Location: Ullapool and Altandhu, north-west Scotland, UK
After driving off the ferry from the Isle of Lewis, we turned right and drove a few hundred metres along the road to The Royal Hotel, a pub with a large car park and electrical hook up points available to motorhomes for a token payment of £10.
After getting set up, we went into the pub for dinner. There we met a lovely Canadian couple on holiday from the USA who had just finished travelling the route around the north coast of Scotland. They were happy to share their tips for places to visit, and in return we helped them with some ideas for their upcoming trip to Australia. It was a fun evening and we enjoyed a meal and bottle of wine together.
Weather-wise, it was a rough night, with the wind blowing up to gale force, rocking us from side to side, inter dispersed with torrential rain. Neither of us slept well, with Mr A Googling in the wee hours ‘how easy it is for a motorhome to be blown over?’ (answer: not easy unless you’re on a hill or already unstable). The ferries over to and from the Isle of Lewis were cancelled due to the rough conditions making us grateful we’d left when we did.
We decided to stay in Ullapool a second night, with the village being the largest settlement we’re likely to come across for quite some time. We took our sheets, towels and some clothes to a local laundromat to be washed, and dodged the showers wandering around some of the many little shops and cafes, finding a great spot for lunch.
The afternoon rewarded us with lengthier dry spells so we pulled on our hiking gear and did a walk that started behind the pub. It was short but fairly steep, taking us up to 250 metres (824 ft) with some fabulous views. Up the top it was very windy, and we watched the clouds gathering over the loch ready to give us another good soaking.
Tuesday morning we moved on our way, calling in at the last small supermarket, pharmacy and smokehouse (!) we would see for a while. Our destination was the tiny settlement of Altandhu.
Altandhu is a tiny hamlet on the coast, looking out over the Summer Isles. It is described as being virtually untouched for the past 40 years, and driving down the windy single track roads, it felt quite familiar after our travels around the islands last week.
We pulled up at our campground in strong wind and rain, wondering what on earth we were doing. But as always, a break in the weather soon had us appreciating the spectacular scenery that is uniquely Scottish.
Checking in we learned that the Port a Baigh campground shop was in fact the only store for the whole area, and it’s pretty well stocked up with groceries. Apparently before this shop opened, local residents had to drive at least a two hour return trip into Ullapool to get their litre of milk.
Sensing a break in the rain, we pulled on our wet weather gear and went for an explore. We walked down to the next bay, Old Dornie.
We actually learned that some changes are afoot in the area, after the largest of the Summer Isles, Tanera Mor, was purchased in 2017 by London businessman Ian Wace and his wife Saffron. In 2018 they commenced plans to rejuvenate the island, building luxurious holiday accomodation for up to 60 guests, utilising existing buildings and renovating other structures on the island. The project is taking around four years to complete, and as a result has breathed substantial life into the area.
Many of the tradespeople are being housed locally, and the little bay we walked to was a ferrying point for many of the materials and personnel. The lady running the campground shop told us she had joined her partner on a tour of some of the properties, marvelling at the brass baths…it sounds intriguing!
We decided to book in at the local pub for dinner, the Am Fuaran Bar. This was a short walk from the campground and housed in an old 1800s renovated building. The late father of one of the publicans used to live in the house, and the pub is full of photographs and memorabilia. It was warm and cosy and absolutely buzzing with locals and tradespeople from the Tanera Mor project. We had a delicious meal – a beef pie for Mr A and delicious locally caught langoustines for me (cross between a small lobster and a large king prawn). Finally, the pub we have been looking for!
Location: The Isles of Harris and Lewis, Outer Hebrides, Scotland, UK
The Outer Hebrides…I just like saying the name as it conjures up in my mind images of being really “out there”. Actually the reality is a bit different, but still very appealing.
We watched from the top deck of the ferry as the island of Harris appeared and our tiny debarkation point of Tarbert. Now, firstly lets clear something up. The island of Harris is joined to the island of Lewis. They aren’t seperate islands but are referred to as seperate. Make sense? No, didn’t to us either. There are various explanations given, like different clans distinguishing their own territory, or the geography in that a range of mountains makes access between the two difficult, or at least used to. We quite happily pottered from one to the other. So with that muddy water stirred up let me just add that the Outer Hebrides is sometimes called the Western Isles, and the main reason you might have heard of Harris (Harris Tweed) is mostly made in Lewis. All clear now?
