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Unlucky by the Lochs

Lochaber, Cairngorms & Inverness - Highlands

semi-overcast 16 °C
View Highlands & Islands on kmmk17's travel map.


As we continued towards Fort William, our next base, we kept a keen eye on the developing crack. After stopping just outside Spean Bridge we realised the crack was worsening, and with another 3 days and 200 miles still to drive, this problem needed fixing. But with no Internet we had little choice but to continue on our 3 hour journey to Fort William.

Once we arrived we discussed our options, and realised our only option was to swap the car, but with no Avis base in Fort William, all we could do was drive back to Inverness Airport which was 2 hours away. En route we tried to call them to check this was possible, but being on hold with a dodgy signal meant this was not very successful.

Eventually, at around 4pm we arrived back at the airport, where we would be in just a few days time. Thankfully we were able to swap the car but it was now another two hours back to Fort William. Trying to create some sort of silver lining we decided that we would shuffle around our schedule and today would be the Loch Ness day.

Loch Ness

Loch Ness

We stopped en route a few times for views of Loch Ness, as well as grabbing some souvenirs. Loch Ness really is huge, and most of the detour to Inverness had meant driving along side it. So much so, that by the end we weren't even interested in it anymore!

As it was a very long day, after eventually getting some dinner we decided tomorrow needed to be much more restful, and so we scrapped our planned visit to Tobermory.

No longer needing to make a ferry, we had a lay in and leisurely made our way over to the Glenfinnan Viaduct. This viaduct was made famous in the Harry Potter films and has great vantage points from the nearby hills.

Glenfinnan Viaduct

Glenfinnan Viaduct

As we were walking towards the viaduct itself, we were treated to the sight of a local train crossing it. Although sadly we were a few minutes too late to see it from the better vantage point.

Walking underneath, and then climbing up the hill beside the viaduct, we got a beautiful vantage point of the embankment and the adjacent valley whilst getting attacked by midges. I walked a little bit further along for a view of the nearby loch, before we turned back and walked down to the loch itself.

Loch Shiel

Loch Shiel

Beside Loch Shiel is a monument commemorating the location of the beginning of the Jacobite rising, from where Bonnie Prince Charlie attempted to regain the British crown.

We then popped into the giftshop to get a few souvenirs when we heard a sound... I ran outside and saw a steam rain making its way around the hill side. Sadly we had missed seeing it in all it's glory crossing the viaduct, but at least we had seen this.

A few minutes up the road from here was the station itself, where there is a small museum detailing the extension of the railway line to the coast. We took a look inside before continuing further west to Loch Eilt, which is the setting for the island of Dumbledore's Grave in the Harry Potter Films.

Loch Eilt

Loch Eilt

From here, we would have continued on a long winding road down to Kilochan Port, but after yesterday's drama this was the furthest we were now going. So instead, we turned back and headed to the Neptune's Staircase, made up of eight adjacent lochs - the longest staircase loch in Britain.

Neptune's Staircase

Neptune's Staircase

From here it was only a 5 minute drive to the hotel and being almost check in time we decided to head straight there. This was the nicest room we had had so far, and we had a view overlooking The Parade - a lovely garden in the centre of town.

As it was still only mid afternoon, we then headed out towards Glen Coe, where we had initially planned to visit the previous afternoon. Although we had seen hundreds of valleys by now, this did live up the hype and was certainly one of the most beautiful. Even despite the miserable weather.

Glen Coe

Glen Coe

It had been a long day by now and so we wouldn't venture too far for the rest of today. We went back to the hotel, dropped our stuff and then went for a quick wander around the town.

There wasn't much to see, but we did stop at the site of old Fort that gave the town it's name, which sits imposingly beside Loch Linnhe.

Fort William Old Fort

Fort William Old Fort

After grabbing dinner at McDonalds, where I went full Scot by ordering an Irn Bru, we settled in for the night. The following morning we had a Full Scottish breakfast (the same thing, just with Haggis and a tattie scone) before checking out and visiting the final sight in this area - Ben Nevis.

We weren't climbing it, but we did get a decent viewpoint at it's base in Glen Nevis, where we managed to upset the local sheep who quickly scarpered as soon as we got out the car.

Ben Nevis

Ben Nevis

Having already seen Loch Ness on our unintended diversion back via Inverness, a few days ago we decided to head north on a different route, cutting across the country and stopping in the Cairngorms.

