We had to return, but this time, we did a lot of Scotland and a little taste of England
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Day 1 & 2 - Aug 23-24, Tues-Wed: Toni's Courtyard, Fresno Airport, Dallas, London, Edinburgh, Premier Inn, Beefeater
We ate breakfast with Jena & Landon at Toni's Courtyard Cafe, where we jokingly opened a tab for her while we were gone. Since all four of us eat there almost every morning. Jena has been moaning in jest about the weight she will lose these next three weeks. Christy, a friend of Cathy's will stay at the house while we are gone.
Off to Fresno for the 2pm flight to Dallas. Security was tighter than we have ever seen before. They inspected my bracelets thoroughly, made me unpin my hair, and looked down the back of my jeans!! They took us aside to take the equipment bag apart completely. An airport cardboard sandwich and water crackers, magazines and we board. Waiting in line, we meet a woman from just down the street on her way to the Holy Lands. The trip was totally b o r i n g, we can readily see the smog that caused the unhealthy alert at home, Dallas will be 104°. Fun people watching in Dallas, dinner at the Reata Grill, no Drambuie, but tv announces a 5.8 earthquake in Washington DC, and our troops stormed Gadhafi's headquarters. No world peace today.
Dallas to London was a 767, we waited for 15 people from a late flight, no movies, horrific food, and we make the notes to never fly AA again, forget the pillows since we don't sleep anyway, carry less onboard, drink tonic water before the flight and fly during the day, and don't buy pounds at the airport. The cities below look like sparkling amber coals, so lovely to watch.
Terminal 3 is a hundred miles from the other terminals, what a walk! Perfume City, a Union Jack (never did find one last year) an we are BACK!! No Drambuie or O'Douls, so we had a coke and a Glenlivet (go ahead and twist my arm) to celebrate our return to the UK. High heel tennies, holidays, potato jackets. Our Blackberry works!
We have been awake 25 hours and it shows. The last leg, an airbus from London to Edinburgh, included free scotch, chips, a teensy coke can and three ice cubes each. Yes, we are back in the UK. Flying over Land's End I laughed; it is the EXACT shape of the maps. This last pilot looked young enough to be just out of high school, but he landed the boat much more gracefully than the last guy.
"Luggage lost?? Found!" Off to Enterprise, a frantic drive, 25 miles east on A90, on the wrong side of the road, without the GPS and with a huge red tire warning light on the dashboard. We only got lost once on our way to the Premier Inn in Camelon, a suburb of Falkirk. Once again, we bless Maxine from the Cocked Hat in Coventry for telling is about Premier Inns. Very clean and tidy, not a lot of frills but reliable and they are in every town. Room 102 with a high shower (difficult for us to step into but they store the water heater under there), no phone but two night stands, a bath counter and an extra bed for the suitcases, a Beefeater is next door. A small but good home for the next five days. Did you know England doesn't have washcloths as we know them? Life is good, and we are back in the UK.
The drive to the hotel was like stepping into a painting, with the incredible Scottish clouds, pink cleome, lush green velvet fields everywhere you look, and even snow white bunnies in the roundabout on M9. We finally got to bed after 9:30 UK time, Wednesday.
Day 3 - Aug 25, Thursday: Morrisons, Edinburgh, Grey Friars, Beefeaters, Premier Inn
As usual, I am now horribly confused about what day is what. David says that happens each time and not to be so worried about it being correct. Right. Next time, we need to bring a knife, but store it in the suitcases. Off to Morrisons, and I drove! I gulped a lot but suddenly it was like I had always driven on the left. We were starving and actually ate at the Morrison's cafeteria. David made notes for me as I drove, Spider Web Bar (oooh, my kinda place), yellow means go, Quaich Guest House (for next trip) and heavy traffic into Edinburgh proper. It started to rain, an umbrella and welllies at Asda (cheap clothing, cheap prices, a small Walmart, half food, half stuff), and scissors to open the knife package! In England, you always bag your own groceries.
We were outside looking at a 'you are here' sign, and a distant castle intrigued me. I asked an obviously local woman if she had ever been to the castle, was it a must see? She told me she had never been past Grangemouth, a nearby small township! Wow!
There were seven festivals in Edinburgh that day, no wonder the traffic was so intense. Off to find Grey Friars Cemetery. The GPS took us to right in front of the Grey Friars Pub, but no cemetery was to be seen anywhere! We drove around a bit, returned past the pub again and finally peeked down the alley next to the pub, sure enough, a cemetery.
We found a parking spot several blocks away, walked back and it was raining. I waited in the curio shop, the Wee Wicked Shop inside the cemetery, while my chivalrous husband returned to the car for the umbrella. Two little Bobby dog statues left with me, and onto the search for John Porteous. Gray Friars has a section that is advertised as one of the most haunted places in the world, tours cost twenty pounds (thirty dollars) and are only at night. I don't think we are up to night travel just yet. Oh well. I did find John, what an experience, and I realized why I bought two dog statues. More on that in the ghost story section. The cemetery is incredibly old and picturesque, the story about the dog Bobby will create tears. We returned to the car to find a ticket for parking too long in one spot! Ouch.
Back to the Beefeater for salmon and ribs. Edinburgh has a population of 400,000. It is like a larger version of York, tight narrow ancient streets decorated with tarnished, quaint, decorative buildings that seem to proudly stand against the ages.