So Harris is split geographically into the quite bumpy North Harris and the flatter South Harris. We were sort of in the middle when we landed at the dinky ferry port of Tarbert. So how do people in Tarbert explain where they live? “Well I’m in the middle of North and South Harris, in the Harris end of Harris and Lewis in the Outer Hebrides come Western Isles”? Perplexing…
I had called ahead to book us dinner at the Harris Hotel, using my usual gambit to secure a free night’s accomodation of “So we’d like to book dinner, but as we are travelling in a motorhome I wonder if you could advise of anywhere to stay within walking distance. We intend to order a decent bottle of red and are not keen to drive”. I know Tarbert doesn’t have a campsite. I got the response I was hoping for. “Well we have a large car park, feel free to use that if you would like”. Sorted…and £25 saved towards that bottle of red.
But our first stop was metres from the ferry point, the Harris Distillery. This imposing looking building was made possible through the combination of EU grants and the backing of a Scots born ex CEO of Monsanto. His US$77 million payout might have helped. You would assume a distillery in Scotland produces whiskey…nope..its gin. Gin has made them profitable in these gin fuelled times. They are distilling whiskey, but its not available for sale yet. We loved the gin. Apparently its differentiator is the sugar kelp (yup, seaweed) infused in their copper gin still, and gathered by a virgin diver (poetic license) from the pristine waters around the island. Great to see a business like this doing well in such a geographically remote corner of the UK.
Well our dinner at the Harris Hotel was absolutely gorgeous, everything that had been missing on Skye. A friendly barmaid welcomed us, the atmosphere was cosy, and the food….scrumptious. After a quick perusal of the menu, with no conferring, we both as usual made exactly the same choices. Too much time together harmonising our tastes? Locally caught herring for entree, followed by the plumpest scallops I’ve ever seen, with locally grown veg that tasted like it had been dug up that afternoon. What a feast. Our first meal out since Edinburgh. We tried hard to eat out in Skye but nothing tempted.
The one time we went out in Skye intending to eat, the barmaid (we later learned also licensee) was so rude we had one beer and left. Disappointing…but Harris delivered in spades. I wonder why Skye was so poor? Other friends who visited had said the same. Too many visitors and not enough incentive to try hard? Who knows…
The next morning we headed off to explore South Harris, known for its spectacular sandy beaches. Apparently an advert for a Thailand holiday destination was caught using a shot of one of them. They were beautiful, but we only had to step out from behind the glass of our windscreen into the biting wind to be very clear we were not anywhere that either of us was going to be going for a paddle.
We stopped to buy some home made mustard from a roadside stall, then paused in amazement when we saw the price. £6.50 (AU$12)for 200ml jar! I’m all for supporting local businesses but hard to feel that was value for money, so sorry mustard maker, we will make do with the beautiful small batch seeded mustard we brought in France for a quarter of that price.
The edge of the bad weather that has been drenching the UK caught us, the rain came down and so we spent longer than usual in the car driving up through the island (islands?) to Lewis. I was keen to visit the standing stones at Calanais, or is it Callanish Standing Stones? They are variously named and spelled differently just to keep us visitors on our toes, even after we have worked out the whole Harris and Lewis thing. Anyway, another one of those mysteries I love, with archeologists mystified about the significance of the location and function of these other circles in the area. In fact this one isn’t even really a circle, but flat on one side. So for 5,000 years the people who have lived here have been trying to mislead and confuse…I like it.
We dutifully watched the video in information centre and left no wiser understanding what the people who once put so much effort into dragging around these stones were trying to do. Its a bleak old place today, and we weren’t outside that long before hot chocolates back at the visitor centre seemed the wise choice.
The site we had been trying to call to confirm a place for the night had not been answering the phone, so we just rocked up to see a closed sign on the signpost! We had checked their web site and Google page – nothing left to warn people. OK we were pissed. How long does it take to record a message on your phone saying “we are closed for the season”, or change your Google Maps entry? Clearly too much effort for these folk. However, there was a free spot marked on one of our apps just down the road, and check out this view!
