Th… Th… Th… that’s All Folks

We are home! That’s it! The trip is done and dusted! And so are we!!

Jet lag in progress

The aftermath: I lost two hats, flushed one pair of sunglasses down the loo, left a power adaptor in France and lost a phone charging cord by putting it “somewhere special” so I wouldn’t lose it.

We mistakenly cancelled our credit card half way through, thinking we had been scammed , only to realise the small amount involved was actually of our doing!! Fortunately we had back up.

There was also one parking fine, one potential speeding fine and a very, very, very flat tyre.

Which in the big scheme of things is not too bad for 8 weeks of travel.

Despite only having a basic plan, these “accidental tourists” stumbled and bumbled our way through Spain, Portugal, Spain again, France, Belgium, England and Scotland, discovering so many wonderful places and people and things.

Grahame drove close to 7430 kilometres in 2 cars (2,430 in Scotland), we travelled some of Spain in a Taxi, we’ve crossed the English Channel in an overnight ferry, putt putted approximately 257 kms on a canal boat and sat on a train from Paris to Brussels and another from Hull to Stoke-on- Trent. And of course there were 4 long plane flights via Dubai.

Special thanks to Mithyl for a great time in Portugal and Spain. And special thanks too, to John and Jude for a great time on the canals in England. We loved having Katie and Chris meet up for the Chester leg as well.

If our “no plans” plan was to visit churches and cathedrals, take stained glass window pics, find nice pubs, climb to the top of every hill in every town we visited, drive through amazing scenery and weather, lose things, see things, have some great adventures and a few mishaps , meet some truly wonderful people and one or two not so wonderful ( yes I mean you, driver behind us in toll gates, somewhere in France) , I’m sure you’ll agree we achieved everything we set out to achieve, and more.

We’ve asked ourselves regularly and have been asked already what was the best, our absolute favourite! The only answer we can come up with is that everyday was as good as the previous day. It’s impossible to pick the best. Lucky us!

Home

It’s great to be home, to catch up with family and friends, catch up on some sleep, unpack and put clothes in drawers and on hangers, enjoy a proper shower , and drink real coffee….. and stop! For a few days at least.

Thanks to those who enjoyed the blog and said so, and thanks to those who didn’t enjoy it but didn’t say so. Thank you for coming along on this crazy ride! Hope you enjoyed it!

Time to start “not planning” our next adventure!

Glasgow to the Airport

We have mixed emotions today.

We are sad that this incredible journey is about to end, but happy to be going home to family and friends. And a good cup of coffee! (Vanessa be warned!!!)

It will be nice to unpack, have access to a washing machine, wear some different clothes and shower in a decent shower.

On our final day, we wandered around Glasgow and ended up at the Cathedral Precinct! Of course we did!

Spending our last few hours in a cathedral taking photos of stained glass was appropriate really. Given that’s what we did for the majority of the trip.

We particularly like this Cathedral as it was the final resting place of Saint Mungo. How Scottish!! I hope he was Mungo MacIntosh or Mungo McTavish!

And some nice tiles!!

Just over the bridge on top of the hill was the Glasgow Necropolis! What a sight! Thousands of gravestones and monuments to the dead, covering the hill. Prime real estate!

The view back down to the Cathedral was worth the climb to the top of the necropolis.

We walked back to the city centre and happened across a ceremony to commemorate the dedication of Glasgow’s Garden of Remembrance. There was a lot of tartan on display.

We visited Glasgow’s iconic Equestrian statue of the Duke of Wellington. Capping the statue with a traffic cone has become a traditional practice and a bit of raspberry blowing at the English.

Our very last stop before the Eurocar Rental station at Edinburgh Airport, was the People’s Palace, now a social history museum.

It was full of those everyday things that you remember your grandparents or parents having in their homes. It told of how Glaswegians worked lived and played in years gone by.

Brass plates on houses indicated the amount of floor space and therefore the number of people allowed to live there
In support of women

The beautiful fountain outside featured scenes from the colonies of Australia, India, South Africa and Canada.

