"The Scottish Government has announced new measures to ensure that stocks of haggis are reared along humane standards, ensuring a cruelty free environment and nice death.
In a deal with the Scottish Greens, thought by commentators to be a trade off over the recent budget controversy, all Scottish caught haggis will have to achieve a live weight of 1.2kg before slaughter and be fed on a diet of worms and mixed grain.
Haggis stocks are low due to a high uptake for Burns night and pressure from corporate shoots to provide plenty of entertainment for paying customers, though Haggis beaters, who depend upon the high volume, will be petitioning the Scottish Government on the issue.
In other news, Afghan farmers will be selling Fair Trade heroin in selected outlets in Britain . . . .
The radio was turned down. Mum had said she was looking forward to next week as we'd all be having a wee cough. I thought that to be a little strange. Not for me. What she actually said was we'd all be having a week off
. Ahh! That's more like it!.
Hard to beat. Although its also a popular holiday spot for midges. They didn't bother me. I keep my coat on you see. . . .
7 days to get off the beaten track, grab a bit of scenery, meet new peeps & unwind. Bongo has a new buddy now too. Taylor is a wooden box on wheels. He carries the bulk of the junk we need for a week away & follows faithfully behind. A bonus for the rest of us, it had been a little cramped inside with awning, bedding, cooking stuff taking up too much space. The only downside is trying to go backwards. Taylor has no sense of direction whatsoever & needs to be taken away when shifting about in tight spaces.
The first leg was structured around a Bongo Bash at Fort William, a six hour drive from home. Some great views on the way up. Taking the big blue road on the map up through the rolling hills of the Lake District, getting gradually more rugged as we neared the Scottish Borders.
Heading past Loch Lomond there was no doubt we were in another country. Lush green magnificence all around, blue skies, warm breeze. Strange to think that we were here only a few weeks back when we were battling against blizzards.
This one's called Nevis. A large stones' throw from our doorstep.
As regular readers will know, t'was cold enough to freeze the nuts off one of my brass cousins! Not this time. Summer is here!
Fort William is a big town nestled on the west coast between Ben Nevis & Loch Linnhe, leading to the sea. Stuck in something of a 60's/70's timewarp, mostly. The petrol stations, unfortunately no longer sell diesel at three bob a gallon. They're well into the future on that score. £1.45 a litre is rather on the steep side. Dad says its because of a man called Brown who runs the country but has never driven a car or had to live in the real world. Never mind. Brown will be looking for another job soon.
The gathering site was brimming with Bongos. We parked up with some of the NW Mafia, cracked open the tinnies, stuck a leg of lamb on the barbie & settled in for an evening of joviality. The midges were a little on the aggressive side however, Mum got a fair beating as did a few others but staying by the smokey fire seemed the best place to be. One of the highlights
Top cafe, great scenery.
of the night was Bob. Bob had trekked up from Somerset to bring scrumpy for the rest of us. As well as the yummy apple juice, Bob also had a repertoire of rugby songs that were second to none. Bob the Boozer kept us in stitches for hours.
Day 2. Ft William - Glenfinnan
Not surprisingly, a late start. A glorious blue sky morning, made that much better by the news that England was suffering the regular Bank Holiday downpours! Decided to stay another night with the gang. Tried for an hour to stick up the awning. No joy. Wrong sort of ground. Packed it away again in Taylor then headed out in a convoy of 4 to find lunch. Ended up at Glenfinnan. Theres a railway station there on the "Harry Potter Line" with an old dining car now used as a cafe. Had coffee & sarnies (no banana pancakes on the menu I'm afraid to say :-(
) Then a wander around what was euphemistically described as the museum but was really just the old ticket office that they hadn't modernised yet.
Next job was hunter/gatherer tasks. Back
Whats That Coming Over The Hill. . . ?
Thats a monster if ever there was one!
to Ft William for supplies. Had a pint on the terrace of a pub overlooking the Loch then hit Morrisons for the essentials. (beer, wine & fizzy plonk) Back to the site at Corpach for a paddle & to do a little more mingling. The midges were back as the sun went down but hey - they need a holiday too I guess!