The Cairngorms weren't vastly different from the Highlands, just perhaps with more trees. We drove to Aviemore, and had a wander around the woods outside the town, before driving through it. It really felt like nowhere else in the UK - the town is haven for Winter sports, and felt an alpine village in that aspect, despite being in northern Scotland.

Snow in June

Snow in June

From here it wasn't far to Inverness, where we checked into our final hotel of the trip before driving into the city centre for a quick look around.
After missing the entrance to the car park the first time, we eventually parked and ended up in the middle of the shopping centre.

Inverness wasn't particularly big, and after we walked down the high street for five minutes we arrived at the castle, where there were impressive views from the hill over the river.

Inverness Castle

Inverness Castle

After seeing what the town had to offer, we headed for dinner before chilling for the rest of the evening.

The following morning we checked out of the hotel and headed back to Inverness Airport. Parking up after driving exactly 1000 miles, we saw that our previous hire car hadn't moved from where we'd left it, but the crack had grown even further - a good job we had dropped it back off when we did!

The Crack!

The Crack!

As there was a BA flight back to London around half an hour before ours, the tiny airport was overwhelmed and it took ages to get through security. But there was no real rush, there was little to do in the departure lounge and we had plenty of time.

The flight back home was less comfortable than our outgoing flight, as there were a lot more people on it. We were surrounded by others, and despite wearing face masks we didn't feel overly safe knowing that no one here needed to take any kind of tests to spend over an hour non-socially distanced.

When we landed back in Luton it was like arriving in the Med in summer. Although it hadn't been cold in Inverness, it was around 8C warmer down south and came as a shock to the system after a week in Scotland!

Despite the car drama and the less-than-great weather, it had been a enjoyable trip. Not only as an excuse to get out the house after 15 months of Covid, but also as the scenery was incredible. A hire car is definitely the way to go on a Highland trip!

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 14:12 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged lakes snow fort airport island valley castle Comments (0)

Up to Orkney

Caithness & Orkney - Highlands

semi-overcast 17 °C
View Highlands & Islands on kmmk17's travel map.


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)

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)

Castles & Towers

Lithuania & Belarus - Trakai & Vilnius

semi-overcast 27 °C
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After a busy day in Belarus, and with a flight home in the evening, we had the day to explore Vilnius properly, as well as the local area. One place I had missed on my first visit to Lithuania was Trakai, and this time I definitely wanted to visit the small town.

Still having stomach discomfort I ended up skipping most of the breakfast but was definitely on the mend a lot quicker. By the time we had checked out and headed to the bus station, I was already starting to feel a bit better and the half hour bus ride was fine.

Trakai Castle

Trakai Castle

Trakai is located just outside Vilnius, and is a small town located on a thin strip of land between two lakes. At the northern end of the town on a small island just into the lake is a large castle. This castle has now become one of the icons of Lithuania and the whole area is surrounded by gift shops, cafés and boats for hire.

Little shops on the waterfront

Little shops on the waterfront


Castle Walls

Castle Walls

We weren't bothered about visiting the insides of the castle, but we did take a walk around the island outside the walls, and edge of the lake. If we had more time this would have been a nice place to spend the day. Having taken the mini tourist bus up there from the bus station, we walked back through the pretty village on foot, and caught the next bus back to Vilnius.

We had taken a short walk around the southern part of the city centre when we had arrived on Saturday, and today we went to explore the northern part, walking back past the Town Square, before the Presidential Palace and arriving at the Cathedral Square.

Cathedral Square

Cathedral Square

After sitting and enjoying the summer sunshine in this beautiful square, we then headed towards the Gediminas Tower, and luckily found the funicular was working, saving our already aching feet from a steep walk up the hillside.

Gediminas Tower

Gediminas Tower

At the top, a lot of the castle hill was undergoing renovation which meant we couldn't see the views of the south side of the city, but the views from the north and the tower were still nice.

We then headed back down, and walked passed the St. Anne's Church and through the bohemian Užupis area before finally heading back to our hotel to collect our luggage

St. Anne's Church

St. Anne's Church

Eventually after a busy trip we made it to the airport and without any delays headed home. Unfortunately due to our long delay on the way out it meant the holiday was a little more rushed than we would have liked, but nevertheless it was still an enjoyable trip.

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 10:13 Archived in Lithuania Tagged tower church lake city island hill castle lithuaniabelarus Comments (2)

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