Day 4 - Aug 26, Friday: Stirling Castle, Beefeaters, Premier Inn
We woke to the maids knocking on our door at 11 am, off to the bank where our debit cards work, and you have to be allowed inside the bank by a teller. All UK banks are locked all the time. Stirling Castle is next, one of my highlights, 18 more miles one way. So much history! Many a king and queen were crowned here, including Mary Stuart. My great great grandfathers Kenneth MacAlpin sieged it in the 9th century, William I started the deer park and David I created the burgh of Stirling. It was not as touristy as I expected, thank goodness, and quite grand for such a primitive castle. We avoid the large, grand palaces and stick to the ruins or smaller estates. When we got there, it started to rain again so we ate our lunch in the car, German and Italian salami (they just fall short no matter what) with mature cheddar, a seriously strong Bleu and crackers, gazing over the incredible landscape from the parking lot at Stirling Castle. We had our pictures taken sitting in the King and Queen's chairs in the great hall, saw all but the chapel as they chased us out at closing at 6 after four lovely hours of wandering through the castle. A brief walk through Valley cemetery, in the grounds of the Church of the Holy Rude, where my new camera battery died suddenly.
My notes include, "Cobble stones, bag pipe maker, bobby without a pen, Lombard streets, fire escape hooks." Off towards 'home', stopped at a golf course seeking food, were told this was a private establishment and directed us to a "place down the road" which turns out to be another Beefeater and their bar was filled with single men and no women. Another interesting observation: most women are blondes, most men have a beer in their hands Dinner was ribs, basmati rice, onion rings, mushrooms, bread and salad with standard, boring nondescript 'salad cream.'
I am still not accustomed to parking on the left and tend to hit the curb a bit, the cars parked in both directions don't help! We are exhausted and are in bed by 8:40, still at the Premier Inn at Falkirk.
Day 5 - Aug 27, Saturday: California, Post Office Pub, Linlithgow Faire & Palace, Blackness, Beefeaters, Premier Inn
We purchased a clock but forgot to set the alarm. We were finally gone by 11, wandering through lovely, winding, woodsy back roads, surrounded by green fields, blue skies and clouds never seen in the US. Through the tiny town of California, Linlithgow Bridge as seen on hundreds of movies, and we are in the middle of a Linlithgow festival. We park and walk, met a lovely woman, Jenetta from Ayrshire, and bought her button hook (which was never to be seen again) and hair fork and a frame of fishing flies. It was a grand, busy town, full of bands, tents, busting people, open shops, goods and food for sale everywhere. We are recommended to the Old Post Office, mushroom soup, crusty bread, steak pie and chips (roast beef in a biscuit). Love the sign "Haggis Neeps and Tattoes." A classic pub at long last.
Linlithgow Castle. Wow. The birthplace of Mary Stuart and her son King James I. 222 1/2 steps to the top of the tower, hundreds of photos. Quite the place in its time. Oddness started here, with an instant, low stomach ache at the mantel, and sudden, severe dread at the circular staircase. I have never been a huge fan of monk chant music, but in the cellar, I was filled with a need to sing and without basis for it, came out with the oddest chanting style song with no idea where it came from. David poked his head in to check on me, the poor man. Blackness Castle, on the shore of the Firth of Forth, the brunt of many a joke, especially if we were lost, was another lovely pile of stones. Oliver Cromwell almost destroyed it in 1650.Or was it the second of third?
Light rain accompanied us back to our hotel room where we learned there was a hurricane in the Carolinas, Boomer friends Marsha and Steve are filling ziplocks with water in preparation for the storm. Beefeater for dinner again, good food until you have tried it all, then it becomes rather boring. The service borders on terrible but there are limited choices for eating unless you want to travel a distance. "On their way" means the drinks might get to you during the meal.
Day 6 - Aug 28, Sunday: Falkirk Wheel, Union Inn, laundry, Tesco, Antonio's, Premier Inn
We set the alarm for 8 in order to not waste another morning. Waking one hour earlier each morning seems to work well. The hurricane news is dreadful, New York was hit late morning, eight dead so far. Off to see the Falkirk Wheel, David's main objective.
This is an incredible tribute to modern technology and stainless steel. In place of eleven locks, we have a ferris wheel with two compartments that take boats up and down the distance of 79 feet. The ride was brilliant and cold cold in some hefty winds; ever so slowly up, tootle around the top canal and back down. The tour guide was hilarious, his accent was music although obviously hard for most to understand as very few laughed at his jokes about tossing into the water.
The clerk was grand, told us Iona would be much colder, heavier jackets than our Dan and Susie Rather trench coats would be in order, and recommended the Union Inn for food, on the same street as the laundry we had planned to visit to wash up some clothes. Taking three weeks of clean clothes along is simply impractical. Well, that plan was not was smooth as we had hoped. there are very, very few laundromats as we know them in Scotland. Everyone has their own washer and dryer, standard equipment even in a rental, so there is no need for public laundries, much to our dismay. We found Union Street, rather dismal and seedy, but it was a normal laundromat and I had to have help from the attendant, Lorna. The laundry attendant recommended the Union Inn as well, so we bundle up and finally found the inn, relieved to see a very nice pub style inn along side the old fashioned Forth and Clyde Canal locks. The inn had standard, reliable pub food with Indian flavours; vegetable cream of croquette, ham & cheese panini (ham & velveeta on a hot dog bun), salad and mac and cheese served quite late but all for £9/$15. Sometimes I have no idea what my notes mean later: "Roman ingenuity, all for the love of a good sin." Heading back to the laundry, which was just around the corner all the time, Lorna was so helpful calling for our reservations for the ferry, their accent on the phone was too much for even me. We promised to name our next child after her. Love that name! The laundry was drying while we walked about the little plain streets where every compartment of the block long building looked the same. We stopped at an Indian gift store and a talkative owner. Back to the hotel to hang up the wet clothing, off to Tesco (larger than Asda) for wellies, jackets, gloves and thermals. I found a small stuffed porcupine, absolutely identical to Prickles from our last trip. This little guy was dubbed Pickles and was the perfect size to ride on the dashboard and block out that stupid red light. A nearby mall provided gifts and fun shopping, right up until our bank called.
