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Up to Orkney

Caithness & Orkney - Highlands

semi-overcast 17 °C
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After returning from Northumberland, things did not exactly improve. Over the winter we spent another 4 months in solid lockdown, and from which we are still emerging. Both Christmas and my 30th birthday were during this period, with us not being able to leave the house and spend it with anyone else.

Now, with things slowly improving, and the possibilities for holidays returning, we decided that a break would do us good. Travelling abroad is still almost impossible, and so our attention tuned to where domestically we would like to go, and one of those options was the Highlands of Scotland.

As it would take almost 10 hours to drive to the Highlands, we decided to fly this distance instead and hire a car from Inverness Airport.

At the Airport

At the Airport

It was the first time we had been to the airport this decade, and the effects of Covid were immediately clear, it was pretty empty and face masks were everywhere. As we were on a domestic flight we did not need to take any tests prior to boarding the plane - whereas anyone going abroad was required to do so. Which all seemed pretty stupid as there is no separation between Domestic and International travellers in the airport. Someone with Covid could easily have turned up and spread it to those who were going abroad and there was nothing to stop that happening...

Luckily our outgoing flight was half empty, and so we had plenty of space to sit comfortably on the plane, even if face masks were still required for the entirety of the flight. Just over an hour later we landed in Scotland and after collecting our suitcase we joined the slow moving hire car queue to collect our vehicle for the next week.

Over an hour later we finally had the keys, and were able to make our way up the Caithness - the most northern part of Great Britain. It was still a two hour drive up to Wick, which after today's travel and waiting meant by the time we arrived it was already mid-afternoon. Therefore the only thing we managed to see today was Castle Sinclair Girnigoe, a ruined castle on the cliffs just north of Wick. It was a beautiful sunny day, which we did not expect at all. After grabbing dinner we settled in for the night as we had an early start the following day.

Castle Sinclair Girnigoe

Castle Sinclair Girnigoe

The next morning wasn't as nice as the previous day - quite overcast and a bit cooler - but still not terrible. We got up early and made our way up to John O'Groats, took a brief look at the famous Signpost, before boarding he ferry over to Orkney for our daytrip of the islands. Like at Land's End, although this is the furthest part of Great Britain, just beyond the coast there is even more to see!

John O'Groats

John O'Groats

It took around 45 minutes to cross the Firth, and en route we were treated to sights of a Minke Whale. We then arrived on South Ronaldsay where we boarded a coach for our day tour of the islands.

The Shipwrecks from the Churchill Barriers

The Shipwrecks from the Churchill Barriers

After crossing the Churchill Barriers, and passing multiple shipwrecks we arrived in Kirkwall, the capital of Orkney, where we went for a wander around the town, past the St. Magnus Cathedral, which was sadly closed due to redevelopment.

St. Magnus Cathedral

St. Magnus Cathedral

After taking a look at the Earl's Palace and Harbour we then boarded the coach an made our way over to Stromness, the second largest town and main ferry port from mainland Great Britain. Here we had lunch before we moved on to our first proper attraction - Skara Brae.

Skara Brae

Skara Brae

Skara Brae was a Neolithic settlement that was buried until a storm re-exposed it in 1850. Preserved like Pompeii in great condition, it is older than Stonehenge and the Pyramids, and has become the top tourist site in Orkney. Unsurprisingly it was relatively busy, by Covid standards.

We then walked around the corner to Skaill House on old preserved manor house, which overlooks Skara Brae, and contains amongst other possessions Captain Cook's crockery.

Captain Cook's Crockery

Captain Cook's Crockery

After this, we stopped at the Ring of Brodgar, a large stone circle on an isthmus between two lochs, and it's similar counterpart, the Stones of Stenness. Both of which are part of the UNESCO World Heritage site - the Heart of Neolithic Orkney, together with Skara Brae

Ring of Brodgar

Ring of Brodgar

After a comfort break in Kirkwall we then headed back towards the ferry port, via the Italian Chapel, built by Italian Prisoners of War at the end of World War II.