This was a timely reminder. Home was calling.

The drive to Edinburgh took a little less than an hour.

We dropped the car at the rental place and headed over to the departure lounge.

We had covered 2430 kms since we left Stoke-on-Trent ten days earlier!

And we loved every kilometre of it.

Cheers
All around the purple heather…..

What do Bonnie Prince Charlie, Harry Potter, James Bond and a sheep farm have in common?

We visited them all today. Sort of!

The view from our loft was pretty impressive. When I opened the window to get a better look, it was pretty cold too!

Ben Nevis
Loch Linnhe
Out the window

We drove about 20 minutes to a little place called Glenfinnan.

Glenfinnan is a big on the tourist map for two reasons. But I’m pretty sure the majority of visitors only come for one.

Glenfinnan is the home to a monument celebrating the spot where Bonnie Prince Charlie raised his fathers standard, marking the start of the Jacobite rebellion. The highlander perched on top of the monument is a reminder of the clansmen who gave their lives to the Jacobite cause. Less than a year after Charlie’s brave stand, the battle of Culloden took place.

Don’t do it!!!

The setting was stunning !!

Glenfinnan is also home to the Glenfinnan Railway Viaduct which features in the Harry Potter Movies.

At 10.30am each day a steam train (similar to the Hogwarts Express) chugs over the viaduct sending a lot of young ( and not so young) Harry Potter fans into a tizz. So, guess when this train stopped operating for the winter? Yep!! Yesterday!!

Katie taught me well

Interesting fact: (for me only). Many years ago (36 years ago!!) I caught a train from Maillag to Glasgow and I have just realised I would have passed over this beautiful viaduct. Before it was famous.

Ben Nevis again

Back in Fort William we called in at Neptune’s Steps to see the huge lochs in operation. A yacht was heading up the lochs and the process took over an hour and several loch gate workers. None of that windlass stuff. It was fascinating to watch.

That’s not a canal boat!
Series of 8 Staircase lochs
Going down

We drove south towards Glasgow. The drive continued to be so picturesque it was breathtaking.

I commented to Grahame that the scenery reminded me of the scenery in the James Bond movie, Skyfall. The scene was filmed near Glencoe and sure enough that’s where we were!

We drove along Loch Lomond and I guess by then we were out of the highlands!

Goodbye stunning stark snowy scenery. You made my eyes happy.

Goodbye Highland Coos. You are so cute!! You made me smile!!

Goodbye waterfalls, goodbye sideways hail, goodbye soggy ground, goodbye North Coast 500. You were amazing.

About half an hour past Glasgow, in a little farming village called Nemphlar, we visited Margaret and Robin. We had never met them before, but we had come specifically to their sheep farm to do so. They are long lost, almost, sort of, nearly relatives on my Dads side. Dad had found them on Ancestry as potential relatives going back a few generations. Turns out they are! We promised Dad that if we were in the area we would call in.

I were lovely and made us feel very welcome. They pulled out the family tree and explained our connection. I still don’t really get it, but it has everything to do with Catherine Elizabeth Johnson Leary.

Hirds and Partlands in pub pic

She married my great great grandpa. When he died, she remarried a James Hird who is an ancestor of Margarets. I think!!

Resemblance?

Anyway Robin and Margaret breed prizewinning sheep who produce prizewinning wool. So we went to feed some of the sheep and we got to check out the wool.

It was getting late and now daylight savings had finished, dark. We had to get back to Glasgow where we had booked our final nights accommodation!!

Glasgow at night

So do you see the connection? We did all this in one day!!

North Coast 500 – Big, big ✔️

Today we completed our NC500 journey. Technically we should have completed the circuit by crossing Scotland back to Inverness. But we have a plane to catch in Edinburgh in a few short days (Yes, we are actually heading home!), and we still have one or two things to do before returning our car to Edinburgh airport. So, after spending most of the day exploring Skye, we veered south and are now in Fort William, in a converted loft, with views over Loch Linnhe to Ben Nevis.