We had been advised to let our banks know we would be traveling, when and where, which we did. so here is our banks telling us they have blocked our card in light of recent, suspicious large purchases in Scotland. Yup. Hello? The connection was pathetic, David could not hear them, yet they would not speak to me. It took us the most part of a very expensive half hour to get it all straightened out past their endless security questions. Absurd.
Dinner was Antonio's on Graham, Italian and the only white tablecloth in town. It was disappointing and a bit stuffy. "Do you have a reserve?" and only half full on a Sunday at 6 pm. We were watched constantly, probably in case we needed something but it felt uncomfortable, like they were expecting us to skip out. The potato skins were just that, the minestrone was tomato soup, Bavarian Beer from Holland and lobster, 7 pages of entrees, the meatballs were wonderful, and the garlic mayo saved the day. repeatedly threatened to change banks immediately upon our return. Notes include "Waiter wouldn't wait striped boxers." Say what?
Day 7 - Aug 29, Monday: Doune Castle, Oban, ferry, Isle of Mull, Craignure Inn, Isle of Mull Spa
By now we have figured out that we can judge how our jet lag is doing by how far off I am on what time it is as I wear no watch, and have not for years. Today we pack up and head out for the 101 miles to Oban; through Stirling, A84 to A85, past Doune Castle, where Monty Python shot parts of "The Holy Grail." Somewhere we passed Todhill, seagulls and swallows that must have made a large impression on us.
Doune was grand, with the two amazing towers, the wall where the French soldiers taunt King Arthur from the castle ramparts. I stood exactly in the same spot as the movie shot, and I recognized the room inside the castle where the virgin maidens were teasing the knight immediately. The tiny town of Doune was sweet, but alas, the Red Lion Inn was closed. We ate at the Buttercup Cafe, as most of the town did. Not the best meal but by far not the worst. Off to finish the trek to Oban again, across miles and miles of green rolling hills where the clouds kiss the tops of the mountains in the distance. We are starting to see the prominent difference between lower Scotland and the Scottish highlands. Breathtaking.
David took notes as I drove. We think this works the best. He navigates with my prepared maps, one per area, and I happily zoom through the picturesque roads. We passed Lock Awe and stopped at the Dalmally Gift Shop and pet Ivy, the cat. The weather was made to order, and the road signs are now appearing in both Scottish Gaelic and English. The landscape and roads along the lochs reminded us of Clear Lake and Saratoga roads. You want to stop and take pictures at every turn!
We did make it to the ferry on time, just, with only a very few cars behind us. That was the hardest 101 miles I have done in years! I had to pry David's hands off the door handle, but he remains a good sport through it all, bless his heart. The accents are difficult and the ferry men get impatient with us daft tourists. This was my very first drive-on ferry ride, and I think I did splendidly, although I was like a little kid, everyone else was matter of fact about driving onto the ferry, my car door less than a foot from another car. We laughed to see the Bank of Scotland aboard the ferry.
Isle of Mull is small, the second largest island, and lightly populated with under three thousand people and three lodgings. The local vet's house can be found on Google maps, as can the very few establishments and cottages. The Craignure Inn was full so we had booked at the Isle of Mull Spa. Sounds grand, eh? Well, next trip, we won't return. Their name and price infer the establishment is well above what is actually presented.
The ferry drops you at the south eastern corner of the island. The road east to the ferry to the Isle of Iona is a scant, single track road with, for a lack of a better word, turnouts, marked by striped black and white poles on both sides of the road. The game is that the first car to reach a pole on their side of the road after spotting a car in the opposite direction waits in the turnout for the other vehicle to pass. We must have looked like tourists for almost everyone we encountered waited for us, even if it was our duty to hold. It's a frantic drive until you get used to it. The road from Craignure north to Tobermory is said to be worse.
The spa was well, posh and stuffy. Everyone had a stick in the wrong location. Our room 35 was horrifically run down, the bed was completely unusable. We asked for a new bed before we saw the mold in the bathroom; then were we told they were full up. Thank fully, they obliged us with a new, still in the plastic bed, telling us all the beds were being changed out, they just had not done our room yet. Uh-huh. We rain into two Americans during the settling in, Heather and her mum, Maureen. They had as much difficulty with their room!
Off to dinner back at Craignure Inn once we saw octopus was the main meal at the spa. Heather and Maureen beat us, and we all ate together, laughing and having a ball. Heather got us to try haggis, just a bite. Not too bad but we are not anxious to order more. The view from the Spa, as long as you aren't in our room, was fantastic. The harbour lights, the ferry's, moon on the water, just everything you imagine Scotland to be. You could walk down to the water's edge behind the hotel, lovely, lovely walk. Heaven.