Italian Chapel

Italian Chapel

From here there were also views of Scapa Flow, a large body of water enclosed by the islands of Southern Orkney, in which the German WWI naval fleet was scuttled in 1919, and which currently serves as an ideal location of Oil Rig repairs.

Oil Rig in Scapa Flow

Oil Rig in Scapa Flow

After a return ferry trip back to John O'Groats, we headed back to Wick and grabbed dinner before visiting the Shortest Street in the world - Ebenezer Place, just over 2m long.

Ebenezer Place

Ebenezer Place

This was our last night in Wick, and tomorrow we would be setting off on a long coastal drive to Ullapool.

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 12:06 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged scotland history island castle highlands&islands Comments (0)

The Far North

Northumbria - Northumberland Coast

overcast 17 °C
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After a quieter day yesterday, our last full day was busier, as we were headed up the Northumberland Coast as far as the Scottish Border.

We began by heading to Bamburgh Castle, viewing from both the beautiful sandy beach, as well as from the village, where the castle (which sits on a hill between there and sea) creates a beautiful imposing backdrop.

Bamburgh Castle

Bamburgh Castle

After a brief stop we headed north to Berwick-upon-Tweed, the last town before the Scottish Border. The town had historically been Scottish, and still gives it's name to the area north of the border.

Berwick-upon-Tweed

Berwick-upon-Tweed

The town still has intact city walls by the estuary of the River Tweed, which we walked along around half of.

Berwick was surprisingly pretty, despite not really knowing much about what it had to offer before we visited.

Our next stop was just around the corner, at the border - the second one we were visiting this weekend. This time however we would stop, and the laybys were signed as tourist spots. This was (almost) the northernmost point in England, in the far north - Newcastle is 1h20mins south, and London is over 6 hours away. Whilst Edinburgh, capital of Scotland is a little over an hour north.

Scottish Border

Scottish Border

After stopping at the entrance to Scotland, we did a U-turn at the next junction, and stopped at the layby on the other side, welcoming us (back) into England.

We were now heading south again and towards one of the top places on my list for this weekend - Lindisfarne/Holy Island. To get to the island we had to drive along a causeway, which was now accessible due to low tide.

The Causeway

The Causeway

Driving along the causeway was a strange experience, and on the north side of Holy Island it was still very tidal. Eventually after around 5 minutes we arrived at the car park to the village, which felt like the entrance to a tourist attraction, rather than to a place people actually live! Although with the majority of people being tourists, it didn't exactly feel like a village.

We started with a visit to the war memorial, with views over the bay and the Priory, which was temporarily closed due to Covid, before we walked along the coast to the Castle, which like many in this area had imposing views.

Lindisfarne Castle

Lindisfarne Castle

It had been a long day so far with lots of castles and scenery, and we had one last one to visit on the way back - Alnwick Castle.

Alnwick is another pretty small town with an imposing castle, and even though by now we had seen many similar, this was still worth stopping by.

Alnwick Castle

Alnwick Castle

After a long day of exploring, we headed back to the hotel for our final evening.

The following day we checked out of the hotel and headed home, stopping by Newton Aycliffe to visit some friends before heading back home.

Northumbria had been very pretty, and compared to Cornwall, which is actually nearer from here, it was much easier to get to, as it was nearly Motorway from start to finish, and even when not, it had pretty good roads. Although obviously colder as it was further north it was still a nice getaway.

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 02:58 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged scotland coast island castle border causeway northumbria Comments (0)

Touring Tyne & Wear

Northumbria - Newcastle, Gateshead & Durham

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After two busy days, we decided to take our time a bit more today, and would spend it seeing the sights in Tyne & Wear without too much driving.
We began by heading to the centre of Gateshead, parking at the SAGE Centre, and going for a walk around the Tyne, crossing into Newcastle over the Millennium Bridge.

Tyneside

Tyneside

We then continued walking along the riverside under the Tyne Bridge before heading up to the Castle, which has been cut in half by a railway viaduct, somewhat ruining the image of how it would have been every few minutes!.

