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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)

Completing Cornwall

Cornwall - Land's End, St. Ives & St. Austell

semi-overcast 21 °C
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Managing to get some sleep the previous night, we awoke for the second full day of our trip. After a busy first two days we decided to try and take today a bit easier, and after a lie in made our way to the Eden Project near St. Austell.

Although it didn't seem far on the map, it still took us an hour to get there. Upon arrival at this former quarry pit that has been converted into an ecological attraction, we made our way down the slopes and after entering gained view of the two biomes and surrounding landscaped gardens.

Eden Project

Eden Project

We started by exploring the gardens, which contain plants from the local area and the country as a whole, before making our way to the Tropical Biome. In here, there are an array of tropical plants, and a few animals that live in a tropical climate, kept at 28˚C and at the correct level of humidity.

Inside the Tropical Biome

Inside the Tropical Biome

After viewing the interesting alternate climate, we crossed the bridge and entered the Mediterranean biome. Less interesting as we had seen this climate for real many times, it was still clever how the plants can survive outside their natural area and it was very well kept.

Eventually we headed back to the car to continue our journey for the day. Our next stop was not far away - the small fishing village of Mevagissey, around 20 minutes on the other side of St. Austell.

Mevagissey

Mevagissey

We didn't stop long here, but enough time to wander around and get a feel for a real Cornish fishing village. Our next stop was Falmouth, which still took almost an hour to reach. Here we would stop at the Pendennis Castle, with views over the estuary where many small boats are moored.

By this time it was getting late so after driving back through Falmouth, through some of the streets that felt like they belonged on the other side of the English Channel, we headed back to our hotel.

Streets in Falmouth

Streets in Falmouth

After having dinner at the restaurant next door we chilled for the evening when a sore throat started to come on! The following morning after a nice rest the sore throat was still there but nevertheless we progressed with our final full day in Cornwall.

We first started at St. Michael's Mount, a tidal island located off the coast near Penzance. Wanting to be able to walk along the causeway we checked the tidal times and thus went there first thing.

St. Michael's Mount

St. Michael's Mount

After parking we walked along the beautiful causeway and walked into the port where the shops were beginning to open. It was a very small quaint place and after buying some souvenirs we continued with today's trip by heading down to Land's End.

Although it didn't seem far on the map, again it took much longer than expected. After about 40 minutes we arrived at the very commercialised attraction, bought some souvenirs, and took in views of the last point on Great Britain.

Land's End

Land's End

The next place on our list was the Minack Theatre, located just around the corner. This theatre is built into the cliff face and has beautiful views of the sea and nearby beaches. At the time we were there, rehearsals for the next play were taking place so we got to witness a performance without having to pay for it!

Minack Theatre

Minack Theatre

After this we headed down to Lizard Point, the southernmost point on Great Britain, and the only bit located below 50˚N. Unlike Land's End this was not as commercialised, but still had stunning cliffs.

Lizard Point

Lizard Point

On our way back from Lizard Point we stopped off at Loe Bar, a tombolo which has created a lake in a former estuary.

Loe Bar

Loe Bar

After walking along the Cornish coast we had just one more place to visit whilst down here, and that was the town of St. Ives. By this time however I was fed up of the other tourists, from being downright inconsiderate to the worst of what England can offer. It's almost as if all the manners that English people have suddenly disappears the moment they are on holiday. Everytime we saw some nice people, they turned out to be foreign!

Upon arriving in St. Ives it was a mess. Car parks were located all around the town, which was completely incapable with coping. It has small winding extremely hilly streets which end up on the main promenade, full of people who couldn't care less if they were about to be ran over. And yet there is no way around it, as there is a one way loop. When you eventually end up where you need to be it turns out the car park is full anyway. What the town needs is a large car park outside that can cope with all visitors, with a bus/footpath into the town. All roads beyond this point being pedestrianised and for locals only. The amount of money that the council make from car parking could easily fund this but simple disorganisation and mismanagement prevents it.

To make matters worse, when we finally found a car park with spaces, the machines went down preventing anyone from buying a ticket. However as the town did look beautiful we went out of our way in order to pay it a visit.

We didn't stay overly long, with the skanky tourists, the harassing seagulls starting to grate, as well as the time getting on, so after a walk around the town and relax on the beach we headed back to the hotel for dinner and a chilled evening.

St. Ives

St. Ives

After breakfast the following morning, we got the rest of our bits together and headed on our way back home. Again this would take hours, so we made a few stops en route.

After an hour we still hadn't reached where we left the main road to the Eden Project, but the further we got out of Cornwall the better the roads tended to get. We branched off as we got to the Cornwall/Devon border and headed into Dartmoor. Again many winding roads, but as we drove through the moorland we did see lots of scenery and wild animals.

Cow on Dartmoor

Cow on Dartmoor

After a brief stop at the visitor centre we continued the long drive through the winding roads of Devon, before eventually making it towards Exeter, and onwards home. Managing to dodge an 90 minute traffic jam by whizzing around the local roads near Salisbury we eventually made it home just before rush hour!

850 miles in the last five days, but we had managed to see such beautiful scenery. Had the other tourists not lost their manners it would have been more enjoyable but it was still a nice trip away.

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 03:15 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged animals nature beach scenery island cornwall Comments (0)

Castles & Towers

Lithuania & Belarus - Trakai & Vilnius

semi-overcast 27 °C
View Lithuania & Belarus on kmmk17's travel map.


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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