Day 8 - Aug 30, Tuesday: Glenforsa Hotel, the Isle of Iona, Craignure Inn, Isle of Mull Spa
We had a good night's sleep until we were woken by neighbors talking. Thin walls! We showered and left by ten, headed north and stopped for breakfast at an enchanting hotel called Glenforsa, a lovely log cabin home with an airport, bar and a small dining room. The people were lovely, the surroundings exquisite, the eggs burnt, the ham and toast were stone cold, as they apparently should be. Maybe Americans are considered to be fussy? We did have proper tea with a lovely view of the water and wild bunnies. We returned to the hotel, having to wait for sheep to clear the road on more than one occasion, right out of your imagination! Reception stopped us to inquire as to the mold, I had left a note saying I had cleaned a bit, "you do the rest, please." Criticism is not well accepted here. Off to Duart Castle for a quick tour and a light lunch in the coffee shop; tea and lentil soup with fresh bread. Quick shots of some lovely stones at Kilpatrick Cemetery next to the sea on the road to Duart, possibly our only cemetery documentation this trip.
Day 9 - Aug 31, Wednesday: The Isle of Iona, Craignure Inn, Isle of Mull Spa
To do this again, I would have chosen a much earlier ferry to Iona and stayed the day, or even a night. Cars are not allowed on this ferry unless you are part of the very tiny population of 177, so you would have to tote a bag, and leave your car on Mull. In any case, our stay on Iona was far to short, and one of the most remarkable of the trip.
On the ferry, you can see the Iona Abbey in the distance. It's one of the world's most popular pilgrimages and enough to make you cry. This is the land of legends. The remnants of Iona Nunnery are humbling, the small chapel of St Odhrán has swifts flying in and out of the arched door. Inside the chapel, you feel a sacred hush of centuries that just engulf you. Glorious carved gravestones decorate the humble walls, seats provide an interlude for prayer or just absorption. I felt such a strong attachment to this chapel, and the mound of grass just outside the door. I did not want to leave, and did so reluctantly.
Down the 'Street of the Dead', the path the ceremony took during a funeral to bury someone, a walk to see the rest of the small island, feeling oft times like you were walking in some's yard, then the Abbey cloisters and the gift shop, where Essa, the ticket taker asked me if she could be of assistance. I asked for the burial locations of my great grandfathers, to which she immediately volunteered to show me. When she walked me back to the chapel and pointed to that mound of grass, I burst into tears. I was able to sit on the mound for a time, then it was time to head back to the ferry. Too short of a visit. My notes say "Hour ten 31 miles on one track." It takes the ferry just ten minutes to go from Iona to Mull, so I have no idea what the rest meant.
Mull Inn had changed the menu to sausage and salmon, but we opted for the Craignure Inn again, where we met the friendliest people again, including Harriett and Jerry and their liver coloured Weimaraner, Bailey.
Day 10- Sept 01, Thursday: Kilchurn Castle, Argyll Forest, Arrochar Hotel
Back on the ferry to Oban where we met Lori and her mum Sandi from Indiana in queue, filled up at Tosco gas for £71/$117, and had a ploughman's lunch at Bossards. We stopped again at Carol Robinson's Dalmally Gift Shop again where two wooden statues, a horse head and a hummingbird, and a Celtic necklace went home with us. The owner gave us directions to Kilchurn Castle, and Ivy the cat got another pet. The castle was two miles back with no sign, the ancestral home of the Campbells of Glen Orchy, built by Sir Colin Campbell in 1450, no relation, but a post card picture castle ruin surrounded by an authentic moat off Loch Awe. An emergency return trip to use the bathroom at the gift shop, then twelve grueling miles through the rugged but gorgeous Scottish highlands through the Argyll Forest on some pretty tight and curving roads. We finally found Arrochar at the head of Loch Long after 60 miles despite the GPS telling us to turn the wrong way.
We booked into the Arrochar Hotel, quaint and old but they try to be very classy. There is a lovely, ancient wooden staircase and an elevator whose actions give you heart palpitations. The rooms are small, basic and no nonsense. Glad it is a one night stay. A walk about provides some entertainment; one decent looking restaurant, the Rest and Be Thankful, is closed for the winter, the Jubilee Well built by Queen Victoria in 1877 was renovated by Queen Elizabeth II in 1977. A classic red telephone booth pleads to have it's photo taken, and we meet some grand people at the local community center. Otherwise, the little town of Arrochar was quiet and sleeping. Dinner downstairs at the hotel was formal and the lounge lizard sang way too loud and long. Strange electronic noises kept waking us.
Day 11 - Sept 02, Friday: Loch Lomond, Aquarium, Galloway Arms
We woke to the sight of the blue, blue loch, gorgeous green mountains covered with lush forests and cotton candy clouds. Scotland can't get any better than this. It was another of our rare one night stays, so packing we are, off in the morning to travel alongside Loch Lomond, that lovely song rolling around in my head. Then off to the Sea Life Aquarium at the end of Loch Lomond, another 120 miles ahead of us to Dumfries; a long day. The traffic was horrendous, bumper to bumper, near Dumbarton Castle, the car next to us called it typical Scottish traffic, "a heap of crap." Hydrangeas, fuchsias, lobelia, petunias flourishing, pouring out of baskets in front of shops and markets everywhere. We skirted around Glasgow by taking the route thru Paisley on A737, an almost real freeway, to Ayr on the western coast off the shore is the Firth of Clyde, opposed to the Fourth of the Fifth. Hah. We passed the Bridge of Weir, crossed Erskine Bridge and became officially famished at the Hungry Monk Inn south of Paisley at Lochwinnoch, now renamed the Loch House. After an hour's lunch, we are back on the road, three more hours thru Kilmarnock, past Dumfries and Crocketford to Galloway Arms, also known as the Nine Mile Bar, halfway between Castle Douglas and Dumfries.