We had it all to ourselves while the rain lashed down and the wind howled. Our LPG run heating system got a workout, and a Thai jungle curry from Mrs A warmed us from the inside out and a Harris gin went down a treat.
So another £20 in camp fees saved. We are warm, dry and have enough power from our 12v system to run all we need and can have a lovely hot shower in the morning without venturing across a campground in the cold and wet. I just have the job of emptying our toilet somewhere tomorrow. Not a bad trade for a lovely view and a few extra pounds to spend. In places that don’t have “No overnight camping” signs on every piece of flat land, it is quite lovely.
Our final day in the island of….well lets call it Lewis, although when we arrived in Stornaway this morning, the castle was called Lews Castle. the mystery continues. We have a mooch around the harbour in the drizzle, all rugged up and wondering where all the people are going as there’s not a single place open in town…except the church. Well its been a long time since I’ve witnessed this, people are dressed up in their Sunday best, three piece suits, ties – the lot, and going to a service of some kind. Ah well, each to their own. We make our way down to the ferry wharf and trundle Truffy on. He’s getting to be quite an experienced ferry traveller now!
Goodbye Outer Hebrides, welcome Western Isles, its been an experience we will always remember, even if they like to keep you guessing out here 🙂
Location: Neist Point Lighthouse, Dunvegan Castle. Portree, and Uig, Isle of Skye, UK
Sunrise on Thursday morning was a pink affair, complete with a seal fishing in the loch just metres from us. It was also about 7 degrees centigrade, so we just admired the wildlife from the warmth of the camper.
We decided to drive out to Neist Point Lighthouse, supposedly spectacular walking and amazing views. The road out there, as we have come to expect on Skye, was single track and rather potholed, with some extremely narrow passing spots, often leaving us teetering on the edge of a steep drop. Mr A used every ounce of strength to overcome his fear of heights (and fear of us toppling down a precipice!) to skilfully guide us to the coast.
Once there, we stepped out into gale force icy wind whistling off the sea, and I almost leaped back into Truffy to shelter. A stern look from Mr A told me I needed to at least sight the lighthouse before we drove back along that road! Wearing almost every warm thing we own, we picked our way along the cliff top to admire the spectacular coastline. Steep plunging cliffs, a combination of black rock and green foliage, heading down to a deep turquoise sea, covered in the white caps of rough windswept waves greeted us – just incredible.
Walking in the other direction, we found the views down to the lighthouse, deciding the forego the path that takes you down to its front door. It is absolutely breathtaking, even when viewed through eyes streaming with tears from the chill wind.
We didn’t hang around, musing at how an opportunity has been missed here by the community of Skye. Surely a clifftop cafe with nice warm double glazing serving steaming mugs of hot drinks, and selling locally made woollen gloves and beanies would make an absolute killing here? We certainly would have been a couple of willing customers.
We made our way back into Dunvegan and the privately owned Dunvegan Castle and gardens.
This has been home to the chief of the MacLeod Clan on Skye for 800 years. Towers and walls were put up over the centuries on this castle with no thought to the overall look and feel of the place, until the 1800s when the then then chief of the MacLeod Clan decided to ‘bring it all together’ rendering the outside and adding the more ‘castle-like’ features of the building such as drawbridge entranceway and canons pointing out into the Loch.
The current clan chief still lives in the castle, splitting his time between here and a house in London. The upper two floors remain locked and private, but we were able to explore the lower floors, well preserved and containing centuries worth of antiques and relics.
We were left to our own devices to explore the castle, its various towers and dungeons, the different centuries of rooms and stairwells quite evident.
We drove across the island to Portree, where we settled down in a campground for the evening.
The following morning we drove into Portree for a look around, finding it to be a sweet little fishing town. The first port of call was a friendly outdoors shop, and within 15 minutes I was kitted out with a Marino wool neck scarf, a nice warm bobble hat and some windproof and waterproof gloves. Finally I was suitably attired for the Scottish weather!
The UK and Ireland are taking a battering weather wise with plenty of rain and wind – the remnants of Hurricane Lorenzo, an Italian sounding storm which has been whipping things up off the coast of Africa and moving steadily in our direction. We thought we ought to take advantage of the fine weather and hit the road.