Loch Linnhe

But first things first.

Our little cottage on Skye was snug and solid during a howling wind last night and we woke to clear skies and very crisp air!

From the lounge room window

Brigitte had prepared the most amazing breakfast for us. An “Enough to feed an army” style breakfast. We didn’t even put a dent in it. And we tried. But we were also keen to make the most of the nice weather, so we packed up and planned to leave.

That’s if we could ever get away from Bess the rescue collie and Filou, the very opinionated and jealous cat. They kept pushing each other away to get more pats!! Grahame was kept busy sharing his affection.

Glendale

We headed to Neist Point Lighthouse perched on the most westerly tip of Skye. The light house is hidden from view when you arrive in the car park.

It’s way down behind this headland

The path was steep, the sheep were plentiful and the scenery magnificent!!

Neist Point Lighthouse

Around the time the lighthouse came into view and we were equidistant from shelter, a lovely rainbow tricked us into ignoring the big black clouds hiding behind it.

And then the rainbow disappeared! We got hit by Scotland’s infamous sideways rain, or tiny sidewise hail in this case. We got smashed on our right side while our left side stayed dry. Having tiny pellets of hail fired into one side of my face was one experience I could do without!!

As quickly as the squall came, it went and once again, the sun was shining and the birds were singing. Almost.

We wandered around the lighthouse til we could no longer feel our fingers. Time to go!

The walk back up to the car was more difficult than the descent, given that frozen limbs don’t work as well as unfrozen ones. It was hard not to walk in circles.

We put the car heater on high and defrosted the frozen half of us while the other half roasted!

We had been told of the Fairy Pools and they sounded enchanting. We were reasonably close, so off we went! This time we took our wet weather gear and an extra layer!!

We parked in the closest carpark and headed in search of Fairies. We were unsuccessful, but we did find lots of little falls with crystal clear pools and plenty of tourists.

The walking trail was a bit hairy in places and involved a little bit of rock hopping. In other places it was a big mud slush puddle which was kid heaven for the little boys wearing Wellington boots. (Not sure Australian customs will be as happy when they see my boots!)

More tourists

Dunvegan Castle was to be our next stop off point but despite their website saying they were open, we were met with locked gates and a notice saying it was now closed til April 2020! Too bad Dunvegan Castle, you missed out on us!

Sadly Eilean Donan Castle suffered the same fate. We arrived at 3.02 pm and new winter closing times, instigated today, meant they closed at 3 pm. Too bad Eilean Donan you too missed out. (But we did wander around outside and take lots and lots of photos).

We arrived at our Airbnb in Fort William just on dusk (so it was probably a good thing those two castles were closed). Doesn’t look too shabby!

And this is Ben Nevis right in our front yard.

After meeting our hosts, we walked into town to find some dinner and realised we were within coo-ee of the Caledonian Canal running from Fort William to Inverness. Of course we had to check out Neptune’s Staircase, a series of 8 step locks. At the base are two swing bridges, one for cars , the other for trains. It hurts my brain to even try to work it out.

Maybe tomorrow. After I climb Ben Nevis!!! Hah! Joke!!

Speed Bonnie Boat- NC500 Day 5

When we left Applecross we had a plan. We wanted to visit the Applecross Photographic Gallery, we wanted to cross Bealach na Bà (Pass of the Cattle) and we wanted to be in Glendale, on the Isle if Skye, before dark.

Our Airbnb host in Ullapool told us to say hello to Jack at the Applecross Photographic Gallery. And being true to our word, we went in search of the Gallery, which as an added bonus, offered a free cup of coffee for the visit.

Photo from the Applecross Photographic Gallery website, because I forgot to take one myself. And it was overcast on our visit.

Jack was a little distracted when we called in to say hello. The World Cup Rugby match between England and New Zealand has begun and England had just scored. Jack was jumping up and down amongst his framed prints and assorted photographic paraphernalia.

