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Published: December 25th 2017
Geo: 52.1919, -1.70713
Grumpy in the Grampians (and Skye) 12 June - 11 july 2015
After a lovely few day in Galloway we started moving north, via Glen Coe, Fort William and on across the ferry to Skye. We stayed around these areas for a month - can't imagine why! To be fair the scenery all across the Highlands and Islands is superb, equalling anything we have seen on our travels. There are the mountains, the lochs, (sea and freshwater), rock outcrops, heather, rivers, castles and all of it covered in beautiful wild flowers. So why were we grumpy? Two reasons, the weather and the midges. It doesn't matter how stunning the scenery if you can't see it for the low cloud, mist and rain. If we total all the time we saw the sun (or even a patch of blue sky) during that month it would not make 2 days! It was the worst June anyone could remember. The temperature rarely crept above 12 degrees C the whole month. At times the wind was so chilly and strong it felt much colder, and when the wind was not roaring, it rained, and rained. It was a good test
for Astrid as even with the depressing weather we felt cosy and content inside.
Each day we listened to the weather forecast and every time it said something like, " Showers today and tomorrow and then good weather on its way." We must be really gullible as we believed it. It took 3 weeks before we realised that the forecast never changed and the good weather never materialised. Then they promised a heatwave so we ended up staying another week to wait for it to arrive but it was still showers, or as the forecast often said, "Showers in the morning, rain for the rest of the day".
Then there are the midges. It sounds such an innocuous word compared to mosquitoes. Don't believe it! The air is full of the tiny monsters, like dust motes in size. Clouds of them surrounded Astrid permanently and anyone who risked venturing out. Walking through them is disorientating as they are so small they are hardly visible but catch your eye somehow. It is as if the sky (and everything around)is pixillating. It made me feel quite dizzy, like having an attack of vertigo, and they pack a punch when they
bite, bringing up a bright red spot about a million times their size. Despite applying thick layers of repellent I still had to take tablets to control the reactions. The only time they disappeared was in a strong wind.
To balance the equation a little I must say it is great that they have 'Right to Roam' in Scotland which meant we were able to park in some beautiful places. As long as there is not a sign forbidding overnight parking (and these are usually found in Council Rest Areas and Car Parks) it is possible to stay. The Forestry Commission sites and RSBP provided some of the best, for example on Skye we parked next to a bird hide and 10 minutes walk from a Forestry hide which is provided to watch seals and otters. At Bunree we were 20 yards from red squirrel feeders.
However, compared to Australia and New Zealand, the Scottish authorities do not help motorhome visitors. They only seem to welcome people who use their hotels, guest houses and attractions which have entry fees. Information centres are rare and you have more chance of spotting a penguin at the North Pole than finding
a public convenience. It is unbelievable. You can travel hundreds of miles on the Highland main roads (which are usually dreadfully potholed and not what you could consider to be a main highway) and never, ever find a loo!
What really annoyed us is the 'picnic areas' marked on maps. Eventually we realised that most of them have height barriers restricting entry, and they never have any facilities. We had optimistically decided to pull into one for lunch. We drove along until we reached the sign, signalled and turned off the busy road into the slip road. It was only at that point that the barrier became visible, so we had to turn around. The turning circle was tiny, so small that Jim had to stand and bend by the wheel and shout instructions so I could manoeuve the wheel inch by inch around the large boulders they had used to restrict movement. Not only was this unfriendly it was downright dangerous! As visibility from the main road was blocked we knew a fast moving vehicle might have pulled in at any second with nowhere to go apart from hitting us. Luckily we escaped before that happened. The whole
road infrastructure, from the badly potholed main roads, lack of signage, lack of facilities, to the ignorance of the staff in the rare information centres, seems to say that the authorities do not care about drivers. Twice, in different areas, we were told to go down roads by the Information staff and when we reached these 'roads' found they were no more than overgrown footpaths.
Sorry about the grumbles. Despite these we did enjoy many aspects of our trip. Apart from the amazing scenery in the Highlands our best day was when we decided we had had enough of the bad weather and moved south. We left Fort William but stopped en route to see Neptune's Stepladder, (a series of locks on the Caledonian Canal), Doune Castle, Stirling Castle, the Falkirk Wheel and the Kelpies.