We followed the east coast, stopping to admire the spectacular views. An Cailc was an interesting location near where there used to be a diatomite mine (a clay-chalk like substance which goes into making dynamite, paints, polishes and even filtration for beer). Now there are just a few ruins of what was a major industry in the late 1800s and early 1900s, with the mine closing down in 1960.
We took our time enjoying the view but choosing not to take the steep and slippery walk down to the base of the waterfalls, before continuing on our way around the coast.
Reaching the top of the island, the road hugged the cliff, turquoise waters on our right and rolling greenery on our left. The colours can only be described as delicious and the scenery and road among the most beautiful we have seen.
We had decided to investigate staying longer in Scotland’s western isles, having been absolutely bewitched by Skye. We have seen a lot but not everything, and the island has more to offer us in the future. We headed to the little village of Uig, from where we knew we might be able to catch a ferry to the island of Harris.
It was meant to be. I managed to get us on the 14:10 sailing from Uig to Tarbert and we joined the queue.
It was a gentle couple of hours’ cruise over the inner seas off the West Coast of Scotland and time went quickly.
Before long we were sighting small islands and rocky outcrops again as we approached the island of Harris, home to Harris Tweed. The story from here will be over to Mr A, which he will share soon…
We really enjoyed our time in Skye, made all the more special by the fabulous weather. We know we were very lucky on this occasion – but please don’t be put off by the potential for cold or wet weather. It is a spectacular part of the world regardless.
Location: Broadford and Dunvegan, Isle of Skye, Scotland, UK
Scotland…the part of the British Isles that my parents fell in love with and retuned to for so many years of wonderful holidays, bird spotting, walking the hills when they could. To visit here and see some of the same places they must have gazed at in wonderment, as we are, is quite special.
I’m an only child, no brothers or sisters to help keep memories alive, my daughters help me in that regard, but I’d love to just have one more conversation with my parents and ask all the questions I never asked when I thought they’d be here forever.
On the road over from the central highlands to the west coast we rounded a corner and there was this stunning sight to feast our eyes on.
Did my mum and dad see the same? Sadly I will likely never know, although I will be poring though my mum’s diaries when I go back to Australia. It’s a an evocative moment. Eilean Donan Castle is one of the more photogenic places we have set eyes on, almost rivalling the vista across Lake Bled in Slovenia for having all the ingredients that make us go “oooh”. Dating back to the 13th century, it was built to fight off the Viking invaders, then as a superb defensive position for warring Scottish clans. It even saw a group of Spanish soldiers assisting in the Jacobite rebellions use it as a base. It has been lovingly restored after being left in ruins for several hundred years, and now features in selfies from the coach loads of tourists pulling up to admire its beauty.
We arrived on the Isle of Skye via the road bridge that was opened in ‘95, and I could just hear my dad saying “Look Jill, look at that!”, as he nudged her in the ribs, seeing the soaring peaks of the island’s Cuillin range dropping down into the deep blue waters of the surrounding sea.
We had identified a campsite on the edge of the small town of Broadford, which straddles along a wide bay and river mouth. It was time to pull on the walking shoes and head for the hills. But first of course the flask needed to be filled. I am clearly walking in my father’s footsteps in this regard as well. At one point he was a 15 cups of tea a day man, a little too much caffeine me thinks…we stick to the caffeine-free herbal variety.
The views were out to the mainland and across some small outlying islands, with tiny cottages on them, for fisherfolk I assume. It’s wild and wooly country and we love it. We didn’t strike as lucky though going into town to try and find that stereotype of the welcoming Scottish pub, complete with fiddle player. Instead we found a horrible place with slot machines and widescreen TV showing the football. Ah well…perhaps the next town?
The next day also dawned clear in the morning, apparently its been a very wet late summer, so the locals are finding this showery autumnal weather “quite nice”, wandering round in shirt sleeves when its 10 degrees. Being unused to what feels to us like sub-arctic temperatures we are all rugged up I can tell you. Catherine was busy writing up her notes from the conference she attended, so I grabbed the opportunity to head out on the bike for a ride. And what a ride it was, through scenery that made it one of the more memorable I have ever done.
My iPhone and lack of skill with its camera just dont do it justice, and when returning back to Catherine I was so enthusiastic about what I’d seen we agreed to drive it the following morning. Later in the afternoon we took a stroll around the shore of Broadford, apparently the site of a Neolithic settlement (12,000 – 6,500 years ago) and many burial mounds, several dismantled over the years to use the rocks for houses and walls.