If ever you are in the neighborhood, we highly recommend this establishment. We were one of the few if not the only tenants, the proprietors went out of their way to provide us with the one room with Wifi. It was a huge room at the top of the hotel, room 9, a desk, walk in shower, and a couch! A lovely two night stay including a ghostly experience or two, the story can be found in ghost story section. We left to visit the local Tesco (9 odd miles down the road) and returned to find a happy bucket of ice waiting for us. Dinner at the Galloway Arms was just spectacular. We tried to find Robert Bruce's cave at Kilpatrick-Fleming, and the haunted section of A75 to no avail.
Day 12 - Sept 03, Saturday: Dumfries, Caerlaverock Castle, Galloway Arms
We headed out for the Dumfries laundry and found it closed, found directions for another laundry which took your clothes and washed them for you. Gulp. We wandered to Morrison's for wine, salami, sinus tabs, ate at the Morrison's cafe, shopped for tiny glasses where the pharmacist directed us to a super drug where we could buy the glasses for less than the £25/$41 the pharmacy wanted, bless his heart. Back to the laundry, the blonde there was so sweet, and reminded me of our Jay.
The back roads took us to Caerlaverock Castle, one of the biggie stops. Alexander II, Edward I, David II, Robert the Bruce, on and on. There was a wedding proceeding, and fun to watch. All the men in the procession were in full fledge kilts, meandering about until the hour to begin arrived. The most lovely music was heard, a recording by the young man, James Bledge, doing the sound for the wedding. I asked him what was the song, it was his own, aptly named Seagulls by his mum. He would later email the song to me, it is one of my favorite tunes. The castle was quite the ruin, but marvelous. Tea and bread in the gift shop, back down the spooky road between Anna and Gretna Green, the Blacksmith was closed because of a wedding, the Mirkland Cross could not be reached because of a muddy field. Back to Crocketford and the Galloway Arms on the A75 freeway. I tire of teeny, pinched, one lane country roads today.
Dinner at the hotel again, absolutely delicious and again visited by the other guests in the hotel. More on that in the ghost story section. No sleep for me again!
Day 13 - Sept 04, Sunday: Keswick, Castlerigg Stones, Workington, Traveler's Rest, Hall Park Hotel
On the road again, 60 odd miles to Workington, England, in hopes to have chicken noodle soup at the Traveler's Rest again. It's a perfect 17°C with white puffy clouds at 9:30 in the morning. Morrison's in Carlisle for gas (£50/$75) and there are gliders having fun in the skies! Keswick by 11:30, a crowded downtown for a Sunday. We stopped at the Wild Strawberry Cafe on Main for vegie soup, rarebit and Hungarian goulash. We walked the streets, as we always do, and ran into five young lads who wanted their pictures taken by an American. I know I took an email to mail them their picture but I will be darned if I can find it now. Hope they did get their picture!
There are two kinds of Scottish men; big burly drinkers and thin, quiet sheep herders. Scottish women are tiny or Grannie wide. English men are thin and elegant or round and jolly. English women are Grannie jolly or pinched and strained blonde.
By 3 pm we were back at Castlerigg Stones again. Never can I go too often. This time, it was horribly crowded, and I met a lovely lady named Jeannie who lives in the valley beyond the stones, and it was, well, even more magical than the last time. This time, as I left the stones, I could actually feel the perimeter of its gravity. And it became very loud, the placement of the stones was important, but it's placement in respect to the surrounding mountains was even more and most important. It's energy is obtained from the surrounding landscapes as well.
To the Hall Park Hotel in Workington, the proprietor, Susan, was delightful. She gave us a great room with the old original skeleton key on the second floor, I had a drink and pulled weeds in her yard while David was on the computer. We headed off to see the Atlantic Sea and feed seagulls who did not care for our old Ritz crackers at all! A lovely woman and her little dog were such fun company for a bit. Traveller's Rest had vegie soup!! And the best mushrooms I had ever eaten. I loved the idea that the specials were written on a chalkboard brought to your table, and I want to find those hardboard place mats! Jody, the waitress said we must be depraved not to have had mushrooms like that before! We thankfully left with the basic recipe written on a scrap of paper I still have.
The news said Fresno had a flurry of UFO's?!?
Day 14 - Sept 05, Monday: Hadrian's Wall, Caw's Gap, Hadrian Hotel
We woke to sun, lovely, but then the rain returned and got quite heavy by we finished the 70 odd miles to Hexham at Hadrian's Wall. We stopped at the Carlisle Enterprise to try and rid the car of that blaring red tire light to no avail. No formal place to eat, we stopped at Haltwhistle at The Fort for tea and mushrooms, roast beef sandwiches for a steep £18/$29.
Returning to Hadrian's Wall was a must. Last year, the wall took our breath away, this year was just as grand. After driving about and getting lost for a bit, we found the Vindolanda excavations & museum we missed last year. I found Caw's Gap again without a map, outstanding for someone who can't find their way out of a peanut butter jar. This year the sun was out, the sky was clear but the winds were high and it was slightly rainy. We met a wonderful group of Americans touring the wall.
Next we headed for our hotel, Hadrian Hotel on the wall, a pleasant surprise. an older hotel but quaintly grand, a large comfy room, complete with a bar and restaurant. Horrific singing pipes kept us up.
Day 15 - Sept 06, Tuesday: Wooler, Chillingham Castle
Lovely sleep, sunny and windy with gusts of 25 to 60. Really? We managed to get to the Hexham Tesco for gas after a GPS comedy of errors and a tour of the entire town. My notes are, well, weird. "£97 ($160) of food, ate cheese crackers in park w/ wind, pot yogurt and back on road to Wooler. Trolly wheels go round and round." Maybe this is a result of all those drugs in the sixties?