Doune Castle was built by the man called the uncrowned king of Scotland, . He was the power behind 3 different kings. The castle was used as the location for the Monty Python film, and Terry Jones provided an entertaining audio commentary. Stirling Castle is much bigger than Doune and attracts many American and European visitors.
Then we stopped at the Falkirk
Wheel. It is a fascinating structure, a real engineering achievement. It transfers boats from the canal at one level to another canal 35 metres above by lifting the boat in a 'gondola'. It uses very little power (equivalent to boiling 8 electric kettles to exchange gondolas) as the two 'boxes' full of water balance each other. Adjacent to the Wheel are small copies of the Kelpies designed by Andy Scott, the originals are located a couple of miles down the road.
We enjoyed seeing Scotland especially Ayreshire, Dumfries and Galloway but, as you may have gathered, found the Highland and Islands, cold, unwelcoming (with the exception of RSPB, Forestry Commission and some Reserves) and painful despite its beauty.
We have spent the last week in Castleton in the Peak District. If the climate was better and it was adjacent to the sea I would live here as it is a very pretty, tiny village of stone cottages, 7 pubs and as many cafes and restaurants, overlooked by Peveril Castle and surrounded by caverns. Peveril was built just after the Norman conquest and used mainly as a hunting lodge for royalty and an administrative centre for collecting taxes.
One day we took the bus to Buxton and crossed paths with hundreds of cars coming the other way covered in Garbage signs and clutter together with all manner of creative designs. On the narrow country lanes they caused havoc but everyone seemed to enjoy the fun and local people came out to watch the crazy procession go by. I don't know a lot about the Garbage Rally but they seem to be fans of the band Garbage and are travelling around the country from London to Aberdeen. Most of the cars seemed to come from the Netherlands.
In Buxton we saw some of the well dressings. Well dressings are made by using thin slabs of wet clay and covering them with plants, flowers and other natural products to create designs which now cover a huge range of subjects. I believe that the original well dressings were to give thanks for the well water that helped some villages survive the plague and now the tradition has been revitalised to attract tourists which I think is why the subject matter of the designs is more catholic. After a few days the clay starts to dry out and sadly the designs
After Castleton we spent one night at the Chatsworth site. We would have liked to stay longer but they were fully booked and it is not surprising. It is adjacent to Chatsworth House and when you check in they give you key to a gate in the fence. You can then go and wander around the Chatsworth estate at will and if the House is open you can visit at a discount. I think we might return after the school holidays.
Then it was time to go to Sutton Bonington where we met up with Anna and James for Anna's degree award ceremony. We had a lovely day with 2 ceremonies, one at the main campus with drinks and sandwiches provided and one at the Sutton Bonington site. It was not always easy for Anna during her 4 years and we are very proud that she successfully fought through. Our campsite was basic, a little like parking in a lovely garden, all alone but with no facilities. As it was next to the SB campus it was a perfect location.
The next day we went with Anna and James to a "Games Room" where theoretically
we were locked in (but I don't think they do lock the door) and had to work through different logic problems to escape. It was good fun and we really enjoyed it but I was so glad that I had the other 3 with me or I might still be trying to get out. They were so quick at identifying the problems and solutions it was fascinating to watch. I was really impressed.
Now we are in Stratford upon Avon for a few days and are going to see Othello tonight at the RSC. The newly redesigned theatre is open so we are looking forward to seeing it. I hope it is as user friendly as the 'temporary' theatre they erected to tide them over the 5 years or so needed to redevlop the main threatre.
After that we are off to Worcester to catch up with Clive and Helen from Australia who are here visiting their daughter. From there, who knows? We have decided not to go to Ireland, partly because we could not face more cold and/or wet weather and also because we have a number of things to sort out here, including where and how
to store Astrid for the winter. It seems that leaving her dormant is not quite as straightforward as we thought so we need time to make sure we set everything up satisfactorily. We will let you know if we manage to do this in later blogs. We do love travelling in her and having everything we need to hand. Despite what might seem like very limited space we find her more than adequate. Perhaps it is a mind set. When we set off moving we check readiness in each 'room', so say something like "Bedroom Ok, bathroom clear, kitchen fully stowed, dining room tidy, electrity and gas disconnected, lets go". Sometimes I stand outside and look along her length and think, 'She really is a TARDIS, how can we have all that space inside?'
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