Bob was on form again as we sang our way late into the evening around the fire. One strange thing about being this far up the map is the way the sun refuses to go to bed at a sensible hour. Although sunset seems to occur at a regular time, it tends to hang just below the horizon for hours afterwards. Approaching midnight it still wasn't quite dark. Surreal.
Day3. Ft William - Cannich
Another sunny scorcher! Bacon butties being the order of the day for brekkie. One of the guys had said he was off on a steam train later in the morning that thundered under a bridge at the entrance to the site. Dad went off to grab a picture & took me with him.
A tad basic but what a find!!!
Closest thing I've seen to a fire breathing dragon. Scared the living daylights out of me!!
Still undecided as to where to head next, thought possibly Skye or Mull but went for heading around Loch Ness first. Shame not to, as we were so close. Packed up, said goodbyes to our chums, took the A86 for an hour or so through more gloriousness to the land of the legendary monster. Still eagerly trying to spot the elusive Haggis. Saw neither.
Mum had given me the map to find a suitably out of the way hidey-hole to camp for the night, I chose Loch Affric, a few miles up from Cannich. The Boy Done Well!
We stopped for lunch in the village, at the Glen Affric pub. Sat outside watching the world go by. The whole village were suffering a collective hangover after a weekend long music festival which had started Friday afternoon & ran non-stop until 7am Monday. Made our way up the narrow road into the wilderness, using the sat-nav to source a suitable track to explore.
It got somewhat complicated at this
Beware Of The Hobbits
Never stayed in an Iron Age house before. Fairytale stuff!!!
point. Tomtom found us the perfect place. We could see where we wanted to be but getting across the last 30ft or so of rough ground involved crossing the grass covered top of what turned out to be an ancient mineshaft. Dad got out & walked it, checking for obvious obstructions, & removed a couple of sticky up pointy rocks that were likely to rip the sump plate off - while Mum & the small human scampered off to recce the surrounding forest. All seeming clear, Dad edged Bongo carefully forward to get to the nearest flat bit when suddenly - the earth opened up. Front wheel dropped into a hole of indeterminable depth leaving Bongo lurching forward & to the left at an angle of about 45 degrees. How the whole thing didn't just roll over is beyond both myself & the Laws of Physics! Two wheels were clean off the ground, one wedged in the hole, leaving just one rear tyre remaining in contact with Mother Earth.
It took a bit of thought, some playing with wedging rocks about & some very careful throttle control to get us out
Here Be Dragons!
Waking up to this is - - - not possible to describe. The sense of being on a filmset is overwhelming. But it really IS real. Pinch yerself Munkey!
of there. Patience won in the end & we escaped relatively unscathed. Meanwhile, Mum had found an Iron Age house just a little way along the track. We chose to stay there instead.
I cannot find the words to describe the magical experience of this Dingly Dell. Silver birch woods, Lochside, blue waters. Serene. The little house had a proper stone fireplace & chimney inside built from rocks & a kind of makeshift log, twig, mud & moss thatched roof.
Worth the effort to get there. Gobsmacking!!
We set a fire in the superbly engineered fireplace, Mum cooked up steak using a wok on the flames as the sun set & we all crashed out with big smiles on our faces. Another great day.
Day 4. Cannich - Applecross
Up for sunrise this time. Carpe Diem! Still no firm plans of where to head next or how to get there but that's the point of this campervan lark. Each day is an adventure, expect the unexpected.
Back the ten miles or so to The Glen Affric for breakfast
The majestic Glen Affric. Never considered Art Deco to be the norm in The Highlands. This once great establishment is attempting a re-birth to its former glory.
& check the map for our next destination. Back in the day this was a 30 bedroom hotel with a ballroom sized restaurant that could turn over 800 meals a night. It had been abandoned for seven years until being purchased a 12 months ago. Now under the helm of Ronnie & his right hand man Rob, they're getting the old girl back to her former glory, making the place, once again, the heart of the community it once was. Best of luck too chaps. You deserve it.
They had stuff like newspapers & a TV there so we checked out the most promising weather conditions & decided to head there. This meant going north west. There's a chunk of mainland sticking out alongside the Isle of Skye with some tiny roads, tiny villages, tiny tiny beaches & stonking big mountains.