Rain and wind accompanied us on the 52 miles to Wooler. We stopped at an antique store for a respite, and then off to Chillingham, one of my very favorite places in all the world. I did not understand my attraction to Chillingham until I discovered my 27th great grandfather was a constant there, fighting William Wallace, neither of whom were gentlemen by any means.
Chillingham was full of tourists, so we wandered until we found Bobby, and went with him to play with the castle clock on the third floor of the east wing, finally found Joyce and gave her flowers we bought in town. We got into the room, Grey Room, up a serious round of tiny tower steps with help from Bobby. What a climb!! What an incredible place!! All the tourists leave and we run into a couple staying at the castle as well, Joanne and Allen from London on holiday to Glasgow. They are staying next door to the dairy where we were the year before. We cooked up our favorite dinner: baked potatoes with sauted mushrooms and onions, but this time we were eating in Chillingham Castle's haunted Grey rooms. The wind was furious all night, I watched as lights went out in Sir Humphrey's quarters. the sun set and the clouds drifted by at a wicked speed. I finally left the comfort of the fire for the four poster bed, and discovered it had a bed warmer!! Imagine, curled up in a toasty warm bed, the wind blowing by with a whistle, the clocks chiming, the ghosts waiting . . and amazingly, I slept like a rock.
Day 16 - Sept 07, Wednesday: Alnwick Castle, Dunstanburgh Castle Hotel, Chillingham
No wonder people don't live in most castles anymore. The stone is horrifically cold on your feet in the mornings. We struggled with the shower, and enjoyed the sun in front of the fire with tea. Off to Harry Potter land, but the front gates are still locked. Sir Humphrey is at his desk but we don't want to bother, so we headed out the back gates, stopped to visit the tiny, lovely church behind the castle, then finally off to Alnwick Castle.
Lunch at the restaurant was really very good; leek potato soup and a ploughman's lunch with a garlic and herb cheese and plum apple chutney. We left totally stuffed. This was one of the very few places that bring your bill to the table, guess that must be an American thing? While Alnwick was truly grand, and the only castle we visited that was not a ruin, the opulence was really obscene. Gold everywhere, thirty two dinnerware sets for fourty on display, all the famous paintings you learned about in art college class stare down from the walls at you. Ginormous family portraits dating back to the 1100's watch your every move from every single wall. Even the family dogs remain laying around on the library floor, stuffed after their demise. The Percys, (my 19th great grandfather, Henry Percy, is buried at Alnwick Abbey), still live within the castle, and I find it hard to imagine living this way, entertaining friends in a room larger than two of our homes that contains more wealth than I can wrap my mind around.
The huge castle and grounds are crowded, lots of activities for children, and you can easily spot the wall where the broomstick lessons were filmed, sights galore. The most fun for us was the tiny white owls that were hidden along the tour, one per room. It gave the children something to find while their parents drooled on each room. Sometimes the docents would give you a hint, sometimes they enjoyed watching us strain to find the little 'who.' The gift shop provided a variety of magic wands for children back home, and, a little Who for me.
Grocery and seed shopping, Sainsbury and Homebase, and back to Chillingham. Dinner was at Dunstanburgh Castle Hotel with Joyce and Bobby. Delicious carrot and coriander soup! There was a lovely moon on the ride back, but I could not get a clear shot from our room despite the height.
Day 17 - Sept 08, Thursday: Journey of Discovery, Cottage Inn, Wooler, Chillingham
Biscuits with clotted cream and strawberries. Heaven.
We meet up with Joyce and Bobby for a "Journey of Discovery." Bobby drives since this is his territory and we enjoy riding along. First to a tiny but popular town called Seahouses on the coast where they ship out to the Farne Islands. Then to the Dunstanburgh Castle ruins. The walk to the castle is hefty, across open fields exposed to the North Sea and its winds. Held by the Lancasters, including John of Gaunt, another grandfather, the ruins are poetic. Bobby and I scamper up to the top of the tower remains where the winds tug fiercely at your clothing while David and Joyce wait patiently below.
Lunch was at the Cottage Inn, mushroom and crab soup. I have a weird recipe in my notes for a great starter (recipe identified by Joyce) and "Jolly Bob." Chestnut mushrooms? I have to write better notes. There was a gorgeous bronze stag statue, but I don't have a statue problem, really. After lunch we drove thru the moors where I fell in love with heather at first sight and gathered a nosegay. Then Bobby casually says, "There's Flodden Field," and I holler to stop. Such history! The English were outnumbered 26 to 34 thousand, and still won. Bobby and I are spouting off how many English and Scots died, why, when, who, David and Joyce are groaning in unison. It was a true privilege to have stood where that battle took place, so many died and the path of history changed forever. As were wandering through the hills and joking with each other, Joyce would translate my sarcastic "I love you" at David as "just wait till I will get you back when we get home." We were rolling in laughter. I have absolutely no idea what we did for dinner, but we probably cooked in the castle.
Mark Twain said golf was a good walk spoiled. Haha!
Day 18 - Sept 09, Friday: Wooler, Chillingham
Lovely home cooked breakfast in the castle, scrambled eggs, potatoes with onions, bell peppers, garlic and bacon that was disguised as shoe leather. England might have discovered zip lock bags this year, but they still don't have good salami or bacon, or Tylenol. We brought a plate down to Joyce who was already working, she could not understand why anyone would want potatoes for breakfast until she took a bite. Damon took me on a tour of the entire castle, including the tunnel. Trying so hard to create a blueprint of the castle in my head.
Off to Wooler, what a delightful town, one land, lots of small shops and everyone knows everyone. We stopped at the classic deli/butchers, who knew Joyce well, found wine for Jolly Bob (why we nicknamed Bobby this none us remember) and then back to the castle for potatoes smothered in mushrooms and onions.
