A831 to to Cannich followed by a minor road to Glen Affric. This really is an area of outstanding beauty. We did have a little wander until we had our first encounter with the notorious 'midges' who forced us back to the car. Unfortunately we had left the windows down so they had already made themeselves at home. It’s a classic landscape of perfectly-placed lochs, mountains and a wonderful mix of pine, birch and oak trees. The woodland is one of the best examples of the Caledonian Forest that once covered much of Scotland. The rich environment is an important haven for wildlife, so the whole glen is protected as a National Nature Reserve.

 

Monday, 28 August 2017

Inverness (1)

We trudged off the train onto a dreary drizzly Inverness platform. The skies were leaden grey and not offering much hope of any improvement. Undaunted we set off in search of our hire car. I recall the lady at 'Arnold Clark' remarking that I didn't look well. Ominously I was to hear that phrase a few times over the next few days. 'I don't travel very well' was the only response I could muster.Fully acquainted with our new motor we set off to find our digs for the next couple of nights. It was not even mid morning so we were unable to check in but we did at least manage to offload the suitcases. Umbrellas up we ventured into the town centre not quite sure what to expect. I know I would have liked a shower and a change of clothes but that wasn't to be.



  Our first port of call was Inverness Castle which has had a colourful history over the years. It is believed that there has been a fortified building on the site since Malcolm 3rd (1057). In 1508 Alexander Gordon, Earl of Huntly and Sheriff of Inverness built a great tower house that was besieged by Mary Queen of Scots army in 1562. The Castle Viewpoint is the newest visitor attraction in Inverness offering 360 degree views of the Highland Capital and the surrounding scenery. Sadly our view was a bit restricted due to the weather but I did brave the elements to capture a few pics. I didn't hang around at the top of the tower in the driving rain. I am assured that on a clear day it is an excellent vantage point to view, The Caledonian Canal, Loch Ness, Kessock Bridge, Chanonry Point Lighthouse and the battlefied at Culloden! Along with many more. Due to the weather we decided to adjourn to the nearby museum where it will be at least dry. The museum had information on the heritage and geology of the Highlands and was OK considering admission was free. At least we had chance to sit down in the dry with a cup of something warm.
 
 Low and behold when we re-emerged back outside it had stopped raining. Still too early to check into the hotel the plan was to get a few picnic items to take on our walk along the west side of the River Ness. Passing the Episcopalian Cathedral, crossing the suspension bridge onto the Ness Islands and view the Redwoods.Take a quick detour to visit the Botanical Gardens before returning back along the east bank taking in a bar en-route. I knew all this because I asked at the helpful Tourist Information Centre who also gave me a lovely map with the route carefully marked out.


 As with all great plans they don't always go accordingly. The picnic was secured via a quick trip to Marks and Spencers but by the time we had got to the River Ness it was raining again. This time only heavier , not only that, somehow I had parted company with my trusty and newly acquired map. This was going to have to be done on instinct , just the way I like it. Th e water was lovely,clear, and fast running. I can see how it would be very relaxing along the tree-lined walkways by the grassy banks on a nice day. We did make it , rather bedraggled to the Botanic Gardens which was like a sauna inside the glass house. Coming back on the east side of the river there were nice views from the bridges. Great place for a relaxing stroll.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Caledonian Sleeper -Euston to Inverness

So the journey begins........Quite why we are at Euston Station for 2:30 pm when our train doesn't depart until 9pm is something of a mystery to me? I will go on record as saying it wasn't my choice. For someone who hates 'hanging around' this was likely to be my my challenging part of the whole trip! There was no alternative but to adjourn the 'All Bar One' for a spot of lunch and a few pints to while away the hours. I had a romantic image of the train journey , hurtling through the countryside in a comfortable leather chair sipping a nice malt whisky before slowly retiring to my bed. Then laying in my bunk watching the world go by, maybe spotting a stag, a fox or badger going about their nocturnal duties. I pictured a scenario something between the 'Orient and Polar Express'. Of waking up in a magical mystical land of mountains, waterfalls and pine forests. The reality was somewhat different.

  

Our cabin was compact and bijou, by the time two adults with two suitcases had embarked the proverbial cat would not have been swinging. I immediately bagged the bottom bunk , should I need an emergency exit life would be so much easier. In fact it was virtually impossible for both of us to stand up at the same time.
We pulled out of Euston in complete darkness .. The small cabin window was semi obscured by the bunk bed ladder that I was forbidden to remove. The bed itself in fairness was reasonably comfortable an I was able to stretch out , just. It had been a long day, many pints of beer consumed and aided by the rolling noise of the tracks  I quickly drifted into a light sleep.
 











When I awoke the train had stopped and it was eerily quiet? I ventured into the corridor and peered through the door window . We had arrived in 'Crewe'.... I did what I needed to do and retired to my bunk. This time sleep proved more elusive as I tossed and turned and the sheets no longer wished to be acquainted with the mattress. The same situation repeated itself sometime later , this time we were in Edinburgh.   At least we were in Scotland ! 
Long overdue daylight put in an appearance and I was able to witness station stops at; Pitlochry, Blair Atholl, Dalwhinnie, Newtonmore, Kingussie, Aviemore, Carrbridge and finally Inverness our journeys end.   

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Fellbrigg Hall & Cromer


It was almost by chance that we happened upon 'FellBrigg Hall'. I had noticed that there was a public footpath at the end of the drive where we were staying and thought it would be well worth exploring. Felbrigg Hall is a 17th-century English country house and a National Trust property. The house is noted for its Jacobean architecture and fine Georgian interior. the Felbrigg estate covers some 1,760 acres (about 7 sq. km) of parkland including the 520-acre (2.1 km2) of Great Wood, which shelters the house. There is public access to the grounds along a number of waymarked walks through the estate, including the Weavers' Way long distance footpath.

