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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.


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.


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.


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!


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!

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!!!


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.


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.

Auld Reekie*

Edinburgh put on a cracking day for us! Cold but no r#*n and there was even sun and blue skies. Take that England!!!

Our Uber driver, Ali, was a charming, cheerful and chatty young man from Pakistan who kept us informed and entertained on our trip into the Royal Mile (High Street) . Ali has set the benchmark for what was going to be another great day.

Now, the “Royal Mile” isn’t actually a mile long and it has not had a monarch living anywhere near it since the days of Mary Queen of Scots, so it’s not actually Royal either. A much better name would have to be “Tartan Terrace” or “Souvenir Street”, because that’s about all there is along the entire length.

There were tartan scarves, tartan beenies, tartan hats, tartan ties, tartan shawls, tartan coats, tartan shoes, tartan underwear and tartan tartans.

Even the garbage trucks are tartan!

I had booked us into a Free Walking Tour, but even that is a misnomer! By “Free” they actually mean “Not Free, just give us what you think we are worth at the end”. This could be potentially awkward but fortunately we had Kenny as our guide and he was fantastic. Two hours of walking and talking! Lots of interesting facts and amusing stories. There were times I wasn’t quite sure what was fact or fiction, but it didn’t matter. It was fun anyway. We didn’t mind parting with some of our “hard earned”.

Scotland’s National Animal

Isn’t it cute that the Unicorn, a mythical creature, is Scotland’s national animal! Isn’t it cute that England’s national animal is the Lion! Kenny told us that unicorns are the only animals that can defeat lions! How symbolic! Fact or fiction?

We visited Greyfriars Kirk and paid our respects to Greyfriars Bobby. Grahame left him a stick to play with in the after life!

Along with all the others!

The Heart of Midlothian, outside st Giles Kirk, records the position of the 15th-century Old Tolbooth , demolished in 1817, which was the administrative centre of the town, a prison, and one of several sites of public execution. Tradition allows passers by to spit on it . Although it is now said to be done for good luck, it was originally done as a sign of disdain for the former prison of which the entrance lay directly at the Heart’s location. It is probable, that the spitting custom may have been begun by the accused.

Hearts of Midlothian football fans spit on it for good luck but the Hibernian fans spit on it because it’s the emblem of their arch rivals.

JK Rowling wrote the first two Harry Potter books whilst sitting in local cafes, this being one of her favourites. So, of course it’s on the tourist circuit. We didn’t go in, but I did jockey for a position to take a pic.

And it would have been remiss of us to not visit “Diagon Alley” Doesn’t look like quite as magical as it did in the movie!

We spotted several William Wallace’s a few Harry Potter’s and a Highlander or two throughout the day.

But it was the Bagpipe buskers who were out in force along the Royal Mile.

These two young’uns were too busy checking their mobile phones, missing out on the lucrative busker market.

But most impressive piper of the day goes to this guy!

Press play

Kenny, our guide, introduced us to a guy called William Brody, who became the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jeckyl and Mr Hyde.

Read this

Brodie was a Scottish cabinet-maker, deacon of a trades guild, and Edinburgh city councillor, who maintained a secret life as a housebreaker, partly for the thrill, and partly to fund his gambling. When he was eventually caught and hung, it is said that the gallows were of his design and he was the first to test them out. Oh the irony!! Fact or fiction???

In the afternoon we headed up to the castle.

The views were stunning.

We were on a mission to find my Uncle Col’s favourite canon, Mons Meg. It didn’t take us long. Mons Meg has had a bit of a chequered history but is quite infamous in our family, so it was nice to meet her at last!!

We spent a few hours exploring the castle along with hundreds of others.

There were the rooms of the Royal Palace to see, the Honours of Scotland (Scottish Crown Jewels) and the Stone of Destiny (or coronation stone).

Google pic: no photography allowed

We explored the prison cells, the War Memorial and the War Museum before deciding it was time to leave.

Back on the Royal Mile
Skinny selfie

During the day we visited two pubs recommended by a Scottish guy we stayed with in Aracena many weeks ago.

Both were lovely.

The Guildford Arms
Kay’s Bar

Back at our accommodation, we got to watch an important darts match on the hotel dining room TV. I made the mistake of voicing my lack of interest, and was given an immediate education by some locals who were more than happy to try to convince me that I did indeed like watching darts, I just didn’t know it yet!

They are good at maths, I’ll give them that!!

*So why “Auld Reekie”? There were two possible explanations Back in the day, the walled city of Edinburgh was pretty crowded. There was no room to spread out , so they built up instead. The first explanation was that with so many chimneys and the need to keep warm there was always a pall of smoke hanging over the city. The second was that, given that the buildings were so high and it was a long way down to empty the chamber pot, it was highly probable that people flung the contents out the window, splattering the ground below and stinking the place up. Fact or fiction??? Perhaps it was both!!

I’ll take the high road…..

We were sad to say goodbye to Ellie, but even sadder to say goodbye to John and Jude. We have had a fabulous two weeks. The “Four Counties Ring” was absolutely stunning and every day was so much fun.

Bye Ellie
Bye J and J and thanks!!
Thanks Black Prince

John and Jude were heading off on new adventures and we were off to Scotland to begin the final leg of our adventure.

We had a bit of time to kill before picking up our hire car. We headed off for a walk and stumbled upon the Spode Pottery place. The major draw card was the attached cafe with the possibility of a decent coffee. And it was!!