Tuesday morning we retraced my stunning cycling path along the road from Broadford to the isolated road’s end at Glasnakille, a collection of a few houses, tiny primary school and a boat shed offering tours up the coast.
These end-of-the-world places have a magic feel to them. The road was single track, windy with a few unprotected drops into an icy looking ocean, but I’m a lot more confident driving Truffy knowing what he and I can tackle together.
We wandered up the coast, and ended up at the Talisker distillery. Now I’m a fan of bourbon, but have never managed to acquire a liking for that smoky single malt flavour of whiskey, but I keep persevering.
We tried a couple, I’m still not convinced, Catherine was pretty neutral as well, so no purchases made.
It was another drive round the coast until we found a campsite in Dunvegan with a lovely view across a loch. A little amble round the village revealed a few places to eat but nothing that really grabbed us, a pattern that’s emerging in Skye.
Well, I hope my parents did see this part of Skye, it really is quite stunning. I’m going to tell myself they did and picture them sharing the pleasure we feel in seeing nature at its most scenic.
Location: The Hermitage, Dunkeld & Invergarry, Scotland
Let me start by saying a huge thank you for all the many messages of support and appreciation after Mr A’s thoughtful and amazing post yesterday. I’m feeling very warm and loved indeed! I had a great time at the conference in Edinburgh, made lots of new contacts and reconnected with those I have met and chatted to before. There’s much more work to be done in the future – I am helping with a couple of research papers and helping give advice to PhD students in the UK and USA working on research studies with iSGS patients…and another conference to attend and present at next year as well – so definitely keeping myself busy in the downtime.
After all the excitement of the conference in Edinburgh we decided to continue on our way, and Saturday morning saw us pointing our nose towards the Isle of Skye. While theoretically we could have driven there in a day, we decided to see some places on the way. I did a little research and found a National Trust place called The Hermitage.
The Hermitage was created in the early 1800s by a duke who wanted to honour a blind baird. It was part of the designed landscape of Dunkeld extending from the River Tay along the River Braan to Rumbling Bridge, a distance of approximately 1 mile (1.5km). It’s a beautiful woodland area and we read it was accepted for motorhomes to park up here overnight.
We decided to do the 8.5 km circuit walk from the car park. It wound through beautiful woodland of Douglas Fir trees (the tallest trees in the UK) following the River Braan. The river roared alongside us for much of the hike, punctuated by the odd splash which may have been salmon swimming upstream, as they apparently do here at this time of year.
The Braan circuit was one of the loveliest walks we have done, and highly recommended if you’re heading in this direction.
After a peaceful night’s sleep we headed off on Sunday morning with a similar plan – aiming for another free overnight location beside another river with some more walking.
This time we headed for a spot beside the River Garry, just down from Loch Garry. It sounds like a comedy name (where are Loch Kevin and Loch Darren we wondered?) but oh so picturesque. This is located just north of Fort William where we stopped for some food shopping on our way.
After parking up we put on the walking shoes again and set off for an explore. We were rewarded with another spectacular circuit walk, 7.5 km of scenery worthy of Lord of the Rings, moss carpeted woodland, the river Garry babbling alongside us for much of the way.
Other than a group of wild mushroom pickers(!) at the start of the hike we were by ourselves for the whole walk, a lovely magical experience.
All visitors were gone by 5pm, leaving us to a peaceful night with just the sound of the water for company. Just lovely.
This is surely what makes travelling in the off peak period so appealing – the ability to park up somewhere spectacular, enjoy the scenery and serenity as though it were your own. And having our home with us, this is absolutely possible.
We are often asked whether all this travelling gets tiring. We have to answer no. While there are some downsides (missing our friends, family and fur child) the upsides are many. If we were having to live out of a suitcase and unpack and repack on a regular basis, it would be tiring. But in our case, we have our own comfortable bed, with our own pillows and bedding, our clothes are always on hand, and we can cook, eat and drink whatever we like with our own pots and pans, herbs, spices and ingredients. The main thing that changes is the view outside our window, and that’s just the way we like it.