He made us a cup of coffee but his heart wasn’t in it. England were in the lead. The coffee was cold!

We purchased a few of his photographic cards, gulped down the coffee and left him in peace.

Thanks Jack

We stopped in at the Applecross Inn and had a hot cup of coffee and a bacon roll (breakfast had finished but they took pity on us and rustled up a quick snack) and chatted with some of the other visitors. It was cosy and warm and we could have stayed longer.

The locals are obviously very polite and we happily acquiesced to their request regarding parking in the area. How could we not!!

Polite parking

We needed to get moving. we had a mountain pass to negotiate!

Bealach na Bà could look like this, depending on the season. We would have been happy with either.

Thanks Google

For us, it looked like this!

And occasionally like this.

Had we have been patient we probably would have had a better view. Never the less, Grahame enjoyed the drive over Scotland’s 3rd highest mountain pass.

Waterfall on left
Stream, not road
On the other side.

We called in at some castle ruins at Strome to take a few pics. We made sure we put the handbrake on properly while there.

And then it was on to the Isle of Skye. Saw our new car, but someone else was driving it!!

We drove to the Kyle of Lochalsh and the over the Skye Bridge*. ( There was a great battle there about 20 years ago!!)

Landscape beauty overload began immediately (not that it had actually finished!)

We drove straight to the main town, Portree and found somewhere for lunch.

Portree Harbour was so pretty. The colourful buildings on the waterfront reminded me of Porto. ( Mithyl, do you agree???)

High and Dry

I’m thinking this is a pretty good advertisement for this Fish and Chip shop!

Eat where the fisherman eat!

We pointed the car north , and headed to Uig. It was a pretty drive, dotted with sheep, waterfalls and little harbours and a ….. castle(?).

Can’t remember what this is. On the way to Uig

The car then headed on a loop road in totally the opposite direction to what we had planned, and we found ourselves at the Quiraing, a “landslip” with some crazy rock formations.

Just as we arrived, the heavens opened and sleet and small bits of hail pelted down. It had been sunny five minutes earlier! We waited it out in the car and watched in amazement as this bride and groom raced for shelter. A spectacular wedding photographic session had been rudely interrupted. Talk about trashing the dress.

The brown jacket was the photographers.

Five minutes later, a rainbow formed and the sun was shining again!

We had gotten ourselves a little damp at the Quiraing and went in search of a solution. We found the Flodigarry Hotel. It had one real deer, two fake deer, a nice bar and a family playing scrabble. Most importantly it had a nice fire which quickly dried off our clothes and got our circulation flowing again.

Flodigarry

It was getting late and we still had quite a drive to the other side of the Isle. A little village called Glendale was our destination for the night. Time to move.

We still found time to stop for a few quick pics. Can you blame us?

We arrived in the dark, at our wee cottage in Glendale where we were welcomed by Brigitte and her little menagerie. We couldn’t see the view , but our little cottage was warm and comfy.

Home for the night , a little stone cottage

So, we achieved two of our three planned items for the today. Arriving in the dark, lost us a brownie point. Oh well.

* The battle of Skye Bridge : we watched a doco on BBC tonight (google it or watch on YouTube) which coincidentally was about the “new” bridge opened in 1995. It was built to replace the ferry, but it was one of those public/private deals and the American owners slapped a £5 toll on every car crossing. The locals weren’t happy, kicked up a huge stink, got arrested and charged, fought their convictions (some successfully), came up with lots of legal arguments, got arrested again, served time in prison and finally got the toll removed. It was all about the vibe!

Snow on them there hills- NC500 Day 4

We woke to snow on the peaks. Admittedly they were distant peaks, but I’m easily pleased. It was chilly down on the edge of the loch and the wind was blowing a gale. Once again the sun was shining. But we weren’t going to fall for that. We donned our 5 layers and headed off.

First stop today was Corrieshalloch Gorge National Nature Reserve. It is the home of a mile long box canyon, which you can see from a suspension bridge that crosses the gorge. By the time we pulled into the car park and donned our jackets, the sun had disappeared and it had begun to sleet.