While Captain Cook was finding Australia, Mr Spode was creating nice pottery
First cup of coffee I’ve finished in almost 7 weeks

I congratulated the young barista on the nicest coffee I’ve had in almost 7 weeks, and she was so chuffed, she teared up!! So sweet!!

We had time for a quick peak at the pottery in the Spode Museum. It was pretty pretty indeed.

Time to go! Bye bye Stoke on Trent.

Before we knew it we were cruising along the M6 heading for Edinburgh.

True to our unplanned form, we made a last minute decision to take a little detour through the Lakes District. Good decision!

We arrived at Bowness-on-Windermere, a real tourist mecca, in time for lunch and a bit of a wander around.

Lake Windermere

The countryside was truly stunning. Many years ago I cycled this road and I have a vague memory of just how beautiful it was. So pleased I got to update those memories.

It was time to get back on the M6 and cross that border at Gretna.

Google pic. Mine too blurry!!

Grahame spotted a sign pointing in the direction of Edinburgh. It was a “scenic route” rather than the motorway. Of course we took it and once again it was a great decision. If you ever get a chance try the A701!!

I was so busy gawking at the scenery, I forgot to take photos. I know you’ll find that hard to believe, but it’s true.

I was delighted to find that we were actually travelling along the Tweed Valley. The Scottish one, not the one I grew up in. The River Tweed , at its source, was a small fast flowing stream wending its way past lots and lots of sheep. At times the hills were bare and other times heavily wooded. Gorgeous!

Google pics again

We arrived at our hotel, booked by Grahame back in early August, only to discover we had no booking. The receptionist was as confused as we were when we showed her our booking confirmation. She searched her computer and found nothing!!

It wasn’t til much later that she found a record of the booking being cancelled in mid September!! Apparently the company we booked it through closed down! Fortunately the hotel still had a spare room and we rebooked for two nights!

The receptionist was so upset for us and kept apologising even though it wasn’t hers or the hotels fault. We assured her it was all ok.

Later, whilst having dinner, the manager approached us and said he had heard about our earlier plight and gave us a bottle of Processo “on the house”. Winners!!

Thanks Murrayfield House

Harecastle Tunnel

Friday 18 October 2019

Today was gonna be a biggie.

We were originally supposed to pass through the Harecastle Tunnel on Day 1. But due to our last minute change of plans, we were now passing through on Day 14.

But first things first.

Ellie-McBoat-Face could sense the excitement and put on her best “McBoat-Face” face.

We had only three locks left for the whole journey, and they were just around the corner.

Admiral Long John set sail , while the deckhands headed forward on foot, armed with their trusty windlasses.

There’s a reason for the colour of the water.

Grahame had the privilege of closing off the final gate behind us, as Ellie transported us back to Stoke-on-Trent.

This was cause for a celebration of sorts and we felt the need to record the occasion with very bad selfies.

It wasn’t much further down the canal to the Harecastle Tunnel.

The colour of the water is due to iron leeching out from the old mines nearby

The canal runs deep under Harecastle Hill for 2.6 km. It is only wide enough for a single boat, so canal traffic is managed by sending alternating northbound and southbound groups of boats through the tunnel.

There was a boat already in the tunnel, coming our way, when we arrived so we had to wait 30 minutes or so before it emerged.

The Tunnel supervisor guy gave us our pre entry safety instructions and checked that our head light and horn were working.

Tunnel Supervisor Guy, Antony

The boys had to don life vests as part of the OHS requirements. Judi and I donned our warm jackets and promised to stay seated up the front.

Long John and Maddog modelling some slightly uncomfortable life vests.

There was time for another selfie before all the cabin lights were turned on and Ellie was pronounced ship shape. We were finally allowed to enter.

Team beanies and scarves

We took around 30 minutes to pass through. It was eerie, cold and wet with water dripping from the very low ceiling.

Press play

Someone, years ago added a little artwork to entertain us along the way.

A photocopy of the pic on the tunnel keepers wall cos mine didn’t work.

The light at the end of the tunnel slowly grew larger but it seemed to take forever.

Done ✔️
Smug!!! Thanks LongJohn for the pic

This end of the tunnel was so pretty.

The Whitehouse was where the tunnel keeper lived. He could sit at his window and keep an eye out for boats wanting to enter the tunnel.

The other building is the Fan House which is used to pump fresh air through the tunnel to help disperse diesel fumes.

The original tunnel, now disused, was replaced. It must have been a nightmare to pass through. It had no towpath , so the navvies would lay on the roof of the boat and “leg it” through the 2 1/2 kms. Exhausting claustrophobic work!!!

We moored nearby in order to record our successful journey through the mountain. It was another opportunity for bad selfies.

We ticked off another Geocache before setting sail.

Ellie was now approaching the outskirts of Stoke-On-Trent , passing the old pottery factories and kilns for which the area is famous.

Some were in better condition than others!

We pulled up at a lovely park and had lunch. Grahame and John tried to make friends with a swan. Unsuccessfully it seems.

Cranky pants
Grahame’s pics

Just around the corner was the Black Prince Marina. Ellie was home.

Black Prince Marina

Dinner was at Tobys Carvery, the same place Grahame and I had dined two weeks ago. time really does fly when you’re having fun!!

We sat around the table and made a few calculations:

This was our last night on board and I had a master plan to wipe the floor in Sequence!!

It didn’t work !!

Sequence: Partlands v Marjoribanks . Partlands win. STUPID STUPID STUPID GAME!!!!

  • Judi 8
  • Grahame 6
  • John 6
  • Jenny 40 😛😋