That was the night of the largest scare I have had at Chillingham. I had encountered 'others' before, but none that scared me so.
Day 19 - Sept 10, Saturday: Holy Island, Berwick Upon Tweed, Cara House
Our last day at Chillingham, how I hate leaving. We packed up, David would take our belongings down and would sort out the back of the car again. As he was rearranging, the car keys in his pocket, the tailgate down, all four car windows rolled down simultaneously. I think it was time to go.
Joyce inherited all our extra goodies, and directed me to the door of the lookout, one floor above our tower door. What a place! The little tiny bedroom at the top of the tower is just large enough for a very small bed, but the view is outrageous. Finally and regretfully off and away.
We missed Holy Island last year as we didn't time the tides well. This year we knew better, and drove out to the island at 11:30 when the tide was completely out. It has a population of 100, Lindisfarne Priory destroyed by Vikings in 793, and Lindisfarne Castle atop the small mountain appearing like a magical dream. The island has a recorded history back to the sixth century as the beginning of Celtic Christianity. Ten hotels or guest cottages, two main streets, two lighthouses, four restaurants, one bar, and a dozen shops that close at one even though the tide doesn't allow us out until four. A silver Celtic cross, a necklace and a blue Celtic scarf went home with us, along with the way to buy the huge Sage elf puppet "Zoe" I fell in love with. She now adorns our bedroom.
Next, the castle. Quite a walk, no close parking even for us handicapped parking people. The winds were unbelievable, even for being so high up. The docent told us the UK was expecting a hurricane on Monday with 70 mph winds! He said the castle would definitely be closed, so we felt doubly lucky to have made it this year. A stop for a Drambuie and a beer at the Ship Inn, but they don't serve food until five, long after we would be gone. What DO these people DO?
The priory was fantastic, echoes of time settling everywhere around the ruins and crumbled stones. Dark clouds chased us into one last remaining open shop where a pewter Celtic cross key chain, and gifts of Cathy and Josh left with us. We walked back to the harbour to watch the ships, with a stop at the Pilgrim Cafe for tea and cake while it grew quite cold and started to rain. A lady came out of her house to feed the wild birds in the yard. We watched as her amazing cat followed her out and sat next to her, patiently watching the birds with absolutely no indications of hunger or the need to chase.
The tide charts said to leave at 5:40, but many were leaving by 5 up, so we tagged along and found the road clear. On the return trip, I wondered if the local teens see who is bravest crossing nearest to high tide. As it was, we were able to watch the tide come in quite rapidly as our drive back to the mainland commenced.
We are headed towards Berwick for the night, a 30 mile trip, and were instructed to call our next hotel to advise our hour of arrival. No one answered the phone, and we were given an incorrect address. I had the address of Whyteside House on Castlegate, and the Elizabethian was actually around the corner. The incredibly pleasant gentleman, David Whyteside, I believe, who knew exactly where Modesto was, was kind enough to give us directions and call David McLean of the Elizabethian Townhouse to inform him we were on our way. Once there, we waited and waited at the door. A passing lady from the youth hostel warned us Mr McLean was not the most pleasant of people, we would need luck in dealing with him, let alone staying there. He oft times neglected his guests. She was spot on, Mr McLean not only scowled at us, he had completely lost our reservations and had only a large, expensive family room left. We left without so much as a by your leave. Again, Mr Whyteside to the rescue. He was full up but found us lodgings around the corner, Pamela at the Cara House, a private home bed and breakfast. We took her last room, which was not completely cleaned up.
Dinner was at the Verdi Italian Restaurant across the street as the Leaping Lizard was just too loud. Or was it the Leaping Salmon? Excellent food, and again, we are the only Americans, and yet the music is always American. We sat next to who we called the Turtle Man (due to his profile) from Dallas, he kept staring and finally broke into a conversation when David left for the loo. I kept staring at the address on the transom window above the double entry door: 303412. Finally it dawns on me that is not the address, it is the phone number!
We were back at the hotel, David was snuggling in and I went down to ask Pamela about her previous comment about extra guests in her home. She was in her living room when I experienced my first brilliant yellow aura around Pamela. We spoke for some time, and as I headed to bed, one photo of the hallway provided me with a strange, blue light. We did unfortunately get introduced to bed lice, but the stay was wonderful despite that.
How can you tell the Americans? They are the bundled up people. The British have only light sweaters.
Day 20 - Sept 11, Sunday: Kelso, Spread Eagle Inn in Jedburgh
I called our next hotel, the Spread Eagle in Jedburgh last night, explaining our dilemma. Pamela had been able to put us up for the night but was booked solid for Sunday. Whyteside was available but we chose to move on once John Campbell at the Spread Eagle had an opening. Thank you, Lord.
The thirty four mile trip started as a sunny day but turned to rain at Kelso, and the winds blew the rain almost parallel to the ground! The Hoot Cafe we ate at last year was closed so we ate at the Waggon Inn, again, the only Americans. We managed to visit the ruined abbey we missed last year, wow, and revisited Kelso Abbey and the cemetery, still simply magnificent and reeking silent stories. We are in need of a laundry, and the Kleaning Ark is closed. Shopping in Hawick, movies for John who is stuck guarding prisoners in Guantanamo, Cuba, then boxes to ship everything home .
We got to Jedburgh, checked into the Spread Eagle, found our room to be just lovely and huge, the bath has radiant heating!. Dinner was at the hotel on the second floor, a bit odd, served by the owner himself. One other couple in the hotel ate at the same time, making it all the more uncomfy and quiet, all conversation could be easily heard by all.