The suspension bridge was wobbly and the boards underfoot were slippery. The sign said no more than 6 people should be on the bridge at one time. I would have been happier if it was only one.

There was a short walk to a viewing platform further along the gorge, allowing us to see both the falls and the suspension bridge.

Another smaller fall into the box canyon

Driving further up into the mountains we came across snow on the side of the road and accumulated around park benches. My fingers were too cold to evenpick it up and make a snowball. And there wasn’t quite enough for a snow angel.

That’s my shoe print! Not quite a snow angel!

We took a little detour to Mellon Udrigle Beach. It was pretty pretty, but also pretty cold, so it was a “jump out, take a pic and jump back in again” type of stop.

At lunch time we called into a little cafe perched above Aultbea. The owner gave us a bit of a history lesson while we ate. This little harbour was a staging area for the Second World War shipping convoys carrying supplies around the North Cape of Norway to Murmansk in the USSR. Because Loch Ewe faces north it is much better sheltered from the prevailing westerly winds than other lochs along this coast.

Inverewe Garden and Estate was a great find that almost backfired. The wind was pretty wild when we arrived and we were disappointed to learn that the head gardener had closed the gardens due to the high winds. A group of about 10 of us were hanging around to see if he would change his mind ……. and he did.!! We raced for the entry to the garden before he changed his mind again. So glad we got to visit. It was great.

The gardens were created on a barren piece of land back in 1862 by some guy called MacKenzie. He planted large trees and shrubs to provide a wind break. Once this was achieved, he started planting exotic plants that seem to thrive in their own happy little microclimate. His daughter took over where he left off and then left the property to the National Trust of Scotland. Now it employs 10 gardeners who keep it well maintained and safe for the tourists.

The property is criss-crossed with a large number of walking paths, leading to stunning views, little ponds, art installations and areas designated to the plants of particular countries.

I loved these guys. Not sure what they’re made out of (some kind of vine, bamboo?).

Grahame must be feeling a little homesick.

Hugging a Snow Gum

We found a few other Australian Natives but the pièce-de- resistance was the little stand of Wollemi Pines.

The house provided a little respite from the cold and a little insight into the lives of MacKenzie and his daughter. The downstairs rooms looked cosy and lived in, even though they weren’t. There was a lovely sitting room, dining room, kitchen and library to peruse before heading back into the gardens.

But I particularly loved the flower arrangements.

Incoming!!

Victoria falls, not THE Victoria Falls, was another opportunity to get out of the car and stretch our legs. It was a nice walk past the falls and then up to the stream above.

All around the purple heather…

Grahame felt the need to add a rock to yet another cairn! Not quite as impressive as the last one!!

The views continued to be jaw droppingly gorgeous. So it was a slow trip as Grahame had to keep pulling over in order for me take yet another photo!

We had a choice as to which way we drove to Applecross: the Coast drive or the mountain pass. We chose the coastal way and will leave via the famous mountain pass tomorrow.

We arrived in Applecross around 5.30 and still had no idea where we were staying the night. We had sent a request to an Airbnb, but hadn’t had a response and most of the day we had no internet coverage so we weren’t even sure if the hosts had read our request. Turns out they hadn’t!!

We spotted a sign for Hartfield House Hostel, turned left and here we are happily ensconced in a rather large house on a rather large estate. We have a “wing” to ourselves, although there is at least one other couple staying here somewhere.

The receptionist recommended we walk to the “Walled Garden” for dinner. It was about a 20 minute walk down a country road, over a wooden bridge crossing the River Applecross, through the Applecross Estate, and past Applecross House.

Applecross House

Little did we know we would be accompanied by a stag walking down the road in front of us. He wouldn’t let us get too close, but he certainly wasn’t in a hurry to get off the road.

A distant deer
Walled Garden

Dinner was delightful as was the walk home under starry, starry skies!

Unbelievable!!