Although only about 40 miles from where we were as the crow flies, Applecross was a 3 hour drive by road. The last hour was particularly spectacular. The road in from Kishorn is akin to driving through Switzerland or Andorra. Twisty steep zig-zag roads that can test the ability of even
Road To Applecross
The 2nd highest road in the UK. Its like driving up a wall!
a mule. At the very top of the climb, the coolant alarm let us know that Bongo was not a happy bunny. (Thanks again to Haydn!) A swift drink & a ten minute rest sorted him out & gave the rest of us a chance to take it all in.
Dropping down the other side revealed the coastline looking over towards Raasay & Skye with the peaks of the Cuillins in the distance. Managed to roll down the mountainside a full 15 minutes in neutral, easing the old boy back into work again. At Applecross we needed a drink too. There's an award winning pub there, famous for its seafood. Being something of a victim of their own success, there was nowhere to sit so we opted for a pint outside. Had something of a mild altercation with the landlady who asked us to "Move that van" as we were spoiling the view for a fat Yorkshire couple sitting by the window stuffing themselves with snowshovels. Dad gave them the finger as we pulled away, I think they probably wanted to eat that too.
We then mooched up the way a
Park up on the beach. Get a fire going. Watch the sunset over the Inner Hebrides. Cool.
mile or so to set up camp on the beach for the night. As mentioned before, the Scots have an entirely different attitude toward people camping overnight. South of the border there are signs in just about every suitable spot saying "No Overnight Parking" or words to that effect. Up here, its positively encouraged, to the extent that standpipes for water, binbags & sometimes either food or firewood is left out for people to use & enjoy. The unwritten law being that you leave it tidy & perhaps leave something for the next visitors. It really works too! Encouraging folk to venture up to places they would otherwise never see & bringing a few coffers to the local economy.
We hit the main beach. Stoked a proper fire, had a seaside dinner & watched the sun gently set over the Hebrides. There were no more than half a dozen vehicles parked up along the half mile or so of the crescent. Most seemed quite normal except a funny little man from Aberdeen in a Saab who'd turned up on his own with a tiny tent, intending to cycle over the mountains in the morning. He
Tigh An Eilean
Our posh hotel for the night. Shame about the noisy red car spoiling the view though.
had no bike though. . . . ?
Day 5. Applecross - Shieldaig
The wind was whipping up the next morning. The sky looking somewhat moody. As we'd come over from the south west, it seemed the best plan to head out north following the headland toward Torridon. Still eagerly trying to spot our 1st haggis, the best we managed in the morning were a pair of wild deer breakfasting amongst the moss & heather.
After an hour or so driving through the wilds, enjoying local signposted produce such as "Hats, Gloves, Eggs & Socks. 50 Yards",we pulled into the village of Shieldaig to have a wander & possibly score a cooked breakfast. Pulled up outside a posh hotel & drooled at the window to gawp at the diners enjoying a fine spread. Venturing in we asked if we could have some too but we were ten minutes too late. They offered us coffee & toast though so we barged in. Decide to stay for a night. Proper bath, charge up the phones, camera etc & enjoy a little pampering. Had to wait an hour or two before checking in
Vast expanses of greatness. More suited to a mountain goat than the four wheeled beast though . . .
so unhooked Taylor & went for a spin.
1st stop Torridon. Not too much to see at first but took a walk to the shoreline & found signs pointing to an Outdoor Church. Never seen one before & probably never will again but it was exactly as it said on the tin. Three half moons of stone lying below a natural rock altar. Completely outdoors. Completely barmy. We had a play at preaching to the seagulls, guillimots & oyster catchers but they weren't too interested to be honest.
Back on the road again to follow the route up as far as we could go along the coastline to Diabaig. Another little road with a real WOW! factor. Like one of those roads you see on car adverts or Top Gear. Spent a short while at the top to try & take it all in but the elements were closing in. Back to Shieldaig for hot water & bubbles.
The hotel had spent the last nine months rebuilding the bar next door & as luck would have it, this was their grand opening night.
These things are as big as a horse! Standing proud, an exemplary example of what Scotland is all about.
Wild, proud & self sufficient.