As I write this blog the lovely Mrs A is standing in front of a room full of super smart top surgeons and other health professionals from around the world at the “Cutting Edge Laryngology” conference in Edinburgh this week, presenting on how the rare disease she suffers from (idiopathic subglottic stenosis) has impacted her life, and how she has fought back.
For those unfamiliar with her story, she was diagnosed 15 years ago with this disease, and that was after several years of misdiagnosis. Being a researcher (a geek she bashfully says with that lovely smile) she turned to the internet for answers on how the disease is triggered (what had she done “wrong” to deserve it?), what treatment works and how to access it, and how to manage your life in the interim. There was almost nothing out there at the time, so in October 2009 she created a Facebook support group to see if she could connect with other people struggling with the same dearth of information.
Well after a slow burn, almost a decade later the group is now approaching 3,700 strong, thanks to endless hours of her nurturing and managing it and providing 24×7 support to fellow suffers around the world. Those who want and need to reach out and chat with others who are equally mystified, scared and often depressed about the lifestyle and health implications of having this life threatening and lifestyle inhibiting disease. In addition the group helps enable research into causes and treatments sponsored by medical universities, again something Catherine has driven and managed.
Idiopathic subglottic stenosis restricts the airway through scarring that builds up in the trachea (with no known cause) and creates difficulty in breathing. Sufferers just cant get enough air through their airway to function. The severity of their symptoms is dependent on how narrow the airway becomes, ranging from an irritating shortage of breath, to a blockage resulting in death. The rare disease affects 98% women – two in a million.
What I want to underline though is the how the glass is always half full for some people, and Catherine is the perfect example of that. She could have sat back and accepted she was a “victim” of this disease, given up exercising, given up trying to find out what causes it. But she didn’t, and I think it’s an inspiring story for others.
When we are out and about on our wanderings around the world she seeks to connect face to face with the people she has got to know online. I’ve been at a number of these meetings over the years, and I can tell you I have heard them say thank you for everything from saving their lives, to saving their sanity. We’ve had some amazing experiences as a result of connecting with these people, and I guess that’s one big reinforcement for me that if you give of yourself, as Catherine has, you are rewarded in so many unpredictable ways. I think the most valuable for her is the sense of contribution that she is making. Most studies on happiness will point to a key driver for people who describe themselves as experiencing that elusive state of happiness as having a network of relationships in a community (work family or other) that value that contribution. That’s what she has created though her voluntary work, and its a credit to her.
The upsides of creating this group just keep rolling in, none of them looked for at the beginning, and none drive her now. For instance, we have met so many members of her group now in different countries. In Australia, New Zealand, the UK, in the US, Netherlands, Germany and Austria, all who have been so welcoming of us and help make our travel time in their country so much more enriched with local knowledge. We’ve made new friends and had an insight into lives across the world we never would have had otherwise.
Also the medical community that she has got to know have also been truly inspiring for her. They work so hard to help their patients, with often little feedback on when they succeed. She’s met some fantastic people this way as well, and all the emotionally richer for it.
I attended one of the social functions of the conference earlier in the week and watched Catherine working the room, talking to these medical experts, building her network, and ensuring that she is in the best possible position to continue to get their support when she needs it, to help out one or all of her group. She was awesome.
Illness rarely has an upside (or does it?), but she has made one in this case. I’ve watched her develop new skills, and leverage, deepen and broaden her existing ones.
So that’s really want I want to say, that Catherine is a model for me of the potential “up side” of being unfortunate enough to suffer from an illness and I am constantly learning from her how to be more positive when life sends its little curve balls. Also that social media is a tool, to be used like any tool – to help or hurt.
Thank you to everyone who supports her in this voluntary work, whether by words of encouragement on the Facebook group, or friends who give her a nod to the time, dedication and perseverance it has taken. Give her a big round please.
The luxury of time and having our own means of transport and accomodation has allowed us to visit friends we would otherwise not be able to catch up with. I was excited to be able to see my lovely friend Claire. We haven’t caught up for two years, and I have never been to County Durham where she grew up and now lives with her son Adam.
Once again we were grateful Truffy is a shorter motorhome, as we were able to park right outside Claire’s semi-detatched home in West Auckland. We had a lovely evening of catching up over dinner and met Adam for the first time (now 11 years old!) without the worry about driving or finding a taxi home.