Scenic Overload- Day 3 NC500

We were sad to leave our little pod overlooking the sea this morning. It certainly rates as one of our favourite Airbnb’s of our trip. So cosy and warm …….and that view!!!

Our eyes suffered from sensory overload today. It’s been hard to pick the most stunning view as there was something wonderful around every corner. And there were lots and lots of corners. Suffice to say the scenery was stunningly stunning. Mountains , lochs, mountains , lochs, mountains, lochs and the occasional beach.

Look familiar/ similar?

See what I mean!!

Oh and did I mention waterfalls?

We had four seasons in one day and sometimes they all happened at the same time. The sky was blue one minute, and the next minute a squall would come through and we’d sprint back to the car. Two minutes later, we were looking for our sunglasses.

The one constant, was a cold wind that kept us reaching for our beanies and scarves every time we got out of the car.

I’ve never seen so many rainbows in one day. I’m sure we were being followed by them at one stage. No pot of gold though.

So many rainbows

Smoo Cave at Durness, a large combined sea and freshwater cave, was on our must see list for today. The large chamber was formed by the action of the sea, and the inner chamber from the freshwater running through the cave. The waterfall within reminded me of Natural Arch with the stream from above pounding down through a hole in the roof of the cave.

Inside the first chamber
Covered walkway leading to second chamber
The waterfall within the cave

Just up the road was “Cocoa Mountain”, the most amazing chocolate shop in the world! After getting caught in a downpour when returning from the cave, a hot chocolate was very much appreciated. And a few little chocolates didn’t go astray either.

The most amazing hot chocolate ever.

A lot of today’s drive was spent on what was called “Single track roads”. The roads were only wide enough for one car but there were passing bays fairly evenly spaced along the way. If you met a car coming the other way, one of you would stop in the bay until the other passed. There was lots of “thank you” waving between drivers.

There’s a lot of sheep in Scotland and we got to see our fair share today. Mostly on the roads. They wander wherever they please, without a care in the world. Cars don’t seem to bother them in the slightest.

Sassy sheep
Sheep admiring the view

We called into a village called Lochinver because we had heard it had a great pie shop. They even have a mail out system to anywhere in the UK. ( I should have asked if they’ll send to Australia!). It was lunch time and we had almost recovered from our earlier chocolate overload, so in we went.

Pork, Apple and Cider Pie

Lochinver itself was a pretty village with a stream emptying into the ocean.

After filling up on pies, we made a quick detour to the Highlands Pottery Shop. There was some nice stuff there but we enjoyed the ceramic stuff outside much more than the expensive stuff inside. The ceramic armchair wouldn’t fit in our bags, so we had to leave it there. Grahame was keen for the car!

We arrived in Ullapool around 4.30 pm and had a quick look around before driving a little further to our Airbnb for the night.

The Ullapool ferry services the town of Stornoway in the Hebrides Islands taking around 2 1/2 hours. Maybe next time!

Airbnb farmhouse

See what I mean by Scenic Overload?

North Coast 500 Day 2

The Airbnb view was a wee bit underwhelming. Not because it wasn’t spectacular, but because we couldn’t see it. The weather was a little bit Scottish! But we are still not complaining.

Jackie, our host, showed us photos of the view looking out her window towards the Orkney Islands. She also showed us photos of the Northern Lights from the surrounding area. Absolutely stunning. Alas we did not see them either!

This is what we saw in photos
Not what we saw in real life
Thanks Google

The new tartan umbrellas came out of their covers today, only to be put back in again. The wind was blowing them inside out at John O’Groats.

J o’G most northerly town in mainland Scotland

After the obligatory selfies, we drove up to Duncansby Head lighthouse dodging the sheep as we went.

Sheep in middle o’ road

The lighthouse itself wasn’t very exciting but the ten minute hike across the field to the Duncansby sea stacks was well and truly worth it.

A bit soggy underfoot

We drove past two important houses on our way to our next stop. One was the Airbnb where we spent the night and the other was the Castle of Mey, once owned by Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. Camilla and Charles use it when they are in the area.