Newcastle Castle

Newcastle Castle

After heading back towards the car park we drove out of the city, stopping at the Angel of the North, which unlike most places was still full of tourists.

Angel of the North

Angel of the North

After a short stop, we headed to the furthest place on today's trip - Durham.

Covid had really affected Durham, and it felt particularly empty - especially around the old city. Much of the peninsular is taken up by the University - various halls and colleges, which were all empty. Even the souvenir shop was closed.

Durham

Durham

However as luck would have it, the cathedral had not been closed, and opened for the day just as we arrived. We had a quick look around, and then headed for a walk around the riverside.

Durham Cathedral

Durham Cathedral

Our last stop for the day was to the Penshaw Monument, just outside Sunderland, where after climbing the steep hill to the top, there were scenic views to be had across the local area.

Penshaw Monument

Penshaw Monument

Normally we don't tend to spend an awful lot of time in each place anyway, but with a lot of places closed it meant we had whizzed around even quicker than normal, and after just a few hours we were already back!

We were however not done for the day. Being opposite a TGIs we decided to book ourselves a table, and so instead of grabbing a quick meal we went out to eat - the first time post lockdown. In a way it was nice to feel like getting back to normal, however at the same time we were constantly reminded due to the empty and roped off tables and one way system in place. Something to tell the kids in 20 years!

Posted by kmmk17 08:16 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged monument river bridge city hill Comments (0)

When We Couldn't Even Wed in Gretna Green

Northumbria - Barnard Castle, Hadrian's Wall, Lockerbie & Gretna Green

overcast 17 °C
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With travel completely disrupted by Covid, and all our original plans out the window, any travel this year would be last minute and national.
We seized an opportunity with lockdowns easing and semi-decent weather to get some time away from the house and have a minibreak.

Similar to those carried out in previous years, we would carry out a road trip exploring part of the country we hadn't seen before - this time heading up to Northumbria.

We began by setting off up the M1, stopping at Woolley Edge Services, where every northern holiday begins, before reaching Barnard Castle via Scotch Corner and the A1.

Barnard Castle

Barnard Castle

I hadn't heard of the place until it made the news when the top government adviser broke lockdown rules to visit in order "to test [his] eyesight", but it was actually really pretty and being almost en route, we decided to stop.

We took a short walk by the riverside, before then driving through through the centre of town which was really very pretty. It was not much longer before we were driving past the Angel of the North and arriving at our hotel just on the edge of Newcastle.

By now it was late afternoon, and we had already spent a lot of time travelling, so all that was left was to grab some dinner and chill at the hotel.
Our hotel was just around the corner from the MetroCentre - the second largest shopping centre in the country. However with the country only just coming out of lockdown, many of the shops were closed, and almost every restaurant was closed. We ended up settling for a takeaway McDonalds, which we had to take and eat in the car park.

The following day was our first to really explore the area, and as the weather had seemed the best today, we headed towards Hadrian's Wall.

Like all Roman creations, it was created without really taking into account elevation, and so it runs in an almost straight line across the country. Most of which has now been lost, but a section in the remote middle of the country remains in quite good condition. We parked up and started our work, to find section of impressive wall was cut right across two rather steep hills. It made it stunning, but it was a really tough walk - at one stage it was almost like rock climbing!

Hadrian's Wall

Hadrian's Wall

As we were not far from the Scottish border, and we had all afternoon, we decided to take a drive into Scotland, visiting a couple of places close to the border.

The first, being Lockerbie - the small village that a plane fell on in 1988. We took a visit to the remembrance garden, on the site of two former bungalows that were destroyed in the crash, in a residential street on the edge of the village. An eery site....

Lockerbie Memorial

Lockerbie Memorial

The second was Gretna Green. Famous for being the first village in Scotland, and where a lot of marriages of English couples take place due to less restrictive regulations on this side of the border. As we couldn't marry in a week's time anymore we pondered if maybe we should just do so here? Except lockdown restrictions were even tighter in Scotland right now and all of Gretna Green was shut. In fact until a few days ago it was on a strict lockdown where no one was allowed out, so hardly surprising.