Needless to say the grown ups took full advantage, ending up at 2am giggling in the main street with an actress from Lancashire called Jane Horrocks. (Although she said she wasn't, we DO have photographic evidence!.) Some of the locals got a little cross. Apologies due there.
Day 6. Wester Ross - Edinburgh
The ride out through Wester Ross in the morning was something off a programme like World Best Top 10 Roadtrips. Some of these mountains are over 3000ft, right above your head. (Starting to run out of adjectives for all this dramatic stuff now! ) Headed across towards Inverness & followed the tiny road along the 23 miles of the south side of Loch Ness. Lunched by the locks of the Caledonian Canal at Fort Augustus & took the scenic route down & across to Edinburgh. Spent most of the day on the road, scenery changing from mountains to the green rolling hills of the lowlands.
A few highlights on the way. On one wee stop I was as near to photographing a wild Haggis as I've ever come. Streaking from a thatch of heather, toward a bevy of
Caught on film - One of these fascinating characters in his natural habitat!!
deer. Not just the common type of deer from the Bambi film but proper full on Stags - out doing that thing that only true wild animals can do.
Every year, almost 100,000 haggis are needlessly slaughtered in haggis processing centres around the country to cater for the ever-increasing popularity of Scottish haggis. Once, the Highlands of Scotland were teeming with these cute creatures, but modern-day intensive haggis farming has caused the numbers of wild haggis to decline sharply.
There are various haggis processing plants in Scotland, with most of them being located in the Highlands, although more and more centres are being opened in the central belt near their intended markets. The most modern haggis processing plant is situated on the A82 Glasgow-Fort William road at Loch Lomond.
The haggis are farmed on the summit of the hills before being forced towards the pipes. The force of gravity is then used to hurl the haggis downwards towards the lethal haggis squashers. These squashers are touted as being "modern and humane" towards the haggis, but the end result is the same... Haggis are needlessly tortured and suffer absolute agony
Theres a little stream at an undisclosed location that pops these tiny bottles of pure water out of the ground.
before finally dying in this "humane" way by these despicable mechanisms.
Once processed, these haggis are sold to butchers and supermarkets all around the world (even through the World Wide Web!) for Scots and would-be Scots to celebrate the life of the great poet, Rabbie Burns (1759-1796). Burns Suppers are now so popular that they last from November to March, thus creating even more suffering for these poor, innocent creatures. Some are asking for a ban on Burns Suppers or, indeed, a total ban on haggis.
But there is a compromise. Artificial haggis is just as tasty can be made using white puddings. Haggis can still be farmed, but in a more humane and natural method, such as the methods used to farm both highland cattle and the midge. Please give this cause some serious thought. If invited to a Burns Supper, insist on artificial haggis.
Another quick rest at the Bridge of Orchy. In between the hilly bits & the flat stuff. Plenty of history here but we liked it more for the photogenic side of the place.
Around 8pm & pooped, we woosed out & decided
Socks Blown Off
Everywhere you look theres a picture.
to stay at a Travelodge. Our sejour would've been a little easier if the phone system of the generic motel chain had been as good as the brochure. First stop, Falkirk West. Despite a call beforehand to confirm availability, when we arrived they were full. So were the other two Falkirk Inns. Plan B. Head to Edinburgh. More fone calls on the way lead us from Livingstone back to Falkirk as they suddenly realised they had been misleading the general public & Falkirk North was in fact fairly empty.
Falkirk has a lot more going for it than I at first thought. There are plenty of monster vehicles building a bit of new motorway, in fact its a great place for those that choose to "trainspot" various construction trucks.
The attached pub had the standard microwave menu which we would've normally ignored but gave it a go anyway & we weren't too disappointed. It had been a long day after all.
Mum came up with a cunning plan for getting us, Bongo & Taylor around Edinburgh the next day. Parking is a bit of a bugger when you're dragging a shed
Taken via a thermal image camera at Camera Obscura. If you only get a short stop here - make this the one Must See place.
around, 'specially in big cities, so we booked into another similar boutique motel near Edinburgh City centre for the following night. Dumping the gear & getting the bus into town for the day. We then slept like babies in our king size accommodation.