One was open and welcoming, the other was closed for the winter!

So far the route of the NC500 is pretty much hugging the coastline. There are so many pretty little inlets and coves along the way. This one caught our eye. There were seals bobbing around in the cove and one or two lolling on the rocks.

Dunnet Head is the most northerly point of mainland Scotland and Grahame was keen for a visit.

A little chilly!

The lighthouse keeper must be the eternal optimist. As if the washing would ever get dry, or not end up in Iceland!

Speaking of Iceland, this is Grahame waving to John and Jude, who are currently there.

When not hugging the coastline, our route took us past lots of little lochs, green pastures, ruined buildings and some not so ruined!

Grahame spotted a sign for a Scottish Monument and veered off onto a side road. Why not? The Monument was St Mary’s Chapel built in the 12th century. Getting to it was an adventure in itself.

That’s it ……… on the horizon

We traipsed through the paddock, past a ruin, across a bridge, and through another paddock.

Oh The irony

Grahame placed a rock on the cairn and we high tailed it cross country back to the car.

The scenery continued to amaze us and the sheep kept wandering all over the road.

Our last stop of the day was at a little place called Bettyhill. There was a tiny museum to see. It was based on the Highland Clearances, the eviction of tenant farmers by their landlords back in the early 1800s. That explains all the ruins everywhere!!

Bettyhill Museum Graveyard

It had a Pictish standing stone in the cemetery dating back from somewhere between the 6th to 9th century.

But, arguably the highlight of our day was the view from our cute little Airbnb pod just outside the village of Tongue. Imagine waking up to this every morning!!

Our view! Grahame’s pic
Our home away from home

The “pod” had underfloor heating and was as cosy and warm as can be. While the wind howled, we hunkered down for a great nights sleep!

Found him!

Well some of his rellies anyway

We started the day at Culloden Moor Battlefield. Those Jacobites were really on a hiding to nothing! If you’re gonna pick a fight with the English, I’d recommend Murrayfield or Twickenham, not Culloden Moor. It’s not a very pleasant place. It’s cold, windy and as it’s name suggests a wet, soggy, boggy moor. Mind you it wouldn’t have been pleasant for the English either, but they were a little better watered, fed, armed and organised.

Bleak Culloden Moor

It was overcast and windy and cool but still not r*#ning. As added insurance, before stepping out of the interpretive centre onto the moor, I purchased two umbrellas! Tartan ones, of course!

We checked out the highland cows before wandering the battlefield.

Leanach Cottage was originally built in the early 18th century and has a heather thatch made from that growing on the battlefield. I don’t think it would be very warm or comfortable either. It was used as the field hospital by the English during the battle.

Up until recently it served as the original Visitor Centre until the new centre was built. The new one is all whizz bang and high tech, and well worth a visit!

And it makes for a nice pic!
Duck!!

We walked through the battle fields with the wind howling under a threatening sky. What an eerie place!

The lines of the troops at the Battle of Culloden are marked with red and blue flags. The red flags mark the line of the government troops whilst blue flags mark the initial line of the Jacobite troops before the charge.

The Battle of Culloden Memorial Cairn is prominent on the landscape and is circled by stones indicating where various clan groups fell.

The umbrellas worked and the r#*n stayed away. We could have spent longer here but we had the North Coast 500 to explore. Today was Day 1 and we needed to get moving if we were to get to John O’Groats by tonight.

We headed off along the A9 and it wasn’t long before we took our first detour to the Black Isles just north of Inverness.

The scenery was already stunning (and continued to be such for the whole day).

After the doom and gloom of Culloden, we thought we needed something completely different. Fairy Glen Waterfall fit the bill perfectly. Sadly, we didn’t see a unicorn! Or a fairy!

We made a very important discovery while sitting beside the waterfall….. Money DOES grow on trees!!!

And so do mushrooms!

Big ones!

Our next stop was Dornoch. It was lunchtime and there were a few things worth seeing.