The following morning we joined Claire in dropping Adam off at school, and she then drove us to Bowlees in the North Pennines where we did a walk. Being so early in the day it was lovely and quiet, and the rain mostly held off, leaving an atmospheric mist hanging over the countryside.
Our first point of interest was Sumerhill Force and Gibson’s Cave on Bow Lee Beck, a tributary of the River Tees.
We next did a circuit walk across the fields, through the misty scenery feeling very Wuthering Heights!
Low Force Falls were roaring over the rock, giving us a fraction of the view we would have seen had we seen High Force Falls too. We were running out of time and High Force Falls required a ticket to view. We decided to save those for our next visit – and there will be a next visit.
It was so lovely to see Claire like this. A chance to just walk and talk and reconnect outside of the usual crowd of friends. As lovely as that is, this has been far more intimate and precious. In addition, Claire has introduced us to some beautiful scenery, her local town, Barnard Castle with lots of walks, interesting shops and pubs, and of course a castle (ruins!). It’s such an interesting area, with the added bonus of a good friend. We look forward to returning in the future and exploring further.
We finished off our walk with tea and cake in the visitors centre as the threatening skies decided to fully open. We’ve rarely seen rain like it – the roads turned into treacherous rivers and the windscreen wipers on double speed, often unable to cope.
After saying goodbye to Claire, we jumped into Truffy and pointed him north through the rain, aiming for Edinburgh, Scotland.
Location: Jervaulx, Richmond, East Witton and Middleham, Yorkshire, UK
Our accomodation was located beside an old 19th century house, Jervaulx Hall, which has the ruins of an old abbey on its land. Mr A, our friends John and Catriona and I had decided to take advantage of the fine weather to do a long walk, starting at Jervaulx abbey, just around the corner from where we were staying.
Substantial work has gone into ensuring the ruins are safe for visitors, given the abbey is privately owned and managed. The grounds are well cared for, giving a balance between sculpted lawns and natural wildflowers.
We did a fabulous walk, taking us across bridleways, footpaths, across styles and down quiet country lanes. The scenery changed all the time, ranging from green rolling hills with almost-too-perfect trees dotted throughout, through ancient woodland, across rivers and into little villages and past castles.
We’d walked about 17km before we reached Middleham Castle, a welcome sight given we hadn’t eaten breakfast and it was long past midday!
We found a suitable pub in the village which was still serving food, and ordered refreshments. There was a brief discussion about getting a taxi back, but we bravely pushed on.
We concluded our walk having clocked up 21km (13 miles) the longest we have hiked in a while, (but paling into insignificance when compared with some friends who are managing upwards of 30km daily). We all felt we deserved dinner at the local pub that evening.
Sunday was more of the Yorkshire weather we had expected, the clouds hanging low and grey. After a fine full English breakfast we all drove over to the nearby town of Richmond.
Richmond was founded in 1071 by the Normans who built a castle in the town – there are castles all the way up England built by William the Conqueror’s people – this within five years of the Battle of Hastings. The town built up around the castle and looks like it has changed little in that time…other than the cars – the town centre full on this Sunday afternoon. We wandered down to the river.
After the rain started we found shelter in a tea shop before a fun evening back at the apartment.
The sun returned for Monday, our final morning in Yorkshire. Catriona found a walk a short drive away in the village of Wensley.
It was just a 6.5km walk this time, a chance for some fresh air and to stretch the legs before we bid each other farewell and went our separate ways, John and Catriona going back to Nottinghamshire while we went further north into County Durham.
It was a fantastic three days in North Yorkshire, giving us a taster of the beautiful walks and scenery there. We loved the villages, the culture and endless miles of hiking options. This is one area we will definitely be back to visit.
Location: Harby & Newark-on-Trent – Nottinghamshire, & Ripon -Yorkshire, UK
Wednesday: We left Milton Keynes early and by 9am were in Newark in Nottinghamshire dropping Truffy off at our dealer for some warranty work. One of the reasons we love Fuller Leisure is that they’re a small, friendly family business, and they don’t hesitate to loan us a little runabout for the period of the service. We took the opportunity to drive into Newark-on-Trent, just a 20 minute drive from the dealer.
We knew nothing about the town as we drove in, but almost immediately saw Newark Castle ruins alongside the River Trent. It’s extremely picturesque, and given it has free entry we couldn’t resist an explore.