Day 7. Edinburgh
Having paid extra the night before for breakfast we were up at half six. Made the most of the facilities, scoffed a very big breakfast & hit the road by 9. Maybe not such a good idea at that time on a friday morning around there, but sitting in rush hour traffic has a somewhat homely feel to it no matter where in the world you are.
Checked into the next gaff around 10 am. Greeted by the lad on the desk, a very helpful long haired large lad from Gillingham who was a dead ringer for that Rik Waller bloke that won Pop Idol a few years back. Oh how the mighty can fall!! Young Mr Waller threw a few suggestions at us for the day out, gave us a bus map & pointed us on our way.
Plasma in a jar! What will they think of next!
really cool. Never been on one before. Our bus had an upstairs & we sat at the front pretending to drive. There was a TV screen up there but it just showed pictures of people sitting on the bus. Not even as good as Jeremy Kyle. The 2 miles of bussing into the City center took around an hour, traffic chaos being caused partly by the construction of a new tram system & partly by the huge numbers of other mostly empty busses vying for space in the restricted streets. Public Transport, it turns out, isn't used too much by the public. Strange concept.
De-bussed & headed up the hill towards the Castle. Pop Idol had suggested checking out the one o'clock cannon. Fired, coincidentally, at 1pm every day from the battlements. Long queues & prohibitively expensive admission charges meant we gave it a miss & went across the road to another on the Must See list - Camera Obscura. Had no idea what we were walking into here but so very glad we did!.
Its kind of like a compressed version of Londons' Science Museum but with just the fun bits left in. Topped by
Grandad used to say . .
whenever trying to explain anything he didn't understand himself "Its all done with mirrors lad"
a periscope affair on the roof that produces an image on a huge white disc in the dome on the top floor. There's a kind of tour every half hour where a comedic guide takes the punters on a lesiurely ramble around the city & gives you get the chance to stalk a pedestrian outside, whip them off the ground with a piece of white card & slam them violently up & down. Great fun if you spot a traffic warden! The other four floors are packed with wacky art, holograms, optical illusions & other sensory trickery. Plenty of hands on fun, well worth a visit. Great views from the telescopes on the roof & we still managed to get the sound of the one o'clock boomer. Top spot.
The keepers felt an urge to do a little shopping, I tagged along, then we popped into Pizza Express for dindins, meandered through some top quality street entertainment, grabbed a cab back to our digs & hit the bar.
Final day. Edinburgh - Bamburgh Castle - Home.
Overslept. Missed breakfast but didn't miss much by all accounts. Pointed ourselves
towards England along the east coast A1, leaving behind the blue skies of Scotland & stopping for lunch at Bamburgh. Not much to report on the run down the A1 into England, some comedy place names, but otherwise uninspiringly bland. Our afternoon attraction en route was to be Bamburgh Castle in North Geordieland. Mum had been there many years before & suggested it to be a grand day out. And wrong was she not.
The castle sits proudly on the hill of a headland overlooking the sandy coastline of Northumberland. As it is, its been inhabited for over a thousand years, with evidence of a previous fort being there for possibly a thousand before that. On the inland side of the hill is a picture postcard village, cricket green incuded, nice pubs, quaint cottages. Quintessential England.
Left Bongo & Taylor in the carpark by the castle entrance. (There was anoher Bongo there too!) & walked down the hill to the local for din dins. An expensive but bland lamb shank later we made our way back up to the battlements, paid the frugal admission charge & set off to explore.
Highlight of the wander around
Bamburgh, Great Hall.
Must be the best preserved medieval castle on the planet. Real timewarp stuff!
had to be the guy with a blazer, working in the armoury. His ghost stories were almost plausible. He really knew his stuff & freaked the shite out of the small human! It may well all be true. We're going back later in the summer to find out.
Although impressive from the outside, once you get in through the doors - it really does make your eyes pop! The Armstrong family still live here - obviously in areas that are inaccessible to the public - but a great deal of British history follows that line & they're very proud to show it off. The 3rd Lord Armstong, for example is responsible for the hydraulic lifting gear on Londons' Tower Bridge. The fourth, prouduced aircraft in the Second World War. There's a museum in the stable blocks that displays some of their boasts.
There may well be a future blog about this place on its own. Better still, if you get the chance - get yerself there & write your own!.
. . . . . TO BE CONTINUED . . . .
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