 
 As we made our way through woodland and then round the lake we were treated to the wonderful sigh of a young Roe Deer. We managed to watch it for a few minutes before it disappeared into the undergrowth. Created by joining together the three smaller ponds, the new lake was the perfect place to lazily unwind during long summer days or entertain visiting members of the genteel set who were enjoying holidays in nearby fashionable Cromer.

 

 Planted over many generations the primary purpose of this 380 acre wood was timber production. There are a wide variety of trees of all ages, including ancient Beeches, some of which were pollarded in the past, (indeed part of the Great Wood used to be known as Felbrigg Beeches). You can also see Oak, some ancient, Sweet Chestnut, Hawthorn, Ash and Sycamore. We could have continued our walk as far as Cromer, about a further 3 miles journey but time was against us. Instead we picked up the car and drove to a busy bustling Cromer. Like Sheringham (and most seaside resorts I guess) another haven for fish and chip lovers. Although it's real delicacy is 'Cromer Crab' although I didn't indulge on this occasion.


 It was RNLI day so there was a lot going on around the Pier. Plenty of side stalls an demonstrations to raise money for this very worthy charity. The Lifeboat station operates two lifeboats - one for inshore work and the other for offshore work. The current lifeboat station on the end of Cromer Pier was re-built between 1997 and 1999 to replace the smaller 1923 one which was re-located to Southwold in Suffolk where it is used as a lifeboat museum. The station at Cromer is one

of the most famous of those operated by the RNLI . Always nice to wander on the Pier and see all the young and old with their crab lines and buckets trying to induce the local crustaceans from their watery home. Some evidently were having more success than others. I didn't do an in depth study but it seemed that 'thick cut back bacon' was the flavour of the day.
 

Monday, 7 August 2017

Sheringham 'Poppy Line'


The Norfolk Coast Path runs from Hunstanton in west Norfolk round to Sea Palling on the north east Norfolk coast.A total of 62.5 miles. We probably only managed about 2/3 miles from Sheringham as we bordered Sheringham Golf Club on our left hand side. Some smashing views in both directions as the sun tried to break through. We were treated to the rare sight of a Steam train making it's way across the countryside. As we made our way inland we managed to get on top of the bridge as the train passed through. We managed to find out that the train stopped at a nearby 'Weybourne Station'. Taking a beautiful walk around the edge of Sheringham Park we made our way to the picturesque station . It reminded me of a model village , something from a bygone age where life moved at a slower pace.
  It wasn't surprising to hear that Weybourne Station had been the location to film four episodes of the classic comedy 'Dads Army'. The famous "Royal Train" episode of Dad's Army was filmed back in 1973. It was formerly part of the Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway route between Melton Constable and Cromer. The route is called the 'Poppy Line and offers a spectacularly scenic ride from Sheringham along the coast to Weybourne and through the heathland to Holt. In total a journey of 5.25 miles. After a nice cup of Green Tea on the platform it was time to take up position on the bridge to watch the next arrival
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After I had a crash course in changing the points in the signal box and another cup of Green Tea (well it was thirsty work you know) We took the train back to Sheringham . For those interested in this sort of thing it was a type Y14-J15 060 loco that saw us safely and unhurried but in some quintessential style back to base. As we left the Station I heard someone calling my name? It's true I can't seem to go anywhere without bumping in to somebody I know. On this occasion it as my Teamwork colleague from Corby and her husband. They had been for the Harley Davidson rally earlier and were doing the evening dinner 'cruise' on the Poppyline.

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Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Watling Street Book Signing


A book about a road , not something that would ordinarily have me popping down to Waterstones on a Wednesday evening. However having heard the author John Higgs talking about the concept on Radio Northampton it sounded rather interesting. Secondly one of Northampton's most iconic of characters Alan Moore was also to be in attendance. Throw in a free buffet and I needed no further persuasion !
 It is a journey along one of Britain's oldest roads from Dover to Anglesey. The route takes in Canterbury, Kent, London, St Albans, Dunstable, Bletchley Park, Northampton, Rugby and Bosworth Field. Along the way he introduces us to a host of interesting characters – from local guides to historical figures Originally a path, that path became a track, and the track became a road. It connected the White Cliffs of Dover to the Druid groves of the Welsh island of Anglesey, across a land that was first called Albion then Britain, Mercia and eventually England and Wales. Higgs describes how it unlike other ancient monuments the road keeps evolving
John Higgs, don't mention Frank Skinner
. Alan Moore is there because he features heavily in the chapter on Northampton. For those unaware of his work he is best know for his comic book writings such as; Watchmen, V for Vendetta and From Hell. Frequently described as the best graphic novel writer in history, he has been widely recognised as one of the most revered and influential writers in the country. Also one of the most confounding – perverse and hard to fathom
. Five blockbuster films were made of Moore's stories yet he turned his back on Hollywood as he edged away from mainstream. At the same time turning down huge payments for adaptions of his work as his aversion to corporate America grew. He has spent his entire life in Northampton and is glowing in his appreciation of the place. "This is a good place for me. Keeps me focused. Life's not easy; it's not massively difficult. There's a gravity about Northampton that I like." He is a common sight walking around the Town Centre with his caved snake cane and often carrying carrier bags. There is definitely something of the 'Gandalf' about him with his mane of hair and thick beard. To look at him you could be forgiven for thinking 
this is a man down on his luck ..The reality couldn't be further from the truth !