Day 21 - Sept 12, Monday: Jedburgh Jail, Jedburgh Mill, Carter's Restaurant, Spread Eagle Inn
Breakfast was at the Cookie Jar just across the street, and it must have been grand because I wrote "Scrambled Eggs!" in the diary. We drove up to the Jedburgh Jjail, where something malevolent kept nagging at me. The Bridehall wing was bad but the upstairs was far worse. David took a video of me standing on a parapet in the wind, my scarf flying out horizontally, I filmed a flag pole bending beyond reason. The hurricane had hit as promised, and that night, I brought Who and Pickles into the hotel with us.
Jedburgh Mills, a very dangerous store, provided Christmas presents for the family, scarves and gifts for all. We had promised Rick Z at our local Savemart a real kilt but the prices were a tad alarming and he had to settle for a tie. This year we were more conservative, the total was only £98/$150 including shipping. Last year, I believe it was around two hundred dollars. Tea in the Mill greenhouse and back to the hotel.
David brought everything up to our third floor room and we sorted it all out for two hours, praying we would have room for everything. When we asked John Campbell where to find a laundry, he offered to have his staff do our things for us. Bless him a million times. We end up with three boxes; two for home with seeds, knife, scissors, rocks, clothes, jam, honey, and one full of movies and candy for John. Wish we could tell exactly how much fifty pounds weighs without a scale!! The ladies at the Mill recommended Carter's Restaurant, which only took reserves, and thankfully had room for us. The same couple from the Spread Eagle was there as well!
"I'll just have a word . . " - love that expression.
Day 22 - Sept 13, Tuesday: Premier Inn Edinburgh
Packing up, David ended up getting another box for the coats we bought here. They were too wonderful to leave and we just didn't have the room in the suitcases since we kept our Wellies, too. Off to the post office where the bill totalled £135/$222. Yee gads and little fishes. Breakfast was at Simply Scottish, we returned to exquisite Jedburgh Abbey to document all the gravestones outside the abbey this time, and we headed off towards Edinburgh, our last long journey of 57 miles, about a two hour trip in good weather on small Scottish roads.
Thirlestane Castle was not open, so we had tea the the Black Bull for a break from the road and the wild winds. The Premier Inn at South Queensferry near the airport was good to see, and they had a scale that said our luggage weighed in at 48 pounds. The winds continued to howl, rocking semi trucks in the parking lot. Again, Pickles and Who spent the night with us in the hotel room. The local restaurant was Brewer's Faire, my notes say, "I tire of this food." The barkeep could not smile and I had the last of their Drambuie while David enjoyed a Kaliber beer. Jackets and shrooms, fair but filling. Back in our room we fussed, fiddled, re-arranged, and packed, slept until 3 am where after we woke on and off until the 5:30 alarm.
Day 23 - Sept 14, Wednesday: Edinburgh Airport
We took our last Scottish shower, thank goodness, skyped with Jena who let us know Stacey had people looking in her windows, thinking the house was for rent!! We wrote a scathing letter to Theresa at Tinetti as we had taken the house off the market when Stacey moved in on August 1st. It was a fast morning, clear and thankfully not as windy as predicted. Finding the rental car return at the airport was a hassle but not a nightmare. We had to pay $75 for a ding someone had put into the back driver's side door! Good thing they did not notice where someone had put a ciggie out on the boot!!
My luggage came in at 22.7 with a 32 kg limit. Paying for our third luggage involved going elsewhere to pay, then a return to the ticket counter for a boarding pass for the luggage? A quick sit down breakfast half done when boarding was announced for the one hour flight on an airbus to London, and a noisy landing gear was a tad disturbing. 21,500 feet, -11° at 498 mph.
London was a mass of humanity, the bus ride from terminal 5 to terminal 3 was tedious, security again, show your boarding pass and purchases again, four times in terminal 3 before boarding, sometimes within ten feet of each other!! We boarded early but left on time. An obnoxious, overly calm or unconcernedmother with a heavy Liverpool accent sat behind us, screaming at her infant and James Elliott, a four year old who would not stop kicking my seat despite my pleas. A wondrous stewardess, Sue, moved us to 10J, front seats with leg room! Lunch was actually decent, two scotches and the movie Thor and I am still awake. Note to self: always travel during waking hours as we don't sleep on board anyway. Greenland? Iceland? Volcanos and islands but never do the stewardesses know what's what. That was long ass flight, says my notes. 12:15 on our watch, 6 am in Texas. Customs was easy, my knee went out in line, no pictures are allowed in the airports? We picked up our own bags and had to deliver them and go through security all over again, then carts took us over the HUGE airport while I called Stormy to say hello.
That is the end of my notes. I didn't write anything about the last leg of the trip, but I know we got into Fresno later than the scheduled 9:40 pm, grateful no one had to wait for us with our truck already there. That ride home was long and we were so relieved to finally get home to our own animals and our own little bed.
Twenty one days is about our limit away from home.
Next trip notes: Travel during the day, bring the pedometers, clear glasses, still bring Tylenol, forget ziplocks, buy Ibuleve and Codiene, white Stilton cheese, pack pillows in the suitcases and lessen the carry-ons, you never sleep or do puzzles anyway.
Other weird notes: Last year we learned, the hard way, the postal code, when input to the GPS, will direct you to an actual building. Boy, could we have used that the first time we got seriously lost in Coventry! This year, the GPS was difficult to work at first and we never figured out how to input all the postal codes I had so carefully prepared on our travel schedule!