An empty Gretna Green

An empty Gretna Green

With not much to see we didn't hang about long, and by mid afternoon we were back at the hotel, but we had at least got to see lots of new and different things something that didn't even seem possible a few weeks ago.

Despite some dark clouds, the weather had stayed dry for us and we were hopeful for this to continue...

Posted by kmmk17 05:31 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged scenery rural castle roman wall macabre northumbria Comments (0)

Day Trip to Tescos

Day Trip to Wales - Wye Valley

rain 6 °C
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As Coronavirus has hit it's meant many of the plans for 2020 have gone out the window. For us this not only meant major things like our wedding, stag dos and honeymoon, but also other trips and breaks we had planned. As we try to make something of the year by doing new things we wouldn't have done otherwise as the lockdown eases, let me take you back to that week in March where everything went crazy and we had no idea what would happen from one day to the next.

So originally, we had planned ourselves a (somewhat) last minute trip to Egypt. This was already a Plan C, as we had originally been planning to go to the Caucasus before Turkey back in September, however my health problems peaked and we had to cancel the week and only got to do the second half of the holiday.

I cancelled my annual leave for the week and decided we'd reuse it later in the year when I'd (hopefully) feel a bit better. During the Autumn we had thought about booking a last minute trip away, and having wanted to try and enjoy a bit of sun we had looked at going to Mexico. We had found some good deals in Cancun, however just before we decided to settle some dates Thomas Cook went bust and all other operator's prices shot up making this a pretty poor deal.

Instead we decided to go away in mid-March, and seeking somewhere that would be warm, whilst still being interesting we settled on Egypt. We had a plan to visit the pyramids, Luxor and Abu Simbel, which was all going swimmingly until just a week or so before, when the threat of Coronavirus came.

As most people, in hindsight we had been rather delusional thinking it wouldn't cause too much of an effect and we'd probably be fine. However the closer it got to the trip the more things escalated. We had already packed our bits and were ready to jet off just a few days later when it became clear we wouldn't be back before lockdowns would start.

Just two days before we were due to fly we made the decision to cancel our trip and were able to turn this into a open ticket which we could use sometime later in the year when things settled down.

It is a good job we had cancelled, as five days into to the trip, and two days before we would have flown back, all international flights out of Egypt were stopped, and we would not have been able to fly home as planned anyway.

Having been the second holiday in six months we had had to cancel, it didn't feel as gutting as the first, however I still had the week off to take as this was my carryover and needed using by the end of the month. We decided to take the week off as planned anyway, and use it for something useful. We started the week by repainting our bathroom.

Knowing a lockdown was coming we also wanted to try and squeeze one last holiday in whilst we could, and so quickly researched a two day trip to Pembrokeshire in Wales, which we booked the night before we left after checking no new regulations had come in.

The following morning we left the house and started making our way to the Severn Bridge. We headed off towards Swindon, however not long after leaving, the stress of the whole situation started to get to us and we started to wonder if we had caught Coronavirus ourselves.

We continued driving to see if we'd feel a bit better, and not long later we crossed the River Severn and stopped in Chepstow on the English-Welsh border. It was raining and after popping inside the town's Tesco we ate some lunch in the rainy car park before continuing north up the Wye Valley.

Tintern Abbey

Tintern Abbey

We drove past the beautiful Tintern Abbey en route to Monmouth, where after arriving, we took a quick (rainy) walk around the centre of the small historic town before heading back to the car. By now we had to make a decision, do we continue towards Pembrokeshire or turn back and head home?

Monnow Bridge, Monmouth

Monnow Bridge, Monmouth

Sadly, we decided to turn back as we really didn't feel great and weren't sure if we were up to continuing. Abruptly ending our trip, and cancelling our third holiday we drove back home where we arrived by early evening.

It turned out we didn't have Coronavirus at the time but we simply didn't know. A few days later the lockdown came into force and with it, all our plans for the year went out the window.

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 03:18 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged rain wye Comments (0)

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