The Cathedral was lovely, both inside and out.

Dornoch has a gruesome claim to fame. It was the last place a witch was burnt in Scotland. She was tried and condemned to death in 1727. There is a stone, the Witch’s Stone, marking the alleged spot of her execution, sitting in the front garden of the last house in Carnaig Street. It felt a bit weird walking up to someone’s front gate to take a photo of a rock!

From the stone, you can wander two ways. Either onto the Royal Dornoch Golf Course, or the beach.

Just up the road a bit is the beautiful Dunrobin Castle. It’s the current home to the Countess of Sutherland, Head if the Sutherland Clan.

It sits above the gardens overlooking the Dornoch Firth.

The interior was impressive. The tartan carpet worn in places, particularly at areas in front of the windows, where generations of Sutherland’s stood to admire the view. It had a real “lived in” feel.

As long as “lived in” means living with stuffed animals, museum like rooms and all the family trinkets and paintings out on display for fee paying tourists to ooh and ahh at.

After a wander through the gardens and a quick game of croquet it was time to move on.

We had two more stops planned for the day and it was getting late.

Carn Liath is a Bronze Age broch or roundhouse ‘castle’ which sits by the side of the A9 overlooking the sea.

A door for wee people

We had one more stop. But we missed it! Which was just as well as the light was fading.

We arrived at our Airbnb after dark, so we missed seeing the view. The hosts assure us we will be impressed.

Day 1 of the North Coast 500 gets a big tick.

In search of Jamie

‘Twas a bit chilly this morning. But it was indeed sunny and that’s two days in a row Scotland! Thank you!!

A bit of an unglamorous start to the day… 1 1/2 hours in a laundrette!! We were getting desperate for clean clothes, so sadly this was a necessity. However the lively Scottish lady running the place was happy, cheery, and entertaining (at least we think she was, we only understood half of what she said). Time flies when you’re having fun!

Grahame’s family descended from these parts, so it was time to do a little exploring! We headed to Broxburn, then Uphill and Bathgate. All places we had heard of over the years.

Broxburn church

We had a few addresses but weren’t overly successful as streets no longer existed.

We visited a few cemeteries and found a few Marjoribanks headstones. We thought the Martha Marjoribanks one might have been Grahame’s aunt who died here before the family came to Australia. We found the gravestone but the facts didn’t add up.

Probably related somehow

We did spot quite a few names of possible relatives and names that have been incorporated into the family such as Walker, Lynch and Ballantyne.

Grahame’s mum had a placemat that had this set of buildings on it. (We think! ). She had asterisked one as a family residence. Should have done a bit more research!!!

Bathgate

Being canal folk now, we couldn’t go past Falkirk without stopping off at the Falkirk wheel. An imposing structure, it picks up a big bathtub full of water containing a canal boat, rotates, and deposits the bathtub and its contents higher on a different canal. The 24 metre wheel replaces a flight of 11 locks which would take almost a half day to negotiate. Now the process takes about a couple of minutes.

Around she goes
Pink tourist boat on the way up.

It was time to head north to Inverness. Our plan is to drive the North Coast 500, a route around the north of Scotland, over the next five or six days before returning to Edinburgh and our flight home!

The route starts and finishes in Inverness, but we will adapt it slightly and see what happens.

The drive north was spectacular!! The autumn colours in the forests, the stark bleakness of the bald hills, the fast flowing streams and rivers, the dark stone cottages clumped together, the sheep and cattle grazing in green, green paddocks, an occasional waterfall, walking trails leading off into the distance. And SNOW!!

The Cairngorms

We arrived at our Airbnb just outside Inverness in time to see a young deer grazing in the paddock outside our bedroom window.

Bambi

We walked down to the Culloden Moor Inn for dinner. A distance of about 2 kms. And yes it’s next door to the Culloden Moor battlefields. Didn’t see Jamie Fraser ( Grahame has his eye out for Clare) or any of the other Jacobites. Maybe tomorrow.