Leaving the castle we wandered into Newark’s market place, delighted to find it bustling with market day activity. We picked up some fruit and vegetables before exploring the rest of the town. We just love to buy produce fresh from the local farmers, appreciating the fresh taste as well as the opportunity to support local suppliers rather than supermarkets wherever possible.
After some shopping we returned to the car and drove up to our friends’ house in Harby for the night. There we had a delicious meal and shared some of our wine purchases from across Europe….enjoyed post a glass of the 1066 Hastings gin we gifted to Catriona.
Thursday: My cousin’s daughter Hannah has just started a law degree at Lincoln University, just a half hour’s drive from our friends in Harby. Mark and I decided to drive up there to buy her breakfast and ensure she’s settling in alright. Lincoln is a small and friendly city, reminding me of Chester where I spent my university days.
After farewelling Hannah off to a lecture, we drove back to Newark to pick up Truffy.
We were amazed how much the team had completed in a relatively short period of time, consistently good. By 3pm we were on our way again.
When you grow up in the far south of England, anything past Watford Junction seems a long way away. Yorkshire, for example always appeared to be a mysterious place with lots of green on the map where people talk with the most intelligent sounding accent in the UK.
So when our Nottinghamshire friends agreed to a weekend away in an AirBnB together in Yorkshire we were quite excited. Mark, Truffy and I skipped our way up the country, arriving in the city of Ripon on Thursday evening. There’s a carpark right in the middle of the city near the cathedral and Sainsbury’s that allows free overnight parking for motorhomes, and £2 for parking all day. It suited us perfectly and we settled in.
After a peaceful night’s sleep, we decided to stick around the next morning and explore Ripon. Ripon is the oldest city in England and the smallest city in Yorkshire.
Ripon Cathedral was originally founded in the 660s by Scottish monks and tweaked and adjusted over the years.
Today it is still a living and active space, with lots of activity and full of people. Despite being an autumnal Thursday morning outside of the school holidays it was busy and bustling with an art and sculpture exhibition. I couldn’t resist a look.
Not far from the cathedral is a river and canal, so Mr A and I decided to stroll down. The canal was originally opened in the 1700s and restored in 1996. Today it’s clean with a walkway alongside it with several bird hides looking out towards wetlands.
We had a great afternoon’s walk around the waterways before returning to Truffy. We drove off to our AirBnB near Jervalaux Abbey to check in and await the arrival of John and Catriona as the sun set. A great first day in Yorkshire. We will be back!
We never get lessons on how to be a father. Some people just seem pre-programmed and naturally adopt the role, bringing their very best self to the challenge. Other people, like me, have found it a bumpy road, with many a stumble on the way.
This trip back to the UK has given me the opportunity to spend time with my daughters, my grandchildren, and my wife’s and friends families. It’s been precious time, where some of the most poignant memories of our whole trip have been formed. To see both my daughters turn into such incredible mums has been an absolute joy. To see how they have faced every challenge (and there have been many) head on and powered through. I’m so very proud of them.
Parenting in this digital age seems have some unique opportunities and risks. There is never a shortage of on on tap entertainment for the “witching hour” when fractious little ones can be offered a screen to calm them down. But how much screen time do you give them? Are any taps being tuned off? The imagination required to entertain themselves? I’m certainly not qualified to answer that question, but it’s one I see many parents posing themselves.
As we supplement our face to face networks with digital ones, I think that also provides new opportunities and risks for parents with young children. Is the screen time an opportunity cost for building face to face friendships out in the street, or do the multi-player game platforms replace that? How do parents ensure there’s a balance between sitting and moving around? I watched my four grandchildren spending time together racing around screaming with joy and I know where I would put my bet.
There are some difficult choices for parents to make, with so much conflicting information about the risks and benefits to children of enabling their access to information and entertainment. How do parents equip them to filter what they see? Through censorship or education and guidance?
I watch my daughters having to make decisions on these topics, with, from what I can read, very little good quality balanced content to help them.
Family relationships are rarely easy to navigate smoothly, ours being no exception, but I can only thank the much smarter than me Mrs A for her support and positive modelling as to how I can be a better father, grandparent and uncle. Always in her debt it seems!